Ipswich MP: Our target must be to reach Tier 1 in a fortnight

Shoppers are welcomed back to the Ipswich during the first day out of the second national lockdown. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Shoppers are welcomed back to the Ipswich during the first day out of the second national lockdown. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

This week’s vote on the local tiers was a very difficult decision. I believe it’s critical that the Government doesn’t lose sight of the need to balance the protection of livelihoods as well as lives when looking at how to manage Covid-19.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says Suffolk's goal must be to reach Tier 1 in a fortnight. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says Suffolk's goal must be to reach Tier 1 in a fortnight. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS - Credit: Archant

I never thought that within my first year as an MP, I would be having to vote to restrict my constituents’ liberties so significantly and to place such onerous restrictions on many of our businesses. This is not something that sits comfortably with me, which is why I have been so conflicted over the past few votes on Covid-19 measures.

However when it came to the vote on the local tiers, where Suffolk was placed in tier two, what was impossible to ignore, was that Ipswich was one of only 18, out of 315, local authority areas to have experienced a marked increase in Covid-19 cases during the second national lockdown.

In addition to this, many readers will have seen the headlines in Suffolk this week: “Local hospital Covid cases hit highest levels”.

The frustrating thing is that, bearing in mind the low levels of Covid-19 in most other areas of the county and the downward trajectory, if it hadn’t been for this uptick in cases in Ipswich I’m confident we would now be one of the only areas of the country in tier one. Though frustrating, it does mean that unlike most other areas of the country, we do have a realistic prospect of reaching tier one in the not too distant future, we have something to aim for.

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For our retail sector, hairdressers, gyms and churches, tier two will mean going back to something beginning to resemble normal. Portman Road will even be able to welcome back 2,000 fans. However, this will not be the case for our hospitality sector that employs such significant numbers of my constituents.

As I have said many times before, whether it’s the Belstead Arms in Belstead Hills, the Kingfisher Pub in Chantry, the Golden Hind in Gainsborough, the Brickmakers Arms in California or the Selkirk on the Rushmere estate, our pubs are key parts of what make our local communities tick and losing any of them would be a great loss to our town.

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Since the pandemic started the Government has provided a significant amount of support to the hospitality sector through the furlough scheme and various grants.

Bearing in mind the severe restrictions being placed on the hospitality sector during arguably its busiest month, the Government needs to provide a comprehensive support package in tier two areas.

The Government has made grants of up to £3,000 available to hospitality businesses that were forced to close during the latest lockdown and the prime minister has announced that wet-led pubs that don’t serve “substantial meals” would be offered an additional one-off £1,000, but I still think the Government should go further and I will continue to make this case over the coming weeks. I’m hopeful that there could well be more support forthcoming.

Yet despite these major concerns, we need to return to the facts as we know them about the local levels of Covid-19. Most worryingly, the levels have increased among the over 65s; the group most vulnerable to the virus. So far, despite the significant increase in the level of hospital admissions, it’s been possible for elective surgery appointments to continue, unlike during the first national lockdown.

The concern is that the more hospital admissions there are, the more difficult it will be to sustain this.

There are some who will not agree with my decision to vote in favour of the new tiered regime this week. Over the past couple of months, I’ve made it quite clear that I am sympathetic to many of the arguments made by those who are wary about the consequences of lockdowns; I voted against the 10pm curfew because of the negative impact I believed it was having on the hospitality sector and I withdrew my support when it came to the vote on a second national lockdown as I believe in a localised approach to containing the spread of the virus.

With the ongoing upward trend of Covid cases that we have been experiencing locally, I did reluctantly accept the Government’s view that for the immediate term that Suffolk should be in tier two. I have been very clear though, that in two weeks’ time, if we are able to reverse the upward trend then I would very much hope that we’re able to enter tier one.

The positive news this week has been the approval of the Pfizer vaccine and that it will begin to be rolled out next week. On Wednesday, it was confirmed that East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust has been chosen as an early adopter of the vaccine and there has been discussion about Gainsborough Sports Centre being one of the key regional vaccination centres.

The UK is the first country to have approved a vaccine; the Government should be credited for moving early and securing 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. This week the light at the end of tunnel is glowing brighter and with the possibility of other vaccines being approved very soon, I am optimistic that there is more good news to come.

This year has been extremely testing for us all. I understand that frustration with the current restrictions is increasing, but I believe that the clear focus for the next two weeks should be to do our best to control the spread of the virus so that we can get back to normality, or at least tier one, very soon.

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