By Leader of Knowsley Council, Cllr Graham Morgan
We are now just a few short weeks before Christmas, and, despite the incredibly strange year we’ve had, I feel there’s a sense of comfort in that – helped, I think, by some positive news this week about the roll out of the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine and of course the extension of the mass testing programme to include Knowsley.
All in all, coming out of the lockdown and moving into December in Tier 2 is feeling like a positive step forward for me and a positive thing for the Borough too. If nothing else, I hope the news we’ve had over the last week has given us all a little bit of hope. Hope that the trauma and sacrifice experienced by so many this year may be coming to an end or at least that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, seeing the first people receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is very positive. It’s the news we’ve wanted to hear for some time. We are however still only at the beginning of this process and, realistically, it will still be several months before enough people have been vaccinated for us to unlock our freedom. In the meantime, we MUST continue to follow the rules to prevent this virus overwhelming us. But yes – this is a very welcome step in the right direction.
Alongside the positive vaccination news, the opportunity for people in our Borough to be part of the mass testing programme is really good news too. Identifying people who have the virus but don’t have any symptoms is really important, because it means that they can then self-isolate and not spread the virus unknowingly. This can have a huge impact on the growth in cases. We know that many Knowsley residents have already got involved by getting tested as part of the Liverpool pilot – and those positive cases who then self-isolated have really done the right and responsible thing and made a huge difference to their communities – thank you.
Of course, mass testing and the vigilance of people in our Borough was key in allowing our City Region to be moved down into Tier 2 at the end of the recent lockdown. This was another very positive step forward. We have all worked so hard to bring down the rates here, so it was welcome news when the Government recognised our efforts. But – and it’s a big but – Tier 2 is not where we ultimately want to be. Tier 2 still places huge restrictions on our freedoms and effectively continues to place massive pressures on the parts of our economy which are already so badly impacted by this pandemic. So we have to look at how we can move out of Tier 2. Ultimately, the only way to do that is to keep doing what we are doing now – being careful, limiting our contact with others, and following the rules.
Let’s not forget: we have already seen how quickly rates can rise when things relax, and when we relax, and that REALLY is not something we want to see happen again. I don’t want us to face the New Year with rates moving in the wrong direction, more people getting sick, and us effectively going backwards again. I can clearly recall how disheartened I felt in September when I realised that drastic action was needed to control the virus – yet again – and also that the action needed would be damaging for so many people.
Being realistic, however, I think we have to accept that with Christmas on the horizon this is something we could well see again. And that worries me greatly.
As a Dad and Grandad, I know just how much Christmas means to me and my family. I know how much we all want that normality – especially at this time of year. But completely throwing caution to the wind, bending the rules, or flouting them completely will mean that we are more likely to see the virus spread – and sadly that could be spreading to the people you love and care about so much.
So, when you are considering how much you want to see those who matter the most to you, also consider how much you want them to stay well. Especially the elderly or those with other medical conditions. We need to proceed with caution. COVID doesn’t know it’s Christmas so isn’t taking any time off – sadly.
I would also strongly urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to take a test and play your part in stopping the spread. I went for one yesterday. The whole process was quick and efficient and half an hour later I knew for a fact that I didn’t have the virus. That felt good, but I know that this is just a moment in time so I keep putting my mask on to go to the shops, and socially distancing when I am out. And I will be back next week, and the week after, to get tested regularly.
It is great that we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. That illusive glimmer of hope we have waited for all year is finally here. I am sure that, after all we have been through this year, we can dig really deep and give it one last push to follow the rules, get tested, and hopefully see our way through 2020 to a brighter New Year. That’s something that is definitely on my Christmas list to Santa!