Now is the time to live with Covid

Health experts are advising people to carry on wearing masks and observing social distancing rules.

The requirement to wear masks is ending - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

It has undeniably been a turbulent two week in parliament. I have been taking my time to carefully consider the situation. As many will already know, a report is underway and the findings should be published next week.

I have already made a statement on social media about my concerns. I am, like many of my constituents, angered by the situation, and I am also waiting for the report to clarify all the information before I comment further. Any of my constituents who contacted me will have received a reply, too.

I am also aware that many of my constituents want to see other issues addressed, which is why I want to use my column this week to focus on the position we find ourselves in now that Covid restrictions are being eased.

Like my constituents, I am very pleased to see the Plan B restrictions being scrapped. It certainly seems that the Prime Minister’s decision not to impose a harsher lockdown over Christmas has been vindicated. While the Prime Minister decided not to introduce further restrictions on people’s lives, livelihoods and liberties over Christmas, this was not the case in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They all decided to introduce draconian restrictions which have caused significant damage to their economies, and the mental health of those living there. Despite coming under significant political pressure from Labour and other figures to introduce further restrictions, the PM was correct to take a more proportionate approach.

This Plan B was always intended as a temporary measure to slow the spread of Omicron, giving scientists enough time to find out more about the new strain. When the Plan B measures were put to a vote in parliament, I rebelled against the government and opposed the idea of introducing a Covid passport, so I am particularly pleased to see this come to an end. This was a decision I took after much consideration. Easing these restrictions is something which I think will make a positive difference in Ipswich and across the country.

This means that from Thursday, face masks will no longer be mandatory in shops and on public transport. I think the Prime Minister is right to put his trust in the people and their own judgement. This also means prioritising the interests of our children: removing the mandate for facemasks in schools marks a return to a more normal education experience, which is something I am keen to see.

Compared to last year, we now stand in an entirely different, and more positive, position. For the sake of mental health, businesses and livelihoods, the reality is we need to be learning to live with Covid.

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I really hope these sorts of restrictions never return again. We have seen the devastating impact on mental health and livelihoods from Covid restrictions - now it is time to learn to live with Covid. At the end of the day, ending the work from home mandate is an incredibly positive step for high streets and retail, and I am pleased to see us moving in the right direction.

While it is clear now that opening up the country and economy is the right thing to do, the correct path through the pandemic has not always been so obvious. No-one has 100% covered themselves in glory, but Labour have consistently been wrong. Labour have consistently misjudged how to deal with the economy throughout the pandemic. However, I will also say that we would struggle to find anyone who has perfectly predicted the outcomes of the last two years.

I remember countless occasions over the past two years where I have been attacked for my own stances on the government’s attitude towards restrictions. I voted for restrictions before we had the vaccine, but did rebel on a couple of specific lockdown measures, like abstaining on the second national lockdown back in winter 2020. With the benefit of hindsight, I think it is abundantly clear that there is nobody who has got everything right over the past two years.

The local Labour party has been attacking my stance on opposing restrictions throughout the pandemic, and raised criticisms over my opposition to Plan B measures. I think it is absolutely clear that their attacks regarding Plan B were misplaced. We have seen time and time again that the Labour ‘strategy’ would have kept the hospitality industry underwater, with pub doors firmly closed, and without a clear way forward for the country or for the economy.

Tom Hunt

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says it is time to live with Covid - Credit: House of Commons

I remember last July, Labour attacking the Government for withdrawing restrictions and opening up the economy, wrongly predicting that the number of Covid cases would hit 100,000 of new cases every day.

Just this week, Kier Starmer tried to claim that Labour had never supported introducing restrictions in addition to Plan B. It is quite clear that the Labour party approach has been disjointed and hypocritical. I have absolutely no doubt that Labour would have brought in more draconian restrictions. All these restrictions would have done is cause economic harm and mental health anguish for millions.

What is important now is that we, as a society, move forwards – and that means prioritising the issues that matter to constituents: tackling the cost of living and immigration. I also believe it means treating each other with respect on this issue. Understandably, not everyone will agree. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that, regardless of what we each individually believe to be the best course of action, we are all trying to strike the right balance on what has been an incredibly difficult and complex issue.