The rapid spreading of the Coronavirus variant has forced the government to call another national lockdown for England. The administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are acting in similar ways.
The government estimates that the variant is 50%-70% more transmissible than the original virus, which is why we’ve seen over 50,000 people per day catching it recently. And we are being constantly warned that, if we do not take action, our hospitals will be overwhelmed with Covid patients at some point during January. This would mean that they would be unable to take further Covid patients, or others suffering from flu, heart attacks, strokes and other serious illnesses. We just cannot let that happen.
I dislike the restrictions which are being imposed as much as anyone. One of my main reasons for wanting to enter Parliament in the first place was to help protect and extend personal freedoms, so taking such action goes against the grain for me. I do, though, recognise the seriousness of the situation we face and accept that the government has to act in this way.
I am also aware of, and concerned by, the impact of these restrictions on businesses and employment, and regret the need to close schools. The government did everything it could to keep schools open, but the advice has changed – this is a rapidly changing situation – and in order to counter the impact of the virus it became necessary to keep the schools closed.
However, unlike last March, when similar actions were taken, this time there is a chink of light. The UK has approved the use of two vaccines which have the potential to defeat this virus and, before too long, allow us to lift the restrictions and return to normal. The vaccines are already being rolled out to some critical workers, elderly people and those with serious health conditions, and the pace of this roll out will increase very shortly. So the fight-back has begun.
I do not accept the imposition of these restrictions lightly. I am in constant touch with Ministers, as well as local health chiefs and councils, to see if there are other ways in which we might counter the effects of the virus. I am also putting pressure on the government to ensure that the production and roll out of the vaccine is as quick as possible, so that the restrictions can begin to be lifted.
Whichever way round I look at things, though, whichever graphs or other evidence I see, and whatever arguments I hear, I keep coming back to the point that our hospitals here in Gloucestershire are full and if we were to relax the restrictions too soon they would be overwhelmed. This is not based on what the government is telling me – it is what the hospitals themselves are telling me. Allowing that situation to come about would carry serious and considerable health risks for all of us, our families and our friends. It is for this reason, and this reason only, that I support the measures the government is taking.
Support for businesses and the self-employed remains available. Please refer to the relevant websites (gov.uk is the best) to find out what is available, or contact your local council, who will be administering much of the help.