Chairman's update on the coronavirus pandemic - 20 November 2020

We’re now mid-way through the second national lockdown period and are awaiting decisions on what comes next. Announcements are expected in relation to which restrictions may be in place following the end of this lockdown, what Christmas is going to look like and when a vaccine may be made available. There is also the ever-present uncertainty around Brexit. The media continues to speculate on all these matters, but as ever we must be patient for official decisions and guidance. Your council is preparing for all eventualities and we will always strive to ensure that Scilly gets the best possible outcome. 
 
One example of where our local preparations have really paid dividends is in our approach to testing on the islands. While the national system has been under increasing pressure in recent months, we’ve been extremely lucky in being allowed to maintain an efficient and convenient on-island solution, with a quick turnaround and robust follow-up support for those accessing this service. Thank you to all of those working hard to ensure this continues. The Local Outbreak Engagement Board met this week to discuss a number of issues relating to the response on the islands. You can catch up on the discussion here.
 
Cornwall Council’s Revenues and Benefits Team are currently calling business rate payers to identify those eligible for the Local Restrictions Support Grant and carry out the relevant checks. If you believe you are eligible and have not been contacted by Monday 23 November, please call the Revenues and Benefits Team on 0300 1234 105 (option 1 followed by option 1 again). Next week we expect to be able to open the ‘Expressions of Interest’ process for the discretionary element of this grant, which is aimed at businesses forced to close as a result of the lockdown who do not pay business rates. You can find further information on business support on our council website.
 
We have recently made some changes to the way in which coronavirus information is presented on our website and I encourage you to visit these pages to find out more about how the council is responding to the pandemic. If you are unable to access the internet, you can, of course, call our enquiries team at any time on 0300 1234 105 (option 5), who can talk you through how to find the information you need.
 
We regularly liaise with our colleagues in Cornwall and the wider South West about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The message from these meetings is clear: we need to keep up the good work and not let our guard down. Hospitals in the region are starting to come under increased pressure as the virus spreads. During periods when there are no known cases on the islands, it can be hard to understand the importance of the restrictions, but an outbreak is possible at any time and we need to continue to act as if the virus is present on Scilly. There is much we can all do to help ensure our vital health services do not get overwhelmed at what is always an extremely busy time of year, so please abide by the restrictions and advice in place to achieve this aim.

Whilst we must all do our bit to prevent the spread of coronavirus and protect the NHS, you should not refrain from contacting your GP if in need of medical support. At this time, we’re all particularly aware of the pressures on our mental health. Your GP is the best first point of contact on this and the NHS also provides some excellent straightforward advice on how to access mental health support. I encourage everyone, whether you are struggling or not, to have a look at the following link, as it may help you or someone you care about: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/free-therapy-or-...
 
I realise that many of you are accessing information in ways previously unfamiliar to you, either online or on the phone, or that you are having to do so with increased regularity. I’m sure many of us have doubted whether a call or email is legitimate and wondered how best to check its authenticity. You may be amused to hear that someone tried to impersonate me in a communication to my fellow councillors this week - albeit rather unconvincingly. Whilst this particular dupe was ultimately ineffective, it was a reminder that scams do exist and can easily catch people out, particularly when they are busy. I urge you to be careful before responding to requests online or giving out any personal information. Anyone making an official request will not mind you calling them back via a verified route. The government has some excellent advice on how to avoid and report scams at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/report-suspicious-emails-websites-phishing 
 
I know the constant barrage of messaging and advice can be tiring, especially as there may be fewer distractions during the winter months. However, we remain among the luckiest communities in the UK, with access to astoundingly beautiful natural surroundings and no shortage of people who care. We must all try to remember this too.
 
With my very best wishes
Robert Francis
Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly 

Publishing date: 
Friday, 20 November, 2020