National lockdown – what it means for us all
I am sure many of you watched the Prime Minister address the nation last night to tell us how serious this new strain of Covid 19 is and how rapidly it is spreading. Here in Northumberland, case numbers are rising fast, which is already placing extra pressure on our NHS services. We need to ensure the NHS can be there for all of us who need it, and can continue to vaccinate the most vulnerable so we can reduce the death rate and begin to lift these restrictions.
I know how tough this is for everyone, especially for parents with young children at home. We are in a race against this virus, one we need to win. The faster we do that, the faster we can ease these restrictions and get back to normal.
I thought it would be helpful to summarise the main elements of this lockdown and how it differs from the March restrictions. I will also outline the help and support available and give you an update on vaccinations in Northumberland.
For those who did not see the Prime Minster’s address, you can watch it HERE or read the statement HERE.
For those interested in the statistics, the latest datasets and graphs are available HERE.
As ever, you can keep track of Northumberland’s case rates on a ward basis HERE.
Everyone must stay at home apart and only leave their homes for limited purposes (such as exercise, medical reasons, essential shopping).
Everyone who can work from home should do so. Schools and universities are moving to remote learning apart from for children who are vulnerable or the children of key workers.
Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should shield once more.
The full guidance, which should answer any questions, is available HERE.
Key differences to the March lockdown
Unlike during the March lockdown, support bubbles remain in place, which are a lifeline to those living alone.
Childcare bubbles remain in place for those who need informal childcare in order to work.
Early years settings and special schools remain open. Children’s playgrounds remain open.
The Furlough (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) remains open for 80% of unworked hours. If you cannot work from home, but you now cannot work as a result of needing to look after your children, you are eligible for furlough and should ask your employer to furlough you.
Additional support for leisure, hospitality and retail
Retail, hospitality and leisure business premises forced to close can claim a one-off grant of up to £9,000. The one-off additional grant each business premises will receive depends on their rateable value:
- Businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or above: £9,000
- Businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000: £6,000
- Businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or below: £4,000
This one-off grant is in addition to the existing monthly closed grants of up to £3,000 per month that businesses continue to be eligible for. These grants are worth over £1 billion in total per month. Local authorities will receive the funding for these payments next week and are being encouraged to make the payments as soon as they can. More information on that HERE.
Extra support for remote learning
An extra 100,000 laptops and tablets are being delivered to schools this week on top of the 560,000 already delivered to help support remote learning. The Government has agreed a scheme with mobile providers to increase data allowances for children who do not have access to broadband at home. More information on that scheme and how it is administered HERE.
Until this week, the Pfizer vaccine has been rolling out in Northumberland via three hubs: Berwick, Alnwick and Amble. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at ultra low temperatures and has a short shelf-life once “defrosted” making it a real logistical challenge to transport and administer. Despite that, thousands of vaccines have been administered already in Northumberland, focusing on the over 80s, care home residents and front line medical staff.
I was invited to see the efforts for myself at the Berwick hub last week, and was so impressed by the operation, which was orderly and working well. The Amble hub has now moved on to the over 75 cohort, and now we have the Oxford vaccine, which is far easier to store and transport, we can get to care homes much quicker and easier too.
Please do wait until you are invited to come for a vaccine by your own GP practice. They are getting to everyone in order of priority, but their efforts to contact people will be slowed if they are dealing with people calling to ask after their vaccine.
So far the UK has vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined, but there is a way to go to reach our target of 2 million a week. You may be interested to know that the Army is now assisting the NHS in this mammoth logisitics operation headed by Brigadier Phil Prosser.
I do understand how tough this pandemic has been on everyone. This is the final stretch as we work together to ensure we can vaccinate as many people as possible. As ever, my team and I remain available to assist when we can.