Tier Restrictions

2nd December 2020

The decision on how best to contain the spread of Covid over the Christmas period is very hard. 

No one wants to have to see the curtailing of our liberties, and the damage to our local hospitality and retail sector.  Of course we all wish we could get on with a normal Christmas season.

But we have to accept that the seriousness of this disease means that this year we can’t.

  • 50,000 people have already died from Covid
  • It isn’t a “flu”: it is killing people young and old – and is especially dangerous for the vulnerable, sick and people with pre-existing chest conditions, and who are overweight
  • Whilst this recent lockdown has reduced the spread of the virus, 1 in 8 people are still carrying the virus. Over 3000 people died last week and hospitals in the hardest hit areas are already treating as many patients as at the spring peak, and the NHS is rapidly approaching its busiest time of the year.

Here in Mid Norfolk we have seen three times now – in Attleborough, Watton and Wymondham – how quickly the virus spreads when there is an outbreak, which then triggers more damaging local lockdowns.

Whilst I do not in any way think the Tier system is perfect – and I have been quite outspoken this year about a number of problems and failings with the over-centralised Public Health England and NHS approach which doesn’t adequately take into account the wider public health damage of lockdowns – in mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, online crime and the health impacts of redundancy and poverty – it’s clear to me that no responsible Government could simply scrap the controls.

Norfolk data

Norfolk currently has an infection rate of around 123 per 100,000. Suffolk (85 per 100,000) and Devon (98 per 100,000) both have lower rates than we do, but have also been placed within tier two.

However, the medium-term projections on daily deaths and hospital admissions in England for the next six weeks remain the same, and have not been altered: this means that, with no further action taken, we would be likely to breach the first wave of hospital admissions and deaths in a matter of weeks. At present, the R rate remains above 1 in England, meaning that infections, hospitalisations and deaths continue to double nationally.

Given that we know the virus thrives in colder temperatures, and that it is spread rapidly when people are in close proximity and sharing surfaces, it would be madness to allow the normal pre-Christmas party season.

We have to make sacrifices.  If we can continue to control the virus and get the rate down we have a chance of reducing the controls over the Christmas period so that families and loved ones can gather.

Relief for Local businesses

Businesses affected by the decision to place us in Tier 2 must be given the support they need to get through this.

Having run my own small businesses prior to coming to Parliament, and having been a Business Minister too, I am acutely aware of the effect that Covid restrictions, and social distancing measures, are having on local businesses, pubs, restaurants and shops across Norfolk.  We MUST compensate them properly.  It’s not fair to ask them to make a disproportionate sacrifice for the rest of us.

Thats why I am working day and night with the Chancellor and the Treasury, as well as officials in Norfolk and fellow parliamentary colleagues, to ensure proper support packages for those who need it most – and will continue to raise with Ministers all constituent and Business concerns that are brought to my attention – especially the challenges facing the freelance, self-employed and small business owners who do not enjoy the same cushion as bigger businesses.

We need to make sure we properly and fairly compensate the small local businesses who are hit hardest by local controls. 

Restoring Freedoms

With rates in Norfolk as a whole decreasing and the majority of our areas improving, it’s crucial that we are NOT kept in tier 2 for any longer than needed.

I have made clear to Ministers that I am only supporting these new Tiers on the basis of fortnightly reviews based on:

  • Proper data
  • Clear evidence of an ongoing risk of avoidable death and NHS overload
  • A balance between the hospital and wider public health impacts
  • A return to local controls.

(As well as campaigning to prevent Norfolk going into a regional “Tier”, I want to see greater local flexibilities so that an outbreak in, say, Thetford, doesn’t trigger a lockdown in Cromer.)

Local controls

Through this year I have been very clear that Government needs to give control over Covid containment to LOCAL councils accountable to local people as far as possible.

We need to get back to local control measures which, so far, have been very effective. Our local authorities have done amazing work to keep infection rates lower than most of the country. We must be able to exit from Tier 2 and return to Tier 1 as soon as possible if the infection rate continues to fall.

The end is in sight.

With a vaccine imminent, if we can avoid a winter surge and NHS crisis, and get as many at risk people vaccinated,  with warmer weather in the  spring we should be able to put this terrible year behind us and return to something like normal.  

BUT.  With the traditional pre-Christmas party season upon us, the worst of the NHS annual capacity crisis ahead, and the logistics of vaccinating millions of people, this is not the time to abandon our controls. 

We need one last national effort to get us safely into the New Year and towards a full roll-out of vaccinations. That is our national goal and mission. We must not give up the fight now.

If we can all keep following the Hands Face Space guidance and practicing:

  • Social distancing
  • Wearing a mask when indoors or in busy public places
  • Washing hands after any contact with public surfaces

We can all help save lives.

And we may be able to ensure that families which have been torn apart by Covid might have a chance to meet for Christmas this year.

So on the basis of the above I have made clear to Ministers that I was prepared to vote for the new controls, but that we need a serious commitment to fortnightly reviews to ensure we are avoiding all unnecessary damage to local businesses and our wider community health.

 

To see my interview on Sky News yesterday, please click here