I learned this afternoon in a briefing for London MPs that the Covid-19 infection rate in London has continued to climb this week. With more areas of England being added to Tier 3, the picture looks very worrying indeed. Richmond's case rate is up to 214/100,000, and Kingston's is up to 340. Both of these numbers are sharp rises from last week, with most cases concentrated among secondary pupils. These are against the London average of 325 and the England average of 206. We absolutely must come together as Londoners now to regain control of the virus.
To make young people aware of the impact they can have in helping to slow down the virus, Kingston Council Leader Caroline Kerr and local teenagers have made this short but moving video about the importance of keeping safe this Christmas. I am asking parents in both Richmond and Kingston to forward or show it to their children and ask them to forgo seeing their friends again until they are back at school. It is vitally important that we stop the transmission between families before we enter Christmas bubbles next week.
I encourage everyone to stick to virtual social contact until we are past Christmas and our r rate improves again. It wasn't what we would have planned, but we managed to have fun at our virtual Richmond Park staff Christmas party this week, while staying safe!
If you are looking for someone to talk to over the holidays, I also want to highlight the work of the NHS Volunteer Responders Christmas Together campaign. You don't have to give practical help to be a part of this effort to support people at Christmas. They have a "check in and chat" programme where you could offer help to others by phone.
VISITS TO SMALL BUSINESSES IN KEW TODAY
I spent an enjoyable afternoon checking in with local businesses in Kew today, visiting their shops and talking with owners, managers and staff. I stopped in to Shoe Station, Kew Pharmacy, Kew Bookshop, Olivers, Kew Gardener, Westbrook hair stylists, Squires Food and Wine, Zia Elze, Garden Fish and Chips and IT Specialist. The retailers told me about their issues with landlords and supplies during the pandemic, the ways the have worked to help the community through it, and their concerns over what the end of the Brexit transmission period may bring. I wish them all the best for 2021, and will be doing all I can to support small businesses next year.
ASYMPTOMATIC TESTING IN THE COMMUNITY
One in three people with coronavirus do not have any symptoms and can pass on the virus without knowing it. Asymptomatic testing is a key weapon in the fight against the virus. To get the most out of it, uptake of testing and compliance with self-isolation for those who test positive need to be high.
Some people in Richmond and Kingston boroughs are being offered asymptomatic testing already, either because of contact with confirmed cases or because they live in hotspot areas in the boroughs. If you are offered a test, I encourage you to take it even if you don't have symptoms or know you have been exposed to the virus. This testing is vital to contain the virus.
From 4 January, schools will have the necessary supplies to test all teachers once a week and to test close contacts of confirmed cases among the staff and pupils in years 11-13, on a daily basis for seven days. This is to prevent staff and pupils in exam years from having to self-isolate. Later in January and February this will be extended to the other year groups in secondary schools and after that to primary schools.
If you are asked to isolate, you can apply for the £500 NHS Test and Trace Support Payment for those on low incomes.
I was very pleased to hear from a constituent on a surgery call this afternoon that he had just returned from receiving his first vaccine injection; he reported that the experience was extremely positive – well organised, well staffed and very quick. I want to offer my grateful thanks to all those involved in rolling out the vaccine across the constituency and to wish them all the best for the coming months.
I am hugely relieved that the Covid-19 vaccine is now being offered in hospitals and by GPs. Different GP surgeries have different start dates and schedules, depending on their equipment, staff and premises. I know they are doing all they can to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible.
The vaccine is being given first to people aged 80 and over who have a hospital appointment in the next few weeks, people who live or work in care homes, and health care workers at high risk. The vaccine will be offered more widely, and at other locations, as soon as possible. Please wait to be contacted; the NHS will let you know when it's your turn to have the vaccine.
The order in which people will be offered the vaccine is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). You can read the latest JCVI advice on priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccination on GOV.UK for more information.
HEATHROW THIRD RUNWAY
I was dismayed to hear this week that the Supreme Court has overturned the High Court's ruling that plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport breached our environmental agreements. When we are in the middle of a climate emergency, when aviation demand has dropped significantly, and when the UK is about to host the UN Climate Conference, spending money on expanding an airport seems indefensible. I am calling for the Prime Minister to firmly rule out a third runway at Heathrow. We know he personally objects to the project and if we are achieve net-zero carbon emissions he must cancel this expansion.
JOIN ME FOR MY FIRST VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING OF 2021
I will be hosting my next Virtual Coffee Morning on Wednesday 6 January. If you fancy joining me and some of your fellow constituents for an informal chat about issues national and local, please sign up here. Coffee mornings are every other Wednesday at 10:00am.
NEW SUPPORT RESOURCE - MY PICKLE WEBSITE
My Pickle is a not-for-profit organisation increasing access to support for people facing big life challenges via their website mypickle.org. My Pickle is a free, public directory of trusted support resources available nationally. Since 2019, with input from hundreds of volunteers, over 1,750 resources have been crowdsourced, vetted and added to the free website. Resources cover all big life topics such as health, relationships and money. To find support for yourself or someone you know visit mypickle.org.
MENTAL HEALTH HELP FROM MIND
Mind, the national mental health charity, has written to remind me that the Christmas period may be particularly difficult for many of us this year. They have developed specific information on looking after your wellbeing during the festive period, which provides tips on how to cope as well as suggestions for supporting others.
They also wanted to share their latest coronavirus information resources, which include information about looking after your wellbeing, particularly during the winter, and information specifically for young people who are worried about coronavirus and want to know how to cope with changes to their lives.
If you would like any additional support, their Infoline provides information on a range of topics and types of mental health problems, including where to get help, and medication and alternative treatments. They can also help find details of support available in your local area.
Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday on 0300 123 3393
CAMPAIGN AGAINST HUNGER
Richmond Council has joined a London-wide campaign to drive much-needed support to food charities and local food hubs this winter. The Covid Community Campaign will help to provide food and support to those struggling this winter.
The campaign hopes to build upon the community spirit and compassion seen throughout this year in response to Covid-19 and are asking the public, businesses, community and faith groups to give what they can to the fund to support fellow Londoners. Money raised will be distributed amongst the campaign’s charity partners - The Trussell Trust, FareShare, Magic Breakfast and Social Bite - and 20% of proceeds will go to local charities in each participating Council’s area, including in Richmond upon Thames.
The campaign is also encouraging people to give money, food, essentials or their time in support of their local food hubs and other local charities providing vital support.
If you yourself are struggling, for information about support available in Richmond upon Thames, go to www.richmond.gov.uk/i_need_help
OneRICHMOND MATCHING FUNDS DONATION CAMPAIGN
The OneRichmond campaign has recently been established by Hampton Fund and RPLC, two local grant-making charities with a long history and grassroots knowledge of the local community. Up to £100,000 of individual donations to the campaign will be matched by the two charities, hopefully bringing the total raised to £200,000.
Our local charities are under increasing pressure due to the loss of income through Covid-19, while facing an increased demand for services. The OneRichmond campaign will help sustain vital projects and services affected by loss of income during the pandemic, supporting the most vulnerable in our community. OneRichmond will work with local charities to improve opportunities, change lives, and create a borough in which everyone can thrive.
INCREASED LOCAL TESTING CAPACITY
Kingston Council is reporting that there are particular Covid-19 hotspots in specific areas of the Borough. As part of the efforts to address this they are increasing the places where residents can get tested. A new walk-through test centre has opened in New Malden on Cocks Crescent, open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. This supplements existing sites: Chessington World of Adventures drive-in test centre, Milner Road test centre and the twice-weekly Cattle Market mobile testing unit. You must book an appointment to get a test at any of the testing sites. Visit www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119.
The Council will also be taking over the University testing site from 21 December with the specific aim of helping families in schools with the highest number of cases to get tested before Christmas. The booking for this will be via an invitation letter sent out to these schools. I welcome this approach and hope it can be rolled out to as many secondary pupils as possible.
KINGSTON STRONGER TOGETHER COMMUNITY RESPONSE HUB
Over the festive period, the Kingston Stronger Together COVID-19 Community Response Hub will continue to support residents who are isolating and don't have friends, family or trusted people available locally to call upon. The hub offers a wide-range of support including:
Providing information and advice on staying healthy at home
Helping residents access food, medicine and other essential items
Befriending and mental health support
Providing advice on winter fuel payments
Providing referrals to professional services
To access help please complete this form or telephone 0208 547 5000.
COVID-19 RESCTRICTIONS GRANTS FOR KINGSTON BUSINESSES
Kingston Council is providing a range of support grants to eligible businesses across the borough, with funding available for:
Businesses required to close during the national lockdown period or the current Tier 3 restrictions, which can apply for up to £1,500 for each 14 day period of closure. If your main business is closed but you have adapted to provide a click-and-collect or take away service, you can still apply for this grant.
Hospitality and leisure businesses and their supply chain businesses that pay business rates and are not required to close, but are severely impacted by the Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions can apply for up to £1,050 for each 14 day period affected.
Grants of £1,000 are also available for pubs that earn less than half of their profit from food sales.
If you've previously applied for a Tier 2 impact grant you don't need to apply again for the Tier 3 impact grant - you will receive your payment automatically. Please read the guidance carefully before applying. Further grants covering more businesses will be announced soon and will be available in early January.