Today (Thursday 5 November), a new nationwide lockdown begins in response to the spread of Covid-19.
In Parliament last night, I and other Labour MPs voted to back the package of lockdown measures – restrictions and support arrangements. There are inevitably balanced judgements to make in trying to deal with Covid and these are not easy decisions.
However, contact I’ve had over the last few days with the chief executive of Rotherham and Barnsley hospitals has confirmed for me that action is necessary to save lives and protect the NHS, which is on the brink of being overwhelmed in our area.
Both our local hospitals already have well over 100 Covid patients, double the peak during the first wave, and both have been seeing the number of Covid patients doubling every two weeks.
In South Yorkshire we have three hospitals (Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham) ranked in the highest 10 nationally for the proportion of beds already occupied by Covid patients. Barnsley was highest in the country on Saturday when the Prime Minister announced there would be a national lockdown.
In addition, staffing pressures are greater, with more having to take time off to isolate than in the first wave of the pandemic. Health chiefs are convinced the new lockdown is necessary and say it’s very important that people follow the restrictions.
As you may recall, late in September the Government’s scientific advisers said to Ministers that the rising rate of infections and risk to the NHS meant they should introduce a short lockdown and early last month Labour leader Keir Starmer called for such action with a 2-3 week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown. We said this should be implemented in line with the school half-term holiday, to minimise disruption. However the government failed to act early and decisively so the necessary lockdown is now set to last four weeks, until 2 December. Regrettably, the delay means this will be harder and the human and economic cost will be higher.
We should not be facing tough restrictions again, having gone through a difficult national lockdown in March and April. However, such widespread action has become necessary again because test and trace isn’t working and the government has lost control of the virus.
While the government’s message has been confusing and poorly communicated to the public we’re now being asked again – as we were in the spring – to stay at home as much as possible, save lives and protect the NHS.