'We must avoid another pingdemic' - Tom Hunt MP

tom hunt downing street

Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, fears another pingdemic as Omicron spreads - Credit: Tom Hunt

This week in the Commons, MPs voted to make facemasks mandatory in shops and on public transport.

This is something I supported, however not without hesitancy. I had some concerns about the vote, but on balance I decided to support the government on these measures.

In themselves these changes are pretty mild, with the stance on masks moving from advice to mandatory in limited settings.

The move to require masks in shops and on transport marks a small change, but it’s important we do not see any further creep without very sound justification.

I’m glad to see we are in a country where government measures are proportionate, unlike what we are seeing in the EU currently. 

I’m pleased to see this has not been extended to hospitality – and raised a comment in the chamber to welcome this. While masks are not affecting hospitality, it’s of course an issue for travel with knock on implications for planning.

The new requirements for testing on return and lots of cancelled flights is obviously causing inconvenience and disruption for the travel industry, as well as for those with plans to travel. I’m also concerned about another ‘pingdemic’ potentially being caused by the isolation requirements – this is something we must avoid. 

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The governments move on masks is a small change while we find out more about the new variant. I’m glad to see that this is only a temporary measure for three weeks, while scientists look into the potential risks of Omicron. I don’t want the measures to go any further than the small, precautionary masks move, unless there is very solid justification for doing so. 

I think, and hope, that we will see research confirming that this variant is no more dangerous than previous strains. There will be no justification to keep the restrictions once we know more about this strain.

We have seen initial reports from the World Health Organisation that vaccines seem effective against the new variant, and that there is no evidence the variant is more deadly. In fact, it looks like it might even be less dangerous. 

We cannot expect society to grind to a halt every time a new variant is uncovered. We cannot go into blind panic whenever there is a new variant. I understand why the government has decided to take precautions, given the 30 mutations the Omicron variant presents, which makes it more concerning than the average variants to date. However, this variant is unlikely to be the last, and we need to learn to live with this virus.

Learning to live with this virus means fully embracing our best defence against it: the vaccine. The reason we are in a much better position than many European countries is because of the success of our vaccine rollout. 

We know the vaccine works in reducing the severity of illness, and is our best tool in fighting transmission too. Now that the government have reduced the booster wait from six to three months, I urge everyone to book in as soon as they are prompted to do so. I’m currently arranging my own booster.  

I do find the comments of SAGE advisor Dr Jenny Harries quite concerning, as she suggested that we should not socialise unless ‘necessary’. This is something I really disagree with. The government are taking precautions, but it’s totally disproportionate to suggest people change their social plans around Christmas.  

I’m pleased to see that the government guidance on social contact and working from home is unchanged: the government is taking a balanced and precautionary approach, but this doesn’t require people to totally change their behaviours.

Socialising over Christmas is a necessity for many people. At the end of the day, we are social beings, and we want to see people – particularly over the festive period.

Socialising is a fundamental part of our lives, and something that makes humans the way they are. For many people, socialising is a huge part of maintaining good mental health; it’s a necessity. Seeing friends and family over this Christmas period in particular is vital for mental health and well-being, as the days get colder and darker.  

Mental health is something we should all take seriously. From what I’ve seen locally, I think it’s getting easier to talk openly about mental health and our problems. This is something I want to continue improving.

I was invited this week to 10 Downing Street to discuss the issue of mental health, and raised the wonderful local initiatives we have.

In Ipswich, Penny the landlady of The Kingfisher pub in chantry, has set up an allotments scheme to support men’s mental health. I also recently visited Vicki at chantry library, who is organising a men’s mental health support group. These are just two of the countless grassroots initiatives that have sprung up across the town to address the challenge of mental health. 

If someone doesn’t feel comfortable socialising as normal, then they are at liberty to be more cautious and stay at home. However, I know that many of us will be wanting to socialise with our friends and family at Christmas, and should also be allowed to do so.

The mental health of many constituents has been battered by their inability to see loved ones in the last year, particularly over last Christmas. To prevent people from seeing their friends and family this winter would be cruel. 

We do need to be cautious, but we should continue to live our lives to the fullest extent possible. 

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