Agenda item

Director of Public Health to report on the latest announcements regarding the launch of the Governments ‘Plan B’ and its implications (e.g care homes).

 

The Head of Education and Learning will update the Board on the impacts for schools, in light of new DFE guidance.

 

The Head of Communities will report on the Household Support Fund, external funding to support communities and free school meals.

Minutes:

The Director of Public Health reported on the latest announcements regarding the launch of the Governments ‘Plan B’, including:

 

-       The introduction of Covid passports and increased lateral flow testing;

-       A policy shift away from the previous requirement of self-isolation for close contacts. Previously if you had been double vaccinated and a close contact of a positive person, people were required to get a PCR test and isolate whilst awaiting results, and if negative could then go out. The position now was that if a person is a close contact of a positive case and is double vaccinated, they must take a Lateral Flow Test every day for 7 days, but do not need to isolate; and,

-       There had been an increase in the home delivery of Lateral Flow Tests by Royal Mail.

 

The Head of Education and Learning updated the Board on the impacts for schools, in light of new DFE guidance and the implications of the Plan B announcements.  Schools had not seen any significant changes as a result of Omicron, due to the high cases in Devon already had meant schools had in place enhanced measures such as face masks; therefore, there had been no changes to risk assessments.  Schools were seeing a significant increase in cases, however all remained open and operating. There had been an increase in the number of teachers testing positive, which was impacting on school’s ability to teach, with further issues around the provision of supply teachers and teaching assistants.

 

There continued to be some uncertainty about what will happen in January, given the changes that occurred over Christmas last year; however, schools were planning on opening on the first day of term with children either testing at home before they retuned, or operating tests on school sites.

 

In Devon’s colleges, home testing had continued to be effective, with students being compliant around mask wearing. For the return in January, students had been advised they must test at home before they return to college. Where there were external visitors entering college site, they had to demonstrate either a COVID passport or negative test. Colleges were on standby for any additional guidance that may come in over the Christmas break.

 

The University of Exeter updated with the following: there was a significant reduction in cases compared to 12 months ago and the University was not seeing any increase in case rates.  There had been a good take up of vaccines, however some small increase in the numbers of cases amongst staff due to family infection. The University was planning a winter break plan, with students now having left for Christmas.  There had also been an uptake in the demand for testing by students, with pop up vaccination centres experiencing constant queues, and compliance amongst staff and students. Constant messaging was going to students, including matters around vaccine passports and travel etc. Also reiterating COVID hygiene and reviewing corporate risk assessments and updating Outbreak Management Plans.

 

The Head of Communities reported on the Household Support Fund, external funding to support communities and free school meals (FSM).

 

Regarding FSM – funding had been provided for the Christmas holidays via electronically accessible supermarket vouchers of £50 per week – this would be provided for Christmas, February half term and the Easter holidays, including the over 16’s at colleges. The Council had also provided £250 per pupil from additional funding – helping over 19,000 children across Devon.

 

£1m funding had been allocated to district welfare schemes, with high demand in North Devon, Teignbridge and Exeter; those families with children had been most affected.

 

£500k was allocated to Children Centres across Devon, including Early Help schemes, activity programmes, and healthy start boxes.

 

£200k funding was allocated via the Devon Community Foundation to help food banks, community kitchens and wider food support programmes.

 

£250k to Citizens Advice for the Energy Relief Scheme, for support for fuel bills.

 

£250k was allocated to BAME groups in order to help support harder to reach communities.

 

The Council had worked alongside partners to develop learning and conducted research around food insecurity as an indicator of wider poverty and the impacts of the pandemic to Devon’s communities.

 

Businesses had been significantly impacted by the high rates of cases and the recent announcements regarding the Government’s Plan B. People in Devon had already been complying with social distancing measures, which had been seen locally where people were limiting social interactions; this had impacted on the hospitality industry which had seen huge numbers of people cancel Christmas lunches at a time when there was no Government support available. Reports across the hospitality industry indicated cancellations rates at over 50%, with the public operating their own lockdown procedures and choosing not to go out. Businesses and the Council continued to lobby Government for more support, during this festive season which many businesses relied upon to survive. It was also noted that in smaller towns that had seen significant outbreaks since November, people had been self-policing in areas like Bideford, and as a result hospitality venues had experienced a loss of trade for several months.