You will doubtless all have seen that the Prime Minister gave a press conference yesterday evening regarding the Coronavirus. There has been a decision to enter a lockdown for four weeks from Thursday night until the beginning of December.
This is obviously a drastic step that nobody wanted to happen. I know that our Member of Parliament, John Baron, will be considering the information and evidence surrounding the case for lockdown alongside other MPs in the coming days, ahead of the vote in Parliament.
Essex was recently moved from Moderate to High alert, as part of the Government’s relatively new ‘tiering’ system. I appreciate, then, it will come as a shock to find the Government now effectively placing the whole nation into a second lockdown. We all know that the Prime Minister was extremely reluctant to enter a second lockdown and had high hopes for a more regional approach. It is probably a measure of how fast this situation is moving that this decision has been taken with such apparent suddenness. As our MP, Mr Baron will now have to scrutinise the evidence for lockdown (and, knowing him as I do, I am sure he will particularly wish to understand more about the support available for businesses).
For my own part, such as it is, I will level with you all. I am totally at sixes and sevens over the Covid response. What is the right thing to do? It seems almost impossible to know with any certainty, with so many conflicting opinions throughout both the political and scientific communities, not to mention the sheer tonnage of speculation, conspiracy theories, conjecture and hearsay across the various media platforms, old and new. It often feels like there is always some talking head willing to offer a contrarian opinion and whatever the Government does will be wrong, in some people’s minds. I suspect Boris Johnson is damned either way.
Of course, my gut reaction is that another lockdown is obviously awful. Clearly, it is going to have a catastrophic economic impact and terrible consequences for individuals, particularly the most vulnerable. My initial response to the news was, frankly, anger. But I honestly do not know what the alternative is. It seems clear from the data – and the prospect of another 80,000 dead from Covid-19 over the winter, not to mention what happens if the NHS reaches capacity – that the Government has to do something. No responsible government can look at that and simply do nothing.
As you all know, I went out to bat for Essex County Council over the Tier 2 decision. Then, as now, I do not really know if it is for the best. But it is what those wiser than I say must be done. I deprecate the loss of liberty this entails, not to mention the colossal cost to future generations. Nevertheless, I took the view early on in this pandemic that I would accept the official advice.
I must say, I am rather in awe of those who feel qualified to poke holes, split hairs, quibble over figures and dispute statistics with the top scientific advisors in the land, apparently confident that something they heard on Facebook or a YouTube channel trumps the experts advising the Prime Minister. I wish I had the kind of self-assuredness to believe that my own assessment of the situation was the right one but, oddly, my GCSE in science has not sufficiently equipped me to argue with the likes of Sir Patrick Vallance or Professor Whitty. Generally-speaking, such a supine and passive stance would be anathema to me but, with so many lives hanging in the balance, my maxim has been “To know that you are ignorant is a great step towards knowledge.” So, I shall do as I am told.
In the meantime, the strong message I have received from local NHS leaders is that people should continue to seek treatment for non-Covid health issues. Please do not put off contacting your GP or seeking emergency treatment where necessary.
For Billericay East residents, please do not hesitate to contact me with any problems or queries you may have about your own circumstances and any help or assistance that may be available. My email is email@example.com.
An overview of some of the PM’s points are below for ease of reference:
On Monday, the Prime Minister will set out his plans before the House of Commons. On Wednesday, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate and vote on these measures which, if passed, will come into force on Thursday.
- The public must stay at home, and may only leave home for limited reasons, including: education; work or volunteering, if it is impossible for do this from home; exercise and recreation outdoors; medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; provision of care for a child – including informal childcare – or vulnerable person. There is no exemption for staying away from home on holiday – so people cannot do so in this country or elsewhere – but people can stay away for work where necessary.
- Non-essential shops, pubs, bars, restaurants, leisure and entertainment venues will all be closed – but will be able to provide takeaway. Essential shops will stay open: there is no need for people to stock up.
- Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home – for example in the construction or manufacturing sectors.
- Adults living alone will still be able to form support bubbles, and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.
- Those who are clinically vulnerable, or over the age of 70, will be advised to be especially careful to follow the rules, to minimise their contacts with others, and not to go to work if they are unable to work from home. The Government will not ask people to shield in the same way again
- Extend Furlough for November. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – known as the furlough scheme – will be extended until the end of November to cover the new restrictions with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked.
- Support for businesses forced to close. Business premises which are legally forced to close to receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month in England.
- Additional support for local authorities. £1.1 billion will also be provided to Local Authorities to enable them to support businesses.
But there will be some differences compared to March:
- These are time-limited measures. On the 2 December, we will seek to ease restrictions, on a local and regional basis, according to the latest data.
- The priority remains keeping young people in education – so formal and informal childcare, early years settings, schools, colleges and universities will all remain open. Our senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be.
- We will also keep provision for non-COVID-19 healthcare needs going. We will continue to say clearly to the public that unless their clinicians tell them otherwise they should continue to use the NHS, get their scans, turn up for their appointments and pick up their treatments.
The Prime Minister and his advisors believe this aggressive action allows us the prospect of a better December. The alternative would be even more stringent and longer-lasting interventions through Christmas and thereafter into the New Year.
I hope you are all keeping well and stay safe.