COVID-19 Information Update Thursday, 21st January 2021
Over 4.3 million UK residents have now received their first dose of either the Pfizer BioNtech or Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines. Over 40% of all those aged 80 or over have now received their vaccination and the government is on target to vaccinate nearly 15 million people by the middle of February. During this initial phase, the NHS is prioritising those who are clinically vulnerable and those who are aged 70 or over. Given the acceleration in the speed of the vaccination programme, there is now a greater sense of optimism than at any previous moment during this crisis. In this regard, the UK is now leading the world and the urgency of meeting the logistical challenges presented by the biggest vaccination programme in the nation’s history is reflected in the involvement of the military, a 24/7 approach and the opening up of mass vaccination centres situated in places such as Blackburn Cathedral and St Helens Rugby Club. Most recent reports suggest that it is likely that every adult in the UK will have been offered a vaccine by the summer and this is excellent news indeed.
Testing at Rossall
You will be delighted to learn that all returning boarders have tested negative for COVID-19 in both of their initial tests. The checks and balances that we have put in place provide an additional level of protection and reassurance. Residential staff are tested at least once a week and the School maintains an impressive stock of lateral flow and PCR tests. Caution underpins all decisions that we make but it is worth noting that our boarding community is effectively isolated on the School site. Contact with non-residential members of staff has been reduced to an absolute minimum and our boarders have no contact with any of our day pupils. Whilst it might appear that we are being overly cautious, our approach has served us superbly well throughout this pandemic and has ensured that the School remains a safe haven within which children can live and learn alongside one another.
The Local Situation
Over the last week there has been a 23% reduction in the number of new cases within the UK. In the area local to Rossall School, the infection rate is currently well below the UK average, as indeed it has been since late November. As with all previous waves of COVID, there is a considerable degree of regional variation and the Fylde has benefitted from being in Tier 3 or Tier 4 restrictions since early October. Other areas such as Liverpool and London (that were placed in lower tiers until just before Christmas) have fared less well. However, nationally, the ‘R’ rate is now coming down – thankfully. The vaccination of those who are clinically vulnerable will serve to reduce pressure on the NHS though the effect will not be immediate as immunity takes two or three weeks to develop.
The End of Lockdown
It has been suggested that this will be approached in a gradual manner. Regions will progress down through the tiers as hospital admissions decline and the vaccination of the vulnerable gathers pace. There will not be a single ‘moment’ when we emerge from lockdown but the government has repeated its commitment to reopening schools at the first possible opportunity.
What about new variants of Covid?
Globally, concerns have been raised about the emergence of new strains of COVID-19. The so called UK variant ‘B.1.1.7’ is responsive to current vaccines, though it is potentially more transmissible than other variants. It is clear that many national governments are keen to prevent emerging strains from being imported into their jurisdictions at this time. In the UK, there is a concern that a new variant could potentially undermine the efficacy of the vaccination programme. All viruses mutate and whilst one needs to keep a watchful eye from an epidemiological perspective, it is likely that many of us will receive annual jabs which will be effective against a broad spectrum of mutations.
Travel to and from the UK
As from 4:00am on 18th January, all existing air corridors to the UK closed (barring the Isle of Man and Ireland). This announcement makes no substantive difference for our students as all those arriving at the School have been tested and quarantined in accordance with government guidelines and, in any case, the vast majority of pupils were arriving from countries where air corridors had already been suspended.
February Half Term and Easter Holiday
The School will remain open throughout February Half Term and boarders will be able to remain with us at no additional cost. The School will also be open to boarders over the Easter break and we know that a number of our families are planning for their children to remain with us during this time.
Vaccines represent the cavalry riding into battle and the end of this crisis is now coming into sight. The measures that we have put in place to minimise risk within our community have worked superbly well to date and life within School continues relatively normally. This said, there is no substitute for face-to-face lessons and we long for a time when all of our pupils (whether day or boarding) are back here with us where they belong. That is the goal and that is what we are intent upon achieving.
All best wishes,
Please join us on our Facebook Live Q and A session at 13:00 (GMT) on Friday, 22nd January. Either submit questions live or in advance to Lucy Barnwell on [email protected]
We will use this session to discuss some of the exciting developments taking place here at School.