Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Oxfordshire close to ‘high’ coronavirus alert level

Oxfordshire close to ‘high’ coronavirus alert level

OXFORDSHIRE is close to moving into the next tier of coronavirus alert level.

The number of cases in South Oxfordshire is up to 965, with 119 new cases in the last seven days.

Recently, the county council discussed the possibility of going from the ‘medium’ to the ‘high’ risk category with central government.

Although Oxfordshire remains in the lowest of the three tiers, the council and Public Health officials will be monitoring the number of cases closely.

And county council leader Ian Hudspeth says he is “pushing hard” for Oxfordshire to be escalated to a high alert level.

He said: “This would be a preventative measure to stem the spread of the virus and protect the county’s most vulnerable residents.

“We are aware that some businesses, particularly the hospitality sector, would be affected if we moved to a high alert level and we welcome the announcement from Government today that additional support will be available.

“However, we must do everything we can to keep residents across the county safe. We know the majority of transmissions occur when different households mix.

“Increasing our alert level to high, which prevents households from mixing socially in indoor settings, is one of the best ways we can help our residents at this critical time.”

The virus has spread to a wider age range across the county in the last two weeks, according to the council. Hospital admissions are also on the rise.

Councillor 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.” 

The advice is to limit social interactions, particularly over half-term when there may be a temptation to meet up with other households.

Ansaf Azhar, the council’s director for Public Health, added: “Across all areas of the county, we are starting to see a significant shift in the spread of the virus beyond 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 must not 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. 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.”

Henley MP John Howell has signed a joint statement from the county’s MPs, which says going into the next tier would be bad for business and should not be done lightly.

Howell, along with Robert Courts (Witney), David Johnston (Wantage) and Victoria Prentis (Banbury) say infection rates outside of Oxford city are much lower.

The statement reads: “Public health must be the priority, but coronavirus rates in much of Oxfordshire, outside of the city of Oxford, remain low. We would be concerned about the prospect of individuals and businesses in wider Oxfordshire being placed under tier 2 restrictions on the basis of a problem that appears centred on the student population in Oxford city.

“Tier 2 puts tight restrictions on people being able to see friends and family and would have a negative impact on mental health and on our businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector who have already faced significant difficulties due to coronavirus.

“While we welcome the chancellor’s statement today, tier 2 should not be entered into lightly and without any consideration of the economic or mental health impacts of this action. We would also need a clear exit strategy to ensure any restrictions do not endure indefinitely as they have in other areas.

“As MPs, we could see the case for potentially putting Oxford city into tier 2. However, in trying to do what is right for our constituents as a whole we felt there was insufficient evidence to make the case for the whole county to be placed into tier 2 at this stage.

“Ultimately, the Government makes the decision on the advice of the chief medical officer and the joint biosecurity centre and that advice is that the evidence does not suggest that tier 2 is required for Oxford at this time, never mind for the wider Oxfordshire region as council leaders are proposing. We will of course continue to engage closely with the Government, local leaders and public health chiefs, to ensure that the appropriate measures are taken at the appropriate time for our area.

“The experience of other areas serves as a reminder to us all that we must wash our hands regularly, use face coverings and make space to control infection rates in Oxfordshire.”

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