I regret the need for tighter restrictions to be put in place as a result of the Coronavirus and the new strain which has developed. And I am sorry that these new restrictions will cause disruption to the plans which many people had made for Christmas.
One of my main reasons for wanting to enter Parliament in the first place was to protect and extend people’s personal freedoms, so placing restrictions on everyone goes against the grain for me. And, as a Christian, I enjoy celebrating Christmas as much as anyone. But I cannot ignore the briefings and warnings which are given to me by the people who run our local hospitals and health services, and last Friday’s briefing was bleak. The people running our health services, both locally and nationally, are very cautious, even worried, about what January might bring, which is why is why the government has taken the action they have.
Although there is no evidence that the variant causes more severe illness or higher mortality, it does look as if it could spread much more quickly. The UK has the best genomic sequencing in the world, meaning we can identify these strains quicker than any other country, which means we can take action to counter the variant before others do. Given the pressures which are already on our hospitals, and that January is always the busiest month in the NHS, the government felt the need to take action urgently.
Protecting our population is the only reason why these decisions were taken. The strategy is a relatively simple one. We need to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed by a large number of Covid patients, so that hospitals can remain able to help people with other conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer and so on, as well as victims of accidents. The lockdowns and tier systems have reduced the spreading of the virus – as well as the spreading of flu, the incidence of which is lower this year than normal – which means that hospitals are coping, and will hopefully continue to do so until we receive the vaccine.
The good news is that the vaccine – which we are the first country in the Western world to approve and use – is now being rolled out. Along with critical workers, the elderly, as well as those with serious underlying health concerns, will be at the front of the queue to receive it and it will then be rolled out down through the age groups. It is being done in this way because the elderly, as well as those with underlying health conditions, are the most vulnerable and therefore the most likely to need hospital treatment.
I remain in regular touch with Ministers, health officials, local councils and others on this subject. I will watch the situation very carefully, and will be pressing for restrictions to be lifted just as soon as it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy Christmas and a peaceful and more healthy New Year.