I write this week with a heavy heart. I had hoped we could manage coronavirus through the regional alert level, while allowing as much of our economy as possible to continue, and friends and family to be able to see each other. However, the virus is now spreading faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers. The latest modelling suggests that unless we take further action now, we will see a peak far greater than the one we saw in April.
This is a national issue. While the virus is more widespread in the North West, it is doubling faster across the South East. The "R" rate (the rate that the virus reproduces at) is above one in every part of the country, meaning exponential growth everywhere. The latest data for the Sevenoaks district shows a rapid increase in the number of new positive COVID-19 cases; for the seven days to 28th October, 111 new cases were diagnosed, which represents a rate of 91.9 per 100,000 population. While these numbers are small in comparison to the national average (225.8 cases per 100,000 for the same date range) the cases in Sevenoaks have increased by 50% in two weeks – which is 17.5% higher than the national average. We must take action now to protect our NHS capacity, both for COVID and for non-COVID patients.
There are no easy decisions. No Prime Minister wants to restrict the freedoms we enjoy. Both health and the economy will be impacted whichever course of action we take. And, having spoken regularly to local businesses, I am under no illusions how difficult a second lockdown will be for those who have already had to endure unimaginable hardship. I welcomed the Chancellors decision to offer vital business support throughout November. This includes, an extension of the furlough system, increasing the support to the self-employed, cash grants for businesses which are closed and £1.1 billion for local councils to further support businesses over the coming months. Such support offered a lifeline earlier in the year, and I know it will make a significant difference once again.
This time round the Government has rightly made accommodations to help with the mental health burden lockdown inevitably places on individuals and families; individuals can meet with one other from another household - and can be accompanied by children under 5. Schools are also open, which is vital. However, I do think further exemptions are necessary. I am pushing for the Government to include tennis, golf and children's sports in their list. I also have grave concerns about residents of care homes who have been months without visitors. I want the Government to explore the possibility of testing one visitor for each resident so that no one is without their friends and family for a further sustained period. I have raised this in the Health and Social Care Committee (of which I am a member) and I will continue to do so with ministers.
However, for now the message is simple. From today, and for one month, we must stay at home, and only leave for specific reasons, including: education, work (if you cannot work from home), exercise, medical purposes, shopping for food and essentials; and to provide care for vulnerable people.
I thank you, as always, for your patience and cooperation. I remain thoroughly proud of how our community has come together in this national crisis. If you need help, or have any questions, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.