Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Newspaper column 3 June 2020 - COVID-19 update 11

The last week was certainly an eventful one. In this column I want to look forward, not back.

This week are taking further tentative steps towards coming out of the lockdown. We are now able to visit family and friends in their gardens, up to a maximum of six people in total, schools have begun to open up for more pupils, and more businesses are opening up for customers. And those who have been shielded will be able to step outside for the first time in many weeks, should they wish to.

We also know that further steps will be taken soon to enable shops to open, with the prospect of restaurants, pubs, hairdressers and other businesses being able to open in the coming weeks if progress is maintained in our fight against the virus.

I appreciate that we will all have different attitudes and views to easing the lockdown. Many will welcome these steps as further progress towards ending the lockdown and being able to return to more normal times. Others will feel nervous, cautious or even fearful of moving too fast away from the safety of the lockdown. Others will be desperately worried about their businesses or jobs and feel the urgency of reopening the economy as soon as possible.

I believe it is important that we recognise that we will all have different perspectives on these changes depending on our own personal and family circumstances. We should be able to accept and respect different people’s views without criticising or attacking those who take a different view to our own.

We are entering a phase where personal judgement and choices will become much more a factor. Whilst it remains vital that we all continue to stick to the restrictions, particularly maintaining social distancing from people who don’t live in the same household, and following the advice to wash our hands regularly and stay alert to the risks around us, we will all now have more choice of how we live within the new guidance and make use of some of the new freedoms allowed.

However, this is not the time to act irresponsibly. We are winning our fight against the Coronavirus, but we have not yet won the war. There remains a risk of further outbreaks and whilst it is important that we make as much progress as we safely can, particularly to protect businesses and jobs, we do all need to continue to stay alert to the risks and act responsibly to not unnecessarily put ourselves or others in danger.

The past weekend I observed the vast majority of people behaving in a responsible manner whilst enjoying the good weather and getting out to the coast or countryside. Sadly, as is always the case, a small number of people chose to act selfishly and ignore the social distancing rules. There really can be no justification for this type of behaviour at a time like this. These people are putting us all, especially the most vulnerable in our communities at risk. There is a minority who will always seek to break the rules whatever measures are in place, but I do not believe we should allow these people to set the agenda.

The coming months are going to be tough for many of our local businesses. I have spent a great deal of my time over the past 10 weeks speaking with local businesses owners and mangers seeking to understand their views and concerns and working to support them through this time. Many are going to face huge challenges as they begin to open up, as the restrictions are relaxed. I am delighted that the Chancellor confirmed this week that the furlough and self-employed support schemes will continue, and flexibility will be put in place to assist businesses to gradually be able to come off of the financial support that has been in place. I am under no illusions as to just how challenging the coming weeks and months will be.

Many businesses will now be working on plans to enable them to open up in a way that is safe for both staff and customers. They will all be assessing the various risks involved. I believe it is down to each of us to do all we can to support them in this effort. The future of thousands of local people’s jobs will depend on these businesses succeeding in this mission. Many will be learning as they go and may not get things perfect from day one. Let us be willing to cut them a bit of slack if this is the case and offer constructive suggestions rather than attacking them. I hope that every one of us will do all we can to make their job as easy as possible.

There is one more thing we can all do to support. That is by choosing to buy local as much as we possibly can. We have all become accustomed to buying from the internet in recent weeks. But let us be determined not to make that a permanent habit and get back to buying from local shops and businesses whenever we can.

We will all face many challenges, concerns and fears in the coming weeks. The way we will get through this as always is by pulling together, supporting each other and focusing on better times ahead.