Last week, the Prime Minster unveiled the Government's roadmap out of lockdown - something we'd all been looking forward to as we began to hear that the vaccination programme is having a positive impact on reducing the risk of more vulnerable people being seriously ill with Covid-19.
We all want to feel very positive about a return to something like normal in the not too distant future, and it's right that we should, but I and my fellow leaders across the region are glad to see that the Government proposes a cautious approach to easing lockdown.
As I've said before, I want nothing more than to see our children and young people coming back together in their places of learning although I must say a huge well done and thank you to all of our schools and their staff who've worked tirelessly to deliver virtual lessons and keep schools open for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. I also really look forward to the day when our businesses are back open after such a prolonged period of uncertainty and worry, and to see family and friends reunited in person.
It has been unbelievably hard for parents and carers to juggle working from home with home-schooling and family responsibilities, and nothing short of distressing for people to be unable to hold the hands of loved ones in care homes, and these are but two of many, many sacrifices we've all had to make this past year.
So the move to allow schools to reopen from 8 March is a positive step forward, although again, it will entail a lot of hard work for staff to maintain Covid-safe environments and manage Covid testing processes. Being able to meet up with somebody outside for more of a social catch-up and for care home residents to be able to have a visitor, will also make a big difference to people as the restrictions start to gradually lift over the next couple of months.
But it would be irresponsible of us, and risk undoing all that we've done and sacrificed thus far, if we didn't proceed with caution. It's true that infection rates have fallen and I am delighted about that, however, they do remain higher than we need them to be and we do still have people needing hospital care and sadly losing their lives to this dreadful disease.
So with this in mind, whilst looking ahead with optimism, let's also be mindful that Covid-19 will be with us for a while yet and we must be wary of, and do all in our power to protect against, the threat of new variants. If we can keep on doing our bit, keep up with hand-washing and good hygiene, maintain social distancing and follow the rules and guidelines remaining in place, then we can reduce the spread of the virus, keep infection rates coming down and allow the vaccination programme to do its vital job.
I know it continues to be an incredibly anxious time for our businesses and currently, we are advised that with the data leading decisions on the lifting of further restrictions, it will be into April and beyond for the non-essential retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to re-open. We all want this to happen at the earliest opportunity but it needs to be safe to do so, so again, we must all do our bit to ensure the data is where it needs to be.
As well as following the rules and guidelines, we can also play our part by taking up the vaccination when it's offered as there's growing evidence the vaccines are highly effective in protecting us from Covid-19. So please when you get the invite, make an appointment to protect yourself and everyone around you.
In the meantime, the council and our partners are doing everything possible to keep things in the city on as much of a business as usual footing as we can. Despite the challenges we face at the moment, we are seeing some fantastic progress being made with our social and economic regeneration plans which bodes really well for the city's strong recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.
Thank you to everyone for your continued efforts in the fight against Covid-19, stay safe, remain vigilant and take good care of yourselves and those around you.
Very best wishes,
Cllr Graeme Miller
Leader of the Council