In a previous Chairman’s update, I mentioned the work going on behind the scenes in relation to Lateral Flow Testing. Our local teams are working closely with Public Health and the Department for Health and Social Care to establish a community Lateral Flow Testing programme on Scilly, and a consignment of tests has been ordered. Logistical difficulties associated with rolling out such a programme on the islands are being worked through, including identifying sites and arranging the necessary staffing, training and technology. I can confirm that the first phase of tests will be offered to a small section of those who work in critical infrastructure roles, with the next tranche to include more of those who cannot work from home. We will keep you informed of all developments relating to Lateral Flow Testing and I would like to thank you for your patience as our colleagues grapple with these new demands and work to ensure the best outcome for our community.
Whilst there is still lots going on in the background, it is mostly in relation to ongoing work rather than any dramatic new developments. Of course, there is currently much speculation about what the next government review of the national restrictions will bring, but without certainty in this regard, we must continue to plan as best we can with an awareness that it may all change again in a few weeks. This review is currently expected on 22 February and this is likely to be a busy time whatever happens, so I am taking the opportunity to scale back my updates to fortnightly from this week, until there is more to report.
Government has announced that they expect all over 50s to have been offered a vaccination by May. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to get the vaccine as soon as you are invited to do so. The vaccine is a critical component in helping us to reduce the impact of this pandemic and getting us closer to the return of the freedoms we all greatly miss. Nationally, anyone over 70 who hasn’t already been vaccinated is now being encouraged to get in touch to make a booking. On Scilly, this means calling St Mary’s Health Centre on 01720 422628. Anyone under 70 should continue to wait to receive further instruction directly from our NHS colleagues. Regardless of whether you have had your jab, it remains vital that we all keep following the guidance, washing our hands, wearing our face coverings and making space for each other. Please do not lose sight of the fact that our desire to get our lives back is the very reason we have to keep acting to protect ourselves and each other now.
You may have heard mention of ‘surge testing’ in the news. Surge testing is currently being undertaken in areas of the country in which COVID-19 variants of concern have been identified, so that spread can be monitored and suppressed. The idea is that this will help prevent the more concerning variants from becoming the dominant strain in the UK. This is not something we are currently having to deal with on the islands, but if there are any developments in relation to it which are likely to have an impact on Scilly, you will be informed.
The national news has been full of developments relating to international travel and quarantine this week. Please note that, as we are still under national lockdown restrictions, you must not travel, including abroad, unless you have a legally permitted reason to do so. It is currently illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes. The tough new enforcement measures – from fixed penalty notices to imprisonment – will come into force on Monday, 15 February. You can read more about the new measures on the government website and bear in mind that you should always check all of the relevant government guidance in relation to travel when considering booking a future holiday.
In my previous Chairman’s update, I reported that the Council had successfully allocated over £1.5 million from mandatory grants to businesses on Scilly affected by coronavirus, and that we are currently processing the many applications received for the non-discretionary elements. If you are aware of any local businesses which are struggling or concerned about the future and are having difficulty accessing support, please direct them to email@example.com for further advice.
I am pleased to report that the level of compliance with government guidance remains high on the islands and this is largely due to a huge amount of goodwill within the community and a collective willingness to work together to help keep Scilly safe. This cooperative attitude has been supported by all of those with a role in enforcing and encouraging compliance with the restrictions. Our police colleagues continue to offer encouragement and advice to the public on how best to comply and have demonstrated that they will enforce against non-compliance where necessary. Our Environmental Health Team has also been busy checking in with business and offering advice and support to ensure they remain compliant over time. Thank you all for your willingness to act responsibly and work together.
Advice from our partner agencies in the region is that non-compliance is generally higher among resident populations than from those visiting an area, so even though compliance doesn’t appear to be a major issue for Scilly, it is still important that we pay attention to our own behaviours and take the time to remind ourselves of the basics, particularly as more residents are likely to be making the most of their daily exercise during the half term break. I realise many of you will be looking forward to being able to have some fun with your children over half term, but please remember that the national restrictions will still be in place during this time. You should not leave your home unless one of the exemptions applies and if you are exercising outside with your family, you must not mix with anyone outside of your household. Whilst there are a few specific exceptions to this basic rule, which you can find within the government guidance, the principle that you should always aim to abide by the safest interpretation and not seek to flex the restrictions must still be adhered to if we are to continue to avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic.
There will be areas of the islands which are likely to become busier over the half term. This is likely to be true of the playparks, for instance. If you are planning to use the playparks, please make sure you are aware of the guidance that applies and that you don’t breach the restrictions and increase your risk or that of others by mixing more widely than is permitted. We are so lucky on Scilly to be able to make use of so many beautiful, safe open spaces, so please bear in mind that you should always avoid areas already in use by other people. If you do find yourself in a busier area, please ensure you wear a face covering. Whilst this is mandatory in shops, takeaways and enclosed spaces, it is also important in outdoor spaces where social distancing is difficult.
Similarly, please remember that if you are taking your daily exercise with someone from outside of your household, you must ensure they do not become a contact by maintaining adequate social distance at all times. The rules on mixing and social distancing also apply to children, so please make sure that any children you have responsibility for are aware of what they can or cannot do. I appreciate that this can be difficult when they are moving from a controlled school environment to free time during the half term, but it is an important element in preventing community transmission.
You will hear from me again in a fortnight, but in the meantime stay safe and look after each other.
With my very best wishes,
Robert Francis, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly