Opinion: ‘Let’s not let our guard down now’

Wayne Fitzgerald, Conservative Group leader on Peterborough City Council and leader of the council writes...

Sunday, 25th July 2021, 10:40 am
The pandemic has been hard on schools (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

After a long year of disruption, uncertainty and worry, the end of term is finally here.

And what better time to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has kept our beleaguered education system going over the past 10 months or more.

The disruption and turbulence caused by the pandemic has been unprecedented, but I have never failed to be amazed at the way everybody simply soldiers on.

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There have been hundreds of Covid cases in our schools, resulting in thousands having to self-isolate, but despite that attendance levels have remained high – a tribute to the fortitude of our young people and the determination of teachers to give them the education they need and deserve.

Our education team at the council has also worked wonders to help schools set up bubbles and find other ways of working to keep children and staff as safe as possible. Not an easy task, but they have managed it.

Home schooling may seem a distant memory now, but thanks to the inventiveness of teachers and the engagement of pupils, the vast majority of lessons were able to be taught in some form. How would we have coped before Teams and Google Classroom?

All of you – together with those from the city council who have worked so tirelessly to keep our young people educated and safe – deserve a long and proper rest over the summer.

However, with the easing of restrictions this week, caution has never been more important. The pandemic has not gone away. Far from it – infections are rising rapidly, even though this is not yet resulting in the same number of hospital admissions and deaths as we saw before the vaccination programme.

Everybody needs a holiday and I know young people are keen to return to the nightlife they’ve been missing for the past 18 months. But please be careful. Test yourselves at home regularly and record the results – especially if you’ve been socialising with large crowds.

All of us – young and old – have a duty to protect ourselves and those around us, and to save the NHS from being overwhelmed as it was in the early weeks of this year.

The new term in September will of course bring uncertainties. Nobody knows how the virus will develop over the summer months, or what the effect of the easing of restrictions will be.

But I can be certain of one thing – Peterborough City Council and everyone who works there will be ready to support you and your families. They have risen to the challenge before and will do so again.

Returning to rates rising locally, the leaders of public services across the city – police, fire, health, ambulance service – issued a collective plea this week for people to show caution with concerns the increase will affect vulnerable people and overwhelm public services.

Hospitals in the area are under immense pressure, with increasing demands for urgent care, and increases in Covid cases requiring hospital care will add further stress to the system. In addition, all of our public services have been further impacted by having high numbers of staff self-isolating, either because they have tested positive, or they have been a close contact of someone who has. There is concern that if rates continue to rise further, it could impact the delivery of key services.

This is something we don’t want, so please do the right thing and continue taking those preventative measures that we know reduce transmission of the virus – mask wearing, meeting outside for example.

As chief fire officer Chris Strickland said one positive Covid result can mean a number of staff have to isolate for 10 days. This could mean a fire engine not having a crew.

I can understand why people are keen to resume their normal activities, but now is not the time for us to let our guard down.

If you’re a landlord with an empty property in Peterborough, we would like to hear from you.

That’s because the council is currently looking for landlords with empty three/four bedroom homes to house families from Afghanistan who have served with the UK military.

We are one of several local authorities taking part in a national scheme to relocate Afghan nationals who have served the UK military with distinction and bravery, often in difficult and dangerous conditions.

These people now need to leave their home country for their own safety after the withdrawal of NATO forces, prompting the government to start this initiative.

As part of the scheme, the council will guarantee the rent for 12 months, as well as meeting any repairs/maintenance costs. After a year, we would look for the Afghan family to take on the tenancy.

So if you’re interested in helping to provide a family with a safe haven and hope for a new life, email [email protected]

Finally, I’m sure we have all welcomed the warmer weather this week – my sun hat has had a good airing! But on a serious note, please do take care in the heat. You can find some good advice on staying cool at www.nhs.uk