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“None of us wanted another lockdown but I fear it had become inevitable”

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Following the Prime Minister’s announcement at the weekend regarding a new, time limited period of national lockdown, Devon County Council and Public Health Devon have given these reactions.

Photo of Councillor John Hart
Councillor John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council

The leader of Devon County Council, John Hart, said:

“None of us wanted another lockdown but I fear it had become inevitable. The support of the vast majority of people in our county and the wider South West has meant that we have seen some of the lowest incidence of cases throughout this crisis, even with millions of visitors in the summer. But we have seen spikes here – at Exeter University for example – and our numbers have begun to rise generally as well, in keeping with the rest of the country.

“We have obviously not been reaching the numbers that would have seen our area go into a local lockdown. But the figures that the Government produced show that our NHS services could have become overwhelmed. So I believe that this temporary measure was necessary even here. And I urge people to continue to follow the guidance and wear a face mask indoors, keep your distance and wash your hands.

“I very much welcome the extension of the furlough scheme but our economy relies massively on small and medium companies and the tourism and hospitality industries and it is vital that the Government also provides support for these sectors.

“It is also vital that the Government provides financial support for local government so we can continue the vital work we did during the first lockdown.”

Dr Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health DevonDr Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health Devon said:

“The number of incidents of coronavirus in Devon is still below the national average, however cases have been rising across the county in line with the rest of the country over the past month, in all our communities and in all age groups, although the majority – 55 per cent – are in young adults aged 16 to 39.

“In Exeter, where we saw cases increase in early October mainly due to cases in university students, they have fallen significantly over recent weeks thanks to prompt action by the university and public health, and are now again below the national average. Around 40% of Exeter cases relate to the University of Exeter. Non-university student cases in Exeter are well below the national average, and there is no evidence of significant spread of the virus between student and non-student populations in the city.

“But we know that the virus has been spreading in adults of working age, often in social settings. We must continue to take extra care and must never drop our guard.

“Testing capacity has increased in Devon, and the number of tests completed has been rising steadily since August, with the number of tests done doubling.

“Most current cases have had contacts traced through the NHS Test and Trace system. The latest performance shows over 75 per cent of contacts are followed up in Devon.

“It should be said that by and large, Devon residents, shops, businesses, educational establishments and care homes, have all behaved impeccably to limit the impact, and have followed national guidance around social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing of face coverings. And that has undoubtedly kept the number of positive cases lower in Devon, keeping us in the lowest of the government’s alert levels.

“However, national data emerging in more recent weeks has shown that, should the country take no additional measures beyond the current restrictions, England would be exceeding the ‘worst case scenario’ levels.

“Public Health Devon supports the need for a time-limited lockdown. If we don’t take extra steps now, numbers will continue to rise and it will put additional pressure on our busy hospitals. We are already seeing our local hospitals having to cancel non-urgent operations.”

Dr Paul Johnson, who chairs NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“Devonians have been fantastic over the last few months of the pandemic, heeding advice and doing the right thing by their family, friends and neighbours.

“As we head into the winter period, it’s even more important that we all keep up the good work by following the advice and staying safe.

“The NHS in Devon is well prepared but please do all you can to take any additional pressure off our incredibly hard-working staff.

“Thank you from all of us in the NHS – we’ll get through this together.”

Dr Pearson added:

“Devon’s response has been first rate, and we have all pulled together – Devon residents included – to limit the impact of coronavirus, and that is what has kept the number of positive cases low, sufficient that we are at the lowest alert level in the country. However, more needs to be done to halt the rising case numbers and the impact on the NHS. We now need to make sure we are in the best possible position to come out of the national lockdown by driving down rates. We are asking all local people to help by following the public health guidance to the letter.”