To receive a statement from the Leader of the Council in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.
The Leader wished to highlight the concerns and the current rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases nationally and the tightening of restrictions that this had brought to try and bring this awful virus back under control.
Over the summer a substantial reduction had been seen in the number of cases in Rotherham. After the horror of more than 330 deaths, for five weeks there were none at all. At one stage there were no COVID-19 patients in Rotherham hospital.
The Leader’s sincere thanks went to all sections of the Rotherham community for the calm and responsible way they went about their business. Rotherham was spared some of the terrible things that have happened elsewhere. Its religious institutions, the churches and mosques, voluntary sector groups, all stepped up brilliantly and very often with the support of Elected Members.
It had been hoped that a relatively more stable position would be in place, but this was not the case.
Last week cases rose steeply with 139 new cases confirmed (53 per 100,000). Those numbers varied from day to day, which was why the Council only reported on the end of week published figures. All the indications since then were that the number of infections continued to rise rapidly.
The number of patients in hospital was still rising as, sadly, were the number of fatalities. There was a three or four week delay from cases being identified, when people became ill, before they passed away. It was almost inevitable that people who were infected today would not be around in a month’s time.
It would not be a surprise to see Rotherham return to the national watchlist this week. The cases confirmed were across several Wards with no hotspots or spikes being recorded at the current time. Whilst younger people have been disproportionally affected, all age groups had seen infections.
Many were also affected by the failure of the national testing system. The shortage of lab capacity had meant that people in the Borough had been left waiting for appointments, which was not good enough and was a failure.
Big areas of the North West, West Yorkshire and the North East have all be severely affected, as everyone knows so Rotherham was far from alone.
People were urged to act responsibly and to:-
· Keep 2 metres apart whenever possible.
· Self-isolate and get tested if you have symptoms.
· Wear a face covering whenever required.
People were also urged to download and use the NHS Covid smartphone app. This had, indeed, been a difficult year, but together the Borough would get through this and eventually lives would return to normal. Everything would be done to protect jobs and ensure that the world being returned to was better than the one left behind.
Everyone please be careful, stay safe, and look after each other.
Councillor Carter echoed the remarks about the community and personal sacrifice made by people, but believed the Council should be doing more with the Public Health role. He asked would the Council give a commitment to do more Public Health meetings with key stakeholders so that communities could be better informed and ask questions of what the Council was doing to keep abreast of local hotspots.
The Leader highlighted the huge amount of work already taking place with the Communications Team and Public Health colleagues where significant volumes of information was targeted to different communities and those in particular who needed extra effort with such as community language.
Meetings have also been held with relevant stakeholders in different parts of the Borough. It was unfair to stretch Public Health time further and have an open-ended process of meetings. However, he would consider what had been said, but was unable to make a further commitment on Public Health’s time at the moment.
Councillor Sansome echoed the Leader’ sentiments and how it was hoped normal life would soon resume. Rotherham industries needed as much support as they could and he asked would the Leader agree with him that it was positive that the Shadow Business Secretary was visiting the Aldwarke site of British Steel with regards to the new green steel solidifying jobs, growth and profitability.
The Leader welcomed the interest in the local steel industry and the end of furlough would be enormous. The City Region had asked Government for funding, but an answer was yet to be received. However, he gave his assurance that with the serious challenges ahead Leaders would work closely with the City Region Mayor and it was hoped there would be more announcements over the next few weeks.
Councillor B. Cutts wished to emphasise his recent experience of trying to obtain a COVID-19 test, but was told he needed an appointment. He could not understand why he could not be tested when there appeared to be no-one around and no queue.
The Leader pointed out that Councillor Cutts’ experience was not uncommon and the inability to walk-in and get a test was due to the shortage of lab space secured by the Government.
The Government was not prepared for the number of people who were ill and people were losing out and lives were at risk. This was a national scandal and the Government needed to correct as quickly as possible.
Councillor John Turner further pointed out that in the open air people did not feel they needed any protection. He suggested, subject to the approval of those families affected by loss, that in order to get the message across about the devastating impact this virus was having on families, could some form of media coverage using photographs be used to raise awareness about the need to wear masks. People were being told that there were deaths, but it needed to be put into perspective and people identified to make it real and subsequently make people behave more rationally.
The Leader was aware this had happened in other places where the names of deceased were placed in newspapers, but this was an incredibly sensitive and difficult issue. It was not clear or how feasible it would be to do this.