Why a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown isn’t needed in Ipswich and Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 09:33 23 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:33 23 October 2020
On Tuesday night I was drawn high up on the order paper to ask the secretary state for health a question about the Covid-19 pandemic. Just hours before at a Number 10 press briefing the government scientist Jonathan Van-Tam stated: “A national lockdown at the moment would be inappropriate for communities in Cornwall and East Anglia. The epidemiology is so varied across England that I think it would be very difficult to justify for some communities.”
My question to the health secretary essentially built on this point and asked whether he agreed with me that now is not the time for a complete lockdown in Ipswich and that a localised approach to restrictions is far better.
It’s very hard to predict what will happen over the next few weeks and months. But what we do know now is that compared to many other parts of the country we have low levels of Covid-19. We also know that we have a very large hospitality that employs thousands of Ipswich residents and that a nationwide “circuit breaker”, that if Labour had their way would have been introduced last week, would have caused severe harm to the livelihoods of people across the town. Unemployment is already on the rise and would have accelerated if this had occurred.
Last week Sir Keir Starmer claimed that scientific opinion backed a nationwide circuit breaker/lockdown. However after professor Van Tam’s intervention it’s very hard to sustain that view this week. The reality is that scientific opinion is divided on the effectiveness of lockdowns and politicians should not abdicate their responsibility to make decisions on behalf of those they were elected to represent to scientists. Yes, we should listen extremely carefully to the views of scientists however we should also balance their views alongside the views of many others, such as the Bank of England and those responsible for the management of our economy and the livelihoods of millions of people.
I do think during this pandemic we should look to put party politics to one side wherever possible. However I must confess I’m somewhat surprised by the position I believe the Labour leader of Ipswich Borough Council has adopted, which is to be supportive of a “national circuit breaker” of up to three weeks, essentially another national lockdown. I’d hardly say I’ve agreed with everything mayor Andy Burnham has said over the past few weeks but at least he seems to have his eyes open when it comes to the devastating impact of lockdowns on the hospitality sector, and Greater Manchester has Covid levels far in excess of East Anglia. I really do struggle to get my head around a senior local figure thinking that closing down the entire hospitality sector in Ipswich right now, when we are experiencing such low levels of Covid-19, is in the best interests of the town.
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Wherever possible we should look to avoid any sort of lockdown and if absolutely necessary the approach should be as localised as possible, not a national one size fits all one like the Labour Party are proposing.
The Labour Party propose the “circuit breaker” only lasting around three weeks but there is no guarantee whatsoever that it would only last this long or whether it would be effective. Moreover, even if it is effective, what happens when the “circuit breaker” comes to an end? Will the virus just rear its ugly head again? My fear is that this approach would lead to a never ending series of “circuit breakers” and my strong belief is that this kind of national level stop-start approach to our economy before an effective vaccine comes along would be devastating for millions of livelihoods.
We are seeing cases rise across Suffolk and we are neighboured by a county (Essex) which has now entered tier two (however the highest cases appear to be in the south of the county). It is therefore right that we continue to be cautious and alive to the threat posed by the virus and prepared for a different situation in the months to come.
It’s for this reason that I welcomed the significant financial support provided by the chancellor of the exchequer yesterday for areas in tier two. This means that even if the worst comes to the worst and we are faced with going up a tier, a far more generous package of support will be available to our hospitality sector than was the case before yesterday, it shouldn’t just be those businesses that are forced to close that get significant support.
However what we do know is that right now we have far more manageable levels of Covid-19 than many other areas and what is necessary in their areas is unlikely to be appropriate or necessary for our part of Suffolk at this time.
In short, Jonathan Van Tam was right and the Labour Party were wrong.
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