It has been 2 weeks since my last update, and I am glad to be able to confirm that things remain peaceful on the islands and that there has been no need for an escalation in our pandemic response. Of course, you have all played a major part in ensuring that we have not (so far) experienced a surge in cases on the islands, by sticking to the national lockdown guidance and keeping yourselves and each other as safe as possible. I cannot thank you enough for all you continue to do in this respect and hope that you all managed to relax and have some fun over half term, despite the restrictions. The reward for the sacrifices we have all made is on the horizon and a phased return to greater freedoms has been announced by government this week, but we must not jeopardise our chances of reaching this goal by adjusting our behaviour too early. A more hopeful future is certainly in sight if we all keep working together, but please don’t forget that we are not out of lockdown yet.
On 22 February, the Prime Minister announced that thanks to the combination of the British public’s resolve in following the continuing lockdown restrictions and the extraordinary success of the UK’s vaccination programme, the government is now in a position to publish its roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions in England. The Prime Minister’s words, whilst reassuring and welcome, were peppered with caveats - most notably, that government will be ‘guided at all stages by data, not dates.’ This means that whilst government is hopeful that the following actions can be taken at the times indicated in the graphics at the end of this update, these dates are not set in stone, and should certainly not be pre-empted by any behavioural change. We must continue to follow the existing national guidance right up until government confirms the changes can, in fact, take place. Each step will be assessed against four tests:
In the event that these tests are met, the schedule for the gradual easing of restrictions should be able to progress according to the roadmap, pending confirmation from government. On the basis of the Government’s assessment of the current data against the four tests, it has been confirmed that Step 1 can proceed.
If we are to get to step four as quickly as possible, we must all continue to engage in safe behaviours, regardless of whether or not we have been vaccinated. Wash your hands, wear a face covering, maintain space, and let fresh air into enclosed spaces. It is particularly important to ensure you self-isolate and get a test if you have symptoms or have had contact with someone with COVID-19, even when you are not planning to leave your house. Testing enables our Public Health and local teams to identify the scale of any potential outbreak and mobilise resources effectively. Continuing to live by the safest interpretation of the guidance and not seeking to flex the rules is still the most effective way of preventing spread and ensuring the return of our freedoms in the near future is a permanent, rather than temporary, move.
I’m really pleased to have observed the positive reaction to the vaccinations programme on the islands. The government and health services have done a really excellent job of rolling it out and it was further reassuring to hear Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty speak about the effectiveness of the vaccines this week. He stated that the data shows that both of the vaccines currently being used in the UK provide a very substantial level of protection (and in fact the great majority of the protection) from the first dose, which continues over a prolonged period beyond 21 days. However, he also highlighted that it remains important that those who have had a first vaccine also receive a second vaccine. As ever, our excellent NHS colleagues will let you know of any developments relating to the vaccination programme.
In other Council news, I am delighted to announce that the budget for 2021/22 was approved at the Full Council meeting on 18 February. You can listen to the audio recording of the meeting on our Council Facebook page. I am pleased to say that the annual review of another of our core documents, ‘The Council of the Isles of Scilly Corporate Plan 2019 - 2022’ was also approved at the February Full Council meeting. The next Corporate Plan will be written by the Councillors elected in May 2021 and work has already begun to ensure a smooth handover and improved drafting process. It is something of an art to try and garner the ambitions of so many independent members in order to write the 4-year plan for the authority as a whole, but we are getting better at this process with each review. You will hear more on how this process is being developed throughout the year.
Finally, I would like to say how much I am looking forward to seeing local businesses reopen. The islands’ business owners and the staff they employ are relying on us to ensure reopening can happen at the earliest opportunity. This has been a hard winter and if anyone is still struggling to access sufficient support for their business, I encourage them to email email@example.com for further advice. I must also say how much I am looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the islands when it is safe to do so. I hope our regular visitors understand how hard we have had to work to protect our community and that whilst this may mean that there is a certain amount of trepidation associated with reopening the islands, we are nonetheless eager to see you all again in the near future. Keep dreaming of Scilly - we look forward to safely sharing our islands with you again as soon as we can.
With my very best wishes,
Robert Francis, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly
Government’s roadmap out of lockdown - Published 22 February 2021
The government roadmap out of lockdown states:
“decisions on easing restrictions will be led by data rather than dates. It takes around four weeks for the data to show the impact of easing restrictions and the Government will provide a further week’s notice to the public and businesses ahead of any further changes. For that reason, there will be at least five weeks between the steps in the roadmap. The indicative, ‘no earlier than’ dates in the roadmap are all contingent on the data and subject to change. […] On the basis of the Government’s assessment of the current data against the four tests, Step 1 can proceed.”