James Heappey Weekly Column

For the last week nationally, we have seen a sustained plateauing and even reduction in the number of deaths caused by coronavirus. That is matched by equally encouraging figures for hospital admissions.

We must be quick to acknowledge, however, that this doesn’t mean that Covid-19 has been defeated. We still do not have a vaccine and if the lockdown restrictions are lifted too soon, infection rates will undoubtedly accelerate once again.

A second wave of infection would be devastating – not only because of the human loss through more deaths – but it would ensure a far longer shut down of our economy with overwhelming effects for our financial wellbeing.

In the South West, we have been affected the least of all the regions in the UK by this horrible virus. In part that will be because we are more sparsely populated, in part it will be just good luck. But more than both things, it is a testament to how the residents of Somerset have listened to the Government’s instructions and altered their lives accordingly.

Consequently – even before the Nightingale hospitals in Bristol and Exeter are factored in – our existing hospitals are running below capacity. This is nothing to celebrate. If our infection rates accelerate even slightly, that hospital capacity would quickly disappear. But it should act as all the encouragement we need to continue to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.