A campaign to “kick out Covid” launched by Hastings Community Hub, which has co-ordinated the town’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 12 months, has gained wide community and social media support in recent days. But its target of “zero cases”, together with the accompanying warning that “it’s not time to ease up now”, seems to create a tension with the fast-approaching timetable for easing of lockdown and, in particular, the opening out of the town’s hospitality economy. 

The campaign is being promoted under the hashtag #Imgoingforzero, and is overseen by leading community and statutory partners in the town, including HVA (Hastings Voluntary Action), HEART (Hastings Emergency Action Resilience Team), the Chamber of Commerce, the Borough Council and the local CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group). Borough council leader Kim Forward, Bonfire Society chair Hannah Leech, Source Park entrepreneur Joel Pivert and Alastair Farley, director of HEART, are among those who have posted brief individual YouTube videos endorsing the ‘Going for Zero’ slogan. Now they’re calling on everyone with a phone, camera or computer to add their voices to the campaign, record their own video under the hashtag, and upload it to social media.

Hub Chair Steve Manwaring, who is also director of HVA, says that the “near immunity” of Hastings in the first wave of Covid was followed by a “savage impact” of the second, in which the borough’s case rates had risen as high as other places that have suffered significantly. In the first wave there had been many ‘zero days’ but only one in recent months. The aim is now to encourage the promotion of good health care and vaccine take-up, and to ensure that Hastings does not face significant further Covid outbreaks either because of people relaxing their social distancing or other prevention too quickly or because the vaccination rate is not high enough. ‘Going for Zero’ was chosen as “an ambitious target”.

Getting the Jab

“Don’t hesitate”, he declared. “Getting the jab is striking a blow at the virus and its dreadful impact on the whole community, it’s how we can protect the town we love as well as ourselves and our families.” 

Carole Dixon, CEO of Education Futures Trust, congratulated the NHS and Hastings residents for their “hard work” in bringing down the number of cases, but added: “The next stage is to use our incredible community spirit to build on this success and open our schools and businesses with the minimum of new infections. Unless we do this, there is a real danger that our well-loved events, such as the Seafood and Wine Festival, will be cancelled, and a host of local hospitality businesses will not be able to open.”

But not all of the town’s residents subscribe to the “zero” target and slogan. One well-known St Leonards man, Tony May, has expressed his thoughts on a YouTube posting: “I think it’s irresponsible to try to promote the idea that, if we all do our bit, any area can be Covid-free. It’s not a realistic possibility. We’ve even had that Chris Whitty saying that the chances of totally eradicating Covid are virtually nil. 

“And trying to promote that ideal is putting even more pressure on people – splitting and dividing them into a ‘vaccine hesitancy’ box and ‘I’ve done my bit for the country’ box. What we need is people coming together, communities coming together and being understanding”. 

Facing Two Ways

Hastings & Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart seems to be facing two ways. In a column published in the Hastings Observer last Friday, she made it clear that she supported maximum take-up of the vaccine roll-out.

“It is beholden upon us all that, when we get the call to have our vaccine jab, we must take it up,” she wrote. “In my regular discussions with our local NHS, there is a worry that some cohorts in Sussex who have been offered the vaccine jabs are not taking them up, especially in Hastings. My message is simple and clear, the vaccines work, they are safe and when you get the call, please take up the offer of the jab.”

However, in a speech to Parliament last Wednesday she laid stress on the importance of reviving the hospitality sector: “There is something we can all do in this House to support [this] sector again as it slowly reopens on the 12th of April. We can be champions for our areas to encourage visitors and residents to have the confidence to get back to our town centres, to the pub gardens, to purchase the restaurant takeaway and support our local businesses. 

“As we have all come together during these lockdowns to support our NHS, we now all need to come together to support our businesses and especially our hospitality sector. So my final words are directly to residents in Hastings and Rye – yes, this summer will still feel very different from those we are used to, but it will be better than the lockdown we have just been through, so let’s get out there when the guidance and rules allow, and get the music playing, the streets thronging and the drink flowing and support our fantastic hospitality sector this summer.”

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