By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council
In this week’s update, I had hoped to be talking a lot about the positive work that is underway in our Borough to help us move into a new, more positive phase of our response to this pandemic. We’ve seen Kirkby Market reopen, Joe’s Stall back up and running in Huyton Village, and golfers enjoying socially distanced games at the newly reopened Bowing Park Golf Course. Our town centres are preparing for the opening of more shops and we’re busy putting up signs and pavement markings to help people to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Our thoughts were very much turning towards recovery, and how our “new normal” lives might look in the months ahead.
And whilst it is still absolutely good news that all this positive work is under way, the latest statistics issued by Public Health England today have been a sobering reminder that recovery will not be achieved quickly.
It had been very encouraging recently to hear that the number of new cases in the UK has fallen. But hearing that the “R Number” – the rate of transmission of the virus – has now crept just above 1 in the North West is a real blow (it is now 1.01 – the highest in the country). The Government has said repeatedly that the R rate is one of the most important indicators of how well we are dealing with the virus – specifically it tells us how many people, on average, an infected person spreads the virus to. If the number is below one, the virus is reducing. If it goes above one, it is increasing. And that is where we now find ourselves – albeit that the figures are not exact.
What this means is that COVID-19 cases could start to rise again locally. So, whilst we all look forward with hope and anticipation to the future, we have to remember that in the here and now we must remain cautious. These latest numbers confirm that the risk from this virus is still very real, it is still prevalent in our communities, and therefore following the guidance is as critically important as ever.
A few weeks ago, when the Government first began to introduce some lifting of the restrictions, I and other leaders in the North West (and elsewhere) had real concerns that we were moving too fast, confusing the “stay at home” message, and not taking into account the regional differences which meant that our region was not yet seeing the same reduction in rates of infection which were being seen in London and other parts of the south.
We felt then that those messages weren’t right for our region and that, in the worst case scenario, they ran the risk of generating a rise in infections and even a “second wave”. I don’t want people to panic looking at these new figures today, but I do want people to understand that we all have a responsibility to be sensible, stick to the guidance, and make sure that these numbers do not rise any higher.
We have made excellent progress and people have made huge sacrifices – some have made the ultimate sacrifice – and we must not throw that progress away.
I am concerned that confusing messages from the Government about lifting some elements of lockdown have made some people a little more complacent and a little less “strict” in following the guidelines. Some media reports can also be a little misleading by either talking about a national picture (not a local one) or concentrating on the fact that the number of cases is reducing. It’s only natural that there’ll be some element of fatigue when it comes to lockdown and that there’ll be a temptation to push the boundaries of what is allowed within the guidelines. But – if we are to get the rate of infection down – and to keep it down – we are going to have to maintain the resolve which we showed at the beginning of all this and do the right thing. We must follow the guidance closely, not take risks, help one another, and make sensible choices.
Please remember that our Volunteer Hub is up and running to help anyone in need during this time – you can contact them on behalf of yourself, a family member, or neighbour via Freephone 0800 073 0043 (available from 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday and from 10.00am to 2.00pm at the weekends).
I am confident that Knowsley will continue to be “better together” and that we will continue supporting everyone in our communities through this period – however long it may last.