So it’s farewell 2020. When I delivered my column a year ago, as I looked ahead to the year now passing, I wrote that ‘the challenges to come are immense’. Looking back on my list, these were nothing on the scale I envisaged. I am incredibly sorry for each and every one who has been impacted by the COVID pandemic. This has been a year when we have seen losses to liberty, livelihood and life itself.
I hope, when I look back again in a year time, I can write about 2021 as being the year of recovery and renewal. Undoubtedly, we are going to have a tough start. The virus has taken hold again and our hospitals, always at their busiest in January, are facing great operational challenge.
However, we now have the ability to fight back against the virus. The UK has been the first nation to roll-out a vaccine. UK scientists, at Oxford University and elsewhere, have played a part in its development. Here in Sussex, thousands have already received it. Now we have two vaccines, with the AstraZeneca option being approved this week and easier to store, we must focus on getting it rolled out to everyone who is at risk.
This can be done. Earlier this winter, I witnessed a long line of people queuing to enter the Village Hall for the flu vaccine. One Saturday morning and the list was completed. Along with vaccinating those who cannot leave care homes, this is the type of operation we need for the vaccination programme. We also need to reassure the public that the vaccine is safe and effective. I was shocked when a relative wrongly claimed that the vaccine did not work for the new strain. She had read the headline (‘Fears vaccine will not work for new strain’) and not the content (‘Scientists are confident the vaccine will cover all strains’). The national media need to do better when it comes to sensational pandemic headlines. They may boost sales but do so at the risk of the country failing itself. Like flu, where vaccines need to be regularly updated, the COVID vaccines will need to be enhanced to deal with ‘vaccine escape’ but they have been developed with this tweak in mind. My message to everyone on the list is simple; please take the vaccine when your appointment comes through the door. It’s not just for your benefit but for all of those who are in the younger age group and will not get their lives back until those older are vaccinated.
Once the vaccine is rolled out, the challenge will be to get the country back on its feet again. Over this year, I have also seen many self-employed and employed people roll their sleeves up and work their hardest to get themselves and their workplace through the immense challenges. It’s this kind of drive and resolve which we need to find from within to enable the country to come back to where it was.
I very much hope that Parliament will play its part. By the time you read this, the EU/UK Brexit Trade Deal should have passed. This should mean, for many, that you will not notice the end of the transition period. The prices in the shops should be unchanged due to a continuation of tariff-free trade. When we can, it will be possible to holiday without a visa. We remain friends with our EU partners. At £668 billion per year, this is the largest trade deal either party has signed. It stands us in good stead as we take control of our full political, legal and economic independence from 1 January 2021.
What we can do now is to focus on what this country needs most. By June, an additional 1 million people are expected to be unemployed. It’s essential that we remove the barriers which stop businesses expanding and employing more people. We need to invest in training and give opportunities to young people. This should be payback for a lost year of youth.