Hope on horizon but we've got long way to go before we all receive vaccine

Girl schoolgirl holds antiseptic in her hands for disinfecting hands in a school classroom. Antisept

Eligible families can receive £30 vouchers per child for Easter school holidays. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is with great relief that we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

Vaccinations are being rolled out and we now have a timeline for when we can expect lockdown restrictions to end. 

Our most urgent priority is to help get the Bay back on its feet as safely as possible.

We have all made many sacrifices to keep Covid-19 cases down in Torbay.

I am enormously grateful to our fantastic community and voluntary groups which are delivering so much support to those most in need.

The council’s shielding hub continues to help residents classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV).

Following new Government guidance, we have added a further 4,100 residents to our shielding list, bringing the total number to 11,800.

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This is a big undertaking, as it is an activity we don’t usually provide, but judging by the feedback we receive it is a valuable and appreciated service.

The closure of schools has put enormous pressure on everyone involved in learning so I am pleased that our educational settings will reopen to all our pupils from Monday, March 8.

I recognise this has been an extremely difficult time, so I would like to thank everyone, from teachers and support staff to parents and carers, who have worked hard to support our children and young people.

I would also like to thank Rachael Williams, assistant director of education, learning and skills, and her team.

They have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide support and advice to schools and families across Torbay.

Understandably, some children and young people may be concerned about going back to school.

But it is important they return as it is the best place to learn and benefits their mental and physical wellbeing.  

Rest assured, all our schools have robust measures in place to ensure a smooth and safe return.

While I welcome the return to school I am disappointed by the recent announcement that the Government won’t be fully funding free school meals over the Easter break.

Torbay Council remains committed to ensuring people don’t have to worry about being able to feed their families.

That’s why, at a recent emergency Cabinet meeting, we agreed to allocate an additional £200,000 so eligible families can receive £30 vouchers per child.

We will work with Early Years, schools and post-16 providers to issue the vouchers – focussing on all children in poverty rather than just those eligible for free school meals.

We will continue to lobby Government for proper funding for school meals during school holidays so no child goes hungry.

There is also still support available to local businesses. They’ve been badly hit by the pandemic, particularly our tourism and hospitality sector, and we empathise with their urgency to return to more normal trading.

So far, the council has distributed more than £57 million in grants, and we will continue to respond quickly to further external support, which may be announced this week in the Budget, to ensure it reaches businesses who most need it  as quickly as possible.

We urge businesses who haven’t done so already to see if they are eligible for the various grants and apply before the deadline of March 31.

We launched our community testing for businesses in the Bay this week. This is for people who can’t work from home and whose work makes it difficult to socially distance.

Rapid-result LFD tests will help to identify those who show no symptoms of Covid-19 (that’s one in three of those affected) so they can stay home and self-isolate.

It’s just one more way to help our workforces keep safe and reduce the spread. Business can register for testing by emailing CommunityTesting@Torbay.gov.uk

There is hope on the horizon, but we have a long way to go before we all receive our vaccine.

We must remember vaccination is not a guarantee against the virus, so please continue to stay Covid-19 safe.