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

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Coronavirus: stay alert to save lives graphic

Coronavirus Weeknotes #45

Written on: 22-1-2021

It won't come as a surprise to any of you when we say that the vaccination programme has once again been a focus for the correspondence we have been receiving from residents this week.

The vaccination programme is being delivered by the NHS but we retain a keen interest in how the roll out is progressing locally. We were pleased to be joined at Monday's Local Outbreak Engagement Board Dr Abid Irfan from the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group and to hear his update on the progress made so far.

We know what residents are most interested in is what is happening in their community - and when they and those they care about will get their doses.

Whilst there is monumental effort by the NHS nationally to distribute the vaccine, much of the hard work to get doses to residents is being done by local GP surgeries. They have been working collaboratively to set up local vaccination centres which they are running together, and with the support of our local Clinical Commissioning Group.

There are two local vaccination centres; one in Pangbourne, involving three GP local surgeries, and one in Newbury which is a larger site covering nine individual GPs surgeries. Until the end of January they will be vaccinating anyone over 80 as well as frontline health workers and social care workers. From there they will move on to the over-75s, and then the over 70s and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

GP surgeries have worked really hard to get these vaccination centres up and running as quickly as possible. It has been great to read the praise for the centre staff from patients grateful to have received their vaccine. Although vaccinations are being delivered as quickly as possible it will take time to get to everyone - please be patient and wait for your GP to contact you about making an appointment.

The speed at which our NHS partners are working and the complexity in arranging a national vaccination programme means that along the way they will experience some logistical difficulties. This week Newbury Racecourse has come in for a little criticism for not allowing vaccinations to continue at their site on race days. The reality is that it would be challenging for the site to operate seven day a week due to the vaccine distribution process. GPs were aware of these operational issues before setting up the centre and they did so confident that they would still be able to reach their targets within timelines - even without doing on the odd few days.

Elsewhere we are ploughing on with our plans for new community testing facilities in the district. We are close to agreeing our first testing site for Newbury which should open next month and will allow testing for critical and key workers, as well as people involved in the management of local outbreaks. There will be a phased approach to those identified for testing and the relevant cohorts will be invited to join the testing programme over a series of weeks.  Once that is up and running we will then be looking at additional sites in the east and west of the district, and potentially a mobile unit too. Testing to identify asymptomatic Covid carriers is important in managing the outbreak, and a potential release of the restrictions so we are working to get these open as quickly as we can. We'll keep you updated on this as our plans progress.

Away from the pandemic response, business as usual continues and this week we were thrilled to announce this year's Community Champion Awards. We haven't been able to do an awards ceremony this year but it shouldn't take anything away from this year's winners with the standard as high as ever. This year we introduced special categories in relation to coronavirus, in addition to our usual categories and it allowed us to recognise a broad spectrum of community-minded activities this year. There are far too many to mention here but do please take a look at the website and read about the incredible winners we've had this year.

We're continuing to look beyond the immediate demands of the pandemic to plan for the future and we have a number of important consultations closing in the next few weeks. These include the Newbury Town Centre Masterplan Study (which closes on 31 January), Local Plan Review 2037 (closes on 5 February) and the Minerals and Waste Plan (closes on 15 February). We have also started a consultation this week on our proposal for a new sports ground at Newbury Rugby Club. Each one is really important in helping us take into account local views as we look at how the district develops in the coming years. Whilst we all find ourselves confined to our homes please take a time to look at these documents and tell us what you think.

 


Coronavirus Weeknotes #44

Written on: 15-1-2021

The coronavirus vaccination programme has been making headlines for some time now, and it was great to read this week about the latest facility to open here in West Berkshire.

The new vaccination centre at Newbury Racecourse will be able to inoculate up to 1,500 people a day, and it started yesterday with people in the over-80s group first in the queue for a jab. Vaccinations for care home residents and critical workers started a little while ago, and the roll out now into the wider community is something we are very pleased to see.

This news may well prompt residents to ask when they will get their vaccinations. Well, it will take some time to roll out the vaccinations to everyone and priority is being given to the most vulnerable. GP surgeries will invite you to book your appointment once you are eligible so please be patient and wait for them to contact you.  

Vaccinations are critical if we are to get ahead of the virus but for now testing remains another important tool for us to use. The NHS has provided testing for anyone with symptom of the virus for some time now, but around a third of people with the virus have no symptoms at all. They can be spreading the virus without knowing it, so community testing will help identify people who have the virus and would otherwise continue to be silent spreaders.

Our plans for community testing are gathering pace and we are working towards offering these tests to critical and key workers, and people involved in the management of local outbreaks.   The military have been supporting us in visiting sites to assess suitability and we hope to progress this early next week.  We will be looking to recruit to the key roles shortly thereafter in order to focus on the set up of the site.  The Lateral Flow Tests are intended to pick up those asymptomatic individuals in the community to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.  The key advantage of the Lateral Flow Tests is that results are ready in as little as 30 minutes and provide early opportunities to break the transmission chain.

We should have more information about this in the coming days and those who qualify for the tests will be contacted in due course. You can find more information about community testing here

Vaccinations and testing are crucial, but so too is the need to wear masks, keep our distance and follow the other guidance when we do have to leave our homes. The onus remains on us all to stick to the rules, but we continue to see instances where people are failing to do so. This week major supermarkets have had to mandate the wearing of face coverings for their customers, and the police in Newbury have had to issue a reminder that the skate park in Victoria Park can't be used under the Covid guidance - and that anyone doing so faces a fine. Compliance is something we continue to keep an eye on, and we're looking at what more we could or should be doing to enforce the rules locally. No one enjoys living under these lockdown rules but the more we follow the rules the sooner they can be relaxed and life can begin to return to normal. 

Education has been one of the areas most significantly disrupted by these lockdown restrictions but we are better placed to respond this time around, and most pupils are learning remotely from home. Schools remain open to pupils who are vulnerable, as well as the children of critical workers. Teaching staff have their own set of challenges including managing staff who now need to home school, shield or self-isolate. It has meant a busy time for our schools and pressure on the number of pupils who can safely be admitted to school. Aside from vulnerable pupils only the children of critical workers can go to school and even then we're asking parents to use this only as a last resort. If you can stay at home with them, or you can find alternative childcare please do so. This will help alleviate the pressure our teaching community at a time when they are stretched.

Teachers and healthcare professionals are just some of the hidden heroes working to keep things going in these difficult times. It is amazing to see the continued community support for all these heroes - and this includes the waste collection crews. They have been working hard throughout the pandemic to keep our bins emptied. Bins are as full as ever from Christmas and more time spent at home, and they too are short-staffed as a result of coronavirus. This week we had to take the decision to suspend our garden waste collections for a fortnight. It wasn't a decision we took lightly but we saw from feedback that residents are sympathetic to the decision and acknowledging our collection crews for their ongoing efforts throughout the pandemic. We're please their efforts have been recognised, and are grateful for your patience while we get our collections back on track.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #43

Written on: 8-1-2021

In any other year we would have started this first weeknote of 2021 by wishing you a Happy New Year.

This year it doesn't feel quite right, given that we once again find ourselves in lockdown and facing Covid restrictions for some time to come. However, we hope that you managed to have a restful time over Christmas and that you enter 2021 sharing our optimism for better times to come this year.

Although lockdown provides some short-term pain it does feel like we have turned the page and moved on to a new chapter in the fight against coronavirus. No doubt you will have seen the news about the start of the national vaccination programme following the approval of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. It won't change things overnight but it will protect millions of people from the virus in the coming months.

Vaccinations are something we are often asked about, with residents looking to the council for information on their availability locally. Whilst we have an extensive public health remit, the vaccination programme is being delivered by the NHS.

They are working hard to roll-out the vaccinations - it is being done as quickly as possible and on an unimaginable scale. Vaccinations have started in the district and we understand residents are keen to find out what is happening in their area and when they can get their jab. We are likely to start receiving regular updates about vaccinations next week and we will share what we can with you. In the meantime, if you don't hear too much about the vaccinations don't assume the work is not happening - they are just very busy. The jabs are being prioritised with the over 80s and most vulnerable first, so please be patient and your GP's surgery will let you know when you are eligible for a vaccination.

This activity will allow us to move out of lockdown but the Prime Minister has indicated that this is unlikely to be until mid-February - and even then it will be a gradual return to normal. Lockdown can be hard in many different ways - feeling lonely, not being able to see loved ones and of course for many the challenge of juggling work with home schooling. Our schools, supported by our Education team, have been working incredibly hard over Christmas and into the new term to ensure disruption to education is kept to a minimum.

At first the focus was on keeping schools open, but as the new strain of Covid took hold they had no choice but to close. At short notice, schools have been busy letting parents know what is happening and putting in place online learning programmes. Colleges, primary and secondary schools will remain open only for vulnerable children, and the children of critical workers. We understand the challenges of families living, working and learning in close proximity, but these arrangements are for the best if we are to beat the virus.

Six weeks is a long time for young people to go without seeing their friends and we know there will be a temptation for some to ask what the harm is in meeting up. Young people may, generally speaking, suffer less severe effects from Covid-19, but they can still act as silent spreaders of the virus and we would ask parents to remind them of the importance of these latest lockdown restrictions.

It's a difficult time for everyone right now but here at the Council we are working hard to continue supporting our local communities. We are better prepared for it having gone through this before which means, for example, recycling centres remain open on a booking-only basis and the library service continuing to provide a limited operation. Shortly before Christmas we held an event to recognise the efforts of our employees through Covid-19 and it was great to end the year hearing about the achievements of our teams throughout Covid.

All this work continues of course, and yesterday was the first of this lockdown's Clap for Heroes event. This time around it has been broadened out to include not just carers but also all those community services which have played their part in the coronavirus response. If you were on your doorstep applauding last night we say thank you very much - we're sure our teams will appreciate the show of support. 


Coronavirus Weeknotes #42

Written on: 21-12-2020

It's a sign of how quickly things are moving that we spent just a day in Tier 3 before facing even tougher restrictions to help kerb the rapid spread of coronavirus.

Like many people we watched the Prime Minister's announcement on Saturday afternoon anxiously wondering what it would mean for us in West Berkshire. We knew that cases in West Berkshire had been rising quickly, however it was still disappointing if not entirely surprising to learn that we had been placed in the new Tier 4, along with the rest of Berkshire.

No sooner had the announcement been made than we started receiving questions about why we were in this new tier and facing these tougher restrictions. People have suggested that because we are a rural county and on the outer edges of the South East that it was a bit of an overreaction. Others have asked why we can be in Tier 4 when a short jaunt over the border would find them in Tier 2.

The stark reality is that cases are rising in West Berkshire, and rising quickly. Our rolling weekly average is now 244 cases per 100,000 people which is not far off the national average, and dramatically higher than the previous week when it was 158 cases per 100,000 people. We need to be clear that we are at a crucial point in this pandemic and the stakes have never been higher for us.

Covid rates are high and rapidly increasing and this, combined with people fatigued by restrictions which have been in place for a long time and buoyed by news of a vaccine, makes for a deadly mix of circumstances as we battle the virus.

The move to Tier 4 marks a new phase in the fight against Covid-19 and one which is needed to get us through the current spike in cases. Tier 4 ends our hopes for Christmas get-togethers with no mixing between households allowed at all during the Christmas period.It is something we had all been looking forward to, but there will be other times to celebrate with our families and it's important that we get through this first.

Tier 4 is very similar to the national lockdown we had in November with residents now required to stay at home with some limited exceptions such as for food, essential work and medical reasons. When we do go out we should stay local, and avoid travel outside Tier 4 areas and we cannot now stay away from home overnight. Once again non-essential retail, indoor gyms and personal care services must close.

The Council will continue to be there for local people now and throughout the Christmas period.

Having recently been under national lockdown restrictions and then, briefly, Tier 3 we are already well set up to support residents and businesses who might struggle because of the new restrictions. Our COVID Winter Grant Scheme is up and running and here to help those residents in financial hardship, and the Community Support Hub continues to work with the community and voluntary sector helping those in need. For businesses we have several grants available to businesses forced to close or who have seen a loss in their income as a result of the new rules.

The new restrictions will affect us all, some more than others, but they are in place to keep us safe. Please do keep following the rules - we know it's a big ask this Christmas. With a third of people showing no symptoms you may still be spreading the virus so it's important we all keep playing our part to keep the virus at bay. It's the only way to protect our family and friends and to ensure that we can all enjoy future Christmases together.

This will be our last update of the year, but we will continue our updates in the New Year. Hopefully at this point we will be able to look forward with optimism as the vaccine roll-out picks up pace, with new testing opportunities and with the Tier 4 restrictions improving the situation locally.

In the meantime we want to take the opportunity to say thank you for all your support this year and to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and much improved New Year.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #41

Written on: 17-12-2020

Many of you will have already seen the news that West Berkshire, like many other parts of the country, will be moved up to Tier 3 (Very High Alert) from Saturday 19th December.

For much of the autumn the number of Covid cases here in West Berkshire has remained relatively low - lower than the national and regional averages and among the lowest in Berkshire.

That was until a week ago when the number of confirmed cases began to increase at a concerning rate. On 5th December our seven-day rate of Covid cases was 58.7 cases per 100,000 people but it has since risen to 158.4 cases as of the 11th December. It's an increase of 172% which is among the largest across the South East and shows how quickly things can change. Hospital admissions have also increased by around a third across the region which is also likely to have played a part in the decision to place Berkshire in Tier 3.

There have been cases of coronavirus in our schools and care homes, but there is also widespread transmission of the virus in our communities and this is because people are mixing. It really is as simple as that, and it underlines the advice which has been around for some time now about keeping your distance, wearing your mask and washing your hands regularly. It makes a difference.

Despite the increases in cases, we're still below the national and regional average but it is a stark reminder that coronavirus is still circulating in our communities and cannot be left unchecked. We are not alone in being moved up to Tier 3 and whilst it is understandable we know the repercussions will continue to be felt by local people and businesses.

Of course, there is an impact of not making the changes and notably to those who are at particular risk from coronavirus. It is a difficult balancing act with no easy solution.

A move to Tier 3 will bring with it tougher restrictions for both local residents and businesses. Among the most significant changes are that from Saturday:

  • You may not meet anyone who is not in your household (or support bubble) indoors.
  • You can only see family and friends you do not live with in some specified outdoor places, in groups of up to six people. These places include parks, playgrounds and public gardens, outdoor sports courts, allotments, beaches, the grounds of heritage sites, in forests and in countryside which is accessible to the public. You cannot meet in private gardens and other outdoor venues.
  • You should avoid travelling outside your area and reduce the number of journeys you make, if possible.
  • Bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants must close, with the exception of sales by takeaway, drive-through or delivery.
  • Accommodation will close - including hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast.

You can read the full list of Tier 3 restrictions (and any applicable exemptions) here.

There is brief change to these rules between Wednesday 23rd December to Sunday 27th December, when temporary Christmas Bubble arrangements apply. This allows up to three households to form a Christmas Bubble and to travel between areas to form these Bubbles.

Many of us have been looking forward to this at the end of a year when it has been harder to see our loved ones in the same way that we normally would. Whilst this is still possible, families should consider very carefully whether to form a Christmas Bubble and who with. Just because you can form a Christmas Bubble doesn't mean you should do so, particularly if you have relatives who are older or otherwise particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. These are individual decisions we all need to take to ensure we are doing what's right for ourselves and those we care about most.

We know that all these changes will have an impact on local residents and businesses, and some will feel the effects more acutely than others.

We've been receiving funding from Central Government to help us mitigate the impact of these restrictions. A move to Tier 3 will bring with it an enhanced payment and we will be looking at how we can use this additional funding to provide even more support for those who most need our help.

So far, almost £1m has been distributed to businesses who have had to close in November and another £150,000 has gone to businesses who remained open but nevertheless saw a loss of trade due to the restrictions. This help remains available, and we've also announced an additional £1,000 grant to pubs which rely on alcohol sales for at least half their income. For residents, our COVID Winter Grant Scheme, which is open until the end of March, has already paid out £228,000 with more than 1,000 successful applications for help with food and utility bills, and other essentials where people are struggling to make ends meet. In addition to this, we've also issued around 4,000 Free School Meals vouchers to help continue this service through the Christmas holidays.

Christmas will undoubtedly feel different this year, but we hope that you still have some relaxing and peaceful days at the end of has been the most extraordinary year.  

  • For further information please join Leader of the Council Lynne Doherty and Head of Public Health Matt Pearce for an update on Facebook tomorrow (Friday 18th December). Lynne and Matt will be answering questions as well as providing an update on our continued response to the pandemic with a particular focus on Christmas Bubbles and staying safe over the Christmas period. The live update begins at 5pm on West Berkshire Council's Facebook Page and will be available to watch back afterwards on Facebook and the Council's YouTube channel.