'Roadmap out of lockdown will be a slow, step-by-step relaxation of rules'

Opinion: Northamptonshire's director of health warns it will not be a quick fix after Boris Johnson's Monday announcement

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 10:50 am
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2021, 10:52 am
Northamptonshire director of health, Lucy Wightman

Half term holiday has meant a welcome break from home schooling for many I am sure, but the question of what to do with the children during winter lockdown must be quite a challenge.

My children are all grown up now but I do recall those somewhat testing holiday times…and that was without the current restrictions in place. We all know there are days in the sun to look forward to; but right now, I know they must feel a long way away! All I would ask is that people remain focused on a better summer ahead and know that the more we follow the rules now, the better our position will be when we come out of lock down.

I know the school break is nearly over but please remember to keep your distance from one another while out exercising with your children, especially now the weather is getting warmer and so more people will be out and about.

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Please stop and let one another pass, giving each other enough space to feel safe. It’s not just about following the guidelines, it’s courteous, it’s kind and it’s caring. It also often results in a warm smile, so what’s not to like?

This week I want to take this opportunity to praise the people of Northamptonshire for uniting in the challenge of staying at home, protecting the NHS and saving lives. We have once again seen COVID-19 cases continue to display a steady reduction across the county as a whole, and all districts and boroughs, have once again seen a decrease in case numbers. This is testament to your hard work and determination, and for this you should all be very proud; I know it’s not easy.

However, I do still remain concerned that we are not seeing the same rate and pace of decline across all areas.

Corby remains the worst borough in the country. In addition to this, the rate amongst the 17 to 21 age group in particular is actually going up for both for Corby and Kettering – showing two of the worst rates for that age group in the country. It’s so frustrating because people know what they should be doing now and they must understand that if we don’t get our rates back to better levels then we risk not coming out of lockdown at the same time as the rest of the country.

I know I am in danger of sounding like a cracked record but we must continue to do the right things even though we’re seeing improved cases rates; live within the limits of the law and not to stretch them, get tested and get vaccinated when the call comes. The rules are there for very good reason, there’s science behind them and we can clearly see that when and where people adhere to them, case rates go down. You must not mix inside a household with people you do not live with or people who are not in your childcare or support bubble. If you are not eligible to have a support bubble or childcare bubble you are not allowed to mix indoors. To do otherwise is not just illegal, it’s irresponsible. You will be not only be fined but you will be putting your friends, family and loved ones at risk. I have also heard reports of youngsters gathering in groups at skate parks across the county. Northamptonshire Police will be ramping up their park patrols, ready to fine any offenders mixing in groups - so be warned!

In response to the slow progress in Corby, an eight page COVID-19 information booklet will be delivered through the letterboxes of all Corby residents this week. The booklet details all the guidance and facts regarding COVID-secure behaviours, testing, self-isolation and the vaccination. It also gives tips on how to get to work safely, what you can and can’t do if it is necessary to mix indoors, how to reduce risks in support and childcare bubbles, and the help on offer for eligible businesses.

On another note, I’m pleased to announce that a third community Lateral Flow Device Testing Centre has opened at Danes Camp Leisure Centre, operated by Trilogy Leisure in Northampton. The location of this site is ideal for staff from the business parks located between Northampton and South Northants, in addition to workers across Northampton and surrounding areas. The other two sites are at Lodge Park Sports Centre in Corby and the University of Northampton. The test is called a Lateral Flow Test and involves a swab of the mouth and nose and provides a result within 30 minutes. This will tell you if you are infectious – it does not tell you if you are COVID free - so all guidance must still be followed even if you have a negative result, but at least it will let you know that you must stay at home and prevent you from infecting the people who surround you at work.

You will also have heard in the news that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in England has entered its next phase and has officially been expanded to those aged 65 and over and younger people in at-risk groups. It is very important that you come forward when you’re called to get the vaccine. The more people who are vaccinated, the safer we will all be. Sticking to all the guidance, testing and getting vaccinated are the three key actions that will get us back to normal.

We all wait with bated breath for Monday when Boris is due announce his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown. I can tell you now that this is likely to be a slow, step-by-step relaxation of rules to ensure we have no spikes in cases. I can also tell you that if we don’t do the right things in the next few weeks to ensure areas where rates are high come down, we risk having to continue with restrictions for longer than other areas – and I’m sure no-one wants to be left behind! I have seen the residents of Northamptonshire come together to do the right thing before and am confident we can get rates down across the county. Come on Northamptonshire, I know we can do this. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we must work together to ensure we all reach it at the same time.