Wednesday, 13 January 2021
Wednesday, 6 January 2021
This week the UK’s Chief Medical Officers have advised that if action is not taken the NHS may be overwhelmed within 21 days. As a result, the government has made the difficult decision to reimpose a national lockdown.
We tried our best to avoid this outcome and, in particular, wanted to try to keep schools open. Access to the school is incredibly important for the social confidence and education of young people. We recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal, so alternative arrangements will be put in place. We also know that these constant interruptions to life are deeply frustrating. They are incredibly difficult for businesses like pubs, tourism and the hospitality industry. However, there is now a new variant of Covid-19 that is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible – that means all of us are considerably more likely to catch the virus and pass it on.
In Cornwall, we started in tier one restrictions and levels remained at a relatively low level but like other parts of the South-West, the case numbers have been rising quickly recently. We are particularly vulnerable, as we have an older population and because we are at the end of the line, it is harder to share resources around the NHS so the capacity to deal with a surge in demand is more limited. It was vital we take swift and strong action in order to prevent our local health services being overcome by this new variant.
This lockdown will be very similar to that which we undertook back in March. We are all being asked to stay at home and only leave for essential purposes such as food shopping or for work. We can leave the house for exercise once a day and support and childcare bubbles will remain in place. Those who are able to work from home should but many in Cornwall will work in food retail or distribution, in factories or in trades like construction and are able to continue to work.
As part of the set of measures that the Prime Minister announced, the Chancellor has announced an extension of the economic support available. There will be one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 to help businesses through to the Spring. Additionally, there will be a £594 million discretionary fund also made available to support other impacted businesses. This comes in addition to £1.1 billion further discretionary grant funding in Local Support Grants worth up to £3,000 a month and extension of furlough and SEISS scheme through to April.
However, while this lockdown is similar to last year there is a major difference: the vaccine. We are rolling out the biggest logistical program in this country’s peacetime history. With the arrival of the UK’s own Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine, the pace at which vaccinations are taking place is accelerating. We have already vaccinated more people in the UK than the rest of Europe alone. By the middle of February, we realistically aim to have offered the first dose of the vaccine to everyone in the top 4 priority groups including everyone over the age of 70.
During the last 10 months, we have all looked out for each other and pulled together to support one another as a community. Our unique Cornish spirit has shone through, however, in the weeks ahead we all need to draw on this again and continue to support one another through these difficult times.
Wednesday, 30 December 2020
Thursday, 24 December 2020
As I write this column, Parliament has just broken up for the Christmas period and the final Christmas Cards have been sent, ready to catch the last post in order to make it before Christmas. This year, as in previous years, I enlisted the help of local primary schools in the area to design my Christmas card. As always, I was very impressed with the many talented artists we have in this part of Cornwall.
2020 has been an unexpectedly difficult year. However, while many have spent much of the year inside and unable to meet with friends or family, it has also brought out the best in people. We have seen how vital the brave frontline workers are to our country, particularly those working in the NHS who have been working tirelessly to protect lives and slow the spread of the virus.
Social distancing has made people value friendships and family connections as many had perhaps started to under-appreciate them, given the frantic pace of life in the modern world. People have also discovered a new connection with the natural world during the full lockdown as access to public spaces was just about all we had.
In an increasingly digital age, where a Facebook post or digital Christmas message has become the norm, it’s refreshing that the tradition of Christmas cards plays a vital role in keeping touch with old friends and family. Throughout life, there are always old friends who we are in danger of losing touch with. Sometimes because they have moved away, changed job or are preoccupied with other priorities. The annual Christmas card is often the final thread that prevents you from losing touch altogether, so time writing cards is time well spent.
We should also be looking ahead to 2021 and the chance to turn the corner in this pandemic and try to get back to life as normal. The UK was the first country to approve the Coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer. This is the culmination of months of rigorous clinical trials and is a brilliant reflection on the world-class scientists and clinicians that we have in the UK. In the months ahead we will be rolling this out to millions of people starting with those who are most vulnerable to the virus.
We should also see 2021 as an opportunity to press reset and build back better from the pandemic. For the first time in nearly 40 years, we will be an independent trading nation, abiding by laws set in our borders, not on the continent. 2021 will be a new start for the UK and I am confident we will seize that prospect readily. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!
Wednesday, 16 December 2020
Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Last week the UK became the first country to approve the Coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and this week deployment of it began. Developing a successful vaccine has been the only way out of this difficult pandemic and a huge amount of work has gone into dozens of different candidate vaccines as the world has wrestled with this most difficult challenge.
The government accepted the recommendation from the Independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for use. This is the culmination of months of rigorous clinical trials and is a brilliant reflection on the world-class scientists and clinicians that we have in the UK. The MHRA is confident that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
It was clear from the outset that producing a safe and effective vaccine quickly would be a huge challenge. The reality is that most vaccine projects fail and vaccines usually take many years to discover and develop. But some big advances in vaccine technology emerged over the past decade and they have come right to the fore in this pandemic.
Time has been of the essence, but science cannot simply cut corners. It is a discipline that works only if it is rigorous, transparent, scrutinised by regulators, and its findings published and peer-reviewed. Everything from the laboratory work through to the clinical trials is pored over by independent experts in the regulatory agencies. The approval of this first vaccine is a huge breakthrough in our fight against this virus.
However, we cannot let our guard down yet. Keeping the infection rate low is vital because that's what will allow us to push the virus into the ground as quickly as possible once vaccinations begin. Back in September and October, the virus was spreading rapidly in all parts of the country. As a result, the government responded with new national restriction measures and this brought the R number down and the virus back under control. The newly revised tier system will help ensure we do not waste that success and keep the numbers down.
The vaccine will be rolled out in earnest over the next few weeks with the first doses arriving at hospitals and care homes across Cornwall this week. The priority will be to vaccinate those most at risk in our society, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable, from there other age groups will be vaccinated in turn. The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust is one of the 50 designated 'vaccine hubs' that will distribute the inoculations. Around 800,000 doses are expected to be delivered this week to hubs all over the country, with millions more in the coming weeks.
If we can keep the spread of the virus under the control over the next few weeks and months and remain cautious over the winter, then we can see light at the end of the tunnel and could turn the corner in Spring or early summer and finally get back to normal life again.
Wednesday, 2 December 2020
This week is National Grief Awareness Week 2nd to 8th December. Of course, we have got used to the growing number of “days” and “weeks” designated by campaign groups or charities seeking to raise awareness of their particular issues. However, every single one of us, at some point in our lives, will lose someone close to us, so bereavement and grief affects us all.
Some experience grief instantly, others seem to cope but are then affected some years later. Some put on a brave face, others pour their heart out. But the first time anyone loses an immediate family member is often the hardest. There is never any shortage of well-intentioned advice about the need to 'move on' and 'get on with life' but that's not always helpful.
I remember an experienced volunteer at the Samaritans once telling me that losing someone close to you is a bit like losing a limb. You never really get over it but you do get used to it and can eventually learn to cope. Anniversaries of the date that a loved one was lost are often particularly difficult as can be family events like Christmas when the absence is felt more keenly.
In this current year, the measures that have had to be taken to control the Coronavirus have created new challenges. Many will have lost loved ones this year, but the myriad of restrictions and limitations have left some feeling unable to come to terms with the loss. It has been more difficult to visit loved ones in the hospital, funerals have been closed to all but the immediate family. Families have not been able to reach out to relatives and friends for a much-needed hug and human connection, making the process more difficult than it already is. Picking up the phone to those who have suffered a loss has never been more important and, when this pandemic is over, there will doubtless be many memorial services held in lieu of the funerals that could never fully be held so that we can properly remember those who were close to us.
The local charity, Penhaligons Friends, based in Redruth does fantastic work to support children and young people who have suffered a bereavement. Learning to cope is every bit harder for teenagers who have a lot of emotional changes in their life as it is, and younger children who often struggle to understand why such a tragedy has happened to them and can often feel it might even be their fault and need reassurance. Penhaligon’s Friends is there for these children and teenagers. It has built up over 80 volunteers across Cornwall and, at any one time, will be helping and supporting hundreds of Cornish children. The charity runs some excellent support groups where young people going through the same grieving process can share their feelings and receive support. The volunteers have seen a lot of tragedy but, over the years, they have helped thousands of young people come to terms with what life has dealt them.
There are many other support groups available. At Heartlands, for instance, there is regular a grief café available and volunteers will be available locally to support you if you should need it. You can find more details by going to the Good Grief Trust’s website. SEE HERE