By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council
Well, here we are. 18 days into a new year, and two weeks into a new lockdown. It’s not the start to 2021 we all hoped for – but sadly, it is what we suspected might happen.
Our current reality is that, since the start of the year, our rates of COVID-19 infection have been higher than ever before. Local hospitals are more overstretched that at any time in the pandemic, and the numbers of free beds are diminishing at an alarming rate.
Whilst there appear to be some glimmers of hope emerging that the number of infections is starting to level off, the message from health professionals is that we are yet to see the “peak” in terms of hospital admissions. We don’t usually see the peak impact on hospitals for a couple of weeks after the peak of the infection rate, and that, I must admit, is extremely worrying.
It is for that reason that we have been asking all our residents to stick rigidly to the rules which are in place. It’s absolutely vital that we take every step possible to reduce our number of contacts and stay at home as much as possible. Rather than looking for ways “around” the rules, we should be asking ourselves “could I be even stricter?” And I mean looking at really simple things, like reducing the number of times we go out for food shopping, or not going out for shopping in family groups. These really are things which we just don’t have to do for now, and all those small actions add up.
What’s more, given the severity of the situation which we are in, it is also worth thinking hard about the rules and exemptions and taking personal responsibility for doing the “right” thing. This time around, I think the Government is instigating a lockdown without having the guts to put in place the rules to back that up. Sometimes, leadership means doing the right thing, even if it is unpopular –something which I think is completely lost on our Prime Minister.
For us here in Knowsley – and we are facing some of the highest rates of infection in the country – the national approach really isn’t helpful. We are told only to go out for “essential” supplies, but then you can click and collect for things which clearly aren’t “essential”. That creates an unnecessary visit to pick something up. We are told that school places are only for “critical” workers to use if absolutely “essential”, but I know from our schools that classrooms are much busier than they were in the first lockdown. Many of our schools are pretty much open, in fact. I am sure we can all see examples when it really doesn’t feel like we are in lockdown at all – how can we then expect the infection rate to fall as quickly as we need it to?
I know that is natural for those of you who are rigidly following the rules and staying at home to feel angry when you see examples of people not doing what they’re meant to do. And I know the frustration that people continue to feel about those characters on social media who still insist on posting nonsense about not wearing masks and not believing in this virus at all. Those dangerous views have definitely been highlighted recently, with the news last week that major supermarkets will be refusing entry to people not wearing masks. Some of the responses to that news, which I am sure we have all seen on social media, are almost unbelievable. Many of those responses aren’t from people who actually have real issues or are exempt from wearing a face covering, but from people who just don’t want to! I do wonder how these opinions might differ if such people actually spent some time in our hospitals or looking after people in critical care as a result of this virus. I suspect their views might be slightly different.
For our part, we are doing all we can alongside our partners – including Merseyside Police – to support our businesses and communities to keep safe. And this means taking action against the people who are breaking the rules and risking the lives of others. The police this week confirmed that fines had been given to nine people attending a birthday party in a house in Kirkby last weekend – just one example of the work we are all doing to make sure the rules are followed. And, if not, there will be consequences (aside from the obvious risks to health). I do wish that we were not in a position where we had to enforce such rules, but we will take the necessary action – again, it’s about leadership. I hope that these actions at least provide our responsible residents with the reassurance and positive confirmation that we will step in when we have to.
Of course, the roll-out of the vaccination is a positive thing for us all to bear in mind. Older people and those in care homes in the borough have been getting their jabs since the end of December. Already more than 4,500 Knowsley residents have received their first dose of the vaccine. We all want as many people protected as possible so I am hopeful that these initial figures will rise rapidly in the coming days and weeks. Although we aren’t responsible for delivering the programme, the council is doing everything it can to support Knowsley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who are managing this locally.
Last week, our One Stop Shop in Kirkby has opened as a vaccination centre alongside our One Stop Shop in Huyton, and I am expecting the CCG to open a further centre at The Hollies in Halewood in the coming week. I very much look forward to that and seeing more of our residents being protected.
I also want to give a special mention to our schools who – yet again – have been put through an unbelievable amount of turmoil in the past few weeks. From devising mass testing schemes for staff and pupils to re-opening for a day then moving overnight to remote provision. Then there are free school meals – something which persistently (and quite rightly) grabs the media attention. This week, we have seen images of some really poor quality parcels delivered elsewhere in the UK. Whilst this thankfully was not reflective of the parcels we are providing, the negative media coverage did then result in yet another overnight policy change from the Government which potentially will result in more changes! You can read more here. I don’t know how our schools and families manage to cope and to keep smiling!
And that is a final point which I want to make to everyone reading this update. No matter what your circumstances, living though this third national lockdown is tough – really tough. Our finances, our relationships, our freedoms, and our wellbeing are all impacted. Looking after our mental health is really important. You are not alone. We have lots of tips and advice, as well as sources of support, on Knowsley News.
And don’t forget that our Community Support and Volunteer Line remains very much open and ready to help if you need practical support at any time. You can call us on Freephone 0800 073 0043.