Thanks to everyone that has posted, commented or otherwise participated in our Facebook group.
We will be less able to respond to enquiries over the next few days, though we will do our best as we appreciate this is a particularly difficult time. Many questions can be answered by the Test and Trace team which will continue to operate – “The 119 service will continue to operate on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve from 7am to 6pm, and Christmas Day and New Year’s Day from 7am to 5pm. On other days, the service will operate from 7am to 11pm.”
We also wanted to say a little about the current situation – as ever encouraging our local community to be considerate, compassionate, and do our best to support each other.
Last night the Prime Minister announced that the government “don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas”. However, new restrictions (“Plan B”) were introduced on the 8th December, and the Prime Minister also said “we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data”.
We want to start by acknowledging the stress and worry caused by new restrictions, uncertainty about further measures (including media speculation about a new ‘lockdown’), and the new Omicron variant and the record numbers of cases (for the first time, over 100,000 people tested positive for the first time from samples submitted on one day – December 15th, 103,281). The pandemic has been going on for a long time – and has a range of negative impacts. People have been bereaved, had long-term impacts of infections, seen their incomes/businesses affected by restrictions, and experienced dramatic changes to our lives and ability to socialise. There have been major impacts on people’s mental health of the above and other challenges. Throughout, there is uncertainty about what will come next and many people are understandably worried about the future threat either of the virus or measures applied in response. As ever, these impacts hit some people – disadvantaged or marginalised people – harder than others.
We understand that people will have different perspectives about what should happen at times like this. Different perspectives might be based on how people or their loved ones might be most affected themselves (whether by the virus or by measures to tackle it, for example) – or other influences: other life experiences or values. We want the Stroud Coronavirus Community Response group to be a place where people can discuss their differences of opinion respectfully and learn from each others’ experiences, perspectives and concerns, and the community can support each other to navigate the challenges we face.
As we said in our statement regarding the lifting of many restrictions on the 19th July 2021: “we often answer questions by pointing members of our Facebook group to government guidance and legislation, but our purpose is not to endorse the government’s approach at all times – rather it is to help to reduce the spread of the virus, to aid efforts to mitigate the harms caused by it – and also to help our community support each other through the difficulties caused by both the virus itself and the restrictions that have accompanied it. The effects of both will be with us for some time, and we will continue to provide a space to facilitate sharing of good information and publicising community support efforts.”
We understand that some recent measures are particularly controversial. The extension of ‘covid passes’ which restrict entry to those based on vaccination or negative test status, and the requirement for many venues and event organisers to use these has been the subject of particularly strong debate, and not only because of the ethical and civil liberties considerations but the limited evidence such policies either reduce spread of the virus significantly or contribute to increased uptake of vaccination.
We recognise that recent news stories about the behaviour of government officials and politicians have generated strong reactions, and that many in our local area find the wider political situation a source of frustration. Whatever our individual opinions of the government, or of the changes being suggested or mandated, we continue to believe it is essential to do our best to act in a way which minimises the chances of harming those of us most at risk. There are forms of financial and other support that we as a volunteer group/wider community cannot provide (better isolation support payments or sick pay, for example), but we can all try to support each other and make either periods of self-isolation or the general difficulty of navigating these times easier for each other. We call for people to think of others and act with care regardless of their view of legislation and guidance issued by the government.
We will continue to try to provide updates on the situation. Regarding the new variant, named Omicron on 26th November, when the World Health Organisation classified a new ‘variant of concern’ of the SARS-COV-2 virus, it is clear that it transmits easily, including by infecting people with some immunity from either two doses of vaccination or a previous infection. More data is coming in on what appears to be lower risk of hospital admission and death associated with the most recent waves of infection (perhaps in part due to the variant itself, but also due to high levels of immunity from either vaccination or prior infection), but we will have to wait to learn the full impact as only a comparatively small number of people have been infected so far, and not enough time has passed since infections to fully evaluate outcomes. In brief, as a summary of evidence from one of the largest health care providers in South Africa said recently “Notwithstanding the lower severity, health systems could still be over-run by the sheer volume of cases, considering Omicron’s rapid community spread“.
We note the words of the heads of Health and Care organisations including the NHS Trusts which run Gloucestershire Royal Hospital (where Covid-19 patients are treated) and the Stroud and Vale hospitals in our district:
“This variant is spreading so quickly, it is likely that everyone will come into contact with an infected person in the next few weeks… The extent and impact of any Omicron COVID surge is to a large extent influenced by the choices and actions we take… Without collective action now to drive up booster vaccination rates and to embrace other preventative action this winter, the pressure on GP, community and hospital services and social care services from COVID-19 and demand for specialist emergency care will be profound. It will also have a major knock on effect on sustained efforts to bring down waiting lists for planned operations, appointments, assessments and treatments as we prioritise those with the greatest and most serious care needs.” (read their powerful open letter in full)
We close by quoting their advice for the coming weeks:
“Here is how you can help:
- Get your COVID-19 booster vaccination without delay when you get the offer. Find out how and keep in touch with developments at: Covid19.glos.nhs.uk (vaccination page) [if you’ve not yet had a first or second dose, you will also be welcomed at clinics – there are a number of ways to access vaccination listed at the previous link]
- Wear a face mask in enclosed public spaces, sanitise your hands regularly, practice social distancing and keep homes well ventilated. Please think very carefully about the nature and extent of any social gatherings you may be planning
- Follow our top tips to Stay Well This Winter – including reaching out if you are worried about your mental health
- If you are ill and injured, it’s not life threatening and you are unsure where to turn, Click or Call First. Use 111.nhs.uk or call 111. The 111 phone service can book you into local NHS services if needed. The local asapglos.nhs.uk website and ASAP Glos NHS App can also guide you through your care options
- Please do everything you can, as a relative or carer of someone in hospital, to work with us to get patients home from hospital as quickly and as safely as possible, with additional support if necessary from your local NHS community services or adult social care teams.
Finally, please be kind and understanding to NHS and social care staff – they are giving their all to provide the very best care in unprecedented times and under huge pressure”.