This is my first column of the year so I want to wish you a happy and safe 2021. We start the year in very difficult times, with coronavirus cases surging and our local hospitals under immense strain. However, with the vaccines now being given to people in Southwark I am hopeful we will be in better times soon.
Sadly the government left if far too late to change the COVID rules both before Christmas and at the start of the school term. By failing to learn the lessons of their delay last March, they have again let infections race through our population, pushing our hospitals to the brink and allowing the toll on our community be much worse than it need have been.
As a result the Mayor of London has declared a Mayor Incident in London, with one in thirty people in the capital now having COVID and our city’s hospitals very close to being full. I know from all the NHS staff I’ve spoken to over the last few days that they are moving heaven and earth to keep care going for all who need it most. The council is also working round the clock to support the people of our borough.
I also need to ask for your help by staying home, to bring cases back down. The new variant of the virus is much easier to catch and pass on, and one in three people who have it don’t know. So please only go out if you really have to. I know this is not easy and I want to thank everyone for the part you are playing.
If you do need to go out – because you really can’t work at home, to buy necessities, for health care, to volunteer to help our community or for an emergency like escaping domestic abuse – please take every precaution to stay safe. Remembering to stay at least two meters from people you don’t live with and to wear a face covering when you are in any public place with other people, inside or out. If we all do these things we will reduce infections and save lives.
The good news is vaccines are now being rolled out locally. More than 22,000 people have received a vaccine in south east London, with that number going up every day. Having met some of the first people to receive their vaccination, I know it is hugely emotional moment for many, knowing they will soon have this protection after such a difficult year.
The evidence has shown the vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best hope of combating this virus and getting back to life as normal. I will be having mine as soon as I am offered one and I hope that everyone in the borough will do the same.
The vaccine is free and only available on the NHS to people in priority groups. So you’ll need to wait for the NHS to contact you. That’s to make sure those who are most likely to become seriously ill get the protection the vaccine offers first.
I’m particularly delighted to say that by the end of the week everyone in a Southwark care home will hopefully have received their first dose. This is for all residential care settings so includes homes for those with learning disabilities and mental health support needs as well as older people.
A huge amount of effort is being put into ensuring eligible people get their life saving injection within hours of each batch arriving in Southwark – the only uncertainty is how quickly the vaccines will arrive. I, along with the Mayor of London, have been calling for the government to share daily figures so we know our community is getting our fair share.
Sadly there are a few scams going round. So remember test, trace and vaccination are all free – the NHS will never ask for your bank details for any of these services, and anyone offering a paid-for vaccine is committing a crime.
The council is continuing to do all that we can to support local people and businesses affected by the lockdown. Please continue looking out for one another, especially older and more vulnerable residents, and let us know if they need help. You can visit www.southwark.gov.uk/coronavirus-gethelp , email email@example.com or phone 0207 525 5000.
My greatest hope is that if we all play our part now, and with the vaccine already being rolled out, there will be better times ahead this year.