I am happy to report there are positive signs this week that the spread of the virus is slowing down, and that we may just have passed the peak of the second wave. London's average case rate is back down under 1,000 per 100,000, and we are doing well here in this area - Richmond has the lowest rate among all London boroughs and Kingston has the third lowest. The r number is estimated to be between .9 and 1.2 now, down from 1.2-1.4 before Christmas.
These are very hopeful signs and I want to thank everyone in Richmond and Kingston boroughs for contributing to this success by complying with restrictions. I do want to add, though, that while case numbers have flattened out, they have flattened out at a very high level, and it will be some time yet before they have fallen back to levels that will enable us to relax restrictions without fear for our health service.
The NHS has managed to handle an unprecedented level of pressure while also rolling out their vaccine programme, which is now up and running well here in London. I am happy to report that as of yesterday over 45% of care home residents in London have been vaccinated, and over one third of all Londoners over 80 have had their jabs. Public Health London expects to have all care home residents vaccinated within ten days.
NHS leaders have been in contact to ask me to encourage residents to make sure they are registered with a GP, so that everyone living in our area can get the vaccine. If you know someone who is not registered, please support them to do so. You can find all the information about registering, including a search bar to find local GP surgeries, here. Anyone can register with a GP. You do not need to provide proof of address or immigration status.
Please also spread the word that anyone offering a paid-for vaccine is committing a crime. If someone asks you to pay for the vaccine, or asks for your bank account or other personal details to prove your identity, they are attempting to scam you.
NHS frontline staff have also asked me to make this request to help them keep the vaccination programme running quickly and smoothly: Please find your 10-digit NHS number and have it to hand. You should be able to find your NHS number on any letter or document you have received from the NHS, including prescriptions, test results, and appointment letters. This seems like a small thing, but if we all do it we can collectively save NHS staff a lot of admin time -- time that can be spent on vaccinating.
The most important thing you can do for NHS staff, though, is to stay home, unless your trip out is essential, and to follow the Hands, Face, Space guidance when you do go out. Please remember to wear a face covering in outdoor queues and on busy paths and pavements. I would especially like to ask parents whose children are attending school in person to be mindful of social distancing at the school gates and to wear a face covering there.
CLARIFYING VACCINE PRIORITIES
I know that many of my constituents have been anxious about when they will be getting the vaccine, and wanted to provide some information to you on the recent change in strategy.
The Government recently changed the guidance from providing each Group 1 and 2 person with two doses of the vaccine within a four week period, to providing a single dose now, and a second dose 12 weeks later.
The priority categorisation remains the same, so those over 80 and people working in health and social care settings will still receive the vaccine first. The new guidance will allow the groups scheduled come after them, those aged 70-80 and those with underlying health conditions, to receive their first dose of the vaccine sooner, rather than giving a second dose of the vaccine to those over 80 first. Given the high level of protection afforded by the first dose, the Government has decided this will save the most lives.
For operational reasons, in order to ensure that all doses of the vaccine are used, some vaccination centres have called in a number of over 70s to be vaccinated early. Please be assured that the order of priority has not changed and the focus is still on getting everyone in Group 1 and Group 2 vaccinated first, and then moving on to Groups 3 and 4. You can see all the groups in the first phase of the rollout and lots of other information about it here. (Scroll all the way down to Vaccine Priority Groups.)
ACTION ON FIRE SAFETY FOR BUILDNGS WITH UNSAFE CLADDING
Following my question in the House on Monday about the cladding scandal, I wrote to the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ask him why there is currently no assistance available to leaseholders in buildings with dangerous cladding that are under 18 metres. Residents are at considerable risk due to unsafe cladding but they cannot access the Waking Watch Fund or the Building Safety Fund. You can see my letter here.
INCREASED POLICE PRESENCE IN PUBLIC AREAS
The Metropolitan Police has written to say they are continuing additional daily patrols focused on Covid-19 enforcement and reassurance in every borough. They are targeting areas of high footfall like large supermarkets, as well as infection hotspots. You can see a video about local policing from the Southwest London BCU Commander, Chief Superintendent Lis Chapple here.
TFL ANNOUNCES ALL LONDON BUSES NOW MEET ULEZ STANDARDS
Transport for London has announced that all of London's vehicles on the main bus network are Euro VI-standard or cleaner buses -- the same emissions standard as the Ultra Low Emission Zone threshold.
Around 4,000 London buses have been retrofitted to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide levels by an average of 90 per cent. This has significantly reduced the contribution from TfL buses to transport-related NOx emissions, with the proportion of transport nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions coming from TfL’s buses reduced from 15 per cent to just four per cent.
More than 400 all-electric buses have been introduced – including the UK’s first full routes of electric double decker buses – and around 300 additional zero-emission buses are expected to join the fleet by the end of this year. There are plans for 2,000 all-electric buses to be in operation by 2025.
Decarbonising the transport network and cleaning up London’s air will also support green jobs in the bus industry across the United Kingdom.
SOCIAL CARE SERVICE IN RICHMOND TOPS LONDON LEAGUE TABLE
I was delighted to hear this week that my Richmond borough constituents received some of the highest quality social care in London last year.
The annual Adult Social Care Outcome Framework benchmarks Richmond Council’s performance against the 31 other London boroughs. Based on its survey of those who receive social care, Richmond was top in London for three of the indicators measured:
Social care related quality of life
Proportion of people who use services who have control over their daily life
The proportion of people who use services who say those services made them feel safe and secure
Richmond was also the top-performing borough for supporting vulnerable younger adults to remain in their own home and not move into a care home, and for supporting people to be discharged quickly from hospital. Work throughout 2019/20 has also resulted in improvements in the number of adults with learning disabilities and those in secondary mental health services who are supported to live independently in their own home.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM RICHMOND COUNCIL
There are many sources of financial and practical support available to Richmond borough residents. If you need any help, due to Covid-19 or other factors in your life, speak to one of these organisations:
Richmond Aid and Citizens Advice work together to assess resident’s needs, offer advice as well as financial assistance to support with food, utilities and other winter pressures.
Homestart supports families who are struggling financially and facing food, fuel poverty or who are struggling to meet their housing costs. They will assess the needs of families they are supporting and provide swift and easy access to funding.
The River Bank Trust will be supporting vulnerable families specifically in Ham and Whitton. The Trust will be using the money to support families with food, utilities and other winter pressures.
Their grant will be used to meet immediate needs amongst individuals and families who are struggling to afford food, utilities and other essentials over the winter months with a specific focus on support for carers and the people they care for
This is a temporary fund, made available by the Council, to assist households with children who have been affected by the COVID-19 situation, have had their normal income disrupted and have had to claim Universal Credit. The fund can help households by providing support with groceries in the form of supermarket vouchers. DEFRA emergency assistance grant
Richmond AID and Citizens Advice Richmond (CAR) may be able to help with a grant for food and essentials. This grant can support people who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to COVID-19, subject to available funds up to 31 March 2021. The fund is for residents of Richmond who have reduced pay, lost their job, benefit issues, struggling to afford food or have extra costs as a result of COVID-19. Local Assistance Scheme
For those residents in receipt of welfare benefits, there are crisis grants available to help in an emergency for household items, food and baby essentials. No recourse to Public Funds Hardship Fund
We will make awards available from the Covid-19 Hardship Fund, which does not count as public funds, to Richmond residents whose income has been affected by Covid-19 and have no recourse to public funds. The fund can help households by providing support with groceries in the form of supermarket vouchers.
KINGSTON VACCINE ROLLOUT RAMPING UP
Local residents might be interested to hear that a mass vaccination centre in Hawkes Road in Norbiton is set to open by the end of January.
COUNCIL ASKING FOR VIEWS ON BUDGET AND AIR QUALITY PLAN
Kingston Council wants to hear feedback about their plans for 2021-2022 from Kingston residents of all ages, those who live outside the borough and use our services, as well as businesses, community and interest groups. You can read about our budget planning for 2021-2022 and use the feedback form to let us know your comments.
The Council also wants to know what you think about their draft Air Quality Action Plan which sets out how they will work with communities to collectively improve Kingston’s air quality. The plan was, in part, shaped by Kingston residents. Take a look and let them know what you think by 17 January.
FREE ONLINE EXERCISE
From aerobics exercise to strength and resistance training, the NHS's new online home workouts have been created by fitness experts and range from 10 to 45 minutes long! Suitable for all fitness levels, there's something to help everyone keep active during lockdown.
SUPPORT TO STOP SMOKING
Covid-19 has made us all more aware of the need to stop smoking to protect our health. Kingston Council is offering a free programme to help smokers to do so. Sign up to Kick-It and receive six weeks of 1-1 support from a specialist stop-smoking advisor, who will tailor their support to each individual.