Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 77. As of today, we have a total of 603,716 positive cases of COVID-19 with 42,825 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 7,422 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 803 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 186 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.
Three Tiers This afternoon, the Prime Minister will be in the House of Commons to outline a new three-tier COVID-19 restrictions system. Regions will be ranked – depending on several factors - on "medium", "high" or "very high" alert with the Liverpool area expected to be the first place classified as "very high". Regions that fall under the "very high" alert level will see gyms, casinos, and pubs shut; curbs on households mixing; and vital guidance against making non-essential trips out of the local area. Travel for work and school will still be permitted. This comes after the earlier press conference given by the government’s scientific advisors, who said that cases were rising at an alarming rate, and as result, three ‘Nightingale’ hospitals have been put on standby. The restrictions can be found here, and you can check the rules that are in place here.
Support for these regions? Regions that are put into the 'high alert' category will receive significant extra economic support. For any businesses that are shut, the government will cover two-thirds of wages. The government will also increase grants available for companies, from £1,500 every three months to £3,000 a month. This is in addition to the wage support programme announced by the government earlier in the month. The full details of both schemes can be found here.
Victory on weekly testing Having been banging on about weekly testing for frontline NHS staff for ages, no one was more delighted than me to hear it is finally being introduced - for hotspot regions - according to Professor Steve Powis, NHS England Medical Director. Of course we need it for the whole NHS but this is an important step forward. Reminder why: infections caught inside hospitals have tripled according to the Health Service Journal last week.
What about the rest of Europe? The BBC published an interesting piece this morning, looking at what is going on in the rest of Europe, and the picture is actually very similar. Every country is trying to find the right combination of measures - local lockdowns, test-and-trace initiatives, economic support, and public communication - to drive down numbers as winter approaches. In comparison, countries in Asia seem to be able to move forward without mini lockdowns, perhaps because they used test and trace right from the outset and have therefore been better at stopping the virus seeding itself.
Time to get that jab Many of you will be invited over the next few weeks to get the flu jab, and now I am a princely 53 years old that applies to me too…so I would encourage anyone offered it to have it as I will be. Over winter the number of people with flu symptoms will quadruple so it will be vital we know who has covid and who doesn’t…so getting the jab has never mattered more.
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
Select Committee back After a few weeks away from public evidence sessions, the Health and Social Care Committee will be holding a hearing tomorrow on ‘Coronavirus: lessons learnt’, focusing on the social care sector. We will have three oral evidence sessions with Care Minister Helen Whateley MP, the Director-General of Adult Social Care at the Department of Health and the Adult Social Care Testing Director all attending. We will also hear from people on the front line how the sector is coping in the run-up to the winter. Issues such as the turnaround time for testing and the restrictions on visiting by relatives are sure to come up. You can find out more about how to watch the session here. Ahead of it, I was on Start the Week this morning talking to Andrew Marr about social care in a rather longer and more thoughtful discussion about just why it is the social care sector always ends up playing second fiddle to the NHS. If there was a year to sort this out surely it is this one.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
It’s tough out there On Friday, as part of my SW Surrey Bounceback campaign, I met with quite a large group from the Haslemere Chamber of Commerce. It is really challenging on the high street right now and we had a useful discussion about where government support had helped but where much more was needed. Big concerns about the ability to pay rent and rates - two bills that have to be paid before you sell to a single customer. I will be following up the issues raised with the Chancellor but you can support my Bounceback campaign by filling in this short survey if you haven’t already.
Godalming Mental Health Roundtable I also chaired a brilliant virtual session on mental health with Professor Tim Kendall, the top NHS England psychiatrist. The session was well attended and the highlight was some very powerful testimony from three Godalming College students about their own battles with mental health issues. How times have changed with people willing to talk openly about these things - and full marks to them. Also joining us was Dr Claire Fuller, the head of the NHS in Surrey, who explained what improvements are being made locally but also how the pandemic has delayed their implementation. High praise from Professor Kendall for Emma Young and her team at Godalming College for the mental health support they offer students - the gist of which was he wished all colleges were as active. The roundtable came the day before World Mental Health Day on Saturday when I launched my MP's Guide to Mental Health which you can download here.
Congratulations to; Ursula Johnston, Paul Jameson, Karen Edwards, Christopher Askew, Michael Whittingham and Joel Baseley - all South West Surrey residents who were honoured for public service in the Queen's Birthday Honours list over the weekend. The full list was published here.
Godalming Community Store continues its great work according to their brilliant organiser Patrick Andre. They have had a surge in donations (Waitrose and Cook have been very generous) so anyone who needs help with extra food because they are waiting for universal credit, have been furloughed or laid off because of the pandemic should call the Town Council 01483 523575.
See my list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents here.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
Rural Life Living Museum & the Farnham Maltings have received £70,000 and £165,000 grants from the Government Heritage package announced today. As two of the of the area’s most valuable cultural organisations, I am thrilled that they have been given a crucial lifeline, thanks to this scheme. The CRF is funded by the Government and delivered by heritage experts - Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund - to support organisations in England across the heritage ecosystem that are local and national treasures but have fallen on hard times due to the pandemic.
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
What to watch a one-off film recommendation from the Hunt family has to be the new David Attenborough documentary ‘A Life On Our Planet’. A sobering and thought-provoking view.
And finally, while the English cricket season may have come to a close, it isn’t stopping some people from still playing the sport – not least because cricket must be the most naturally socially distanced sport of all.