The news that we will be the first country to roll out vaccinations from next week must lift our spirits and give us all renewed hope that 2021 will be much better than 2020! Now I want us all to concentrate on getting through this winter, bearing in mind mass vaccination is a very large logistical task and will take time to roll out.
We are now at Tier 3 (Very High Alert). It seems lockdown has helped reduce numbers, but our experience over the Autumn shows us how easily we can get another spike.
Staying on our guard (hands-face-space) will remain key to keeping the infections down. Testing will be vital to understanding the spread of the virus and identifying those who are infected. A walk-through COVID test site has opened today at Roundmead Day Centre for booked appointments only. This site will serve the north of the borough and follows on from the ‘drop and collect’ testing service we piloted in Chelmsley Wood. You can find out more here.
Once arrangements for rapid testing have been sorted out at our care homes, families will be able to return to visiting their loved ones. Staff and residents in older people's care homes will also be a top priority to receive the new vaccine and arrangements are being made to start this as soon as possible.
If you are waiting to visit a loved one, please be patient for a little longer. The homes are working to get test kits and to train their staff as quickly as they can, but we must not undermine the progress made in protecting residents over recent months.
Now the shops have re-opened please support your local businesses in the run up to Christmas. But do it safely - only pick up items you intend to buy, hand sanitise regularly, keep your distance from others, wear a face covering where instructed and finally, wash your hands when you get home!
Retailers have had a tough time this year. If we want our local shops to survive, we have to show our support now by going out and buying from them. And when better to explore our local centres than on this weekend’s Small Business Saturday #SmallBizSatUK.
Please allow extra time to park and queue at the shops and remember if an area looks busy, go back later. You will see our “digivans” out across the borough reinforcing the “shop safely” and “support local” messages, which can also be seen in this week’s Solihull Observer wrap-around.
To help businesses we are putting on a series of free webinars. The next one on Thursday 10 December, will look at the financial support available such as COVID-19 grants, Job Support Scheme and Bounce Back loans. You can book your place here.
One sector that has been even harder hit than retail, and continues to face massive challenges, is hospitality. Unfortunately, Tier 3 has given them no respite from the lockdown. So, I was pleased to see the Government respond to our lobbying and step in with extra business support for those ‘wet pubs’. There is still support for all parts of the industry with various grants and loans, alongside business advice.
On a less positive note, I was very disappointed to hear that we have had to write to parents, after some of our head teachers have experienced ‘inappropriate, aggressive and intimidating behaviour’ from a minority when responding to positive COVID cases. I know people are frustrated, but please don’t take out your frustrations on those staff who are simply following the rules and procedures aimed at keeping everyone safe. We have a zero tolerance approach to abuse and intimidation of school staff and we will support them with any measures necessary to deal with this type of behaviour.
This pandemic has been a challenge for our voluntary, community and social enterprise sector groups and organisations. I was encouraged to see a new fund has been set up, in partnership with the Heart of England Community Foundation, to offer small grants of up to £5,000 to support ideas and proposals which will contribute to the community response to COVID. You can find out more about the fund and how to apply here. If you would like help with your application or have any questions please contact our community development team or Solihull CAVA or call 0121 312 3717.
Additionally, if you would like to donate and directly support grassroots organisations you can do so here. Please write SOLIHULL in your donation comment.
Also, it was good to hear plans are moving forward for our new public open space near Dickens Heath, which is being created in recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now asking for suggestions for a name.
Last January we decided it should remain as green belt and indeed would be a perfect location for a woodland. Then COVID struck. As a woodland it would be an obvious place for people to visit in years to come to remember and reflect on the pandemic, and think about those who were affected by COVID. You can read more about this here.
Finally, a reminder to get your flu jab. Flu can be a serious illness and is very different to the common cold. It is life threatening for people who are in an at-risk group and each year up to 17,000 people die from flu.
The eligibility for free flu vaccinations has been extended to include those aged 50-64 and can be obtained by visiting your GP or a local pharmacy. Getting the flu jab could help save lives. Public Health England found that people who became infected with COVID and the flu at the same time were twice as likely to die.
So don’t delay. Get your flu vaccine and protect you and your family and friends.
Keep well, keep positive and continue doing the right thing for Solihull.
Health, Happiness and Harmony, and Hope for a better 2021.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, 3 December 2020