York Press column: The New Challenges Ahead Must Not Dull Our Optimism for the New Year
December 29, 2020
After months of hard graft by York residents abiding by unwelcome yet necessary restrictions, the festive season has been accompanied by a worrying spike in local coronavirus cases amidst the backdrop of the discovery of a worryingly more infectious strain of the virus.
It was only a fortnight ago that I raised York’s excellent progress at suppressing infection rates in the House of Commons (December 17th) as the Health Secretary outlined to me how, while close, our city still had a few more steps to take to bring all five tier assessment criteria to acceptable levels. With the effects of the November lockdown still filtering through in falling hospital cases, I was optimistic for a successful review of York’s tier level in a matter of weeks.
Flashforward and now Parliament is preparing to sit again, the short-term outlook has dimmed but my confidence in our city to rise to the challenge is stronger than ever. Every time our Yorkshire grit is challenged, throughout this pandemic and in the past with flooding, local residents have been undeterred with many exemplifying the most amazing community spirit to ensure neighbours are looked after. We have dug in and gotten through the worst of every situation, only to emerge stronger and closer on the other side. It is my firm belief this will once again happen, and York will stand proud throughout this temporary storm.
It is also important to not ignore the positive news that will bolster our confidence and provide light throughout this testing time. Last week, York’s mass COVID vaccination centre went live being supported by selected GP practices throughout the city to ensure the most vulnerable residents receive the vaccine as quickly as possible. Thousands have already received their first dose of the vaccine, as part of a national effort which has seen the UK lead the way in vaccination rollout.
At the time of writing, news that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is on the verge of approval is a further boost to our efforts to bring the spread of the virus under control. Produced domestically with the ability to be stored at fridge temperatures unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the UK has one-hundred million doses on order thus securing our supply for the entirety of our vaccination programme. Once approved, the Oxford/AstraZeneca brings a realistic chance that most restrictions could be removed by Easter – a close goal which I hope will reenforce residents’ efforts to abide by restrictions for just a little while longer.
Just as we can see light at the end of the tunnel, it is important that our resolve does not break to help limit the pressure on our local NHS services especially throughout winter when demand is already heightened. York’s A&E Department received cash injections of £2 million and £936,000 cash from Government funds in September and August to prepare them for the winter, and I remain in contact with hospital officials to monitor the stress on services.
This funding was recently paired with £3.49 million to York Hospital Trust, and £148,000 to the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, to pay for twenty-one upgrade and refurbishment projects across the Trust. These upgrades will improve their essential infrastructure to ensure that York’s NHS services are always on hand to treat and care for local residents.
Looking ahead to future tier reviews, regardless of your opinion of whether more or fewer restrictions are needed, it is important to look further than the case rate which I know many, myself included, track daily with great interest. As the Health Secretary reiterated in the aforementioned response to my question at a recent parliamentary statement on coronavirus, York’s tier allocation is based on the following criteria: case rate per 100,000 in the general population, case rate per 100,000 in the over 60s, the general trend in case numbers, hospital capacity, and finally the percentage of positive test results. This data and more can be accessed at https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/
Whatever the future holds for York in terms of restrictions, I am confident that 2021 will still be one for joy and optimism after this difficult year. With normality returning hopefully by Easter, I hope the new year provides good fortune and happiness for all readers and their families.