Coronavirus is the worst global health emergency we have seen for a generation, and it has changed the daily lives of everyone across Sevenoaks and Swanley. Huge sacrifices have been made to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. From key workers and volunteers, to those shielding at home, everyone has played their part and because of your patience and resilience we have been able to keep the infection rate amongst the lowest in Kent.
Because of this progress, we have also started to see the return of ‘normal life’. Lockdown has not yet been lifted entirely, but (at the time of writing) retail and parts of our much-loved hospitality sectors have been able to re-open. The Premier League and Championship football matches have returned to our screens, alongside Test Cricket and Formula 1. We must now get Britain’s economy firing again and I hope more sectors, including a full return of community sport, will be able to follow suit, as soon the science proves it is safe to do so.
In Sevenoaks, we are lucky to have many wonderful local businesses which provide the cornerstone of our community – and I am delighted to see so many advertising their services in this very magazine. All these businesses and their workers have put in a heroic effort to prepare their venues for reopening and to work out a way to trade that keeps their staff and customers safe. Over the last month, I have visited many across the constituency to see first-hand the precautions they have put in place, and it has been truly moving to hear how the Government’s world-leading package of business support has made a real difference during these unprecedented and challenging months. It has not been easy; I held daily virtual surgeries at the height of the pandemic, and I know how many businesses have suffered, but now is the time to go out and support them again.
I know some of you will have reservations about returning to stores, restaurants and pubs – especially after what feels like such a long time. And you are right, economic recovery must not come at the expense of people’s health. However, it is for these exact reasons that Government has put safety first throughout this pandemic. By working with businesses, unions, and health and safety experts, clear guidance has been issued to employers to ensure it is safe to return to our high streets, and I am delighted to seeing this being followed so closely across the constituency.
Last month the Chancellor announced a further £30 billion to support the ‘Plan for Jobs’, however the success of these businesses, the livelihoods of those who rely on them, and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is now dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly. We must not let them down.
Lockdown only succeeded in controlling the virus because everyone worked together, and we will only succeed in reopening if everyone works together again. Anyone who flouts social distancing and COVID-Secure rules is not only putting us all at risk but letting down those businesses and workers who have done so much to prepare for this new normal.
With the summer months now here, and the good weather (hopefully) returning, I know I will not be the only one who is looking forward to enjoying the beautiful sights that we have on our doorstep. Being outside has proven benefits for all our wellbeing and mental health and after months spent inside, I hope we can now all appreciate more the great outdoors and spending time with our families and friends (while still respecting the social distancing guidelines).
We are past the peak; however, the fight is not over. The local lockdown in Leicester has shown that. If the spread starts to rise, the Government will rightly not hesitate in putting on the brakes and re-imposing restrictions.
I urge everyone across Sevenoaks and Swanley to stay alert, control the virus, save lives – and enjoy summer safely.