OPINION: We must work together to be part of the solution
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Leader of Suffolk County Council Matthew Hicks on why we all need to play our part during this ongoing pandemic.
Coronavirus is a very cruel virus, in many ways. Not only does it threaten the lives of people, but it also threatens people’s livelihoods. Today I want to address both of these devastating impacts.
As I write this, Boris Johnson hasn’t made his planned announcement on further restrictions yet, so I can’t comment on the national next steps. I can, however, give you an update on the Suffolk picture, which – in line with the rest of the country – is one of worrying growth. You will have read last week that West and East Suffolk saw a steep incline of cases. Unfortunately, the speed in which the infection levels are rising and the sheer number of cases in those areas has reached the regional watchlist criteria set by Public Health England. This is when cases reach 30 per 100,000 of the population. Today, we know that Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Ipswich have also reached that figure.
The worrying reality is that each Suffolk district is seeing an increase in cases. It is worth saying that compared to cases in the North of England, these figures are low (Nottingham is currently 689 per 100,000 of population), and we should keep the Suffolk situation in perspective.
However, our Suffolk rates are increasing each day. Suffolk as a whole is 26.9 per 100,000 of population, the East of England is 41.1 and England is 108.7. We have seen 224 cases in Suffolk in the last week. Therefore, it absolutely the right thing that we act now to stop the spread in our communities before we can no longer control the levels of infection.
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At the moment the data team at Suffolk County Council cannot see a striking pattern for infections geographically – it appears to be general community transmissions. There are, of course, some linked cases, such as those in Lowestoft associated with Bernard Matthews and other smaller outbreaks in schools and businesses. Asymptomatic swabbing of care home staff is proactively identifying a number of cases among staff, but this testing is helping to reduce the risk of spread and outbreaks in care homes.
Positively, we are not seeing large numbers of cases amongst the over 70s population who make up about 5% of cases. The rates are higher among the working-age population, particularly 18-30 year-olds, which reflects the national pattern.
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The only way we can beat this devastating virus is to follow those tried and tested precautions that are now part of our routine – frequent hand washing, wearing a mask where necessary and keeping your distance. We are not living in normal times. If you’re visiting the shops, don’t stand directly next to others in the checkout queue or when browsing shelves. Give people space when passing in the street. If you visit somewhere that looks busy, come back later. If we all take small steps and do our little part, the impact for many will be huge.
Sadly, we now are resigned to the fact that Coronavirus, and the restrictions that it demands of us, will affect our lives for a considerable amount of time to come. For some, the financial impact of this has been life-changing. In Suffolk, there are 104,000 still furloughed from their jobs and since March, the number of people claiming Universal Credit in Suffolk has increased by 75% (approximately 24,000). We have also seen a 238% increase in the amount of food handed out to single adults and families from Suffolk’s foodbanks.
We have launched a new phoneline that acknowledges the changing need for support. This phoneline (0800 068 3131) helps people across Suffolk access information or support relating to debt, benefits, housing or employment. It’s important that people use this as their first port of call, rather than their last. Don’t wait to max out your credit cards or take out loans – these trained advisors know exactly what support is on offer. For many families, they may never have been in this situation before. I would implore people to take advantage of this free helpline if they are struggling with money or job worries.
Before I sign off, I would like to leave you with this final thought. Right now, we have the opportunity to change the trajectory of the virus in Suffolk. Today we must act if we want to make a difference to our tomorrow.
Everyone must play their part and stick with it in Suffolk. We must work together to be part of the solution.