I am receiving many emails and phone calls from residents following the announcement by the Prime Minister that England will enter a national lockdown from Thursday 5th November. I know that you will all have your own opinions with regards to the new restrictions which will apply from Thursday. Whilst many of you will support the action taken by the Prime Minister, others will not, and the public health measures which are applied are never going to please everybody.
The second Covid peak that we have seen around the world has shown us all that we are going to be dealing with this virus over the long-term. That is why over the past weeks and months we have been working on a long-term, balanced approach that protects the NHS, keeps children in school, lets the economy function as much as possible, and does not require constant changes.
We had hoped we could manage the situation with our regional system of alert levels and allow as many people to live as normal a life as possible. That’s because a national lockdown is not cost-free – not only in terms of jobs, businesses, and livelihoods, but also the impact on mental health and loneliness. This is why we have been so determined to try and avoid another national lockdown. I didn't come into politics to impose restrictions on people's lives and I had hoped that we would avoid additional restrictions in Blackpool and a full national lockdown because of the impact that this will have on your lives and our local businesses.
But over the last few days the situation has significantly deteriorated. This is now clearly a national problem. While the virus is more widespread in the North West, including Lancashire, it is doubling faster in the South East, and fastest in the Midlands. On present trends hospitals in the South West would run out of current capacity by the end of November. Other regions would follow soon after. Here in Blackpool our local NHS is becoming under increasing pressure as the number of cases and hospital admissions has increased. There are now more patients in Victoria Hospital with Covid 19 than at the peak of the virus in the spring and our local infection rate remains stubbornly high.
If the NHS were to be overwhelmed, it would mean non-Covid cases turned away from hospital because there is no room left; critically important surgeries and treatments cancelled and many left without treatment. We will increase NHS capacity as much as possible but even if we doubled NHS capacity, that extra capacity would also be full within a single doubling time of the virus.
Everyone can see that the situation in the UK, and across other parts of Europe, right now is incredibly serious. Incidence rates are growing, and the NHS is under increasing pressure. We need to take action now to protect the NHS and to reduce transmission. We must do this to curtail the exponential growth in hospitalisations and deaths.
The government is therefore taking action across the whole of England, because there is no alternative. These restrictions will apply nationally for four weeks up to Wednesday 2 December, and will override the current Local Alert Level restrictions we have had in Blackpool for the last few weeks (in Tier 2 and then Tier 3).
Since Blackpool entered Tier 3 several weeks ago, my focus has been on ensuring that we get the support that those in work and our local businesses need. I have lobbied Ministers in Parliament and spoken in the House of Commons on multiple occasions about the importance of supporting people and businesses through these restrictions. As a result, I'm pleased that the government have announced that the furlough scheme will now remain in place as we enter national lockdown. This will protect local people's jobs and ensure that they receive 80% of their usual wages. Businesses will also receive grants of up to £3000 per month depending on their size during the period of national lockdown.
Furthermore, businesses will also receive support for the time that we were in Tier 2 and then Tier 3. This support will include the Job Support Scheme to pay employees' wages and business grants. These can be claimed retrospectively, and the Council will announce the details of exactly what support is available, and how this can be claimed, over the coming days. This is in addition to the £200 billion support which the government has already provided to help the NHS, local councils, workers, businesses, those who are self-employed, and those who are in receipt of benefits, during the course of this pandemic.
On Wednesday, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate and vote on these measures which, if passed, will come into force on Thursday:
- We will tell the public that they must stay at home, and may only leave home for limited reasons, including: education; work or volunteering, if it is impossible to do this from home; exercise and recreation outdoors; medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; provision of care for a child – including informal childcare – or vulnerable person. There is no exemption for staying away from home on holiday – so people cannot do so in this country or elsewhere - but people can stay away for work where necessary.
- Non-essential shops, pubs, bars, restaurants, leisure and entertainment venues will all be closed – but will be able to provide takeaway. Essential shops will stay open: there is no need for people to stock up.
- Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home – for example in the construction or manufacturing sectors.
- Adults living alone will still be able to form support bubbles, and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.
- Those who are clinically vulnerable, or over the age of 70, will be advised to be especially careful, to follow the rules, to minimise their contacts with others, and not to go to work if they are unable to work from home. The Government will not ask people to shield in the same way again.
But there will be some differences compared to March:
These are time-limited measures. On the 2 December, we will seek to ease restrictions, on a local and regional basis, according to the latest data.
Our priority remains keeping young people in education - so formal and informal childcare, early years settings, schools, colleges and universities will all remain open. Our senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be.
We will also keep provision for non-COVID-19 healthcare needs going. We will continue to say clearly to the public that unless their clinicians tell them otherwise, they should continue to use the NHS, get their scans, turn up for their appointments and pick up their treatments. This aggressive action allows us the prospect of a better December. The alternative would be even more stringent, and longer-lasting, interventions through December and thereafter.
What happens next depends on each and every one of us. Whilst we all have a different opinion on what should be happening, the rules apply to us all and everybody has a part to play in protecting ourselves, our family, and our community by abiding by the restrictions. I know that the last 7 months have proved incredibly difficult for you and your family and that we have all made huge sacrifices as our normal way of life has been turned upside down. We all want an end to this pandemic, and I am obviously monitoring developments with a potential vaccine and new fast-track testing closely. I know that closing down businesses and parts of society cannot continue indefinitely and that if the developments which we hope to see with vaccines and new testing approaches do not materialise then we will have to completely review our national approach. However, over the coming weeks and months I ask for your assistance once again in working together as a community to protect each other and to get on top of the virus.