A number of lockdown restrictions are being lifted this week. People will be able to meet more of their family and friends, more businesses are allowed to reopen, more students are returning to school (although this won’t happen for most schools in Trafford this week, as it is halfterm), and MPs are going back to Westminster.
I’m as anxious as anyone to return to a more normal life, I appreciate that we can’t stay locked down forever, and that we need to rebuild our economy to get people back into jobs and fund our public services. But I am fearful and angry that the government is making these changes without proper preparation.
I understand the strategy, to identify, target and isolate outbreaks of the virus where they occur, rather than continue with a blanket lockdown. Other countries are taking a similar approach. But it crucially depends on an effective process for testing those with Covid symptoms, tracking everyone they’ve been in contact with, and placing those individuals in isolation. Yet in a briefing to MPs last week, we learnt that it will be the end of June before this process is fully operational in the UK.
This isn’t just about delays to the much trumpeted App. The reinfection rate is still too high, yet the government is ignoring the advice from the scientists. It’s vital that testing people with symptoms and getting their results happens swiftly, but it’s still taking days for this to happen. Meanwhile, local authorities, who will manage the process of asking people to isolate, and help them to do so, haven’t had time to complete their plans, and there has been very little communication to the public.
Heads, staff, union representatives, the local council and school governors have been doing an amazing job, helping to get schools ready to accept more pupils. But the demands that ministers are making look unworkable in many schools, and parents remain worried. As for parliament, for the past few weeks, we’ve been able to ask questions, hold debates and vote online, but now the government is insisting MPs attend in person. The trouble is that Westminster isn’t well designed for social distancing. Some MPs who are shielding, or live with vulnerable family members, won’t be able to return as a result. It’s not fair to them, or, more importantly, to their constituents, if they can’t participate fully in parliamentary business.
Throughout the crisis, the government’s approach has been shockingly half-baked. We were too slow to go into lockdown, messages were confused, and now we are coming out of it before we’re ready to do so safely. The UK already has one the highest levels of excess deaths from Covid in the world. Now Boris Johnson’s reckless rush to lift restrictions means more people will get sick. Tragically, some will lose their lives. It is an utterly irresponsible failure of government.
While Johnson bumbles and fumbles, however, people continue to do extraordinarily good things to help us get through this crisis. I was very impressed to learn about the work of The Bread and Butter Thing, based in Trafford Park, which delivers tonnes of heavily discounted surplus food each week to households in deprived areas. Not surprisingly, demand has rocketed in recent weeks, and I want to thank all the staff and volunteers, as well as the manufacturers and supermarkets who are donating extra stock. Your support and commitment are really, really appreciated.