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:
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.