December is here and the countdown to Christmas is officially underway!
As we mark the start of the festive season, we thought it would be useful to provide a quick update on our current position and what we can expect over the next few weeks as we continue our efforts to supress the spread of coronavirus in our community.
We all know that the Christmas period is likely to present significant challenges in terms of managing the infection rate. We also recognise that 2020 has been a very difficult year and families are looking forward to spending quality time with loved ones during the festive period.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Christmas this year will be very different to what we are used to and we all need to accept that some sacrifices will need to be made in order to keep our friends and family safe. We know it is very difficult, but we would urge you to please keep the amount of people you mix with over Christmas to a minimum.
Coronavirus remains a real threat and the latest data shows that infection rates remain high. The 2-week firebreak did buy us some time, but over recent weeks the spread of the virus has increased and our figures continue to be in the region of 250 cases per 100,000 population. These figures are broadly mirrored across the Gwent region and across Wales. The Wales ‘R’ rate is between 1.3 and 1.4 at the moment with an average incidence rate of 200 cases for 100,000 population. Our colleagues in Aneurin Bevan Health Board are reporting more hospital admissions now than they experienced during the first peak earlier this year.
We must remain vigilant as we enter the festive season. Everyone is frustrated and annoyed by the ongoing disruption to our daily lives and we, like you, are missing family and friends who we have not seen for such a long time.
We know that trials are progressing well on various vaccines, which offer us a path out of this pandemic. The Council will play a lead role in the distribution and roll out of any vaccination programme, working closely with our colleagues in Health. However, the vaccination programme is a massive task and is going to take time some time to roll out.
In order to reduce the continued spread of the virus in the run-up to Christmas, the First Minister yesterday announced a range of new coronavirus measures for Wales. It is important that everyone is aware of the latest changes, so here is an overview of the key points:
Additionally, there will be extra financial support for businesses affected by the ongoing restrictions. The Welsh Government is making a further £340m available through the Economic Resilience Fund to support businesses affected by the new changes to the regulations. This funding will be targeted primarily at businesses operating directly in the hospitality and leisure sectors but some support will also be provided to businesses in related supply chains that can demonstrate a material impact to their enterprises as a result of the additional restrictions. The support is split into two funds:
Local Authorities will administer the £160m Restrictions Business Fund with the £180m Fund being administered by Business Wales. We are awaiting further details about these schemes, but for the Local Authority element we anticipate that some of the payment process will be automated. However, some businesses will need to undertake a registration process to apply for the funds.
Further advice will be provided to businesses as soon as we have the details and the latest information will be made available on the Council’s website. Our Finance and Business Support teams have been working extremely hard over recent months to administer the existing grants and they will continue to provide focussed support throughout this difficult time.
In terms of the position in schools, discussions are continuing on the most appropriate arrangements during the last week of term. We are aware that a small number of Head Teachers have chosen to survey parents about their intentions that week and are in the process of making local decisions based on the feedback. Distance learning, which is now regularly used to support pupils who are self-isolating, may also provide an opportunity for pupils who do not physically attend school during that final week to continue to engage in learning. We will feedback to you on the outcome of these discussions as conclusions are drawn.
2020 will certainly be a year we will all remember. We recognise the toll this has taken on many of you, but let’s continue to work together and keep up the fantastic effort that you have all demonstrated over recent months. We are all looking forward to Christmas, but please take a moment to consider alternative ways to celebrate this special time in a safe and sensible way so we continue to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this terrible virus.
As we look ahead to 2021, the promise of an effective vaccination programme signals the end of this very difficult period in our lives.
Stay safe and keep well
Cllr Philippa Marsden Christina Harrhy
Leader of Council Chief Executive