This Easter weekend is an opportunity to enjoy the long weekend, to get a decent break and to spend time – in a Covid-secure way! – with family, friends and loved ones. Whatever your personal beliefs, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the universal message of the Easter story: one of hope, life and new beginnings.
For many that message will be bittersweet this year. Over 125,000 people across the country have lost their lives to this wretched disease, including hundreds here in Barnsley. Thousands of Barnsley residents have put themselves in harm’s way to keep others safe. Everybody has seen their lives touched by this global pandemic.
This week has brought the second step in the roadmap out of lockdown, with the return of the ‘rule of six’ to enable two households to meet up outdoors and in private gardens and pubs able to reopen their doors for outdoor service. This is a welcome step after months of lockdown and isolation from our nearest and dearest, and I know that local folk will want to make the most of this unlocking – it’s only natural. That makes it even more important that we continue to abide by the rules that are in place and not be tempted to race ahead of the roadmap.
We are seeing good progress across the country with hospitalisation and death rates falling rapidly, pressures on our NHS beginning to ease and the remarkable progress the NHS and community is making in rolling out the vaccine. However, our Covid rates in South Yorkshire remain stubbornly high, at roughly three times the national average. Partly this is because of the nature of our regional economy – fewer people can work from home in South Yorkshire than compared to more affluent parts of the country – and partly because the Government have failed, since the start of the pandemic, to give workers and businesses the tools to do the right thing and self-isolate when they develop symptoms or are told to by NHS Test-and-Trace.
Test-and-Trace boss Dido Harding recently told a Parliamentary Committee that around 20,000 people per day are failing to self-isolate. Largely this is because the support available in pitifully low if you don’t qualify for occupational sick pay. No-one should be left facing the impossible choice of whether to do the right thing by their neighbours and self-isolate or be unable to feed their kids. It’s self-defeating and puts the Government’s entire strategy at risk and could be easily remedied. The Government should do what I’ve been calling for almost a year and increase the level of self-isolation support and widen the eligibility criteria. That would help ensure that we keep to the road out of lockdown.
Of course, we can all do our bit too to bring closer the day when restrictions can be lifted for good. Those who are eligible – families with children in education and those unable to work from home – can book asymptomatic testing at the Metrodome to identify and isolate cases that would otherwise be spreading in the community. We can all continue to follow the rules and get the basics right. Most importantly, we can get the vaccine when it is offered and talk to friends and family about the importance of getting jabbed. We can all be confident that the finishing line is almost in touching distance, providing we stay the course. I hope that you and your family have a very happy, peaceful and socially distanced Easter!