'We can celebrate together this Christmas' - Duncan Baker

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Mr Baker said he was confident Christmas would be more 'normal' this year than it was in 2020. - Credit: Press Association Images

In his latest monthly column, North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker addresses the pandemic and other issues in the lead-up to Christmas.  

In my column this month I’ll be looking ahead to the Christmas period – a time for friends, family and loved ones to be together and appreciate each other’s company.

But first of all, I want to thank all the residents of Stalham, Sutton and Catfield who elected their new District Councillor, Matthew Taylor last week. I wish Matthew the very best of luck in his new role representing his home.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker - Credit: Richard Townshend Photography

Having spoken to many of you about the coming month I know some are concerned about the Omicron variant and its implications for Christmas, as well as New Year.

Indeed, a single case of the variant has been picked-up in North Norfolk – it’s something that we need to be alive to, but also something we should not be unduly concerned about, in my view.

As I write this early indications suggest that the Omicron variant of coronavirus is highly transmissible, but it has a less than 1pc chance of re-infection and typically results in “milder” disease if you have been vaccinated.

All under 40s are now eligible for a Covid booster jab as the the government steps up efforts to tackle the Omicron variant.

The UK's Covid-19 vaccination programme has shifted focus to booster jabs. - Credit: PA

When our case was reported, it was quickly and robustly followed up within hours. Cases are closely monitored, particularly linked to anyone with a travel history from South Africa.

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It is expected that in line with the national and global picture, we will see more Omicron cases in Norfolk but at the moment it is stable.

We’ve heard the Health Secretary state that the situation is at the moment not concerning enough for us to be thinking about further restrictions – but this is an evolving picture and the new precautions that were put in place when Omicron was announced are proportionate to buy us time as we evaluate the risks.

We’ve also heard the Prime Minister say that he’s confident that this Christmas will be one during which people can celebrate together in a way that they simply weren’t able to last year.

Kelling Hospital, where surplus land has been identifed in NHS Digital figures. Photo: Ian Burt

Kelling Hospital, which has now appeared on the National Booking Service for booster jabs. - Credit: Archant © 2005

I echo and support these statements. It’s important that we have a somewhat more normal Christmas than the last. People need to be able to practice their faith, and it remains crucial that we promote family unity, good mental health, as well as economic prosperity.

Of course, we need to be acting in a safe, sensible and indeed compassionate, way when enjoying Christmas this year.

I’ve stated in Parliament that this Government and the public need to be working in tandem to protect the most vulnerable.

It’s why I’m pleased that the rules on face-coverings and international travel have been strengthened, whilst they still allow us to do the things that we were able to, before.

If we look at Norfolk and how we are faring, it once again shows that we are in a better position than the country as a whole. Each hospital has on average just 20 patients with Covid and just a handful of patients in ICU. We have double jabbed 90pc of our residents and statistically our booster programme is going well. We will see an uplift of 25pc more boosters coming as the government pushes to speed up the rollout.

I receive almost equal amounts of correspondence that want more restrictions versus further relaxations. 

The response is thus always about balance – that is absolutely crucial and it’s typified my approach since the outbreak. I’ve been approaching this from all angles to get the balance right – ensuring that we weren’t flooded with day-trippers, pre-vaccine, calling for more vaccination hubs, post, and then pushing the Government to move forward with its opening-up plans this summer.

On vaccines, I am confident that the situation ahead of us is far, far, brighter than it was last year because of our world-leading vaccine roll-out.

Vaccinating people remains the most effective way of us beating this virus. The Government has stated that so long as we keep-up the administration of boosters, then the forecast will remain positive ahead of Christmas.

It’s great that so many of you have taken-up the option to have your booster, 335,927, boosters or third primary dose vaccinations, have been given in Norfolk and Waveney equating to 71pc of the eligible population!

In the last month or so I am pleased to have been calling for more booster centres early on and we now have Kelling Hospital appearing on the National Booking Service which I know is helping enormously.

On the subject of balance, many of you will know of my background in retail and more recently, in promoting small business across North Norfolk, as the Eastern Region’s Ambassador.

It’s been heartening to walk down our high-streets and see the hubbub, to see businesses getting back on their feet.

The Health Secretary wants the economy to remain strong. As do I. The UK’s economy has bounced-back at greater speed than any of the other G7 nation this year.

It’s my view that this needs to continue. Shops, restaurants, cinemas, and theatres, rely on festive custom. I want to make sure that they receive it as safely as we can.

By taking-up the option to have the vaccine, following the tweaks made when it comes to the restrictions, and continuing to act in the empathetic way that many of you have, I’m confident that we can look forward to a fantastic Christmas and a very happy New Year.

It remains for me to wish you and your family, a very Merry Christmas.