From this week, the Government are introducing new national lockdown measures. I know how frustrating and disheartening this news will be after an incredibly challenging year, but these restrictions are necessary to save lives and to prevent our NHS from becoming overwhelmed. We’ve seen alarming increases in cases in recent weeks, with rates of infection and hospitalisation now rising extremely quickly in every region of the UK. The new variant of the virus is 50% to 70% more infectious and transmissible. Hundreds of people are losing their lives on a daily basis. Every day without decisive action means more will die and our hospitals will be unable to care for those who are desperately ill. It’s devastating for families and businesses to start the New Year with tighter restrictions – but this is the only way we will save lives; protect our NHS; and get through the toughest winter we have ever faced.
Our experience from the first wave of the pandemic shows that lockdown works to break the cycle of transmission, get the ‘R’ rate below 1 and buy us precious time. But that time must be used effectively. The Government’s focus must be on ensuring that our NHS has the resources it needs to care for the sick and it must progress at warp speed to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine, starting with our most vulnerable residents. An effective, reliable and safe vaccine is our surest route to overcome this wretched virus. The fact that we have vaccines on stream and being delivered across the country – including to local Barnsley residents – is an enormous source of hope and optimism that life can, and will, return normal in the not too distant future. We need an ambitious target of 2 million vaccines per week if we to meet the Prime Minister’s own target of vaccinating the top four priority groups by the middle of February. The rollout of this vaccination programme is going to be the biggest peacetime logistical challenge the state has faced in living memory – perhaps ever – and the Government must work with our hospitals, GPs surgeries, Local Authorities and communities to accelerate the programme.
This vaccination plan must come alongside a comprehensive package of financial support for workers and businesses – including the estimated 3 million self-employed workers and traders who haven’t received a penny in support since March 2020 and are yet again excluded from the Government’s latest package of support. It must mean that every child has the equipment and the internet connection to access remote learning, so that the disruption to our children’s learning caused by the closure of schools and colleges is minimised as far as possible. And it must be accompanied by a long-term, transformative investment plan that would deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitment to level up the North and empower Mayors and local leaders to build a stronger, greener and fairer economy.
I understand just how weary and frustrated many people will be, but the lockdown in March reduced the spread of the virus, and if we all follow the rules, this one will as well. The For the sake of our families, our communities, and our businesses, everyone needs to play their part to save the lives of our fellow citizens. The sacrifice shown by all our local residents over the last nine months has been truly incredible and the prospect of being able to see our loved ones once more is within reach – if we stick to the rules and the Government deliver on their pledges to get Britain vaccinated.