100 Days Since Lockdown

It’s hard to believe but on Wednesday, it was 100 days since the Prime Minister announced the lockdown back in March.

While we have made good progress since then in managing the outbreak, and with a further easing of the lockdown this weekend, it’s vital we don’t become complacent.  

The risks to our communities and to our local economies are still very much there and we must all do everything we can to stop a second peak of infections.

That means following all the advice, including social distancing, good personal hygiene and regular hand washing. If  people are symptomatic they should self-isolate, contact NHS111 and get tested.

If people are contacted by NHS Test and Trace because they have been in contact with a confirmed case they should self-isolate for 14 days.

In this next phase of managing the outbreak, along with Public Health England, the NHS and District and Borough Councils, we now have plans in place to swiftly identify, contain and stop any local outbreaks across the county. 

The main areas we’ll be focusing on are schools, care settings, local businesses, community settings and hard to reach communities such as the homeless.

Having our plans in place means we are able to monitor cases on a daily basis to ensure we are in a position to mobilise efforts to identify any outbreaks and do everything we can to prevent the spread of the virus.

Throughout the pandemic, the county has pulled together like never before and I’ve seen some amazing community spirit. But if we are to win this battle outright, we need to continue our efforts by taking precautions and following all the advice.

As always, the latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Please stay safe.

Easing the lockdown

In his speech to the House of Commons on Tuesday the PM outlined a number of important changes to lockdown rules to come into effect from 4 July.  These include:

  • People should still stay 2 metres apart if they can, but this can be reduced to least 1 metre apart as long as there are mitigations in place.
  • Two households will be able to meet inside, in any setting.
  • Pubs and restaurants will be re-opened, but limited to table service.
  • People will also be able to stay in hotels and on camping and caravan sites
  • Hairdressers will also be able to reopen, so long as there are precautions in place

It’s good news that we are in a position to ease the lockdown but it’s still a real balancing act between keeping people safe and allowing businesses to get up and running.

The leisure, tourism and hospitality industry have been impacted quite badly throughout the pandemic with many having to close or vastly reduce or change their services. 

This is also a really important sector for us here in Staffordshire too, worth around £1.8 billion each year and employing over 33,000 people.  But with these new rules and a firm opening date in place, businesses now have enough time to adapt to the new working guidelines.

We’ve supported our local businesses throughout the crisis, and we’ll continue to help them get back up and running, as well as pushing ahead with our plans to attract even more investment and grow our economy.

The easing of restrictions is also great news for families, especially when coupled with yesterday’s announcement about relaxing the guidance on shielding, as it means they can spend more time together.

As the Prime Minister said, COVID-19 has not gone away, so it is important people keep following the guidelines and keep themselves and everyone around them safe.

As always, the latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Reopening of high streets and support for students preparing for GCSEs and A levels

From today we’ll see a slight but welcome step back towards normality with many ‘non-essential’ shops reopening since the lockdown. But, it’s still vital that we all continue to follow the official advice and specific guidance when visiting shops if we are to help prevent further infection.

Our highways teams have been busy working closely with borough and district councils to prepare shopping streets and town centre areas for social distancing and hygiene requirements for when customers return, as well as promoting walking and cycling routes.

There’s a lot of considerations and possibilities. For example, we could create one-way pedestrian streets to allow for social distancing,  or close car parking bays to widen pavements to allow pedestrian segregation while people are passing each other or queuing for shops. 

The most important thing is that people are kept safe, and while we will do our upmost to achieve this, we will need people to do their bit by following the spirit of social distancing too.

Also from today, every secondary school in Staffordshire will have provision for students preparing for GCSE and A Level exams next year.

Social distancing, reduced student numbers in classrooms and more online learning are just some of the measures being put in place to help keep students and staff safe. Parents have already been informed of the arrangements being put in place, which will vary from school to school.

Making sure that our children are able to continue learning is really important for their future but it’s a real balancing act between keeping the virus contained. We will continue to support all our schools throughout the pandemic and once again I would like to thank teachers and staff for what they have done and will continue to do for the children of Staffordshire.

The latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Life after Coronavirus in Staffordshire

There’s no doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in many ways. Life as we all knew it is unlikely to return to exactly the same and we have to recognise the impact of the virus on businesses, communities, a fragile care market and our own finances in our recovery.

But if the crisis has shown us anything it proves that in times of need, the council and the whole county can pull together to make an incredible difference. I have spoken about this in previous blog posts too but I have been truly humbled by the incredible response from our communities as they stepped up to help family, neighbours and people who were strangers before the crisis started.

Throughout the pandemic the county council has focused on the immediate response and managing the outbreak locally, but also kept a close eye on the lasting impact it will have and how we can shape a stronger Staffordshire post pandemic.

While we will not forget the huge toll the virus has already taken on individuals and their families across the county, our priority now must be to contain the spread of infection and also to look to the future, gradually reopening the county for business, for investment, for growth and ultimately for the benefit of Staffordshire families.

Next week, I will be taking our recovery plan to Cabinet for approval, detailing how we will rebuild the county. We will be focusing on key areas i.e. health and care, families and communities, economy and skills, the digital agenda, and climate change.

Once again, we have shown how resilient the county can be which will be a huge strength as we continue to build on our response and look more to the future and a different way of life after Covid-19.

But please let’s not forget, the virus hasn’t gone away, so we still need to stay alert and follow the advice around social distancing and good personal hygiene and thorough hand washing.

All the latest Coronavirus advice can be found here.

NHS Test and Trace service

Last week we saw the launch of the NHS Test and Trace service, the next phase in Government efforts to contain the virus.

This means people who are known to have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, will be contacted and instructed to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they have any symptoms.  It’s vital that we follow any instructions from the service, so if you are contacted please do as they ask.  This is about protecting yourself, your family, and the wider community – and avoiding a second peak and further lock-down restrictions.

As a county council with responsibilities for public health locally, we will also be taking a lead role in managing any outbreaks in the county such as in care homes, schools or businesses.

There are no doubt still difficult times ahead as we balance easing “lock-down” with trying to contain the virus, but as always, if we pull together we will get through this.

Please keep yourself up to date with the latest Coronavirus advice here.

Supporting our schools

I have spoken about the incredible work that schools and their staff have been doing during the pandemic in a previous post. The continued efforts of staff and leaders in schools and education settings since the start of the pandemic have been humbling and inspiring to us all. We have seen scores of examples of great practice and efforts by individual staff and schools as a body, which have been shared with the wider education sector.

Most schools have remained open to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers, which has allowed essential staff to get to work and help keep things going during the pandemic. Teachers have also been working hard to make sure that those children at home can still get the best education possible which is really important.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been in regular contact with our schools, making sure they are kept up to date with the latest information from Government and making sure they have everything they need to operate safely.

Following the latest Government guidance, we are now working with primary schools to give them the support they need so they can open safely to nursery, reception, year one and year six pupils from 1 June. Our health and safety teams continue to offer advice on social distancing measures as well as access to a pack of personal protective equipment should someone fall ill.

Schools know what is best for their staff and pupils, so it will be up to each individual school to make the decision about when and how they can open. Our understanding is that the majority of schools will be open in some way, and will be letting parents know what will be happening over the coming days.

I trust this gives you some reassurance, and that you will also join with me in thanking our schools on behalf of the children and families of Staffordshire for their response to date, and the work they are planning for the next phase.

Be assured, we will continue to support our schools in these very challenging times. And if we continue to follow all the official advice on Coronavirus and pulling together we will beat the pandemic.

Increased funding for care providers, and re-opening of tips and country park carparks

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I said that we would do everything it takes to protect our communities and our vulnerable residents. Supporting our care sector to help manage the impact of the crisis has been and remains a key part of this.

Funding to the sector has now increased to £20m and is supporting a raft of measures to ease the pressure on care homes and care providers.  Ensuring those who need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) most, such as our frontline workers, has been essential in fighting the pandemic. As such, this funding will help with the distribution of more than 700,000 free emergency items such as gloves, masks and aprons, to ensure every care home in Staffordshire has what it needs.

With some of the travel restrictions now being lifted, from today, we will also see the reopening of our recycling centres. We know these have been a much-missed service during the lockdown as people no doubt have been decorating their houses and doing extra work in their gardens.  We are expecting lots of visitors to the sites, so we’re asking people in the early days, to only visit if it’s a priority.  Please be patient and follow the new rules put in place to adhere to social distancing.

We’re also introducing a phased reopening of county council’s country park car parks. This follows the Government’s updated guidance on exercising and staying safe during the pandemic.

While we appreciate that people will be keen to get out and about, social distancing remains critical and why we’re asking people to continue following the ‘two metres apart’ rule and stay alert to passing the virus on.   Please note that some facilities at the country parks will also remain closed, like toilets as well as visitor centres and children’s playgrounds.

Even though it may seem like we’ve moved past the worst part of this pandemic, it’s important that we continue to follow the official Public Health England advice on Coronavirus to ensure we don’t see a rise in the number of cases.

Updated Coronavirus guidance announced

On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister set out a new coronavirus roadmap for the country and is calling for people to follow the updated advice.

A new strapline ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives’ is being backed up with five stages of alert for the country ranging from One (Green) to Five (Red). Britain is currently in Stage Four.

The key points are:

  • People should: Still stay at home as much as possible, work from home if they can, follow the 2m social distancing rule, limit social contact, wash their hands regularly, self-isolate if they or a member of their household shows symptoms.
  • Those who can’t work from home are being actively encouraged to return to work from Wednesday, but not by public transport
  • People can exercise more than once a day and play sport – but only with own households
  • From June 1 some shops and primary schools may reopen
  • From July at the earliest some hospitality venues may reopen

It’s really important that we all use our common sense and follow the latest advice, wash our hands regularly and keep a safe distance to safeguard ourselves, our families and our communities if we are to get through this and avoid a second peak in the pandemic.

Over  the coming weeks and months we will all be treading a very fine line as we gradually reopen the county and the country but this is absolutely not a green light for everyone and everything to go back to as we were before the pandemic.

We continue to work with residents, businesses, partners and staff on our own recovery planning and will align this with the Government’s roadmap once more detailed information is available.

In the meantime, please continue to follow the official Coronavirus advice here and together we’ll defeat the pandemic.

Marking VE Day anniversary online

Friday is the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and marks the end of World War II.

This could be the last memorable milestone when we remember those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for the country and our freedom while some of them are still with us.

But as we celebrate with them, we also find ourselves in a battle with a very different enemy, that of Coronavirus. In this fight it is our NHS staff, our Care workers and essential workers who are leading the charge to beat the pandemic and with our staunch community spirit, it’s a battle that we’ll win.

With people no longer able to attend physical commemoration events because of the travel restrictions, a series of online and virtual activities have been organised. Live streams, war poetry, stories, and a huge UK-wide rendition of Vera Lynn’s ‘ We’ll Meet Again’ are amongst the activities.

Following the two minute silence, at 11am on Friday, which I would encourage people to do, there is also a VE Day 75 livestream, sharing stories and memories from those who served during the Second World War. Our libraries service will also be joining in with war poetry readings, e-book recommendations, sharing of old photos and memories and chat on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

While it will be sad not to be able to attend physical events, there is plenty happening online and I would urge people to take some time to pay tribute to those brave men and women who fought for freedom from the Nazi tyranny in the second world war and sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedom.

Getting PPE to care providers and a new grant scheme for small businesses affected by Coronavirus

In my previous posts I highlighted the amazing work being done by our army of carers in extremely difficult times. I also said that we would do everything in our power to make sure we look after our most vulnerable residents and to make sure care staff have what they need to protect themselves and go about their work safely. 

We know there’s a global shortage of PPE and some care homes have been struggling to get supplies and that’s why we have stepped in to provide almost 400,000 Pieces of emergency Personal Protective Equipment PPE.  This is essential equipment that helps protect staff and residents from the virus and includes things  like face-masks, gloves, goggles,  gowns and aprons.

The county council has also pledged £13.6m to help care providers cover additional costs for staff and PPE during the crisis.

I know from talking to many smaller businesses that many are being quite badly affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s important that businesses are supported through the outbreak and why we have launched a new grant scheme to help them through the crisis.

The £500,000 scheme will help micro businesses with nine employees or less and cannot get support from other Government initiatives. The emergency fund will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis and is expected to be able to support up to 500 local businesses.

Businesses could include, sole traders such as builders, plumbers and mechanics as well as hairdressers, photographers, cleaners and childminders.

There is a range of support available to businesses and I would urge people to get in contact with the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub team who can provide more information and advice.  You can find them at www.stokestaffslep.org.uk