July 2021 Newsletter from John Howell MP for Henley

Like many people I have been hugely impressed at the steady guidance from Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance over recent months. As we waited to know whether or not the Government would move to stage four of the Recovery Roadmap I listened carefully to the 12th July briefing in which they made some very important points in support of the Prime Minister’s decision to move to this stage. It is certainly worth looking at the data which is published on the Government website. As Chris Whitty stated there is wide agreement in scientific and medical circles in three key areas relating to the decision: 1) that the four week delay in moving to this final stage was the correct decisions and has had a positive impact on the situation; 2) that whenever we go to the next stage there will be an ‘exit wave’ – an increase in infection rates; 3) that vaccination reduces the chance of someone getting the virus and the likelihood of them passing it on.

There is less agreement on the ideal date for easing restrictions further because, as Professor Whitty says, there isn’t an ideal date, there will never be a perfect time. However the summer education break and the better weather provide a good set of circumstances, better than when schools return and the autumn draws in. As Sajid Javid has asked “If not now, when?” The Prime Minister is very clear that the pandemic is not over and that we must proceed with caution. We have to move slowly and carefully. Some people suggested that we must not remove all restrictions at once. This is not what the Government has done. The Prime Minister published the Roadmap, the step by step plan for easing restrictions in February. We followed the first, second and third stages as originally planned and then delayed for a further four weeks before moving to this final step four. This is the final stage of a gradual process.

In the past 16 months we have become used to the rules we have had to live by, and freedom can be both welcome and worrying. One of the biggest concerns appears to be over the use of face coverings. Some people would prefer regulation rather than personal discretion. The Prime Minister has been clear that this should be on the same principle as lifting every other regulation, that we move to personal responsibility both thinking about ourselves and others. He is also very clear that there is strong guidance that in crowded places where we meet with people with whom we do not usually mix then we should still be wearing face coverings. Public transport has been cited as a particular area of concern but there is a vast difference between public transport in rush hour and public transport at other times when someone can be alone on a bus or in a train carriage. This is a good example of where discretion is needed.

We have to remember that when we first went into lockdown it was to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed. The purpose was to reduce hospitalisations and deaths. With the vaccine we have substantially weakened if not broken the link between the virus, hospital admissions and death. I strongly encourage those who are hesitant about having the vaccine to come forward for it. It protects not only the vaccinated person but others as well. During recent months medical professionals have also identified a number of drugs that are effective at treating COVID 19 symptoms making treatment of symptoms and recovery more possible.

The coming weeks are not going to be easy as we deal with a wide range of issues that will inevitably emerge from the lifting of restrictions. I reiterate what the Prime Minister said – We cannot simply revert instantly to life as it was before Covid19. Over the summer months when Parliament will be in summer recess my office remains open and when Parliament returns in September I hope that the plans for more normal working will still be in place.

If you have an issue that you would like to raise with me, if possible, please email me at john.howell.mp@parliament.uk. If you cannot email you can still write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1 0AA or PO Box 84, Watlington, OX49 5XD.