I know that the pandemic restrictions have caused great difficulties for many businesses and individuals, economically and personally, in Cheadle and across the country. Nobody wants any more restrictions than are necessary to keep people safe.
When the second national lockdown ended in early December, I voted against Stockport borough being placed in Tier 3. I stand by that decision, and I am very disappointed that we have not been moved into Tier 2 since. Our borough’s case rate is lower than the average for Greater Manchester and for England as a whole, and we have one of the lowest case rates of all the areas in Tier 3. I will continue to make the case to the Government that tiers should be decided on a borough-by-borough basis, reflecting the situation here in Stockport, and I hope restrictions are eased soon.
I recognise, however, that we must have proportionate restrictions in place to control the spread of the virus, and ensure that the NHS can treat COVID and non-COVID patients alike. By mid-October, for example, Stepping Hill Hospital had already declared an OPEL 3 incident, indicating that it was struggling to meet its four-hour target for A&E waiting times.
After the first national lockdown, the Government implemented restrictions such as the rule of six, which were designed to limit large-scale social interaction, on which we know the virus thrives. The Government also sought to limit any further restrictions to localised areas where the virus was particularly widespread, which, in September and October, was unfortunately true for Greater Manchester.
Unfortunately, by the end of October, it had become clear that the virus was still spreading too quickly across England, and therefore another national lockdown was necessary. The 7-day average death rate from COVID had increased from 8 per day on September 5th to 310 on November 5th. The second wave was real, the direction of travel was clear, and I believe that the second lockdown was, therefore, a correct, if painful, decision.
The rate of transmission and case rate have dropped, and we are now able to return to controlling the virus in a more measured, localised manner. I believe that in this new framework, Stockport should be in Tier 2, not Tier 3, so our hospitality sector can start to reopen.
However, the best way to permanently reopen, regain our freedoms, and start going about our lives again is to vaccinate the population against the virus. I am proud that we are the first country in the world to roll out a COVID vaccine, and I very much hope that it will end the pandemic and allow us to lift all remaining restrictions in the near future.
When the pandemic is over, it is vital that Cheadle and our wider region have the right support to rebound economically. I have asked the Prime Minister to fast track infrastructure investment in the North, and work with Northern MPs and business leaders to formulate a Northern economic recovery plan; and I and my Northern Conservative colleagues will continue to make representations to that effect to Government, so our communities can bounce back from this pandemic stronger than ever, and fulfil the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.