West Berkshire Council

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find information about community support and our services during the coronavirus pandemic, on our information for residents pages, our information for businesses pages, and our community support hub page which has guidance to help coordinate community organisations.

See a summary of our Local Outbreak Control Plan and read our frequently asked questions. 

West Berkshire Council Coronavirus Weeknotes

Weekly updates from Lynne Doherty (Leader of the Council) and Nick Carter (Chief Executive) on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting West Berkshire, and the council's response.

Our website also has sections on:

Information for Residents

Information for Businesses

Coronavirus: stay alert to save lives graphic

Coronavirus Weeknotes #38

Written on: 27-11-2020

With the end of national lockdown firmly in our sights, we received some important news this week about what lies ahead for us when we leave it.

Arrangements for the end of the national lockdown were announced yesterday, and these will see West Berkshire put into the high tier of coronavirus restrictions. A move out of lockdown is a positive step, but we are in a higher tier than we were and we know this will be a disappointment to many. A ban on households mixing indoors (apart from those in support bubbles) will be particularly hard at the end of a year when many of us have not seen our friends and family as much as we would have liked.

It is difficult, too, for our hospitality industry with pubs and bars only able to open if they are acting as a restaurant and serving substantial meals. This comes after a long period of disruption and after a lot of hard work to make sure they are Covid-secure for their customers. Tough times, no doubt, for many of them and we have some grants in place for businesses which have been particularly affected by the restrictions which have been imposed.

Thankfully it is better news for other areas of the local economy with shops, gyms and hairdressers now able to open again. They will be open but they need our support after a turbulent 2020. We're lucky to have some fantastic local businesses and services and we hope that as you do your Christmas shopping you will shop local wherever possible.

A week tomorrow is Small Business Saturday - a chance for us to celebrate the local shops, businesses and services which we enjoy here in West Berkshire. There are many ways you can support our small businesses and not just by shopping with them. Leaving them a review, mentioning them on social media or buying a gift card to use later can make a big difference to them.

The new restrictions come into effect next Wednesday and we encourage you to take the time to read through them. We've been living with coronavirus for eight months now and it's as important as ever that we all continue to follow these restrictions to help keep us all safe.

The decision on which tier each area goes into is based on an assessment of a number of factors, such as how quickly cases are rising or falling, case detection rates, as well as pressure on the NHS. We will continue to help lead the local response to coronavirus - not least in helping the residents and businesses who have been most affected.

This week we have announced a new COVID Winter Grant Scheme which will make £279,000 available for families and individuals in need of financial support. It will help pay for food, utility bills and other essential items - as well as providing Free School Meal vouchers for eligible children during the Christmas and February half-term holidays.

We know some people have it tougher than others right now, and that COVID has had a devastating effect for some families. People who have already come to us for help have said they never dreamed they would be in the position of having to ask for help towards essential items but COVID had changed everything for them. The last thing we want is for people to be struggling in silence so if you need help do please get in touch with our Community Support Hub on 01635 503579.

Similarly, businesses have been trying to weather the COVID storm and we know it has been an uncertain and worrying time for many of them. We will continue to support them through it and have grants in place to support businesses that are in desperate need of help.

There is some relief on the horizon with a slight relaxing of the rules over Christmas and then the roll out of a vaccine and testing programme which will see life begin to return to normal. Christmas is an important time for people to come together and spend time with loved ones and for five days the Government will be relaxing the rules. From 23rd to 27th December, a Christmas bubble can include up three households and can meet indoors - although you have to stay in that bubble for the duration and chopping and changing between bubbles is not allowed.

Finally, we concluded last week's Weeknote by mentioning a new information leaflet which was landing on doormats this week. The leaflet contains lots of information about the support available to local residents, useful contacts and local arrangements for contact tracing. However, it also included information about the different tiers, which were correct at the time of posting. Since then these tiers and have changed so, whilst the leaflet is a handy guide to hold on to, when it comes to the latest restrictions we would ask you to follow the amended tiered restrictions as set out here.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #37

Written on: 20-11-2020

Earlier this week we were delighted to announce that a brand new primary school, which had been delayed by the pandemic, has now been completed.

At the start of April, work on Highwood Copse Primary School in Newbury had to be put on hold due to restrictions introduced in response to coronavirus. Work resumed when it was safe to do so, and we're pleased to say that the school has now been completed. It is a fantastic space, and we look forward to working with the Newbury College Academy Trust who will be taking on the running of the school and preparing it to receive reception pupils next year.

This is the second new primary school that has opened in the district this year, following hot on the heels of the new Theale Primary School which opened a couple of months ago. We have invested more than £16m to deliver these two new schools, as part of a broader £43m capital programme to improve our schools over the next three years and help children across the district to achieve their full potential.

Helping young people reach their potential, as well as ensuring they are protected and cared for is an important strand in our Council Strategy. As part of this we have been piloting a new way of supporting families over the past couple of years, with the recently published findings showing the trial has been a huge success.

Called the Family Safeguarding Model, the new approach builds on a successful model developed by Hertfordshire County Council. To see if it could be rolled out more widely, we were one of four councils chosen by the Department for Education (DfE) to further test the model. Two years on and the results are in - with the DfE evaluation showing it has been effective at preventing children from becoming looked after (where that is safe and appropriate) and has reduced the number of children on Child Protection Plans. It is a model that other local authorities are encouraged to consider adopting and we're proud to have helped lead the way.

The programme brings groups of professionals together under one roof to provide intensive support to parents whose problems with substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse put their children at risk of harm. It is very much about working with families and empowering them to identify what they would like to change and how they can achieve this. Importantly, feedback from the families we work with has been positive and they feel their chances of making lasting, beneficial changes has improved as a result of this approach.

Here in West Berkshire we saw the number of children entering care drop by 40% across the two years - that's 34 fewer children going into care. Reports of children going missing also dropped by a quarter. Whilst our priority has been to ensure that families get the most appropriate help, it is also a more cost-effective service with this new way of working saving us up to £1.5m a year. 

Elsewhere we continue to focus on supporting local communities through the pandemic. In the past few days there has been speculation in the national media about what happens at the end of lockdown and in particular how families can celebrate Christmas together. We wait to hear what those arrangements will be, but plans are already in place for university students to return home.

The Government has announced that students living away from are able to return home at the end of term. Students are asked to travel during a 'travel window' between 3 and 9 December, which will allow students to complete any self-isolation required and still be home in time for Christmas. No doubt families with young people away at university will be looking forward to having them home - but do please encourage them to travel safely and follow the guidance.

Schools continue to remain open, and will be until the end of term. Each of our schools has robust arrangements in place for minimising the risk of Covid in these schools - with pupils put into 'bubbles' and with appropriate social distancing arrangements in place. We know some parents continue to be anxious about the risk of Covid in schools but the precautions are in place, and where there are cases of Covid the schools are taking the appropriate steps to manage this.

What we would ask is that parents continue to observe social distancing at the school gates to help keep Covid out of our school communities.

Looking ahead to Christmas we know that this will be harder for some people this year due to the effects of Covid-19. We've launched a Christmas giving campaign to make things a little bit brighter for people who have been affected. Our Community Santa initiative gives residents the chance to donate gifts to people experiencing hardship through Covid and who have been nominated by their communities to receive a gift. The annual Giving Tree campaign also returns again this year to find gifts for people who have had to flee domestic abuse at home.

If you want to donate a gift and let someone know you are thinking of them visit https://info.westberks.gov.uk/Christmas

Finally, a new leaflet will be landing on doormats across the district from next week. Please look out for it and when it arrives keep it somewhere safe. It's packed with useful information, advice and support to help you through the pandemic now and in the coming months.  


Coronavirus Weeknotes #36

Written on: 13-11-2020

Across West Berkshire people have been paying their respects this week as part of the annual Remembrance events. In the district we have a proud tradition of remembering the fallen, and the opportunity to remember together is something to be cherished. This year Remembrance events could not go ahead on the same scale as before, but there were some small ceremonies and many more people choosing to pay their respects at home. Although we remembered in a different way this year, it still felt a poignant occasion as we paid our respects to those who had lost their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.

As we begin to look ahead to 2021 we hope that in time larger events can begin again. News of a vaccine this week gives us a reason to be optimistic, coming as it does at a time when we are in lockdown and seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases nationally. It is certainly a positive step forward for us and while there is light at the end of the tunnel, we also need to accept that things will not change overnight. Covid-19 will continue to be with us for a while longer and we all need to continue to play our part to reduce transmissions and keep each other safe.

For now, we must live with the latest lockdown measures, and we continue to support residents and businesses through this. The lockdown has brought yet more changes for our local businesses with regards to which can stay open, and for those that do how they can stay open safely. Overwhelmingly businesses are doing a great job at following the guidance, and we are working hard to support them in doing so. However, we are also taking action if they ignore the rules.

Much of this work has been done by our Public Protection Partnership, a shared service of environmental health, licensing and trading standards and which also includes Bracknell Forest and Wokingham Borough Councils. Officers have been out across the district both during the day and late into the evenings visiting a broad range of businesses. To give you a flavour of the breadth of this work officers have visited everything from car washes and kebab vans to opticians, corner shops and supermarkets.

The purpose is both to support businesses but, where appropriate, to enforce Covid-19 legislation. When enforcement measures are undertaken we are not only acting on regulations but also the need to create a fair environment for all businesses to operate in. Equally important is to provide some reassurance to local communities that the rules we are all subject to are being upheld.

As well as visiting businesses, the team also reacts to intelligence from local people as well. They're able to offer support to businesses who are unsure of the current regulations and chat through their measures where improvements can be made, or congratulate them on a job well done! So many businesses have gone to a huge amount of effort, with ever changing rules, that our officers appreciate the overwhelming effort to comply and keep people safe.

In some cases there's genuine confusion on behalf of the business owners as to if they can or can't be open. Any business who has been witnessed breaching Covid regulations will continue to be monitored as part of our ongoing patrols until officers are comfortable that regulations are now been adhered to, or ultimately to take enforcement action if necessary.

We want to thank Thames Valley Police, who are working closely with us to ensure a joined-up approach with regards to the enforcement of Covid-19 measures.

The start of this second lockdown last week coincided with the launch of our local contact tracing arrangements - and this is another area in which the Public Protection Partnership is leading the way, together with our public health team. We spoke a little about this last week but essentially it supports the NHS Test and Trace service - with our local team working to track down people who have tested positive but not been reached by the national system.

Thirty people have been trained to do local contact tracing, with the team working on a rota seven days a week and covering West Berkshire, as well as Bracknell Forest and Wokingham. Here in West Berkshire the team had a quiet start to the week which suggests local people are doing a great job completing the national Test and Trace details as they go out and about - and that they are responding to calls from the national service. We received five contact requests yesterday and we look forward to hearing how successful the team has been in tracking down those people.

Food poverty does remain a real concern for some people, and this week the Government announced a new package of measures to support children and families over the winter with food and bills. This is undoubtedly good news and we are looking at how we can put the allocation we will receive to best use. We will update you on our plans for this in a future Weeknote.

Don't forget help remains available to those in vital need of food or other support. If this is you, please contact our Community Support Hub on 01635 503579.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #35

Written on: 6-11-2020

Once again we'd like to convey our heartfelt gratitude to everyone for continuing to follow social distancing rules throughout this prolonged and alarming pandemic. Thank you very much as well to our communities, businesses and Council staff who've worked hard to make schools, universities and essential services Covid-secure and safe to operate during this period of National Restrictions.

While coronavirus cases in West Berkshire are lower than the national average, sadly there have been 137 deaths here since the start of the global crisis, as the new Public Health Berkshire Covid-19 Dashboard starkly shows us.

Our deepest and sincerest condolences to those who have lost a loved one to this dreadful disease, directly or indirectly.

We know in addition that people have been impacted financially and mentally, and we are here to help. Our Coronavirus Support web page provides information and links to a wide range of assistance. Anyone in financial hardship and/or who are clinically extremely vulnerable and who needs help should contact the Community Support Hub on: 01635 503579, by email: westberksbct@westberks.gov.uk or via the online form. The Hub is open between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Thursday, or between 8.30am and 4.30pm on Friday.

Preventing further infections is vital and why we all must pay serious attention to following the rules. We can't state enough how important it is for everyone to strictly observe the new National Restrictions in force until Wednesday, 2 December - for the sake of our NHS, our loved ones, our vulnerable, our local businesses, and each other. These measures are also key to avoiding any further extension of this second lockdown throughout the winter.

To help curb the rate of transmissions, we have launched a new local contact tracing system to reach more people testing positive for Covid-19 and their contacts more rapidly.

The way it works is that if the NHS Test and Trace service isn't able to reach any of our residents who have tested positive, then a member of our specially-trained local contact tracing team will get in touch with those individuals directly.

The local contact tracers will inform them of the legal requirement to self-isolate, request their close contacts who will need to be traced as well, and let them know what local support is available to them.

If you receive a call from our local contact tracing team, it will be from a 01635 number, and same number will be used every time for any further calls with you if needed. A local contact tracer will never ask for any financial information, passwords or payment.

You will be able to learn about the progress of the local contact tracing system and other Covid-19 status updates at our upcoming Local Outbreak Engagement Board Meeting. The public event is being held live on YouTube on Monday, 9 November at 6pm and we would welcome you to attend.

We are continuing to send out information, advice and support relating to coronavirus and other news via our social media platforms and in our Bulletins for residents and businesses. If you are not already a Bulletin subscriber, please sign up here to receive your chosen newsletter topics direct to your in-box.

In the meantime, please continue to stay safe and Covid-secure. Together, we will get through these challenging times.

 

 


Coronavirus Weeknotes #34

Written on: 2-11-2020

As announced over the weekend, the Government is set to bring in new national restrictions in England to help control the spread of COVID-19 and ease the burden on the NHS. The new restrictions will come into force on Thursday, 5 November until Wednesday, 2 December following a Parliamentary decision this Wednesday. At the end of this period, the Government will look to return to a regional approach, based on the latest data.

The Government's underlying message behind these new restrictions is to "stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives."

What we know today is that people will be required to stay at home and only leave for certain exceptions. These include being allowed to leave home for food, medical reasons, exercise (with certain restrictions), education, work if you cannot do so from home, or to escape physical injury or harm. Travel must be avoided unless absolutely essential and schools and essential shops will remain open. Please however, continue to go to any medical appointments and please seek support if you are in a dangerous situation at home.

Detailed guidance on the new restrictions has been published on the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november. This page will be kept updated over the coming days to reflect any new information that arises. The NHS Covid-19 App will also keep you informed of the latest guidance from Thursday 5 November. To download the App, please visit: https://www.covid19.nhs.uk/. The Government will write to everybody who is clinically extremely vulnerable to set out detailed advice while the new restrictions are in place.

Although the Government's new rules are not set to be as restrictive as the national lockdown we've had earlier this year, we understand that this will still be very disappointing news for many residents and businesses, especially as certain businesses and venues will be required to temporarily close.

We are fully committed to supporting our residents and businesses who are, or will be, adversely impacted. As before, we are working closely with our partners, including Volunteer Centre West Berkshire and Greenham Trust, to support the community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are ensuring that there are sufficient resources in our Community Support Hub to help residents in financial hardship and/or who are clinically extremely vulnerable to get the support that they need. Anyone who needs help should contact the Community Support Hub on: 01635 503579, by email: westberksbct@westberks.gov.uk or via our online form.  The Community Support Hub is open during office hours; call between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Thursday, or between 8.30am and 4.30pm on Friday.

The Government has announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme has been extended for a month with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked up to £2,500. In addition the Government is bringing in further economic support measures, including two new grants, for businesses in need. As soon as we have finalised how these grants will be administered, we will work quickly to get them out to those who need them, as we did earlier in the year.

We would also encourage any firm experiencing difficulty in paying their business rates to get in touch with us on businessrates@westberks.gov.uk and we will exercise flexibility with payments where we can.

Our community as a whole - residents, businesses, town and parish councils, community and volunteer groups, and our partners - have all already worked very hard with us to ensure we are as safe as we can possibly be during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We call upon this amazing community resilience to stay strong, continue to follow the rules and work together to get through these challenging and difficult times ahead.

We will keep you posted on any further updates in our regular Weeknotes edition this Friday. This includes any adjustments that need to be made to the restricted events that had been planned for Remembrance Sunday on 8 November.

In the meantime, we would like to thank everyone across West Berkshire once again for their support by following the rules which are imperative to staying safe and saving lives.