n the last week our COVID rates have fallen again by 22% to 152 per 100,000 with 329 new cases in the week to December 2, compared with an average rate of 125 in England. This is good to see, although sadly, we know that 12 people died in the most recent week we have information for.
It is clear the lockdown has been the main driver for the fall in cases and that these numbers are likely to rise as more people are out and about. Our job now is to keep these figures as low as possible for the next few months until the vaccine programme starts to take effect. Our R rate is just below one which gives us very little room for manoeuvre.
This is a critical point in the year. Our hospitals are going into their busiest winter period as well as having to deal with COVID. The rates we see today reflect what we were doing two to three weeks ago: so what we do now, will have a direct impact on the number of people who are ill over Christmas. Some people will be asymptomatic or have very few symptoms: this is a real risk as people mix more – even in the Government’s five day Christmas bubble - more people will get ill.
Tier 3 is the highest level of COVID restrictions. It is still about minimising social contact indoors wherever possible and when we are out, taking the necessary precautions. If you need to shop do it safely. Observe social distancing, wear face coverings, particularly when indoors in shops or supermarkets and keep washing and sanitising your hands. Please use the rule of thumb ‘should I do it’ not ‘can I do it’.
Do not, under any circumstances, go out if you are unwell or self-isolating, and if you get any of the COVID symptoms self-isolate immediately and get tested. Testing is now very easily available. If you have any symptoms at all, please self-isolate even before you get a test.
The regional test centre at the airport and our mobile test unit at Monkspath Hall Road usually have plenty of availability and can be booked online or via 119 if you have symptoms. We have recently opened Roundmead Day Centre as a new asymptomatic test centre in the north of the borough. This can be used if you live locally even if you don’t have symptoms.
As you plan your festive arrangements, please consider the risks to any older family members and friends, especially those with underlying health conditions. Under Christmas bubble arrangements you can (between the 23 and 27 December only) form a bubble of three households.
You can’t change bubbles and you should keep this as small as possible. Think very carefully if this is the right option for you, particularly if it includes older people who are most likely to be vulnerable to COVID. Follow the steps in the germ defence guide to keep you as safe as possible, keep rooms well ventilated and if possible, meet outdoors or virtually.
This week vaccinations will start in earnest now the first batch of vaccine has arrived in England’s hospitals. This jab will be rolled out in a programme that will eventually expand to cover the whole country. The first vaccines are being given in parts of the UK today and we are waiting for our go live date very soon. Priority will be given to care home staff and residents, people aged over 80 and health and care workers before wider roll out next year.
The first vaccine that is available has been tested on over 20,000 people and has gone through the same safety trials and regulations as any other vaccine. It has been produced quickly because a very large number of expert doctors, nurses, researchers and scientists have been mobilised round the world to focus on this as a global number one priority.
This has allowed a very large amount of resources to be put into vaccine development and testing. It does not mean that any of the safety standards have been relaxed. We will be providing more information about the vaccine for people who want to know more.
Together over the past weeks we have driven COVID infections down. Let’s not throw away our hard work by relaxing too much now or over Christmas. The vaccines are coming, but until then, we have to keep doing the right thing for Solihull to keep us all safe over the Christmas and New Year period.