Yesterday’s statement by the Prime Minister at last ends lockdown, I sincerely hope forever! We return on Wednesday 2nd December to a 3-tier system. But that system will impose even more stringent measures. My fear is that most of the country will be in tier two or three with very few in tier one. In tier two that means no social gathering at home and in tier three no social gathering outside except in public places. With Devon MPs I am fighting for a place in Tier one.
At least for now, shops, gyms and the wider leisure sector will reopen giving a much-needed boost to our high streets which are suffering badly. Across our four main towns, shops are lying empty, with Teignmouth alone currently having a number of empty retails outlets and a similar amount up for sale. This lockdown has seen small, family-run, independent businesses closed and pretty much sacrificed, whilst the major out-of-town supermarkets have been able to remain open and make a fortune selling non-essential items.
What the businesses on our high streets need is clarity and confidence for their longer-term futures. This must include urgent clarity on the business rates situation for next year, including a much-needed extension to the current business rates holiday. It’s simply not right that the major supermarkets have been able to take advantage of this business rates holiday whilst making record breaking profits, whilst high street retailers who, have genuinely needed the business rates holiday in order to survive, have been forced to close.
It is also welcome that collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, subject to social distancing and that people will no longer be limited to seeing only one other person in outdoor public spaces, with the rule of 6 now applying as it did in the previous set of tiers.
Being placed in Tier 2 would have a hugely damaging impact on our hospitality sector, with pubs and bars being forced to close unless operating as restaurants. We have a number of pubs in the constituency that are ‘wet-led’ pubs and it is inherently unfair that they will be unable to open whilst another pub can open, simply because it is serving food. Much like the 10pm curfew, which has quite rightly been extended to 11pm, the Government needs to publish the evidence to show that transmission of the disease in a wet-led pub is any different to that in a restaurant, church, cinema or any other enclosed space.
Finally, on Christmas, whilst I welcome the fact that some families, pending the announcement, will be allowed to meet with a small number of other households across a short time period, I believe it is unrealistic and wrong to limit numbers and ask people to have to make a choice on who they can and cannot see. The reality is that if people want to see family members, they will just go and see them anyway.
I am enormously concerned with the talk of us having to lockdown in January in order to ‘pay’ for those 4 or 5 days over Christmas. This is utter madness. January is already a miserable time of the year for individuals and businesses, and to lock us all down again would have an even more significant impact not just on the economy but on mental health, loneliness and other non-Covid related health conditions.
The fact that so many promising vaccine candidates are emerging is fantastic news, but along side them we need a clear roadmap out of the torrid situation we find ourselves in, and to get back on track towards ‘normality’ in the spring.
Serious damage has already been caused by previous lockdowns and restrictions and I simply will not vote for measures that cause further damage to the health and wellbeing (physical and economic) of our community. A tiered system will have such a huge impact on people’s lives, their health and their businesses, and the Government needs to prove that these measures are going to save more lives than they cost. Therefore, they need to produce the risk assessment for these measures and prove beyond doubt that they have an overall benefit. So far, that evidence and the necessary assessments have not been forthcoming, and, therefore, I will be voting against the measures. We need long term planning and an exit strategy, not short term, knee-jerk reactions.