Firstly, I want to reflect on the fantastic news that Sevenoaks and Swanley not only met the national target of administering the first dose of the vaccine to the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February – but surpassed it. Figures produced on 25th February show that 29.7% of the Sevenoaks Constituency (the whole population – not just those 18+) have now been vaccinated. This makes us the second highest in Kent, and firmly places us in the top third for the whole of England. This is fantastic news – and testament to the hard work of our doctors, their staff, volunteers, pharmacists and hospitals.
As a result of this success being replicated across the country, the Prime Minister has now set out his roadmap for a cautious easing of national restrictions. I know, this lockdown has been incredibly hard for families and for businesses, so it is a huge relief to see light at the end of the tunnel.
The first priority is rightly schools. All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be and that’s why I’ve said from the start that schools must be the last to close and the first to reopen. Their closure has had a devastating impact on many children’s mental health and academic attainment – while also placing a heavy burden on parents. I am working closely with Headteachers in preparation for school return, and I am enormously grateful for the work of our teachers locally in keeping schools open for those who need it, while also juggling remote learning.
I am also pleased to hear that care home residents will be able to nominate a named visitor to see them regularly, provided they test negative and wear PPE. This is something I have been calling for, as I know how incredibly difficult and heart-breaking the last year has been for so many families with relatives or friends in care.
While case rates in Sevenoaks have fallen substantially, our hospitals still have a very high number of Covid-19 patients on the wards; just under the number they had when we went into lockdown for the first time in 2020. This is representative of what is happening nationally. So, while the data is moving in the right direction, there is very little leeway in our hospital capacity for a surge in cases, and a surge is still possible. That is why we need to take things more slowly than would otherwise be the case and be absolutely certain that every step we are taking doesn’t lead to another lockdown.
Finally, I have spoken many times before about my support for the hospitality industry. This year has been particularly hard for restaurants and pubs, and I know from many conversations how difficult things have been in Sevenoaks for owners and staff – especially since we had extra restrictions because of surging virus rates late last year. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister confirm that the 10pm curfew will not be returning, and there will no longer be the need to order a substantial meal when ordering an alcoholic drink. Whilst we wait for the return, I am very aware of the need for continued support and I am making these representations to the Treasury ahead of Budget next week.
As ever, if you have any further questions or wish to discuss a specific case, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MP for Sevenoaks and Swanley
To see Laura's newsletter in full click here.