Last week, our Prime Minister announced a new package of measures to support and enforce self-isolation – people will be legally obliged to self-isolate if they test positive or have been asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace – helping to control the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.
The best way we can fight this virus is by everyone following the rule of six; wash your hands; cover your face; make space, and self-isolate if you have symptoms or if you have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace. As of the 28thof September, people will be required by law to self-isolate – recognising that self-isolation is one of the most powerful tools for controlling the virus.
North Cornwall has responded exceptionally well to the challenge of Coronavirus, but we do not want to see a situation where people feel they are financially unable able to self-isolate – which is why we have introduced a new £500 Test and Trace Support payment for those on low incomes who are required by NHS Test and Trace to remain at home. Many people are following the rules around self-isolation, but these steps will make sure more do and help ensure the public do not unknowingly spread the virus.
My top priority in this crisis is to protect the public health of North Cornwall. Our demographic and rural nature means that we have many people who are susceptible to COVID-19, and who could have their lives put in danger if they were to contract it. To those constituents who have argued that further measures go too far and that it would be better to allow the virus to run its course, I ask you to consider the many vulnerable people, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions who are deeply fearful of this virus and who need our protection from it.
There are also those of you who believe our response does not go far enough, and who have pointed to the success of the original lockdown during the spring. While we are managing the public health, we must also consider the ramifications of shutting down the entire economy and preventing businesses from generating revenue. Many of North Cornwall’s businesses shut down entirely during the lockdown period, at great expense. I do not want to ask them to have to do this again, and I am very proud of the way our businesses have adapted to the circumstances. If a business can operate safely and within the rules that have been laid out then I believe we must give them the opportunity to trade.
For those businesses who cannot operate, or must trade at a reduced rate, we have introduced a comprehensive package of measures called the Winter Economic Plan, the next phase of our planned economic response to coronavirus. There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic; thanks to our comprehensive and generous response in March, we have seen three consecutive months of economic growth, millions of people have moved off the furlough and back to work, and consumer spending is returning.
But the resurgence of the virus threatens our recovery. Now it is clear we have to live with coronavirus for months to come, this means the economy cannot return to exactly as it looked in March and the economic rationale for the next phase of support must be different to that which came before. Our Job Support Scheme directly funds businesses to protect these viable jobs and people’s wages, rather than laying employees off through a difficult winter. We have also acted to minimise the strains on companies’ cashflows so they can focus their resources on supporting employment. Pay as You Grow will cut Bounce Back loan repayments by almost half by extending the loans to 10 years, the extension to our temporary VAT cut to Spring 2021 will support vulnerable hospitality and tourism businesses, and our new payment plans will allow companies to defer VAT and tax liabilities for a further year.
Whatever course the Government takes, there will be impacts across the board. We must balance economic, mental health, and social issues with our protection of the wider public health because if we do not deal with this, it will become much worse. We are investing in vaccines, diagnostics, and there is good progress. There are several vaccines in late-stage clinical testing. The UK has access to several of these and I am confident that once the right vaccine is found we will be in a strong position to deploy it across the entire country - but we must act with speed, determination, and strong enough measures needed to slow coronavirus until that time.