This week the Government announced that we would be staying in Tier Three.
No doubt this will be frustrating for many people, as so many of you have worked hard to reduce our rates. However, it is vital that we do all we can to keep the virus under control as much as possible as we have seen how quickly infections and deaths can increase.
I recognise the impact this decision will have on our hospitality industry, with this being the most profitable time of the year for local restaurants, pubs and bars. I'm also aware of the worry and anxiety it may bring for business owners, and their staff so close to Christmas. I want to reassure people working in this industry in Barnsley that the council will be making additional financial support available to affected businesses, and we will do all that we can to help them over the coming weeks
Christmas is coming
I have to admit, with figures on the rise again in Barnsley, it’s a concerning place to be as we approach a time when rules and regulations ease and households are permitted to mix again, albeit for a fairly brief time.
While Christmas is traditionally a time for meeting up with friends and family, I urge you to think very carefully about who you plan to see over this time, especially if they are older or more vulnerable.
The decisions you make now could have serious implications for the future – not just for you, your friends and family, but on our hospital. NHS trusts across the country are already having to cancel almost all elective and non-urgent care because of the rising rates of COVID-19 and our own hospital is under increasing pressure to provide routine healthcare on top of dealing with COVID-19 admissions.
Along with other Directors of Public health, I urge you not to think "can I" but rather "should I and what are the risks?"
The Government has issued some general guidance for the Christmas period including arrangements for visiting places such as shops, Christmas markets and events.
SAGE, the government’s scientific advisers have issued a list of recommendations for families mixing over Christmas and they are summarised here:
- Do you need to meet face to face? Can it be held virtually, online?
- Can you meet outside instead of inside? This is especially important when meeting older people – for example children meeting up with grandparents.
- Keep time indoors to a minimum and make sure rooms are well ventilated. Consider how you will arrange where people sit. If people are staying over, only members of the same household should share a room.
- Take particular care to protect the vulnerable – don’t risk transmitting what can be a very serious disease.
- Check on those people who might be emotionally vulnerable – Christmas can be a lonely time for some people.
- If you are self-isolating or you have symptoms, you should not mix at all over Christmas.
- Limit your social mixing – keep your bubbles as tight as you can and stick to the three households limit. Limit the number of visitors at one time.
- Limit the amount of time you spend together, especially if indoors is your only option.
- Keep your house extra clean – especially touch points such as door handles. Encourage regular hand washing and use hand sanitiser.
- Communicate all the above points well in advance to all members of your household bubbles.
Vaccinations begin in Barnsley
It was great to see the photo of 83-year old Herbert Barker from Wombwell, who was the first Barnsley resident to receive the ground-breaking vaccine at Barnsley’s GP-led vaccination service, after a small amount of vaccines were made available this week.
Over the coming weeks and months, the NHS will contact people in the priority groups when it is their turn to receive the vaccine, starting with people aged 80 and over.
I know that many of you will be keen to know when you might receive your vaccine, and I want to reassure you that you will be contacted by the NHS and offered the vaccine when it is your turn. In the meantime, please do not contact NHS services regarding the COVID-19 vaccine during these already very busy times.
Please continue to follow the rules to protect your families, friends and communities: Isolate and get a test at the first sign of any symptoms, including a new continuous cough; a high temperature; or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. Follow the Hands, Face, Space guidance – regularly wash your hands, wear a face covering and stay two metres apart from people who are not part of your household.
A time for reflection and remembrance
Christmas, and especially the end of the year is often a time when we think about those who are no longer with us.
This week we passed the tragic milestone of more than 500 COVID-19 related deaths in Barnsley. I’d like to commemorate people who have sadly lost their lives as a direct result of this pandemic and send my deepest condolences to their family and friends who will be spending Christmas without them for the first time this year.
Each precaution we take now will help reduce the number of families who could be in the same position next year. We each have it within our power to take steps to prevent transmission. It’s been such an awful year for lots of people, but Barnsley communities are renowned for their spirit of working together and we have seen amazing examples of that this year.
By making difficult decision now, I hope we can look forward to being in the best possible position next year, including a successful vaccination programme over the coming months to make 2021 a brighter year.