Today I attended the monthly Covid-19 Engagement Board, which is chaired by the Mayor.
The engagement board was first formed a year ago as a response to the acceleration of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the recognition that a long-term coordinated response was required. To ensure that the board was established with democratic accountability baked-in the Mayor asked me to become its Deputy Chair, as an elected member of the council. Other members of the group include senior members of the council’s top team, including the Chief Exec and the Director of Public Health. There’s also a Chief Superintendent from Northumbria Police, senior representatives from the NHS, the business community, the voluntary sector and Nexus from a transport point of view.
Our task has been, and remains, to ensure connectivity between the strategic regional body dealing with the pandemic (known as the Local Resilience Forum) and the reality of day-to-day life in our borough. The coordination of communication and of action has been hugely important in supressing the virus across our communities. As the pandemic has progressed I’ve been really impressed with how the different organisations represented have stepped up, in the face of the massive and unprecedented challenge. Our area really is served by some exceptional leaders, most of whom are entirely invisible in terms of public profile, but whose cool heads and quiet determination have kept us safe during the past year.
Recent meetings have had a particular focus around the progress of the vaccination programme, which has been going remarkably well. Today we anticipated the next stage of relaxation of lockdown restrictions. You may have heard the phrase ‘variants of concern’ being used in the news. This was an important topic of conversation for us today too, as increased social mixing, especially indoors, does present a risk of transmission, especially for those still not vaccinated.
All in all then, whilst we may well have been through the most difficult phases of the pandemic, we are quite a way from the finish line yet. Please do continue to be careful and to continue to follow the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ guidance.