25 February 2021
Most of you will have read about or heard the Prime Minister’s announcement this week on the Government’s ‘roadmap’ to easing the COVID-19 restrictions in the coming months.
I’m sure that for you, like me, it’s a huge relief to see a way out of this situation and for us to finally be able to consider a return to more normal life later this year. Of course, as life has resoundingly taught us in the last 12 months, we cannot be 100% sure of anything so these plans will be guided by the data as we move forward.
I’m pleased to be able to let you know that we’ve also been able to stand down the ‘Major Incident’ that we declared back in December when our local health services were under severe strain. This week’s decision reflects that we are no longer in a crisis situation although I must stress that we still have COVID-19 patients in our local hospitals. Also please do bear in mind that national infection rates are still far higher than when we began the last major unlocking process last year, and overall the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 nationally has very recently been around the same as at the height of the first wave last April.
For some the Government’s ‘roadmap’ is too slow and cautious, for some too fast. I believe that on balance they have got it about right with cautious opening up, checked at each stage with the data. I for one am looking forward to seeing friends and relatives again this summer and doing some ‘real shopping’.
Nevertheless, while we can look to the future with real hope, we all need to stick at it a bit longer to get the infection rates down further still. We’ve done a brilliant job of this here in Buckinghamshire since Christmas so let’s keep going just that little bit longer.
Extensive surveillance of COVID-19 has identified a case in the Wooburn Green area of the variant first discovered in South Africa. The person has self-isolated and is following all of the guidance.
It means that, working with NHS Test and Trace, Buckinghamshire Council is encouraging every person over the age of 16 living or working in the Wooburn Green area and parts of Flackwell Heath to take a PCR COVID-19 test regardless of whether they have symptoms. If you live in or close to the Wooburn Green/Flackwell Heath HP10 postcode area please use the online postcode checker to see if you live in the ‘surge testing’ area – it takes in some, but not all HP10 postcodes.
Children aged five and over can also be tested if their parents/carers want this. We will be delivering home test kits to all households in Wooburn Green and parts of Flackwell Heath from today (Thursday 25 February) until Tuesday 2 March. We will also have Mobile Testing Units in the area – you can also book a test online at www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/surgetesting. The mobile unit is for people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19. If you do have symptoms then please isolate your household and take one of the home testing kits
or book a test through the national testing system.
While I appreciate that this news may be worrying, please let me reassure you that there’s currently no evidence to suggest that this variant is more serious than others or that our current precautions and treatments are not as effective against it. The extra testing, combined with all the existing measures in place, will help to suppress and control the spread of the virus and give us a better understanding of the new variant.
We are continuing to digest the information released by the government which details the step by step approach to cautiously easing the lockdown. The Prime Minister has explained that the dates given are the earliest by which the measures will start, and that a gap is being left between each ‘step’ so that the impact of each phase can be fully assessed.
The steps will only progress if the government’s four tests are being met, namely that; i) the vaccination programme is continuing successfully, ii) there is evidence to show the vaccine programme is reducing hospitalisations and deaths, iii) the infection rates are such that there’s not a risk of a surge in demand on NHS services, iv) that no new variants cause enough concern to threaten this approach.
Step 1 March 8:
Step 2 No earlier than 12 April and subject to four tests still being met:
Step 3 No earlier than 17 May and subject to four tests still being met:
Step 4 No earlier than 21 June and subject to four tests still being met:
These lists capture some of the main points in each step but if you want the full detail including the rationale for these measures please read the information in full on the Government’s website. For now, everyone needs to continue to socially distance from anyone they don’t live with. This advice will be reviewed and updated when it’s possible to do so.
We are working hard with all our schools to ensure the safe return of all Buckinghamshire students to the classroom from 8 March, the first major step in this ‘unlocking’ process. Schools will communicate directly with parents and carers about the processes for each individual site and of course, all schools will continue to operate with COVID-safe measures in place. We await the full details of how regular testing for school students will work which is how we will help to keep students and teachers safe and to minimise outbreaks.
The vaccine roll out continues at pace here in Bucks and I remain extremely grateful to everyone involved in this magnificent effort. NHS staff and volunteers continue to work down the priority list here and 145,000 people in Buckinghamshire have now had a vaccination.
Please be aware that if you’re in one of the top five priority groups you can now book your vaccine online yourself – you do not have to wait to be contacted. This means anyone in the following groups can book their vaccine online or call 119 to get an appointment:
You can read more about the vaccination programme in Buckinghamshire on our website.
Rapid testing sites
If you have to leave your home to work or volunteer then please visit one of our rapid testing sites to get a COVID-19 test. We have four sites in the county, in Amersham, Aylesbury, Buckingham and Wycombe. You can find out more information including opening times on our website. You can book your test online at this link too or simply walk in at a time that suits you. I do urge you to get tested if you are having to leave home for these reasons as it will help us to keep families and communities safe and to drive down infection.
As I reminded you last time, these rapid tests are not for people who do have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have even very mild symptoms of COVID-19 then please book a test via the national system online or by calling 119. It’s essential that you and everyone you live with isolates immediately. If you are on a low income and can’t work from home while you’re isolating you might qualify for a self-isolation payment of £500.
Please continue to stay safe and look after yourselves and each other,
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council