This week in Parliament we have seen the introduction of further national measures aimed at containing Coronavirus as we approach winter.
I was in the House of Commons chamber when the Prime Minister made his announcement. He informed us, to sharp intakes of breath, that these measures could last for 6 months unless progress is made.
As a select committee chairman, I tend to get selected to ask the Prime Minister a question when he makes a statement. I pointed out that both the Rother and Wealden districts saw only 4 positive Coronavirus tests out of 100,000 residents. This is lower than the national average of 15 per 100,000 and much lower than some northern regions (which are above 100 per 100,000). I asked for areas with lower rates, such as our own, to be able to come out of national measures earlier than other parts if countrywide progress is made.
This strikes me as fair in the circumstances. As our lower rate would suggest, we have been better served locally due to our remote and rural geography. I’d also venture the idea that we are a community-focussed cohort who think of others when acting. I am frustrated that we have a new series of national measures put upon us albeit I understand the concern that, having made sacrifices, we don’t want to go back to such high Coronavirus rates again. It is ultimately of great concern to me that we may do more harm to our nation’s wellbeing and livelihood with a further lockdown than the Coronavirus could do on its own.
This harm was brought home to me last week. Whilst summer is officially over, I am continuing my cycling tour to visit businesses and organisations impacted by the pandemic. Whilst in Pevensey, Westham and Stone Cross, I was able to meet publicans, those in the events industry and those in catering and hospitality. All were running businesses which had been just starting to emerge from hibernation with increased optimism. The news breaking on the day we met suggested more measures would be added. The lack of confidence was having a knock-on effect to customer orders and this will, in turn, affect employment.
Testing for the virus is essential to not only stop the spread but allow people to return to work. This is currently not working as it should and is perhaps the greatest area of concern. Many residents have informed me of the difficulties they have faced when trying to book a test with a centre locally as well as obtaining postal kits. It’s not good enough and I am sorry. I understand this an issue being experienced nationwide albeit I am concerned, with our low Coronavirus rates, that testing priority will go to areas of higher incidence. This would not be fair; we need a system which can cope and we must not be penalised for delivering low rates. It’s clear that our central laboratories, undertaking the tests, are currently full to capacity for testing. A new testing laboratory is due to open for the end of the month. This should help to address the issue albeit I would prefer an end-to-end local testing solution so we can serve our own needs. We need to do better on testing, and I can promise you that I will continue to use my voice.
The Government has to act at speed but these decisions impact on liberty and livelihood. Powers are being exercised without being adequately scrutinised, or voted for, in Parliament. In my experience, when the Government needs the consent of Parliament, well thought-out proposals tend to ensue which must be for the good of us all. I am working with a group of colleagues in Parliament who feel that Parliament must debate and vote through powers before these are enacted.