The results of this week’s tier review have been announced and it has been decided that Lincolnshire will remain in Tier 3 and this includes our local area. As of the 17th December 2020, our district of South Kesteven had a rate of 182.6 per 100,000 and our surrounding areas are seeing increased rates, especially Peterborough (278.9) which now moves from Tier 2 to Tier 3, and Rutland (132.7). The average for England is 173 which puts our district above the national average.
On a call with the Health Minister, Jo Churchill MP yesterday to specifically discuss our area, I was informed that our rates have been fluctuating significantly, that the rates among over 60s in particular is concerning and that all of our local hospitals are seeing a significant rise in admissions.
On Friday 10th December I held one-to-one calls with NHS leaders in our county and with the CEO of NAWFT in charge of Peterborough Hospital. I was informed that for all our local hospitals, whether that is Lincoln, Pilgrim or Peterborough, the NHS is facing a challenging combination of high admission rates of COVID patients and high staff absences. Peterborough for example, has a c.12% absentee rate among medical staff and extremely limited bed capacity. Lincoln and Pilgrim have been experiencing the same issues and indeed have very high usage of mechanical ventilation beds.
Put simply, rates are up, hospital admissions are up and medical staff available to treat patients are down. This is a troublesome combination of factors that has ultimately led to the decision to keep us in Tier 3.
Through the link below you can see the following heatmap, which shows that the number of people (by age demographics) in South Kesteven with at least one positive COVID-19 test result per 100,000 population in the rolling 7-day period ending on the dates shown, by age. The darker the colour, the higher the rate. It shows that as the year has gone on, and especially into October, November and December there has been a higher propensity of rates. While there have been improvements late November and into December, clearly, we are in a very difficult position locally during this winter period.
However, I am very pleased that as part of the announcement, the Government have demonstrated that they are very clearly listening to the serious concerns I have raised previously with other Lincolnshire colleagues about the importance of taking a more localised approach. The different levels within the counties of Hertfordshire and Essex for example, or indeed close by to us in Peterborough – moving from Tier 2 to Tier 3, whereas the rest of the Cambridgeshire county stays in Tier 2.
Going forward, I am pleased that every secondary school and college in England, as well as special schools and alternative provision, will have access to rapid coronavirus testing from January to help keep staff and students as safe as possible and in education, the Government has announced.
Building on the success of testing pilots in schools and colleges over the past few months, from January all staff in secondary schools and colleges will be eligible for weekly rapid tests as part of an initial rollout.
Students will be eligible for daily testing for seven days if they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive. Staff will also be eligible for daily testing if they are identified as a close contact. Primary schools will be supported to roll out testing as quickly as possible over the spring term.
In addition, the UK Chief Medical Officers' have issued a statement on the self-isolation period, which was reduced from 14 to 10 days as of 14th December. Self-isolation is essential to reducing the spread of COVID as it breaks the chains of transmission. After reviewing the evidence, the UK CMO's are now confident that we can reduce the number of days that contacts self-isolate from 14 days to 10 days.
Clearly the approval of the COVID vaccine is an incredibly important step forward in this fight and I am so pleased that Lincolnshire has already made strong progress in rolling it out. I am in regular contact with our healthcare leaders and continue to monitor our cases and the situation on the ground.
I am pleased that despite obviously challenging circumstances we are able to enjoy a slight reprieve over the Christmas period so that we can be reunited with at least some of our family members. That being said, it should go without saying that this is not without risk to individuals and people must take personal responsibility to limit the spread of the virus and protect their loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable.
I think it is common sense that we should all consider what is appropriate within the rules in our own individual circumstances. This may include giving consideration to whether we should mix households at all, whether it is appropriate to travel long distances, and what mitigating measures it may be appropriate to introduce indoors to minimise risk, such as good ventilation and maintaining social distance. The Government has also said that people may wish to limit their social contact in the run up to joining a Christmas Bubble to minimise the risk of bringing the virus to the Christmas table.
It is important that we all continue to follow the guidance as we do our bit to bring the infection rates consistently down and to ease the pressures currently afflicting our hospitals.
I know a number of people have raised concerns about this, but I agree with the Government that given the difficult year that we have all had, I do think it is right to give an opportunity for people to see others from outside their household. This is important for mental health and wellbeing.