By Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council.
I hope many of you were able to celebrate Bonfire Night over the weekend. What struck me, as I enjoyed being with friends, was how much we had missed last year. Guy Fawkes’ celebrations certainly felt extra special and worthwhile, knowing that we had lived with very few social occasions in 2020. I am now looking forward to spending Christmas with my family.
What also struck me this weekend was how I now subconsciously accept and live with Covid in a safe and measured way. The virus is still in our communities – and as a result Suffolk is now an Enhanced Response Area. But I am happy and comfortable to live with small measures in my life to keep myself and others safe. This may mean I wear a mask in a crowded place, or I crack open a window when a neighbour calls round. These small acts are worth it so I can enjoy lunching with friends or going into the office.
A new campaign has been launched by the Suffolk Resilience Forum which addresses just this. It’s called What’s It Worth and it aims to get people to consider what small acts they can do now to keep safe and enjoying the things they love the most. It asks people what motivates them to follow the actions that best reduces the spread of Covid and other viruses this winter.
We all know what keeps us safe – we have lived with such measures for more than 18 months. However, with Covid rates high in Suffolk we all need a little reminder from time to time. Working with public health and Government colleagues, the campaign promotes five familiar key actions which we call can do:
- Get fully vaccinated and have your booster when it’s due
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- Always wear a face covering in crowded areas
- Ventilate indoor spaces
- Get tested regularly and stay at home if you feel unwell.
We know that not everyone can follow all the guidance, such as those who can’t wear face coverings, but that’s ok. It all helps. You will probably see or hear some of the campaign, with features the fictional Garnham family, over the winter.
This campaign was launched as Suffolk entered week two of being in an Enhanced Response Area. This means that the Government is providing extra resources to help fight Covid in the county.
Whilst we have seen cases fall this week, pressure on Suffolk’s hospitals are reaching critical levels due to more people needing treatment.
This support includes help with the vaccination effort by extending opening hours and creating pop up vaccination clinics within our communities. This will be rolled out in some wards in Ipswich over the new few weekends. It also include help to reduce transmission in schools, where we have seen a substantial cases, with increased testing and additional temporary powers and also funding for Covid awareness raising communications and advertising.
I want to be clear that this support does not mean any additional restrictions on people’s movements or actions. It is not a lockdown or like the tiering system that was trialled in 2020. Instead, it will boost the county’s ability to raise awareness, tackle outbreaks and encourage people to get vaccinated. This approach has already been used in other parts of the country to help reduce the rate of transmission and is also being taken in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough at the same time.
I very much welcome this additional help and funding from the Government. There has been considerable effort to get more people vaccinated and to slow the spread, but we find ourselves with worryingly high rates.
Throughout the pandemic, Suffolk has been effective at keeping our COVID rates low compared to other parts of the country. This is because we have worked hard and been proactive at every stage.
The situation facing Suffolk now calls for the same forward-thinking and preventative work to protect residents, businesses and our way of life. As we learn to live with Covid, it will be actions such as this that prevent Covid from having an even worse impact and, ultimately, holding back our recovery.