Oliver's Column for My News - June 2020

As I write this article the coronavirus continues to dominate all aspects of local and national life.  

It now appears that we are through the initial phase of the virus. We introduced lockdown measures in order to prevent the exponential uncontrolled spread of the virus, and to stop the NHS being overwhelmed. Since the measures have been introduced, the exponential spread of the virus has been stopped and the number of hospital admissions and number of deaths, though still far too high, are all declining. Similarly, the number of ventilators and intensive care unit beds has remained ahead of demand. 

Of course, there are many areas where we need to do much more, including in relation to protective equipment and care homes. I also understand how difficult the lockdown measures have been for people in its disruption to our way of life, impact on the economy and on our mental health. 

That is why it is so important that as we start to look ahead, public health and safety remains our number one priority. After all our hard work and sacrifice, the last thing we want is a second uncontrolled peak that overwhelms the NHS and forces us to impose tighter restrictions again.  

Equally, it is right that people know where we are going next. So we have set out a careful plan of gradual cautious conditional relaxing of the measures. 

This starts with easing restrictions on outdoor activity, where we know the risk of transmission is lowest. People can now start doing things such as playing golf, tennis, or exercising frequently, provided they observe social distancing measures. 

The next phase will be to explore the return of non-essential retail from the beginning of June, allowing people to do things such as visit the hairdressers. Finally, from July we will look at how we can start to re-open tourism and hospitality, whilst all the time following the medial advice and social distancing rules.  

This will not be easy - it is going to be a long and hard road ahead. And at each step we will exercise supreme caution. Ultimately national life will not return fully to normal until we either develop a vaccine or have a fully comprehensive tracking and tracing system for all infections.

[This article was written on Tuesday 12 May 2020]