I have to admit to feeling very disappointed at the Prime Minister’s decision to increase restrictions nationally, as I have been an ardent supporter of the Government’s regional approach. Hastings and Rye has not been experiencing a high infection rate and I felt it was sensible to keep as much of our country and local economies working as far as possible where rates were low.
As you can imagine, much of my time this week, before the vote on Wednesday, was spent in meetings about these further restrictions, analysing data, questioning various experts and speaking with local public health officials.
Firstly, it is important to note that cases locally have been rising sharply – faster than expected - compared to what we experienced during the first wave. Secondly, the pattern is reported to be different from the previous outbreak, giving rise to some concern.
There is a growing concern as figures are rising across the county as they have done all over the country. In East Sussex – Hastings and Rye – we have a small number of people who have built up immunity; this leaves us vulnerable. There is no guarantee that we will maintain the low transmission rates as experienced during the spring.
More testing is being done, but the cause for concern is the increase in positive cases – including in the +65 age group. More positive cases in the older age groups means more hospital admissions within a short period. This time, hospital services will not be suspended for non-covid patients (which, as we know, was so damaging during the spring lockdown). It is important to note that last year, even without covid, our local hospitals were almost at capacity throughout the winter. So, adding in covid and maintaining normal non-covid hospital business (as far as possible 70-90%), the risk that our hospitals will be overwhelmed is high if these short, sharp, shock national restrictions, as advised by scientists and public health officials, are not taken. The aim is to get covid levels, the ‘R’ rate, down at the start of winter so that all hospital treatment and services are manageable.
I therefore voted in support of these new national restrictions. The Prime Minister has always made clear that we must be flexible in our response to this virus in order to protect our short and long-term health and our economy.
I am deeply concerned about local jobs and businesses, especially our retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and am pleased that the Chancellor has already confirmed that the furlough scheme will be extended through the month of November covering 80% of employees’ wages and that support to the self-employed will increase from 40% to 80% of profitable income through November. Furthermore, I was relieved to see that mortgage holidays will also be extended and that businesses will be able to access loans and grants if they are being forced to close-down during this four-week period.
The strong message is that whilst we must not be complacent, we must remember that we are in a better place than we were last time; we know more about the virus, we have better treatments, more doctors and nurses, more testing and we are getting closer to a vaccine. I visited the Conquest last week. The commitment, care and bravery of our NHS staff to gear up and look after us is humbling. They risk themselves on the ‘frontline’ for our benefit, despite the abuse they suffer at times. We owe them to do whatever we can to ensure that they are not overwhelmed.
We have incredible community groups already up and running and I know that our caring community of Hastings and Rye will once again pull together in mutual aid and comfort in these trying times. We have got through this before as a strong community and we will do so again.