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  • Gareth Bacon

Orpington 1st column: The end is in sight but we must proceed cautiously

After a year-long battle with coronavirus, the end is in sight. In a few short months, the nation will be vaccinated and liberated from coronavirus restrictions. To make sure this happens, we must tread carefully and follow the data. That’s why I support the Prime Minister’s cautious roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions gradually.


The four-step plan to reopen the country will put certainty ahead of speed. There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step: four weeks for the data to reflect changes in restrictions, followed by seven days’ notice of the restrictions to be eased. Before moving to the next step, the Government will assess the data to ensure the vaccine programme is on track, the jabs are working, the NHS is coping, and new variants won’t change the outlook.


We are all eager to get back to normal life, but we must ease restrictions cautiously to end the cycle of lockdowns. There’s no point lifting restrictions too early, only to reimpose them later. That’s the last thing people and businesses need. That’s why it’s right the roadmap is cautious - we need a plan to not only reopen Orpington but keep it open.


The first step will reopen schools and colleges on 8 March. Outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will then be allowed from 29 March. If this goes well, the second step - no earlier than 12 April - will reopen non-essential retail, indoor leisure facility and hospitality venues that can serve customers outside. By this point, nearly all adults over the age of 50 years old will have been offered their first vaccine.


The next step - no earlier than 17 May - will allow large gatherings outside and reopen indoor venues, including hospitality. Finally, the fourth step - no earlier than 21 June - will remove all remaining restrictions and reopen all businesses, restoring normality. By the end of July, all adults will have been offered a vaccine.


This doesn’t mean coronavirus will disappear in June - the virus will be with us for years to come. But, thanks to the UK’s vaccination programme, all adults who want a vaccine will be protected by July. This will drastically reduce the number of people who will need hospital care or die from the disease, ensuring coronavirus won’t overwhelm the NHS.


Without the enormous effort of the UK’s army of vaccinators, this would not have been possible. At the time of writing, more than 20 million people have received their first jab - that’s 1 in 3 adults across the country. Only two countries, the United States and China, have vaccinated more people than the UK. That’s an incredible achievement.


Our local NHS has done a tremendous job getting jabs into people’s arms. The Princess Royal University Hospital was one of the first places in the country to administer the Pfizer vaccine last December and the Orpington Health and Wellbeing Centre has transformed itself into an exemplary vaccine centre.


I was pleased to welcome the Prime Minister to Orpington for his visit to the centre. Like him, I would like to thank the fantastic doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers who have been administering jabs to priority groups locally. With every jab, they are saving lives and taking us a step closer to normality.


With the end in sight, I understand the urge to rush towards it. However, I firmly believe we must proceed cautiously. It’s better to trade a few extra weeks with restrictions for the certainty that they will be removed permanently. Until then, we must all continue to follow the rules, support our local businesses as they reopen and get the jab when called. Together, we will finally end this crisis.


Article by Gareth Bacon MP first published by Orpington 1st.

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