Dear Voluntary Sector Colleagues,

I am writing to you all now in the hope of catching you before you go on Christmas break. 
It will not have escaped your attention that the Covid-19 Omicron wave has started to hit the UK. Whilst we are already seeing a steady increase in cases in Birmingham, we have not yet reached the point of cases rapidly doubling in our city – although this point will, inevitably, come. I understand from colleagues in Public Health that the real pinch point is expected in early-mid January. 
I know that you and your organisations are well versed in what you need to do in response - but could we please ask you all to consider emphasising the following: 

Support the Vaccination Programme

The best way to block Omicron and to forestall a wave of hospitalisations and deaths is to ensure that the vaccination programme reaches high numbers of uptake by 31st of December. You can help by utilising your communications channels to encourage:

Please do your utmost to encourage everyone to do their part for the vaccination programme – this will directly affect the numbers of hospitalisations and deaths we have in the city. 

Protect your organisation

  • Home working. Make sure that, wherever possible, everyone who can work from home is working from home - including the leadership of your organisation.
  • Social distancing in the office. Where people are working from a shared space on site, do what you can to separate them as much as possible – this will help to avoid a situation in which your workforce and volunteers are all infected at the same time. 
We are expecting very high numbers of staff and volunteer absences as a result of this wave. Keeping this as staggered as possible will enable the vital support your organisation offers to continue.

Rest – but keep an eye out for communications

Everyone needs a break – especially after what has been a particularly challenging couple of years - but this is unlike any previous stage of the pandemic, and it’s important that we don’t drop our guard. The speed at which the Omicron wave will be upon us will require us to mobilise very quickly when the time comes. Please take the rest you need, but keep an eye out for e-mails – we are likely to need to rapidly accelerate activity. (For example, supporting discharge from hospital).

Test, Test, and Test Again

Please encourage as much use of Lateral Flow Tests as you can, among both staff and service users. This – and sensible actions taken based on test results - will help stop the variant spreading through our organisations when it does arrive. There are a number of distribution points across the city, and test kits continue to be orderable online.

Getting the Sector Prepared: Omicron Briefing on 6 January with Dr Justin Varney

On Thursday 6 January Director for Public Health Birmingham, Dr Justin Varney, joined us for a Webinar briefing for the VCFSE Sector. Dr Varney set out the current situation in terms of the Omicron variant, latest changes to policy including new rules around testing and isolation as well as some predictions for the months ahead.
In the midst of this continuing challenge, I wish you all the very best of breaks you can manage. You certainly deserve it, especially after the incredible efforts you have made - and continue to make – in supporting the people of our city during these unprecedented times. 
May we all return safe, well, refreshed and reinvigorated for the work we’ll be called to do - together - in the new year.  
With very best wishes,
Brian Carr