'Stay safe now so we can enjoy Christmas' - council leader

Family celebrate Christmas

Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council leader, is calling on everyone to get vaccinated, ventilate rooms, and test for Covid to help prevent a further outbreak before Christmas - Credit: Suffolk County Council

On Saturday evening, the Prime Minister, Sir Patrick Valance and Professor Chris Whitty stepped up to the Number 10 briefing podiums to announce the latest development in our battle with the Covid-19 virus. 

As we have seen during the pandemic, the virus has again mutated into a new variant - known as Omicron – which has already been detected in the United Kingdom. Early analysis suggests that Omicron spreads much easier than other variants and might be more resistant to vaccines and antibodies created following previous infections. More is learnt every day. 
 
This news made me think back to something I wrote in this column last month. It was a very simple point, but one that is brought into sharp focus by the Omicron variant being detected in our country. 

I was talking about how much I was looking forward to spending Christmas with my family this year. It’s something that is easy to become complacent about - for most of us the festive season is an opportunity to relax, catch up and spend time with the people we love most.

I have an elderly mother – so it has been very difficult seeing her during the pandemic. I’m sure that, like me, many people will be thinking ahead to December and what we can do to help make sure it is as normal as possible. 

Covid clearly had a big impact on Christmas last year. Rapidly increasing rates of infection, hopsitalisations and deaths created a real sense of unease and meant that we had to rethink our Christmas plans, especially when vulnerable people were involved. It was a tough time for many, and an experience that I for one would like to avoid this year. 
 
There will be many urgent conversations between ministers and scientists in the next few days to fully understand the impact of the variant, what measures need to be introduced and indeed, what the holiday season will look like.   
 
I have faith that it is possible to enjoy the kind of Christmas we want. I have faith because, actually, the things we need to do are very familiar to us. We have lived with them for more than 18 months.  
 
If we continue with those relatively small acts that we know keep us safe, we will be able to reduce the spread – and ultimately impact - of Covid. The five best actions we know keep us safe are:    

  • Getting fully vaccinated and having your booster when it’s due 
  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water 
  •  Always wearing a face covering in crowded areas 
  •  Ventilating indoor spaces
  • Getting tested regularly and staying at home if you feel unwell

Surely, these measures are worth it in order to keep doing the things we love most – like seeing the family at Christmas, enjoying a meal at a restaurant or catching the latest blockbuster at the cinema. 
 
We know that not everyone can follow all the guidance, such as those who can’t wear face coverings, but that’s OK. There is plenty you can do to stop the spread. This could include cracking open a window when a neighbour calls round or taking a lateral flow test if we’re going to be in crowded public spaces. It all helps. 
 
Suffolk is currently part of an Enhanced Response Area (ERA). We requested urgent support from Government in November as our case rates were one of the highest in the country and the number of people needing hospital treatment was increasing. 
 
One of the priorities of being in an ERA was working to increase vaccination take-up. We have launched a push to get more people jabbed, especially in certain wards of Ipswich where up-take was low. For us, the priority was those first timers. So far, we have vaccinated more than 100 people with their first dose alone – many more had their second and booster doses. Getting your vaccination, whether that’s your first, second or booster, is vital in keeping you safe from any serious harm the virus might cause. 

Throughout the pandemic, Suffolk has been effective at tackling Covid. 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 it from having an even worse impact and, ultimately, holding back our recovery. 
 
Let’s do all we can to keep safe as we approach the festive season. 

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Matthew Hicks is Leader of Suffolk County Council