Earlier this week Parliament voted to move into a tiered model of restrictions following the end of the Winter lockdown.
Our local COVID-19 rates, and the pressures faced by our local hospitals place Rutland in Tier 2 and Melton Borough and Harborough District in Tier 3.
Many of you are justifiably worried, and perhaps angry that more restrictions than any of us might want, need in the short-term, to continue.
It is right that constituents ask why I voted to keep any restrictions in place. I did not become your MP to put restrictions on our lives and as a Conservative they go against my instincts, but in this pandemic I will not apologise for acting to save lives.
The alternatives if we do not adopt a tier model are:
- Do we continue in national lockdown? We must not.
- Do we just remove all restrictions? No, we cannot.
We must get our rates down which are above the national average.
We must reduce the number of residents in intensive care beds in our hospitals. The numbers are currently higher than the peak reached during the Spring lockdown.
By pulling together to do that, it allows me to work extremely hard to:
- Make sure Melton Borough and Harborough District are de-coupled from Leicester City, where rates are even higher. It is wrong that we are tiered together, and I want to work to get us to tier 2,
- Make sure Rutland remains independently tiered having secured this agreement from the Government and moves to tier 1 if our rates reflect it and the pressures on local hospitals reduce,
- Get us as much additional support locally as possible – in Melton and Harborough we will have a portion of 16,000 lateral flow tests, a testing centre in Melton, local track and trace to enhance the national scheme, and lateral flow tests for our care homes,
- Support local efforts and ensure our vaccination centres are established and ready as soon as the vaccine is ready in Rutland and Melton, and
- Improve support for hospitality industries and make sure our businesses get support.
You may not agree with my decision, but I will not vote in a way that puts residents’ lives at risk, even if the restrictions go against my instincts and values as a Conservative. Everyone has the ability to stop this virus from killing more people, my vote was my taking action to save lives. Inaction would have unacceptable consequences, potentially for our loved ones.
Below I have set out just some of the questions I asked myself when considering whether to vote for the new tiering model. I hope they also answer some of the questions you might have.
What have the rates of COVID-19 been in Melton, Market Harborough and Rutland since October?
The national average is 218.0. According to the Press Association, which collates Government statistics and publishes them regularly, these are the changes in the rate per 100,000 of COVID-19 cases in Rutland and Melton:
We are not yet at a place in much of the constituency, where lifting further restrictions would lead to anything other than a significant spike in cases. What is more important is the trend, which we need to continue to point downward, and make sure our hospitals and NHS services can cope. That’s one of the reasons I am voting for the legislation.
Some villages don’t seem to have many cases – what is the local data saying?
Many constituents have written to me noting that their village has done a very good job at keeping cases down, and they are right. Many communities have been extremely diligent in controlling the virus and keeping caseloads down.
However, this virus does not always respect hard work, and across Rutland and Melton our villages have the virus. In Melton Borough, we have at least three villages with rates above 200 per 100,000. One of our villages in Melton Borough has a rate as high as 297.2. This shows that more needs to be done to get cases down across Melton Borough.
Tiering is the right decision for our villages and our towns, when the alternatives would see everyone locked down, or the virus free to infiltrate our communities.
What have COVID-19 hospital COVID-19 bed occupancy numbers been since October?
Unfortunately, while the lockdown has stabilised the number of COVID-19 bed occupancies, they are still between double and eight times what they were in the middle of October.
In the first wave Leicester UH Trust had 195 cases in hospital on the 12th of April, whereas today it stands at 259. While we have become much better at treating COVID-19, and fewer patients in hospital will die, the more patients in hospital the more likely it is others will have to wait for their treatments.
This is extremely concerning, especially if we want to make sure the NHS is open for other services which are urgently needed and long overdue.
It would be unacceptable for me to vote to end restrictions if it meant just one resident of Rutland and Melton went to hospital in need of an intensive care bed, but one wasn’t available for them because the NHS was overloaded.
If rates are still high, and hospital bed occupancies are high and just holding steady, has the national lockdown really worked?
COVID-19 is a complex virus that has a lag between infections and when cases start appearing. COVID-19 cases, according to the Center for Disease Control, can take 2-14 days to manifest in patients and one to two weeks before those with symptoms decide to go to the hospital. This means that there are lags between lockdowns and their impacts on cases.
We went into lockdown on the 5th of November. We would really start to see a downward trend in cases in the following weeks. And indeed, that’s what we have seen. You will notice from the above that cases peaked around the week of the 16th of November, which would mean that many of those cases were acquired in the days just before lockdown.
Because cases didn’t keep increasing further after the 16th, and in fact dropped, this is a good sign that the lockdown served its purpose to reduce cases.
So yes, the lockdown worked as we are seeing in the rapidly falling numbers of cases. But I don’t want us to have to be in lockdown for cases to remain low, to prevent a spike before Christmas so we can see our loved ones, and to ensure we don’t again see the high numbers we saw in Autumn.
The lockdown was supposed to help cases go down – why then did some areas enter lockdown in Tier 1 and leave lockdown in Tier 3?
This is similar to the previous question, and it comes down to the fact that lockdowns take some time to show their effect, in the same way that COVID-19 cases take some time to show symptoms after infection. Some commentators have noted that cases were actually falling earlier than you would expect based on when the national lockdown was introduced on the 5th of November. However, this ignores that large parts of the country were already in a Tier 3 lockdown when the national lockdown was put in place on 5 November.
For example, if you compare the rates in Manchester and Sheffield with those of places in Tier 1 restrictions before entering national lockdown, such as Bristol and Tonbridge, you’ll see a pattern emerging:
As you can see, both Manchester and Sheffield saw cases decline by the week to the 16 of November, whereas they kept increasing in Bristol and Tonbridge and Malling, decreasing only by the end of November, thanks to the national lockdown. This is because cases were rising fast right before lockdown and because of the time lag it took some time to get cases down again.
What this shows is that lockdowns work, and that if our communities want to see our rates continue to go down and our local hospitals have extra capacity, we need to take measures now.
I have every confidence, looking at the data, that Melton, Harborough and Rutland will continue to see their cases fall.
Will we be tiered with Leicester City long-term? Will Rutland be tiered separately?
I lobbied the Prime Minister, and Ministers daily for our communities to ensure that Rutland was tiered separately to Leicestershire, in which I was successful, and for Leicestershire to be tiered by Borough, not County, where sadly I was not successful in my efforts as our rates across the County were uniformly too high, and across the country a County model was adopted.
I have however now received the reassurances I have been seeking, that if we can get our rates down across Leicestershire, that we will be un-coupled from Leicester city, and gradually move towards a Borough/District model of tiering. That means we have until 16th December to get our rates down before the next review point.
Are restrictions fairly focused – should those more vulnerable face different restrictions to those who are more likely to suffer from long-COVID or to barely suffer symptoms?
It is not only the over 80s who are affected, and MPs are not somehow obsessed with “saving granny”. I want to live in a country where we value older people, not belittle their worth or regard their health or lives as an inconvenience.
Too many of my friends, and I’m sure yours are the same, are now suffering with long-COVID. Symptoms range from difficulties, many months on, climbing stairs, going for walks, loss of taste or smell, chest pain, and even brain fog. I don’t want our communities inflicted with this either.
As your MP I represent all of my constituents, not just those of working-age or who are in good health.
Isn’t tier 3 the same as national lockdown?
The new tiers are a world away from national lockdown, in tier 3 in Melton, the following is now open or permitted:
- All retail premises, other than shops situated in close premises that cannot be accessed directly from the street,
- Personal care and close contact services (such as hairdressers, barbers and nail salons),
- Gyms and leisure facilities including swimming pools, but no indoor group classes,
- Organised exercise and sports for elite athletes, under-18s and disabled people,
- Outdoor events and outdoor tourism venues,
- Places of worship,
- Libraries and community centres although group events should not take place, and
- Recycling and waste centres.
Full details HERE
Is there a clear plan to move down tiers?
The Government has clearly laid out the five factors against which reach area is assessed for tiering. I have been lobbying for the Government to provide greater levels of data and modelling, and it has provided numerous data sets so we can see at what point new tiers are triggered. So, we know what is required for us to go down tiers.
The five factors are:
- Case detection rate (in all age groups and, in particular, amongst the over 60s);
- How quickly case rates are rising or falling;
- Positivity in the general population;
- Pressure on the NHS – including current and projected (3-4 weeks out) NHS capacity – including admissions, general/acute/ICU bed occupancy, staff absences; and
- Local context and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak.
We also now have a vaccine approved – the first country in the world– which is a phenomenal achievement. The Government has purchased 40 million doses of this vaccine. We have a road-map to life without any restrictions.
I have also now received the reassurances I have been seeking, that if we can get our rates down across Leicestershire, that we will be un-coupled from Leicester city, and gradually move towards a Borough/District model of tiering. That means we have until 16th December to get our rates down before the next review point. Additionally, the Government has committed to a further vote once the data shows whether the newly strengthened tiers are effective.
What is the R rate for the country?
The R rate is a crucial number to consider when discussing further measures, and what we need to do to arrest the virus. The R number is the estimation of the number of people each person is on average likely to infect. So, if the R rate is three, that means each person will infect three others, which means that if 10 people met and got COVID, they would go on to infect 30 others. Thankfully, the UK’s R rate is 0.9-1.0 for the first time since August. This is very good news. However, when the R rate starts to go above one, it can be very serious.
The R rate in the Midlands is between 0.9 and 1.1, as of the last update on 27 November,which means that a few errors and the R could get back to a level where cases are rising quickly again. Across the country, cases are falling by between 0 and 2 per cent per day, and with continuing Tier 3 restrictions, it is expected that the R will fall further and the decreasing growth rate will get bigger.
Is the support available for employees and businesses enough in the Tier system?
Regardless of the health outcomes, it is absolutely true that I need to do all I can to ensure that support is there for those who need them in these very difficult economic times. I am very pleased that the Chancellor has extended the furlough scheme until March and has continued the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. These are vital steps. 9.6 million people have claimed through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.
If your business pays business rates and is forced to close, you will be eligible for between £667 and £1,500 for every two-week period of closure, meaning up to £3,000 a month. This is part of the Local Restrictions Support Grant, and you can apply through your local council.
There is also the Additional Restrictions Grant, which builds on the Council’s discretionary grant funding I helped secure in the Summer, and allows local councils to provide grant payments to closed businesses that do not pay business rates. If you need help applying for this grant, and you think you might be eligible, please contact my office without delay.
Pubs and other restaurants in Tier 2 are able to take advantage of improved takeaway rules, as well as the reduction in VAT to 5 per cent. I am also glad that openings have been extended to 11 PM. I know the very difficult stresses pubs and restaurants have faced, and I have advocated for more support, and am glad that £1,000 will be made available to every wet pub, although I would rather have seen more support for all pubs.
I think it’s really important to note too, that no level of support can compare with beating the virus, which, as vaccines begin to roll-out, should be our first priority. Some people have made the point that Sweden, for example, has not imposed many mandatory restrictions at all. Unfortunately, Sweden has seen more deaths and cases than its neighbours Denmark and Norway, while experiencing a bigger economic contraction.
What is clear is that for businesses to have confidence, and for consumers to want to go outdoors, to shop, to meet friends, to go to the pub, to spend in the economy, COVID-19 has to be beaten. That’s why my focus right now, especially before Christmas, is getting COVID rates down as fast as possible. That way, when we do re-open, we can hopefully do so with fewer restrictions.
It's worth sharing that the International Monetary Fund declared the UK Government’s response as the best example of coordinated action (economic and other) in the world. So far during the pandemic:
- Govt Furlough Scheme has protected at least 11% of Rutland and Melton jobs,
- Govt Business Grants have paid out over £24 million to businesses in Rutland and Melton, and
- £91 million in loans have supported over 2,200 businesses in Rutland and Melton.
What next steps are needed?
Given that our cases continue to decline, I am clear that any further restrictions should be decided at the district level, rather than County-wide if we can get our rates down. While I am very glad that Rutland is not included in Leicestershire, and I lobbied extremely hard to make that happen, it is unfortunate that Melton and Harborough continue to be yoked with Leicester City – a local authority that has conspicuously failed to get numbers under control. By comparison, Melton and Harborough have been exemplary in reducing the spread of the virus, and the local councils have shown real leadership.
I will not stop working hard until our contributions to each other and to public health are properly recognised by relieving restrictions and decoupling us from Leicester City. However, first we need to work together to control the virus, reduce caseloads, free up NHS services and together, take up the vaccine, and move together towards a healthier 2021.