It is now 16 weeks since the first positive case of COVID-19 was found in the UK and more than 20 weeks since many of us have been tracking the progress of the virus from China. My key message to all of you today is to say the biggest possible thank you and to please keep going.
Public health professionals know that beating this virus was always going to be a long haul and recognised by the Secretary of State in his first statement to Parliament as a marathon, not a sprint. I said at the time that it was both a marathon and a sprint recognising that so many of you are working day and night, have not enjoyed a normal weekend since Christmas, and are tirelessly serving our communities under enormous pressure.
Everyone working on the pandemic – in local and national Government, PHE and the NHS – should stand tall and be very proud of your work, as I am of you. Hang in there, support each other, speak positively in private and in public of each other – behaviours that define the best teams and organisations. The only focus that matters is to beat this virus and to ensure that we are ready for this coming winter.
Test and Trace
Huge thank you to the NHS Business Services Authority and NHS Professionals who this week completed the recruitment of 24,000 healthcare professionals and other volunteers who are now being trained in the art of contact tracing.
England has a well-established health protection system with thousands of local outbreaks being quietly and successfully managed each year by PHE’s local health protection teams and local Directors of Public Health and their teams working together. So the foundation for managing outbreaks of COVID-19 as the lockdown is gradually relaxed is a strong one but to further strengthen this, we are expanding our local health protection teams to ensure we can offer every support to our local Government colleagues.
COVID-19 knows no borders and on Wednesday, the Department for International Development announced that the UK will invest up to £20 million in the new ‘African Union COVID-19 Response Fund’. This makes the UK the largest national donor to the fund, which will slow the spread of COVID-19 in Africa and save lives by enabling the recruitment of African health experts and deploying them where they are needed most. Many countries on the continent are seeing exponential increases in positive cases, posing an increasingly high risk to healthcare systems, many of which are also dealing with a high prevalence of HIV, malnutrition and other illnesses.
The UK Government has developed a strong partnership with the African Union’s Africa Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (Africa CDC) since its creation in 2016. Since 2017, UK aid, through the Department of Health and Social Care Global Health Security Programme, has funded the PHE-led International Health Regulations Strengthening project and the delivery partnership between PHE and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK Public Health Rapid Support team (UK-PHRST), to support Africa CDC’s ambition to strengthen public health systems across the continent. Both programmes have public health experts embedded within and providing technical support to Africa CDC.
And finally, this week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is kindness, which is important at all times but now more than ever, as each and every one of us face daily challenges and added pressures. Remember there are simple things that we can all do to look after our mental health and wellbeing during this time and our Every Mind Matters platform offers practical tips and advice, whether you are worried about the virus, or struggling with staying at home, looking after children or vulnerable people, or getting good sleep.
PHE has published new resources that encourage people to be kind to themselves by taking action to get a good night’s sleep, which are there for you if your sleep and its impact on your mental wellbeing are concerns. You can read more in our blog.
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Contributor: Duncan Selbie