Like many, I was frustrated that it was not possible for more Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted on 21st June. This is especially frustrating given the evident success of the vaccine rollout, a point I made in various newspapers last week.
For some the extension of the current restrictions will have little impact, as we are able to visit family and friends indoors and outdoors and go to pubs and restaurants. However, for others, this had meant the cancellation of planned parties and gatherings, and continuing difficulties for some industries, such as the travel sector, which I recently raised in Parliament. You can read my speech on this here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-10/debates/0922563F-114D-4D63-86F5-707A8DC2B434/AviationTravelAndTourismIndustries#contribution-2DB8B932-D50D-4E13-8C2B-2D9C88ECD8DF
I was pleased that some restrictions were able to be relaxed from Monday. For example, the 30-person limit for weddings, receptions and commemorative events was removed, subject to social distancing guidelines. The Government will also be running another phase of pilots for large events at higher capacities, including some at full capacity, like the Wimbledon finals.
Rules have eased in care homes, including removing the requirement for residents to isolate for 14 days after visits out.
I am always mindful to understand the rationale and concerns expressed in the scientific advice. The experts are of the view that the four criteria for the relaxation rules set out in the Covid-19 Roadmap have not been fully met. These criteria are:
- The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
- The Government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.
I had hoped that by this stage of the vaccination programme the link between cases and hospitalisations would be broken. However, it appears the delta variant being both more transmissible and more dangerous means that while the link has weakened, it has not been broken with both cases and hospitalisations rising. However, encouragingly, the evidence is increasingly that this is amongst the unvaccinated and that mortality is extremely low.
The decision about how to vote on these matters is extremely difficult and is not something I take lightly. I am fully aware that these votes on the Covid-19 regulations will be some of the most important decisions I make as your Member of Parliament. My record shows I am not afraid to vote against the Government when I judge this is in the best interests of my constituency and my country.
The balance I must weigh is that if there were no restrictions, would the rise in infections and hospitalisations continue meaning that the NHS cannot provide the level of care everybody deserves.
I must take any threat to NHS capacity seriously. If the NHS is overwhelmed this will impact anybody who requires emergency treatment for whatever reason, not just those with Covid-19.
Overall, it is clear to me that what we need is:
- The vaccine programme to continue to roll out successfully, with as many people getting their first and second doses as possible, as quickly as possible. The data is clear that the vaccines work extremely well, with the unvaccinated or those with only one dose driving the increased hospitalisations.
- There must be weekly reviews into the restrictions and the Government must explain each week the reasons for their decisions.
- I believe the Government should use the opportunity of the review of travel restrictions on 28th June to remove the need for quarantine for Green and Amber list countries, and to allow lateral flow tests to be used prior to and post travel.
- As I have said before, we must be clear as to how society will learn to live with Covid going forward, especially over winter with the additional pressures the NHS typically faces at this time of year. We know all viruses mutate and no vaccine is 100% effective, and so a zero Covid policy and future lockdowns are likely to do more harm than benefit. I am therefore pleased to see serious consideration being put into how quickly Covid booster vaccines will be given, and the flu vaccine rollout.
Finally, may I just urge everybody to book their vaccination. It is quick and easy to do online here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/ or on the phone by calling 119. If you are vaccinated, please encourage all your friends and family to book in their jab – it is the key to returning to normality, and more importantly the key to saving lives.