Thank you for your letter about the continuing issues related to Covid 19.
This has been a very difficult time for the country as a whole but particularly for certain groups and individuals in our society who have had to make great sacrifices to ensure that the wider public health is given top priority. Having had a close family member who has required to be shielded throughout, I am only too aware of the fact that this can have on families, including grandparents and children. The way in which local communities, voluntary organisations and individual helpers have responded has transformed the situation for many vulnerable and lonely people and they deserve our huge thanks.
All of us are tired of the Covid pandemic and the disruptions it has brought to our lives but wishing it away will not be enough.
Throughout the world governments have grappled with the same issues, namely, how to slow the spread of the disease and prevent medical services becoming overwhelmed while at the same time trying to ensure that their economies can continue to function effectively.
Different governments have responded differently to the scientific evidence available. Evidence from previous pandemics suggests that the timing, duration and severity of lockdown can have an impact on the initial death rate (and the likelihood of overwhelming healthcare services) but without a cure or vaccine then the population is likely to come into contact with the virus over time and so the excess mortality rate is likely to be less affected. It is not so much a question of whether there is a “second wave” as there is likely to be a continuation of the first wave whose severity will be dependent upon the exercise of personal responsibility by citizens.
As you can see from the figures below, different countries are at different stages of the pandemic with varying numbers of “live” cases, although we have to be mindful about different methodologies, test rates and reliability of data. Some countries, such as France, are already seeing the increased case numbers translate into higher numbers of hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care. The argument being put that the increased cases are largely due to infection of young people, and so inconsequential, is wrong and irresponsible.
What these figures do not show is the rise of hospitalisations again and the rising rates of admission to intensive care units happening across Europe. This is likely to be followed by a rise in death rates once again.
None of us like to see our civil liberties restricted and those in authority must constantly ask themselves whether any measures are appropriate and proportionate. However, until there is a vaccine available then there will need to be some restrictions to control the spread of the infection. I fully understand the frustration that many feel, including young people who resent the loss of social life, but the many examples we have seen of the abuse of the loosening of guidelines is only likely to mean that they are in place longer for the whole population. Recent pictures of crowded bars around the country with no social distancing or use of masks shows a lack of personal responsibility putting the wider public at risk. The rise in the R rate in North Somerset to a level higher than the national average shows that we, in our part of the country, are not immune to these trends.
One of the key objectives has been to get pupils back to school as quickly and safely as possible. Unavoidably, there have been teething troubles as new systems are put into place but the system now seems to be settling down. If there are issues related to your local school then I will happily take them up with the local authority as I have done in a number of cases over the past weeks.
The Prime Minister set out the latest measures in the House of Commons on 22nd September and the this is the link to his full statement: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-commons-statement-on-coronavirus-22-september-2020
One thing that I would like to see change is the public availability of the “scientific advice” on which government decisions are taken. Science always has a range of opinions and different interpretations of even the same data so to talk about “the science” as though it is a homogeneous entity is simply not an accurate picture. I think that as we, the country’s citizens, are the ones whose freedom is being curtailed we have a right to see the data on which these decisions are based. I will continue to press ministers on this issue.
As the furlough scheme comes to an end the government will continue to help those who are most affected and more details will be set out by the Chancellor. There will be, however, economic consequences of the pandemic that are, sadly, unavoidable. My parliamentary staff, who have worked harder than ever through this period, will continue to reply to any individual cases as quickly as possible and will give priority to these over general political correspondence.
I would like to thank again the volunteers, key workers and all those who have put up with so many new and difficult problems over the past months with such patience and fortitude. None of us know when this pandemic and its effects will come to an end and I know from my own family what a toll it can take.