The past few months have been challenging for all of us, and I know there are some who are unhappy with the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I have been frustrated that I have been unable to vote on the restrictions imposed on my constituents by the Welsh Government.
These were not decisions taken lightly by anyone, and I have made no secret of my concerns about lockdowns. Lockdowns have an enormous impact on our liberties, the mental health and livelihoods of many people and on the economy. They should only ever be an absolute last resort, but ultimately, I concluded that the consequences would be far worse if COVID-19 was allowed to continue spreading at an accelerating rate.
With the ‘R’ rate now below 1 for the first time since August, lockdown restrictions in England will end tomorrow. This means that the stay at home requirement will end, non-essential shops can reopen, personal care will open, gyms and leisure centres can open, outdoor sporting activities can take place once again, people can meet outdoors through the Rule of Six, and weddings and collective worship can resume.
While infection levels have started to fall, they still remain at a high level and pressures on NHS England remain with 12,845 coronavirus patients still in English hospitals. Many patients in Brecon and Radnorshire rely on services across the border in England, and it would not take much for transmission rates to begin to rise leading to NHS England coming under extreme pressure once again. This would mean routine treatments, surgeries and screening would have to be paused and the impact on the public’s physical and mental health would be unfathomable.
Unfortunately, this means that England will have to return to a tier system while we all wait for vaccine approval and deployment.
Given the significance of the regulations proposed for England the UK Government has published an impact assessment and I have received a number of assurances from the UK Government ahead of the vote on the new tier system this evening:
- These regulations will have a sunset of 3 February and Parliament will have the opportunity to confirm whether it continues its support for these measures, after we review their impact at the end of January.
- The regulations explicitly require the Government to conduct a formal review of the tiering allocations every fortnight. The first review of the tier allocations will be on 16th December.
With these assurances in mind, this evening I will vote in favour of the new tier system for England, along with proposals to allow a brief period of relaxation of the social contact restrictions over the Christmas period which will apply across the whole of the UK.
The targeted restrictions proposed for England, while not what anyone wants to see in an ideal world, are far preferable than the indiscriminate measures taken by the Welsh Government. In Wales, there has been announced a blanket ban on serving alcohol in bars, pubs, or restaurants, as well as the imposition of a 6pm curfew on them, regardless of the rates of coronavirus in their area.
I know that there will be some who are unhappy with my decision to support the UK Government this evening. To them, I would say that in my eyes no responsible elected representative could allow coronavirus to tear through England unimpeded, overwhelming the NHS, causing the deaths of coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients alike, and with potential for just as many economic consequences. But I hope we can continue to help each other through the varying restrictions across the UK and while this crisis is not yet over, we can all take comfort from the news of several vaccines showing promising trial results.
As always, the details of the latest coronavirus restrictions can be accessed on the Welsh Government website for Wales and the UK Government website for England. If my team or I can help you, your family or your business in any way then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fay Jones MP
Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire