This afternoon Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a major incident due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the capital and the dangerous pressure on hospitals. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in London now exceeds 1,000 per 100,000. The ONS is estimating that one in thirty Londoners is infected with Covid-19.
The Chief Nurse for Public Health London, Martin Machray, said in our briefing today that the London NHS is in a perilous position, with hospitals desperately trying to add capacity to meet demand. In his words, they are "building a railroad as the train comes down the track." He promised that the NHS would take care of Londoners, but they need Londoners to take care of themselves. The best way to do this is to stay home. If you must go out, please wear a mask at all times, even outside, unless you are exempt or exercising.
I was briefed yesterday by Stephen House, Metropolitan Police Deputy Police Commissioner, on a number of local policing issues, including lockdown enforcement. He told me that there is now a sharper focus for the Met Police on people sticking to the rules. Officers will be issuing fines more quickly to anyone committing obvious, wilful and serious breaches of the rules.
Stephen said that in practice this will mean that people attending parties, unlicensed music events or large illegal gatherings can expect to be fined – not just the organisers of such events. Similarly, those not wearing masks where they should be without good reason can expect to be fined.
Additionally, with fewer “reasonable excuses” for people to be away from their home, people can expect officers to be more inquisitive as to why they see them out and about. Where officers identify people without a lawful reason to be away from home they will move more quickly to enforcement.
Local police will also be working with Council officers to help ensure businesses and people using public spaces like parks and essential shops are following the rules.
Most of my constituents are doing the right thing -- observing the rules to protect themselves, their families and the wider community. But for the few who are not complying, the police will be taking a harder line.
I ask everyone in Richmond Park to do everything they can to get case numbers down. Please stay home unless you absolutely must go out. And if you must go out, please wear a face covering, use hand sanitiser, and give people in your vicinity plenty of space. These are the most important things you can do to help our healthcare workers, who are working nonstop and risking their lives to take care of us.
SCRAPPING GCSEs and A LEVELS
The Secretary of State for Education announced this week that teachers' estimated grades will replace GCSE and A-level results again this year, but without being moderated by an algorithm.
I spoke in the House of Commons (virtually) on Wednesday, during the debate on the new plans. I asked Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, about the timing for awarding GCSE and A Level grades this year. As the pupils will be receiving grades assessed by the teachers, there is no reason they can't be given their grades earlier in the summer. This would prevent the last minute chaos that so many of my young constituents endured this year. Early grades would give candidates time for appeals, resits and decision-making before university terms start. The Secretary agreed to consider this and I look forward to hearing from him about it. You can see my question and his response in the video above.
CALLING FOR MORE SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES AND WORKERS
On Wednesday I wrote to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, asking him to prioritise keeping businesses afloat during this lockdown. I called on him to provide additional support, especially to the hospitality, cultural and retail sectors, and to extend the furlough scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme until June, broadening them to include the millions who were not eligible for previous schemes. Extension of business loans, business rates relief and VAT relief are also essential.
It is vitally important that the Government helps businesses and jobs survive this lockdown, so we can rebuild after the vaccine has been rolled out. We cannot carry on with a financial support system so full of holes. You can see my letter to the Chancellor here.
KINGSTON HOSPITAL UPDATE
I thought residents in both Richmond and Kingston boroughs would like some news about the situation at Kingston Hospital, who sent me this update:
The hospital has been extremely busy over Christmas and the New Year. They have made a number of changes to ensure that they are able to provide care for the large numbers of COVID-19 patients they are seeing whilst supporting staff and keeping everyone safe.
The hospital has had to make the difficult decision to pause some planned care procedures and outpatient appointments, in order to re-deploy staff from those areas into the areas of high pressure in the hospital.
You will be notified if you have an appointment and it has to be cancelled. If you have not been notified of a cancellation, please attend your appointment as scheduled.
Emergency care and emergency procedures are continuing as normal at Kingston Hospital.
The hospital has been able to transfer a small cohort of patients recovering from COVID to the NHS Seacole Centre in Epsom, to take pressure off the hospital.
The hospital has launched its vaccination programme, vaccinating patients aged 80 and over, staff working in local care homes and NHS staff who are at high risk.
I have heard from a number of constituents this week about the prioritisation of vaccine recipients. I wanted to clarify the intentions and the stages of this programme for you.
The Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (the JCVI, whose advice the Government is following) recommends that the first priorities for the vaccination programme should be twofold: prevention of deaths and protection of the health and social care system. As the risk of mortality from COVID-19 increases most sharply with age, prioritisation is primarily based on that factor.
The list below constitutes Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout. The vaccine is currently being given to groups 1 and 2 in the list. Once that is complete they will move on to the next groups on this list in order.
Phase 1 Groups:
residents in care homes for older adults and their carers
all those 80 years of age and over, plus frontline health and social care workers
all those 75 years of age and over
all those 70 years of age and over, plus clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) individuals
all those 65 years of age and over
persons aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk
all those 60 years of age and over
all those 55 years of age and over
all those 50 years of age and over
It is estimated that, taken together, the nine groups above represent less than half of the population but 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19. The target to achieve this is the end of June.
Vaccinating the first four groups above (less than 20% of the population) should prevent about 90% of preventable deaths. The government is hoping to have these four groups vaccinated by mid-February.
You can see detailed information about the vaccine rollout here.
BEWARE OF VACCINE SCAMS!
I have heard alarming reports today that fraudsters are contacting people and asking for their bank details to pay for a Covid-19 vaccination. You can see the BBC report on a shocking incident in Surbiton today here, including CCTV photographs of the criminal, who pretended to inject an elderly victim. The police are asking the public for information.
Other people are receiving very convincing-looking text messages pretending to be from the NHS asking people to ‘sign up’ to get the COVID-19 vaccine, using NHS logos and lettering. These are also scam messages - please delete them without opening any links in them.
Please note that the vaccine is free and is only available from the NHS. There is no way to pay to get it sooner. Please do not give your bank details or other personal information to anyone claiming to be connected to the NHS.
If you are contacted in this way, please report it to Action Fraud: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/
And if you have a vulnerable friend or relative, please warn them of this danger and remind them not to give out their details, especially bank details, over the phone or at the door.
FREE MOBILE DATA FOR CHILDREN FOR HOME LEARNING
For any constituents struggling to help their children access remote learning without a home broadband connection, the Department for Education is working with mobile phone providers to provide additional mobile data to children, young people or families who:
Do not have access to a fixed broadband connection, and
Cannot afford the data needed to access educational resources or social care services, and
Have access to a mobile device that uses a participating network, and
Have been advised not to attend school
Further information on this scheme is available on the GOV.UK website. The schools will need to apply on behalf of their pupils, so please speak to your child's school if you need this help.
ROYAL PARKS CONSULTATION ENDS SUNDAY
For those of you who live near or use Richmond Park, please be aware that their consultation on changes to traffic movement in the park will end this Sunday. If you are interested in participating you can find more information about the Movement Strategy and the consultation link here.
MESSAGE FROM THE LEADER OF RICHMOND COUNCIL ABOUT COUNCIL SERVICES
Cllr Gareth Roberts has sent out a short video setting out the Council's response to the new lockdown and offering advice for local residents. You can see his video here
There will be a number of changes to Council services during this lockdown. They include:
A number of libraries will be open for click and collect and home delivery service only
All sports centres will be closed (including the outdoor pool at Pools on the Park)
Parks and playgrounds remain open, but outdoor exercise facilities, e.g. tennis courts, skate parks and outdoor gyms, are closed.
Townmead Waste and Recycling Centre remains open, but you need to book in advance.
Many types of support are available to Richmond residents, including:
Community Hub – help for those who have been told to shield to access food and medication.
Test and Trace support payment, for those self-isolating
Financial support is also available for businesses, see here for information.
ASYMPTOMATIC TESTING NOW AVAILABLE TO RICHMOND RESIDENTS
Richmond borough residents who are essential workers, volunteering in the community, providing vital support for a vulnerable resident, or need regular reassurance that they don’t have COVID-19, can now apply for rapid Lateral Flow Device Covid-19 tests. These tests are for people who do NOT have symptoms.
This offer includes those who work in supermarkets and other essential retail, taxi or mini cab drivers, transport staff and those who work in key public services or in faith-based organisations. In addition, residents who are volunteering or providing care for a vulnerable person can apply.
The lateral flow testing is in addition to the symptomatic testing (PCR testing), that is already available for those displaying COVID-19 symptoms through the national government website.
If you are NOT displaying COVID-19 symptoms and would like a test, go to: www.richmond.gov.uk/book_lateral_flow_test. If you do not have internet call: 020 8891 1411
RICHMOND WINS GOLD IN LONDON YOUTH GAMES CROSS COUNTRY
The Nike x London Youth Games Virtual Cross Country event took place from earlier this month with four different age groups competing in the London-wide competition. Thirty boroughs took part with a total of 3,894 young runners. Approximately 600 of these runners represented Richmond upon Thames – a huge turnout that saw the borough soar to the top of the leader board.
Richmond’s runners claimed about 25% of the top finishing spots. In the U17 male category, 25 Richmond runners finished in the top 50, and in the U15 female category, 9 Richmond runners finished in the top 50.
Special mention goes to Siena Lepine, who finished first in the U13 female category, and Jonny Brook, who finished first in the U17 male category. Siena Lepine, the U13 female winner, said:
"It was exhausting yet exhilarating to push myself to the limit, achieving a personal best. I was happy to learn it was also the winning time! I am thankful to LYG that in these difficult times, we can still compete in events, even if virtually."
Congratulations and well done to Siena, Jonny and all of Richmond's brilliant young runners!
ONERICHMOND RECEIVES £100,000 FOR YOUTH PROJECTS
The National Lottery Community Fund has awarded £100,000 to oneRichmond, established by Hampton Fund and Richmond Parish Lands Charity. The funding will be used to support local charities and community groups who deliver activities and services for young people affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
SUPPORT FOR KINGSTON RESIDENTS
Kingston library staff, working alongside community organisations, have created a digital magazine - Kingston Support - that highlights the wide range of offers of help for residents. Do look at it if you need any sort of assistance.
COMMUNITY GRANTS FUND OPENS
Borough-wide Community Grants of up to £3,000 per application will be available from 11 January, to fund projects, activities and events that will benefit communities across the borough. Read more here
LOCAL NOT-FOR-PROFIT CREDIT UNION - BOOM
With the holidays coming to an end and bills coming in, it's now more crucial than ever to stay away from loans sharks and high-interest lenders. Boom is Kingston's local not-for-profit credit union. They can help if you need access to fair and affordable loans, savings accounts and prepaid debit cards. Find out more
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - PLEASE DON'T SUFFER ALONE
At home shouldn’t mean at risk. If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, please remember lockdown rules don't apply if you are seeking protection from violence. The Police and the Kingston Domestic Violence Hub remain open and available to you.
You can find support information online or contact the Kingston Domestic Violence Hub by telephone on 020 8547 6046.
Always call 999 if you are in immediate danger.