We're sure you've been following the news carefully, but as of Boxing Day, we will be in Tier 4, the highest of the national four-tier alert levels. The key public message for our residents is to stay at home.
The latest data shows that the virus is spreading much faster than expected given the existing restrictions already in place. In the past seven days alone, cases across the whole of Oxfordshire have increased by 86 per cent to 1,636, with rises seen across all districts. Among the over 60s, cases have more than doubled in the space of a week. The county's weekly rate currently stands at 236.5 per 100,000, which compares with 126.9 for the week ending 11 December. Hospital admissions are rising rapidly as a result.
The rapid spread is being attributed to a new variant of COVID-19, which is passed on far more easily. Although there is currently no evidence that this variant causes a more severe illness nor that the vaccine will be any less effective, it is 70 per cent more transmissible. This new variant is increasingly becoming the dominant strain across the country.
From Boxing Day, we will join our neighbours in Berkshire, who were placed in tier 4 at the start of this week. Tier 4 signifies that we have reached a very critical point in the pandemic. It is a stark warning that we must all be extra vigilant, follow the rules, and take every precaution. The need to follow public health guidance has never been so important. By adhering to the rules, washing our hands regularly, maintaining social distancing, and wearing a face covering, we can turn this trend around. But it requires us all to pull together and act now.
Our Community Hub will be open for calls between Christmas and New Year from 9-5 on Tuesday 29 December to Thursday 31 December - the number on these days for anybody who needs support is 01235 422600. Anybody in need of urgent support on Christmas Eve should call 07919 381 605. The full details are at www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/communityhub.
Our public services at the district council will remain largely unaffected when we open in the new year with the exception of our leisure centres, which must close from Boxing Day under tier 4 restrictions - full details will be kept up to date on GLL's Better website.
We will be working with partners across the Oxfordshire system to issue extended communications urging people to stay at home over the festive period. We'll be adding some messages specific to our districts to make sure our residents are aware that, even though we've historically had lower numbers here, the virus is very real in the Vale and the numbers are rising - put simply we need our residents to stay home, stay safe, follow the government's guidance and protect themselves, their families and communities, and the NHS at their busiest time of year.
We would be very grateful for your support in promoting these messages to residents in your towns and parishes.
The closure of hospitality venues and non-essential shops will once again have an impact on our local businesses - there are now a range of grants available and so please do direct businesses to our South and Vale Business Support website at www.svbs.co.uk
Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (shielded) residents
Anybody who has been told by the government that they're Clinically Extremely Vulnerable must follow the guidelines on the government's website.
Anyone in urgent need of food or medical supplies should contact our Community Hub.
What does tier 4 involve?
- Stay at home, except for permitted reasons. This includes shopping for food and other essentials, exercise, education, childcare, collecting prescriptions, medical appointments, essential work, and attending a place of worship.
- Everyone who can work effectively from home should do so.
- You cannot meet other people socially indoors or in a private garden, unless you live with them or they are part of your support bubble.
- You can exercise (unlimited) or meet in a public outdoor place with people you live with, your support bubble (or as part of a childcare bubble), or with one other person at a safe social distance.
- Don't travel to other areas - it is not permitted (other than for legally permitted reasons) to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
- Shops selling non-essential goods and market stalls not selling food must close.
- Cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs remain closed but can serve takeaways, click and collect and delivery orders.
- Personal care, hair and beauty salons must close, as should tattoo, massage and spa venues.
- Entertainment venues, indoor attractions and leisure facilities must close.
- Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend health appointments. If they cannot work from home, they are advised not to go to work and claim any support where eligible.
Further information is at Tier 4: Stay at Home - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)