Coronavirus cases continue to fall nationally, but are still above the levels seen last summer and early autumn.
In Devon cases have been falling over recent weeks, and continue to be below the national average, but that rate of decline has slowed.
Case rates are slightly higher in Eastern and Mid Devon and currently highest across Devon in those aged 20 to 39 years old.
In this update:
- We’re going to have to learn to live safely with COVID-19
- If you’re eligible then get your vaccination now
- We will give visitors a warm welcome when the guidelines allow, but not before
- Childminders and foster carers have access to regular testing
- £30 supermarket vouchers to help families buy food over the Easter holidays
- Plymouth midwife reassures women the COVID-19 vaccine is safe
- A year living with coronavirus and our message of thanks and hope
We are going to have to learn to live safely with COVID for the foreseeable future
This week Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said that we are all going to have to learn to live safely with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, and that a key part of that is for us to keep the infection rates as low as possible.
In just a few days, if the current national data supports it, England will see the latest easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
“As of Monday 29 March, up to six people or two households of any size are able to meet, but only outdoors,” said Steve Brown.
“Organised outdoor sports and leisure will also be permitted, but remember, you should keep your travel to a minimum. Please continue to maintain your social distance, wear your face coverings when you’re indoors in a public place, and remember to wash your hands frequently and properly.”
Steve also urged people who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus and are in contact with others, especially families or households with school or college age students, to take up regular testing.
If you’re eligible then get your vaccination now while there are thousands of spaces
More than half of people aged 16 years old and over in Devon have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, and now those who are eligible are being urged to book an appointment before the end of March while there are thousands of spaces
Everyone aged 50 years old and over, people with underlying health conditions and health and care workers are among those being encouraged to book an appointment for a first dose before the vaccine supply constraints begin in April.
If you’re not sure if you are eligible for a vaccine at the moment you can use the information on the NHS website to check before booking.
Most people who are clinically vulnerable will have been contacted by their GP practice in recent weeks, so if you are in this group and haven’t had your vaccine yet or booked an appointment please do so as soon as possible.
Making an appointment is simple. You can use the National Booking Service via the NHS website or by calling 119 to get an appointment at large vaccination centres or the selected community pharmacies that are offering the jab. Or, if you’ve been invited by your GP, please respond to book and attend while there are still plenty of spaces available.
If you use the online national booking system remember to click on the ‘confirm’ button which will finalise your booking. You should then receive an email confirming the details of your appointment.
Existing appointments for first and second doses of the vaccine are not being cancelled and it’s really important that you attend any booked appointments as planned. There is enough vaccine for everyone who is due a second dose to get it.
What can I do from Monday 29 March?
The next key date in the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown is just a few days away now.
The government said these key dates were ‘no sooner than’ dates, depending on the latest data at the time. So, subject to the data, the changes we can expect from Monday 29 March include:
- Outdoor gatherings, including in private gardens, of up to 6 people (the Rule of 6) or two households of any size, will be allowed.
- The ‘stay at home’ rule ends on Monday 29 March, but many restrictions remain in place. People should still continue working from home where they can and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible.
- Travelling abroad is still a no-go, for all but a few permitted reasons. Holidays abroad are not allowed.
- Tennis courts, basketball courts, open-air swimming pools and other outdoor sports facilities can reopen. People can take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
That’s it for now. The next milestone after this one is Monday 12 April when, data permitting, we can expect non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, gyms, outdoor hospitality venues, holiday lets and more to reopen.
Visitors asked not to travel too soon and to respect local communities
We will give visitors a warm welcome when the guidelines allow, but not before.
That’s the message from us and other authorities across the South West who have joined together to warn people against travelling to the region too soon before further lockdown measures are due to be relaxed on Monday 12 April.
Under the government’s roadmap, Monday 12 April is the earliest date outdoor attractions and self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, are allowed to open. Until then, many facilities, shops and hospitality venues will not be fully open with food and drink only available from essential shops or takeaways.
Visitors are being warned it is illegal and could be dangerous to travel before the government restrictions are lifted. With Easter approaching, there are fears a minority of tourists might be tempted to travel early and before facilities are ready or attractions are open. This false start to the tourist season would risk spreading coronavirus and put unnecessary extra strain on the emergency services.
Keri Denton, our Head of Economy, Skills and Enterprise, said:
“After all our hard work to keep COVID-19 cases in Devon so low we do not want to risk things now.
“We ask everyone thinking of coming to Devon after Monday 12 April, to behave responsibly and make sure you book the sort of accommodation and experiences you can enjoy safely in advance.
“We also ask potential visitors, as well as our own residents thinking of travelling within Devon, to take extra care and to show our local communities respect and courtesy. This includes the simple things like parking responsibly, respecting the countryside and taking litter away.”
The government’s full timetable for reopening after lockdown can be found on their website.
Support for return to school in Devon
We’ve set up a special fund to support children having difficulties returning to school.
The £1.9 million fund is being financed with government cash to tackle the effects of the pandemic.
More than 95 per cent of children were back in school in Devon at the end of the first week of full opening which is really positive and reflects that seen in a normal year.
But some children with additional needs who, for example, might have been shielding throughout the pandemic, are feeling particularly anxious about returning to school and may require extra support.
Devon County Council’s Head of Education, Dawn Stabb, said:
“We wanted to be able to provide extra, short-term support that we might not otherwise have been able to afford when schools or our own staff refer them to us.
“This financial support means that if a child is suffering from anxiety or with emotional, health and wellbeing difficulties then we can provide that extra help.
“This might include for example, some sessions with a youth worker, ensuring counselling is available or supporting their school to provide a personalised curriculum for a short time. This can all support their return to school.”
Childminders and foster carers have access to regular testing
The sorts of people now encouraged to routinely take up the rapid coronavirus tests – that give results within the hour – is growing.
If you are a childminder, foster carer, bus driver who drives children to school, or you work in a before-school breakfast club or provide after-school childcare, you can access the rapid lateral flow COVID-19 tests.
The following people in England now have access to regular rapid lateral flow COVID-19 testing:
- Secondary school pupils and college students
- Staff of primary and secondary schools, nurseries and colleges
- People who live with or look after children at pre-school or nursery, primary and secondary school and college
- People who live with or who care for staff who work in nurseries, primary and secondary school and college
- And anyone who works in professions related to childcare and schools, including childminders, foster carers, breakfast club and after-school club workers, and drivers of children to school or college.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said:
“If you’re not doing so already, I urge you all to take up lateral flow tests twice a week.”
How do I get a rapid lateral flow COVID-19 test in Devon?
Home test kits are not yet available from our Devon County Council community testing sites – we’ve applied to have them available to collect from our testing sites, and we’re waiting to hear from the government.
Alternatively, people can come to any of our community testing sites to take the rapid test. They’re really quick and easy and we’ll get the result back to you within the hour, by email and text.
“These rapid tests are for people who don’t show symptoms,” said Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon.
“Routine testing like this is identifying people who are coronavirus positive, even though they showed no symptoms.
“Identifying them, so that they self-isolate, means they are not walking around with the virus giving it to other people.
“With more people now being regularly tested, we’re likely to see more positive cases being identified. But that’s a good thing if it stops those people giving it to others.”
£30 supermarket vouchers to help families buy food over the Easter holidays
More than 15,000 children across Devon will be receiving free supermarket vouchers ahead of the upcoming Easter school break as we continue to work to combat holiday hunger.
Families of pupils currently receiving free school meals will automatically be sent the vouchers to help them buy food over the two week holiday to replace the meals their child would have received at school during term-time.
The vouchers – worth £30 (£15 per week for each child) – can be redeemed in major supermarkets across Devon. Arrangements are in place for families who cannot get to a supermarket.
We also issued supermarket vouchers for the Christmas and February half term breaks, but some vouchers from February half term remain unspent. Families are urged to check their vouchers and redeem them as soon as possible before they expire and get in touch with our free school meals team if you were expecting to receive a voucher but didn’t. You can email email@example.com or call 0345 155 1019.
Many families in Devon have seen their financial circumstances change due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If you didn’t previously qualify for free school meals but your income has recently reduced or stopped, please apply online through our website to check if you are eligible for this support as soon as possible. It’s the quickest and easiest way for your eligibility to be assessed and you will get an instant decision. You can also call 0345 155 1019.
Shielding advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable to stop from Thursday 1 April
More than 52,000 clinically extremely vulnerable people in Devon will be told they are no longer advised to shield from Thursday 1 April 2021 as coronavirus infection rates continue to fall across the country.
In line with the government’s COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021 roadmap, those on the shielded patient list will begin to follow the national restrictions alongside the rest of the population, but are still advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe.
The government will send you a letter with updated guidance on practical steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching the virus, including continuing to maintain strict social distancing and keeping your overall social contacts at low levels, such as working from home where possible. If you have already registered for priority access to supermarket delivery slots, these will continue until Monday 21 June 2021.
More than 9 in 10 clinically extremely vulnerable people have been vaccinated with a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. If you are aged 16 or older and have been advised you are clinically extremely vulnerable and have not yet been offered your first dose, please contact your GP as soon as possible to arrange an appointment.
If you have received your first dose, you should still ensure you take up your second dose of the vaccine when it is offered to you as having two doses should further increase your level of protection.
No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, so even if you have had both doses, there is still no absolute guarantee that you will not become ill if you catch coronavirus. Therefore, you should continue to follow the national rules and take the extra precautions set out in the government guidance to help protect yourself as much as possible.
You may be feeling anxious about the national shielding programme ending and that’s completely understandable. Take your time, there’s no rush. It’s important to share any concerns with those closest to you and remember that the friends and neighbours who have helped you over the year are still your friends and neighbours even after the shielding ends, and they are still there for you.
Everyone has gone to a huge amount of effort over the last year to help protect each other and stay safe and well, so as we enter the home stretch, please keep up the kindness.
Make getting your vaccination a priority when it’s your turn
Vaccine take up in Devon has been very good so far – nine out of 10 people aged 65 years old and over have already had their first dose.
But we know that as we get down the priority groups, to people of working age and with younger families still at home, pressures and busy lifestyles might make it a little more difficult to find time to get vaccinated.
Please, consider it a priority. Getting vaccinated not only protects you from becoming ill with coronavirus, but it also protects your family and friends by reducing the likelihood of transmission.
Midwife reassures women the COVID-19 vaccine is safe
The NHS in Devon is reassuring women that having the COVID-19 vaccination will not impact their ability to have a family and is encouraging health and social care workers to take up the jab.
More than 87 per cent of frontline health and social care workers in Devon have had their first dose of the life-saving vaccine. However, some female staff have been hesitant and highlighted concerns caused by misinformation circulating about fertility.
University Hospitals Plymouth Acting Head of Midwifery, Charlotte Wilton is among those offering reassurance and has recorded a message which you can watch on You Tube. She says:
“The vaccine works by travelling to your lymph glands and then is disposed of within a couple of days by the body. There is no mechanism by which the coronavirus vaccine can affect your fertility either now or in the future.”
One of our social workers, Laura Boyle, is 33 years old and hopes to have another child. She says she had no hesitation in taking up the vaccine:
“I don’t have any doubts in my head that it’s not safe. We have so many vaccines throughout our lives. Women have the flu and whooping cough vaccine routinely in pregnancy. I wasn’t worried that the coronavirus vaccine would have any impact on my future fertility.”
Public Health England has published a guide to the COVID-19 vaccination for women of childbearing age, those currently pregnant or breastfeeding.
Are you eligible for the Test and Trace Support Payment?
The government has updated its guidance about claiming financial support if you’re told to self-isolate.
If you have been told by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate, and you’re eligible for the Test and Trace Support Payment or a discretionary payment, you will receive £500 in addition to any benefits and Statutory Sick Pay that you currently receive.
You are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment if you live in England and meet the government’s criteria.
If you are a parent or a guardian of a child who has been told to self-isolate by their education setting or by NHS Test and Trace, and you are therefore unable to attend work due to childcare responsibilities, you might also be eligible for a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment, if you meet the government’s criteria.
The government’s website tells you how to apply.
A year living with coronavirus and our message of thanks and hope
Earlier this week we marked a year since the Prime Minister announced the first national coronavirus lockdown and we were told to stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives.
Tuesday 23 March 2021 was named a National Day of Reflection by the end of life charity, Marie Curie, and offered a moment to stop, catch our collective breath, and remember.
Like everywhere, many of us in Devon have had a painful year due to grief, sudden changes to employment or the stresses of our own personal circumstances.
None of us expected that 12 months later we would still be living with coronavirus. It’s been a long journey, and it’s not over yet. But while is has been extremely difficult for a lot of people, some good things have come from the changes we have had to make in our lives. We sent you a special email looking back over some of positive things that have happened in Devon during the coronavirus pandemic.
If you missed it you can find a copy on our website, along with an archive of all our previous emails.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.