Last night, MPs voted on the new localised tier system. I have received lots of emails from concerned constituents. I can assure them all that I understand the strength of feeling on this matter. The past year has been difficult for us all. Everyone I hear from seems to have their own individual perspective of the Government’s response to the pandemic and the ongoing restrictions.
However, we all share the same view that we want a route out of the pandemic. It does seem to be on the horizon. During the recent national lockdown we have seen real breakthroughs in treatment, testing and vaccines. Today’s news that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for widespread use is another step in the right direction. To get to the point where life can once again return closer to normality, we need to get through the winter months without the virus spreading more widely.
While infection levels have started to fall – including in Cherwell – they are still higher than we would like and the pressure on hospitals remains severe. I speak to our local decision makers and health providers every week to understand the situation in our area. I have always felt that our hospitals must be able to look after those suffering from coronavirus, while dealing with the normal winter pressures and keeping other clinics, appointments and routine surgery going. It is a careful balancing act.
Before the second lockdown, my Oxfordshire Conservative MP colleagues and I had been vocal in our concerns about a possible move to Tier 2 restrictions. We have always made it clear that we are worried about both the impact on people’s wellbeing and on businesses, particularly the hospitality sector. The Managing Director of Hook Norton Brewery and I are in almost daily contact.
Ultimately, however, tier decisions are made by the Government on the professional advice of the Chief Medical Officer and the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Five key indicators were used: case detection rates in all age groups; case detection rates in the over 60s; the rate at which cases are rising or falling; positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken); and, pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy. While there have been improvements across the key indicators, the expert view is clearly that the case rate in Oxfordshire is still too high for us to return to Tier 1.
We know that there will be an opportunity to review all tier allocations on 16 December. Until then, it is more important than ever that we follow the guidelines carefully. We are still free to leave our homes for any reason. Shops have reopened for Christmas, as have hairdressers, nail bars, gyms, churches, synagogues. Mosques and temples. Support will be available for hospitality and hard-hit businesses and I will continue to make sure the concerns of my constituents are known to my Ministerial colleagues – both informally and formally.
Having joined a call with the Prime Minister yesterday evening, he spoke convincingly of why we need to follow this course of action to keep people safe. I share his view. Only by keeping the virus under control through these local measures will we be able to see friends and family over Christmas in a relatively safe way while managing the threat the virus still poses.
We are in a completely different position now. With the approval of the first vaccine, we can now begin the roll out to those most at risk to coronavirus. The end is in sight.