A letter from Ansaf Azhar, Director for Public Health, Oxfordshire County Council
I am sure most residents of Oxfordshire are now aware of the government’s roadmap – a four step plan – to bring England out of lockdown.
During a year of unprecedented restrictions on our daily lives, to know there is now a plan to move us back to the lives we miss is welcome news.
Decisions will be guided by the data so that we do not risk a surge in infections and hospitalisations. For this reason, all the dates in the roadmap are subject to change.
Cases overall continue to decline across Oxfordshire, but the rate of decline seems to have slowed and it is not uniform across the county, so it is important that we all continue to follow the rules at each stage of the lifting of lockdown.
Maintaining your distance to covering your face when you go out is as important now as it ever has been. Every facemask and example of washed hands makes a difference, and each remains an important step in our route out of lockdown.
Infection Rate and Local Communications – In the seven days up to 15 January 2021 there were 801 new cases in Cherwell. This is equivalent to a weekly rate of 532.2 per 100,000 residents.
Whilst slightly down on last week, the figures for Cherwell are still over six times higher than they were in early December, so we still have a long way to go. Moreover, the NHS in Oxfordshire is currently caring for twice the number of COVID-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave in spring 2020 and is under immense pressure.
We need to make sure the recent fall in cases is sustained and the only way we can do that is by sticking to the lockdown rules and following public health guidance. The measures are there to protect the NHS and our vital social care services, and to save lives. It is vital everyone does their bit during this difficult period to support the NHS and our social care staff to stop the spread.
There is now a COVID-19 dashboard on the county council’s website where you can access daily COVID-19 statistics.
Testing – Testing is a key part of our response to the virus. Across Oxfordshire, we have a range of testing sites for people who have coronavirus symptoms, including drive-through sites, walk-through sites and mobile testing units. Booking is required for all testing sites.
Community COVID-19 testing services for key workers will start to be rolled out in Oxfordshire in early February. The new service will be for those who have to leave home to go to work during lockdown. They will be at three locations in the county – one in Banbury, one in Wantage, and one in the city of Oxford. More information can be found in the news story on the county council’s website.
Vaccination – Local vaccination sites often serve a number of GP practices – this means that patients may need to travel to a neighbouring town or village to receive their vaccination. Each local vaccination site is managing its own patient lists and is working through them as quickly as possible, as vaccine supplies are delivered. Vaccine supplies are being allocated nationally and so not all sites will be operational all of the time. You can find a list of local vaccination sites and the GP practices they serve at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/stopthespread.
The prevalence of COVID in Oxfordshire is higher than it has ever been. We are in a worse position than at the height of the first wave last spring, and the situation is continuing to deteriorate. In some parts of the county, such as the Hardwick and Ruscote areas of Banbury, we are seeing rates significantly higher than the Cherwell average.
We are aware that people are fed up and want an end to all of this, but this is an exceptionally serious situation – we are in the eye of the storm. The vaccine will not start to have an influence for some weeks and so the only weapon we have against this virus is to stay at home and avoid mixing with people outside of our households. We are dealing with a new variant that is extremely infectious and therefore need to be even more careful than last spring.
COVID-19 loves crowds. Only go shopping when it is essential, shop alone and shop local, keep two metres apart from others and remember that outdoor exercise is only allowed once per day. Being out and about presents a real risk, so limit the time you are out of the house and take every precaution. One in three people with COVID don’t know they have it so act like you’ve got it to reduce the spread. We need people to hear that message loud and clear.
I know this is all familiar from the first lockdown last spring, but the strict observation of the rules last March and April helped drive down cases. We need to remember that and do the same now.
We are relying on the people of Oxfordshire as individuals, families and work colleagues to regain control of this virus by doing what is needed. I would plead with every individual in the county to look deep inside themselves and honestly ask if they are abiding by the rules.
Hospitalisations and deaths from the virus are continuing to rise rapidly and we are now seeing more younger people admitted to hospital. Please do everything you can to stop the spread. The power to fight back against COVID remains in our own hands.
The interactive map for latest statistics is found at: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/interactive-map
Residents are urged to be on their guard against scammers using the promise of a coronavirus vaccine to con them out of money.
Criminals across the country are contacting people out of the blue with offers of a coronavirus vaccination. These approaches have been made by text or from a recorded voice message on the telephone.
In each case the recipient is required to respond by clicking a link in the text message or by pressing 1 when receiving the call. They are then asked to give personal information, as well as financial details to book their vaccination. However, these are scams, with criminals exploiting the pandemic to attempt to steal personal details and people’s money.
The NHS is currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge to people most at risk from coronavirus. These people will be contacted by the NHS.
More information here
The Remembrance service is available to view on YouTube here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEnglE7iGjs