Posted on: Friday 23 October 2020
A message to Torfaen residents, businesses and partners
From the blanket media coverage this week, I’m sure you are now aware that the COVID-19 situation continues to worsen locally, nationally and globally. The Welsh Government have therefore put in place a fire breaker period, starting Friday at 6pm and ending on Monday 9th November. These measures will replace the local lockdowns. More information is available on the Welsh Government FAQs.
I’d like to thank the vast majority of local residents for their efforts to help slow the rate of spread of the virus. I know this has involved personal sacrifices – it’s not easy missing out on meeting friends and family or going on holidays, and I know times are tough for many people economically thanks to the impact of the pandemic on jobs and businesses. But please persevere and follow the guidelines, to help keep you and those you love safe this autumn. Following the guidelines, staying home where possible, socially distancing, washing hands, wearing masks where needed and self-isolating if you have symptoms will collectively make a real difference and will allow us to return quicker to doing the activities we enjoy and seeing the people we love.
I’d also like to thank the many local people helping others at a time of need. Demand at local foodbanks and community centres has risen, but I’m pleased to report that people continue to give generously, donating items and volunteering to help. As a council we’ve worked with food suppliers and FareShare to get nearly £50,000 worth of food to local foodbanks and community projects so far this year, helping local people in need. As well as volunteering or donating if you can, please also keep an eye out for friends and neighbours – a friendly phone call can really help someone feeling anxious or isolating.
Across the UK there are an increasing number of residents now living under varying levels of lockdown. We’re advised the ‘R’ value stands around 1.4, which is a genuine cause for concern. Put very simply, 1.4 tells us that cases are multiplying in our community. We need to drive the R value beneath 1 to slow the spread of this awful virus.
This rise is reflected in our local rates which on Friday 23rd of October stood at 98.3 cases per 100,000 population with a positivity rate of 9.9%. These figures have been creeping up steadily all over Wales. As a result of all this, the Welsh Government announced the short ‘fire break’ to suppress the continued spread of the virus across Wales. The fire break is the equivalent of a hard ‘reset’ button – the quickest way to achieve the biggest impact.
During meetings involving councils across Wales and the Welsh Government, it was agreed after discussing the evidence from experts that national restrictions were necessary to replace the local restrictions. None of us wanted to hear this news, but we are in a precarious position and a Wales-wide approach is in the best interests of the nation’s health. We will continue to work closely with Welsh Government to support people living under these national interventions.
Unfortunately, this national action has been driven by a significant increase in the number of people admitted to hospital across Gwent and Wales, which is in turn has increased numbers in intensive care and sadly an increase in deaths. If this increase continues at the current rate, within a short space of time, the NHS will not be able to cope.
I’ve seen and heard comments that the ‘local lockdowns didn’t work’ – but I disagree. The vast majority of people followed the rules and it is clear from UK-wide data that our combined efforts have prevented the very large spikes of infection we have seen elsewhere in the UK. It is not difficult to imagine how much worse the situation in hospitals would have been if we had not introduced the local restrictions when we did. I know many of you are making many personal sacrifices to comply with the restrictions and I ask that you stick with it during the fire break to help drive cases down.
For now, we must all follow the very simple advice:
- HANDS - wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
- FACE - wear a face covering in all enclosed public spaces and anywhere you cannot socially distance
- SPACE – avoid close contact with anyone you don’t live with - keep a safe distance wherever possible
- ISOLATE – if symptomatic and waiting for test results or if living with someone with COVID
Reassuringly the Gwent Test, Trace and Protect (TTP) team continues to speak directly with the vast majority of cases and their contacts within 24 hours – this is a far cry from performance in England. Efficient tracking and tracing the virus remains critical in reducing onward transmission. To help access to tests, the walk up testing units in Blaenavon and Pontypool will stay for at least another week.
If you do have a positive test, then please isolate at home and provide the TTP tracer with the full details of your recent movements and people you’ve had close contact with. This helps us track and trace the movement of the virus and protect the people you hold dear, such as family and friends. Just to quash rumours, information gathered by TTP is not shared with Police forces in Wales.
In terms of our support for the local business community, you may be aware that Welsh Government recently announced a special grants to support businesses affected by the ongoing restrictions. The council is preparing to start receiving and processing applications and communicating with businesses. Visit https://gov.wales/business-and-employers-coronavirus for Financial support and business advice to help businesses affected by coronavirus.
Although today it may appear distant, the unprecedented worldwide effort to provide a vaccine, medical research making improvements in hospital treatment and developments in rapid testing all provide light at the end of the tunnel. If we work together and look out for each other, we will come out the other end. We can all make our own contribution by taking responsibility for our actions.
Please protect yourself, your family and take time to safely check-in on others who may be more vulnerable over the coming weeks.
Cllr Anthony Hunt