March 8: The first steps

Government graphic

For anyone at Rye Station Approach on the morning of Monday, March 8, it might have appeared that life had returned to near normal. There was a bustle of shoppers, school children and transport. The first steps towards the easing of lockdown had started.

The government had explained that “in step one [of the easing] our priority is to ensure that all children and students return safely to face-to-face education in schools and colleges. Childcare and children’s supervised activities can also resume where necessary to enable parents to work or engage in similar activities.”

The return to school will be supported by rapid testing which takes increased importance and the letter from the head of Rye College explains the process.

Also from March 8, people are allowed to meet up with one other person from outside their household for either exercise or recreation outdoors, but it remains “illegal to mix socially indoors”. So many look forward to March 29, from when, people can meet in groups of up to six outdoors. The change also sees improved access for visitors to care homes, but only subject to a risk assessment for patients. The full route plan is here. But caution is the key word!

Another surge is likely

As the roadmap was being unfurled, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that the UK’s Covid pandemic could “turn bad very fast”, particularly if there is any acceleration along the route. He said that those who think that the vaccination programme is a “get out of jail” card have failed to grasp that younger people – who are not yet vaccinated – remain the main driver for transmission of the virus.

He further predicted that even with a successful vaccination rollout to all age groups, there was likely to be a new surge of Covid, either gradually in late summer or in the autumn. This line was supported by Jennie Harries, the deputy chief medical officer who has warned that infections “could easily take off again” as schools reopen.

The prime minister (Boris Johnson) reminded us that “With schools now open, it is more vital than ever to follow the rules” – Hands. Face. And Space.

Register for business testing 

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced that workplace Covid testing is available to all businesses in England including those with fewer than 50 employees. From last Saturday, businesses can register to order lateral flow tests for their workers. Rapid Covid-19 testing provides results in less than 30 minutes, helping people to isolate immediately. The tests are free until 30 June, and companies can register until 31 March.

Vaccination progress

Although there has just been a break in the vaccination programme at Etchingham, because supplies of vaccine were interrupted, letters to those aged 56 to 59, offering them the vaccine, started being delivered to homes last Saturday.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has urged people to come forward “as soon as possible” when offered a vaccine so that the aim of vaccinating everyone aged 18 or over in the UK with one dose by the end of July can be achieved.

With Etchingham school returning to the buildings that it shares with “rural Rother’s” vaccination centre, discussion continues about whether a more central facility can be provided for this area. We have reminded the CCG (Clinical Commisioning Group) of what they said in January when the Etchingham centre opened :

“We recognise that at the current time, with one site at Etchingham, some people will have to travel further than others to get their vaccination depending on where they live in the local area. We would like reassure everyone that there are discussions about further locations in the area and how the vaccination can be transported and offered from GP practices. This is a fast moving programme and over the coming weeks, there may be the option to provide the vaccine from more sites across our communities very soon”. 

Providing transport

What is certain is that there will be further options for transport provision. We learnt that in West Sussex some people were being given vouchers by Age UK to pay for independent transport, and we have asked for similar arrangements in East Sussex. With over 90% of patients travelling to Etchingham by car, some alternative transport provision has been under consideration for some weeks and is promised soon.

[Editor’s note: GPs continue to direct patients to Rye and District Community Transport for help if they have problems getting to Etchingham]

Are we in for a difficult autumn?

Public Health England (PHE), it says, is preparing people for a “difficult autumn” because of the risks posed by the new variants of virus coupled with possible surges of other respiratory viruses. PHE’s director for Covid-19, said the population may have less immunity to respiratory viruses such as flu because of the pandemic.

However, PHE’s director qualified this warning on last weekend’s BBC’s Andrew Marr show by saying that it was “highly unlikely” that any new Covid variant would derail the plan to ease England’s lockdown “for the next three to five weeks”.


  1. Can we be reassured, please, that, with the break at Etchingham apparently because of the interruption in vaccine supplies, the offering of the second jab will not slip for the age groups that have already received their first vaccinations. It is accepted that the second jab need not be given until twelve weeks but what is in place to stop that date slipping and what are the repercussions if it does slip. Those who have dutifully responded to the first vaccination offer at Etchingham are left without a second appointment (“you will be called”) unlike those who get their vaccinations elsewhere through the NHS booking system. It is concerning to those who make the long journey to Etchingham who wish to feel the fuller security provided by the second jab.


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