South Tyneside Council is working tirelessly to keep you and others in our community as safe as possible during this coronavirus pandemic. I am writing to you today as we urgently need your help.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we worked as a community to protect our families and the most vulnerable. We followed the guidance and we made sacrifices. Some had or still have family members or friends furloughed for weeks or months. Some lost jobs or whole businesses, where they could not be sustained during the nationwide lockdown. The negative impact on mental health is clear - as is the grief of those who lost loved ones and who could not pay their last respects in the way they would have hoped.
At the same time, we were touched by the kindness of others. From our neighbours, our friends and from volunteers we'd never met before, who shopped for us, brought critical medication or kept in contact with friendly telephone calls. Every Thursday, we clapped for carers and our NHS, and collectively we celebrated our key workers.
We eagerly watched the national Government briefings on TV. We washed our hands more than ever before and for some of us, home-schooling became our routine. When restrictions started to lift, we were thrilled to see our loved ones again. We raced to see our families, happy just to be near them again. By working together, we brought the number of cases right down in South Tyneside.
However, 6 months on, some have found the guidance difficult to keep pace with. Some of our younger people perhaps recognised that the majority of deaths were amongst older people, or those with underlying health conditions. Meeting with friends and hanging at the park increased among our teenagers, while many adults made visits to pubs and restaurants, or gathered at each others houses. Some followed the social distancing guidance, but others didn't, feeling safer due to their good health or young age.
At the same time, a wave of disinformation emerged, with some believing that the scale and severity of this virus has been exaggerated.
We forgot that our loved ones were at risk from us - and we visited vulnerable family members, despite attending the busy bank holiday activities at the local pub.
We stopped clapping for carers and we started letting our guard down.
It saddens me today to write to you to say that cases of coronavirus are now significantly on the rise in South Tyneside.
We now have one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the UK, and it has happened in a matter of weeks. That means we are one of the communities most at risk of our vulnerable becoming sick. We are one of the most at risk of losing loved ones with underlying health conditions and we are one of the most at risk of a 'local lockdown'.
A local lockdown could see us return to some of the restrictions seen at the beginning of this pandemic. We may not be allowed to see loved ones, including those in care homes and hospital. We may not be allowed to socialise with friends and family inside or outside.
A lockdown may have a significant impact on people who were previously asked to shield, who are already required to limit the trips they make outside their own home at this time.
We may not be allowed to dine out to help out, while other areas of the Country will still have this opportunity. We will almost certainly lose more jobs and more businesses, including the hospitality industry who are only just beginning to recover after months of lost income.
South Tyneside Council and our partners are working hard to avoid this. We have visited hospitality premises on weekends and evenings and we are working with business owners and customers about how to follow the guidance to stay safe. We are also taking action with those premises who are not working with us to improve.
We are supporting businesses and schools with risk assessments so they can protect customers and pupils and play a part in preventing further spread.
We are also working with partners to prepare for the Winter flu season, ensuring that those who require immunisation can do so safely and we are sharing health information through our social media channels and resident newsletter.
We must all continue to play our part - each of us recommitting to following the guidance to the absolute best of our ability. We need to remind family or friends of the guidance, especially if we see them engaging in risky behaviour. If you know someone close who has flouted the rules on social distancing or isolation, don't let them visit you at home. Give the younger people in your family this letter and ask them to read it to help protect you and your loved ones.
For those who may have become a little complacent, younger people in particular, we ask that you place the health of our most vulnerable above all. If you do socialise, please follow the Rule of 6 and social distancing guidance and do everything you can to ensure you do not place others at risk. If you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, follow their advice and only get a test if you are displaying symptoms or you have been contacted to do so by the NHS or your employer. Follow the Rule of 6 which became law on Monday 14 September, maintain social distance and isolate immediately and call 119 if you have symptoms of a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.
It is not too late to avoid a local lockdown.
We achieved so much over the Summer - and with a sustained effort from us all, we can do it again, protecting our loved ones, our economy and our ability to live our lives as normally as possible during these unprecedented times.
Cllr Iain Malcolm