I know how hard it’s been for people over the last year and how hard people have worked. And I just want to thank you all for doing your very best. Unfortunately, we still have to do more. We are at a critical stage with the COVID pandemic. Our case rates continue to climb. Our rate of new cases at Christmas was 175 per 100,000 people. This week that case rate climbed above 375. So while no one wants businesses and schools closed, we don’t want limits on meeting friends and family,we do stand at a critical point. We must ask people to once again pull together, harness that collective commitment that brought us through the previous lockdowns and to press through. People are very unwell and death rates are increasing. The virus does need to be controlled. As we control it, it will save lives and it will protect our NHS. So can I ask that we all continue to comply with the guidance. You must not leave or be outside your home except when necessary. Exceptions include – but are not limited to – shopping for basic necessities going to work if you cannot do so at home, exercise once a day, to seek medical attention, to avoid injury or flee domestic abuse or other harm, to attend educational childcare. Please avoid social contact, wash your hands frequently, wear face coverings and stay two metres away from others. Remember the principles of transmission. It’s people, aerosols, droplets, and it can be passed by shared surfaces and the new variation on COVID is more potent in spreading as well. So we have to be very aware. There is support out there for people who are having a hard time. WeAreBristol has the free helpline that we established – 0800 694 0184 – for those who need support, may be struggling with food or other issues. It’s open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays 10-am-2pm. And there is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, helpline available for people to get immediate emotional and practical mental support and that number is 0800 012 6549. It’s tough for everyone, but we do need to support each other. But there is support for you if you need it.
We also need to ensure that people are fully supported with the right financial packages. So we are being very forthright in once again calling for more clear and urgent action from government to save local businesses. Additional financial support has been announced, however, it doesn’t cover everyone and it leaves behind a significant number of Bristol businesses and self-employed people. We estimate a £24 million shortfall in government support to Bristol businesses and traders under this current package in line with the current schedule for lockdown. That includes over 5,000 businesses not eligible for the retail, hospitality and leisure grant. Almost 6,000 self-employed traders who do not qualify for the self-employed income support scheme. We’re also calling on government for wider eligibility for the Test and Trace Self Isolation payments. This will support those having to self-isolate, who then run the risk of missing out on paid employment. We need to support them to be able to stay at home. We’re also asking for these payments to increase from £500 for two weeks to £750 for two weeks, to make sure that self-isolation is affordable. We don’t want people to fall through the gaps and we’ve been making the case to government that if we allow them to do so it will cause even more harm.
It’s been a very difficult week for our schools, parents, carers and children. I want to thank all teachers and staff who reacted quickly and calmly to this sudden news on Monday of their closure. Thank you for continuing to work online with children and young people all across this city. I’ve been taking online courses with my children today. I also want to thank parents, carers, children for just pressing through this particularly difficult period. Sudden changes add pressure and it is having an impact on jobs and household finance, alongside the demands of home learning. We are working with schools to provide them with what’s needed to support families through this time. If you have any concerns or need help with home learning, please do speak to your school.
There is this hope now that we have the vaccines. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK. This will increase our national ability to vaccinate priority groups. We continue to support the NHS with the rollout across Bristol. The vaccinations began in early December. Southmead Hospital was one of the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine and community vaccinations have begun with GP surgeries really leading the way. We welcome the news that the NHS are working with Ashton Gate stadium to deliver a large-scale vaccination centre. Those first in line for the vaccine are over 80s, care home residents and some frontline medical and social care staff. Please be patient. Do not attempt to get a vaccine if you’re not one of those groups, you will be contacted when it is your turn.