On Monday, 12th April I was delighted to see the easing of lockdown restrictions, with establishments reopening from pubs and restaurants outdoors, to non-essential high street stores, to gyms and leisure centres.
We can again enjoy previous freedoms, and help rejuvenate our damaged economy, after what has been an exceptionally challenging period for business owners, workers, and consumers. I am also pleased that these re-openings did not include any time curfews or any rules about ‘substantial meals’ which I am sure will help the industry. I am optimistic that we can stick to our roadmap with the next date of further unlocking planed for 17th May, in what I expect to be irreversible steps in our road to recovery.
Despite the significant reopening of the economy, we continue to support those who need it in society. In addition to the extension of the furlough scheme, this Government has taken the most significant and substantial steps to support businesses in this country – notably those in the hospitality sector - and will continue to do so. For instance, the reduced 5% VAT rate for this sector has been extended by 6-months to 30th September; thereafter there will be a reduced rate of 12.5% for a further 6-months, not returning to the standard rate until April 2022- a saving of around £5 billion to the industry.
Our exceptional vaccine rollout continues, having now offered vaccination to all nine priority cohorts, including everyone over the age of 50.
The Director of Northamptonshire’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has also recently confirmed that everyone aged 50 and over, as well as health and social care workers, unpaid carers and people at higher clinical risk, have now been offered the first dose of the vaccine. However, anyone who qualifies for the vaccine but has not received it should contact them either by calling 119 or by visiting www.nhs.uk/covidvaccination or by contacting their GP practice.
If and when you are offered a vaccine please do take it. Vaccinations prevent an indefinite cycle of lockdowns and appears to be the only tool to enable us to return to our previously enjoyed freedoms and normal times. A vaccine will inevitably save a substantial number of lives, jobs, and livelihoods, and we are beginning to see such benefits – coupled with the results of the national effort in adhering to lockdown restrictions – take effect.
Take-up of the vaccine has been very impressive, with some 95% of those over 50 coming forward to take the vaccine, and I fully expect these figures to continue, in what will not only keep ourselves safe, but help protect family, friends, and those with whom we come into contact. It is also worth noting that, the fewer cases of Covid there are in circulation, the lower the likelihood of the virus mutating to a strain which is incompatible with our vaccine(s).
After the availability of clean water, vaccination is actually the most effective public health intervention in the world for saving lives and promoting good health. Globally, we have one of the best immunisation programmes in the UK and we are always at the forefront of rolling out new programmes when the best vaccination is available.
I hope everyone will join me in welcoming what I hope are irreversible measures in easing restrictions, and will enjoy new freedoms responsibly, and supporting local businesses who have experienced a great deal of hardship in recent times.