Covid-19 Update – My thoughts on the new restrictions
I am receiving many emails and phone calls from residents following the Government’s decision to introduce some additional restrictions which affect all of England, as well as last week’s decision to increase restrictions in the rest of Lancashire, excluding Blackpool. My mailbag is completely split on most of these issues, with roughly half of people wanting fewer restrictions affecting our lives, and half of people wanting more restrictions. Some people are demanding a full lockdown, whilst others want us to return to normal with no masks, distancing or restrictions. Everybody has their own opinion on what should be happening and the public health measures which are applied are never going to please everybody!
Since March the government has prioritised protecting people’s health and beating this virus. The balance between successfully doing this whilst keeping the economy going so we can protect people’s jobs is an incredibly difficult one to achieve. This is something which every major economy is grappling with.
Throughout the summer we have opened up following lockdown and the economy is bouncing back remarkably well. Locally we’ve had a great second half of the season and have managed to open up to visitors safely whilst keeping Covid cases low. We knew that when autumn approached, this balance would get more difficult and so it is proving. Like other European countries, we are experiencing a rise in cases, although to keep this in perceptive, hospital admissions and deaths remain very low compared to the peak in the spring.
It is clear that action is required now to prevent the number of cases rising exponentially and the pressure on our NHS becoming intense. I know that the new measures announced today will not please everybody, but unless we take limited measures now, the number of new cases will increase, as will those arguing for a second lockdown. I didn’t come into politics to impose restrictions on people’s lives but these are exceptional times. A second full lockdown would be a disaster: not just for people’s jobs and businesses, but for Blackpool as a whole. It would widen our health and educational inequalities and deepen the deprivation and social issues which we already experience. I would not support a second lockdown and it must be avoided at all costs. If applying these limited restrictions now avoids tighter restrictions later in the winter then it will be a price worth paying.
Why has Blackpool been excluded from the restrictions affecting Lancashire?
Although the new restrictions announced by the PM will affect Blackpool, we were not included in the tighter restrictions impacting on Lancashire announced last week. This was because the number of Covid cases is lower here than the average across the rest of Lancashire (which has a County Council which helped to make the decision to impose restrictions). The decision to exclude Blackpool from those new restrictions was made on the basis of infection numbers (as well as other scientific data) in the days leading up to the decision last week. It was a medical decision based on infection control. It was not because ‘the government doesn’t care about Blackpool’ or ‘all about money’.
Since that decision was made, our local infection rate has continued to increase to the level at which restrictions have been imposed on other local areas. If this trend continues, then it is likely that the restrictions which were applied in Lancashire from 22nd September, will shortly apply in Blackpool too.
What are the additional restrictions applied in the rest of Lancashire?
Many people have described the additional measures being applied in the rest of Lancashire as another ‘full lockdown’. Some people are under the impression that pubs, restaurants, and shops are all closing, and people will flood into Blackpool as a result. This is not the case.
There are some tougher measures in the rest of the county which include pubs and restaurants closing slighter earlier at 10pm and operating table service only; using public transport for essential journeys only; and not mixing with other households, for example.
Some of the measures which were applied in Lancashire from 22nd September will soon apply to the rest of the country too following the PM’s speech so the notion that we are going to see a huge influx of people from the rest of Lancashire coming to eat, drink and shop in Blackpool is completely ridiculous.
So where do we go from here?
The infection rate is likely to rise further into the autumn and winter without further action to control it. That is why the PM has announced these additional measures today. 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.
But we have to find a way of living with the virus and keeping things as normal as they possibly can be. That is why the measures announced by the PM are fairly limited in their scope.
The last six months have had an enormous impact upon the economy of the whole of the UK. Unfortunately, nowhere has this been more evident than here in Blackpool South. Our reliance on the tourism and hospitality sectors and a labour market of seasonal, insecure work has seen unemployment rise quickly and our local economy take a disproportionate hit.
We also have one of the highest rates of poor health and low educational attainment in the entire country. The last six months where people have not been presenting themselves for treatment for non-Covid related illnesses, and where schools have been closed, have sadly exacerbated problems such as health inequalities and low social mobility for years to come.
The fact is that our community has probably suffered more because of the lockdown restrictions than almost any other part of the UK. Although these measures were needed at the time, it was for this reason that I was a strong supporter of ending the lockdown as soon as possible and why I continue to be a fervent advocate of the need to get back to 'normality' as soon as we can.
Put simply: we need to get back to normality as soon as possible. Not just for the sake of the economy and people's jobs and businesses, but for the sake of people's health (physical and mental) and the future of our young people. I'm afraid that the damage we would do to the economy, to people's health, and to our children's futures by re-imposing a full lockdown on a nationwide scale now far outweighs the benefits that such a policy would bring even if the infection rate increases. That is why although I support the limited measures announced by the PM today, we need to be extremely cautious in imposing other restrictions with Parliament having a say on these.