As outlined by the Prime Minister on Monday night, strict new national restrictions have come into immediate effect. I know the Government hoped to avoid this at all costs, particularly closing schools (though importantly they do remain open for vulnerable children and those of key workers), but ultimately the decision was made due to the alarming rise in hospitalisations and the significant pressures on our NHS. It is vital that all pupils are supported to do remote learning; thousands of laptops have already been provided for pupils but do let me now if there are schools still requiring any.
I believe there is an understanding amongst most people, that this is a critical moment for the country. The new variant (between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible) means the restrictions that were in place needed to go even further.
Here in Somerset, our daily case rate has risen sharply, increasing by more than a third since just before Christmas. I would urge everyone, just as we did last March, to stay at home as much as possible, only going out for the permitted reasons which can be found at gov.uk/coronavirus (as well as other helpful information and FAQs). Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to begin shielding again and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you.
No-one wanted this, and it will take a huge effort by everyone, but I am hopeful that the numbers will start to come down as a result of these measures and the vaccine roll-out that is now accelerating thanks to the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine.
The Government have set an ambitious target to offer the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups by mid-February. If achieved this will protect huge numbers of people at most risk from the virus. This will eventually enable many of the restrictions to be lifted, however, we should remain cautious about the timetable ahead.
The coming weeks will be very difficult and the single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. As ever, please do get in touch if you need to.