Local MPs back tougher restrictions as Covid cases climb
- Credit: Brittany Woodman
MPs in Norfolk and Waveney have said they would support tougher restrictions, and potentially a national lockdown, to stop the growing spread of coronavirus.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is due to make a televised address on Monday night to lay out what steps will be taken to curb a significant increase in coronavirus cases, due in part to the new variant.
Latest data shows a 33pc rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 2.
Locally, Conservative Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman was the first to back a national lockdown, and said the pandemic looked as though it would become worse before it got better.
"I can't see how the government can avoid another major lockdown, but we need to prioritise testing and vaccination to protect frontline key workers and minimise long term damage to people's life chances," he said.
Conservative Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, said he had always favoured local restrictions over blanket lockdowns, but said it was key to consider which method, including any tightening of tiers, would alleviate hospital pressure and protect the vulnerable.
He said if the evidence said the only way to do so was a lockdown, he would support that.
"Nationally our infections are rising, well beyond the first peak," he said. "We always knew that the winter would be the most testing period and that is now the reality. We have rising hospitalisations and are seeing sustained pressure on our NHS.
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"To me, it is now clear we need further restriction measures, and do all we can to alleviate the pressure on our hospitals. In my view we must focus on those that need to shield – protect them and the most vulnerable who are at the most risk of hospitalisation. In doing this and reducing pressure on our hospitals we can buy ourselves enough time to widely deploy the vaccine."
He said in particular he was "hugely concerned" about his constituency's rise in infections, with a five-fold increase in December and "far too many people travelling from outside the area".
His Conservative colleague Jerome Mayhew, MP in Broadland, said despite being placed in Tier 4 the rate of infection in Norfolk has risen, with much of that attributable to the new variant.
He said if Mr Johnson and public health experts take the view that a national lockdown is needed he would support one.
"While the vast majority suffer only mild symptoms, a small percentage end up in hospital," he said. "It is this number, currently about 200 in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital alone, that is the biggest concern. If hospital cases outstrip the ability of our hospitals to cope then the human suffering will be much greater."
He said "further action" is likely to be needed to contain the virus.
"Now that the vaccination programme has given us an end date, social shielding of the most vulnerable groups has a better chance of success, reducing the pace of infection in the very old and those with pre-existing conditions until they can be vaccinated."
He said schools needed to be the last thing that closed, and said everyone should follow the basics of hands, face and space.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP in Norwich South, said: "We were always going to end up here again on the brink of another unavoidable national lockdown." He added that "perpetual government indecision" had contributed to the current position.
"Experts have long warned pitting health in false opposition to the economy was always going to result in both people and employment suffering," he said. "This time around, the government really needs to get its response right. It's a last chance to prevent permanent scarring to people's health, employment and society as a whole."
And Peter Aldous, Conservative MP in Waveney, said the key thing was not whether it was called a lockdown but what measures were included.
"It's looking increasingly likely the Tier 4 system isn't robust enough to address the challenges caused by this new variant. The prime minister has acknowledged that there is a need for stricter measures."
He said measures including reinforcing the importance of two-metre social distancing and restricting travel in and out of the country would be helpful, and said the simplicity of the message in lockdown - 30 minutes exercising outdoors, for example - was easier to follow.
Mr Aldous said schools had become a difficult point, but said it appeared that primary and secondary schools would need to close for a short period, perhaps three or four weeks, while both short and long term support for businesses would need to be guaranteed.
We contacted our other MPs for their thoughts: Chloe Smith, in Norwich North, Richard Bacon, in South Norfolk, James Wild, in North West Norfolk, Brandon Lewis, in Great Yarmouth, and Elizabeth Truss, in South West Norfolk.