Claire Coutinho MP Newsletter
As we mark the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 being declared a pandemic, I know the disruption the virus continues to cause is becoming increasingly tough to take. I hope the Prime Minister's four-step plan out of lockdown provided a welcome degree of certainty and hope for residents and businesses across East Surrey that we won't be living under these restrictions for much longer. The first step saw the reopening of our schools on 8 March, and I would just like to pay tribute to pupils and staff at all our local schools for making it as smooth a process as possible. The second step in the roadmap will see shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality reopening from 12 April. The third step will see most social contact rules lifted, as well as limited mixing indoors, from 17 May. The Government hopes that we will then see the end of all legal limits on social contact from 21 June.
Decisions on whether we can move to these next steps on the dates above depend on four key tests. First, that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully. Second, that the evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths. Third, that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. Fourth, that our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern.
At the time of writing this update on 11 March, we seem to be moving in very much the right direction. Britain has administered over 24 million vaccines, including more than 367,000 across Surrey Heartlands. Nationally, we are averaging almost 2.7 million doses a week, and 40 per cent of adults have now received their first dose. Indeed, we are now inviting people aged 56 to 59 to be vaccinated. This invite has been sent after more than eight in ten people aged 65 to 69 took up the offer of a jab. The latest data on vaccine efficacy also provides much cause for optimism. Both the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines have been found to reduce the likelihood of serious illness by 60 per cent after the first dose and reduce the likelihood of hospitalisation by 80 per cent after one dose.
As a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Treasury, the Budget has been another key focus of mine over the past few weeks. I'm proud of the package of measures it contains, from extending furlough until the end of September, to two further self-employment grants and an extension to the scheme for those who became self-employed in 2019/20. For businesses, we are introducing further grants of up to £18,000, along with an extension of the business rates holiday and VAT cut. In addition to the £7 billion of support the Treasury has provided for the aviation sector, the Government also launched the Aviation Skills Retention Platform, a scheme designed to find jobs for those in the aviation sector who may be unable to work because of the pandemic or to find similar roles that match their existing skillset.
This past month has also seen major progress on the Domestic Abuse Bill. This is an issue that affects 1 in 4 women, and it has been a privilege to get to know the genius women working tirelessly behind our local support services, East Surrey Domestic Abuse Service and Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid. I am delighted that the Bill will be strengthened on some of the key issues they and so many others have campaigned for, such as making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison, and strengthening legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour, no longer making it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together.
As ever, if you have any questions or need my help, please do email me at email@example.com or leave me a message at 020 7219 5972. My team and I are on-hand to provide any assistance you may need as we move out of restrictions, and we aim to get back to everyone within 14 working days. By the time you are reading my next update, I very much hope we will have progressed to the second step in the roadmap out of lockdown, with non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality able to reopen. I know we are all keen for this process to be on-schedule so we can be reunited with family and friends as soon as possible, able to catch up on lost time.