York Press column – Covid restrictions should end on 21st June
June 3, 2021
As York enjoys the good weather, it is remarkable to reflect that we remain under the same covid restrictions regime as last summer, a whole year ago. This prolonged disruption to everyday activities has now taken up an alarming proportion of all of our lives, which is why I strongly feel the government need to remove all remaining limits on social contact at the earliest advertised date of 21st June, on the basis of the success of the ongoing vaccination programme.
During my visits around the constituency, it has been hugely encouraging to see our vibrant and bustling community roaring back to life. The reopening of indoor tourist attractions and hospitality from 17th May provided a vital boost for this important sector of the local economy, and I hope York will be able to benefit from the anticipated boom in UK-based holidays over the next few months. I was interested to see a recent study from Barclays Bank predicting a £1.462 billion windfall for Yorkshire from domestic holidays this year, the fourth highest in the country, which I hope will help speed our city’s recovery from the economic wrecking ball of the pandemic.
As a parent, the liberation of our children and teenagers has been particularly pleasing to see. This crucial part of their lives has already been deeply scarred, and is simply unfair for them to have to endure restrictions for much longer, when at-risk generations are entirely vaccinated.
I am reassured by the Prime Minister’s statements that so far they see nothing in the data to suggest a delay to 21st June, but don’t want our city to be hostage to a small uptick in nationwide cases that defers yet again the return of normal life. Although I appreciate the government’s desire to see all the relevant evidence before making a final decision, the information coming through does suggest the vaccine is holding up against the Indian variant. Recent figures stated that of 5599 people in England with the variant, just 177 had had both vaccine doses, a mere 3%, suggesting vaccination does offer significant protection even against this deadly strain.
Moreover, given the reality that the virus will mutate into new variants, I feel it would be dangerous to set the precedent that each new variant means delaying the return of everyday freedoms. If we do not learn to live with the mutating virus, on the basis of constantly tweaking our vaccine shield as the disease changes, we could face a grim stop-start future of sporadic lockdowns without end, causing deep social and economic harm, and potentially ending normal life as we know it.
Moreover, we are continuing to add to our arsenal of weapons against the virus, with approval of the single-dose Janssen vaccine for British use in recent days. 85% effective against covid, 20 million doses have already been ordered by the government for this year. The ongoing willingness of York residents to be vaccinated is one of the best guarantees of a return to normality, with over 482,000 people across York and North Yorkshire having had their first injection, and over 312,000 already on their second.
I have also been addressing residents’ concerns over the perceived fall in access to in-person GP appointments caused by covid, raising this with the leadership of Vale of York NHS, and the Health Secretary. Our GPs have done an amazing job arranging local vaccination, but the need for strict infection control procedures has sadly meant a need to reduce person-to-person contact wherever possible, while the need to disinfect consulting rooms and change protective equipment after patients has also reduced the number of physical appointment slots available.
I am glad NHS England have clarified surgeries should offer face-to-face appointments. Although we should allow our hardworking GPs to use new technology to see more patients, these arrangements must not exclude less tech-confident people. Given the overall context, even pre-pandemic, of rocketing demand for GP services driven by our longer-lived, ageing population, the government must progress rapidly on its commitment to recruit 6,000 new GPs, while injecting nearly £1 billion more per year into the core GP contract.