On Monday evening, the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown in England. This means that you must stay at home, only leaving where necessary. This includes shopping for basic necessities and go to work, if you cannot reasonably do so from home. Full details of what you can and cannot do during the lockdown are available here.
These new restrictions have become necessary because of the concerning speed with which the new variant of Coronavirus is spreading. The new variant spreads 50-70% faster. Yesterday, for example, almost 61,000 people across the UK tested positive, and the number of cases over the last seven days increased by almost 44% compared to the previous seven days. Here in Elmbridge, 119 people tested positive yesterday. Our seven-day case rate (per 100,000 residents) rose to 724 in the period ending on New Year’s Eve, up from 305 a fortnight earlier.
These rising case numbers mean that our hospitals are under more pressure from Coronavirus than at any time since the start of the pandemic. There are over 26,600 Coronavirus patients in hospital in England, higher than the previous peak of almost 19,000 in April. Locally, both Ashford and St Peter’s and Kingston hospitals saw the number of Coronavirus patients in hospital (and those in mechanical ventilation beds) rise throughout December. These figures show why further action was needed to bring the new variant under control.
While this action is necessary, I do appreciate how difficult another lockdown will be for residents and businesses in Elmbridge. With this in mind, yesterday the Chancellor announced new grants of up to £9,000 (per property) for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, and a further £594 million for local authorities to support other businesses. This is in addition to grants of up to £3,000 per month for business forced to close, and the extension of the furlough scheme until April. Together, these measures will help to support local businesses through the restrictions.
Residents have shown great resilience and community spirit throughout this pandemic, and I know that you will again during this lockdown. As we did back during the spring last year, it will be important to look out for the elderly and vulnerable in our communities who may need support – especially now that we are in the winter months.
We can do this knowing that, in the vaccine, we can see a clear end to this difficult period. The vaccination programme has made good progress, with 1.1 million people in England having received vaccine doses, including 23% of all over-80s. We have already vaccinated more people in this country than in the rest of Europe combined, and the programme will accelerate during the lockdown as the NHS works through the top priority groups. Gradually, as more people are vaccinated, we will be able to lift many of the restrictions that residents have been enduring.