Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Newspaper column - COVID-19 update 8

There has been a very mixed reaction to the Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday evening. My view is that in the context of a single statement it provided a realistic update on where we are in our fight against the Coronavirus, gave a broad plan as to the way ahead to get out of lockdown and gave a few small relaxations of the existing restrictions.

Some people said they were left confused or concerned while many others have been in touch with me to say they felt it was a clear statement that they both understood and accepted as a sensible next step.

As I write this column, we are still awaiting the further guidance that the government will issue on the way ahead and I know there are many questions in people’s minds. Hopefully, the additional guidance will provide answers people are looking for.

The overriding message in the PM’s statement was clear – although we are winning the fight against this virus we have not won yet. Although we can take a few small steps to relax the lockdown, the lockdown largely remains in place. It is down to each one of us to remain responsible for our own actions and behaviour to keep ourselves, our family and everyone safe.

The two specific steps announced were around work and our daily exercise. The message is now that if you cannot work from home you should return to work provided you can maintain the social distancing rules. It is down to employers to put measures in place to enable staff to keep 2m apart. 

Again, more guidance for businesses will be issued this week on what measures they should put in place to achieve this. It is important as we start to look to come out of lockdown that we get businesses and the economy moving once again.

The other key announcement was that the restrictions on our daily exercise have been relaxed. From Wednesday there will be no limit on the number of times you can leave your house for exercise. Also, more forms of exercise will now be allowed such as playing some sports where this can be done alone or with members of your own household. We can also now enjoy being outside for recreation other than exercise such as sitting in park or on a beach, and that we are now allowed to drive to places to do this.

I know there has been a great deal of concern as to whether this will see people flocking to Cornwall. But we need to be clear that this relaxation is in the context of taking exercise or recreation. This should not give people the green light to come to Cornwall for a holiday or to relocate to their second homes. All holiday parks, hotels, bars, pubs and restaurants remain closed so we are unlikely to see hordes of people coming to Cornwall.

It is important to remember that the social distancing restrictions remain in force and the fines for breaking the 2m rule have now been increased. The Police will continue to enforce the social distancing rules in all public places.

One of the main questions raised has been about being able to see our family and friends once again. These announcements do provide for that in very limited ways. We still must not visit other homes. But we are able to meet our family and friends in small numbers in open spaces provided we keep to the social distancing restrictions. So, no hugs or kisses yet, but we can at least meet up in the park and have a chat.

I think we all understand that we cannot stay in lockdown for ever and we do need to begin to slowly and cautiously provide the public with a clear road map for the way ahead. I believe the Prime Minister provided this on Sunday with key markers as to when schools, shops, pubs and restaurants may begin open. But only if the current progress in winning the fight against this virus continues. There will be a new 5 stage Covid Alert Level that will monitor the level of infections, what is called the ‘R’ rate and the current risk of the virus spreading – level one means the disease is no longer present, level 5 means we are at extreme threat. We have been at level 4 since the lockdown began. As the rate and risk falls we will see further relaxation of the restrictions. There was a clear message though, if we start to see the infection rate increase we will find further tougher measures put in place.

What we all now need is a good dose of common sense and each of us continuing to play our part in this fight. Whilst we should all take the opportunity to enjoy the new freedoms in an appropriate way, we need to Stay Alert to the risk of a further outbreak. Maintaining the social distancing rules, washing our hands regularly and ensure we are not responsible for risking the virus spreading.