When the lockdown began in March, nobody could be sure how long this would last. Many of us hoped that it would be short lived, but very quickly we accepted that it would be many more months before things return fully to normal.
On Monday the Prime Minister announced a new nationwide lockdown, and Parliament has been recalled today to consider the restrictions. I had hoped we would avoid the necessity to consider a new lockdown or impose new restrictions. No one would have wished to start 2021 with another national lockdown.
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.
Helping Local Businesses
I recognise the economic harm that lockdowns and restrictions have done to business and our economy nationally. Over the last nine months I have been helping hundreds of local businesses with queries, getting grants, and speaking to banks on their behalf. Since March, I have also been raising concerns about those who have not been able to access Government support, in particular some self-employed people, the events and arts sectors, and the hospitality industry and supply chain.
I also recognise the restriction on liberty all of the Covid-19 measures have led to. I understand the call from many that people should be trusted to balance their own risk. However, whilst I know that my constituents have and will act responsibly, it is not clear this is possible with a highly infectious disease where there is individual risk and risk shared across society. I am also aware that lockdowns can have serious implications for mental health and for treatment of other serious conditions.
Striking the Right Balance
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. This is not a theoretical point, we saw from the first wave how hospital capacity can be severely challenged by this disease, and there are examples across Europe of what can happen if a health service cannot cope with new admissions. It is also true that the increase in hospitalisations in the current wave are causing more general wards to be converted for Covid patients.
There are those that dispute that the NHS is under strain. This is not what I am being told by the chief executives of our local hospitals, who tell me the numbers of patients in hospital is exceeding the peak of the first surge, and increasing daily. Staffing at this capacity is increasingly challenging and it would be negligent for me to ignore their concerns. To show the seriousness of this situation in our local hospitals, and the strain NHS staff are under, I would encourage you to watch this BBC report from St George’s Hospital.
The Vaccine Rollout is Underway
Clearly the rollout of the vaccine is now absolutely critical. All efforts must be made to ensure the most vulnerable are vaccinated during this period of restrictions and then there is a realistic programme to vaccinate the rest of the country as quickly as possible.
There needs to be full transparency from the Government and pharmaceutical companies on how this can be achieved, numbers of people vaccinated and production capacity. There needs to be unrelenting vigilance at every point of the vaccination programme, from production to delivery, to ensure there are no delays. A delay at any stage quickly risks causing a bottleneck with huge knock on effects.
I also want to see more use of existing networks for the delivery of the vaccine, for example through pharmacies. Locally, I have asked Merton Clinical Commissioning Group for an update on the planned vaccination hubs for Wimbledon, which will be operational from next week. Please remember you will be offered a vaccine through your GP, usually by phone, in line with the prioritisation set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccinations. You can see the priority list by clicking here.
The Rules are Simple - Stay at Home
As with the first lockdown the basic rule is simple – stay at home. You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:
- shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person
- go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
- exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
- meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
- seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
- attend education or childcare - for those eligible
Colleges, primary and secondary schools will remain open only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term. Early Years settings remain open. Higher Education provision will remain online until mid February for all except future critical worker courses.
If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local in the village, town, or part of the city where you live. You may leave your local area for a legally permitted reason, such as for work.
If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. You should not attend work
You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with or are not in a support bubble with (if you are legally permitted to form one). You may exercise on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.
Full guidance can be found on the Government website here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home
Whilst well intentioned, there are inevitably going to be some anomalies and inconsistencies in the guidance. Please remember the guiding principle behind these restrictions should be to only limit what is strictly necessary to avoid overwhelming the NHS.
In response to feedback from constituents I am continuing to press the government to allow outside sports, such as singles tennis and golf, where I believe the risk of transmission to be low, to be included in the list of permissible outdoor activities, so long as appropriate precautions are taken.
Unprecedented Package of Financial Support
This is also a difficult time for many financially. I am proud of the unprecedented package of financial assistance the Government have provided, which is keeping many businesses afloat until they can resume trading. Since March I have also been making the case for improved support for those people and businesses most affected by the pandemic, in particular the self-employed events, hospitality and arts sectors. I will continue to support local businesses to ensure that as the country returns to normality they will be in a position to thrive.
For some time I have thought that pre-flight testing is necessary for incoming passengers, alongside testing at airports and greater stringency of quarantine on return. Whilst I know there is monitoring of quarantine restrictions, it could be more effective and alongside this the ‘Test to Release’ system could be far easier to access. I am raising these points with the Department for Transport.
A new package of support has been announced by the Treasury. This includes one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 per property to help businesses through to the Spring and a £594 million discretionary fund also made available to support other impacted businesses. I will continue to put pressure on Merton Council to use their discretion to support businesses who have missed out on the previous support packages.
Thank you for everything you are doing to keep our community safe, i know it is not easy.
Finally, as ever, if you need any support or assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch by email on firstname.lastname@example.org