Some months ago I wrote about the devastating impact of coronavirus on communities around the globe and also on our local communities here in Neath Port Talbot.
Now, as we are all very much aware, we are still in the grip of the pandemic having become one of the many county boroughs across Wales to be the subject of tightened coronavirus laws.
These restrictions (from 6pm on 28/9/20) are being imposed to protect public health for all of us, to protect us and our loved ones. And to stop people dying.
Rates are much higher in local authority areas which border our county borough but we are now seeing rising rates here in Neath Port Talbot.
We need the help of everyone across Neath Port Talbot to prevent the increasing spread of coronavirus and to bring the infection rates back down; it’s in all our interests to do that.
I would also urge residents not to build up stocks of food and other essential items - supermarkets and other food suppliers have good supplies. There is no need to be concerned about stocks running low or to panic-buy.
The situation requires immediate action – and that must come from each and every one of us. If we all follow the rules set down by the Welsh Government we have every chance of reducing infection rates.
Success however means everyone, not just some of us, following the rules.
Our First Minister Mark Drakeford referred to rapidly rising cases across Wales earlier in September as “a gathering storm”. It is now clear the clouds have broken.
And recent advice from the UK’s senior scientific and medical advisers could not have been clearer: the “second wave” of Covid-19 is almost upon us they announced - and they called for urgent action across Britain.
The scientists have been spelling out the dangers for us. The writing has been on the wall.
Rising infection rates as we go into winter if we are not very careful in depriving the virus of the fuel it needs – close social contact - could lead to a frightening upward trajectory in the growth of cases.
The ball is now in our hands.
Each and every member of communities like Neath Port Talbot, both young and old, has to work hard to keep their families, friends, colleagues and communities safe.
My message to you is clear and simple.
We must ALL follow the essential guidance – regular hand washing, observing social distancing, wearing face coverings on public transport and in indoor public areas and anyone showing symptoms of the virus must self-isolate immediately, stay at home and seek a Covid-19 test with members of their household also following self-isolation guidance.
If you can work from home do it.
Now we must also follow the list of local lockdown rules the Welsh Government has put in place.
- People will not be allowed to enter or leave the area without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work or education;
- People will only be able to meet people they don’t live with outdoors for the time being. They will not be able to form, or be in, extended households (sometimes known as ‘bubbles’). This means meeting indoors (in people’s houses, in a pub or elsewhere) with anyone you don’t live with is not allowed at the moment unless you have a good reason, such as providing care to a vulnerable person.
- All licensed premises have to stop serving alcohol at 10pm.
- Everyone over 11 will be required to wear face coverings in indoor places, which are open to the public, such as shops, as well as on public transport – as is the case in the rest of Wales. (There are some limited exemptions for people with disabilities and medical conditions – these are the same as for public transport).
I want to emphasise that the position will be kept under constant review based on daily updates of infection data. I’d also like to say we have a responsibility to our elderly and vulnerable residents in these circumstances and we should not shirk that responsibility, particularly after events earlier in the pandemic.
It’s important of course that we balance containing Covid-19 with protecting the economy, which is why towns such as Neath, Port Talbot and Pontardawe re-opened for business earlier this year.
But for that to work, the rules have to be followed. That means wearing face coverings where appropriate, sticking to social distancing, in queues or in indoor public places, following the one-way rules in our shops and stores and never being complacent.
While the rules are in place – including those attached to the local lockdown - they have to be followed to the letter. By all of us.
It’s hard to know if we will ever go back to what we considered normal just six months ago and as we look to the future, so many challenges lie ahead.
But one thing is for certain, unless we all play our part in breaking this insidious chain of infection it’s not going to work. It’s only by all of us acting together that we can weather the storm and look forward to sunnier days ahead.
So let’s all get on with it.