We began this new year with NHS hospitals under more pressure than any time since the start of the pandemic.
The new coronavirus variant – which is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible – has significantly increased infection rates across the country and indeed within our community here in North Yorkshire.
Many of us will have family, friends or neighbours who have died or become seriously unwell from the virus – and if you have lost someone close to you, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
On January 5, the Prime Minister asked the public to once again stay at home to protect the NHS and saves lives.
As you may know, I have supported the Prime Minister and the Government’s robust action to halt the rapid spread of the new variant so to protect public health and save lives.
With every tightening of the restrictions, defending the capacity of our local NHS hospitals has been at the forefront of my mind.
Of course, I understand how frustrating it is to see a third national lockdown. The last nine months have already seen very challenging conditions for local businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry.
Given this new lockdown, the Government absolutely recognises this and economic support has been forthcoming through new one-off grants and new discretionary funding to local authorities – both totalling £4.6 billion across the country.
This is available in addition to the existing support for businesses this winter via grants and government-backed loans along with the extension of the furlough scheme and the support for self-employed people through to April.
Yet this new lockdown has also been frustrating and challenging for our everyday lives. It is particularly tough given we are enduring the coldest, wettest and gloomiest times of the year without being able to see family or friends.
In these times, I would encourage us all to reach out to those who may be particularly lonely or isolated.
Everyone is fed-up with new variants, new tiers and new lock-downs. New vaccines, however, are the way our community and this country – and indeed, the international community – will end this virus and its gyre of impacts on our lives.
Over 5.4 million vaccines have been administered across the UK and the Government is leading the global fightback against the coronavirus with the vaccine programme. I am following the vaccine rollout in my constituency very closely and significant progress has been made over recent weeks.
NHS England is vaccinating at a rate of 140 people every minute nationally – and we have now vaccinated more than half of those aged over 80 and more than half of elderly care homes residents.
Although the Government’s priority remains vaccinating those in the top two priority groups, the next stage of the rollout has begun – as people aged over 70 and those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable are being invited to book their vaccination. It is important, however, we remain vigilant and continue to play our part to stop the spread of the virus – helping to save lives and protect the NHS.
My hope is that we can begin to see some normality to life as we approach summer as high proportions of the population are vaccinated. In the meantime, my office and I will continue to do everything possible to help constituents through these difficult times – and if you think I can help, please feel free to make contact.