My reply to those enquiring about Covid Plan B
Thank you for contacting me about Plan B and the measures being brought in to combat the Omicron variant. I know this is not a unique response but with the volume of emails on the same subject may I apologise that I can’t give you an individual response on this occasion. It is a very open and honest answer on an incredibly difficult decision and one I have taken my time to reach and answer.
I admit this news did come as a bit of a shock to me; I stand by my view that we need to learn to live with COVID-19 and that decisions to restrict people’s freedoms should never be taken lightly.
I have looked closely at the details and mulled the decision to implement Plan B over, repeatedly. I have liaised with my local authority and medical chief in Norfolk to ascertain their views and in the scenarios we are presented with, the view I take below, I believe they are in agreement with. We must remember these measures are purely temporary and reviewable on 26th January. If the situation is better than forecast we must relax the rules immediately. At all costs, I want to take action to avoid another lockdown as I believe you do too. If these measures help achieve that, I have to take them seriously.
We must start with the new variant. Omicron is concerning – we simply cannot ignore the dramatic rise of cases in the UK. The variant is doubling every 2 ½ - 3 days and is more transmissible than the Delta variant. As you probably know, the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the current observed doubling rate of 2 ½ - 3 days, by the end of the month, would mean over a million infections. Notably, Omicron is now estimated to be 20% of all infections in England, 44% already in London – its rapid growth should alarm us all. If you look at the most recent hospitalisation figures that always lag a week or so behind, there is a trend that these are already rising. The reality is we are likely to see even more hospitalisations in the coming weeks.
This is something I cannot ignore. With the oldest demographic, by constituency, in the UK, with many vulnerable and elderly residents I have always acted to minimise risks, and this means taking proactive, but proportionate, steps whilst we assess just what the implications of a rapid rise of infections and the extent of the vaccine’s efficacy. We know that two jabs against Omicron is not effective as it needs to be and only 40% of the population have had that all important third dose to offer sufficient protection. This is why these new measures have been implemented.
I appreciate some will disagree with me – and I respect those who do – however, I hope my response can shed light on my rationale and adequately explain my position.
People working from home (WFH) where possible, is a sensible step which I do not see as overbearing. It will slow transmissions both at workplaces and on public transport. Similarly, the requirement to wear facemasks in certain venues is a small ask in my opinion. Small sacrifices, such as these, will hopefully help us get through the winter months and mitigate the effects of Omicron.
However, on the issue of vaccine passports or ‘covid passports’, I absolutely share the concern many have conveyed to me. I have consistently and unapologetically said, I think the wholesale introduction of vaccine passports would be a mistake and frankly discriminatory.
Given the success of our vaccine roll out, I believe it would be overbearing to require everyone to have a vaccine passport. I have conveyed this view to the Government several times and spoken about it in the House of Commons repeatedly.
But the Government has made a welcome concession and has not introduced vaccine passports across society. It appears they have listened and I am reassured of the option to ask for proof of a negative test rather than show your vaccine status. It will be a case of either/or and will only apply in a few circumstances – namely, in nightclubs and at large events. This is key, they will only be required in extremely limited, high-risk circumstances and will be temporary. This is a concession that I am just about able to bear. In effect you do not have to show your vaccination status if you do not want to.
Rest assured, I would never support their usage in wider society. I have told the Government I would be extremely concerned about their wider introduction in society and cannot support that. I fully agree with the view that vaccine passports have very questionable use, but if the predications on this variant prove true, whilst we still have a low number of people given that all important booster jab, I simply cannot afford to have not used every tool available to me to try and reduce the spread of the virus.
Restrictions are frustrating, I appreciate this, and I know restrictions can bring their own harms, from affecting mental health to having severe consequences for local businesses. Our job now, with the emergence of Omicron, is to strike a balance between protecting people’s lives and minimising the harm restrictions can bring.
I have spoken to countless constituents whose businesses will be affected by these restrictions. Late cancellation of Christmas functions and other social events will and are having a devasting impact on our hospitality venues. After two difficult trading years, this latest development is deeply worrying, and as Business Ambassador for the region, something I cannot and will not ignore.
I will therefore be writing to the Chancellor to urgently seek his support for a financial package to help prevent hospitality business closures and job loses, which will inevitably occur without Government support if the situation deteriorates.
Overall, whilst certainly frustrating to have to reintroduce these limited restrictions, I do think they are reasonable precautions to avoid another lockdown. I do not take great pride in supporting them; indeed, I wish it wasn’t the case and we could continue uninhibited in our daily lives. However, the reality is that failure to act now could lead to much worse consequences and I am simply not willing to take that risk given the age profile I represent and my record of acting cautiously to contain risks throughout this pandemic. It would be frankly irresponsible to not do all I can in my position to keep my constituents safe, as we assess the risks that Omicron possesses.
I do believe in freedom of choice and bodily autonomy, I am not supportive of mandatory vaccinations as we have seen in some countries in Europe and do not believe this would happen in the UK.
In the meantime, I will continue to support our booster jab roll-out, and a route out of the pandemic which values the concerns of all citizens, from the elderly and vulnerable, to local businesses owners, to those who simply want to live free, unrestricted lives.
It goes without saying, that everyone of us has an enormous debt of gratitude to our NHS, doctors, nurses, GPs and volunteers throughout North Norfolk who will rise to the challenge to get our boosters administered. I cannot thank you enough for what you are doing.