There will be many things to reflect upon once the Coronavirus crisis passes. One will be the VE75 celebrations, much muted because of the lockdown. I’m not one to generously praise the BBC these days, particularly across their political reporting and balance, but they did an exceptional job and I congratulate them for their broadcast on the day.
As ever, at times of crisis, celebration, and remembrance, Her Majesty The Queen brought an exceptional perspective as the only international Head of State still alive to have seen service during WWII. Looking at the archive footage of the day, one can only imagine the sense of relief, the jubilation and the joy at the news that hostilities had ceased and that the allies had been victorious against the evil of the Nazis. There are fewer and fewer still alive who were engaged in the conflict: we will never forget their sacrifice and of those who fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy today.
We now enter a changed phase in our domestic battle against Coronavirus, with the change of advice from ‘Stay at Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’. What does this mean? It means that the government does not intend to exercise draconian powers over our lives for any longer than is necessary.
It means that we are all able to act sensibly and are freer to do so. Advice in the workplace has subtly changed with an encouragement to return to work as far as is possible, freedom to visit parks and beaches whilst maintaining social distancing and to look forward to a medium-term re-opening of some school classes and hospitality. All is predicated on keeping the ‘R’ number – the rate of transmission below 1 so that, over time, the overall rate of infection diminishes and the number of us needing NHS care similarly drops.
The effectiveness of the lockdown is being seen with less intensive care bed occupancy and reducing daily death rates. This does not mean that all can revert to normal – there are serious challenges within the care home sector which must be urgently addressed through testing of staff and residents to lower infection and death rates. My weekly video conference meetings with Kent & Medway NHS executives covers all of these relevant points.
There is much justifiable concern about the seemingly unchecked numbers of migrants making the journey, on inflatable boats, from France to the shores of Kent. People ask why they are not returned to France, an obviously safe country? They ask how on earth they are not prevented from launching from the beaches in what are highly organised (and lucrative) operations by traffickers; and what of the Covid-19 status of these people?
There is a detailed action plan in progress and I have been updated by the Home Secretary. It requires more action by the French authorities, and an obviously more robust approach by all. I share residents annoyance but I am satisfied that this appears high on the government’s list of priorities. This is a complex subject of international, maritime and EU law, and bilateral agreement with France. If it were simple it would have been solved. I am confident it will be.
Small victories – I am pleased that Household Waste Recycling Centres will re-open from this Friday, with residents able to book in a slot. This follows concerted effort by Kent MPs; details on the KCC website. Additional funding of £1.5m and £1.4m have been awarded to Thanet District Council and Dover District respectively to compensate, in part, for the additional financial pressures and potential lost revenues.
There is also another £3m each for the councils to expand the Business Support Grants beyond the £30m each already allocated and largely distributed to date. The new scheme will allow the councils additional discretion to make awards to businesses not covered by the original blanket scheme. These amounts pale into virtual insignificance when we consider that some £50m per month will be flowing into the South Thanet constituency to support the employed and self-employed support schemes. Truly unprecedented and beyond any other international schemes.
Stay alert, control the virus, save lives. Keep well.