With record new case numbers and daily death tolls, there is no doubt that as a country we are facing one of the toughest stages of the pandemic so far.
Despite some progress locally, the number of cases remain uncomfortably high and local hospital capacity for severe cases is severely constrained. The new national lockdown serves as a sobering reminder of just how much there is yet to do. My deepest sympathy to everyone who has lost loved ones during this pandemic.
Where perhaps this stage of the pandemic differs from those which have come previously is that we now have new tools at our disposal to map a clear way ahead. A strategy is falling into place which could finally drive down case numbers and turn the tide on the virus.
The strategy has three pillars: lockdown, testing and vaccination. As of this week, all three pillars of the strategy come into place in our community.
The first pillar of this strategy is to follow the new restrictions. The new strain of the coronavirus comes with new challenges and has had a dramatic effect on the speed of transmission. We must all be as vigilant as ever to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the terrible virus, and we must take every last precaution in order to halt its spread.
The next essential pillar is testing, of which there are now two types in the area. Anyone experiencing symptoms associated with the coronavirus can continue to book for a test. Additionally, rapid turnaround tests for those without symptoms are now also available for our community, organised by the armed forces.
The third pillar is vaccination. A programme of vaccination for NHS and care workers has been ongoing at the William Harvey Hospital and Aylesham. From this coming week, our local general programme is scheduled to commence, taking place at the Dover Health Centre, for the top priority groups, in line with the national strategy. While that location will not be most convenient for everyone, it was considered to be the best site which could become operational quickly.
GP practices have a crucial role to play in the vaccine rollout. Those eligible will be contacted and booked in as soon as a vaccine appointment is available for them. Special provision is being made for those who are housebound, or otherwise unable to travel to take up their appointment. I continue to work with the health providers on potential additional sites and extra capacity. However, I would strongly encourage everyone eligible to take up their vaccination appointment if able to do so, and discuss any concerns with your medical practice.
The Prime Minister has made clear that, as a country, we are tackling the virus with everything we’ve got. The combination of lockdown restrictions, mass testing, and vaccination provides us with an opportunity to make real progress, and to look forward with hope to a better spring and summer.