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Julian Sturdy - Strong Voice for York Outer

Julian Sturdy

Member of Parliament for York Outer

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Julian wants York in tier 1 restrictions from December – presses Health Secretary at new restrictions announcement

November 23, 2020

During today’s announcement on the return to a regional tiered system when national lockdown measures expire on 2nd December, Julian pushed the Health Secretary on the necessity of the hard work of York residents in getting the virus down being rewarded by movement out of the higher tiers towards looser restrictions.

The placing of areas in each tier will be announced on Thursday, so that it can reflect the latest data on incidence of the virus as close as possible to the December deadline. The Prime Minister also announced that non-essential shops, leisure centres, gyms and personal care would reopen across all tiers, something Julian has strongly argued for to save local businesses, and allow households to return to their normal activities.

Before the renewed national lockdown began on 5th November, the City of York had already been placed in tier 2 (high alert). This is the next level up from the tier 1 (medium alert) baseline, and is meant to reduce household-to-household transmission, with all indoor mixing between different households prohibited, with an obvious significant impact on social and business activity.

York’s coronavirus cases are now significantly lower than they were when the city was placed into tier 2 before the new lockdown. On the latest figures the rate per 100,000 is 153.4, a huge fall from the 279 it was when tier 2 was imposed.

In the House of Commons, Julian asked: “Given the big sacrifices York residents have made to get the virus down locally, does the Secretary of State accept how unfair it would feel if the city is kept in high tier restrictions, even when our covid rate is considerably lower than when we entered tier 2, and one of the lowest in our region.

So does the Secretary of State agree that the new restrictions policy has to give people hope that self-discipline and resilience will be rewarded?

Matt Hancock responded: “Yes, I do think that those values are important, and should be rewarded, and I hope that areas of the country where the case rate has really come down a long way and is coming down fast, I do hope we will see the fruits of that effort.

He also stressed the importance of placing in tier 3 those areas that needed the tightest restrictions, but emphasised the reason full details of tiers had not been announced today because “the more data we have the better, and we want to give businesses time to plan to be able to reopen, but at the same time we do want to take into account the very latest data, and in York as in some other parts of the country, the number of cases is coming down…..and I want to see a few more days data before we take those final decisions.

After leaving the Commons, Julian said: “I was somewhat reassured to hear the Health Secretary confirm that decisions on York’s restrictions tier will reflect the latest possible statistics, which I would therefore expect to reflect the big decline in the city’s virus rate.

In view of the community spirit and self-discipline York residents have shown in getting our rate down to one of the lowest in Yorkshire, my big concern now is that an overly-regional approach could fail to reflect this, and leave our city clobbered with tough restrictions because of higher rates in Hull, Scarborough and Leeds.

I very reluctantly supported the November lockdown as a time-limited one-off measure to protect lives, and have been clear I cannot accept York’s community being damaged by further draconian measures above the tier 1 baseline. Having lobbied hard for the urgent reopening of non-essential retail, leisure centres and gyms, I warmly welcome this, but I warn the government that York’s large hospitality and leisure sector must have a basically-normal Christmas season if we are not to see many jobs and businesses disappear. The government financial support for tiers 2 and 3 is now very solid, but to remain viable businesses need to be able to trade, not be paid to take losses.

Neither the outright closure of hospitality venues that comes with tier 3, or the ban on indoor mixing of households with tier 2, are acceptable. As a shopping and day-out destination, any restriction on hospitality has a damaging knock-on impact on York retail, with York shops recording an average loss compared to normal trading of 31% even in October’s tier 2, pre-lockdown.

Nationally, retailers make about 25% of total annual sales in November-December, and this month’s lockdown has already wiped out £8 billion of trade for shops. York is disproportionately affected by this, and the local economy cannot take any more.

Now we have the targeted, intelligent weapons of 15-minute localised mass testing and hopefully a vaccine soon coming on-stream, I can no longer support the blunt instrument of high tier restrictions in places like York where the virus is low.