Throughout the pandemic as a Government we have had to make difficult choices, whereby we balance different risks, taking expert advice on the data available and the implications thereof. I know that there is a lot of focus in the media on the ‘Indian’ variant of the virus, now circulating in much of the country. However, I am confident that we have done the right thing in taking our biggest step out of lockdown this week: reopening indoor hospitality, so that we can once again enjoy a drink in our local without fear having to defy the elements.
We are also allowing indoor mixing again, including cautious advice permitting hugging. As a parent, I can now think about taking my children to a museum. Limited crowds are returning to sport, and I took a great deal of personal pleasure of watching the FA Cup final with a real roar from real fans (especially as the winning goal was more than worthy of such a response). Some have even had the pleasure of departing for foreign shores.
We are reopening society; restarting our economy; restoring liberties that must only have been temporarily suspended, as part of the great collective effort to ward off the pandemic. But of course, to have come this far it’s entirely right that those in authority proceed with caution. Out and about for the recent elections I got the sense that the overwhelming majority of people back that approach – unlocking, but cautiously, with a timetable designed to minimise risk.
Having said that, lockdowns are damaging. They are not just economically harmful, but have huge (often hidden) social consequences that chip away at mental health and general wellbeing. We must do everything possible to avoid the need to extend the current lockdown beyond June 21st.
On the domestic front, the means going even further and faster with what has already been an incredible effort by our NHS and vaccine teams to get jabs into more than two thirds of the adult population. Indeed, 20m have now had both. We are now close to the point where those in their mid-30s will be asked to present.
Locally, the picture is even more positive. We have now given two doses of the vaccine to 45% of the local adult population and 75% of cohort 10 (aged 40-49) have now received their first dose.
I know it’s been said before but there’s a reason we keep saying it: if you are eligible, please go and get jabbed. The reason we keep saying it has been borne out in Bolton, where it appears that a significant portion of those in hospital with the Indian Variant were eligible for the vaccine but did not choose to take it up. This has been a matter of huge frustration to Ministers and colleagues in Westminster.
An important point about the Indian Variant is that it is a powerful reminder that this really is a global pandemic. Whilst the virus is rampant abroad, especially in developing nations, we will remain vulnerable to potential new variants that could even have the ability to circumvent our vaccine shield. We shouldn’t panic overly about that possibility, not least as boosters can be deployed later in the year.
Nevertheless, it underlines why the global vaccine fight matters as much as that at home and in the Commons this week, responding to an update from Health Secretary Matt Hancock, I joined him in praising the fact that our Oxford AZ vaccine has been delivered to 400m people worldwide. We should all be proud of that.
Published in the Suffolk Free Press.