The first lockdown was difficult for us all. I had really hoped we would not have to repeat it.
I have always been concerned about the impact of further restrictions on our economy and people’s wellbeing. When Oxfordshire County Council recommended a move to Tier 2 restrictions for the whole county a couple of weeks ago, my fellow Conservative colleagues in Oxfordshire and I made it very clear that we were worried about the impact on our constituents’ mental health and on businesses. The hospitality sector has, in particular, faced a lot of uncertainty since the start of the pandemic. Any move to further restrictions needed to be avoided for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, we have seen significant community transmission in other parts of the country. Cases are not confined to one particular section of the population. Rather, we are seeing a spread across all age groups, including the older cohorts who do tend to be more at risk. This comes at a time when the NHS is already experiencing its normal winter pressures. It is critical that hospitals are in a position to deal with those patients with coronavirus alongside other seasonal admissions. Given all this, a second national lockdown was unavoidable. No one in Government wanted to return to that situation – it is exactly what we have been working so hard to avoid over the past few months. Ultimately, however, these are decisions made by the Government on the professional advice of the Chief Medical Officer and the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
We do not need to look far to recognise the severity of the situation. Many of our closest European neighbours are in a very similar position. France has reached a peak infection rate of 53,238, while Belgium and Spain have also experienced second waves forcing them to return to lockdowns and curfew restrictions. We know that the infection rate in the United Kingdom is only a couple of weeks behind continental Europe. We really do need to act now. The Prime Minister made that very clear when he spoke in the Commons earlier this week:
“I am sorry to say that the number of COVID patients in some hospitals is already higher than at the peak of the first wave. Even in the south-west, which has so far had lower case rates than most of the rest of the country, hospital admissions are over halfway to their first-wave peak. The latest analysis from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, published on Friday, suggests that the R remains above 1 in every part of England, which means that the virus is continuing to grow among the population. Every day that the number is above 1 is another day that the number of cases will rise, locking in more hospital admissions and, alas, more fatalities, pushing the NHS ever closer to the moment when it cannot cope.”
Having had coronavirus at the start of the pandemic earlier this year, it is not an illness which can be taken lightly. We must continue to take the threat of COVID seriously. We know the pressures the NHS faces every year over the winter period; it is vital that we ensure these services can continue to operate fully over the coming months. The generous support the Chancellor has provided for businesses including the extension of the furlough scheme to March 2021 will, I hope, help keep many of our businesses going. At the same time, it is important that we have an exit strategy: the regulations state very clearly that they last for 28 days until 2 December, after which the situation will be reviewed. I am hopeful that if we all follow the current guidelines closely, we will be able to emerge from this sooner rather than later.
If there is anything I have learnt from our experience with the virus since its outbreak, it is that we all need to be more understanding and kind. We all want to be able to enjoy Christmas with our families, free of any further restrictions.