Why I support the Government on a strengthen Local Tier System.
In recent weeks, families and businesses in England have, once again, observed nationwide restrictions and managed to slow the growth of new COVID-19 cases and eased the worst pressures on our NHS. Therefore, on 2 December, the Government ended the month of national restrictions in England as we said we would.
The data is now beginning to show a downward curve in most areas so we can loosen restrictions across the country. However, without maintaining sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating rapidly into a Winter or New Year surge. The incidence of the disease is still widespread in many areas, so we cannot remove restrictions entirely which is why the Government has taken the scientific advice and is returning to a tiered system based on local levels of infections and hospitalisations.
I have read through emails I have had from my constituents about the regional tier system and listened to the arguments opposing it. Please be assured that this was not a decision I or the Government took lightly. I am acutely aware of the impact that these new measures will have on the economy and people’s well-being. But I am afraid they are necessary if we are to keep the virus under control and avoid the overwhelming of the NHS and another national lockdown which would be far more damaging and restrictive than these tiers. If the NHS is overwhelmed with Covid-19 infections, it has a terrible knock-on effect on our ability to safely treat patients with all the other types of illnesses which they usually manage.
Additionally, the incidence of high infection rates can have implications for services other than just the NHS. In Essex, we have already had difficulties when, for example, large numbers of teaching staff, postal workers and train drivers have been ill or self-isolating at the same time. So, not only is COVID-19 a nasty illness for many people, with possible long-term effects for those who subsequently suffer from “Long COVID”, high levels of infection can have a real impact on people’s daily lives.
Despite Essex currently being in Tier 2, Castle Point has a lot to look forward to and to be optimistic about now that we have left the national lockdown – even in Tier 2. For the overwhelming majority of people, it will seem like life returning to a lot closer to normal: all shops have reopened; hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons have reopened; sports facilities including our golf clubs and gyms have reopened; cinemas, theatres, museums, bingo halls and visitor attractions are able to reopen; pubs and cafes have reopened but (in Tier 2) can only serve alcohol with a “substantial meal”, and last orders are at 10 pm although people don’t have to leave until 11 pm; you can meet in groups of up to six people, but not inside (in Tier 2); you no longer need to “stay at home” and can leave for any reason; and you can stay overnight but only with your household or bubble.
Whilst I do want Castle Point to be in Tier 1, particularly to help pubs, for many of us Tier 2 will feel like a real liberation. Tier 2 has opened back up the economy for most of Castle Point, hospitality playing a large role within our constituency can now resume should they serve food, as well as other venues. The knock-on effect that businesses being able to open again has within the local economy is extremely significant in terms of spending and families being able to support their families.
I am also pleased the Government’s regulations will allow a brief period of relaxation of the social contact restrictions over the Christmas period, to apply across the whole of the UK, to allow up to three households to form an exclusive ‘bubble’ to meet at home and go to places of worship during the period between 23 and 27 December inclusive. Whilst Christmas cannot be normal this year, it is vital that we can still see our loved ones during the festive period – even if it is for a shorter amount of time than usual.
It is also very promising that we now have a working vaccine that has been approved for use, with the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be rolled out from Tuesday 8th December. We are the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use, with 50 hospitals across the country already set up to receive the vaccine on Tuesday, as well as vaccination centres. Care home residents and their carers will be among some of the first in line to be vaccinated. Indoor visits to care homes across England can also now take place safely, thanks to the unprecedented strides made in testing - balancing the need to control infection while allowing the reuniting of long separated families during this festive season.
This will be a very difficult Winter, but I am optimistic that things will feel different and better by the Spring. We have turned a corner and the escape route is in sight. It is vital that we do not undo all of the progress we have achieved through the national lockdown. We must hold out against the virus until testing and vaccines come to our rescue and reduce the need for restrictions.
These measures are necessary now, but they will not last forever.