I am writing this column after an announcement from the Prime Minister on new measures to help us with our fight against coronavirus. These are, I know, extremely disappointing and have been introduced by the Government with a heavy heart.
I must first say that here in Sedgemoor and Mendip, the infection rate remains low. While this does not mean we can be complacent, it is important the community is aware that while the headline figures can be worrying, we are doing well in continuing to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Secondly, this is not a second lockdown. Back in March, we knew very little about the virus and the way it spread. We have been able to model much better the way a second and third wave might affect us. In the South West, providing that nationally the R rate responds to the measures, we can expect to see no more restrictions than those introduced as the national baseline.
So what do these new measures mean?
Well the most obvious is that after weeks of trying to get people back to work, we now need people to start working from home wherever they’re able. To be clear, wherever people can’t fully deliver their responsibilities from home, they’re allowed – and encouraged – to continue attending their workplace.
We had a higher than average number of home workers even before Covid came along. Yet asking people not to attend their office has a big impact on our town centres and I fear that the next few months will be very difficult for businesses that service office workers as well as for our high streets more generally.
Increased restrictions will be less damaging to our tourism industry over winter but we should also be clear that they needed to have a strong autumn to get their heads back above water after their trade was decimated in the spring and early summer. The Prime Minister has tried to keep restaurants, cafes, bars, and visitor attractions open but with a curfew, however I know that these latest set of measures will be disastrous news for those in that industry.
Some may argue that we should abandon these restrictions altogether – that the impacts of the virus don’t warrant the decimation of our economy. I’m afraid that having seen the modelling, I simply cannot agree. Our NHS will not cope if the virus can spread unchecked and many people will die unnecessarily as a consequence.
These are unprecedented times and there are no obvious answers. Different countries have tried different approaches and although density of population, demographics and public health all have an impact, the reality is that the virus keeps winning through. I’m afraid there is no alternative but to batten down the hatches, abide by the restrictions, control the virus as best we can, and look forward to a vaccine arriving as soon as possible.