In my last column I wrote about my pleasure as the country prepared to take its biggest step to date out of lockdown. It’s therefore with a sense of frustration, no doubt shared with many readers, that we have not moved to the final destination – full lifting of lockdown. I have to say that my overall hunch is that the majority reluctantly accept the case for this pause (and let us hope it is a pause). We clearly have a case of caution in the face of a new variant, leaving time for many more of us to be double jabbed.
Personally, I share the sense of disappointment at this exciting moment being curtailed until July, and worry about the possibility of further delay. I’m relieved that the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers, such as Cabinet Secretary of State Michael Gove, have stressed the strong likelihood of fully exiting restrictions on 19th July. I cannot believe Boris Johnson will have made this decision with anything other than the heaviest of hearts. This remains a very difficult crisis to govern through, but once again, attention turns to the vaccine.
I must have written about the vaccine program in almost every column since Covid-19 was first let loose on our shores. Nationally, an amazing 30 million people have now received both doses and locally we have been leading the country on roll-out. As the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has repeatedly stressed, we are in a race between the vaccine and the virus. So, it’s a case of once more to the breach for getting jabs into as many arms as possible. Everyone aged 21 and over is now eligible for vaccination, and we have reduced the gap between vaccinations to just 8 weeks to speed up the roll-out.
The significance of this last point is that, for all the gloom of remaining in restrictions, we have very positive data on the impact of receiving two jabs of the AZ or Pfizer vaccines, with 92% and 96% efficacy against hospitalisation from the Delta variant respectively. And once again apologies for repetition, but if you are eligible for your first or second jab please take it up at the earliest opportunity. There is only one sustainable way to exit all restrictions whilst minimising wider health risks, and that is to maximise vaccine delivery in the fastest possible time. And for all that the NHS are doing an amazing job, they can only inject this magical source of hope into arms that present themselves in our health centres and other hubs.
Whilst we haven’t taken the step forward we all wanted, at least we have the consolation of not going backwards. The last unlocking remains in place: being able to drink inside a pub; hug loved ones; meet friends and family indoors again; go to museums and galleries. But there is one particular activity, so common in our summer months and so timeless in significance for those concerned, which has taken a pounding throughout the pandemic: getting married.
My four children are some way from the sort of age where this great and glorious commitment looms onto the horizon, but I do sympathise very strongly with those constituents who have written to me in despair about the postponement of another date for their son’s or daughter’s betrothal.
Hence, my relief that the Prime Minister was able to provide some easing of current wedding restrictions, crucially removing the 30-people attendance maximum. I hope that this is also gives some comfort to the myriad of South Suffolk businesses involved in the wedding sector.
Overall, these remain tough times, but I sincerely believe it is the case that this lockdown era’s cessation has been delayed, not permanently diminished.
Published in the Suffolk Free Press.