In this update:
- Devon unlikely to see a return to Tier 1 before Christmas
- Fall in positive cases is slowing, warns Public Health Devon
- First people vaccinated in Devon
- Check your school’s end of term plans
- Free school meals holiday vouchers
- Funding for community groups to tackle loneliness
- Test and trace improvements
- Celebrate Hanukkah safely
Devon unlikely to see a return to Tier 1 before Christmas
Councillor John Hart, the Leader of Devon County Council and Chair of Devon’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board, and Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon (Designate) are warning that it is unlikely that Devon will see a return to Tier 1 before Christmas.
The comment comes ahead of the government’s review next week of the national tier allocations, and the possibility that some areas in the country could see their current restrictions loosen or tighten further.
Councillor Hart said: “As much as I would like to see restrictions lifted a little in order to support our local tourism and hospitality industry, I fear case numbers are not yet coming down sufficiently to warrant a move to Tier 1.
“I fully recognise that there is a very fine and difficult balance to strike between lives and livelihoods here in Devon.
“If we are to stay in Tier 2 then I would like to see more support from the government for our hard-pressed local businesses, and the hospitality trade in particular.”
Steve Brown said: “We are still concerned about positive rates among older people, and those in care homes, where we’re seeing most cases being asymptomatic.
“The decline in cases that we have seen in recent weeks has started to slow down and numbers are stabilising. We know, from our previous experience in Tier 1, that restrictions at that time did not stop our case numbers rising. I therefore do not believe that we are seeing a sufficient drop in cases yet for the government to decide that Devon should be in Tier 1.”
The fall in positive cases is slowing, warns Public Health Devon
Positive cases of coronavirus have declined over recent weeks in most age groups in Devon, but the latest data shows that the decline has started to slow down and the numbers are stabilising, according to Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon (Designate).
The decline followed the national lockdown restrictions of a few weeks ago, and that reduction continued a little as we’ve adopted Tier 2 restrictions. But it’s now not falling as quickly as it was.
Meanwhile, testing capacity in the county remains really high. Over 15,000 to 16,000 people are being tested every week in Devon, and the positivity rates (the number of people who test positive compared to the total number of people tested) are coming down.
The University of Exeter has worked really hard over the last couple of weeks testing students who have no symptoms as part of their programme to support their return home for Christmas. More than six thousand students have been tested in the last week or so.
“Please continue to follow the Tier 2 guidance,” says Steve Brown.
“Do not meet up indoors with anyone not in your household or bubble; please remember at all times to maintain your social distance and wear face coverings when you’re indoors in a public space; and please wash your hands regularly.”
First people vaccinated in Devon
The NHS gave the first lifesaving vaccinations against COVID-19 to people in Devon earlier this week.
81-year-old Kathleen Viney from Plymouth was among the first people in Devon to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from trained vaccinators at Derriford Hospital, in Plymouth.
The hospital is one of 50 nationwide hubs in the first wave, with more hospitals to follow in the coming weeks and months.
Speaking about how the vaccine will impact on her life when she has had both doses, Kathleen said:
“I won’t be so scared about going out. It will be nice to go out and have a meal and do some shopping in a big shop instead of just my little store. It didn’t take me long to say ‘I’d have it done’. It would be very silly not to have it done.”
Patients aged 80 years old and above, who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive it.
The roll will continue over the coming months, but please don’t contact the NHS or your GP seeking a vaccine, they will get in touch with you.
Check your school’s end of term plans
The government has said that schools can use Friday 18 December as a ‘non-pupil day’ if they wish, and make up the teaching time at another point during the academic year.
The reason is because schools must maintain responsibility for contact tracing during the holidays for six days after the last day pupils are in school, which includes Christmas Eve. If they use the last day of term as a staff training day (which can be done online) instead of having the children in school, there’s the opportunity for six clear days before Christmas Eve so teachers and other school staff can enjoy their well-deserved break, and won’t have to engage with track and trace issues during the holidays.
Devon’s schools have made a decision on this advice to suit their local circumstances and in the best interests of their pupils, staff and their wider community. Please check what your particular school has advised before presuming pupils will be attending or off.
Free school meals holiday vouchers
During the December school holidays, families of primary, secondary and sixth form college pupils who currently receive free school meals will automatically be sent supermarket vouchers, that we’re providing using the COVID Winter Grant Scheme, to buy food over the festive period.
If your child already receives free school meals, look out for a letter or email from us with details of how to get your vouchers.
If your child does not currently receive free school meals but you think they qualify due to a change in your family circumstances, please apply online via our website as soon as possible, and by next Friday (18 December) at the latest in order to receive the holiday vouchers for this Christmas period.
Self-isolation period to be shortened to 10 days
The government has announced that the required self-isolation period for close contacts of people who test positive for coronavirus will be shortened from 14 to 10 days from Monday 14 December.
People who return from countries that are not on the travel corridor list should also self-isolate for 10 days instead of 14 days.
People who test positive should continue to self-isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms or 10 days from the point of taking a positive test if asymptomatic.
Self-isolation is essential to reducing the spread of coronavirus as it breaks the chain of transmission. It saves lives. Please follow the rules and self-isolate when required.
Spread a little kindness
People everywhere have had a tough year and kindness has a really positive impact on everyone. That’s why we’re asking everyone, especially during the festive season, to spread a little kindness.
Look out for neighbours, friends or family who are isolating or living alone this Christmas and offer to shop and drop for them if you can.
Or you could pick up the phone (or tablet) and give someone a call who you haven’t spoken to for a while. It might make all the difference to how they are feeling.
We know that not everyone will be feeling festive this year and that frustrations can bubble up when there’s uncertainty about the future, or when you’ve been queuing for hours to do some Christmas shopping. But showing patience, tolerance and compassion to one another means our communities in Devon will come through this period together and stronger.
Funding for community groups to tackle loneliness
Book clubs, walking groups and other community projects will be able to apply for a £4 million fund designed to help reduce loneliness in the coming months, the government has said.
The Local Connections Fund is designed to help local organisations bring people and communities together as the country recovers from the coronavirus outbreak. It’s made up of £2 million from the government and £2 million from The National Lottery Community Fund, and will be used for hundreds of small grants worth between £300 and £2,500. Applications open on 5 January 2021.
The Let’s Talk Loneliness website has lots of useful advice on how to help yourself and others safely, and throughout December, the Let’s Talk Loneliness advent calendar is sharing practical advice, inspiring stories, and support routes to encourage people to take the first steps to alleviate loneliness in themselves and others.
If you are lonely you can:
- Keep in touch with friends, family and neighbours
- Ask for help if you are feeling lonely by getting in touch with organisations that offer support – there’s a list on the Let’s Talk Loneliness website
- Set a routine with online activities, regular tasks or by volunteering.
If you are worried about someone who is lonely:
- Phone a friend or send a letter to a family member you think may be lonely
- Smile, wave or chat from a safe distance with a neighbour
- Help out through volunteering with local groups or by offering regular conversation to someone living alone.
Report shows the largest annual decline in CO2 emissions, due to the coronavirus
A report published by Earth System Science Data has shown that the UK and France have seen the largest annual decline in CO2 emissions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
France saw an annual decline in CO2 emissions by 15 per cent, while the UK figure dropped by 13 per cent, it is reported.
The main reason according to one contributor to the study, a Professor from the University of East Anglia, is that both countries have had two waves of confinement that were quite severe compared with other countries.
Here in Devon, climate experts have drafted a plan that once completed, will enshrine what every Devon citizen, business and organisation has to do to ensure that Devon becomes net-zero.
There’s also a series of live webinars to explain the key points of the interim carbon plan, where you can hear from the experts who helped create the plan, participate in polls and have your questions answered.
One week left to take part in Heavitree and Whipton streets consultation
Earlier this year we introduced temporary ‘pop-up’ measures across Exeter to support social distancing and encourage people to walk and cycle as alternatives to using their car or public transport during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then some of the changes have been made permanent and others removed.
One pop up trail still in place is on Chard Road. We want to hear what residents in Whipton and Heavitree think about it, and what other changes they would like to see to make walking and cycling safer and easier in their community.
There’s just one week left to have your say! You have until Friday 18 December to provide feedback though the ‘Exeter Streets’ online consultation, which we are running jointly with Exeter City Council.
NHS Test and Trace improvements
Apple has revealed that the NHS COVID-19 app was the second most downloaded free iPhone app on its App Store in the UK this year.
And now the government has announced that those using it in England, who have been instructed to isolate via the app, will be able to claim the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment, providing they meet the eligibility criteria.
They’ve also set out plans for the next phase of the NHS Test and Trace service to disrupt and prevent COVID-19 transmission, protect people’s health and enable people to return to a more normal way of life.
It includes increasing the speed and reach of testing and tracing and making better use of data, to help identify and react to clusters and outbreaks in close to real time.
The news comes as recent improvements made by NHS Test and Trace to the contact tracing website to make it faster and easier to provide tracing information, as well as operational changes to the process for contacting household contacts, have led to the latest substantial improvements, with over 85% of contacts now reached, compared to 72% the previous week.
The service will be open every day over Christmas and the New Year, providing and processing tests for those who need them and tracing contacts of positive cases.
Making a childcare and support bubble with another household
This week the government updated guidance on how you can get informal childcare for anyone under 14 years old from friends and family you do not live with, and how you can safely expand the group of people you have close contact with.
The update includes information on how support bubbles work for those in more than one type of bubble and on travelling to form a support bubble.
Celebrate Hanukkah safely
Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, began on Thursday evening.
It’s an eight-day celebration, and on each night a candle is lit after sundown and added to a special menorah, called a ‘hanukkiah’.
The holiday is often celebrated with traditional foods, games and gifts, but this year, like so many celebrations, Hanukkah is affected by our current restrictions.
Here, it means Tier 2 restrictions.
- Please do not socialise with anyone indoors who you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble.
- If outdoors, you must not socialise in a group of more than six people.
- Places of worship remain open but please do not socialise with people from outside your household or support bubble, while you are indoors.
We wish everyone celebrating Hanukkah this year a joyous and peaceful holiday. Local restrictions will mean changes to the way we usually celebrate, so please do so while ensuring that you and others stay safe and well.
‘Tis the season to be jolly careful
Devon started to twinkle with fairy lights this week as residents across the county started putting their festive decorations up.
It’s not been a normal year, and it’s certainly not going to be a normal Christmas, but if we all continue to follow the restrictions in place to help keep us safe, there’s hope for brighter times ahead in 2021.
Earlier this week we sent you a round-up of all the Christmas information you need to enjoy the season safely. If you missed it, you can read a copy online.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.