As first was going to press, it was confirmed that more than 100,000 people across the country had died within 28 days of a COVID-19 test – just over a year since the first two official cases were recorded in the UK.
It is difficult to comprehend the tragedy that has unfolded since, with those 100,000 people having lost their lives and the number of coronavirus cases recorded around the world having passed 100 million, with more than two million deaths.
One in eight Britons have lost a close friend or family member to COVID-19, according to a recent poll by YouGov. Even in our worst fears last January, none of us could have imagined the devastating impact the virus would have on all of our lives.
I know you and your teams continue to work tirelessly on the response to the pandemic, including supporting the rollout of the vaccine – which, ultimately, will be our route out of this crisis to a more normal way of life.
The mass vaccination programme continues at a significant pace, with 7,447,199 people having received their first dose up to 27 January – including the majority of over-80s, meaning many of the most vulnerable people in our communities will have some protection from the virus.
While infection rates and patient admissions show some signs of falling, they remain high, with our health and social care services working under severe pressure.
Worryingly, official data on coronavirus-related deaths by occupation in England and Wales show that those in social care occupations had statistically significantly higher rates of death involving COVID-19 when compared with rates of death in the general population, among those of the same age and sex. Almost three in four of the deaths in social care occupations were care workers and home carers.
This data illustrates how important it is for us all to support and encourage our frontline adult social care workers to take up the vaccination offer to enable them to continue caring safely for our most vulnerable residents.
Along with government, councils are determined to increase the uptake of the vaccine, particularly among those in the priority groups for immunisations.
The Government’s allocation of £23 million of funding through the Community Champions scheme, to boost our existing efforts to engage those who are hardest to reach, was welcome. This funding will help councils build on the excellent work they are doing locally to encourage everyone from all parts of the community to get vaccinated and tackle misinformation.
The LGA continues to reiterate that councils want to play their full part in the vaccines rollout, and I know you continue to do all you can to make sure that everyone has the information they need to stay safe and healthy.
Meanwhile, we were grateful to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP for joining us at the first LGA Councillors’ Forum meeting of 2021. He offered thanks to councils for their vital local leadership role throughout the pandemic and recognised the stress it has placed on council finances and the wellbeing of staff, who have been working flat-out for many, many months.
It was also good to hear he would be knocking on the door of Chancellor Rishi Sunak if councils need further government funding and measures to support them through the pandemic.