I entirely understand that many people are frustrated that over half a year since full lockdown we have heard much of that word again, at a time when many are understandably tiring of the situation. Nobody – least of all the Prime Minister – wants to govern a country through the temporary removal of cherished freedoms. Each imposition, from face coverings to ‘the rule of 6’, is not something any Government would want to be legislating for in normal times. But these are very far from normal times.
The latest iteration of Covid rules contains significant measures, even though nationally the package amounts to far from a full lockdown, and is in a context where we are doing everything possible to keep businesses, schools and colleges open. Yet we must remember that these measures have come about because the most senior government scientists advised us that they were necessary to avoid losing control of what is irrefutably a second wave of infection. Yes, some dispute such action because they argue that the rate of hospitalisation seems to be lower, or are more broadly sceptical about scientific advice, or about specific aspects of the advice – though whilst I accept there may be questions raised over individual measures, a broad-brush rejection of scientific advice would be no more wise than ignoring what one’s GP advises. I sincerely hope indications of lesser virulence are correct, but it is far from guaranteed that matters will stay that way.
The hard fact is that yesterday the UK recorded 7,143 new cases of Covid-19 - the biggest rise since the pandemic began. The UK has recorded over 6,000 daily cases on five of the last seven days, previously this mark was only exceeded twice - May 1, when there were 6,201 confirmed cases and April 5, when there were 6,199. I am sure I do not need to remind you that both figures happened when we were in full lockdown with schools closed and much more severe restrictions in place. It is also worth noting that, on average, we are currently processing more than triple the amount of tests that were processed at the beginning of May.
I hope you are reassured that the Prime Minister last week stressed his strong desire to avoid a new national lockdown. What is certainly true is that if rules are to be tightened you cannot wait till the infection level is out of control, you have to time any adjustment to impact on behaviour whilst it is still likely to result in reduced infection. Hence, the sense in which we are acting whilst much of the country has a low level of infection – including Suffolk.
In particular, as your MP and PPS to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am profoundly aware of the economic impact of local and national lockdown measures. We are in tough times, and whilst I am proud of the unprecedented support the Treasury have put in place to help employers and employees with multi-billion pound loan and grant support, the only sustainable way forward is to get on top of the infection and restore robust economic growth. That is primarily how we will restore financial health and start to repay the exceptional debt this crisis has created.
Above all, on a personal note I am a lover of liberty. I know the Prime Minister is too. Britain has a great tradition of governing through consent and relying on trust rather than diktat. But such an approach is tested by a major national crisis. This pandemic has challenged Governments all round the world, with the richest country on earth, the USA, recently recording over 200,000 deaths, and now over a million confirmed worldwide. Ultimately the only way forward is finding a balance between on the one hand keeping the economy and society open, whilst on the other hand optimising relatively undisruptive ways to bear down on social interaction, and therefore infection rates.
I would like to assure my constituents that I am taking every opportunity to feed through the Government’s channels, to the relevant Ministers and advisers, my personal concerns and those expressed so clearly by constituents such as yourself. I am profoundly aware of the need to carry the public with us through these difficult times and will do everything possible to ensure that happens.