I wanted to write and give you an update as to what this means for West Berkshire: what the current health situation shows, what differences there are from last time and what help there is available.
As I'm sure you all know the announcement was made over the weekend when Parliament was not sitting. The Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers will be in to take questions this week and I will be putting them on your behalf (if I'm selected in the Speakers ballot).
I joined a conference call on Sunday with Matt Hancock, Jenny Harries (Deputy Chief Medical Officer) and Stephen Powis (National Medical Director of NHS England).
What I can tell you is that although the South East and South West have the lowest rates of infection in the country, the rates of infection have been rising exponentially and the rate of increase is now such that - if left unmanaged - we would soon be overwhelmed.
As a result of this lockdown, both the healthcare professionals thought that Covid hospital admissions would remain low in our local hospitals, so that they would be able to continue to provide urgent treatment for serious conditions (such as cancer) but also for elective treatments such as hip-replacements - many of which have been postponed from dates earlier in the year. I am hopeful that the next month's lockdown will protect primary and secondary care services for other conditions over the Winter months and would stress that no one in West Berkshire should put off seeing a doctor for any other condition. GPs locally have also emphasised this point.
Below I have outlined an overview of the situation.
West Berkshire still has a fairly low rate of the virus (we are 89.1 per 100,000 which is only just above the national average). As I have said in previous posts - the first lockdown was highly effective and we have controlled the virus well since then. Hospital admissions locally remain low.
However, the data is now showing a terrifying spread of the virus in other parts of the country and it would be foolish to pretend that we are some kind of island that is going to remain immune. A further lockdown was not what I wanted however I could not, in good conscience, ignore data that risked tens of thousands of lives or ICU beds becoming overwhelmed.
My immediate priorities will be to establish clear data both locally and nationally on the number of critical beds available and the increase in take-up (including in the Nightingales). I will also seek clear and measurable criteria for exiting these measures which I will share with you so that you are able to monitor this for yourselves.
The principles are broadly the same as those imposed in March. You are encouraged to work from home it at all possible, but go to work if you cannot. Socialising between households is prohibited and all non-essential retail, hospitality and leisure will closed from 5 November. There are however a few key differences which I wanted to highlight (and will write more as further details come through):
- This time schools, colleges and universities will remain open;
- So will childcare settings (for registered childcare settings and wraparound care) - there is therefore a greater focus on supporting people to work (if they are in jobs where it is possible to do so).
- Outdoor playgrounds will also remain open this time.
- Outside exercise is permitted and encouraged. At present there is no time limit for this (you will recall that in March it was limited to one hour) and people are permitted to meet one person from outside their household at this time, observing social distancing.
- Courts remain open and both civil and criminal hearings should proceed as scheduled
- Funerals are permitted (with groups of up to 30)
- Places of worship will be kept open for private prayer but not for ceremonies or services
- Overnight stays anywhere are not permitted unless for work.
- Further guidance is coming on care home visits
Last night the Chancellor announced his first raft of further financial support. The furlough scheme which officially ended yesterday is now extended and anyone furloughed will be entitled to 80% of pay on the same basis as before. This replaces the Job Support Scheme that had been created for the Winter months.
A further Treasury announcement today concerns mortgages. Anyone who has not yet taken advantage of, or fully completed, the six-month payment holiday on their mortgage is entitled to do so with immediate effect.
I anticipate further financial announcements will be forthcoming and I will share these as I get them. For now, I attach the most recent guidance which has fuller detail of last night's announcement.
To come back on a few other questions you have raised:
1. You can meet one person from another household in an outdoor setting. If you have pre-school age children they do not count towards this figure - so parents with new babies or toddlers are not isolated at home. Larger baby groups cannot meet.
2. I'm very sorry to say that it has been confirmed that swimming pools and golf courses are to close. Matt Hancock is referring this back to the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to see what more can be done.
3. Driving lessons/ Dog Groomers / Libraries - I have taken this up and am awaiting a further update.
4. House moves can continue as normal for both renters and homeowners. Removal vans and estate agents can operate. Construction work can and should continue. Tradesmen - electricians, plumbers etc. are entitled to enter homes and work. SUBJECT TO COVID SAFETY MEASURES.
5. You are permitted to exercise outside as much as you wish. You can also drive to places to exercise.
6. Further financial support: for any business required to close grants are available:
- For properties with rateable values of less than £15,000 grants of £1334 are available;
- For properties with rateable values of between £15,000 and £51,000 grants of £2000 per month are available;
- For properties with rateable values above £51,000 grants of £3000 per month are available.