As you are aware, this evening MPs will vote on introducing new measures in a bid to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant.
As the Prime Minister announced last week the activation of Plan B means Guidance to work from home where possible has been reintroduced, the legal requirement to wear a face covering was extended to most public indoor venues (Hospitality venues exempted) on Friday and mandatory certification, based on vaccines or tests will be required for entry into nightclubs, and venues where large crowds gather are proposed.
Unlike the requirements in several European Countries, which some residents have highlighted in emails to me over the last couple of days, the system in England (As in Scotland and Wales) will also allow the use of a recent negative test result, rather than purely relying on vaccine certification.
The proposed changes mean from tomorrow (Wednesday 15 December), certain venues and events will be required by law to check all visitors aged 18 years or over have received 2 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine or have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or they have an exemption. This means those aged 18 years or over must show their NHS COVID Pass or alternatively proof of a negative test result, such as an NHS Test and Trace email or text proof, to enter these venues. The test can be either a lateral flow test performed at home (or a test centre) or a PCR test sent away to a lab from a testing centre.
A similar system to the one proposed has already been in place at the Princess Theatre, Torquay since it re-opened earlier this year so many bay residents, including myself, will have already experienced it when attending shows there. The mandatory system being introduced tomorrow will be similar to the one they have been using.
Transmission of Covid-19 is already high in our community and across Devon, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services. Early evidence indicates Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced. As such, the UK Covid-19 alert level has been increased to Level 4 by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers.
Our NHS locally is already under pressure and has been for some weeks, we cannot allow this pressure to become overwhelming on it. While the situation with this variant may get better, we know from experience exponential growth could lead to a large rise in hospitalisations, even if at a lower % than in previous peaks. Therefore, it is the proportionate thing to move to Plan B in England, as we cannot revisit today’s decisions in a few weeks’ time if those arguing against turn out to be wrong and we see rapid growth in hospitalisations meaning other more drastic measures become the only option.
Therefore, having attended briefings with the Government’s key health advisors, hearing directly from them about the reasoning behind making the changes being proposed, plus having engaged over recent weeks with our bay’s public health teams, I am prepared to support them. I understand the requirements will be reviewed in January.
Turning to the future the clear message so far from studies is a booster dose provides strong protection with analysis by the UK Health Security Agency showing a third dose is 70 percent
effective at preventing symptomatic infection. Therefore, the biggest thing we can all do to help get our bay through this pandemic and to protect ourselves is to get our jab if eligible. From Monday 13th those aged 30 and over in England can book to have their booster jab and from Wednesday 15th those over 18 will be able to book via the National Booking System (NBS). You can find details of how to get your jab in Torbay by following the link below: Vaccine - Torbay Council
I appreciate not all agree with this stance and colleagues have articulated their beliefs on these points over recent days, yet the need to protect local people and our health services outweigh the impact of asking people to take a simple test before heading to a nightclub or show a covid certificate to enter a large venue.