The biggest news for the week revolves around the Coronavirus once again. Cases have begun to rise once more, and the Prime Minster has recently announced new restrictions to curb the spread of this virus as we head into the Winter months. Whilst we all understand the intended purpose of these restrictions and lockdown, we need to remember it also has a significantly detrimental impact on people’s mental and physical health, on the ability of children to receive a proper education, and on countless individual livelihoods.
Along with other MPs I am lobbying for any restrictions to be proportionate to the risk – and to take into account non Covid related health factors. The risk, is inevitably a bit of guess work supported by some science. Comparing the Coronovirus activity in other countries and assuming the same pattern will emerge here is not appropriate for so many reasons – our cultures are different, our geographies are different, we count infections and deaths differently – and I could go on. Similarly, it makes no sense at all to apply the same restrictions here in the South West as in the North. We have the lowest infection rate – and have suffered the worst economic impact.
This virus is now endemic in the community – and we have to learn to live with it. Even a vaccine isn’t full proof protection. Social distancing and hand washing are sensible with a severe outbreak. After that people need to use their common sense. However many rules you have, those that either don’t care or don’t agree will flout them. Law doesn’t make people good – it just enables you to punish them. It is impossible for the police to enforce these new laws even with the military taking over some of their other duties.
And of course this all comes at a time when we face added winter pressures. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced the largest flu vaccination programme in history. The government has extended eligibility to include everyone aged 50 and over, all school year groups to Year 7 and people who are the NHS Shielded Patient List. If you are eligible – sign up. That is a sensible way of reducing the burden on the NHS. Our local NHS tell me they are well prepared for this winter. We need to do our bit, be sensible about social distancing and hygiene - and start thinking now how we can all make this a positive Christmas to remember.
What does a virtual Christmas look like? Lets all start thinking about how we can bring and share Christmas fun. I have no doubt some communities will get together and produce U tube smash hits! We have a lot of gifted teachers, children, actors and singers who could produce something quite special in and for our towns and villages working across town and parish groups and with the church. What can we do in place of the annual Pantomime? Some choirs are already creating some magnificent recordings with every singer contributing from their homes! Technology can make almost anything happen!
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has I am pleased to say recognised that business needs more help after furlough arrangements expire next month. Under the new Job Support Scheme, companies will continue to pay employees for time worked, but the burden of hours not worked will be shared equally between the employee, employer and government – one third each way. The Scheme will open from 1 November and run for six months. Employers can use the Job Support Scheme as well as claim the Jobs Retention Bonus. The SEISS grant will also be extended to provide 20% of three-month earnings, for November to January. And the 5% VAT rate will now continue until March 2021!
So maybe the Christmas spirit has in a small way – started early!
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