Another 2 weeks of relative quiet on the islands and, thankfully, there is yet more good news to impart. We have now officially embarked on Step 1 of the government’s roadmap to easing the national restrictions and our colleagues at the school have been working hard to safely welcome back children who have been learning at home since the beginning of January. Once again, this shift represents a big change in the lives of children, parents, school staff and their families, and the adaptability everyone continues to show gives me such faith in the resilience of our community. You can read a handy summary of the government’s roadmap document on the gov.uk website.
Whether or not you are affected by this particular step in the roadmap, keep in mind that if you need support with your mental health you can contact the Health Centre to make an appointment and if you are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, the Isles of Scilly Hardship Fund remains open. The national picture is certainly looking up, thanks to the public’s collective efforts, and it’s important to remember that it may take time to adjust to changes in socialisation and the arrival of more people on the islands over the coming weeks and months. It’s ok to take things at your own pace and we must all continue to be patient and understanding of one another’s views and individual circumstances as our freedoms return.
The rollout of the vaccinations on the islands is progressing with remarkable speed thanks to our excellent health team. Our resident population will be well-prepared to welcome visitors when the time comes for reopening for the season. The data emerging from government with respect to the efficacy of the vaccines remains encouraging. This, in addition to the cautious approach being taken to reopening and the continuation of the ‘wash hands, cover face, make space’ spread prevention practises is having a real impact on the rate of infection. Thankfully, numbers of new cases of the virus are currently decreasing across the country as a result of these measures, but this trajectory may change as restrictions ease. Please remember that even though some people will still contract COVID (as the vaccine does not always prevent transmission) there is evidence that having the jab makes it far less likely that you will experience the more serious complications if you do contract the disease, and it is important that people of all ages take up the offer of a vaccine.
With the reducing rates of infection and the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout, it’s easy to persuade ourselves that it’s time to relax, both from the point of view of following the rules around social distancing and with regard to getting your vaccine and your booster vaccine (when invited to do so). This is not the case. Even though the most vulnerable age groups have been vaccinated, it’s just as important that the remaining age groups also receive the vaccine because the wider benefits will not be felt until the whole population is protected. Decreasing the prevalence of COVID throughout the population is not only vital to stop people getting sick with the disease, it also greatly reduces the chances of variant forms of the virus evolving within the population. Remember: the roadmap dates are indicative until they have been confirmed by government, and if any of the evidence suggests things are going in the wrong direction again, we could face delays to the easing of restrictions. I’m sure, like me, you are desperate for things to get back to some kind of normality, so we must take this opportunity to thwart the virus by playing it safe and ensuring the roadmap can continue as planned.
I’m really pleased that the government’s programme of rapid lateral flow testing is available to residents of the Isles of Scilly. If you think you are eligible for these tests, please visit the Coronavirus symptoms and testing page of the Council website to find out how to go about accessing them. As usual, if you have any questions relating to testing or other pandemic response arrangements on the islands, please email email@example.com.
A meeting of the Local Outbreak Engagement Board took place on 2 March. You can listen to the audio recording of the meeting on our Facebook page. Advanced Public Health Practitioner, Whitney Curry congratulated our residents and essential travellers for successfully keeping the islands safe so far, but also asked everyone to bear in mind that it is likely we will see more symptoms, testing and (potentially) cases with each stage of reopening. This is important to remember if you do hear rumours of further cases on the islands in the coming weeks - it is not a reason to panic as long as you follow the advice given by the Public Health professionals at the time. The best thing we can all do in the event of a potential outbreak is remain calm, listen closely to the experts and keep up with the safe behaviours we are now so familiar with.
Another topic covered at the Local Outbreak Engagement Board was the continuation of the islands’ evacuation scheme. It has been agreed in principle for the coming season and discussions are taking place to flush out any queries and finalise the remaining details. We will give a further update on this on the Council website as soon as we can.
In other Council news, we announced last week that the Isles of Scilly Museum will soon be occupying the offices and reception area at the front of the Town Hall. You can read all about this welcome development on our website.
I hope most of you will have already received the letter containing your access code for online completion of the 2021 Census. It takes between 10 and 20 minutes to fill out the form online and is very straightforward. You can read more about why the Census is so important and complete the online form, or even request a new access code if needed, on the Census 2021 website. If you or someone you know is unable to complete the Census online, it is possible to order a paper copy by calling 0800 141 2021. You must complete the Census by law, and you should aim to submit your details by Sunday, 21 March 2021.
As you may also be aware, on Thursday, 6 May 2021 residents of the Isles of Scilly will go to the polls to have their say on who represents them on the local council and as police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall police force. As usual, there are certain restrictions on what councils can and cannot communicate in the pre-election period, which begins on 24 March. This will be the last Chairman’s update on the coronavirus pandemic until the elections have taken place. You will, of course, still be able to access information relating to the pandemic response on our Council website, via our social media channels and via the email subscription service.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the news that Dr Chris Picken will be leaving the islands. Dr Picken has played a major role in supporting the community throughout the pandemic and I know how much you have all appreciated his efforts. I would like to thank Chris for his hard work and wish him and Kerri the very best in their future endeavours.
We are incredibly lucky to have so many people working across all sectors to keep our islands and community safe. You are all a credit to the islands and I can never thank you enough for prioritising the safety of our community and showing such perseverance.
With my very best wishes,
Robert Francis, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly