Why I back the Prime Minister's lockdown strategy

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson outlined his plan to come out of lockdown to MPs this week. - Credit: PA Images

On Monday, the Prime Minister set out the long-awaited roadmap out of this current lockdown with carefully considered stages for the easing of restrictions on daily life.

This seems to me to be eminently sensible with the stated purpose of ensuring that this lockdown will be the last. Only with caution and evaluation at every stage can we make sure that we are not taken back into a cycle of lockdowns and be placed at square one.

There will be four stages to the easing of the lockdown and before advancing to each stage there will be four criteria that must be met.

In stage one beginning on March 8, schools will reopen and people will be able to meet one other person outside. Then, from the March 29 we will hopefully see the return of the rule of six, where people can meet friends and family from a different household outdoors (including in private gardens).

In stage two, which will be no earlier than April 12, non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality will commence.

In stage three, no earlier than May  17 most outdoor restrictions will be removed, and indoor hospitality will resume. Finally, no sooner than June 21, stage four will mean that all restrictions will hopefully be lifted.

It is important to emphasise that each of these stages only commences if the following four criteria are met

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1. The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.

2. Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

3. There is not a surge in infections which will overwhelm the NHS.

4. The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by any new concerning variants.

A couple of weeks ago, I signed a letter to the Prime Minister along with a number of my colleagues calling for a clear roadmap out of lockdown. I was on the fence about signing this because I trusted that the Government would introduce a pathway out of these restrictions, but I believed that the public needed a timeline out of the pandemic that offered a degree of hope, albeit one that is not fixed in stone.

From conversations with many of my constituents and from surveys I have put out on social media over the course of this lockdown, I know that these restrictions have drastically impacted people’s mental health. It has also been an incredibly difficult time for local businesses with those running our hospitality sector struggling to stay afloat even with support from the Government.

I have always been of the opinion that we should open up the country as soon as it is safe to do so and I believe that the Prime Minister’s plan allows for this.

Nevertheless, it seems that the leader of the Borough Council, David Ellesmere, saw fit to mischaracterise my position on BBC Radio Suffolk this week when he criticised my signing of the letter to the Prime Minister claiming that if the pathway we had outlined were implemented it would result in 100,000 deaths.

It seems apparent to me that he didn’t really understand the letter which at all stages encouraged caution and a look at the data before any easing of restrictions progressed. Similar to the Prime Minister’s plan there were gaps left between each stage to evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine and the numbers of hospitalisations. Neither of the timelines offered by the letter I signed or the Prime Minister are set in stone, but rather are cautiously optimistic goals.

Never have I said that we should have a complete opening of the country and just see what happens. Clearly after schools open on the 8th March, if we see new evidence of negative developments with the regards to the vaccine, new dangerous strains of the virus, or if we see an explosion of new cases, I would not advocate further reopening until we can be sure that the virus is under control. Thankfully, the timeline provides us scope for dealing with any negative developments should they arise.

However, if the trends continue to be positive with declining infection numbers, and at the point where everyone in the top nine priority groups are vaccinated, I personally see little justification for continuing the majority of restrictions in May.

It seems absurd to me that David Ellesmere would criticise such a position and I dread to think how long we would be in lockdown for no reason if he were running things. When I signed the letter proposing the easing of restrictions, we were already a month and a half into lockdown proposing a goal for three months away with plenty of time to take stock of new developments. This is bearing in mind the extraordinary rate of vaccine progress in the UK. It would be ridiculous to attempt to paint this as some sort of knee-jerk reaction.

We are clearly going to find out a lot about the effectiveness of the vaccine between now and the middle of May when the Prime Minister has suggested we might be looking at the easing of many of the restrictions including the resumption of indoor hospitality.

It is worth noting once again that the timeline suggested in the letter to the Prime Minister which called for the easing of restrictions at the beginning of May is only a couple of weeks ahead of the Government’s own proposed timeline for opening up pubs and restaurants.

At all stages we must be guided by the evidence. I think the plans laid out by the Government on Monday show the correct attitude to have – One of cautious optimism, but optimism nonetheless. People need hope right now, and that is exactly what this plan gives them. There is a sense that a return to normalcy is just on the horizon and there is a sense of security that the plan has been devised to take into account any changes in circumstance that might occur.

With over 18 million people in the country now vaccinated there is much to be encouraged by. The Government doesn’t want to see another cycle of lockdowns and I support this approach.

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