Message from Julia Burrows, Barnsley Director of Public Health – 22 December 2020

Latest figures

The most recent seven-day rate of new COVID-19 infections in Barnsley is 171.8 per 100,000 people in the population (using data for the seven days ending on 16 December).

As you will have seen in the news, COVID-19 is rising across the country and it is starting to rise again here in Barnsley.

This is in addition to persistently high rates of COVID-19 in our population, hospital, and the wider health and care system.

This all poses major challenges for the winter, with the risk of very high rates of infection, serious illness and death, as well as yet more pressure on health, care, society and economy.

COVID-19 new virus variant 

A Government update has given details of a new strain of COVID-19.

The news over the weekend regarding the new strain of COVID-19 may have caused a great deal of concern among Barnsley residents.

Although currently the new strain seems to be concentrated around the South East and in Wales, we can’t rule out that it isn’t already here in our borough.

It is therefore crucial we keep working together and follow the key principles of ‘hands, face and space’. These measures are still the most effective way to help to stop transmission of the virus, including the new strain, and will help keep you and your family safe. 

Reducing social mixing and staying local is more important than ever. In view of the increasing rates, and the even more infectious strain out there, you can help protect yourself and others by acting as if you, and everyone you come into contact with are infected, and taking the precautions you would take in that knowledge.

These are all big asks at a time of year where close contact and family time are traditional, but it is necessary if we want to avoid steep rises in cases across Barnsley in the coming weeks, and what that will mean for hospital admissions

I urge people to get a test at the first signs of symptoms. It’s also crucial to isolate if you are advised to by Test and Trace or have tested positive yourself.

Vaccination update 

The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination started last week in Barnsley. This is the very start of the programme and GP practices are working their way through contacting people, starting with those aged 80 and over. It has been a great start and I’m really delighted to see so many people were raring to go to get their first dose of the vaccine. It’s important to remember that this roll-out will take a while. It is a huge undertaking to work through the thousands and thousands of adults across the borough, but we’ve made a great start with our most vulnerable communities.

Changes to the Christmas relaxation rules

The Government announced changes to Christmas bubble arrangements at the weekend, in order to limit the spread of the virus and protect our loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable.

This means that these bubbles are now only permitted on Friday 25 December, Christmas Day. 

One in three people with COVID-19 have no symptoms and will be spreading it without realising it, so the safest way to celebrate Christmas this year is with your household or existing support bubble in your home.

The more people you see, the more likely it is that you will catch or spread coronavirus.

Christmas bubbles, support bubbles and childcare bubbles are all different things and have their own specific rules.

The rules on Christmas bubbles will be put into law. Once in force, we must all must follow the rules to minimise the spread of infection.

The Government advice if you choose to form a Christmas bubble is as follows:

  • keep your Christmas Day bubble as small as possible. Two other households are a maximum, not a target
  • stop all unnecessary social contact outside your immediate household as soon as possible and for at least five days before you meet other households in your bubble
  • only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces
  • only see your bubble on Christmas Day. Do not stay overnight and keep your visits as short as possible. Make sure all indoor space is very well ventilated and as much distance maintained with the other households.
  • stay local
  • only meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules of our tier (tier three) – up to six people in a group
  • do not meet socially with friends and family that you do not live with in your home or garden unless they are part of your Christmas bubble

More information on Christmas bubbles can be found here.

I hope that you will be able to enjoy Christmas and New Year as best and as safely as you can – the latest news will have been a great disappointment to so many of you, but it’s more important now than ever to continue to follow the guidance in place to protect ourselves, our families, friends and communities.

We know the vast majority of you have been doing the right things to reduce transmission – we see that through the extraordinarily low levels of flu and other respiratory virus illness so far this winter – and that’s a brilliant achievement.  Covid19 is more infectious and therefore harder to keep at bay, but the measures you are taking are making and will keep making a huge difference. Thank you for doing all you can to keep yourselves and your communities safe

Mental Health

As well as the concern I have for your physical health during this pandemic, the mental burden has also been very heavy for many of us, especially as we have had to rearrange, or even cancel our Christmas plans.

Please look after yourselves and those around you. Simply asking somebody if they’re alright gives them the opportunity to open up. Our#AlrightPal campaign page offers tips on how to have conversations about mental health and also how to actively listen. There’s also information on key contacts and how to get access to local support.

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