I regret extremely the decision made by the Prime Minister today. I was a strong supporter of the Government’s position that we should have a regional approach - Wiltshire is not experiencing a high infection rate, and it made sense to try to contain the pandemic in the urban hotspots without locking down our rural communities.
But I accept, as the PM said this evening, that we must be ‘humble in the face of nature’. The pandemic is more virulent than the forecasts of a few weeks ago suggested. The rest of the UK, and of western Europe, has entered a form of lockdown, and England has now accepted it must follow suit for the next month. If we don’t, the NHS will be overwhelmed - including in Wiltshire. Already the South West, despite its low infection rates, has limited spare hospital capacity.
I am glad we are not returning to the ‘full lockdown’ of the spring. Schools will remain open. There will be no limit on exercise outdoors. People at high risk will not be required to shield, though they are strongly encouraged to take all practical precautions. I am also very glad that the furlough scheme will be extended for another month, to cover the period of the restrictions.
This cannot make up for the damage that a month’s economic shutdown means for businesses, and therefore for jobs, in Wiltshire. I am so very sorry that this evil disease has necessitated the decision taken today, and I will be calling on the Government to make every possible effort to support our businesses and jobs.
There are reasons for optimism. The treatment of Covid-19 is improving all the time. We are getting closer to a vaccine. And we are now starting to roll out ‘rapid turnaround’ tests.
But the main reason for hope isn’t science and technology. I spoke today to the leader of one of the mutual aid groups which sprang up spontaneously in the spring to support households during the first lockdown. They are regrouping. I am, as ever, struck by the resourcefulness and neighbourliness of the people of Wiltshire. My thanks and respect to everyone who is stepping up to help others this winter.