A message from Council Leader, Nigel Daniels
To the residents of Blaenau Gwent,
Today (12th March) the First Minister for Wales gave the latest update in relation to the Coronavirus picture across Wales, and outlined the easing of restrictions which we can expect to take place over the next few weeks and the services and businesses that will start to gradually re-open.
Before I touch on that latest information, I firstly want to thank our residents here in Blaenau Gwent for their hard work and commitment in sticking to the rules and for helping to drive down COVID-19 cases in our communities. We have gone from having some of the worst rates in the entire United Kingdom to some of the lowest, and you have played a major part in making that happen. By working together, we have made a real difference, giving room for the Government to now pave the way cautiously out of what is hopefully our last lockdown.
We have all made sacrifices over this past year and have missed out on some family occasions and life events that we simply won’t get back, but we have done it to protect our vulnerable residents; to save lives and to protect our NHS.
The most significant changes announced by the First Minister today were:
• The “Stay at Home” requirement will be lifted from 13th March, and replaced with a “Stay Local” message.
• From 13th March, four people from two households will be able to meet outdoors to socialise, including in gardens. Also, outdoor sports facilities, including basketball courts, tennis courts and golf courses, can reopen.
• Care Home visits can restart for single designated visitors. We are clear as local authorities across Gwent that this can only happen when homes are fully prepared and ready for safe visiting to take place.
• From March 15th all primary pupils and those in qualifications years will return. Schools will also have the flexibility to bring year 10 and 12 learners back and more learners will return to colleges. There will also be flexibility for in-school check-ins for all other pupils. All learners will return after the Easter break.
• Hairdressers and barbers can re-open for appointments from Monday.
• From 22nd March non-essential retail will start re-opening gradually as the restrictions are lifted on what can be sold in shops which are currently open. Garden centres will also be able to open. All shops, including all close contact services, will be able to open from 12th April.
This is a positive way forward, but let’s all continue to be cautious in our behaviour over the next few weeks to ensure that we can emerge from this crisis in the way that has been set out.
Of course we must talk about the vaccine roll out, which really is the most fantastic news story. I recently went for mine in Ebbw Vale, and what a well-managed and easy experience it was. It was very heartening to be in that room with other people receiving their vaccine, and the fact that over one million people in Wales have now been offered a first dose is truly inspiring. I want to thank everyone involved for the work they are putting in, both health staff and some wonderful volunteers, to roll out the vaccines quickly and safely in order to protect our most vulnerable people. Well done all!
As mentioned earlier it was confirmed today that more pupils will return to face-to-face teaching from next week. Our youngest (Foundation Phase) learners have been back in the classroom for two weeks, and they will shortly be joined by the remaining Primary pupils and Year 11 Secondary learners. There will also be some ‘check in’ arrangements for all other age groups before the Easter holidays.
We are pleased that it is considered the right time to welcome more learners back, it’s important for our children and young people to be in school for both their educational needs and their emotional and physical well-being. Our schools are continuing to work hard with Council colleagues to maintain all the relevant safety measures, but I am also calling on parents and carers to play their part by thinking carefully about their behaviour outside of school, and how this could impact on transmission. Please let’s work together to keep education safe, and our schools and colleges open.
I wanted to briefly touch on the Council Budget for 2021/22, which was approved recently by the Full Council. We have been able to set a Budget which protects key frontline services now, but also helps us plan for a sustainable future as we recover from the demands of dealing with the Pandemic. The Budget demonstrates our commitment to protecting and improving services and we have listened to your priorities in our public survey by providing over £3m additional funding for Schools and Social Services, as well as planned investment in Environment projects, such as highway improvements.
This Budget will help us build financial resilience for the demands local government will no doubt face in future years.
As you will be aware we are fast approaching the anniversary of the start of the first lockdown, and so on March 23rd the Council will be joining organisations around the United Kingdom to mark this date. We will be lighting up one of our buildings – the General Offices – in yellow to remember all those who have been lost to this terrible virus. The building is a fitting choice, because as a vaccination centre it is also our beacon of hope for much better, happier times ahead.
Finally, please remember to continue to look out for each other. Remember, if you are struggling and have no support, or you are concerned about someone living in your community, do not hesitate to get in touch with us on 01495 311556.
Let’s continue to work together to #KeepWalesSafe.
Councillor Nigel Daniels
Leader Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council
• The NHS COVID-19 app is used alongside traditional contact tracing to notify users if they come into contact with someone who later tests positive for coronavirus. You can download the NHS COVID-19 app from the App Store or Google Play Store. For more information on the NHS COVID-19 app visit www.covid19.nhs.uk
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