Update from South Oxfordshire District Council:
Oxford officially moved to 'high' COVID alert level as cases continue to rise
Oxford will be moved into the government's 'high' or tier 2 alert level after a further rise in cases of COVID-19 – meaning that the city's residents will need to abide by new rules from Saturday 31 October.
The central government decision follows intensive discussions between central government, local councils, MPs and others in recent days.
Rates per 100,000 in Oxford rose to 134.5 for the week ending 23 October. For Oxfordshire as a whole, the rate was 117.5 for the same period.
The rest of the county remains at tier 1 or 'medium' level – although figures here too continue to rise. Cases per 100,000 are 151.5 in Cherwell, 92.2 in South Oxfordshire, 91.2 in Vale of White Horse and 109.4 in West Oxfordshire.
Evidence continues to show that, in the past three weeks, the virus has spread to a much wider age range across the county and is no longer confined to younger people in urban areas. Hospital admissions have begun to increase as a result.
Bruno Holthof, Chief Executive Officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We have moved from a position of low and stable hospital admission rates over the summer to one in which admission rates are increasing. We know there is a time lag between rising cases and an increase in hospital admissions, and so we expect to see a further increase in hospitalisation rates over the coming weeks."
Residents are being urged to play their part and stick to the new rules in Oxford to help tackle these recent trends.
What are the features of the high level of COVID alert?
- People must not meet socially with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place.
- People must not meet in a group of more than six outside, including in a garden or other space.
- People should aim to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible. If they need to travel, they should walk or cycle where possible. If taking public transport, they should plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes.
Further information is available at www.gov.uk/guidance/local-covid-alert-level-high
Making the case for Oxfordshire
Discussions have taken place with central government this week about whether all areas of Oxfordshire should move to the high alert level, given concerns over the spread of the virus to wider and potentially more vulnerable age groups.
However, the decision was made by government to move just Oxford to high alert level at this stage. This was despite requests for the whole of the county to move to tier 2, which had the full backing of the leaders of all six local authorities and the chief executives of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, and the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP).
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: "The continued rise in numbers across the county has once more been discussed with central government and Public Health England and it has been agreed that this is the appropriate moment for Oxford move to tier 2.
"However, we remain seriously concerned about the rise in the number of cases across the county, and not just Oxford. We are deeply disappointed that despite clear evidence showing the virus is now spreading to older and more vulnerable communities across the county, our request that Oxfordshire as a whole should move to tier 2 was not approved.
"My five fellow local authority leaders and I firmly believe this is a necessary step to stem the spread of the virus, protect our communities and the Oxfordshire economy. Our position has the full backing of the chief executives of our NHS partners and the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and we will continue to push for a move for the rest of the county to happen as soon as possible based on the epidemiological evidence."
Dr Kiren Collison, GP and Clinical Chair of Oxfordshire CCG, said: "We need everyone in Oxford to make sure that they follow these new rules so that we can carry on being able to provide care to those who need it. If we don't act now, the rise in number of patients with coronavirus will put a greater burden on GP services and the wider NHS which could have serious consequences for people who need our help."
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: "I know that many residents in Oxford City will be worried about what this means for them. In Oxford, we are being asked to make some small but important changes in behaviour. If everyone plays their part by sticking to the new rules, we hope we can keep life as close as possible to how it has been for the last few months and avoid more stringent measures being put in place.
"You can still meet outdoors (within the rule of six), businesses can still operate, schools are still open. These are the cornerstones of our lives – family, work and friends. I'm asking everyone to make sure they know the rules and to stick to them. If you need help, please ask for support. Family, friends, communities and the council are all here to help you do the right thing.
"However, I do want to put on the record that this is not the decision that leaders in local government and our local NHS recommended and asked for. Our director of public health advised government, on the basis of local data, to put the whole county in tier 2. This has been ignored. The decision to put Oxford alone into tier 2 is shocking, when the spread and case numbers outside the city are also of grave concern, and when so many people commute into our city. Those responsible for not protecting communities in the rest of Oxfordshire need to be held accountable for their actions to block a measure intended to save lives locally."
Dr Nick Broughton, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust CEO, said: "Our community services and hospitals expect to see more people with any rise in infection rates, particularly in the event of increased spread across generations. We also need to look after people's emotional and cognitive wellbeing and our mental health services will continue to provide safe support, including helplines and digital consultations, to meet people's needs. We will continue to work very closely with all our colleagues in health and social care services across the county to do all we can to support the communities we serve."
Councillor Barry Wood, Leader of Cherwell District Council, said: "I am deeply concerned by the sharp rise in cases of COVID-19 in Cherwell. The data shows that coronavirus is now spreading in all age ranges through our district. Make no mistake, the virus is a clear and present threat to the health of our friends, colleagues, families and communities.
Councillor Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: "We need to see government act urgently. We don't live and work within the district council boundaries, and neither does the virus.
"Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, government has failed to listen to those with the local knowledge, and who are best placed to understand local context and assess local risk. It is regrettable that by not listening to the position of agreement of our NHS colleagues, the local enterprise partnership and local councils that the whole of Oxfordshire should move to tier 2, that more local lives are now being put at risk and there is a greater threat of our economy being impacted more in the longer term."
Councillor Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: "It is very disappointing that government has not responded to help us move into tier 2. We know from discussions with our NHS colleagues that the virus is spreading across all age groups throughout Oxfordshire, putting our most vulnerable residents as risk. Data shows us that cases of COVID-19 will continue to rise, so we urge everyone to help prevent the spread by remaining vigilant and following government guidance."
Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), said: "Following the decision to move Oxford into tier two measures, we will continue to work with health officials, our local authority counterparts, our local MPs and our business community to ensure the additional support that our businesses will undoubtedly require during this period is in place and readily available.
"We ask that businesses follow the new guidelines and adhere to any actions required where applicable to their industry. We also encourage them to be as proactive as possible to seek any business support that is needed, whether via existing government schemes or indeed the support and advice we are able to offer as the county's local enterprise partnership."
Councillor Michele Mead, Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: "Even though we have not moved to tier 2 in West Oxfordshire, there is no room for complacency. We must remain vigilant, act sensibly and abide by the rules. We will get through this with everyone working together."
Update from South Oxfordshire District Council:
People in Oxfordshire are being advised to be extra vigilant, particularly over half-term, as cases of Coronavirus continue to spread across the county.
Evidence shows that, in the past two weeks, the virus has spread to a much wider age range across the county and is no longer confined to younger people in urban areas. Hospital admissions have begun to increase as a result.
Oxfordshire County Council's Director for Public Health Ansaf Azhar said: "Across all areas of the county, we are starting to see a significant shift in the spread of the virus from people in their teens and 20s to older and more vulnerable age groups. This is a really concerning development. We know that, once the virus starts to spread to more vulnerable groups, then hospital cases will rise and deaths will inevitably follow.
"We have seen what's been happening across the north of England and how the virus has quickly taken hold across huge swathes of the community. Based on the current trajectory of the virus, we could well find ourselves in a similar position in just a few weeks' time if we do not take collective action now."
"With half-term approaching, as well as events such as Halloween, Bonfire Night and Diwali coming up, it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of meeting up and celebrating with friends and family. But we mustn't forget about COVID. We need to do everything we can to keep our families and communities safe and stop the spread.
"I know the temptation will be to meet up and socialise over half-term. However, the virus thrives when people are in close contact with one another. So I would strongly urge everyone to limit their social interactions and focus instead on the many COVID-secure family activities that are taking place over half-term."
Oxfordshire is currently at the 'medium' or tier 1 level in the COVID-19 alert system. This is the national three-tier system, which classifies areas as medium, high or very high based on their numbers of infection and overall risk level.
Discussions have taken place this week with central Government about whether Oxfordshire should move to the 'high' alert level, given concerns over the spread of the virus to age groups beyond people in their teens and 20s to potentially more vulnerable groups.
The decision has been taken not to move the county to a high alert level at this stage. However, the situation is being monitored extremely closely and Oxfordshire's Director of Public Health and Council Leaders are pushing for a move to happen as soon as possible.
Moving to a high alert level would mean that residents could not socialise with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place.
Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: "With cases in all age groups across the county now beginning to spread between households I am very worried about Covid spreading faster during half-term. Having seen the local data and discussed the situation with the Director for Public Health and council officers I am convinced that this delay on restricting households mixing will put local lives at risk. While numbers are lower than some other parts of England, the exponential growth in cases that occurs means we need to act urgently."
Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: "With the advice of the Director for Public Health being supported by all local council leaders from all political parties and our two prestigious universities it would seem very illogical not to follow it."
Didcot Civic Hall partners the NHS in a bid to beat Covid-19
Didcot Civic Hall and Didcot Town Council has pledged to work in partnership with the NHS in any possible way to support their life-saving work during the Covid – 19 pandemic. The Civic Hall has been included as an official partner by making the venue available to any sector of the emergency services. At the end of May – and two further dates in June – the Civic Hall will open its doors to help the NHS Blood and Transplant services. For H&S reasons the Civic Hall will be close on those dates to avoid any cross contamination and to give full support to the NHS staff. All customers will be informed when this will take place.
Andre Silva, General Manager of Didcot Civic Hall says: "We are delighted to be helping support the national efforts to beat this virus. We have made the building available for the NHS and emergency services to use in any way they think fit." Cllr Pam Siggers, Chair of the Civic Hall Management Committee: "We feel it is essential to play our part in this national emergency. The Civic Hall belongs to the residents of Didcot and I am sure that they will be pleased to see the facilities of this public building being used in the best possible way rather than remaining closed."
Find out more about the Civic Hall at the following websites. www.didcotcivichall.co.uk/ and www.didcot.gov.uk For further information contact Andre Silva – 07368 535610
A spokesperson for South Oxfordshire District Council said: "We're very pleased Didcot Civic Hall has been chosen for this important role – we have a lot of key workers living locally, so it's an ideal site. Didcot Town Council and the Civic Hall will do a great job to accommodate the testing site.
Andre Silva, General Manager of Didcot Civic Hall says: "We're delighted to be able to contribute to the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic and help the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum (TV LRF) and the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC), to support the British Army with the Covid-19 testing system in our car park. We expect to see a Mobile Testing Unit start operating from, Monday 11th May."
For safety reasons, only the council, NHS and army staff can use the Civic Hall premises during this time with ID card and all safety equipment.
People needing to be tested will also be allowed to access the car park for their tests ONLY, as per the Government's directions and will need to adhere to everything the Army advise (e.g., stay in their vehicles for the duration of their visit).
Anyone who suspects they have symptoms is advised to book a test via the Government's website and to not turn up at the Civic Hall without an appointment.
A message from Mayor of Didcot, Councillor Anthony Dearlove:
During this period, we all find ourselves in unprecedented times.
Didcot Town Council's top priority is the safety of our staff and members of the public.
The Council continues to operate, but some services may experience interruption.
Our office staff are working from home where possible; outdoor staff are doing the necessary to ensure the open spaces remain safe - and Council Meetings are currently suspended until the Government allows us to meet remotely to continue essential Council business.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank key workers that continue to work on the front line, especially the NHS & emergency services.
Thanks also to all the local charities and individuals who are working hard to help the vulnerable in our community. These are difficult times, but together we will get through this.
Mayor for Didcot
Message from Councillor Mocky Khan, Leader of the council
After the meeting of the Council's COVID-19 Crisis Management Team, we have decided that Didcot Town Council and Civic Hall will remain CLOSED until 30th April 2020, when we will review the policy based on Government advice and guidelines.
The council will be providing services via phone, email and on the website www.didcot.gov.uk Please do keep checking our website as we will be communicating advice relating to business, community and residents.
Although Council and Committee meetings are postponed, where possible we will be using technology to discuss issues and in this unprecedented situation, emergency powers will be used to make key decisions. Our aim is to continue to keep the council functioning and to deliver to residents. The advice is to get exercise and fresh air while adhering to social distancing measures. We have noticed that a large group of people are using the playgrounds, on safety reasons, we have decided to close all playgrounds until further notice - the parks will remain open. I shall update you on a regular basis. In the meantime, please follow Government advice, self isolate if showing any symptoms and look out for your friends, family and those that are vulnerable.
Please do contact us if you need anything, we will try and help or guide you in the right direction. In these unpredictable times, we all need to stick together.
Cllr Mocky Khan - Leader of the Council.
Information leaflet from Didcot Town Council and Didcot Civic Hall