FOLLOW this page for live updates on the latest coronavirus developments and announcements in the New Forest and Christchurch on Wednesday 18th March.

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HEADLINES:

  • Schools to close across England on Friday afternoon, says education secretary
  • Latest confirmed coronavirus cases in the Hampshire County Council area reached 69 yesterday (Tuesday) morning, and six in the BCP Council area
  • BCP Council to close all but three libraries – Christchurch to stay open
  • Bus and train firms continue operations but warn of last-minute service changes
  • Up-to-date NHS coronavirus advice is available here

5.30pm

MATTHEW Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, says the government will have to supply additional support to employees who cannot work because of school closures.

He said: “Difficult decisions are having to be made each day and people’s safety must always come first. Today’s announcement on school closures feels necessary, but of course will present challenges for parents and carers.

“With so many businesses already struggling with cashflow, government will urgently need to step in with additional support to employees who are unable to work because of school closures.”

5.27pm

Assessments and exams will not go ahead this academic year.

5.22pm

EDUCATION secretary Gavin Williamson tells the House of Commons that all schools will close on Friday afternoon “until further notice” as spread rises “faster than anticipated”.

5.06pm

TESTWOOD School in Totton has told Years 7 and 8 pupils not to come in for the rest of the week, with a decision on national closures said to be “imminent” by headteacher Jenny Pitman.

She said in a statement: “I have made the decision based on staff shortages.”

Children at home will be able to work online via the school’s website or with work packs from class. Students on free school meals are welcome to attend lunch at the usual time, said .

4.54pm

BUT BCP Council is reasuring bookworms they don’t have to worry about library fines, and can go online for something to read.

4.52pm

CHRISTCHURCH will be one of only three libraries to stay open in the BCP Council area from Monday, it has announced.

4.38pm

THE number of people dying from coronavirus in the UK has reach 104, according to the latest figures – an increase of 32.

4.28pm

ALL cricket should be suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has advised.

It said in a statement: “Following the government’s latest advice around social distancing, it is with sadness and reluctance that we recommend that all forms of recreational cricket are for now suspended.

“This extends to training, pre-season friendlies and any associated cricket activity.”

Michael Porter hitting out for Bashley CC against the Hampshire Academy last year

The advice will affect New Forest and Christchurch clubs’ pre-season training which would have been getting underway before games begin.

The ECB added: “Over the coming weeks we will work with the game to understand what support is required across the cricket community, particularly local clubs and leagues – who will have such a huge role to play in our nation’s response to coming out of this situation.”

4.16pm

BRITISH people in Spain have been urged by the Foreign Office to return as quickly as they can after the Spanish government announced the closure of all hotels in the country from Tuesday 24th March.

The Foreign and Commowealth Office in London

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We therefore advise British travellers in Spain to contact their tour operator or airline as soon as possible, to arrange their return journey home before this date.”

Further details can be found on the FCO Travel Advice pages.

4.05pm

HOUSDOWN School will be closed to Year 10s tomorrow (Thursday) with Years 7, 8, 9 and 11 attending as normal.

Pupils will be able to work at home from the school’s website, it said.

The school said on Twitter: “Despite staff in school giving up planning time to cover lessons and along with senior staff and part time teachers taking extra classes, we are unable to open for all years.

“Our intention is to be able to provide learning resources that will allow students to follow their normal school timetable from home. We hope this will help young people to keep to a routine and structure.”

Yesterday (Tuesday) it was the turn of Housndown’s Year 8 pupils to remain at home.

3.51pm

THE Forest Forge Theatre in Ringwood has appealed for donations having temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sharon Lawless, creative producer and CEO, announced on its website today (Wednesday) it had suspended performances and events and would contact anyone directly affected. The charity is mainly funded by grants and donations.

Coronavirus New Forest
Forest Forge chief executive and creative producer Sharon Lawless

“We will be working with our schools and outreach partners on a daily basis to make decisions on delivering workshops at their venues. These are unprecedented times and, like you, we are responding in real-time to a situation which is evolving every day,” she said.

She added: “In these difficult times, we are inviting our customers and friends of Forest Forge to consider making a donation to the theatre.

“We appreciate your support and your understanding as we make decisions to support and protect each other as we navigate unchartered territory.”

Donations can be made via forestforgetheatre.co.uk.

3.37pm

EXTRA precautions are being taken by Lymington and Pennington Town Council when it meets at the town hall on Friday morning.

Councillors are expected to agree to postpone all meetings until 15th April, as well as considering how to respond to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on its services.

A note on the agenda said: “Please be aware of current government advice on the Covid-19 coronavirus. All seating will be placed two metres apart. Please operate good hygiene measures at all times.”

The next meeting is scheduled to be on 13th May.

3.07pm

IN an update today, South Western Railway warned a “small number” of trains may be cancelled at short notice as staff stay home unwell.

It said on its website: “We are trying to avoid this wherever possible, and apologise for any inconvenience it causes and hope you understand. As we work through these issues please continue to check our website and Twitter feed for the latest travel information.

“Please follow government advice and don’t travel unnecessarily, and bear with our people who are working hard to keep the country moving.”

Coronavirus New Forest
South Western Railway operates services through the New Forest and Christchurch

Extra measures encouraging good hand hygiene among colleagues and customers, as well as cleaners focusing on commonly touched surfaces such as ticket machines, grab handles, stair handrails and door buttons.

SWR said it was also working to ensure stocks of soaps are checked and replenished regularly onboard trains and at stations.

2.58pm

BLUESTAR buses are continuing to operate but have warned of last-minutes changes to services, which include parts of the New Forest, Totton and the Waterside.

It said on its website that the government had advised against all non-essential travel, but that people stil needed to travel to-and-from work, school and college.

The statement said: “In view of this, we continue to run our bus services, for now, as planned. Like many businesses, we are anticipating colleague absence, which may mean cancelling some journeys at short notice.

“We will do this to minimise impact on the majority of routes. Please allow extra time for your journey in case of any last-minute cancellations.”

2.13pm

TWO more high-profile Brockenhurst events have confirmed they will not be happening because of coronavirus.

The village’s first activities day, organised by Brockenhurst Village Trust, had been due to take place at the village hall on 11th April but has been postponed until later in the year.

The village’s annual Anzac Day commemoration, due Sunday April 26th at St Nicholas Church War Graves, has also been cancelled. It commemorates the New Zealanders and Indian soldiers who died in hospitals in the village during the First World War.

1.15pm

REPAIRS to New Forest council homes will be limited to essential work from today (Wednesday) to protect other key services.

Work will cover emergencies and cases when there is “undue inconvenience” or further damage to property, said the district council.

It added: “Major property improvements will continue to be offered as normal subject to tenants being happy to have contractors in their homes. Tenants who are vulnerable or self- isolating will have their housing works re-scheduled.

“Our housing maintenance staff and contractors will be following social distancing guidance when visiting tenants’ homes and will continue observing good hygiene standards in accordance with the national guidance.”

Tenants having trouble paying their rent due to loss of earnings because of self-isolation or illness can seek advice by emailing rents@nfdc.gov.uk.

12.56pm

FACEBOOK groups have sprung up around the New Forest to try to coordinate support and boost morale for people:

12.48pm

HIGHCLIFFE School will remain closed to Year 9 students tomorrow (Thursday) after they were also told to stay at home yesterday.

The school began the partial closure yesterday to cope with staff absences. In a statement on its website, it said Years 9s were selected as they could be at home without supervision and were not engaged in GCSE preparations.

Patrick Earnshaw in Highcliffe School's head teacher
Highcliffe School in Parkside

Teachers will set work for pupils to do at home.

The statement said: “This decision has not been made as a result of any identified case of coronavirus or having been directed by Public Health England. It is based on our inability to staff the whole school as a result of significant staff absence.

“At this stage we are not in the position to make a decision on whether the partial closure will change for Thursday. We envisage being able to update you about this during Wednesday morning.”

12.36pm

NEW Forest District Council’s office at the Grove, in Hythe, will shut at 1pm today until 31st March.

The closure will stay under review, and other NFDC offices are currently remaining open. Contact details for the council are here.

12.28pm

THE national park authority has shut its public reception and cancelled or postponed all meetings and events.

It said in a statement that staff can still be contacted via email and phone, but warned that new planning applications would face slow progress.

It said: “We are aiming to process planning applications which have already been submitted and if you are submitting a new application, we are reviewing the services we will be able to deliver.”

12.14pm

The Glastonbury music festival has been cancelled this year.

11.57am

PEOPLE who are well enough have been urged to keep using local businesses to support the New Forest economy during the coronavirus outbreak.

Companies have been reacting to the sudden fall in customers as the public was urged by the Prime Minister to stay at home to limit the spread of the disease.

The New Forest Business Partnership, linking the district council with local traders, appealed to residents on Twitter: “Please continue to support New Forest businesses at this difficult time.

“Most are open – so if you are healthy, go shopping in local shops, eat and drink in local businesses and keep the New Forest economy going.”

Eateries may benefit from the government’s intention to relax planning rules “as soon as possible” to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as hot food takeaways without having to make a change-of-use application to NFDC.

Full story here.

10.41am

A MASSIVE street party in Ringwood to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day has been cancelled, the town council has confirmed.

Deputy mayor Cllr Philip Day said it was with a “heavy heart” that the event planned for 8th May had to be stopped.

He said: “It promised to be a fantastic day bringing the community together again. Given the self-isolation that so many older people now face, it is a real pity that we had to pull the plug. Unfortunately, this is really out of our hands.”

Alternative commemorations on VE Day could still take place later, he said.

10.34am

A FIVE-STAR cattery is offering free accommodation to any owner who has to be hospitalised, or is too ill to look after their pet, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackie Ferrier who runs Hotel Cat in Linnies Lane, Sway, says it will collect the felines and look after them for no charge until their owners have recovered.

She made the offer after seeing virtually all its bookings for the upcoming months cancelled.

Cat Hotel
One of the Cat Hotel’s luxury rooms (Photo: Cat Hotel)

She said: “Our summer diary was completely full, now it is almost empty. We currently have two cats staying with us.

“There is nothing we can do about it so we thought we could at least use our facilities to help people.”

She added: “It is at times like these that we must all look after each other and pray that this awful virus disappears soon.”

The “cat hotel” includes the choice of eight luxury suites with full size beds complete with duvets and TV with feline themed shows. There is a garden room filled with sun loungers, climbing trees, scratch pads and toys.

To contact the hotel go to www.hotelcat.co.uk.

10.07am

HAMPSHIRE Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the £330bn support package announced last night by the chancellor Rishi Sunak but said more help would be needed.

Chamber chief executive Ross McNally urged businesses to look at what support might be available and said: “This may well be the lifeline that sustains them given the scale of disruption already emerging from the pandemic.

“Government must ensure cash and practical help is prioritised right now for businesses on the front line, including in the worst-affected sectors and supply chains such as hospitality.

“These businesses are essential to their local communities and will play a leading role in helping recovery post Covid-19.”

Measures include:

  • Cash grants of £25,000 for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, with a rateable value of less than £51,000
  • Extension of 12-month business rates holiday to all businesses in those sectors, irrespective of rateable value
  • Cash grants of £10,000 to the 700,000 smallest businesses

Support must be “quick and easy to access through business-friendly channels”, Mr McNally said, and offered the chamber of commerce’s support to firms.

He added: “Further ahead, government must continue to invest in our entrepreneurs and businesses so we can create the job opportunities and growth that will be needed to recover from the impact of the virus.

“This is an unprecedented challenge and many more government measures will be needed before the situation can improve.”

9.53am

JURY trials expected to last up to three days at courts including Southampton and Bournemouth will go ahead, but others scheduled for longer have been postponed.

The national move has been announced by the Lord Chief Justice. He added “steps were being taken where possible” for short hearings to be take place via videolink, telephone or online.

“Many court hearings will be able to continue as normal with appropriate precautions being taken,” he added. “We must make every effort to maintain a functioning court system in support of the administration of justice and rule of law.”

He added: “As events unfold decisions will be taken in respect of all cases awaiting trial in the crown court.”

9.47am

TWO of area’s biggest visitor attractions, Paultons Park and Beaulieu, say they will be staying open.

Ower-based Paultons Park said on its website: “During this time of uncertainty we would like to reassure all guests that Paultons Park is open again on Friday 20th March as advertised and we will continue to operate to our usual high standards with regards to hygiene and cleanliness around the park.

“Please be assured that we are following all guidelines as advised by Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.”

National Car Museum at Beaulieu things to do in the New Forest Hampshire
National Car Museum at Beaulieu

Beaulieu Estate said on its website that its large areas of parkland meant visitors could keep a distance between one another. It is also offering lower-priced ticket for outdoor access only.

It said: “We are continuing to follow the advice of the government in relation to the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation to ensure the wellbeing of our staff, volunteers and visitors.

“Our usual high standards of hygiene and cleanliness are being maintained around the attraction and we are following all guidelines as advised by Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.

It added: “If you are planning to visit and have any of the symptoms of Covid-19 as described by Public Health England, we ask that you postpone your visit and instead follow the current advice being given by the government. ”

9.05am

BROCKENHURST is the latest village to cancel its annual parish meeting and VE Day celebrations.

Parish councillors backed both events being suspended until the coronavirus spread is contained, at their latest meeting on Tuesday night.

“It’s sad since a lot of hard work has gone into it by people around this table and elsewhere,” acting parish chair Cllr Michael Harris said.

8.42am

THE total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Hampshire County Council area, excluding Southampton and Portsmouth, reached 69 as of 9am yesterday (Tuesday). That is up from 55 the day before.

Coronavirus New Forest
Hampshire County Council border sign

In the BCP Council area, the figure was six, adding one to the previous tally.

Across the UK the combined number of confirmed cases reached so far is 1,950 – up by 407. There have been 65 recoveries and 60 deaths.

8.38am

THE New Forest Academy in Holbury is the latest to impose restrictions due to coronavirus on the number of students attending, due to inadequate staffing levels.

The school in Long Lane announced that from today (Wednesday) Year 9 and 10 students are asked not to attend.

However, any of these children in receipt of free school meals will be able to collect a packed lunch between midday and 12.30pm.

The school has also cancelled all after school clubs and trips until further notice.

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