Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey email update no. 69. As of today, we have a total of 368,504 positive cases of COVID-19 with sadly 41,628 confirmed deaths in the UK. There are 5,514 confirmed cases in Surrey and 550 confirmed cases in Waverley. It is estimated that there are 59 active cases in Waverley at the moment. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning. A breakdown of data can be found here.
Rule of 6 As of today, people in England can only meet with groups of 6 or smaller both outside and inside. The rule doesn’t apply if your immediate family (those you live with) is greater than six. Still, in all other cases, we are now limited to no more than six people in a group or potentially face a fine. The point of this new rule is to try and bring COVID-19 transmission back under control after the significant recent spike but there is no doubt it will have a huge impact on families across the country. But talk of Christmas being cancelled is off-beam - the point of doing this now is to - hopefully - make a relaxation possible ahead of Christmas, something that will not be possible if we do not nip the spike in the bud.
Keeping things under control As if to echo this the Times today carries a headline “Act fast or lose control within days, coronavirus expert, warns No 10”. The message comes from a government advisor based at Imperial College London. You can see the recent rather alarming global trend which saw the biggest global daily increase to date yesterday. Nor should we draw comfort that the increase is mainly amongst young people given that in France, the same trend has led to more hospitalizations and deaths. Sir Keir Starmer is the latest to go into self-isolation after a member of his household reported symptoms - we wish him and his family well.
All of this will likely be concerning for students (and parents) who are heading off to university in the next couple of weeks. Steps are being taken by universities across the countries to ensure that their opening does not spark a larger local virus outbreak including weekly testing of all students at Exeter University, something other places are likely to follow given their laboratory capacity. But student life will not be the same and university finances will be shot to pieces by the lack of international students. Getting tests continues to be a big issue for us locally according to Haslemere GP Phil Ridsdill Smith who I spoke to this morning - and many others who have been emailing. I am on the case with Matt Hancock.
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WHAT’S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER
The Internal Market Bill will start to be debated today with the first vote scheduled for 10 pm this evening. The Institute for Government has a useful explainer on the Bill itself here. It controversially allows Ministers to break a specific aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement that was signed late last year. Under the terms of this agreement, the EU could ban food from being exported to Northern Ireland - an unacceptable idea for any government. The Bill will likely face amendments and there will be other votes in the Commons on the Bill later this week and next. The best way, of course, to prevent this from being an issue is for there to be a UK-EU trade deal. Lord Frost set out the government’s position in this thread. After a lot of thought I have decided to support the government on this: I feel deeply uncomfortable about the prospect of breaking international law but even more concerned at the possibility of the effective break up of the UK with a hard border down the Irish Sea - which now looks like a real possibility if there is no deal. So why did we sign up to it in the first place? Because there was confidence the EU would offer us the Canada deal it had previously but has now taken off the table. It is not just the UK who is playing tough in these negotiations - and we can only hope this is the dark moment before the dawn of a sensible deal is announced.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
Bounceback South West Surrey! This week sees the launch of my South West Surrey Bounceback campaign and many of you will have received a letter from me in the post. I want to do everything possible to galvanise support to get local businesses and health services back on their feet so please do reply to my survey if you can. I also met Professor Amelia Hadfield from Surrey University who is doing a piece of work for a new commission chaired by my former cabinet colleague Philip Hammond to make recommendations for the Surrey economy. Whatever he says will be well worth a read.
Additional Police Officers On Friday I spoke with the new Borough Commander for the local area Sam Adcock (who has taken over from Gary Smith). Her number one priority is the anti-social behavior in Farncombe where she was confident that - notwithstanding a recent spike - it can be kept below pre-pandemic levels. The good news was that our local towns will now be getting their own dedicated PCs - PC Barry Baldwin for Farnham; PC Chris Skillicorn-Aston for Godalming and PC Cat Farmer for Haslemere. I have asked for email addresses for all three which I will pass on when I have them.
Trains update Also on Friday I met with the Managing Director of South Western Railway, Mark Hopwood, at Haslemere Station. Interestingly he told me that pre-pandemic the network transported 125k passengers/day to Waterloo, and although that is now that is down to 25k per day he doesn’t think it will rise back to more than two thirds its pre-Covid level because of the popularity of home working. It means we can enjoy the new experience of actually getting a seat on the trains. We also discussed what more could be done to help local commuters access 'carnet' or flexible season tickets. He has applied to DfT to give a bigger discount than the current miserly 5% which I will be writing to Grant Shapps to support.
Thursley Common devastation I also met the Chair of Thursley Parish Council James Mendelssohn and Pat Murphy, Chair of Elstead Parish Council to look at the damage caused by the terrible fire on 31 May next year. I will shortly be posting a video of my visit, but the extraordinary thing is that their amazing Preserve our Reserve campaign has already raised £40k of the £250k that will be needed to restore the boardwalk. I have become a patron of the campaign, not least because the Hunt children are keen boardwalkers and encourage donations on their gofundme page.
I have been compiling a list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents. You can view them on this link.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
UK-Japan Trade Deal Remember the Foreign Secretary who muddled up his wife’s nationality? Thought not… but something that delighted him last week was the truly ground-breaking trade deal with Japan, the world’s third largest economy and stepping stone to a deal with the CPTPP Pacific trading block which is 13% of global GDP. That is actually more than the economies of the top 5 Eurozone economies combined…but we want a deal with them too please!
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
World Patient Safety Day this Thursday When I was Health Secretary, one of my top priorities was improving patient safety within the NHS where I discovered medical error was causing about 150 preventable deaths every week. Since leaving government, I have established a charity called Patient Safety Watch that looks at the data on patient safety and on Thursday, the World Health Organisation will be holding the second ever World Patient Safety Day (something it set up on my instigation) to raise awareness around what changes need to be adopted around the world. I am going to be writing a weekly Patient Safety email which you can subscribe to here and will come out on a different day to my SW Surrey emails so I give your inboxes a rest…
And finally, a must watch from Piers Morgan – sorry about that – who made Captain Sir Tom Moore the centre of his most recent ‘Life Stories’. A really worthwhile and uplifting interview.