A dose of optimism-How north Norfolk has dealt with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic

PUBLISHED: 07:37 05 August 2020 | UPDATED: 07:58 05 August 2020

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker at Mundesley. Picture: Supplied by Duncan Baker

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker at Mundesley. Picture: Supplied by Duncan Baker


North Norfolk has dealt with the challenges of the pandemic exceptionally well, writes the region’s MP, Duncan Baker.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker. Picture: Supplied by Duncan BakerNorth Norfolk MP Duncan Baker. Picture: Supplied by Duncan Baker

In October 1918, 15-year old Violet Harris wrote in her diary, “It was announced in the papers tonight that all churches, shows, and schools would be closed until further notice, to prevent Spanish influenza from spreading. Good idea? I’ll say it is! So will every other school kid, I calculate. The only cloud in my sky is that the School Board will add the missed days on to the end of the term.”

Like Violet, few of us could have anticipated the effects on our everyday lives of a global pandemic. Last week’s news of a pause in the lifting of restrictions shows that we still need to remain vigilant about the possibility of a Covid-19 ‘second wave’. Unsurprisingly it has been a subject that many constituents have written to me about, and along with the medical professionals we are monitoring the situation very closely indeed. As I write North Norfolk is seeing just 1.9 infections per 100,000 people a week. To put that in context the areas in the North that are seeing fresh restrictions are in the high 60s.

The first priority back in March and April was to provide as much support as possible. My team and I have dealt with over 6,000 enquiries, questions, and requests for help. The government’s grant schemes have been a lifeline for many businesses, with over £66m spent so far in North Norfolk.

Other schemes have followed, including the £1.57bn to support the UK’s arts and culture which I lobbied for. This is in addition to protecting jobs through the furlough schemes for employed and self-employed people.

The Two Lifeboats pub at Sheringham.
 PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYThe Two Lifeboats pub at Sheringham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

But we all have a part to play too, and I have been so impressed by the optimism, patience, and resilience of North Norfolk’s communities – everyone I have spoken to has shown willingness, enthusiasm, and ability to adapt and innovate to what we increasingly call the ‘new normal’. This has shown itself in all sorts of small but significant ways:

- The springing up of over 50 new community support groups in our towns and villages, with willing volunteers doing everything they can to help the most vulnerable with shopping, support, and social contact.

- The innovation of businesses, such as the Two Lifeboats in Sheringham where a new ‘order-at-your-table’ app has been designed and introduced; or Key’s Auctioneers, which has been run from the North Norfolk home of one of its directors in the initial stages of lockdown, and has now moved its business entirely online.

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- The embracing of social distancing, with the installation of signs, arrows, hand sanitisers and other facilities in our shops, pubs, and restaurants – and the calm, professional way in which staff are helping customers get used to the new arrangements.

- The widespread use of technology, with Zoom now being used for everything from council meetings to church services to support groups, and many businesses now recognising for the first time the incredible benefits of home-working for them and their employees. The benefit to the environment alone of reduced travel is one noticeable positive.

The path back to normality will be a slow one, and there may be obstacles along the way. But as long as we continue to pull together as we have over the past few months, we should be able to keep ourselves safe, and to find new ways of doing things that enable us to retain a good quality of life.

Violet Harris – the young diarist I mentioned at the start of this article – realised the enormity of the situation when her best friend, Rena, became sick with Spanish flu. Asking her friend what it felt like to have influenza, she was told “don’t get it.”

Soon afterwards, the restrictions on everyday life were lifted, and her innate cheerfulness and sense of optimism returned: “The ban was lifted today. No more masks. Everything open too. ‘The Romance of Tarzan’ is on at the Coliseum. I’d like to see it awfully. School opens this week – Thursday! As if they couldn’t have waited until Monday!”

As I safely make my way around the constituency on my Summer Tour meeting so many of you, it enforces what a privilege it is to be a local MP representing such a beautiful area. I hear of the incredible sacrifices from so many and leave you with some optimism.

We too will see a return to normality – but in the meantime, it’s important that we all continue to support and help each other as much as possible.

Continuing to follow social distancing precautions, wearing face masks when required, practising good hygiene, and being sensible about when it’s necessary to self-isolate to protect others: this will help North Norfolk remain relatively infection-free, and speed our move from the ‘new normal’ back to the ‘normal normal’!

It leaves me to thank you all, and just to reiterate that the reason we have seen such low infections is thanks to you all, 
for your hard work and dedication.

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