What should Government’s priorities be beyond pandemic?
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The speed at which vaccines have been created and rolled out is a feat previously unmatched.
At this point last year, we were facing an unknown situation, with limited information and a great deal of fear. A year later we have three vaccines approved and several others likely to come online over the coming months.
The data is already reflecting the positive impact that the UK’s vaccination programme is having, with cases, hospitalisations and bed usage all in decline.
NHS trust information shows that on January 19, 2,336 hospital beds were occupied across the South West, ten days letter it had dropped to 1,989.
Thankfully, deaths appear to have peaked and are beginning to fall, one can only hope and pray that they continue to do so over the coming weeks.
This positive news is very welcome and should mean that we are all turning our attention to a post-lockdown world and to tackle the fallout from a year put on hold.
First, what will the relaxation of the lockdown look like and second, what should the Government’s focus be beyond the pandemic?
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The Prime Minister will review the current lockdown arrangements on February 22. At that point, the focus will be to reopen schools in early March, following close monitoring of the R rate and the success of the vaccination programme.
The Government may well aim for a partial reopening of the retail sector and those businesses viewed as ‘non-essential’ towards the end of March/early April.
This is likely not to include pubs at this point, the logic being that reopening schools then the retail sector will likely only result in a modest increase in contacts.
Again, further analysis of the data, including deaths and hospitalisation, and the success of the vaccination programme means that in May the whole country will enter something resembling a Tier Two scenario, following which June will likely see all but a few restrictions removed.
Of course, this outline of unlocking is only based on my assumption rather than ‘secret’ information.
But given the early indications of success in Israel, we should at least feel reassured that the vaccinations are doing what they should be doing.
Beyond the lockdown and Covid what should be the Government’s priorities?
First, the economy. We have spent more in a year than any previous peacetime Government.
However, in doing so we have protected millions of lives and safeguarded businesses.
The Government must resist all urges to try and tighten the belt by raising taxes and introducing cuts.
They ought to create a low-taxation landscape that provides the breathing space for those businesses, so adversely impacted, to recover.
In short, we should be seeking to create the UK that attracts international investment, encourages domestic growth and provides opportunities for all at any stage of life.
Extending the business rates holiday and five per cent VAT level would be two immediately appropriate measures.
Second, social care. During the election, a commitment was made to work cross-party to establish a new social care model.
The last 12 months have highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of our social care model as it stands today, and it needs urgent attention.
Listening to those local caring groups across the country who have helped so many thousands will be essential to creating a social care model that works long into the future.
Third, education. Our young have had their lives put on hold, from those at university to those studying for exams or entering school, and we must do all we can to help them make up for the lost time.
From improving online learning facilities to helping provide extra classes outside of term time, to encouraging local businesses to help support and develop relevant skills, there should be no barrier to helping young people catch up.
These are just three areas that the Government will have to prioritise to ensure that we can all recover from the horrors of the last 12 months.
In doing so we can create the opportunities and future that have been promised through levelling up across the whole of the UK.