As you will be aware, England has now moved to Step 4 of the Government's Roadmap. The latest data and modelling show that the Government’s “four tests” for easing restrictions have been met, which is encouraging. However, the pandemic is not over and so I urge everyone to continue to be cautious and act responsibly.
The emphasis of the national response to coronavirus has now shifted from rules and regulation towards expecting people to protect themselves, and others, through informed choice. All legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors have been removed, all businesses are allowed to re-open, including nightclubs, and limits on named visitors to care homes, and on numbers of people attending concerts, theatre, and sports events have been lifted. The 1 metre plus rule on social distancing has ended, as has the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although it is still expected and recommend that face coverings are worn in crowded and enclosed spaces, such as on public transport.
I appreciate that this may be a worrying time for some. The virus is still with us; it has not gone away and the risk of a dangerous new variant that evades vaccines remains real. However, with our incredible vaccine rollout and the treatments available to those who are hospitalised with COVID-19, the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths has been substantially weakened. Moving forward at this time, supported by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, gives us the best possible chance of a return to normal life. While there are risks with any decision, I do believe this is the most responsible decision to take. This step forward is about balancing the harms caused by COVID, with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring.
Of course, as we move forward, we must all remember the sensible precautions we can take to keep us all safe. That means staying at home when asked to self-isolate, seriously considering the guidance that has been set out, and getting both doses of the vaccine when offered.
I also note that some people are worried about the impact of the easing of these restrictions and will of course bear your comments in mind as we go forward. However, the risks of the disease, which the vaccines have reduced but very far from eliminated, have to be balanced with the risks of continuing with legally enforced restrictions that inevitably take their toll on people’s lives, livelihoods and health. There will never be a perfect time to take this step, because it is not possible to eradicate COVID-19. The alternative to moving to the new approach at this time, when we will be helped by the summer and by the school holidays, is to open up in the winter when the virus will have an advantage, or not at all this year. I do not believe this would be a sensible course of action.
I am assured that all data will continue to be kept under review as we progress. I understand that contingency measures will be retained to manage periods of higher risk, such as winter and guidance will be strengthened if needed. I welcome reassurance from the Government that future restrictions will be avoided, if possible, due to their significant economic, social and health costs. The current guidance will be reviewed in September.
Cases will continue to rise as set out from the start of the Roadmap, as will hospitalisations and deaths. However, hospitalisations are far lower than they were at this point during the previous wave and it is encouraging that people over 65, who are more likely to have had both doses of a vaccine, currently make up 31 per cent of admissions, compared to 61 per cent in January. It is clear therefore that our vaccines are working and building a wall of protection against hospitalisation and weakening the link between infection, hospitalisation and death. It is reassuring that the current data does not suggest that unsustainable pressure will be put on the NHS, but all data will be kept under constant review.
The instruction to work from home where possible has been removed, however the Government does not expect everyone to rush to return to their offices. Return to the workplace should be gradual and businesses should follow published guidance. I therefore encourage businesses in my constituency to act with caution and safety in mind as we take this next, welcome, step.
Finally, I am incredibly proud of the UK’s vaccine rollout and pay tribute to all those involved. In just seven months, 80 million doses of vaccine have been given, which is more doses per capita than any other large nation. As a result, the latest estimate is that 9 in 10 adults in the UK have the COVID-19 antibodies needed to help our bodies fight this virus. I am delighted that we have met the target of offering every adult a first dose of the vaccine and of giving two doses to two thirds of all adults. The tough, but necessary, decision to delay moving to Step 4 by four weeks means that vital protection was offered to even more people before restrictions were eased. I urge everyone to book an appointment for vaccination as soon as possible and ensure they receive the important second dose after 8 weeks.