OPINION

To fight the new strain, stay at home

A little over a week into the latest lockdown and there is no question that the new strain of covid-19 is having a huge impact. Every age group – and every neighbourhood- in our city is affected.

This new covid-19 strain is far more contagious and it shows in our data. In the seven days up to Thursday 31 December, new covid-19 cases increased by 91 per cent compared to just the week before.

For the first time in the pandemic, we now have a rate higher than the England average. More and more people are either contracting covid-19 or being asked to self-isolate.

And while we try to fight this new strain, around one in three people have no symptoms and are spreading the pandemic without realising it.

The dreadful reality is that more covid-19 infections also mean more deaths – 219 people in our city have already died, leaving families and friends bereft.

Unprecedented pressure on our NHS – far worse than in the first lockdown of March 2020 – means that our hospitals, ambulance, police and fire services are now working even more closely together.

With the new covid-19 variant spreading dangerously fast, a major incident was called last week. This is designed to make sure pressures on services are alleviated now, rather than being left to worsen.

It’s vital that we further strengthen efforts to fight this pandemic and bring in more resources to do so.

I’m acutely aware of the pressures on our city. Government dithering means we’ve moved from tier 2 to Christmas to a national lockdown within weeks.

But there’s one thing we must all be crystal clear about – to effectively tackle the new strain and fight the pandemic, we must stay at home.

This is the single most effective action we can take and it supports all of those who can’t stay at home, like our NHS workers and school staff keeping essential services running.

Though staying at home can be difficult for all of us, every effort we make to minimise contact and only go out for the reasons necessary will make a huge difference.

Many have raised concerns that the seafront has become exceptionally busy and the council is now refreshing all signage and working with businesses to remind everyone of the guidance: hands, face, space – including if queuing.

While there is no doubt that our city has a fantastic array of outdoor spaces, now is also the time to exercise in those places nearest us: staying close to home and making use of all available space in a local park rather than congregating in particular areas like playgrounds.

Especially in the city centre, many have no garden for exercise and children and families may need outdoor space for play, as many also do for exercise. So planning where we go and what we do will avoid making some areas too busy for nearby residents.

I’m also clear that the rapid rise in cases and hospital admissions and over 100,000 dead is a damning indictment of the Conservative government’s dithering and complacency about the pandemic

The new variant was known as early as September, yet communities are again facing the consequences of warnings heeded too late by ministers.

On top of this, the British Medical Journal has confirmed that low sick-pay rates in the UK have become a major factor in people’s adherence to the self-isolation rules.

Self-isolation is an essential way to prevent new infections – but for too many means they can’t make ends meet.

It’s borne out in the figures. Average sick pay in most economically advanced countries is 70 per cent of an employee’s wage whereas in Britain, with lower levels of self-isolation, it’s only 25 per cent.

And in a week when the government has failed again on free school meals, the council has chosen the fairer path – giving vouchers to families, not food boxes.

Covid vaccinations get under way at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton

We’re reaching out with help on everything from managing bills to arranging food parcels. Please reach out to the community hub if you or anyone you know needs support.

We are facing a really difficult winter. But by staying at home we can avoid more deaths. As the NHS begins to work through the national priority list for vaccinations, our actions could be the difference between someone receiving their vaccination in time or becoming ill with covid-19.

Greens are ready to act and to do everything possible to keep our city safe. This is so we can emerge in a better position and begin to recover.

And we will not fail to act where government lets our city down. Once again, I want to thank all in our city for everything that you continue to do to tackle covid-19. The council and many community organisations are here to help if we can.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Peter Challis Reply

    Most hypocritical that Phelim attacks the government for dithering, when the only actions he took initially was to install cycle lanes and didn’t do anything for pedestrians.

    Even now he realises playgrounds could pose a risk with children and parents mixing, but rather then close them now,he just hopes parents will be responsible and stagger attendance.

    But at least he has plenty of money to go forward with implementing the recommendations of the local climate assembly and ban cars and install ever more cycle lanes.

  2. Nick M Reply

    Is this a public health message or political point scoring? If the former, well that’s a good aim. However it fails because of the latter. We can all think, well the government is doing such a bad job, the council is making mistakes, people not following the rules. Lots of dithering. So why should I bother?

    The point scoring and politics should come later. Now should be about keeping people safe. Simple messages and clear practical help. Yes, there is blame – for government, the council itself, businesses, public etc. But now is not the time for that. Hopefully the council leader will quickly realise this and lead not play games!

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