Local MP Maria Miller sets out why she has supported the new Government measures to stop the rapid spread of Coronavirus in Basingstoke.
"This Government and this Parliament is having to make judgements about the lives and the welfare of our fellow citizens the like of which have not been seen since the Second World War. Governments across the world are making similar decisions and facing difficult choices with many coming to similar conclusions and reintroducing nationwide measures to stop the virus spreading further.
We are all, as my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister has said, having to find a way to strike the right balance between the health of our nation, the livelihoods of the people we represent, the aspirations of young and old alike to be able to live their lives and the mental health impact for many of the solitude, disruption and uncertainty created by this virulent virus. None of us came into Parliament to restrict the way of life of those who we represent.
It is particularly difficult because of the very different levels of Coronavirus in each region of the UK. In the South East region, infection levels are less than one quarter of the levels of the North West, with 110 cases per 100 000 per week. I have been contacted by constituents asking why the Regional Tier approach has been set aside in favour of a 4-week lockdown. This is a particularly difficult situation for my constituents in Basingstoke where infection rates are even lower than the South East region as a whole, with less than 100 cases per 100,000, 22 people in our local General Hospital with C19, significantly lower than during the Spring. And tragically one death in our county in the last week. My constituents are concerned that a decision to reintroduce a lockdown across the country has significant implications for business, for individual and families finances, for the entire economy of the nation. And we should not underestimate the cost to the mental health of the nation too.
Whilst there are disparities in the levels of infection there have been since the beginning of the pandemic, there is now one very startling common factoR the number of cases of infection are now doubling in every area of the country, indeed the fastest rates of growth are the South East, South West and Midlands. Doubling every 14 days in the South East.
Levels of infection may be relatively low now, but in a few short weeks with such exponential rates of growth, as was found in the North West, this virus will take hold and once it has taken hold the evidence shows it is incredibly difficult to get back under control, even under measures under Tier 3.
So whilst in Basingstoke the latest data shows around 90 cases per 100k population in the last week I support the measures in the Regulations because the rapid rate of growth in the South East Region means there is a real prospect of our local NHS network being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks if we don’t take action now.
One of the key learnings we have taken from Wave One of this virus is the importance of the NHS being able to continue to treat everyone who needs urgent care not just those with Coronavirus. It is tragic that so many more people died in the first 9 months of this year than would have usually been the case, in Basingstoke deaths increased by 26% - compared with the same period in the previous year. Tragically around 100 people died from C19 but many more died than is usually the case from other illnesses. People who did not seek treatment for non-covid illnesses, people who felt they could not access treatment for non-covid illness leading to their death. We cannot allow this to happen again. Our doctors, our hospitals must be allowed to both deal with the pandemic and treat those who need their urgent care for other potentially life-threatening illness.
That is why these Regulations have my support and that is why I commend The Prime Minister for taking this very difficult decision and for bringing these measures forward. And I hope the people who have contacted me will be able to better understand why we all need t support these measures in full.
The Government isn’t taking this decision today in isolation. The announced continuation of the Furlough Scheme is very welcome by many thousands of my constituents, indeed in Wave one 16,600 people in Basingstoke benefited from the Furlough Scheme whilst we have seen a significant increase in levels of unemployment the Furlough Scheme has protected many more. The self-employed income support scheme supporting many more with more than £13m coming into our community to help provide financial reassurance to thousands of families facing finical difficulties as a result of this pandemic.
Throughout the UK the job retention scheme has supported more than 9million jobs.
One of the many challenges when we reach the end of this lockdown is to redouble our efforts to ensure as many people as possible move back into employment if they have lost their jobs and I would like to pay tribute to the work done by my local Job Centre Plus, local businesses taking on apprenticeships and our local County and Borough Council.
It is quite remarkable to see the way in which communities throughout the country have taken on the challenge of Coronavirus.
Throughout this Pandemic the schools in Hampshire and throughout the country have stayed open and I commend the Government for making it a priority to keep schools open for every child through this second lockdown. There is nothing more important that we give to children than a good education but keeping children at school is also keeping many safe too.
And more widely the Communities we represent have come together to support those who need help. The Emergency hubs in my own constituency run by many volunteers, funded by contributions from other residents and by an extra £200,000 from the Borough Council to buy food for people unable to support themselves.
But this support has continued beyond the end of the first lockdown in June with Food Bank, Spotlight and Inspero continuing to support families and individuals struggling perhaps through job loss or through illness. And that support has been further supplemented with additional funds from Hampshire County Council, during half term families with children in my constituency were already receiving support if they needed and whilst I understand the intention behind the campaign to keep free school meals in place during half term, in practice in communities like Basingstoke that support was already there because vulnerable families need that support year around not just in half term. The increase in Universal credit and the sustained support from expert charities is the right solution.
There are issues people still want the Government to consider. To all of us our health has become a renewed priority this year, I have been contacted by many constituents wanting to continue to take their usual form of exercise at the gym, the golf course, on a tennis court. And others have contacted me about their concern for loved ones in care homes where a visit from a family member can be a real life line and provide very real comfort during these difficult times. These difficult issues need to be carefully considered.
We still face a grave situation, we all need to follow the these new Regulations, we need to stay at home, get this virus under control. We still face a very tough time ahead but as we go into this next stage of the pandemic it is important that we have news that mass testing is starting to be rolled out, one of the important steps to recovery and one of the important steps to being able to live with this virus until such a time as a vaccine becomes available."