Without a doubt 2021 is starting off tough. Earlier this week the Prime Minister announced the latest national lockdown, akin to what we experienced in March of last year. And whilst I know that the restrictions are frustrating for us all, I also know that together we have the ability to come through it. It’s vitally important that we all follow the rules during this period in what can be described as the last major hurdle before these awful restrictions can be removed.
I can’t imagine that any of us relish the decisions that the Prime Minister is having to make, particularly when there are no good options. But I know local residents have seen the same data I have, showing that cases are increasing at a worrying rate.
The NHS is undoubtably being put under increasing strain too. Normal winter pressures like flu and other illnesses are still present, and hospitalisations from Covid are well above the last peak, including in our own East Lancashire Hospitals Trust. We simply cannot ignore the warnings of those in the medical professions that the NHS could become overwhelmed before the end of the month if no action is taken.
It’s vital that at this time we give the NHS what it needs to roll-out the vaccine. And what it needs more than anything else is people. The more staff off sick due to Covid, and the more nurses and doctors treating Covid-patients, the fewer we have available for this critical task. That is why these measures are required.
But it is this vaccine which offers us a real end to the pandemic. These restrictions are not simply to contain the virus, they are to contain it so we can win the race between vaccinations and transmission. And with two vaccines approved, and already being distributed, it is now a matter of time now before we can get back to normality. As I write this over 1.3 million people have already been inoculated against Covid-19, including many here in Burnley and Padiham by doctors and nurses at Burnley Hospital and the St Peter’s Centre.
We did an amazing job in being the first country to approve the vaccine, and it’s now imperative that we are leading the charge to get the population vaccinated. Our first task in that is the four top priority groups identified by the medical experts. They include care home staff and residents; NHS and social care staff; those over the age of 70 years; and clinically extremely vulnerable people.
Having spoken to the Vaccine Minister a number of times in the last 2 weeks, it is his and the NHS’ hope that by the end of February we’ll be vaccinating 2 million people a week – giving us the tools we need to give all those people the vaccine and allowing us to finally move forwards.
I am also acutely aware though that whilst this is taking place local businesses forced to close are seriously struggling. And I’m doing all I can to help. In addition to the grants and other support out there - including furlough, business rates relief and Bounce Back loans – businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure will be able to claim a one-off payment of up to £9,000 based on their rateable value. The Council will also receive additional funding to support those who don't fall into this category through another discretionary scheme.
The first week of the year has already been an incredibly busy one but I will continue to push for the needs of everybody in Burnley and Padiham as we work through this hurdle.