Covid 19 has presented us all with unpalatable choices and Parliament more than most. I voted to impose further restrictions, nationwide, during November because I believe they are unavoidable if we are to succeed in reducing the spread of the virus to manageable levels. It is impossible to be certain how the virus will behave as we are all, including the scientific community, still learning about it, but the figures showing recent increases are stark and profoundly worrying. The clear message of the national statistics is that, without further action, the number of hospitalisations would increase to a level with which the NHS could not cope. In those circumstances, Government and Parliament must act. That is not just because of our duty to the most vulnerable among us, who will suffer most from substantial increases in serious cases of Covid infection, but also because an overwhelmed NHS will be unable to deal with other illnesses and even accidents that the rest of us may fall victim to. The statistics are clear that, without further action, this is a real risk.
I do not think it was wrong to pursue a regional approach up to now. The instinct to avoid damaging restrictions in areas where infection rates were relatively low was the right one, but it is clear that this is no longer a sustainable approach because of the speed at which the virus is spreading everywhere.
I am deeply aware of how difficult this will be for a variety of businesses, some of which have just begun to rebuild after the first lockdown, and on all those who rely on them for employment. I welcome the continuation of the Furlough Scheme and more will need to be done over the coming weeks, not least to demonstrate clearly what the path out of lockdown looks like. I recognise too that many businesses have made very considerable efforts to make themselves ‘Covid secure’, but it is apparent that the increase in cases has happened nonetheless while they have been doing so.
As I have said before, I will welcome a proper examination of decision-making in response to the pandemic when the crisis has passed, and the Government should too so that the necessary lessons are learned, but we have to deal now with the situation we find ourselves in. The decision Parliament took was not an easy one and I do not expect it to be popular, but I believe it was the right thing to do to save lives.