Posted: 08.06.21 at 10:28 by Daniel Clark - Local Democracy Reporter
Devon MPs from across the political spectrum have called for the government lift all remaining COVID restrictions on June 21 as planned.
Step four of the roadmap out of lockdown, which the government previously said would take place on June 21 at the earliest, would remove all remaining legal limits on social contact, ease restrictions on large events and reopen premises such as nightclubs.
A review of social distancing and other long-term measures that have been put in place to cut transmission, such as the wearing of face coverings and working from home, is also due to be completed with and these restrictions may also potentially be eased.
But the relaxing of the remaining rules has been thrown into doubt by the recent rise in cases across the UK, as well as the Delta variant, first seen in India, which is thought to be about 40 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) strain.
However, with deaths and hospitalisations staying low, and with Devon having one of the lowest infection rates in England, the county’s MPs have urged the government not to delay the planned lifted of restrictions on June 21.
Latest figures show that there is just one person in hospital in Devon following a positive COVID-19 test and here have been no deaths in the county since May 9.
Infection rates are at 6.9 per 100,000, down 35 per cent week-on-week, and the lowest they have been since September 2.
Conservative Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris, who has been a ‘lockdown sceptic’ throughout the pandemic and who voted against the third lockdown, has urged the government not to delay the planned lifting of restrictions on June 21.
She said: “Given the specific situation we find ourselves presented with in Devon (both health-wise and economy-wise) I would urge the government not to delay the planned lifting of restrictions on June 21.
"While the latest steps have helped the local economy begin to get back on its feet, it won’t be until all restrictions are lifted that we will be able to enjoy the full freedom that we desperately all want.
“The vaccination rollout has been a stunning success and this should allow us to re-open with confidence.
"We cannot keep flinching at the slightest sign of every potential new variant. It’s damaging to physical and mental health and the economy.”
And Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, also joined the chorus of those calling for restrictions to ease on June 21, saying that it should not be delayed in the county because "of a small number of hotter spots or because of fears about a theoretical new variant emerging".
He added: “The data that matters now is on serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths and so far the evidence is that the vaccines protect against all currently known variants.
“There may be an argument for continuing with certain limited guidance that does not impact negatively on the economy, such as continuing to work from home if possible and wearing face protection in enclosed public spaces, but the June 21st date should not be delayed, particularly for low incidence areas like Exeter and Devon, because of a small number of hotter spots or because of fears about a theoretical new variant emerging.
“People have put up with unprecedented restrictions to their freedoms for long enough and with life returning to more or less normal across the rest of Europe, it would seem unreasonable for the government here to impose unnecessary restrictions on the British for longer, particularly given our high vaccination rate, which the government promised would deliver us a vaccine dividend.”
Conservative Central Devon Mel Stride MP said that the decision was "finely balanced", but his hope and expectation was for June 21 to go ahead.
He said: “The decision on opening up fully is finely balanced at the moment. Hospitalisations and fatalities are obviously low but whilst many are vaccinated not all are and if the delta variant expands very rapidly over the next week then there may be a case for rowing back a little on fully opening.
"My hope and expectation however is that step four will be taken pretty much in full on the 21.”
Sir Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, also added that the further easing of restrictions should go ahead.
He said: “I think it is finely balanced. Government said it would look at the date from the proceeding steps from lockdown and that is what they will do.
"There is a case for delaying full release until more people under 50 have been vaccinated, but my personal preference would be to proceed with the further release on the grounds that the vaccine is working and younger people tend not to get COVID seriously.
"The government has exercised terrific judgement on this in the last few months and I am happy to back their judgement whatever they decide.”
Selaine Saxby, Conservative MP for North Devon, said: “I very much hope the decision will be driven by the data, which in North Devon remains very positive.
"There are the four tests which need to be met for the next phase of unlocking to go ahead and the question about 'variants of concern' is one that I am not privy to the data on at this time, but my understanding of the data I am able to see is that the other three are looking optimistic and very much hope that we will be able to progress to the next stage as planned.”
No decision on whether to proceed to step four, or delay the step, will be taken until June 14 to allow for the full four weeks of data since the relaxation of step three on May 17 to be seen.
The government says that the the decision will be based on four tests – that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; the evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.