This week Parliament has been asked to approve measures for a new national lockdown. None of us want to have to impose these kinds of measures, but unfortunately the spread of the virus leaves us with no better options.
Already local hospitals in Greater Manchester, including Stepping Hill and Tameside, are at or close to ICU bed capacity and if left unchecked some hospitals may very well need to start restricting some routine operations and treatments to release ordinary bed capacity too. That would be utterly disastrous for people who need treatment – many who had their treatments postponed in the spring, too. We cannot allow our NHS to be overwhelmed.
There’s a two week delay from transmission to hospitalisation and so we know the likely impact the latest data will have on the health system in a fortnight, and it’s grim.
The present trajectories suggest the NHS across England (in Greater Manchester we are already close to this point) will be unable to accept any more patients by Christmas. The doubling rate means we can’t outrun this unless there’s a serious intervention to halt or slow transmission. We cannot double NHS capacity every ten to 14 days, and we also have to factor in that a lot of NHS staff will fall ill themselves.
In addition to this massive public health challenge, we also face an equally daunting economic challenge. I take this extremely seriously, and that’s why in recent weeks I’ve opposed measures that have hurt businesses – especially those who, at some expense, made themselves COVID-secure. I’ve also been pushing for an extension of the furlough scheme at 80%, which is why I fully supported Andy Burnham in his battle with Ministers.
On top of this, there’s a mental health challenge to lockdown – which I certainly do not underestimate – and real concerns about civil liberties. We certainly have to guard against an overbearing State thinking some of these measures can become the ‘norm’ once the pandemic is defeated.
Finally, here in Tameside we have a real COVID-weariness – I fully understand this, because I’m feeling it too. We have been under different forms of local restrictions now for 14 weeks and they just haven’t worked.
All of these considerations make the decision to lockdown extremely difficult, but ultimately I believe it to be the right one – the problem of NHS capacity cannot be understated. We are already at capacity in Tameside and neighbouring areas are at or close to capacity too. I am therefore supporting the measures, but we need economic support to continue, we need the Government to fix Test and Trace, we need a clear exit strategy and – longer term – we need a national conversation on how NHS capacity was allowed to be run down so much over the last decade.