In this update:
- Coronavirus case numbers in Devon rise again
- A thank you to the people of Devon
- New Year message of hope
- Changes to Christmas restrictions
- Secondary schools and colleges to receive rapid tests
- New mental wellbeing services for Devon businesses
Rising case numbers likely to continue unless further restrictions are put in place
Devon has seen a 55 per cent increase in the number of cases of coronavirus over the last week. The highest case rate since the county’s previous peak mid-November.
And Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon (Designate), warns that the rise is likely to continue unless further restrictions are put in place.
He describes the new variant of the virus as a cause for concern because it is easily transmitted. While there are some cases of the new strain in the South West, it is not the dominant strain in Devon at present.
Mr Brown said:
“We are keeping this closely monitored.
“It is vital that whatever you are doing over the Christmas period, that you follow the government guidance.
“Obviously on Christmas day you’re able to form a Christmas bubble, which is bringing together a maximum of three households. But this relaxation in the restrictions is only for Christmas Day and it ends at midnight on the Friday 25 December.
“None of us can afford to lower our guard at all, so please act as though you may well have the virus.
“Remember to social distance, wash your hands regularly and wear face coverings when you are indoors in public spaces.”
Devon’s Leader pays tribute to the thousands of workers on the front line
The Leader of Devon County Council and Chairman of the county’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board, Cllr John Hart says a huge thank you to the people of Devon and pledges to do everything he can to support Devon’s local businesses, especially those in the tourism and hospitality industries.
“I would like to thank all Devon residents, and particularly pay tribute to the thousands of keyworkers on the frontline – our wonderful NHS staff, care workers and our teachers – for their incredible resilience this year, and their commitment to each other to get through this pandemic.
“I know from talking to local people just how difficult this year has been for so many individuals and families, struggling to keep themselves safe while overcoming financial and psychological challenges.
“People are already doing so much, and it is asking a lot when things look so bleak, but I urge everyone to keep up that resolve and determination over the Christmas period and into the New Year.
“The roll-out of vaccines should provide us all with hope but realistically it won’t be until the spring that this begins to have a significant impact.
“I also pay tribute to our local businesses for their remarkable efforts to adapt, keep their customers safe and stay afloat.
“I remain deeply concerned about the toll that all this is taking on many businesses and the impact that continued restrictions are having on our Devon economy, especially for those in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
“I am very aware how difficult a year it has been for them, and sadly this now looks set to continue for some time. Many of our local hospitality businesses are really struggling, and unless there is more help from the government, many of these businesses may simply not survive.
“We will continue to work together as ‘Team Devon’ with District Councils, business leaders and our MPs to find ways to ensure that there is as much help and support as possible for those worst affected as we move into 2021.”
A New Year message of hope from Public Health Devon and NHS Devon
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon (Designate) and Dr Rob Dyer, Medical Director of NHS Devon, give a New Year message of hope for the future.
In a joint address, the two look back at the year from early images of coronavirus in Wuhan, and its march across Europe, through to it becoming part of all of our daily lives in Devon.
They talk about the winter pressures on the NHS, and the impact that coronavirus is having on current services. They also talk about the vaccine and hopes for the future.
They remind us to ‘take care, and think of others’ this Christmas.
“We have come so far. Let’s now prepare for the coming few months, so we can get through them together and look ahead to a happier, healthier year ahead.”
Tightening of restrictions and Christmas bubbles
At the weekend the Prime Minister gave a statement on a new, more easily transmissible variant of coronavirus, tougher restrictions for parts of England with a new ‘Tier 4: Stay at Home Alert Level’ and changes to guidance for everyone for the Christmas period.
If you missed it, you can catch up with the full announcement on the government’s website.
Those in Tier 4 areas in England cannot meet other people indoors unless they live with them or they are part of their support bubble and they cannot form a Christmas bubble.
You can make a Christmas bubble with two other households if you live in Tier 1, 2 or 3 for one day only on Christmas Day (Friday 25 December), but it should not include anyone who lives in Tier 4.
The government has said you should consider carefully the risks of travelling at all and if you live in an area with a high prevalence of the virus you should avoid travelling to lower prevalence areas where possible.
It is vital that we each take personal responsibility this Christmas to limit the spread of the virus and protect our loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable.
The safest way to celebrate Christmas this year is with your household or existing support bubble in your home. If you do form a Christmas bubble with people you don’t normally live with, try to keep it as small as possible because the more people you see, the more likely it is that you will catch or spread coronavirus.
One in three people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and will be spreading it without realising it, so you should think very carefully about the risks and only form a Christmas bubble if you feel you absolutely need to.
Wherever possible, discuss alternatives to meeting up in person, and if you do meet people you do not live with, it is important to do so outdoors where possible, or to make sure that any indoor venue has good ventilation (for example by opening windows so that fresh air can enter).
You can also find out more about what you can and can’t do in each local restriction tier on the government’s website.
Secondary schools and colleges to receive rapid tests
From January, the government is making rapid coronavirus testing kits available to secondary schools and colleges in England, as well as special schools and alternative provision.
These are the tests that provide results in about 30 minutes.
It’s optional for schools, so some may decide not to do it, but some schools will choose to have the tests.
Their purpose is to quickly identify whether a pupil or staff member has coronavirus, and therefore avoid unnecessary periods of self-isolation and absence from school.
For example, where pupils are currently asked to self-isolate because they’ve been in close contact with a positive case, these tests would confirm whether those contacts have caught the virus. If they were negative, they would not need to self-isolate and would be able to still attend school.
The testing is optional – it would require parents’ or carers’ consent before a child receives the test.
Devon’s Head of Education and Learning, Dawn Stabb, has written an open letter to parents and carers explaining what we know so far about the government’s roll out of the tests to schools and colleges, and what it might mean to families with pupils returning in the New Year.
Schools that decide to have the test kits have a lot of work to do to prepare over Christmas to be ready for January. The government has said that secondary schools can put in place an additional non-pupil day, and most schools will do this on Monday 4 January. We support this decision as testing offers the opportunity for fewer students having to self-isolate.
We understand that the government’s plan is to roll out rapid testing to primary schools in the spring.
New mental wellbeing services for Devon businesses
A Devon charity is launching a pilot ‘Listening Ear’ service to provide a safe space for local business owners to chat about the challenges of running a business during a pandemic.
We’ve worked with Devon Communities Together to develop the service for business owners to have somebody to talk to about their general stresses and concerns, especially if they would rather not talk to their family and friends about these issues.
From the New Year, business owners who feel they would benefit from having someone to talk to will be able to register with Listening Ear and access the benefits of a conversation with a friendly, experienced volunteer, who will also be able to signpost to other services if needed.
It’s not business advice, it’s about having someone friendly, impartial and supportive to talk to about whatever you feel you need, and to be signposted to other services if you need them.
Several volunteers have been recruited already, but a high demand for the service is anticipated, so if you have experience in running a business, providing professional services for businesses, or are an experienced coach, mentor or counsellor, Devon Communities Together would love to hear from you.
Please email email@example.com or call 01392 248919 if you would like to find out more about becoming a Listening Ear volunteer or feel you could benefit from talking to one of their volunteers. The office will be closed from Thursday 24 December until Monday 4 January but messages will be responded to as soon as possible in the New Year.
Help share translated advice to non-English speakers
Community influencers and leaders who speak languages other than English are being encouraged to use social media to share the latest coronavirus advice within their communities.
We have produced information about how to stop the spread of coronavirus in a range of community languages aimed at residents who may not speak English fluently and struggle to access the latest guidance.
The languages available include Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese (simplified), Farsi (Persian), Hungarian, Kurdish (Sorani), Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and Tagalog.
The guidance includes social distancing, hygiene, face coverings, what to do if you have COVID-19, how to book a test and support for self-isolating.
Self-isolating and testing for coronavirus
Coronavirus won’t stop just because it’s Christmas, so the rules around self-isolating and testing won’t stop either.
If you develop any of the symptoms of coronavirus (high temperature, new continuous cough, loss or change in sense of smell or taste), you must follow the government guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
This includes booking a free NHS swab test immediately to check if you have it, and self-isolating until you get the results.
You should also make sure you are familiar with how the NHS Test and Trace service works if you test positive for coronavirus or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive.
The NHS Test and Trace 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.
Christmas opening times
Lots of public services remain open over the festive period, although operating times may be reduced.
You can find our Customer Service Centre’s Christmas opening hours on our website.
There’s also information about our social care services over Christmas.
If you need to contact your GP practice please check their online services. You can book appointments, request sick notes and order repeat prescriptions and download the NHS App. You can also save time and consult with your GP practice online via their website. Alternatively, you can phone them.
If you need think you need to go to A&E, call 111 first or click www.111.nhs.uk. Clinicians will advise you on where to go, or what to do next, and can book a time to attend a service – such as a hospital, pharmacy or GP practice – where appropriate.
Many minor illnesses and injuries like coughs, colds, grazes, small cuts or a sore throat can be treated at home or in holiday accommodation. Be prepared for common health problems by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet.
Pharmacists advise and treat illnesses like hay fever, diarrhoea, earache, painful cough, sticky eye, teething and rashes. By visiting your pharmacy, you can avoid an unnecessary trip to your GP or A&E and save time. Find your nearest pharmacy online and check their opening arrangements over Christmas and New Year.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.
Please forward this email to anyone you think would find it useful and encourage them to sign up.