Difficult to believe that two weeks have flown by as the national lockdown continues. With so much data available it is difficult to know, with complete certainty, where we are.
International comparisons are not always helpful because of the lack of global standardisation of recording and differences in the quality of overseas healthcare and governments’ ability to collect information. The key for the UK is to keep the ‘R’ index – the rate of infection by somebody infected well below 1. If above 1 this means that the infected population infects more than 1 person each. Continue on that path and the entire population, over time, will become infected. The more over 1 the number is, the faster the infection curve grows. Under 1 and the number of new infections falls.
Of all the data, the number in hospital with Covid-19 is, to me, highly relevant. This figure is now showing a decline across the South East: good news, which indicates that the UK’s figure is now below R1. The strict measures have worked.
What is important is what happens next, particularly in East Kent. It is how we move from strict lockdown to loosening. Too fast and too loose then the rate of infection will grow gain (R figure above 1). Too slow, then we permanently damage the economy, jobs and the fundamentals of society.
I can only imagine the mental health problems accumulating, pressures within families and the worry faced by our entrepreneurs who have often staked everything over many years to create a business and employment. We must never forget that neither the government nor local authorities have any money – it all comes from productive capitalism creating profits and employment which are taxed in one way or another. Spend more than is collected and we have debt which future generations have to service and pay back.
I am hugely aware that a higher than national or regional average of our local economy is reliant on tourism, language schools and hospitality. Whilst over £30m has now been distributed locally to businesses under the Business Support Grants Fund and the Retail Hospitality & Leisure Grant Fund and payments to support employment under the ‘Furlough’ scheme will be paid this week, this cannot continue forever.
I am particularly mindful of smaller businesses who have remained closed whilst bigger retailers, often selling the same products but with an additional range of ‘essentials’, food and the like have been able to continue trading. The added worry is that the shift during this period to online shopping, which has broadly continued unhindered, will continue once normality returns to the further detriment of our already pressured High Streets.
One loosening that is urgently required is the re-opening in a sensible way of the Household Waste Recycling Centres. Many will have had an overdue clear out, done some DIY, sorted the garden and such like. We’re already seeing more fly-tipping and there is only so much extra rubbish that can be stored domestically. Myself and other Kent MPs are pushing KCC to get our tips re-opened.
I’m sure readers will be as delighted as I am to see our Prime Minister’s health much improved and him back in control in Downing Street. Another week for me of ‘Zoom’ and similar virtual meetings. They’re nothing like the real thing but are infinitely better than nothing.
A nation’s thanks go to all those working so hard on the frontline within the NHS, care homes, emergency services, retail, distribution and many more.