'Why reopening on June 21 is the right decision'

Commuters wearing face masks travelling on buses in Norwich, in line with government guidelines for

Duncan Baker said face masks are likely to remain beyond June 21. - Credit: Archant

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker shares his views on moving to the next step of the Roadmap. 

By the time you read this we’ll probably be ten days before the all important June 21, step four of the roadmap.

Now I’m not a clairvoyant, and I don’t know what the government will announce, but I’ve given my thoughts on what I think we should see happen in the Commons and why.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker has been getting an increased number of dog theft reports. 

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker. - Credit: Archant

In case it’s not etched on the brain, June 21 is the date for the fourth and final stage of the roadmap and if all goes to plan it will see the removal of, ‘all legal limits on social contact’.

First of all, let’s be honest - I don’t think we’ll be completely restriction free on that date, and I can’t see every ‘rule’ disappear in one go.

And for sensible and good reason. We will still have to act with caution and for instance we will almost certainly see face masks remain and some social distancing in particular circumstances.

But in my view, this should still mean we lift the majority of restrictions and see the limits on the numbers of people who we can meet indoors and outside lifted.

Football fans at the Woolpack pub in Norwich. Picture: Denise Bradley

Football fans in a pub.  Will the 'rule of six' for indoor gatherings be abolished after June 21? - Credit: Denise Bradley

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What is casting doubt on this final step though is the spreading of the B1617.2 strain or the Indian variant.

However, the situation today is very different to that which caused us to lockdown back in January. Firstly, we have given nearly 70 million jabs, in one of the best vaccine rollout programmes in the entire world.

Even the government’s harshest critics have acknowledged this success and it has entirely vindicated the decision, (in spades) not to enter the disastrous EU vaccine programme.

Secondly, our hospitalisations are still very low. In Norfolk there are now thankfully less than a handful in hospital with the virus and it has always been hospitalisations, not case rates, that dictated my voting record on locking down. And thus we come full circle.

Areas in Felixstowe and West Suffolk have the highest percentage of people to have had their first coronavirus vaccine jab

The vaccination programme continues apace.  - Credit: Denise Bradley

Case rates will inevitably spike, we will see flareups as we have seen in Bolton and Blackburn, but these must be controlled with local measures and restrictions, and not mean the rest of the country remains stuck on step three, until we can all cross the line together.

Total cases, including the Indian variant, are still very low in society – especially from where we were when we saw 50,000 plus cases a day.

The vaccines are effective against the strains and we have vaccinated the most vulnerable and those most at risk of hospitalisation.

It is futile to think we will end up with zero Covid, we don’t with the flu, so as such I will be calling for us moving forward on June 21, employing a dose of common sense and learning to manage with Covid as it will not be eradicated for some time yet, if ever.

But above all, we need to shift our focus from cases to hospitalisations.

This is the key metric now and total hospitalisations have remained reasonably static for the last month.

If the NHS can cope with figures of around 1,000 or so patients in hospital, (which has been the situation recently) we know the vaccine is doing what it was supposed to and we should be poised to take the next step.

Already we are seeing confidence returning with the Institute of Chartered Accountant’s latest Business Confidence monitor for the East of England which has climbing to its highest level in nearly seven years in Q2 2021, at +32.2.

As it says: “This probably reflects the fast distribution of vaccines across the UK and the resulting decline in infection rates, and expectations of a strong recovery in economic activity in 2021 and into 2022”.

And that’s what we all need an injection of next - confidence, after the most horrendous period for the last 15 months.

We all remember where we were on March 23, 2020, and I think there is every chance that we are going to get back, at least mostly, to that normality.

But we won’t do it without having some certainty and confidence, that is the best tonic to put this period behind us.