As the coronavirus continues to spread, I’ll be doing my best to provide regular updates to constituents. Clearly, this is a very serious situation which continues to deteriorate.
The Government is following advice provided by expert advisers. MPs are receiving regular updates from Ministers. I have asked if the Chief Medical and Scientific Officers will brief MPs directly, and I hope this will happen next week.
I am receiving a great deal of correspondence from worried constituents. I have listed below the main concerns which have been raised in the past few days and the information MPs have been given by the Government:
- Other countries are in lock-down – why not the UK?
The Government is trying to delay the spread of the virus to give the NHS time to gear up. We can’t stop the spread of the virus altogether, and if we were to lock down completely at this stage, we risk the virus taking an even stronger grip on the population when the lockdown is eventually lifted. Proceeding gradually means that, although some of us will catch the virus, there will be time for more people to build up immunity, and for the NHS to be more ready to look after those who become very sick.
- Why aren’t our schools being closed?
Children appear to be less vulnerable to infection, thankfully, although I recognise that schools can still contribute to the spread of the virus. For now, schools are being advised to remain open but this will be kept under constant review
- Should we stop large gatherings/public events?
Evidence suggests that large gatherings are not where the highest risk exists. Small and more intimate gatherings are likely to be as dangerous, if not more, due to much closer interaction with others. However, Jeremy Hunt, Chair of the Health Select Committee, has suggested that people ought to do more social-distancing now. For example, employers should facilitate more homeworking, and the elderly and those with underlying health conditions should take extra care.
- Should we isolate care homes/elderly people in their homes?
The elderly are much more vulnerable to infection, but we shouldn’t underestimate the impacts on mental health of social isolation if they are in total lockdown. Nonetheless individual care homes may decide to close to visitors if a direct risk is identified.
- What should I do if I feel ill?
If you have a dry hacking cough and persistent fever, you should self-isolate at home for seven days. If your symptoms worsen, you should ring NHS 111. See the NHS website for further advice https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
- Why aren’t we all being tested?
The tests seem only to be reliable once symptoms are displayed. The NHS and Public Health England are rolling out a significant expansion of testing for people who are most at risk and those showing signs of the virus. I am however concerned about whether there are enough staff to carry out the tests and will be pressing the government on this.
I will continue to keep constituents updated on the latest advice but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional concerns.