This column was written on Friday afternoon. Just as I was finishing up the news came in that His Royal Highness Prince Philip has passed away. His life of public service will be remembered for a long time, my thoughts are with the Queen at this difficult time. I am sure that many of you will join me in reflecting upon the Prince’s life, and his dedication to the country over the coming days.
I was pleased to see that the Prime Minister confirmed that the UK will move to Step Two on our cautious roadmap – reopening shops, gyms, zoos, personal care services and outdoor hospitality from this week. All our collective efforts have given us crucial time and space to roll out our record-breaking vaccination programme, which has now vaccinated over 31.5 million people. However, as set out in the roadmap, the success of the UK’s vaccination programme does not provide universal protection. In view of this, we have established four programmes of work to consider different aspects of how we should handle COVID-19 from summer onwards. These reviews are looking at COVID-status certification, international travel, large events and social distancing to ensure a consistent approach that protects the health of the public, communities and our economy. I am aware that some constituents are concerned some of the measures to combat COVID may have an impact on our civil liberties. It is my view that all proposals must have a high level of scrutiny ensure it is proportionate and temporary.
We set out our roadmap and we’re sticking to it, but we must remain cautious by monitoring the data at every stage and by following the rules: remembering hands, face, space and fresh air - that we hope together will make this roadmap to freedom irreversible. We have also announced that everyone in England will be able to access free, regular, rapid coronavirus testing helping to suppress and control the spread of the virus as we reopen our society. As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our roadmap to cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.
Massive efforts have been made by people in North Cornwall to stop the spread of the virus and regular testing will help keep us all safe as we reopen and return to normality, but I understand that many employers will be concerned about the continued financial impact of the pandemic. I have pushed hard in Westminster to ensure that businesses that have been forced to close due to the pandemic are able to access the maximum levels of support available. The latest package from the Chancellor is the Recovery Loan Scheme, which will ensure businesses continue to benefit from Government-guaranteed finance throughout 2021. Businesses – ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to hairdressers and gyms – and can access loans varying in size from £25,000, up to a maximum of £10 million. Invoice and asset finance is available from £1,000.