York Press column – We Must Not Lose Sight of Progress Amidst the Storm of the Resurgent Pandemic
January 13, 2021
As we get back into what has unfortunately become well-rehearsed routines with the return of a national lockdown, it is imperative that we do not lose hope for 2021 amidst the storm of the resurgent pandemic. With three vaccines now approved and nearly one-hundred-and-fifty million doses secured, we can now begin to chart a course over the coming months to safely remove the restrictions that have dominated our lives and business for the past year.
Our journey to being among the frontrunners for vaccine rollout began by boldly having the confidence to strike our own procurement arrangements and having the utmost confidence in the team working on the British Oxford vaccine. With successive vaccines receiving sign off, York’s immunisation programme is now in full swing contributing to the two-and-a-half million vaccine doses already administered nationally. As a country we have rightly prioritised the most at-risk groups, with the Government setting a target of having thirteen million people vaccinated by mid-February comprising of the over-seventies, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, as well as frontline health and care workers. Having vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined and our ever-growing capacity now allowing two-hundred thousand people to receive their inoculations daily, we must not rest on our laurels but strive to build on these successes to allow even more groups to be offered the vaccine as soon as possible. This is fundamentally the only way our city can return to normal trading conditions, essential for the preservation of our community’s prosperity and high quality of life. Regaining normal social and economic life is vital for the health and general welfare of York, and for the prospects of our young people, who have been so cruelly impacted by the pandemic so is therefore my number one priority.My focus is now on pressing the Government to publish a clear roadmap for move safely but determinedly back towards normal, with pre-determined benchmarks set against regional vaccination progress for returning to the tier system then subsequently descending through the tiers. Having only reluctantly supported the imposition of renewed lockdown measures on the basis that the enormous spike in local infections left us with no alternative, I believe it is imperative that we are not subjected to the strictest restrictions longer than necessary due to no exit strategy being in place.
Equipped with now regular updates on the vaccine rollout, Members of Parliament and the public should feel empowered to assess the local situation and push for restrictions that reflect it rather than suffer needlessly from the broad stroke of a Westminster diktat. At the time of writing, York’s rate is in excess of 600 cases per 100,000 with no signs yet of abating but in-time I will ensure that local voices are heard as I continue my lobbying efforts.
Meanwhile, my sympathy and thoughts are with all households directly impacted by the lockdown, and as a parent of young children with elderly parents, I know how much of a burden the restriction of normal life has been even to families that have escaped direct personal loss.
For families with school age children, I welcome the Education Secretary’s clarification that GCSE and A-level grades will be awarded this summer via teacher assessment in place of cancelled exams. Having critcised the Government for last year’s algorithm mistake, I hope this gives certainty to pupils, parents, and teachers with schools trusted this year to fairly assess and support their students at this very challenging time.
It is now crucial that educations continues as seamlessly as possible to allow pupils who would have been sitting exams to demonstrate their full potential to hopefully achieve their desired grades.
By my next column, I hope to be able to provide a further positive update on York’s vaccination programme and offer further hope that the challenges of the past year are slowly coming to an end. One comfort for now though is that these trying times have only helped display the best in our local communities, from the tireless NHS, care and key workers to the many good neighbours who have looked out for more vulnerable residents. To all of them and more, I am eternally grateful for their contribution to making York such an incredible place to live.