21 December, Message from Ruth Tennant, Solihull’s Director of Public Health

Released:

This has been a tough weekend.

On Saturday, London and parts of the South East and East of England were moved into a new Tier 4 with travel into and out of these areas now illegal. Hospitals right across the country are now under very severe pressure.

Christmas arrangements for the whole of England have now been changed so that even outside these areas you can only meet on Christmas Day.

These changes have been put in place very quickly because of a rapid rise in cases caused by a new variant of COVID which means that the virus is now transmitting much more quickly with the R rate increasing very rapidly and very significant and rising pressure on hospitals.

Over the last 7 days our rates have gone up by 17% to 180.2 per 100k. Rates in people over the age of 60 are up by 10% to 159.3 per 100k.

I’d like to give some context and to ask for your help.

It is not unusual to see a virus mutate: they are built to do this and we have already seen this happen during the pandemic.  The new version of the virus was spotted after a very, very rapid increase in cases in Kent and the South East and the change to the virus has been – and continues to be – analysed by scientists.

At this stage, there is no evidence that it affects the vaccine which is designed to work across a range of strains. It remains good news that we have a vaccine and that this is rolling out so quickly both at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and across our primary care networks through local GPs and nurses.  I would like to thank them, their teams and everyone who has been vaccinated. It is also good news that we know much more about how to treat very poorly people with COVID to give them the best chance of survival.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

We also know that the measures that stop COVID spreading will also work against this new variant. Hands, face, space are absolutely essential and they work. We are learning more about this new variant but these are tried and tested measures that protect across lots of viruses. But we now have to do them 100% of the time, really avoid close contact and being in close spaces where the virus can transmit more easily.

Put simply, there are things we may have got away with which are now much riskier and much more likely to result in us getting – or giving – the virus.

At the moment, Solihull is not in Tier 4 and we do not yet know how much the new variant is circulating locally. What we do know from the start of the pandemic when the virus first came into the UK, is that no-where is an island. People will have been moving around the country before Saturday’s travel ban and this will have spread the new variant. So we need to act like it’s already here.  There are some key things you can do:

  • Do not travel to Tier 4 areas. Any travel risks increasing the speed that the new variant will get round the country and the speed that our local rates will go up.
  • We are asking anyone who has travelled to Solihull from any Tier 4 area or Wales, to assume they have the new variant of Covid and self-isolate for at least ten days when they arrive. This means remaining inside the house where they’re staying for the whole ten days. Other people who live in the house do not need to self-isolate unless anyone gets symptoms but no visitors should be allowed in that house at all, even on Christmas Day. Even if you have a negative test, you should continue to self-isolate.
  • Although Solihull is currently in Tier 3, our rates are increasing and it is highly likely that the new variant is circulating. So please reduce your contact to a minimum, act like people you see have the virus. Remember that people may have the virus and show no symptoms.
  • Think ‘should I do this given what we know about the new form of the virus’ not ‘can I do this within the rules’.
  • Change your Christmas plans as much as you can. You can only meet your Christmas bubble on the 25th December. Keep your visit as short as possible, with as few people as possible and outdoors if you can.
  • If you have COVID symptoms you MUST get tested through the national booking system. You MUST self-isolate for 10 days and don’t wait for your test result to start self-isolating. Your close contacts must also self-isolate for 10 days. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-contacts-of-people-with-possible-or-confirmed-coronavirus-covid-19-infection-who-do-not-live-with-the-person
  • If you need help with food or money while you self-isolate, please ask for help. https://www.solihull.gov.uk/COVID-19/here2help
  • Minimise how much you go out. Use click and collect or delivery services unless there is no other option. Ask yourself if that last pre-Christmas purchase is worth it.
  • Look out for other people: pick up the phone, see people online and check if they are okay. Ask for help if you’re not – it’s okay to feel sad, frustrated or out of hope. There is further information about local help available here https://www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk/your-health/mental-health-support-offer

We will get through this and we will see our friends and family soon. Hold off and let our NHS do its work treating people with COVID and other critical health needs and to roll out the vaccine. They really need our help now.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you and the many, many people across Solihull for everything they have done this year. We have seen incredible acts of kindness, a desire to help and to do the right thing in incredibly difficult circumstances. Thank you and we look forward to a return to a more normal way of life in 2021.