Statement issued on behalf of Sara Blackmore, director of public health at South Gloucestershire Council, following the news that the district is to remain at the Tier 3 (very high) Covid-19 alert level, while the neighbouring area of Bristol will drop down to Tier 2 from Saturday 19th December 2020.
“While it is obviously disappointing that we remain in the Tier 3 Covid alert level, the government has determined that the risk of Covid infection continues to be Very High in South Gloucestershire. There is considerable pressure still being experienced by our health and social care system and our cases are now rising again in South Gloucestershire and elsewhere in the South West as we see the impact of the second lockdown come to an end.”
“We are all looking forward to the time when we can safely ease the restrictions that are causing pressure on our lives and our businesses, but if we ease those rules too quickly, we raise the risk of having to go back into a more restrictive regime again.”
“As a Council, we continue to support the work to limit the spread, rolling out enhanced local testing and contact tracing to support the national programme. We are getting in touch with residents who are identified as contacts of positive cases to inform them of the requirement to self-isolate and where necessary, directing them to the financial and other help available. We are working to ensure that local businesses, employers and families receive all of help they can where they are impacted by the restrictions.”
“We are prioritising our activities to focus on those areas where we are seeing the highest rates, such as in school age children in several areas, among working age adults and in some of our larger care homes in the district.”
“With the news that the Covid vaccines are being given to those most at risk, if we also continue to follow the guidance to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe, we hope we will continue to see new case numbers falling, the pressure on our health and social care systems reduce and we can get to a point where it is safe for the restrictions to be eased.”
“It is essential that all of us behave responsibly to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the health of those in our community and reduce the pressure on our NHS.”
“Even though the rules about household mixing are temporarily being relaxed over the Christmas period, we are urging people to act responsibly and keep social contact to a minimum.”
“If you or anyone in your household or support bubble has any symptoms, you must all stay at home and book a test using the online portal at www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test. If you are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you must isolate for 10 days.”
Visit the Coronavirus (Covid-19) page on the South Gloucestershire Council website for the latest information on the council’s response, updates on services and support available.
See also: What you can and cannot do in an area in Tier 3 of local restrictions (GOV.UK)
Update: The government’s reasoning for the tier allocations
Added 17th December 2020.
Since the end of national restrictions, the situation in South Gloucestershire has started to deteriorate. The case rate remains high, though the case rate in over 60s are decreasing. In the most recent few days the case rate is increasing. Improvements in the epidemiology indicators in this area have slowed and remain high. This does not support de-escalation to Tier 2.
In the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire STP COVID admissions, bed occupancy and critical care bed occupancy remain stable below the national average.
Since the end of national restrictions, the situation in Bristol has broadly improved. The case rate remains high at 120 per 100,000 (though decreasing), and the case rate in over 60s is also high. In the most recent data however, the trajectory of case rates has levelled off. Epidemiology indicators have decreased sufficiently for the area to be de-escalated to Tier 2.
In the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire STP, COVID admissions, bed occupancy and critical care bed occupancy remain stable below the national average.
Editor’s note: STP = Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (a geographical division within the NHS).
Source : Review of local restriction tiers: 17 December 2020 (GOV.UK)
Update: Further statement by Sara Blackmore on 18th December
Added 22nd December 2020.
Statement issued on behalf of Sara Blackmore, director of public health at South Gloucestershire Council:
“We share your disappointment at being kept in Tier 3 restrictions by the government, while areas around us have been moved down, and understand the confusion caused by the separation from the Bristol and North Somerset areas despite us continuing to share the same health and social care systems. This doesn’t seem fair, and we have written to the government to make this known and requested an urgent meeting to discuss the decision.”
“We are in challenging times, but I would ask that we continue to look after each other, show patience and kindness and continue to build on the resilience all of you have been developing through this year and work together to keep South Gloucestershire safe.”
“It is vital that we all work together to continue the progress that we have been making in controlling the spread of the virus. This includes making low-risk decisions about Christmas and finding ways to celebrate that keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe. I do appreciate how hard this is – we are all tired and want to spend time with our loved ones, but the virus is still circulating, and we need to help keep each other safe and focus on the long term when we can be together again.”
“Cases of Covid-19 have begun to rise again in recent days as the effect of the national restrictions have passed. We are seeing cases spike in different geographical areas, and different age groups.”
“The virus can spread rapidly among people when they are in close contact. Potentially up to one in five people have the virus without symptoms and so could be spreading the disease without knowing it.
“When the decision was taken by government to keep South Gloucestershire in Tier 3, the Bristol rate of new Covid cases was still declining (by 5.3 percent from 7 days prior), whereas the South Gloucestershire rate had risen by 17 percent over the same time. We now also have consistently higher rates than Bristol for cases in children and adolescents. Following the decision being announced yesterday, among people aged 10-14 in South Gloucestershire the rate was 282 per 100,000, while for Bristol that was 109 per 100,000). In adults aged 35-39 in South Gloucestershire the rate was 279 per 100,000 and for Bristol that rate was 143 per 100,000.”
“We know that high rates of transmission in these ages soon leads to higher rates in older adults and more severe disease and, sadly, deaths. It is these trends that we need to reverse in order to make South Gloucestershire safer and get out of Tier 3.”
“Our local public health team monitor local infection rates daily and target action to prevent and manage outbreaks based on this data. Actions may include working with local businesses and schools when data suggest there may be an outbreak, as well as working directly with local communities when infection rates indicate high levels of community spread. Community action includes additional targeted communications via social media, leaflets and posters aimed at communities impacted, as well as working with local community groups and businesses to get prevention messages across.”
“We are making progress, and there is good news with the vaccine now being delivered to some of the most vulnerable in our community, 975 people received their first jab of the vaccination through the Kingswood Health Centre primary care vaccination programme alone over the past week and the Yate primary care programme is due to administer the first injection to a further 975 people this weekend.”
“It is absolutely essential that we all take personal and collective responsibility for our actions. The easiest way to help protect yourself, your loved ones and those around you is to continue to abide by ‘Hands Face Space’. But it is also important that we all continue to follow the guidance for the Very High alert, Tier 3 level and think very carefully about how to manage the risk of infection over the Christmas period.”
Update: Council leader complains of “unfair” decision
Added 22nd December 2020.
Letter dated 18th December 2020 sent by Cllr Toby Savage, leader of South Gloucestershire Council, to The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, secretary of state for health and social care.
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to request an urgent Ministerial meeting with the Council and South Gloucestershire MPs to discuss the Government’s decision to keep this area in Tier 3 whilst neighbouring areas are reduced to Tier 2.
Whilst we have supported the Government’s decision to move to a local restriction tier system after the national restrictions ended at the start of December, we are very disappointed at the decision to treat South Gloucestershire differently to neighbouring areas, and isolate our residents and businesses in such a way. We find this particularly surprising given the local context, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss these points with you, and better understand the logic of the decisions being taken at a national level.
As I am sure you will appreciate, the decision to isolate South Gloucestershire in such a way, without a clear, transparent and understandable logic has not been understood in the local area (or more widely), and seriously risks the credibility of the national system, restrictions, and our work at a local level to reduce the levels of the virus. This is especially so given the numbers and direction of travel in neighbouring authorities such as Bristol and Gloucestershire, and the significant pressure our local health and social care systems remain in, which are fed by the wider economic and travel to work geography (not just South Gloucestershire). We should state at this point our primary point is not around South Gloucestershire being in Tier 3, but rather the differential treatment of South Gloucestershire to other areas given the local context, and significant issues that arise from this. I set out a little more context below.
As you will be aware, South Gloucestershire’s figures have reduced significantly over recent weeks, and remain below the all England average. Whilst we have seen a small and steady increase over recent days, this is in line with much of the South West and the rest of the Country. Much of the South Gloucestershire case load in recent weeks has been attributed to school age children and working age adults. Of most note however is the numbers in relation to the over-60s, which poses a much greater risk to the wider health system. The latest data in this regard is that South Gloucestershire remains significantly below neighbouring areas, with our case detection rate being 84 per 100,000, compared to 135 in Bristol to our South and 155 in Gloucestershire to our North.
As you will be aware South Gloucestershire shares a health system with Bristol and North Somerset, and in fact the 3 main acute hospitals sit within the other two local authority boundaries. The current health system is under significant pressure, however we understand the majority of Covid related beds are currently taken up by non-South Gloucestershire residents, possibly reflecting the nature of the case load set out above across the wider system.
As I referenced above, the significant impact this is having on local communities, and their trust in the wider system and central government, should not be underestimated. Our residents fully understand health pressures are driven not only by them, but also the neighbouring areas. Practically we have families that live across the road from each other that are now in different tiers, local supermarkets that are in different tiers, hospitality establishments on the same road or immediate vicinity in different tiers, travel to work and cross border issues for local schools, and public transport that is integrated across tier boundaries. This is already leading to community cohesion issues and increasing levels of frustration and anger. Whilst an element of this might be around Tier 3 status itself, more appears to be about a feeling and sense of unfairness, lack of recognition of the reality of what happens on the ground, and the creation of yet further divide amongst close knit communities.
We would therefore welcome the opportunity for a Ministerial meeting to discuss the contradictory decision to place other local areas in Tier 2 whilst keeping South Gloucestershire in Tier 3, and the context in which this decision was taken given the wider issues set out above.
Toby Savage, Leader of Council