Before I begin with my latest update, I just wanted to apologise for not publishing one of these in the last few weeks. I know from speaking to many of you that you find this update useful, so I do try to commit to drafting it regularly.
However, in recent weeks, every time I have had one “ready to go”, events have moved on – the situation has been changing on an almost hourly basis, and there is no point in publishing something which is out of date. Please be assured that my attention has been very much focussed on our situation here in Knowsley and in how we, the council, can best support our communities through the difficult times ahead.
In particular, the last few weeks have seen rule change after rule change and lots of new guidance to digest. Rather than me reminding you all of that in this update, I’d urge you to take a look here on Knowsley News for the definitive guide on the dos and don’ts. Even if you think you know the rules, it’s always worth a refresher. As always, thank you to everyone who is doing as much as they can to stick to the guidance – I know it isn’t always easy.
I wanted to update you on some of the conversations and discussions which I’ve been part of recently – to give you a greater insight of the current situation in Knowsley and why certain decisions are being taken. As I’m sure you are aware, regretfully, Knowsley is currently one of the places in the UK with the highest numbers of cases of COVID-19 per head of population.
By now, most of you will know someone who has had the virus or has been in contact with someone who has. Some of you may know people who describe it as “just like having a cold” or perhaps know people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but had no symptoms at all. That is the experience of many people – and, for many, once they’ve recovered from the virus, they feel completely better and just resume their normal lives, in the same way they would after a cold or a stomach bug. But for others – even those who are young, fit and healthy – the virus has severe implications and longer-term impacts. And perhaps the worst part of all of this is that it is by no means easy to predict exactly who is going to have these potentially lethal cases of COVID-19 – we have seen otherwise healthy people suffering badly from the illness in some cases.
In recent weeks, there seems to have been a greater spotlight on “long Covid” and the real life stories of people like Neil Walklett (one of our Council officers) are also being shared more often. We are talking about fit, healthy, reasonably young people contracting COVID-19 and then being left with long-term issues including fatigue, memory loss, and breathlessness. You may not consider yourself to be in one of the “high risk” categories. You may believe that you will easily shrug off this virus. But with the long-term effects of this virus still unknown, I truly believe that nobody can afford to be complacent.
I know there are still people in our communities who (despite the terrible experiences of so many people) believe that COVID-19 is no threat to them or their loved ones. If you are one of those people, I ask you to consider this – we have clear data showing that cases of COVID-19 in Knowsley’s over 60s population are higher than virtually anywhere else in this country. While there are sever cases in all groups of the population, it is true that people agreed over 60 are the people most at risk of COVID-19, most likely to become seriously ill, hospitalised and potentially to die. Hospital admissions are rising, beds are being filled, and people are becoming seriously ill already. That is a fact, and that is happening right here, in Knowsley.
The question I ask you to consider is where these people aged over 60 are catching the virus. They can only catch it from other people, in other words, from the people who are “doing OK”. This is why everybody needs to avoid getting COVID-19 – you might be able to shrug it off, but you are also going to infect somebody else while you have it. Surely nobody wants to give this virus to somebody else?
Alongside those increasing numbers, we are moving into the time of year which traditionally sees more hospital admissions even without COVID. The additional winter pressures from seasonal flu and other bugs, combined with COVID-19 patients, will place even more pressure on our NHS. So, even if you are lucky enough to avoid COVID-19 this winter, you or a loved one might be in need of health care for another condition. You may need to visit A&E or call an ambulance. The support which we all rely on in our moments of greatest need might not be able to come to your aid quickly – or at all – if rates of COVID-19 continue to go unchecked. That should be a major worry for all of us, and it’s yet another good reason why we all should try to stop the transmission of COVID-19.
In fact, it is probably this last point which has been a top concern for me, as a local Leader involved in the discussions with Government over the past few weeks. I believe that it was one of the leading factors which led them to make clear that they intended to place Knowsley and the Liverpool City Region into the top tier of the UK’s new “Local Alert Level” system. And let’s be clear, there was no real negotiation in this respect – we had the highest case levels in the country, the highest number of hospital admissions, and the highest level of infection in the over 60s. Nobody could seriously argue that we aren’t at “Very High Risk” – of course we are.
So now, we are subject to new and tougher restrictions. We have had to see local businesses again have to close to help to stop the spread of the virus. This is absolutely not what I wanted to see for Knowsley and the City Region, but I’ve been clear that the situation here has been perilous for some time. We’re at a point where our local hospitals and health services are really starting to struggle – and something has to be done.
I completely appreciate that many people will feel frustrated, upset, or even angry about these latest restrictions. Please know that we have done everything we possibly can to avoid this situation, but the cases continued to rise.
As somebody who cares deeply about our communities, I am equally sad and frustrated that we are in this position. But I believe that tough measures are necessary to prevent people from dying needlessly – it’s as simple as that. I also fear that these measures may not even be enough to regain control of this virus and it’s interesting that the concept of a “circuit breaker” now seems to be gathering momentum – in fact, it’s something I called for several weeks ago.
So, whilst I do believe that strict measures are currently right for our area, I’m also fighting with everything I have to make sure that our Borough and City Region aren’t financially shattered by the implications of what this means.
Even before the new measures were announced this week, Leaders across the City Region had already taken steps to establish an Emergency Fund for businesses impacted by the restrictions we were facing. We realised that this fund would be even more important than ever so have been working as a priority on shaping the criteria to make sure that we are there for the businesses who need us – especially those forced to close.
We launched that fund last week, and then over the weekend we negotiated another £30m of support from the Government. We continue to push the Government to go further than just protecting 67% of a person’s wage, which I don’t believe to be enough.
I think we are the only area in the UK doing something like this and I’m really proud we have been able to do this and provide some help to those who need it most at this difficult time.
We will continue to support people and businesses throughout the coming months, and we will also maintain the pressure on the national politicians to fully support us all through the winter ahead. We will not hesitate to continue to make ourselves and our case heard.