Over the past few weeks there has been a concerning rise in the number of Covid-19 cases across Oxfordshire, with the rise concentrated in Oxford. Unlike the previous spike, this is not concentrated in a particular area, but is city-wide.
The most recent available figures put Oxford at 26.9 cases per 100,000 people – and at amber alert. This means that if cases continue to rise in Oxford local restrictions may be introduced to control the spread of the virus, like we have seen in parts of the North of England recently. This would be a disappointing step backwards, and I know worrying to those with health or financial concerns.
Currently, most cases are in the 18-29 age bracket. The Oxfordshire public health lead has indicated he believes this is due to lower adherence to social distancing guidelines in this age group. While young people are more likely to experience a milder version of the disease, there is no guarantee that this will be the case, and more is emerging about the potential long-term effects of this disease. Concerningly, this outbreak amongst young people could also spill over into more vulnerable age and population groups.
We can all work together to stop the spread by keeping our distance from others, avoiding busy gatherings, washing our hands regularly with soap and water (and using hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available), wearing face covering in places where it is hard to keep distant from others – like shops, on public transport, and in hospital. It is also important to note that if you are at a higher risk, separate guidance is available. If you display any symptoms, you and your household must self-isolate, and you should get tested by booking on the Government site or calling 119. These measures are not just to protect yourself, but to keep us all safe, keeping the rate of transmission down and protecting the more vulnerable.
However, if cases continue to rise local restrictions may have to be imposed. Local business owners and workers may be concerned about further financial worries. The Government is currently trialling further support to mitigate this and help those who are self-isolating on the lowest incomes in the most at-risk areas. Otherwise, you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay or Sick Pay from your employer.
However, the Government must do much more to ensure that locally, businesses and workers can survive the financial threat of local restrictions. I have written to the Chancellor regarding statutory sick pay and raised my concerns about the limitations of their new scheme. The Health Secretary himself has admitted that he could not survive on Statutory Sick Pay at its current level. The instruction to self-isolate applies countrywide, so limiting support to those in specific high-risk areas makes no sense. The inflexibility of our furlough and other support schemes means people may unnecessarily struggle. This is simply not good enough, and the Government must change course to save jobs and incomes before it is too late.