Museums will temporarily close during the Christmas period and services at city council-run leisure centres will reduce in response to the increasing spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has today (Wednesday) announced that The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and Gladstone Pottery Museum will close from Christmas Eve and reopen again on Wednesday, 5 January. The authority has also announced that New Horizons Sport and Leisure Centre in Chell, The Wallace Sports and Education Centre in Abbey Hulton, Burslem Gymnastics Centre and Northwood Stadium will all close for the same period, and services at Fenton Manor Sports Complex and Dimensions Leisure Centre in Tunstall will only see the gyms and Shapes spa areas open, with scaled back group exercise programmes, during the same period.
Council leader Abi Brown said: “We have taken this decision as a considered and measured approach to the current coronavirus situation. This will allow the council to manage staff absences and maintain essential services. We don’t take the decision to reduce any of our services lightly and are monitoring the situation daily. Our fantastic staff in our museums and leisure services worked so hard during lockdowns earlier in the year to support essential social care and frontline responses to the pandemic. We can’t praise them highly enough for the work they did at that time, and again they will be given the opportunity to volunteer to support work in adult social care, contact tracing and supporting the vaccination rollout across the city.”
The seven-day rate of coronavirus cases in the city is now 603.2 per 100,000 people, for the week to 15 December. The percentage of people who have had a test and tested positive is 12.3 per cent. The England average is 803 cases per 100,000 people and the West Midlands average is 548 per 100,000 people.
Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones MBE, Director of Adult Social Care, Health Integration and Wellbeing and Director of Public Health, said: “In light of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant across the UK, it is highly probable that the wave which is currently impacting London and the wider West Midlands area will reach Stoke-on-Trent within the next 7-10 days.
“We mustn’t be alarmed by this, but to instead continue to be really cautious to protect ourselves and our loved ones – particularly as many people will be meeting up with family and friends over the festive season. It’s vital that we are sensible and keep in mind that Covid-19 is very easily transmitted through close contact. Stay safe, think carefully, and follow ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air’ to help prevent transmitting the virus.
“Although we can continue to mix indoors, please ensure you keep rooms well ventilated and open windows where you can. If you are not showing any of the three main symptoms of Covid-19 – a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell – you can access quick and free lateral flow tests to take at home or at one of our community testing venues. If you are showing one of the three main symptoms, please make sure you book a PCR test.
“It is vital you book your booster when you are asked to as this will give you the maximum protection against the virus. Please also remember that not everybody is vaccinated, and therefore there are still people in our community who are at a higher risk of becoming very ill indeed from Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, the authority has welcomed a government decision to provide further financial support to the hospitality and leisure sector, and is joining a national campaign to encourage former teachers to put their names forward as supply teachers to help schools with contingency planning for the new year, should they need it.
Councillor Brown said: “We’re pleased that the Chancellor announced yesterday (Tuesday) that one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises will be made available for businesses in the hospitality and leisure sector, and the potential for councils to provide additional discretionary funding. Our hospitality and leisure sector has been hit extremely hard over the past two years. We have worked swiftly to administer millions of pounds of funding to hundreds of businesses during the pandemic because we understand that it has been vital to the future of so many businesses in the city. We await further details from the government as to when this funding will become available and we’d like to assure businesses that we will be moving as quickly as possible to get the money to you.
“It is right that schools are planning ahead for the start of term again in January, and the plans that they have all enacted to support children in the classroom since September have been remarkable. It is to the credit of all our schools that so many children have been able to continue to receive the best education our city can offer. As part of contingency measures for the new year, we’re encouraging teachers who may have retired or moved professions to please consider signing up to the Get Into Teaching website – www.getintoteaching.education.gov.uk. Doing so will help with supporting the number of supply staff available in the city to help to mitigate against the potential impact that the Omicron variant may have in the future.”