Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 75. As of today, we have a total of 544,275 positive cases of COVID-19 with 42,515 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 6,853 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 803 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 192 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.
Reasons for concern The past few days have seen the government’s scientific advisors call for further action now cases are doubling every 11 days with hospital admissions in England jumping by a quarter in one day. The main hotspot area is the North West leading to the two large universities in Manchester moving to almost solely online teaching. As a result, last night, the Prime Minister is reported to have agreed to a new set of restrictions alongside further financial support. We expect to hear more on Monday, but most people assume pubs and restaurants will be closed in at least some of the areas. The financial support – MPs have been assured - will include wage support for employees of businesses that were forced back into lockdown three months after opening. But schools stay open. I talked about this on Sky news this morning and with Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 Live (0750).
We’re all in this together Alas we are not immune from the spreading here in Waverley which has now been put by Surrey County Council (in consultation with the local Health Authorities) into a state of 'alert'. This means that in the next few days you will see an increase in the amount of 'social distancing' advertising and heavy emphasis of following the most up to date guidance, which can be found here. We are still some way from the implantation of a local lockdown and the more we all comply the less likely it is. You can read more about what else Surrey is doing to bring down the number of cases here. Guildford and Woking too are now also on ‘alert’ due to an increase in cases.
What are the local lockdown rules? With so many different areas facing different levels of restrictions, the BBC has created this handy 'heat map' which allows you to put in the postcode of your home (or the place that you are visiting) to find out what restrictions are in place. Maybe something they could turn into an app…
Housing debate I will be speaking in the House of Commons – literally, any moment now – about the government’s proposed changes to the planning targets and planning permissions. This is not a 'meaningful debate' in the sense that any vote that follows is non-binding and it won't directly reject the government's plans. However, the debate will hopefully show the government the level of concern held by myself and my colleagues. I have been joined with good company in opposing the new changes, with fellow Surrey MP Chris Grayling and the former Prime Minister Theresa May also asking that the government takes the opportunity to look again at this their plans.
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
Questions to the Health Secretary Twice this week I have been able to question Matt Hancock on our pandemic response. On Monday, I asked him to look at NHS Test and Trace structures which I argued need to be changed if we are to address the persistent problems in testing. Time to harness the power of our hospital and university laboratories and not put all our eggs into the basket of mega-labs (known as the lighthouse labs) if we are to test key groups like NHS frontline workers. Then on Tuesday I asked the Secretary of State when ‘long COVID' sufferers (those who have symptoms for more than three months) will be able to access the services he promised to the Select Committee? This is a truly horrible condition which has seen about 60,000 people suffering symptoms like chronic fatigue and breathlessness long after getting the virus. Sir Simon Stevens, the CEO of the NHS announced some encouraging news yesterday which suggests the government is listening on this one.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
Today is Clean Air Day - a day that tries to raise awareness about the damaging effects bad air quality has on people, something we are all too aware about here in South West Surrey with Farnham having some of the highest air pollution levels in the region. New research today shows that by reducing air pollution levels by 20%, we could improve children’s working memory by one month. You can find out more about the campaign here.
Mental Health Roundtable I am looking forward to welcoming many of you to the Godalming Mental Health Roundtable, which I am chairing tomorrow evening at 5 pm with the top NHS England psychiatrist, Professor Tim Kendall, Surrey Heartlands NHS boss Dr Claire Fuller and Godalming College Principal Emma Young. It will be a fascinating discussion and if you still want to sign up please go to www.jeremyhunt.org/mentalhealth. Please also let your friends known locally - mental health is becoming a huge issue and Tim Kendall is one of the most knowledgeable people in the country.
Farnham Infrastructure Programme Questionnaire Surrey County Council, Waverley Borough Council and Farnham Town Council would like to know what you think of their draft 'vision statement’ for the Farnham Infrastructure Programme. They are asking residents to fill in this survey which includes questions such as whether the projects they have proposed will address concerns we all have about transport and pollution around the town, as well as allowing alternative solutions to be suggested. You can complete the survey here.
See my list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents during COVID here.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
A new neighbour, coming somewhere near you Homebuyers are looking to escape crowded cities and big towns by moving to the country or the coast, according to the people behind the website Rightmove. Searches have doubled for homes in the towns and villages with populations less than 11,000. Searches for family housing in Surrey have risen the most - up 130% in the past year, so we may all be getting some new next-door neighbours. However, the mini-boom is unlikely to continue according to the recent RICS UK Residential Survey which says that house prices may start to fall over the next 12 months, perhaps good news for those struggling to get on the housing ladder.
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
Earthshot prize Sir David Attenborough and His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge have joined forces to launch what they hope will become the "Nobel Prize for environmentalism". They say the search is on for 50 solutions to the world's gravest environmental problems by 2030. Let’s hope for some Surrey winners - with our brilliant university researchers and massive commitment to environmental issues locally.
And finally, this story caught one of my team's eye this week – a rare (one in thirty million) orange lobster from Canada is being re-homed in Blackpool… no me neither, but might make for an exciting day trip once we are allowed to start visiting the north of England again.