By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council.
In recent weeks, we have been seeing positive progress in so many areas of our lives and at times it has certainly seemed like things were getting “back on track”.
It has been great to see businesses open and getting to grips with new “COVID secure” ways of working and I am sure that a large number of us have enjoyed the return of some freedom in terms of eating out or meeting friends and family. For me, seeing our children and young people walking to school each morning with their classmates has also given me that sense of moving back to some kind of normality. All of that has been a welcome feeling given the difficulties which we have all faced this year, and the substantial sacrifices that so many people have had to make.
But despite that positive progress, this week has brought a stark reminder that COVID 19 is still present in our community – it is here in Knowsley, it is in Merseyside as a whole, indeed it is present across the country and the world. It is so important that we all accept that COVID-19 is real, it is a serious disease which can cause major complications and kill people, and it isn’t going anywhere. We have achieved the return of our freedoms through sacrifice, and it would be a huge shame if all that hard work and sacrifice was wasted.
Over the last week, the data has shown a sharp increase in the numbers of positive cases. Merseyside has been named as an “area of concern”, and this is worrying. We are heading into the winter months and the flu season, so this is especially concerning and it is not something we can ignore. Sticking to the rules is just as important now as it was a few months ago and that is something we all absolutely have to accept.
I know that on so many occasions over recent months I have asked you all to follow the guidance, be cautious, and work together to minimise the spread of this virus. Your co-operation and goodwill has meant that we have made positive progress but there is no hiding from the fact that cases are back on the rise and we have to do something about that. And by we, I mean us ALL.
I have heard people say that it is getting hard to maintain their resolve after so many months sticking to the rules but these latest figures really should make us all stop and think.
How many of us are still rigorously following the hand washing advice? Do you find yourself creeping forward in the queue in a shop – getting that little bit closer to the person in front? Are we all carrying a mask in our pocket, handbag or car at all times so that there can be no excuse not to wear it? How many of us have just pushed the rules a little bit in recent weeks? The answer to all of these questions is “too many of us” – so it is now time to return to the practices which reduced the transmission of the virus. Let those sacrifices made by so many people not in vain.
I suspect that most people have relaxed to some extent and probably at times others may have been confused about the rules.
I agree that the rules have not been communicated well by the Government at times, but we can’t change that now. We can refocus our efforts on the simple things which we can all do to help to stop the virus spreading – to stop more people becoming infected and to stop more people tragically losing their lives. We have come so far on the goodwill of the community and we need to continue – collectively – to make a difference.
I have heard a lot of people this week talking about young adults being “to blame” for this latest spike in cases. Certainly, the data suggests that this age group is a concern and I do urge our younger people to think about their actions. The consequences of them catching COVID-19 might not be serious for them, but the reality is that passing this virus on to your Nan or an elderly neighbour could be deadly. How awful would it be to think that you were the reason why someone else was suffering or worse lost their life? I can’t imagine living with that and it’s not something which I would want anyone to experience just for the sake of a night out or a party.
From being out and about myself though, I don’t think that our younger generation is solely the reason for the increase in cases. I have seen people of all ages flouting the rules and we have also had people raising concerns with the Council about some businesses not taking responsibility for the safety of their customers. The simple fact is that this has to stop – we all have a part to play, and now we need to play it.
I know that many of you are frustrated and angered by the people in our community who either think the rules don’t apply to them or believe that the whole regime is just unnecessary. I’m sure that – like me – you will have heard people suggest that COVID-19 isn’t that serious really or worse still – it doesn’t exist! It’s hard to fathom what these views are based on and it is quite unbelievable really when you look at the numbers of people who have been hospitalised or died that anyone could hold these views and worse still, let their ignorance jeopardise people’s health.
So this update really is a plea – from me as the Leader of the Council but also as a resident of this borough – for you ALL once again to commit to fighting the spread of this virus. From what I have already seen throughout the pandemic, I know I can count on the support of the majority of you.
For those sticking to the rules – keep up the good work! For those who may have let things slip a bit recently – it is time to make some changes and remind yourself of why we are doing this.
And for those of you who don’t want to play your part, then please understand that your behaviour is putting lives at risk and will NOT be tolerated. From Monday, our colleagues in Merseyside Police – working with council officers and partner agencies across the borough – will be clamping down hard on people and businesses who are failing to follow the rules. The relevant agencies now have new powers to take action against individuals and organisations who are risking hefty fines, closures and criminal convictions for breaking the rules and ultimately the law.
We cannot allow cases to continue to rise any further – COVID-19 is simply too serious for us not to take it seriously.