On Tuesday evening I met virtually with the head of Public Health Gloucestershire as well as the local senior NHS leadership. The data was grim.
Following the discovery of the new mutation, up to 70% more contagious than the original version, the overall infection rate in Gloucestershire has risen to around 280 per 100,000. It is considerably higher in Gloucester. On average across the county the rate has surged by over 20% in just a week. Meanwhile, critical care in Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal is now full, and all four UK chief medical officers announced on Monday that there is an imminent danger of the NHS being overwhelmed.
In the circumstances, locking down the entire UK became the only sensible course.
Vaccination is the route out, and I am receiving daily updates on our status in Gloucestershire. Thanks to the intensive local collaboration, Gloucestershire has assembled a formidable vaccination capability. At Cheltenham East Fire Station alone, the team can vaccinate at a rate of one patient every three-and-a-half minutes. 25,000 people county-wide have received their first jab.
Gloucestershire is now vaccinating at a rate above the national average, and has vaccinated more than most peer European nations combined.
Now we must go further.
I am assured we are on track in Cheltenham to hit the national target of offering the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top JCVI priority groups by mid-February. These include all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
So many public-spirited people want to support this effort. That is a sign of the town we are. I’m advised we have enough vaccinators and volunteers for now. Instead, the best support we can give as members of the public to this collective effort is to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.