Second National Lockdown
As we have moved towards and into the second national lockdown, I have been receiving hundreds of e-mails on a wide range of concerns ranging from the science behind the lockdowns and visits to care homes to the closure of gyms and places of worship.
I’m happy to explain why I support this second lockdown, and the different ways I have been representing constituents.
Hospitals across the country are seeing serious increases in Covid-related admissions, and in some places intensive care units currently have more Covid cases than they did even at the peak of the first wave in the spring. As the NHS heads into the busy winter period, it is absolutely vital that it is not overwhelmed. That would be an unthinkable crisis for our country. The last lockdown succeeded in slowing the virus down considerably and that’s what we need again now, or the tens of thousands of deaths will soar to hundreds of thousands.
These tighter restrictions are challenging – there is no doubt about it. I supported Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Labour Party’s call to introduce a circuit breaker as recommended by the Government’s own scientific advisors, which I believe would have allowed us to have a shorter lockdown and therefore saved more lives and livelihoods.
Locally our two main hospitals North and South Tees are under considerable pressure and I know from the briefings I have had that we need to take drastic action to ensure they are not overrun and can cope with the virus, winter flu and other work at this time.
While the Government’s decision to lockdown has been taken late, I only hope this month will create the break we need to reduce infections which in turn will help safeguard the NHS.
Most gyms are closed environments which encourage aerosol transmission through exercise, even when people socially distance. However, I recognise the vital importance of gyms for many in maintaining both their mental and physical health.
I am calling on the Government to put wellbeing at the heart of its lockdown strategy and to make sure that sports and leisure facilities where socially distanced activity can take place reopen as soon as it is possible to do so.
Places of Worship
I value the contribution faith communities make to our society enormously, not only in their spiritual leadership, but in the way they serve the most vulnerable members of our community who fall through gaps left by the state.
While I support the lockdown, I believe the way in which the latest lockdown restrictions were announced shows a disconnect with faith groups, and a lack of appreciation for the importance of places of worship to our communities.
I will continue to call on the Government to set out what steps it intends to take to ensure vital places of worship aren’t lost from our communities as a result of Covid-19, and for them to hold weekly meetings with the Places of Worship Taskforce to ensure faith leaders are consulted and provided with support ahead of important festivals.
Care home visits
I have written to the Health Minister a number of times on this issue, emphasising the importance of visits for the wellbeing of those in care homes and their loved ones, and I raised it with a Health Minister in a meeting last week.
There has been some movement from the Government in this area and the policy has been somewhat updated though does not yet allow for the physical contact of hugs or holding hands. I agree with many others that the Government has to provide a regular testing system for at least one family member who could then visit, as well as a testing system that works effectively and quickly for care home staff and residents. I will continue to make the case for safe visits to care homes in the coming months.
The decision by the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme for workers until the end of March is welcome and should go a long way to supporting businesses in our area. That said, there are many who may not get the support they need under the schemes. I have raised in particular the problems being faced by self-employed people and some who operate their businesses through a limited company. The link below should provide the latest information available on business support.
It has been a fast-changing situation in recent months and in some cases it is taking months to hear back from Ministers, but I will always do my best to raise concerns and press for answers. I have already raised specific constituent concerns both in writing and in person with Government Ministers about care home visiting policies, the mental health impacts of the pandemic, theatre funding, the lack of support for the self-employed, the initial complete lack of support for businesses in Tier 2, among many others and will continue to do so.
These are difficult times for us all. There are many different views among constituents about what the best approach to managing the pandemic should be, and I appreciate everyone who gets in contact to share their thoughts on this important issue with me.
Please do not hesitate to get in contact with me if you have any concerns that I may be able to assist with even though responses from the Government are taking some time. I will always do my absolute best to assist in any way I can.
Please rest assured that I will always represent the best interests of my constituents in meetings with the Government and any parliamentary votes throughout this challenging time.
You may find the following links helpful on the rules around the lockdown and support from the Government and Stockton Borough Council.