Earlier this week we heard the Prime Minister’s road map for cautiously easing Covid-19 restrictions in England. Learning from recent previous experience, there is a more cautious, more prudent approach based on ‘data, not dates’ and the easing of restrictions will be subject to regular review.
Four new tests must be met before a new set of restrictions are lifted. Firstly, the vaccine programme continues to be rolled out successfully, secondly, the data shows that the vaccines are effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths, thirdly, infection rates do not risk putting pressure on the NHS and finally, the assessments of the risks are not fundamentally changed by new variants of the virus. As long as these tests are met, the roadmap can progress, as they currently are.
Since last December, we have all learnt so much more about the virus, its impact on our daily lives and how it almost spiralled out of control with the recent virulent variant which has impacted us so much here in Hastings and Rye. We have also developed better, more effective treatments for the virus and, of course, the life-saving vaccines, which are a game changer for the UK. Despite these advances since the lockdown restrictions were first lifted in June 2020, it is absolutely right that a more cautious approach is now taken and that we look to see how the easing of restrictions impacts on the virus rates before we lift further ones.
The vaccine programme in Sussex is progressing extremely well and across East Sussex the vaccine has been offered to all the top four priority groups and we are now moving down the cohorts, in line with the national guidance. The NHS is working incredibly hard to make sure everyone in these groups, who wants to take up the offer of a vaccine, has been able to. I really encourage people to take up the vaccine as this will offer protection not only for yourselves, but for our community.
I am impressed with the progress being made with the local vaccination programme, which does appear to be inhibiting the spread of the virus. This is encouraging but does not mean we are out of the woods yet; our health and social care system is still extremely busy, hospitals are seeing very high demand on services and we have a high number of people in hospital beds with COVID-19. It will take time for the pressure and demand that the NHS has been under to reduce, as cases of the virus in the community come down. I know the local NHS is grateful to everyone for their support as staff do everything they can to protect us all from COVID-19.
There have always been arguments regarding the benefits or otherwise of lockdowns, but even those who question the benefits of lockdown cannot deny that the lifting of restrictions should be cautious and guided by data on prevalence and incidence of the virus. We cannot go back into another lockdown. Whilst some might argue that we lifted restrictions too soon in the past, the Prime Minister has always focused on saving lives as his number one priority and this comes at a higher economic cost.
This has been an incredibly tough year, with rates of coronavirus increasing exponentially from November to January in Hastings and Rye. I saw you all pull together in adhering to the lockdown restrictions, which has resulted in our rates plummeting. Hastings and Rye residents have been amazing in working together as a community to protect each other from this terrible virus and reduce infection rates and subsequent deaths. This cautious roadmap is intended to ensure that, with the successful deployment of the vaccine programme and a steady approach out of lockdown, this should be our last one.
I am delighted that so many residents are taking up their vaccine and would urge those who have not yet done so, to get their vaccine and continue do their bit to help protect us all in our communities, as well as continuing to adhere to social distancing measures and national guidance. Together, we can make this our last lockdown and finally return to near normality this summer.