York Press column – Striking the right balance to tackle rising covid
October 10, 2020
As the autumn weather sets in, our city is experiencing a noticeable uptick in the incidence of coronavirus as part of a national and Europe-wide trend, although mercifully significantly below those other parts of Northern England now under special restrictions.
With no vaccine so far, the hard truth is that any increase in social interaction worldwide after the strict lockdown period would see a rise in cases. Alongside neighbouring countries, we now face the difficult task of controlling the virus while facilitating as much of normal life as possible.
While there is absolutely no room for complacency, we must also remember the factors that put us in a relatively strong position to meet a second wave. Testing capacity is set to be 500,000 by the end of this month, the overflow Nightingale hospitals remain on standby, the breakthrough dexamethasone drug is now available on wards, we as the public are all habituated to social distancing, and we have the option of imposing localised lockdowns rather than the blunt instrument of a national shutdown.
I am also reassured by the Chancellor Riski Sunak’s ‘winter economy plan’, with a successor scheme to furlough to preserve as many jobs as possible, the extension of self-employment income support, and of the hospitality and tourism VAT cut, all areas on which I have lobbied the government.
York has not yet been placed on the national ‘watchlist’ as an ‘area of concern’, the first step towards localised restrictions, but we must all take very seriously City of York Council’s announcement last week that the local rise is caused by social interaction, and household mixing indoors without distancing, and do all we can to make our social contacts as safe as possible.
Now, every day counts in terms of pulling together to ensure that our city does not face localised restrictions, and I was reassured by last week’s news of the opening of an additional walk-in testing centre at Wentworth Way car park on the York University campus, but open to all with symptoms. I have tabled further written parliamentary questions to the Health Secretary regarding giving York residents more lab slots to process test results, which have so far been concentrated on worse-effected areas.
It is against this backdrop of rising cases and resulting new national and local restrictions that we have to view last week’s parliamentary votes on renewing the emergency powers granted to the government by the Coronavirus Act. I have sympathy with a number of the public concerns about the use and duration of these powers, and this is why I was glad to play my part in pushing the government to promise MPs a vote on any new nationwide rules, by signing my Conservative colleague Sir Graham Brady’s amendment demanding this. My impression is the public are quite prepared to accept proportionate new measures to stamp down on the virus upsurge, but want these to be properly scrutinised and approved by their elected representatives.
While many changes feel different and will take some time to get used to, I feel the latest government restrictions on mandating table service and the ‘rule of six’ are simple yet effective ways to limit the number of potentially infectious interactions we have, while allowing hospitality businesses to continue their bounce back from lockdown.
However, I do feel the 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry does require reviewing. I have tabled a series of parliamentary questions focussing on what scientific guidance the Department of Health about this. I have also asked what assessment the Department of Business made of the impact the curfew would have on the hospitality industry.
I know that many residents were concerned by scenes in the news from cities across the country, including York, of crowds congregating in the streets after 10pm. I have worries that the curfew on the hospitality industry has so far only exacerbated a problem it aimed to solve. Ahead of any review of the current rules, I have contacted North Yorkshire Police for details of how they manage any crowds in York to ensure everyone can return home safely.
As always, I remain at the disposal of all residents during the crucial days ahead.