York Press column – Unity and self-discipline will get us through Coronavirus
April 1, 2020
A month on from my last column on overcoming Yorkshire’s flooding challenges, our community and country now faces an even sterner test.
The necessary restrictions on movement, and closure of public spaces make this in some ways the most serious emergency our nation has ever faced. Even on the brink of invasion in 1940, schools, parks and pubs remained open, and people could work and travel broadly as they pleased.
Last week’s sombre news of the first two deaths at York Hospital, and the diagnosis of the Prime Minister, Prince Charles and the Health Secretary, shows this invisible enemy can strike everywhere. The response must be for us all to remain disciplined in carefully following official instructions. We will only get through by continuing this huge act of collective solidarity, especially in the interests of our older and more medically vulnerable loved ones.
We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our city’s NHS workers, who are working so bravely to treat infected residents, and it was heartening to see so many join in last Thursday’s national ‘Clap for Carers’ to acknowledge this. The government must continue to ramp up distribution of protective equipment, ventilators and virus tests to support their work, and I am glad 3.5 million antibody tests are now available.
I also applaud all other key workers who are grafting to ensure the essentials of life are provided across York, and those teachers who are looking after the children of vital workers.
Although I am addressing local concerns at incidents of panic buying, I believe the generous spirit of our city is more accurately represented by the 2000 people who have volunteered to assist the vulnerable. Nationwide, the amazing response to last Tuesday’s call for volunteers, with the initial target of 250,000 swamped by 700,000 sign-ups at time of writing, I think shows we collectively have the determination to beat the virus.
I am working through a very large number of enquiries from residents as rapidly as I can. As someone with young children, elderly parents living close by, and who has run a small business, I really sympathise with the range of concerns being raised with me. I want all residents to know I am here to help in any way I can for the duration of this emergency. I also want everyone to feel secure in their home in this period of financial disruption, and welcome the government’s mortgage payment freeze and new eviction protection for renters.
The sheer number and variety of small businesses and self-employed residents that have contacted me is a real tribute to the entrepreneurial energy and creativity of York, and bodes well for the ability of our city’s economy to ‘bounce back’ when this is over.
I am pressing on with assisting these constituents, and will continue to push the government to fulfil its commitment to do ‘whatever it takes’ to support workers and business. Having written directly to the Chancellor requesting he bring forward a financial support scheme for the self-employed similar to that created to protect the jobs of employees with the state covering 80% of wages, I was relieved by last Thursday’s announcement of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to do just this.
I appreciate that support for employees and the self-employed will need to be adjusted to ensure that everyone gets the help they require, and I will continue to feed this into the process. I am aware of some small business concern with the operation of the emergency Business Loan Interruption Scheme, but hope that as this is improved, this, the VAT holiday and the cancellation of business rates in affected sectors will give local enterprise some respite.
I am also assisting those stranded abroad, and am in close touch with the Foreign Office to help bring residents home to York from as far afield as Peru, South Africa and New Zealand.
There are certainly tough days ahead, but we can perhaps take small comfort from the fact that no one is powerless in this struggle. By closely following official guidance, all of us are playing a vital role in fighting the virus, and when normal life resumes, it will be our shared victory.