The Coronavirus represents the most serious public health crisis any of us have faced. We will get through this with the solidarity, courage, initiative and resilience that epitomises our coalfield communities here in Barnsley and South Yorkshire.
The Government are introducing new national lockdown measures. Full guidance on what you can and cannot do can be found here.
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, initially concentrated in London and the South East, but now rates of infection and hospitalisation are rising extremely quickly in every region of the UK. The new variant of the virus is 50% to 70% more infectious and transmissible and we must do all we can to limit its spread. 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 and prevent our NHS and hospitals from being overwhelmed in the toughest winter we have 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 the most vulnerable residents. We need an ambitious target of 2 million vaccines per week by the end of January, and the Government must work with our hospitals, GPs surgeries and Local Authorities to accelerate the vaccination programme. 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 near future.
This vaccination plan must come alongside a comprehensive package of financial support for workers and businesses, assistance for schools and students to ensure no young person is further disadvantaged and a long-term recovery plan to level up the economy. Earlier today, I called for Christmas compensation for businesses in South Yorkshire: the support on offer was inadequate under Tier 3 and must now be urgently reviewed by the Treasury under this new lockdown.
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. For the sake of our families, our communities, and our businesses, everyone needs to play their part.
As your local MP and as the South Yorkshire Mayor I have been working flat out with our local councils, our Directors of Public Health, the NHS, Public Health England, Government Ministers and Number 10 to ensure that Barnsley and South Yorkshire have the resources and tools at our disposal to respond to this crisis.
I would like to pay tribute to the more than 70,000 people across the country who have lost their lives to this horrible disease and extend my deepest sympathies to their families, friends and loved ones. Every death represents a family in mourning and a community devastated.
I’d also like to offer my heartfelt gratitude to those front-line workers – the health and social care workers; the retail, transport and postal workers; the staff in our Local Authorities delivering vital services, to name just a few – who are working flat out to protect our most vulnerable and keep our communities going. Thank you.
Every home in Britain has been touched by the Coronavirus. Whether through losing a relative, serving as a key worker, or enduring profound disruption to everyday life. We will overcome this virus, together, by maintaining our collective resolve, continuing to follow the rules and taking every measure to contain this disease. Lives depend upon it.