Over the last week the Coronavirus pandemic has continued to develop at pace and there have been major effects for us all with the decision to close all restaurants, pubs and non-food shops and strong advice to everyone to stay at home wherever possible and to take care to distance themselves from others when they do need to go out or go to work.
These quite extraordinary measures have had to be taken in order to protect lives and try to reduce the pressure on our NHS which is going to have a huge task trying to deal with those more serious cases that lead to people being hospitalised. While the vast majority of us can fight off the Coronavirus, all of us contribute to spreading it around and therefore passing it on to those more vulnerable people who might not be able to fight it off.
The steps taken will have huge impacts on the economy and it is a worrying time for many with businesses forced to close and many losing their jobs. It has also been an incredibly volatile time with public anxiety driving behaviours that are not helpful. Cornwall and many other parts of the country initially saw an influx of people fleeing to the countryside thinking that it helped them to isolate but the danger is that they carry the virus with them and out vulnerable local residents at greater risk. There have also been difficult situations in the food supply chain with panic buying in some areas meaning that Supermarkets struggled to keep food on their shelves.
The government has taken steps to give tougher guidance to people only to travel if absolutely essential, to stay at home and work from home if at all possible and when going out to do essential shopping to do all they can to keep their distance from others maintaining a 2 metre separation wherever practical.
In Defra my main focus has been on trying keep the food supply chain moving. In the last three weeks shops have put an additional £1 billion of extra food into people’s homes. We have a resilient food supply chain which is able to respond to increases in demand as it does every Christmas. Food manufacturers have increased their production by about 50% to meet the surge in demand. We removed time restrictions on lorry movements at stores and relaxed restrictions on drivers’ hours to keep the lorries moving more food to every store.
At times like this we discover as a country the jobs that are really valued. Those who work in the food supply chain whether on farms, in food processing factories, delivery drivers and staff in supermarkets have done a fantastic job keeping the nation fed and their jobs are of crucial importance. Some of them have faced anger and abuse from a tiny minority of the public but the rest of us are grateful for all that they are doing to keep us fed at a difficult time.