As you will know, the Government announced on 4th January new coronavirus rules mandating a national lockdown. I understand my constituents will have concerns about what these rules mean for you and your families as you go about your daily lives.
I am aware, as are my colleagues, that this will be extremely difficult for everyone. The decision to enforce another nationwide lockdown was not made sooner because the Government has been doing all within its power to suppress the virus. Were it not for the new variant of Covid, which has been confirmed to be 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible, this lockdown would have been avoided.
However, it is increasingly apparent that here in Broxtowe we must pull together with the rest of the country in order to bring this new variant under control. Consequently, we must stay at home. You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law. You must work from home unless you absolutely cannot. If you are clinically vulnerable, we advise you to begin shielding again. The full details of what you can and cannot do under this lockdown can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
What is critical to remember is that this time around we have not one, but two vaccines with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine rolling out from Monday this week. These vaccines are made on home soil here in Britain and are much cheaper and easier to handle than the previously approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Since this announcement, I reached out to Dr Hilary Lovelock, a local GP and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group Clinical Lead for the vaccination programme here in Nottinghamshire to get an update on the local situation. Dr Lovelock made it clear to me from a clinical point of view, lockdown provides us with a unique opportunity to roll out an ambitious immunisation programme. It is the biggest immunisation programme in the history of the NHS - working to ensure that as many individuals, particularly those most at risk as well as our key workers, are vaccinated as soon as possible. Throughout the coming week, I will be making her advice publicly available through my website and social media channels.
Following the recent release of the list of local authorities receiving rapid-turnaround lateral flow tests, I was disappointed to see none of Nottinghamshire’s local authorities on the list. Ahead of my meeting with fellow Nottinghamshire MPs and Jonathan Gribbin, Director of Public Health for Nottinghamshire I made the case for Nottinghamshire and specifically Broxtowe to have a targeted testing plan.
It is vital that testing in the region is increased especially since one in three people have the virus without symptoms, meaning testing is the only way to ensure these people are aware to self-isolate. The Government recently stated that rapid-turnaround lateral flow testing was a tool to be used in high-risk areas, yet Nottinghamshire with 7339 cases in the last 14 days is still not on the list.
The whole of Nottingham has now been under tough Tier 3/4 or Lockdown restrictions since October. It is my belief that these tests will be vital in getting Nottinghamshire into a lower Tier when the current lockdown ends and allowing vital sectors to reopen. Accordingly, I have written to decision-makers outlining that, should these tests go ahead, Nottinghamshire has over 20 local testing sites ready to spring to action delivering rapid-turnaround lateral flow tests, to the most needed areas. From what we have already witnessed a targeted approach is clearly the best way to administer this new type of testing. It is my belief that following ‘SMART’ testing: Systematic, Meaningful Asymptomatic Repeated Testing, would be a good initial approach. Any response I receive will be shared in due course.
Many in Broxtowe have been in touch with me over the weekend about schools reopening. Each email has good and valid questions which - as a parent - I can entirely empathise with. Therefore, I held a meeting this week with our local Primary and Secondary Schools so I can ascertain what our situation is here in Broxtowe. Headteachers raised concerns about inconsistent guidance from the Department for Education and concerns over critical worker status of parents. I have written to the Minister to highlight these issues.
Furthermore, I have written a letter to all schools to outline support - both at a national and local level - that is available to help everyone get through this lockdown. I want no child to be at a disadvantage, so please be assured that extra support will be provided to ensure students entitled to free school meals receive them, and more devices will be distributed to support remote education. For some brilliant and additional local initiatives, please follow this link: https://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/.../nottinghamshire...
In a similar vein, at the beginning of the week, I was in contact once more with local businesses - with a separate letter to hospitality businesses - who have been in touch previously with me to outline the support available from the Government and our Local Authorities. Should your business be struggling, please do get in contact or see my website for a copy of the letters sent.
It is absolutely vital during this pandemic that no one is left behind. All self-employed individuals must have support in place. During this new lockdown, it is more important than ever that we look again at the SEISS scheme and ensure that no one is left without support. So, I have written once more to the Chancellor on behalf of those constituents who have fallen through the gaps with financial support. Expanding the scheme at this stage may be the only way to ensure that many self-employed people, such as those mentioned, are protected by this Government so that they may have the opportunity to emerge from the pandemic with businesses still able to survive and grow.
This week I also had a call with the Mermaids charity. Here, I learned about the wonderful work that they have been doing to support gender-diverse constituents across Broxtowe throughout the pandemic. I am a big supporter of their work and it is good to know they support my efforts in Parliament to get better mental health support for my constituents.
As ever, if you have any immediate concerns on this or any other issue please do not hesitate to contact me. I want to assure you that I will continue to work in Parliament to ensure my constituents are supported during the lockdown.
For now - stay safe everyone,