Thu, 17 Sept 2020
IN ordinary times, this weekend would have been the Newbury Show; a staple of the West Berkshire diary for as long as I can remember, writes Newbury MP Laura Farris.
But this year prize pigs and helter-skelters have been replaced by throat swabs and hermetically-sealed tests, as Newbury Showground has become the focal point of our local fight against the pandemic.
I am acutely aware of the difficulties which have arisen in accessing tests at the showground (as well as at other sites and with home testing) in recent weeks and have taken these up with the Department of Health.
Last week, I raised testing availability with Matt Hancock in the Commons, who said that shortages had arisen from a spike in demand from asymptomatic people.
Public Health England have since corroborated this with an estimate that over 50 per cent of tests are being taken by people who are non-symptomatic.
In my view this was foreseeable given the return to workplaces and school settings.
I have sought and received reassurances that capacity will be boosted in West Berkshire in the coming weeks.
Moreover – in response to my specific question that priority for testing slots and kits could be given to working parents and teachers – I am glad to learn this week that the Government is now moving to a system of prioritisation.
At the time of writing the Department of Health have announced that this will start with those who work in acute clinical care, followed by social care, but further categories will be announced later this week and I hope my suggestions will be reflected.
Significantly, this week also saw the introduction of the new ‘Rule of Six’, which prohibits social gatherings of more than six people anywhere inside or outside.
A number of constituents have contacted me about the implications this can have for family life and the anomalies it seems to throw up.
Why, for example, can children play five-a-side football with their friends, but not have a birthday party with children in their class even though they are still sitting in a classroom with them each day?
I won’t pretend this system is perfect and the dividing line between social and, say, sport or educational settings can throw up anomalous outcomes.
But the fact is that the virus is once again on the rise (with an R rate of over 1) and hospitalisations are increasing.
The priority is to keep schools and workplaces open and avoid a second national lockdown.
The current measures have been taken promptly and of course can be flexed down once the virus is back under control.
It is my sincere hope that these restrictions applied today, frustrating though they may be, will be sufficient to save Christmas.