The rapid rate of increase in infection levels both across the UK and here in Warrington remains a cause for concern. To the 31st December cases have risen by 83% over the 7 days to 524 per 100,000, with hospitalisations undoubtedly likely to follow in the coming weeks. Scientists are learning about the virus all the time, in particular the new variant strain which was discovered just before Christmas in the South East. The rapid spread means we need to ask that everyone follows the new guidance issued by the Prime Minister and only leave home if you are; shopping for basic necessities or medicine, going to work where you can’t work at home, exercising once per day or to attend childcare or support bubble duties. As we did in March, we need to reduce social contact to minimise the spread which will in turn reduce hospitalisations of those who are most at risk from the virus.
These measures will be reviewed in mid-February, by which time we hope to have the top four categories on the JCVI vaccine priority list will have received their first vaccination. This includes everyone over the age of 70, care home residents and staff, health and social care workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable. Well over 1 million doses have already been completed (largest in Europe), and at the time of writing around 2,500 people have so far been vaccinated in Warrington (there are around 5,000 over 80s in the town so some way to go yet). Community vaccination centres have been setup by primary care networks at the Halliwell Jones stadium and Orford hub, with more sites to follow alongside chemists and supermarkets which will be offering vaccines once the level of supply has increased sufficiently. The approval of the Oxford vaccine will assist greatly with the ability to increase vaccinations in the community because it’s a much more straightforward vaccine to transport and store. Warrington has a well organised vaccine task force which includes senior staff from the hospital, GPs and the Director of Public Health, who are co-ordinating efforts. Residents will receive a letter or a phone call to ask them to attend for vaccination. You can find details of the programme here: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination.
Alongside the restrictions introduced at the start of the week, Rishi Sunak has also announced a package of financial support to help businesses affected in addition to the measures already in place. Grants of up to £9,000 alongside an extension to the furlough scheme. UK Government support for local businesses will be administered through Warrington Borough Council.
We also enter 2021 having signed our largest ever free trade agreement with the European Union having delivered on the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘Get Brexit Done’ at the 2019 General Election and the 2016 referendum. I was very pleased to have voted for a deal on 30th December, which will allow us to forge a new future. The deal with the European Union enables us to take back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries – and it ends any role for the European Court of Justice. As of now, we are an outward facing Great Britain, striking trade deals with new markets, and reasserting ourselves as a liberal and free trading nation. As I write, over 57 trade deals have already been secured across the globe with some of the most significant being Japan, Singapore and Canada. I have no doubt that here in Warrington South, we will be able embrace the challenge of finding new trading opportunities even at a difficult time, and new businesses and entrepreneurs will thrive while established firms will grow and expand. What’s more, the new Turing scheme that replaces our participation in Erasmus will offer greater international opportunities for our students across the world, especially those from less-advantaged backgrounds.
Despite the challenges of the last year, we’ve made some significant steps forward in Warrington. Work is underway extending the A&E department at Warrington Hospital and a business case is under development for a new hospital, with conversations taking place with the Department for Health. We are one of the first seven towns in the UK to secure a Town Deal, £22m to fund projects like the advanced construction training centre – developing sustainable building skills and providing an opportunity to reskill people in sectors that have declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, schools in Warrington South have benefited from around £6m in additional funding to provide new facilitates and refurbishment over the last 12 months.
We know the next few months will be a challenge however there is light at the end of a very long tunnel and we are well placed as a town and to take full advantage of the opportunities that will come in the months ahead. Finally, I wish you, your families and your friends have a healthy and prosperous New Year.
MP for Warrington South