For this year to start with a third lockdown is beyond frustrating. After an incredibly difficult 2020 with enormous sacrifices made by all, I had hoped we would be able to look at national lockdowns as a thing of the past. Sadly, the virus’s evolution has meant a number of new strains have seen a rapid increase in the number of infections across the country, including here in the South West.
In mid-December South Devon’s numbers were decreasing significantly and we were on par with Cornwall. Today the picture is very different and both South Devon and Cornwall have dramatically increased to the extent that our hospitals are concerned about the ability to cope.
However, what makes this lockdown radically different from the previous two is the UK is now in possession of two vaccination programmes. Avoiding joining the EU’s vaccination has never been proved more worthwhile. The UK is currently the only country in the world to be operating two vaccination programmes and has a bold and necessary ambition to vaccinate millions by the 15th February.
This game-changing scenario means with each passing day the risk to elderly, infirm or vulnerable from this virus reduces. For the vaccination, the process has been orientated around four top priority groups. This will include all residents of care homes and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable. After which descending age groups will be offered the vaccination.
Such a plan means we need to be vaccinating around 300,000 people per day, an operation which has never taken place in the history of the world, and the challenges are significant. But we have the order books for the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, we have the military and medical resources and we have the determination to see this final stage through. We cannot allow our health service to be overrun at the last hurdle and that is why I reluctantly believe this lockdown is the correct step to ensure the vaccine can be rolled out without delay.
But that does not mean a lockdown can be continued beyond its remit. We need to take action to ramp up the speed of vaccinations each and every day. Mass vaccination centres must be created, military reservists should be brought in to provide the operational know-how of field centres, our logistics sector can play its part by facilitating a rapid distribution network that ensures each and every part of the UK gets the vaccine in record time. Volunteers must be allowed to volunteer without an overly bureaucratic system holding them back and above all public spaces no longer in use should be utilised to provide every corner of the country with an easily reachable vaccination hub.
With between 40-50 thousand new cases each day this is a race against time. The private and public sector has shown itself to have worked well in many instances over the last year. It is time we ramped up the ambition and seek to vaccinate 5-6 million people each week. Israel for example is vaccinating at a rate of 10 times that of the UK and have already vaccinated 12% of their population with a first dose.
Like the final mile of the marathon, we can see the finish line and we must now put everything into these last few steps to ensure the return to normality can happen as soon as possible.