The Covid-19 picture this week has improved slightly, but not enough for us to relax our vigilance in Richmond Park. Case rates are coming down, but the rate of decrease is very slow. Kingston borough's case rate has dropped from 431/100,000 last week to 366 this week, while Richmond borough's has dropped from 336 last week to 272.
Hospitalisation rates across London remain very high and the NHS is still until enormous pressure; the number of patients in Intensive Treatment Units in the city is currently double the number the units were designed to accommodate.
We are still in the lag period between vaccinating the most vulnerable and seeing hospitalisations go down as a result. It takes weeks for the body's immune system to respond to the vaccine and generate a good level of individual protection, and additional weeks for a drop in transmission to result in a drop in hospitalisations. We can all help the effort to get the virus under control by encouraging anyone we know who has had a vaccination to continue following all of the government guidance to prevent transmission. Just to be clear, even if you have been vaccinated the lockdown rules still apply to you. Please continue to stay home as much as you can and maintain hygiene and social distancing when you must go out.
The first large vaccination site in Southwest London opened at Hawkes Road in Kingston this week, with the Harlequins' stadium in Twickenham due to open next month. This will mean that local people who will soon be contacted by the national booking system will have choice about where to be vaccinated.
I want to assure my constituents on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list, that vaccination centres are safe places to go for your vaccine. Strict hygiene measures are in place to ensure that you will not be exposed to the virus when you come to a GP surgery or a vaccination centre for your vaccine.
GP and community mobile teams are also beginning to vaccinate housebound people in the priority groups in their homes, with those eligible being contacted in advance by phone, text or letter. All vaccinators making house calls will have NHS identification, which residents should ask for if in doubt.
Teams are also offering the vaccine to homeless individuals who are extremely clinically vulnerable.
Yesterday, during a debate on accessible travel, I asked Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, to speed up the installation of tactile paving at railway stations, urging him to prioritise making railway stations safer and more accessible for travellers with disabilities. I believe this will help our public transport network recover from their recent financial losses, while making the city more accessible to users with mobility and sensory impairments.
A number of stations in my constituency urgently need accessibility modifications. In the Minister's reply he acknowledged that stations need to be more welcoming to disabled passengers and promised we would see improvements when the country reopens. I will continue to press the department on this.
PUSHING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT BILL
Many of my constituents have written to me about the recently announced delay to the Environment Bill. I have joined all of my fellow Liberal Democrat MPs in calling for the Government to prioritise the Bill, which has been pushed back for at least another six months.
This bill was first introduced in October 2019. Continuing to delay it while the climate crisis grows is deeply irresponsible. You can see our letter about the urgency of this bill here.
SMALL BUSINESS SURGERIES
The combined impact of the pandemic and Brexit has created enormous problems for small businesses in the area. I am committed to providing whatever support and advice I can to help firms navigate these challenging times. I’ll be hosting a series of small business surgeries in February and it is my hope they’ll provide business owners with an opportunity to share their experiences and obtain useful information on what they can do to support themselves in the current climate. To register your interest, please email email@example.com.
CALLING FOR FREE CALLS TO 111 and 119 NUMBERS
It was brought to my attention this week that some mobile phone providers do not treat calls to the NHS's 111 and 119 numbers as emergency calls, putting them through regardless of location or account status. It is vital that everyone be able to access the NHS's advice line (111) and the Test and Trace line (119) at all times during the pandemic.
I have written to the Minister for Media and Data at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about this issue, asking him to require mobile providers not to block these numbers for anyone, under any circumstances. Many people have fallen into financial difficulties during the pandemic, and it is deeply worrying that late payment of a phone bill may restrict one’s access to these important phone lines.
Transport for London (TfL) has published new cycle data that shows increased levels of cycling in both inner and outer London last autumn, as people across the capital continued to use active travel as a safe way of getting around during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a huge drop in the number of journeys being made overall. the number of individual cycle journeys, not just the percentage, has increased.
People increasingly use bikes to get around their local area, to access their local high streets and for exercise. TfL research shows people who walk, cycle or use public transport to visit their local high street do so more frequently, and spend up to 40 per cent more than those who travel by car. I am delighted to hear about this increase in active travel and hope it continues after the pandemic is over.
CHILDREN'S BOOK TO RAISE FUNDS FOR STARLIGHT CHILDREN'S CHARITY
Richmond Park resident Anna Zeller has written a children's book to support of Starlight UK, a national charity dedicated to brightening the lives of seriously ill children in hospitals. Starlight works closely with a number of west London hospitals. Anna's rhyming story, The Sausage Squad and the Transportational Tunnel follows the adventures of four canine friends. All profits from the book's sales will go to Starlight UK. You can pre-order the book here.
NEW SITES FOR ASYMPTOMATIC COMMUNITY TESTING IN SHEEN AND HAMPTON
All residents in the borough who are essential workers, volunteering or providing vital support for a vulnerable resident can now access a rapid COVID-19 test in Twickenham, East Sheen and from next week in Hampton. These tests are for people NOT experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
Essential workers, volunteers and carers, including those who work in supermarkets, nurseries, transport, public services or in faith-based organisations are all invited to access regular asymptomatic testing. In line with NHS guidance, these tests should be taken twice a week. Eligible residents can book here.
ACTIVITIES AND SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS
Heatham House continues to support young residents in Richmond. The pandemic has provided some unique challenges, but the team have rolled out a comprehensive online offer which includes music, fitness, dance and online support. They have a diverse range of online activities for young people in years 5 to 11, including cook-along sessions, music, games and more. The team are also available outside of the session times for telephone, video call, online and limited face-to-face support. Find out more
SATURDAY CATCH-UP CLUB FOR KIDS
Local children in Richmond and surrounding boroughs are offered free help with their schoolwork, thanks to a new online homework club. The new Saturday Catch-up Club from local charity Multicultural Richmond will offer expert tutoring at GCSE and SATs level in English, Maths and Science, to help kids who need extra support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please contact Ravi Arora, Director, Multicultural Richmond on 020 8893 9444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
ACTIVITIES AND SUPPORT FOR OLDER RESIDENTS
Age UK has put together an amazing programme of activities to enjoy during lockdown, with something for everyone. Their weekly exercise class is now at capacity with a waiting list in operation.
Their weekly wellbeing class, Spark, is a seven-week course that aims to spark joy, connection and creativity in your life. There is also an Art Journaling Course with Rita Piglionica from Turner’s House. Check out their website for all this and more. Find out more
Kingston residents will be interested to see the latest video from Cllr Caroline Kerr, Leader of Kingston Council here. In the video Caroline outlines how essential workers can access regular rapid tests. If you have to go out to work as as essential worker or to volunteer it's really important that you regularly get tested, even if you don't have symptoms. If you are eligible for rapid testing, you can book a test here.
WINTER SUPPORT FUND AND OTHER FINANCIAL SUPPORT
Kingston's Winter Support Fund has been created to help individuals and families who are struggling to afford food, utilities and other essentials over the winter months.
The Fund is available for vulnerable families and those who need it to have food on the table and other essentials, so every child will be warm and well-fed this winter.
So far the Fund has provided supermarket vouchers for 3,424 children in Kingston, and helped 236 families cover the costs of winter essentials, like heating and clothing. Read more on the website.
Many people who are concerned about money are eligible for a range of benefits and grants that they may not be aware of. Turn2Us helps people access welfare benefits, grants and other financial help by using a benefits calculator to check what support is available.
If you need more advice about how to manage your money during the pandemic, how to set a budget, or with repayments, StepChange offers free, expert debt advice to suit your situation. Visit the StepChange website for money tips and advice.
ADVICE AND INFORMATION SOURCES FOR KINGSTON RESIDENTS