In this update:
- Case numbers changing in Exeter
- Local COVID alert levels introduced
- New advice to clinically extremely vulnerable
- Job Support Scheme expanded
- Ethnic minority communities and the elderly asked to volunteer for vaccine studies
- Support for making some active travel measures permanent
- Financial help if you cannot work from home while self-isolating
Case numbers changing in Exeter
The number of university-related cases of coronavirus in Exeter are reducing, but we are now seeing more community cases in the city.
Dr Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health Devon has warned of the need for extra vigilance across the county as wider community cases rise.
“The pattern in Exeter has shown a successful reduction in student cases with no sign of significant spread thanks to the swift actions of the university and other partners in working together to contain the situation. But we must not be complacent.
“We are now seeing more community cases in Exeter and across Devon, in line with the rise in the rest of the country, particularly in the working age population, and we expect cases to increase over the next few weeks.
“These cases cannot be linked to university students and the coronavirus appears to be passing between people outside of COVID-secure settings, which suggests that community spread is now occurring.
“Obviously, we want to limit the impact on people in older age groups and those who are particularly vulnerable so the time to act is now.
“Everyone – and particularly those people of working age – must be extra vigilant about maintaining social distancing, handwashing, wearing face coverings and avoiding social mixing if they can.”
Local COVID alert levels introduced
The government has introduced a new three-tiered system of local COVID alert levels in England to make it easier for everyone to understand what they can and can’t do, depending on how prevalent coronavirus is in their area.
Devon’s local COVID alert level is medium.
Earlier this week we sent out a special email about the new system, explaining what it is, why it has been introduced and what it means for Devon. If you missed it, you can catch up with it online here.
New advice to people identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable
The government has published new advice and guidance to support people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
If you are in this group you will previously have received a letter from the NHS or from your GP telling you this.
The guidance says that unlike earlier in the year, there are measures in place now that offer protection to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. They include the rule of six and widespread use of face coverings, for example.
In a statement this week, the government said that they will only reintroduce formal shielding advice in the very worst affected local areas and for a limited period of time.
The government would write to you separately to tell you if you are advised to shield, but unless that happens, you don’t need to.
However, if you are clinically extremely vulnerable, there are sensible measures that you can take – as we all can – to reduce exposure to the virus.
Job Support Scheme expanded to firms forced to close due to restrictions
From next month, a new Job Support Scheme from the government will replace the current furlough arrangements.
Under the new scheme, employees will receive ‘at least 67 per cent’ of their pay from the government, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month, for each employee.
Staff must be off work for a minimum of seven days to be eligible, and there is no obligation for their employer to pay towards their salary.
The new scheme, which will run for six months, will also help firms that are allowed to open and where employees can return to work part-time.
Alongside this, the government is increasing the Local Restrictions Support Grant scheme to up to £3,000 per month to businesses in England, to be paid sooner after closure than current arrangements.
Ethnic minority communities and the elderly asked to volunteer for vaccine studies
Researchers are looking for people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and people aged over 65 to volunteer for clinical studies.
270,000 people have signed up so far to participate in the vaccine studies, but thousands more are needed.
Ethnic minorities are under-represented in the vaccine clinical trials currently taking place across the UK. Of the 270,000 people signed up, only 11,000 are from Asian and British Asian backgrounds, and just 1,200 are Black, African, Caribbean or Black British.
More people with chronic diseases or over the age of 65 also need to be represented in the clinical trials.
Studies with a diverse pool of volunteers help researchers better understand the effectiveness of potential vaccines.
Support for making some active travel measures permanent
The coronavirus outbreak has changed our travel patterns, with public transport passenger numbers down by around 40 to 60 per cent, and cycling levels up.
That’s why this week our councillors have supported proposals for a number of “pop-up” measures to support walking and cycling in Exeter to be made permanent, and to carry out public consultation on some of the other arrangements in the city.
We introduced a series of temporary measures in the city and other parts of the county in June, using a £338,000 allocation from the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund to provide safer routes for higher numbers of people walking and cycling following the coronavirus outbreak.
Public feedback was considered as councillors explored whether to make some of the changes permanent, extend the trial period or remove some of the measures completely.
Read the full story on our Newscentre to find out how we plan to progress with the measures over the coming months.
Financial help if you cannot work from home while self-isolating
Self-isolating can be difficult, but it’s important to stop coronavirus spreading to other people.
Let your employer know if you cannot work from home while you’re self-isolating. They should tell you if you’re covered by their sick leave or special leave policy. If you cannot get sick pay from your employer, you might be able to get Statutory Sick Pay or another type of financial support.
If you’re asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and you’re on a low income, unable to work from home and will lose income as a result, you may be entitled to a payment of £500 from your local district or city council under the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme. To receive the support, you will need to make a claim and provide evidence to confirm your eligibility. You can find out more about this, including who qualifies for the support, on the government’s website.
Students studying for 2021 exams will have a little longer to prepare
Most AS, A levels and GCSEs will be held three weeks later than normal next summer, to help address the disruption caused by the pandemic, the government has said.
They’ll run between 7 June and 2 July, for almost all AS, A levels and GCSEs.
The government wants to work with Ofqual, the regulator, and others, on a range of scenarios and contingency plans, for example if a student is unable to sit an exam due to illness or self-isolation. Or if a school is affected by a local outbreak at the time, and can’t open.
More detail will be published this autumn.
New hotline launched to report COVID fraudsters
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that taxpayers stand to lose up to £26bn on the government’s COVID-19 business loan scheme, because of fraud, or an inability to repay the money.
The scheme was designed to quickly distribute cheap loans of up to £50k to small businesses hit by the crisis. But the NAO estimates that up to 60 per cent of customers may fail to pay it back because of fraudulent applications and minimal credit checks.
The business loan scheme is just one of numerous financial support programmes available to individuals and businesses out of pocket because of coronavirus.
Roll forward this week, and the government has launched a new public hotline for people to report suspected COVID-related fraudulent activity.
The hotline is run in partnership with the charity Crimestoppers.
The government says that a minority of people have been claiming support illegally from the various COVID support schemes, that were set up to help those who are struggling financially.
The number to call is 0800 587 5030. Lines are open 24/7 or there is a secure anonymous form on Covidfraudhotline.org.