Tomorrow marks the end of the first week in Tier 3 lockdown for Barnsley and South Yorkshire. On the news this week, I saw a chart that illustrated Coronavirus figures in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. Our four local authorities were in the top five places; Barnsley’s infection rate of 545.6 was the highest in the region and has continued to rise this week. This is one league table where we do not want to be at the top.
I completely understand the weariness and the worry people are experiencing at these restrictions. After the progress we made over the summer, the return to stricter restrictions is enormously frustrating. Many of you will be fearing for your families, your livelihoods, your future. Some will be wondering if these measures are worth it. Those feelings are understandable. But we should be under no illusions. These measures are needed. The scientific advice is that they can help.
No-one wants to spend a moment longer in Tier 3 than in absolutely necessary; these restrictions will help us to regain control of infection rates, ease the pressures on our NHS and enable life to return to a sense of normality.
It’s tempting to ignore what will happen if we don’t act. It’s tempting to think that because new restrictions are not a silver bullet they are not worth the disruption. We don’t have the luxury of easy choices. But I have no doubt this was the right one to make. From last week, it was clear we had to act. Last Friday night, on the eve of restrictions coming into force, I spoke to the Head of Barnsley Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). What I was told laid bare the reality of the enormous pressure our NHS services are under. The number of people being admitted to our region’s hospitals has roughly doubled in the past week, with no signs of abating in the immediate future. Worryingly high numbers of patients are in ICU and receiving specialist care. Local Barnsley residents are losing their lives, and the stark reality is that without progress on tackling this virus, the death rate will only rise.
The overwhelming priority for us all is saving lives and protecting our NHS – before winter really starts to bite. Of course, saving lives must also go together with saving livelihoods. That’s why we’ve secured significant extra funding to support our businesses and workers and I’m working to get more. I am working flat out with South Yorkshire’s local councils, our NHS, and the Government to ensure that we have what we need to get the virus under control. Local lockdowns can buy time, but it must not be wasted – and that means fixing the failures that allowed things to reach this point, especially around Test-and-Trace.
But I need everyone to do their bit. This is not just about keeping yourself safe. It’s about doing right by your neighbours, your friends, your community. It’s about doing right by our NHS. We owe NHS staff – and other front-line workers, from retail staff to bus drivers – a deep debt of gratitude. The best way to express it is to follow the rules. If we don’t, we risk their sacrifice, and ours, being in vain. That is why I am asking people in South Yorkshire to tap again into the grit and character which have got us through so many difficult times before. Together, we can and will get through this.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30 October 2020