You will almost certainly have seen, heard or read about Saturday’s announcement by the Prime Minister that Buckinghamshire has been placed under even tighter ‘Tier 4’ restrictions, along with many other parts of east and south east England. These new rules took effect at one minute past midnight yesterday morning and replace the Tier 3 restrictions we previously had been put into.
These new rules for Buckinghamshire also mean that, very sadly, ‘Christmas bubbles’ are now not allowed and people in Bucks should spend Christmas within their own household or support bubble only. Non-essential retail is also closed.
This development is a shock to us all and is certainly a nasty sting in the tail at the end of a terrible year. Frankly, I did not expect this, although the figures I see regularly were clearly heading in the wrong direction across the whole council area, in all former District Council areas. I had thought that we might have additional restrictions after Christmas but did not expect the problem to escalate so rapidly. It’s clear that the pandemic has, unfortunately, entered a new phase especially due to the risk posed by the new variant strain of the COVID-19 virus, which government scientists tell us makes the coronavirus spread more easily.
Because we have seen the number of cases in Buckinghamshire increase rapidly in recent weeks, the situation is one of urgency as we try to contain the spread of the virus. You can see our latest data on the Council’s website via our COVID-19 dashboard and via information published by the Government. The Government also has an interactive map where you can find the latest case numbers in your postcode area.
I am aware from emails I receive that some people are not supportive of the new Tier 4 restrictions. I fully understand that. Personally, I am very concerned for our Buckinghamshire businesses and the real threat to their future and the jobs they create. Nevertheless, whatever one’s own private opinions, this is now the law and we should follow the new rules. If we do not, we risk spreading the new Covid strain further across the UK.
On a positive note, this past week saw our first vaccination centre open and next week should hopefully see two more open. I am also expecting more sites either before or just after New Year. These are run by the NHS and they will contact people to advise them when and where to attend. Please wait to be contacted, although I understand that can be frustrating. 2020 has been a horrible year but there is hope on the horizon and we need to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe until then.
The new ‘Tier 4’ rules for Buckinghamshire
These are the main rules now in place. Please carefully read the link at the bottom which gives the full Government advice.
· You must stay at home other than for the following essential reasons:
§ Exercise with people you live with or who are in your support bubble
§ Shopping for essential supplies like food and medicine
§ Work and volunteering that you cannot do at home
§ Education during term time and childcare
§ To visit some public outdoor spaces such as parks and the countryside for exercise or recreation
§ Medical reasons, including to get a COVID-19 test if you have symptoms
§ Communal worship within the guidelines for places of worship
§ For one person to meet one other person separately in a permitted outdoor place
· You should work from home if possible and in agreement with your employer
· You should not travel outside your Tier 4 area unless for work or another legally permitted reason
· You cannot stay away from home unless permitted by law
· You cannot form a ‘Christmas bubble’ and must spend Christmas within your own household or support bubble
· Non-essential retail is closed
· Pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants are closed other than for takeaway/click and collect
· Leisure centres and gyms must close; outdoor gyms can remain open
· Hotels and other accommodation must close
· Personal care like hairdressers, barbers and nail salons must close
· Community Centres and halls must close except for a limited number of exempt activities
· Our libraries will close from now and over Christmas and some sites will reopen from Monday 28 Dec for essential IT access and click and collect services only
· Household Recycling Centres remain open
This is a short summary of the main points of the Tier 4 restrictions but it’s impossible to include all the detail plus the exemptions, so please read the Tier 4 guidance in full on the Government’s website.
Remember – Hands, Face, Space
We must all remember the main defences we have against this virus are the basics:
· Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
· Keep a distance from people you don’t live with or who you’re not in a support bubble with
· Wear a face covering where required
Unfortunately, any planned outdoor events such as carol singing should not take place in Buckinghamshire and should be cancelled, as these aren’t classed as a ‘reasonable reason’ to leave home in a Tier 4 area.
Support for businesses
I know this news brings fresh misery for our local businesses already struggling after this awful year. Government support remains available via the furlough and other schemes. Locally we offer the Local Restrictions Support Grant. In addition, we have been urgently working over the weekend on a new scheme to support businesses impacted by the changes and hope to release details within the next few days. The finances available for this are limited but our aim is to support as many businesses as possible impacted by the new restrictions. Please keep checking the ‘support for businesses’ section of our website and the information for businesses on the Government’s website. (Please note some of these pages are still being updated to reflect the new Tier 4 restrictions, so please keep checking back for the latest information).
People who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable
The ‘shielding’ programme will come back into effect for areas in Tier 4, including Buckinghamshire. This means there is special advice for people who are classed as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’. This is the same advice as was applied during the national November lockdown. Please note, the guidance is not the same as it was back in the spring during the first lockdown. As before, people who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable will get letters and texts and emails where the national programme has their contact details. Please call us on 01296 395 000 if you have any questions about the ‘shielding’ programme.
Our colleagues in the NHS are facing high demand on their services now, caused by the usual winter illnesses and rising COVID cases. These services are there for you if you need them urgently and the best thing we can do to support our frontline workers is to stay at home and reduce the spread of the virus.
Stay safe, protect Bucks
At the end of an incredibly difficult year, these latest developments hurt us all, especially with so many of us now having to change plans for Christmas at the last minute. It is undoubtedly a testing time and if you’re struggling, please reach out as our local support services are ready to help. You can find out more via the ‘Health and Wellbeing Bucks’ website which has details of all the organisations that can help you if you need.
This makes us all feel more vulnerable and comes at a difficult time of year for many so let’s check in on each other in a safe way, maybe just by picking up the phone or dropping our friends and neighbours a text message to see if they’re ok and whether they need anything.
I am so proud of our strong communities here in Buckinghamshire and my main message today is to remember those strengths, and how much stronger we are together. If we all take collective responsibility, following the rules as individuals, we can turn this situation around together. I know it’s hard, but this year is nearly behind us and while we face a very serious immediate challenge in the present, the future will be better and we will get through this.
Stay at home, stay safe, and protect Bucks and each other,
Leader, Buckinghamshire Council