You may have seen or heard this morning that the Government has today announced that due to the sharp rise in Covid infection rates here in recent weeks, Buckinghamshire will enter Tier 3 restrictions at one minute past midnight on Saturday. That is the ‘Very High Alert’ level.
I am bitterly disappointed that we are in this situation and know this is very difficult news, especially for our local businesses. However, the number of new cases here in Bucks is alarming and I reluctantly accept that action is needed to try to stabilise the number of infections in the county. We can see from Herefordshire’s example that it is possible to turn the numbers around and move down a tier, as is happening there.
At the end of November the case rate was 117 per 100,000 people in Buckinghamshire. This figure has now risen to 228 cases per 100,000 people. The percentage of people testing positive has also risen from 5.1% to 7.2%. These are amongst the five criteria that the Government uses to decide which ‘tier’ an area should be in.
You can see the latest data for Buckinghamshire on our COVID dashboard.
Support for businesses and jobs
I am very concerned about the impact these additional restrictions will have on our local economy, on local businesses and local jobs. This is particularly true of the hospitality sector but also the ongoing impact on the events industry, the transport sector (such as coaches, buses and taxis) and the self-employed. I am asking council officers to see what additional support we can provide based upon Government financial support for Tier 3 areas.
Please keep checking the business support section of our website for updates and we will keep you informed. I know how important this is for our many business owners who’ve had such a challenging year already.
Tier 3 rules
From one minute past midnight on Saturday 19 Dec (so overnight Friday-Saturday) the following rules will apply in Buckinghamshire:
· You must not meet up with anyone you don’t live with either indoors, or in most outdoor places like your garden, unless you are in a support or childcare bubble with them
· You can, however, still meet in up to groups of six in a few specific public outdoor spaces like beaches and parks. Please follow this link for the list of permitted outdoor places
· Pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and other such hospitality venues must close, but can still provide a take away or click and collect service
· Accommodation like hotels and B&Bs must close
· Leisure centres and sports facilities can stay open but group exercise classes and sessions can’t take place
· Libraries will stay open but most group activities can’t take place
· You can still travel to venues that are open but you should try to reduce your journeys where possible
· You should continue to work from home where possible, as is the case for all tiers, in agreement with your employer
· You should avoid travelling outside your area unless it’s necessary, e.g. to attend a medical appointment
· Schools, colleges and universities will remain open during term time under Tier 3 restrictions
· Places of worship remain open but you cannot attend with or socialise with anyone you don’t live with or who isn’t in your support or childcare bubble whilst indoors there
This list isn’t exhaustive and there are some exemptions, for example, for children to travel between households if their parents do not live together.
We are all desperate to see loved ones over Christmas and to try to enjoy some kind of normality. I completely understand that. All I want to do is to reiterate the messages coming from the government about Christmas; that while the temporary rules will allow three households to bubble 23-27 December, it’s down to us all individually to make our own choices about what we actually will do, and the level of risk we want to take. Because we can meet up like this, it doesn’t mean we should, and the advice is to ‘keep it small, keep it short and keep it local’.
Above all, I urge you to think carefully about the risks especially where older relatives are concerned and to make your own choices carefully. Sadly, we are at a very dangerous point in the pandemic at the moment, so please bear that in mind when finalising your festive arrangements.
It’s essential that if you or someone in your households develops symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 that the household self-isolates for 10 days. You must also self-isolate for 10 days if asked to do so by the NHS or by our local Buckinghamshire Test and Trace systems because you’ve come into close contact with someone who’s tested positive. Isolating is the only way we can stop the chains of transmission and there’s evidence that not everyone is doing this correctly so can I urge you to follow this guidance to the letter please as it’s key to trying to stop the spread of infection.
Anyone with symptoms should book a COVID-19 test online, via the NHS COVID-19 app or by calling 119.
The Government has made two announcements regarding schools in the last 48 hours, firstly that COVID-19 testing will start in schools in the New Year and secondly, that secondary schools will have a staggered start to term after the Christmas holidays, with some secondary schools starting back with online learning first.
We are awaiting further updates from the Department for Education on both of these announcements and will tell you more as soon as we have more details.
Stay safe, protect Bucks
I know this latest message has a very sobering tone but please remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This week we celebrated the start of the COVID-19 vaccine programme here in Buckinghamshire, when 90 year old Brian Horne, from Chalfont St Peter, became the first patient in Bucks to get the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. More Bucks GPs will start their vaccinations for over 80s next week; please wait to be contacted by your surgery if you are expecting to be amongst the first cohort.
It’s great news this is underway, but unfortunately, it will take some time to ensure that everyone who is vulnerable receives a vaccination. Therefore, we need to keep on working hard to stay safe during the exceptionally challenging winter ahead.
Remember – Hands, Face, Space at all times and please be sure you and your household are familiar with the full guidance set by the Government and available in the links contained in this email.
Things will get better, so please hold on to that and in the meantime, stay safe, protect Bucks, and protect each other.