Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 73. As of today, we have a total of 453,264 positive cases of COVID-19 with 42,143 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 6,043 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 614 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 149 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.
Testing in hospitals not up to scratch This morning, the Health and Social Care Select Committee, which I chair, published our report on how normal NHS services have been affected by the pandemic. The government’s own figures suggest that for every COVID death there has been one additional death caused by disruption to normal NHS services, so we need to handle things differently second time round. The most pressing thing is to introduce weekly testing for NHS staff, so patients know hospitals are safe and staff know they are not infecting their own patients. I spoke about this in the House of Commons last night and you can read a summary of the report here, the full report here and listen to me talking about our findings to Nick Robinson on the BBC Today Programme (at 7.13) or with Kay Burley on Sky.
Better news from Imperial For people looking for some light at the end of the tunnel, an encouraging report from Imperial today suggests the infection may not be spreading around the rest of the country as previously feared. This is significant because the data is very recent (last Saturday) and suggests cases are no longer doubling every seven days. The hope is this time we emulate Italy (yes really) in the way they successfully contained the virus in the North and stopped it spreading to the rest of the country.
Stand up mother of parliaments In the House of Commons yesterday evening the government and rebel Conservative MPs agreed on how to proceed when it comes to the scrutiny of new COVID-19 restrictions and measures. The government committed to seeking the approval of the Commons on any new national limits that the government may want to introduce by setting an introduction date far enough forward to allow parliamentary debate.
Following the rules Lots of people seem to be getting caught out by the social distancing rules (no names mentioned Boris) so the government has published a handy FAQ’s site. Stanley Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn might also want to have a peak.
The key number to remember for anyone with pandemic-related difficulties remains 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm).
WHAT’S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER
Bringing back the B-word… Some good mood music has been coming out of the UK and EU negotiating teams the past few days, and it seems that we may be getting very close to a deal being struck. If an agreement is close, we will likely hear that the negotiators are going into “the tunnel” - a final set of confidential intensive talks where the legal document is pulled together. I can’t help noticing how Barnier seems to have become the ‘good’ guy pressing his EU colleagues for a deal instead of the hardliner I remember from when I was Foreign Sec.
Action on baby deaths To make the point there are many areas of the NHS that need attention, I launched a new select committee inquiry into maternity safety on Tuesday. We heard some incredibly brave evidence from Michelle Hemmington who lost her son Louie due to 19 different clinical errors. She has since campaigned to improve safety for others and highlighted the importance of independent investigations into tragic cases like hers and the need for all involved to learn from their mistakes.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
Cycling Survey Results To coincide with ‘Bike to School Week’ I have used my weekly Herald article to look at the results from my recent cycling survey. You can read the whole article here, but the findings showed respondents overwhelmingly in favour of a dedicated cycle lane in the centre. Fewer than one in five used their bicycle to get to school or work but three quarters would consider doing so if there were dedicated lanes. I started cycling with my son (and sometimes daughter) to school last September and thoroughly recommend it as the nicest way to start the day. To find out more about Bike to School Week, visit the Sustrans website.
Storm Ciara in February did a lot of damage to the local environment with some ancient trees being lost, but that hasn’t stopped Churt Parish Council from making the most of a bad situation. When one of their very mature cedar trees was blown down they managed to retain a large portion of the trunk to create a heritage bench. They were lucky to secure the services of Rob Beckinsale, a specialist chain saw carver from Chichester, who completed the task last Saturday. You can watch him in action here
See my list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents here.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
Chicken Licken An interesting interview with Bank of England economist Andy Haldane who said that: "Pessimistic 'Chicken Licken' views about the economy are in danger of holding back the UK's post-lockdown economic recovery". While admitting that the UK faced an "unholy trinity of risks from COVID, unemployment and Brexit", he said we should not overlook the economy's quicker-than-expected recovery from lockdown. Our dip compared to other countries may also have been exaggerated by the timing of our lockdown. No 10 will be happy with the boosterism…until they see the cover of the Daily Mail.
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
The Wake-Up Call Earlier in the week I wrote in the Telegraph about a fascinating new book called ‘The Wake-Up Call’ which considers why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West and how we can fix it. As I write in the Telegraph, we don’t have to assume that this pandemic is preceding the fall of the West – unlike the pandemics which plagued ancient Athens and the Rome Empire and resulted in their decline – if we remind ourselves of our core values which we share with people across the world and use those links to confront the most pressing issues of the day.
And finally, following my recent family trip to Bird World this story about two Potty-mouthed parrots who had to be split up by their zoo because they were egging each other on to swear.