With the late 2020 news of securing a trade deal with the EU and the authorisation of a second vaccine, I certainly hope 2021 will be a much better year for us all. Unfortunately, though, it starts with a strong dose of reality with the reintroduction of a national lockdown as infection rates are rocketing, driven by the new variant. A key difference from last spring is that we are keeping the childcare and support bubbles going throughout. We really do need to avoid going out and to stay local.
The priority now is to get the vaccinations rolled out as quickly as possible and with the AstraZeneca one being much easier to distribute for use around the country, our local NHS is accelerating the vaccination programme, particularly working with GPs. In Suffolk Coastal, I would expect this to take off properly next week and the NHS will contact patients directly, in accordance with the prioritisation as agreed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. We do not have enough evidence yet to know if the vaccines can stop transmission, but we know it reduces deaths. That is why the priority is to first vaccinate those people most likely to die if they get the virus, which is largely driven by age, rather than someone being considered to be a key worker. The Chief Medical Officers and regulator have also decided to extend the gap between the first and second doses so many more vulnerable people can be vaccinated much more quickly. While the second dose will maximise the vaccine impact, the first dose does much of the necessary work to reduce risk. The Prime Minister wants as many high-risk people as possible to be vaccinated by the February half-term.
In the meantime, I want to repeat my thanks to all the key workers who continue doing their necessary jobs. Their children will still be able to attend school. I also want to thank volunteer groups who have been helping vulnerable and disadvantaged people, especially over Christmas. Once again, East Suffolk Council will be working flat out to get Government grants out to businesses as soon as possible.
A word too on Brexit, which despite the current situation, has dominated our politics for the last 4 and half years. As well as delivering what the British people voted for in taking back control of our laws, borders, money and fisheries. The Prime Minister was able to negotiate an historic free trade deal with the EU based on zero-tariffs. Meaning that not only will businesses be able to continue to trade smoothly within the EU, the UK is free to strike free trade deals with non-EU countries, opening up new markets. An example of new freedoms is no longer having VAT on women’s sanitary products, rather than the 5% which was the lowest rate we could have while operating under EU rules. I know many will welcome the complete ban on pulse fishing in our waters and no longer will new migrants be able to export child benefit. Now that the comprehensive deal with the EU has been done, I hope we will unite as a country and make our nation an even greater place to live, work and enjoy. Happy New Year!