As part of step one of the roadmap, schools reopened for all pupils this week - although of course they have been open for children of key workers and for vulnerable children throughout the lockdown.
I am pleased to hear positive feedback from school leaders that children are adapting quickly to the return. I’m also confident that with the extensive COVID safety measures in place, which are being followed so diligently, the risk of transmission can be minimised. This will allow all our children to remain in the best environment for their education.
Testing has also been launched successfully with our secondary school children. They are having three lateral flow tests (LFTs) at school over the phased return this week, then twice weekly tests at home in the future.
The news about the falling number of infections and the rising numbers of vaccinations is creating an early spring-like feeling, and after everything we have gone through, we do all need a tonic.
I do remain nervous after the second spike last Autumn, so as my Director of Public Health reminds me, it is crucial that we continue following the rules for a little longer to further reduce our rates. The national lockdown restrictions still apply and while many people are not yet vaccinated, there is still significant risk of our rates rising again.
We will be delivering another free school meals voucher scheme over the coming Easter holiday period, with e-gift cards again issued to eligible families. This is a repeat of the voucher schemes which were so successfully run during the Christmas 2020 and February half term holidays. Families who meet the criteria for free school meals will receive a voucher to the value of £30 per child for the Easter holiday period.
Another element of this week’s first step out of lockdown is the new visiting arrangements for our care homes, which will allow a single named person a regular indoor visit with a relative or friend.
We will continue to provide support to care homes to help them manage the process of reintroducing regular visits. I think we all recognise that this will take careful planning, but I am sure it will be welcomed by those with loved ones in a care home.
A summary of the guidance for visitors is here.
We have extended our Discretionary Business Grant Scheme from 8 March until midday on 31 March for Solihull businesses impacted by the COVID restrictions.
If you have applied and received a Discretionary Business Grant payment in December 2020, January 2021 or February 2021 you will not need to apply again. We will automatically send you a top up payment as soon as possible, no later than 31 March 2021.
Specific support is also available for Taxi Drivers and Private Hire Drivers who live in Solihull and have been impacted by the COVID restrictions. A one off grant of £1,000 is available to all eligible drivers.
As we take these first tentative steps out of lockdown and the weather begins to improve, I do ask everyone again to both respect our parks and observe social distancing. From Monday we are now allowed to leave home for recreation and exercise outdoors with our household or support bubble, if we are eligible for one, or with one person from outside our household. Please make sure that you stay safe by social distancing with people outside your household.
Our parks are being well used at the moment, as I have seen at my local ones; the council’s contractors have been doing their best to keep up, but there is really a limit on what they and local volunteers are able to do; please take litter home as much as you can, and please use the litter bins. I have seen myself the mess that some people have left behind and we all value clean and tidy parks.
On our climate change programme, just a quick reminder you can still register to join our final Net Zero Action Plan webinar on Thursday 18 March 6pm -7:30pm. We really want to know what you think about the Green Paper, so do sign up and join in the conversation.
Finally, Mother’s Day is approaching - I would like to thank all our fantastic foster mums for everything they do for Solihull’s children and young people. Foster carers play a vital role in providing love and stability to children when they need it the most, and their selflessness and dedication is hugely appreciated.
There are many children across Solihull in need of a loving home. If you think you could become a foster carer, please call us on 0121 788 4253 or visit www.solihull.gov.uk/fostering.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council