I know many people will be dismayed that we face another national lockdown to control the spread of Coronavirus. These are measures that are totally alien to our democratic values and the freedoms which are the foundations of our nation. However, the choices we currently face seem almost impossible to imagine. Either put on hold the growth of our economy and jobs or risk overwhelming our NHS and the loss of many lives.
I know many people will be extremely worried about what the additional measures mean for them. Thankfully these measures will not be as restrictive as those earlier this year, with education remaining open and being time limited. But the measures are likely to impact us all, with consequences for our usual way of life, our mental health and livelihoods.
We have all already been through so much this year, with all our lives being impacted, for some much more than others. We have asked much more of many than should ever be expected. Those who have carried on, going the extra mile throughout the crisis, those key workers especially in the NHS and the volunteers who have done so much to help others, they all deserve our huge thanks.
I know people will be incredibly frustrated that we can’t just return to normal and get on with our lives. I know many will also be concerned that we seem to be frequently changing track and face a grim state of déjà vu. But the reality is the real threat we face moves fast at pace, doesn’t discriminate and is a risk to us all. We must react in the same vein, tackle the virus head on with equal speed.
In Stoke-on-Trent we have already been at Tier 2 for over a week with high number of Covid cases locally and cases have risen dramatically in such a short space of time. Most worryingly the Royal Stoke and County hospitals are seen significantly escalating number of people with Covid being treated, higher now than during the first peak of the pandemic.
Thankfully there have been rapid advances even in the last couple of months in understanding and treating the virus. But our health services can only treat so many patients at one time and we must do everything possible to ensure our NHS is not overwhelmed. I would encourage everybody to help our local NHS services when they need treatment by always ensuring you are accessing the appropriate service and if unsure call 111 for the best advice.
Not only are we seeing promising improvements in treatment but also in the development of more rapid testing and the development of a vaccine. Testing capacity has already increased significantly, with additional facilities opening locally and is now reaching capacity of near 500,000 tests per day, greater than anywhere in Europe. If we can get through these short-term measures, there is optimism and light at the end of the tunnel. The UK is at the forefront of medical science to tackle Covid and right around every day we are seeing further advances.
My original Personally Speaking for this month was going to be about Longton and the challenges faced by the high street. Our local retailers, cafes and market traders have been some of the most impacted by Coronavirus. I have made clear to Ministers the importance of supporting these local businesses and rejuvenating our high streets to support our future prosperity.
I am pleased the Chancellor has responded, recently announcing additional grants for those businesses hit hardest and doubling support for the self-employed; protecting livelihoods. The announcement by the Prime Minister that the Furlough Scheme will also be extended until December means we can continue to support businesses and protect jobs.
But the future of all Stoke-on-Trent’s communities is down to all of us. We need to all act together now to control the spread of the virus so we can move forward to the future. Then we can get on with making the most of what is great about our city and strengthen those things we need to improve on to grow opportunities locally.
As your MP, I am working in Parliament whenever possible to bring the promised transport upgrades, education improvements, and regeneration developments into reality. With renewed purpose and finally the support we need to succeed, I know all our communities can emerge from this pandemic stronger, more prosperous and more united than ever before.