Newham Council is issuing regular e-bulletins to residents about what’s happening at the Council and in the borough, including the latest information about how we are responding to Covid-19.
It’s been a concerning week with troubling news about the increases of Covid-19 cases across the country. Every day for the past five days in a row, there’s been more than 2000 cases recorded daily. Today the number of cases stands at 2,919, the highest number since Sunday when 2,988 cases where reported.
It means we are entering a really worrying period, as these significant ‘up-ticks’ or rises, reflect a sharp upward trend and as a consequence the government has announced the re-introduction of restrictions in the whole of England to stop the growing rates of Covid-19 infection from next Monday, 14th September.
Before I go into what that means for all of us here in Newham, I wanted to put this development into some perspective. Newham is currently a relatively low infection-rate area, but we have also seen an increase - which means we can’t be complacent. As we know, Newham has experienced some of the worst impacts of Covid-19 due to the health inequalities and vulnerabilities in our communities. Tragically 310 people have lost their lives and we continue to mourn their loss, and their families and friends remain in our thoughts.
We are monitoring the Covid-19 situation in Newham very closely, and you can check up on the latest weekly status summary in the borough, via our Covid-19 ‘dashboard’ which provides information about the level and rates of cases and testing here: Newham Covid-19 Dashboard. The most up to date figures for Newham show that between 1st September and 7th September, the number of new cases in the borough doubled to 101, compared to 52 in the previous week.
At the same time the testing rate in Newham also fell slightly this week and remains lower than for London and England, however following news this week of the difficulties people living in relatively low infection areas like Newham are having securing a test, that may not be a surprise. But it is an ongoing concern, which is why the Government must rapidly address and sort out the issues affecting our ability to test effectively.
Since the beginning of the pandemic the centre of the virus has shifted, with a number of areas placed under tighter restrictions because of increased infection rates since July, these include Aberdeen, Glasgow, Leicester, Luton, Northampton, Greater Manchester, east Lancashire, Preston and West Yorkshire. Bolton in Lancashire – with an infection rate of 120 cases per 100,000 of population (compared to Newham’s 27 per 100,000) - is the latest to suffer further restrictions. As a result, all hospitality for food and drink (restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs) are now restricted to takeaway only. Operating hours are subject to a curfew, meaning all venues, including takeaways, will be required to close from 22:00 to 05:00. In addition it will be against the law for people to socialise with those outside their own household in any setting, even outdoors.
I desperately want us to avoid this happening in Newham, for the sake of our jobs, our well-being, our families and our friends. The best way to do stop it is to follow all the advice on wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and person hygiene, and if you haven’t already please down load the NHS Test and Trace App, which is being piloted in the borough.
So to extra restrictions announced yesterday, by the Prime Minister for the rest of the country, mean that from next Monday 14 September:
- Social gatherings of over six people will be illegal in England, both in and out of doors, including in parks, pubs and restaurants;
- Police will be given powers to disband gatherings over six, with fines of £100;
- There are several exceptions – namely for schools, workplaces, weddings, funerals, places of worship and professional sports teams, and families /support bubbles over six.
To ease the pressure on testing the Prime Minister is also asking people without symptoms to refrain from booking a test. That is extraordinary, and shows how much more testing capacity we need to build into the system.
The figures released by the Government yesterday, also show that Covid-19 cases in the UK have gone up significantly particularly among younger generations. Over the last week they have risen from around 12.5 cases per 100,000 to around 19.7 cases per 100,000. But amongst the young, the increase is much higher. This is not simply a result of more people are getting tested, because the percentage positive rate has gone up too.
- Amongst 17 and 18-year-olds, there are now around 48.1 cases per 100,000 with a percentage positive rate of 6.1%;
- Amongst 19 to 21-year-olds, there are now around 54.5 cases per 100,000. And the percentage positive rate is 5.1%;
- In the 20 to 29-year-old age range, there are now around 41.6 cases per 100,000. And the percentage positive rate is 3.7%.
While this is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the numbers of people getting sick, and requiring hospitalisation, comparison with similar spikes in Spain and France show that this reality could follow some three to four weeks in future. This is because higher levels of infection in the community as a whole will lead eventually to spread to more vulnerable groups, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
For university students, the government has also published guidance today, urging universities not to send students home if they are sick with Covid-19, because of the risks of the virus transmission through travel.
So while I regret the new restrictions on freedoms – especially around family member’s ability to meet up - I am convinced it is the right thing to do. My criticism of the Government is that I believe some restrictions were lifted too quickly, that the rules where far too complicated leading people to ignore them, and that there are still clear failings in the critical Test and Trace programme.
I would urge all of you to take on board the new advice. Limit your contact with people you don’t live with, continue to cover your face in shops and enclosed public spaces, wash your hands and maintain 2 metre social distancing where possible. Also don’t forget to download the app that we have ‘early adopted’ in Newham.
Launched a couple of weeks ago, the NHS Test and Trace App is another useful tool in our fight against the virus. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, please do so by using one of the unique codes sent to you through the post.
From the experience of Newham residents who have downloaded it, roll-out across the country will happen soon based on our feedback, so next week keep an eye out for a questionnaire that is being sent to all households in the borough, along with some phone surveys.
So as we face the prospects of a challenging autumn and winter – let’s keep protecting one another from the threat of Covid-19. We are all in this together.
As always, stay well and stay safe.
Rokhsana Fiaz OBE
Mayor of Newham
Read more Covid-19 updates from Mayor Fiaz or follow her on Twitter @rokhsanafiaz