By now I think that we are all aware that on Monday (19 July), England will move to the final stage of the roadmap for unlocking and all current laws and restrictions around Covid will be lifted. I am certain that when this was being planned the Government had not fully anticipated the rapid increase in infection rates. This has been due predominantly to the ease of transmission of the so-called ‘Delta variant’. The infection rate in Buckinghamshire has increased significantly to 248 per 100,000. However, for those over 60 years the rate is far lower at 38.1 (51 cases). It would appear that the vaccination programme has been a major factor in the lower infection rate and the potential for serious illness amongst the older and most vulnerable groups. Hospitalisation rates also remain low with Buckinghamshire Hospital trust having 10 patients with Covid in the latest data. You can get the latest data on Buckinghamshire at the Covid dashboard on our website. On balance the Government’s view is that this is the best time, during the summer months, to allow some return to a more normal life. This involves a shift away from laws and rules towards us all making personal choices about how to manage the risk both for yourselves and, importantly, for others. Next Monday will not feel like a big release for everyone and some people will find this next step worrying, particularly after such a long period of legal restrictions. We are expecting the Government to update the guidance for people who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable in the coming days. So please keep thinking of others and how we all still need to work together to keep everyone safe. For that reason, I will personally be continuing to respect requests to wear a face covering in busy indoor spaces like shops and on public transport. I would also ask that we do not seek to challenge or stigmatise anyone who continues to wear a mask where this is not specifically required as this can be very upsetting for those who remain apprehensive. I also want to thank everyone for all the effort and sacrifice that’s been made since the start of the pandemic, as we move into this new phase of adapting to the virus. None of us could have imagined what we have collectively been through and I’m incredibly proud of everything the people of Bucks have done, and continue to do, to help their communities and to help stop the spread of the virus. Guidance from Monday As we know, the Government is moving from imposing rules and restrictions to issuing guidance on what people should continue to do to stay safe and protect others. From Monday, some key protections will still remain in place:
Get a PCR test if you develop Covid symptoms and isolate your household while you wait for the results.
Isolate if you test positive for Covid or if contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
Government expects and recommends that people continue to wear face coverings in crowded areas such as on public transport.
While the work from home instruction is being lifted, a gradual return to the workplace over summer is expected and recommended.
Government is encouraging more use of the NHS Covid Pass in high risk settings (you can get this via the NHS App, which is different to the NHS Covid-19 app).
Overall, the Government is still strongly advising people to really think carefully about minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts and to try to meet outside or where you can let plenty of fresh air in. For the full details on the guidance for England from Monday, please check the Government’s website. Vaccinations It was very reassuring to hear again this week from the Government scientists about the overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are continuing to weaken the link between infection and serious illness and death. We know having two doses of the Covid vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from the risks of Covid-19 and with restrictions lifting on Monday and the current rise in cases, it’s more important than ever to get your vaccine. If you haven’t had your first jab yet, or are due your second, please arrange it as soon as possible. Currently, the NHS advises an eight-week gap between doses. 673,777 vaccine doses have now been administered in Buckinghamshire. Anyone aged 18 or over is eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine and, as ever, you can book both doses through the NHS national booking system. Please call 119 if you can’t book online. Drop-in Pfizer clinics this weekend Please be aware of our drop-in vaccine clinics – which make it really quick and easy to get your first or second dose with no need for an appointment. There’s a Pfizer clinic today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) at Wycombe Library, 8:30am – 5:30pm both days. So anyone aged 18 or over can get a first dose here, or second dose if their first dose was already Pfizer. And there’s more ‘drop-in’ vaccine clinics at Stoke Mandeville Stadium (9.30am – 7.30pm, every day until at least Sunday (18 July), again offering the Pfizer vaccine. Finally, the ‘Health on the Move’ vaccine van is back in Bucks visiting Aylesbury, Wycombe, Gerrards Cross and Chesham. You can get first or second jabs here without an appointment (please leave an 8-week gap between doses). Timings and venues for drop-in clinics may be subject to last minute changes to the schedule, so please check the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) website for the latest updates, and for other local vaccine information. Testing Covid testing will continue to be an important part of keeping us all safe. I know there’s a lot of different information and messages out there about testing so I just wanted to underline the basics of which test to get, when, and how to access Covid testing in Buckinghamshire:
If you have Covid symptoms, book a PCR test via the national site. PCR tests can be ordered by phone or online and can be delivered direct to you, or you can visit a local testing site.
If you’ve been asked to isolate by NHS Test and Trace as a contact, you can book a PCR test – but a negative test result does not remove the need to self-isolate.
If you don’t have Covid symptoms you can use rapid tests, known as Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs), to regularly check whether you might have Covid. The easiest way to do a rapid test is with a home-testing kit which can be picked up from pharmacies or ordered online.
Please remember that if you are on a low income and have been asked to isolate, you may be able to claim a £500 support payment – go to the Government’s website to find out more. Silverstone – British Grand Prix The British Grand Prix is on at Silverstone this weekend (15-18 July) with a capacity crowd expected. This is because the event is part of the Government’s Event Research Programme so stringent measures are being followed and information and advice is available for local people on the Silverstone website.
Even though it’s not in entirely Buckinghamshire, we know large events at Silverstone do have an impact on our local communities and of course, it’s an event many of our residents are likely to be attending – obviously you should only go to Silverstone if you have a ticket and please be mindful that the event takes place before the final easing of Covid restrictions. Please be sure to follow all the measures outlined as part of the safe staging of this event. How to keep getting our email newsletters This will be my last Covid newsletter. I have often been asked why they only talk about Covid, rather than other local and council issues like roads or waste collection, housing, jobs etc. That is because these newsletters have been produced under the Government’s Emergency legislation. That legislation will now expire and I will not be able to continue to write to you as I have over the past 18 months. Personally, I would really like to continue this regular communication with you and importantly be able to widen it to include all those other matters that you would like to both hear about. The only way we can now do this is if you sign up for the new newsletters. The link is: www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/signup
I really hope that we can keep this conversation going and would welcome your feedback.
Stay safe, protect Bucks Lastly, we know Covid isn’t over, we know that risks remain, and whilst it feels like we’re entering a new phase in this pandemic, with the current rise in cases none of us can be sure of what lies ahead in the coming weeks and months. Please remember that even if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still catch and still spread Covid-19, sometimes without knowing it. Thank you again for continuing to play your part. Please continue to look after yourself, your loved ones, and importantly each other in our wider communities across Buckinghamshire and the country.
Martin Tett Leader of Buckinghamshire Council
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