OPINION

Let’s keep going until we are all safe

Brighton and Hove now has covid-19 rates above the national average, as the far more transmissible delta variant continues to take hold here and across the country.

An increase in cases of covid-19 is a cause for concern for all of us, particularly for those who are yet to receive their vaccination or the stronger protection of a second dose.

As a result, case rates among 15 to 29-year-olds are particularly high, the age group that are still making their way through the vaccination programme.

Of course we know that many age groups are still not eligible – and 18-year-olds only became eligible for their first dose little over a week ago.

The rise in this age group also means there are bigger increases in covid-19 in university towns and cities than elsewhere.

As a city with two universities, many schools and colleges and a higher proportion of young people, I know we have many more people at risk, and I’m especially keen that we do what we can to protect those who are still vulnerable.

So efforts to stop the spread of covid-19 are still essential – as we can still stop cases spreading in the community.

The good news is while so many are already signing up to be vaccinated, we are also working with the NHS to accelerate action this weekend.

Pop up and mobile vaccination sessions are taking place in various locations across the city, including at St Peter’s Church on Friday and on Hove Lawns yesterday, where a specific “drop in” bus offered Pfizer vaccinations to passers-by and beachgoers from 9.30am.

Similar facilities were available yesterday at Whitehawk Football Club and are due today at Brunswick Square.

Work on vaccines and targeted testing continues at our city’s universities, and in the community, and council teams are ramping up availability of contact tracers and testing.

We’ve also seen a massive push for more testing and outreach through social media and other communication channels to encourage young people to stay safe from the virus.

Almost 2,000 vaccinations were delivered at university sites last weekend in response to outbreaks affecting students – building on the successful vaccination programme that has already seen young people come forward in droves.

More than one million people aged 25 to 29 booked a vaccine when their age group became eligible, in what the NHS described as a “blockbuster” take up.

So many of our young people are getting protected, but we’re aware that there are still groups who are not eligible.

Despite the government’s insistence that they sign off any plans for new restrictions in schools, we’ve made it clear we support our schools which are encouraging pupils to continue to wear face masks.

Brighton and Hove’s communities have sacrificed so much to drive down cases of covid-19 – and few, if any of us, want to see a return to school closures or long-term illness resulting from “long covid”.

Yet with cases rising, to protect the vulnerable and secure a positive future, it is still absolutely vital we all do what we can to keep covid-19 rates low.

Although the figures tell us that many more are vaccinated, with fewer becoming seriously ill, the fact remains that even a small increase in the number of people who contract covid-19 and need hospital treatment will put pressure on our NHS.

National NHS bosses raised the alarm this week about a sharp increase in the number of people needing ventilators across the country as covid-19 cases surge.

Evidence is emerging about the devastating evidence of “long covid” and the two million suffering its many symptoms – and alongside no coherent strategy from government ministers to suppress the rise in cases, we still need to protect each other.

The next few weeks will be particularly crucial, as cases of covid-19 continue to surge. With the city on the path to reopening safely, we also need to minimise the numbers of people required to self-isolate or receive care.

Over the bank holiday weekend visitors were up 119 per cent, with the Palace Pier welcoming 250,000 visitors.

There is so much at stake as we try to keep covid-19 cases down, so our city can continue to welcome visitors back.

In light of the surge in covid-19 and the delta variant, talk from government ministers about scrapping quarantine for travellers and ending self-isolation are not the way people will understand the very real and present risks of the virus – with many exposed to serious illness.

I urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, test regularly, wash hands, wear a mask and keep a safe distance.

While I know we have all sacrificed so much, the next few weeks are key. Let’s keep going until we are all safe.

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

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