Local MP Huw Merriman spoke out against extending COVID restrictions until 19 July.
Huw argued that the sacrifices of the entire nation, old and young, alongside our world-leading vaccine dividend, and the resilience of the NHS, should see our freedoms restored.
"When I have confronted these votes over the past nine months, I have done my best to look at the entire health needs and entire health case of all the nation, not just of those who have unfortunately been struck down with covid. When it came to the 10 pm curfew last year, I felt that it did not make sense from a health perspective for everyone to be leaving the pub at the same time, so I voted against, whereas when it came to the decisions towards the end of last year and into January, I could see the hospitalisation cases and the need to get the vaccine rolled out, so I supported the Government.
Where are we now? Let us look at the hospitalisation cases. We were at 35,000 covid in-patients, and clearly the NHS was struggling to cope. When academics at Imperial College modelled what a freedom day on 5 July would look like in hospitalisation numbers, it came up with a figure of 7,000; Warwick University came up with 1,750. The figure for covid in-patients is currently under 1,000—better than expected. In the combined county of Sussex, with 1.6 million residents, there are six covid in-patients, and in my own county of East Sussex there are two of the six. Interestingly, they did not present with covid or get admitted because of it; they were just tested while being admitted, found to have covid and included in the numbers. The hospitalisation numbers are looking much better, and the NHS now has resilience. What is striking to me is the number of people who are waiting to have their lives enhanced by elective treatment. In England alone, 5 million people are waiting for surgery. Over 400,000 of them have been waiting for more than a year; prior to covid, that figure was 1,600. That demonstrates the wider health impact of restrictions. Those people deserve a life, too, and they deserve to be looked after. There should not be an apartheid system when it comes to our health service.
What about the vaccine? What a great success! We should be basking in the vaccine dividend that this Government have delivered. In East Sussex as a whole, we have double dosed 85% of cohorts 1 to 9, which account for 99% of mortality. We know that the vaccine is effective against all known strains. We are there, but the difficulty is that we are not willing to confront the concept of living with covid. Ministers say that we have to live with covid, and yet we are given another month on top. The arguments that Ministers use as to why we need that extra month will still be there in a month’s time, and at that point we will have to decide where we are going to jump.
I have spoken to a very senior NHS lead, who has university-age children. He said to me—I wrote it down:
“Too many of us making decisions have forgotten what it feels like to be a 20-year-old or how miserable it is to be a 20-year-old right now.”
Those young people have made great sacrifices to help cohorts 1 to 9, and they need to see the return of their lives this summer.
Although Ministers say that just a few restrictions remain, we will not start tackling the backlog in NHS waiting times on elective surgery and we will not start tackling the mental health crisis that young people in particular are suffering, with such great detriment. We need to tell the people of this country that we have turned the corner thanks to them and thanks to this vaccine dividend, and we are now ready to accept the risk and move on. It is about everyone’s lives, not just certain lives."