Today has not been an easy or straight forward decision for me.
At the moment the COVID case levels in Ipswich are around the national average but the key thing is the direction of travel and sadly it’s currently going in the wrong direction. Ipswich is one of only 18 local authority areas (out of 315) to have experienced an increase in the COVID case rate during the second national lockdown (quite a significant increase). The vast majority, 297, have experienced a decrease. Across the country as a whole during the second national lockdown the number of COVID cases has declined by almost a third.
Over the past couple of weeks the number of cases in Ipswich has gone up from 87.6 cases per 100,000 to 142.4 cases. However, the latest figures are up to the week ending 25 November. Tomorow I’m expecting the latest data to be published.
What does worry me is that there have been increases in the levels of COVID amongst the over 65s. The demographic group most vulnerable to the virus. The virus is currently highest in south west Ipswich, in particular Maidenhall/Stoke area. However, areas with elderly populations such as Broke Hall, Belstead Hills and Stoke Park have also witnessed increases and this does concern me. Ipswich Hospital currently has 90 COVID patients, this is the highest level since the pandemic started and is also a cause for concern. At the moment I’m glad the Hospital is still able to carry out most of its planned elective work, however a further concern of mine is that this could become more difficult if the number of COVID patients at the Hospital increases.
At a time when COVID cases have been rising in the way they have been in Ipswich I reluctantly accept the Government’s rationale for designating Suffolk as a tier 2 area and will therefore be voting with the Government tonight in favour of the new tiered system.
As someone who has previously expressed significant reservations about lockdowns and restrictions this hasn’t been an easy decision. Throughout this pandemic I’ve been keen to ensure that the hospitality sector in Ipswich gets the support it needs and is able to operate in as free a way as possible. It employs thousands of my constituents and to say its undergone a horrid time throughout the pandemic would be an understatement. It’s this concern for the hospitality sector that led to me vote against the 10pm curfew and to abstain on the second national lockdown vote.
The moment I found out that the plan was for Ipswich to be placed in tier 2 and what this would mean for the hospitality sector in Ipswich, I’ve been calling for further support to be provided to the sector. Today it was announced that wet-led pubs that do not serve “substantial meals” would receive an extra £1,000 per month in support, in addition to the existing £3,000 monthly cash grants for businesses. This does not go as far as I would have liked and it also doesn’t provide the further support for pubs and restaurants that do serve “substantial meals” that I would have liked to see. Though I do still believe that some further support may well be forthcoming over the coming weeks and I will continue to lobby for this.
I know that the Government has provided support through the furlough scheme, business rates and grants but asking tier 2 hospitality to operate at such a loss during arguably their
busiest month, in my view, requires even more support than what has been provided. I will continue to call for more support and voting with the Government today does not mean that I see the support package as it stands as adequate.
I also believe that clearer communications to the hospitality sector is a must and that both local and national government need to show greater flexibility when it comes to backing the sector during the difficult weeks ahead. For example, earlier this week the Greyhound pub announced that it had invested in outdoor heated pods to allow its customers to eat and drink outside and were then told by the Borough Council that they couldn’t be used as they didn’t meet regulations. This is not the sort of positive, flexible attitude I would have liked to see.
As many of you will know, Suffolk was very close to being placed in tier 1 last week and its a realistic prospect that when the two week review takes place later this month that we could find ourselves in tier 1 and that needs to be the goal. What is clear though is that if we’re going to get to tier 1 we need to see the negative trend in Ipswich be reversed.
Voting for restrictions on the lives of my constituents and businesses within my constituency is not the reason I became an MP and its not something that sits comfortably with me at all. I have also made clear that we need to balance the need to protect lives with the need to protect livelihoods also, this is the main reason why this decision is such a painful one to make.
However, with the case levels increasing in the way they have done over recent weeks I accept the Government’s argument that Suffolk should be in tier 2 and the new tiered approach to tackling the virus .
I’m glad that the national lockdown has come to an end and we are moving to a more localised approach. And although tier 2 restrictions are limiting in many ways, they will also allow the reopening of both essential and non-essential retail shops, beauty salons and hairdressers, as well as Portman Road stadium with up to 2,000 spectators. I am also very pleased that after recently co-signing a letter with 48 other MPs to the Prime Minister that Churches will be open over Christmas, regardless of where people live.
Going forward, the two week reviews of which areas are in each tier need to be proper reviews and in two weeks time I want to see different areas (including our own) dropping tiers if the circumstances allow. There is a sunset clause for early February meaning that we will have to vote again towards the end of next month.
Clearly what has changed compared to a month ago is the positive news regarding vaccines. For the first time in a long time it really does feel like there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel and this is what we need to strive towards.
Yesterday I spoke in a debate before Wednesday’s vote on the second national lockdown. I’m spending a lot of time studying all the data and reading the emails sent in by constituents before deciding how to vote. I want to hear your views as well so please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org and later today I’ll be sharing a poll on Facebook where your can tell me what your views are.
In my speech yesterday, I mentioned some of the issues which are very much on my mind with this national lockdown. Clearly this is a difficult national decision which the Prime Minister has agonised over, and agree or disagree, I believe it’s a decision he’s taken with the need to protect lives, livelihoods and liberties in mind. I know this will be a difficult decision for some in Ipswich to understand while we still have relatively low rates of Covid-19 despite recent rises. And while I understand there are no patients with Covid in our local hospital’s ICU, being mindful all the time that this is likely to change. I also raised the 18-year-old I met in Chantry a few months back who was working every hour God sends in a bar to provide for his three-month-old daughter and was terrified what a second lockdown would mean for his livelihood. I’m reflecting on all of this before making my decision but one thing we must be clear about now is that this national lockdown must be the last and it must end on 2 December. I’m glad the PM has made this promise.
I hope the Government will also look closely at issues like communal religious services which currently won’t be able to go ahead from 5 November. A large number of constituents have contacted me about this and I know how significant they are to many people of faith in Ipswich. This should be an area where we look at what can be done in the guidance going forwards.
I also mentioned Ipswich Town FC and the meetings I’ve had with the club and the EFL about getting a support package in place to protect our clubs future. The club is woven into the DNA of our town, it’s at the heart of our economy, culture and community and we must support it while fans can’t return.
I’ll be weighing up all the factors before the vote tomorrow and once again please do get in touch with your views at email@example.com I’ll be making this decision based on what I think is right for Ipswich.
I share many of the concerns of beauty salons in Ipswich that they won’t be allowed to re-open on 4 July as expected at the same time as hairdressers and other businesses. And I raised this in the House today with Work and Pensions Ministers.
Many beauty salons around the county have sadly already shut their doors for good due to the hardship caused by Covid-19, and this has also caused a number of job losses. Beauty salons need to reopen as soon as possible to avoid more irreversible closures and more job losses, and the uncertainty over the July 4th date has only increased the challenges they are facing.
The beauty salons I’ve been in contact with, like the Beauty Academy in Ipswich, are already well-placed to reopen as they have high levels of hygiene and sanitisation as part of their procedures already. And I urged Ministers today to protect jobs in beauty salons, including by reconsidering the July 4th date. At the very least, local beauty salons need certainty as to when they will be able to reopen so they can plan effectively as businesses. I’ll keep raising this issue at the highest levels to get beauty salons this clarification as soon as possible.
I’m looking forward to going on a socially distanced bar crawl in Ipswich on 4th July to support our local pubs after the Prime Minister announced today that they will be able to reopen on that date.
As well as pubs, a number of changes were set out today to the lockdown which will allow people to see more of their friends and families, and allow more businesses to reopen their doors to customers.
From July 4:
Pubs 🍻 and restaurants 🍝 can reopen
Hairdressers 💇can reopen
Hotels and B&Bs 🏨 will also be able to reopen their doors.
2 households will be able to meet up in any setting with social distancing measures
If they can do so safely, other hospitality businesses and community centres will also be able to welcome back customers and visitors, they include:
Places of worship and community centres. 🛐
Outdoor gyms 🏋️
Museums and galleries 🖼️
Theme parks and arcades 🎢
And libraries and social clubs. 📚
The Prime Minister also announced that the guidance will allow people to keep a one-metre plus distance from each other when two-metre distances aren’t possible.
We must continue to make reducing the spread of Covid-19 our top priority and that’s why “close proximity” venues such as nightclubs, indoor gyms, water parkers, bowling alleys and spas will remain closed for now.
As long as we stay vigilant, this summer presents an unmissable opportunity for all of us in Ipswich to rally around our local businesses and support them with our custom. The support they have received throughout the lockdown has been essential but it’s just as important that they can reopen successfully and start to get back on their feet. I’m looking forward to visiting many of them as soon as I can.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in about with their latest views on the Government’s plans to introduce a quarantine for international arrivals from next week. On Wednesday, I got the chance to share them in a question to the Home Secretary in the Chamber.
It is disappointing that the quarantine was not introduced earlier when there were deep concerns during the peak of Covid-19 that 15,000 people were still flying into the country every day and the impact this could have on public health. I called on the Government at the time to introduce much stricter controls at the border.
Now on balance I think it’s right that this quarantine still goes ahead because preventing a second wave of the virus must be the top priority. But we also have to factor in that we aren’t where we were a number of weeks ago and other considerations are becoming increasingly important. In the Chamber I mentioned the particular contact I’ve had with people who have loved ones, including spouses, in other countries who are now hoping to make plans to visit them after months apart.
That’s why I called on the Home Secretary to take a flexible approach towards the quarantine moving forwards. We need robust health measures at the border but we must also be prepared to strike a balance where it is safe to do so.
A few months ago towards the beginning of the lockdown, a number of constituents got in touch to raise concerns that the measures in place at our borders to prevent more cases of Covid-19 coming into the country weren’t robust enough. I shared these concerns as 15,000 people were continuing to fly into the country every day while countries around the world had cancelled international travel or introduced strict quarantine measures for arrivals. That’s why I wrote to the Home Secretary at the time, urging her to implement stronger measures at our borders as soon as possible.
Since I wrote that letter on 20 April a considerable amount of time has passed but the Government now intends to introduce a 14-day quarantine for international arrivals due to start next week. Many of the arguments in favour of such a quarantine still stand and it’s important that all necessary steps are taken to protect against new imported cases of Covid-19 and ensure our infection rate can fall.
There are however a number of different factors to consider now given the time that has passed and the sense that the virus has started to recede slightly. Some other countries are beginning to look at loosening their restrictions and there have been concerns raised by the tourism and aviation sectors that the economic cost of introducing these measures now could outweigh the benefits. Some families in the UK may also be thinking about their own plans for the summer holidays and how this quarantine will affect them.
I would be interested to here what your views are on the Government’s plans for a quarantine. It’s disappointing that these plans weren’t brought in earlier but I’d like to know your views on them going ahead now. Please don’t hesitate to add a comment here or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.
My aim was to raise about £2,000 so I’m glad we ending up raising a little bit more than that. I would like to thank all of those who made a donation, I think it goes to show how many people value the work AGE UK SUFFOLK carry out.
As people will see I really went for it with the shaver. I didn’t do it by half measures. It feels more comfortable that the long out of control hair I had a few days ago but to be honest I’m not sure about the look and the DIY approach to hair cutting was just a one off, I look forward to be back at the hairdressers in the not too distant future.
AGE UK SUFFOLK is one of many local charities playing a pivotal role during the COVID-19 outbreak supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our community. At a time when the role that local charities have to play has never been more important there are a number of challenges that have made traditional fundraising activities difficult. We need charities such as AGE UK SUFFOLK more than ever and I would encourage people to supporting them in whatever way they can.
Comment from Jo Reeder, Head of Fundraising and Marketing, AGE UK SUFFOLK:
“We were delighted and slightly surprised when Mr Hunt’s office got in touch to say that he would like to support us in this great initiative. Mr Hunt has supported Age UK Suffolk from the outset of the coronavirus outbreak and is talking to older constituents, raising older people’s concerns in parliament and generally advocating the needs of older people at this difficult time. This incredible amount raised, will help us to continue our vital work in supporting people on a daily basis with shopping and welfare calls.”
People have made enormous sacrifices over recent weeks to make the lockdown work and beat Covid-19. This is a national effort to beat a virus which affects all of us and we must all play our part no matter what job we have or position we hold.
I therefore understand why people are angry that Dominic Cummings drove with his wife and son to his parents’ house in Durham. Personally it’s not something I would have done even if it was within the rules. I understand his reasoning for doing what he believed to be in the best interests of his loved ones and clearly that’s what motivated his decision to travel to Durham. However, this doesn’t change the fact that many of my constituents have also faced extremely challenging personal circumstances, some perhaps similar to Mr Cummings and yet they decided to “stay home”.
I have been contacted by constituents with many stories like this and behind each one is a human story and a unique set of circumstances. Sometimes there has been uncertainty around how some aspects of the guidance apply to individual cases and I’ve tried to help clarify where I can. But ultimately I’ve always said they must do what they believe to be in the best interest of them and their family while not endangering anyone else.
I watched the press conference today and the allegation that Mr Cummings made a second visit up to Durham was categorically denied and I believe that there is evidence to back up the fact that there was no second visit. It’s unfortunate that this aspect of the national media coverage like some other aspects has been misleading and inaccurate.
The press conference clarified some key points but some other questions do remain. I continue to have concerns regarding the trip to Barnard Castle, in particular why it was necessary to drive that far to test his eye sight and also the fact that he got out the other end.
Though I well understand much of the anger there is about there at the minute bearing in mind the sacrifices we have all been asked to make I do strongly oppose the behaviour of some who have sought to harass and intimidate Mr Cummings and his family. There is no room for it. This does seem to have been part of his calculation when he decided to travel to Durham.
I have been contacted by a large number of constituents on this matter and I want each of them to know that I have read each of their emails and considered their views carefully. Though some politically motivated individuals will have no doubt sought to use this whole episode to score political points this hasn’t been the case for the vast majority who have contacted me. They have legitimate concerns about what has gone on.
Though I believe his actions were motivated solely by the desire to protect his family, that he didn’t endanger the lives of others and that his situation was quite complex, I do believe he has made errors of judgement and frankly I do share much of the confusion and anger of many of my constituents.
I have and will continue to represent both the concerns of constituents and my own concerns to Government over the coming days.
I and many colleagues do have concerns that this is distracting from the central focus of Government right now which is to continue to tackle COVID-19 and set out a path to recovery. That needs to be the central task and all energy should be spent on this.
I do think it’s important that the Prime Minister reflects on the anger that this episode has caused and makes absolutely sure that we are able to move on from this ASAP to deal with the great challengers at hand for both my constituents and country more generally.
Last night I received this letter from the Prime Minister and I thought I would share it with you all. More details will continue to come out over the next couple of days and today the Prime Minister will make a statement in Parliament setting out in more detail what was explained in his statement to the nation last night. As more information becomes public I will of course post it as soon as possible letting you know how we as a country are starting to move forward with our fight against COVID-19.
A response to one of my written questions states that the maximum penalty for those found guilty of using coronavirus as a weapon against emergency workers has increased from 6 months’ imprisonment to 12 months. It will be up for the Courts to make sure that where necessary these sorts of sentences are handed out. As I’ve stated before I think its appalling that certain individuals have taken to deliberately spitting and coughing on Police officers over the past few weeks, effectively using the potential spread of COVID-19 as a weapon.
About 10 days ago I tabled a written question to the Ministry of Justice requesting that the law come down extremely hard on such individuals. Please see below the response I have just received. A key element of the Ministerial response: “It is vital that offenders using coronavirus to threaten others during this pandemic face the full force of the law. Such behaviour is an assault and where this is directed at an emergency worker we have recently doubled the maximum penalty for assault from 6 months to 12 months’ imprisonment. We have already seen significant sentences imposed on those using coronavirus as a threat.”