Jan 4th 2021 COVID 19 and SW Surrey News Bulletin.

Good afternoon, Happi(er) New Year and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 96. As of today, we have a total of 2,654,779 positive cases of COVID-19 with 75,024 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 649 confirmed cases in Waverley and sadly 114 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 975 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11 am this morning.

One year ago today The World Health Organisation said that “China has reported to WHO a cluster of pneumonia cases — with no deaths — in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Investigations are underway to identify the cause of this illness.” Since then, there have been over 2.5 million cases in the UK and 75,000 deaths - and still rising with a vicious new strain on the prowl.

A third wave is upon us with a vengeance with hospital admissions now around 50% higher in the South East than they were during the first wave. We are also seeing daily case and death counts higher than in the spring as a result of the ‘Kent variant’ of the virus, which is far more transmissible than the original strain. Since Christmas, most of England (including here in Waverley from Boxing day) has been in Tier Alert Level 4 – where the rules are essentially the same as a lockdown, but with schools open (you can remind yourself of the rules here). Over the weekend the Prime Minister announced that it might be necessary to go further and institute another UK wide lockdown and he is speaking to the nation tonight with further details. These are incredibly tough decisions but after careful reflection I think it is time to close schools, stop international travel and restrict household mixing as I outlined today. The NHS is in dire risk of falling over so why allow it to happen when we are so close to getting everyone vaccinated?

Talking of schools last week I asked the Health Secretary (who knew not wearing a tie would cause so much trouble) if he thought it was wise to re-open schools and universities for in-person teaching considering the rise in cases. I welcome the decision to keep some schools closed this week, but I believe (and spent most of last week telling the government) that this is not enough. As I said in the Observer over the weekend, “it is massively risky to open schools when so many parts of the NHS are teetering on the brink.” Last night I was in touch with Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council (who run the schools here in Surrey) to make the point. I think Tim is sympathetic but wants a clear decision from the government so he too will be tuning in at 8 pm tonight no doubt.

Rolling out the Vaccine There is some good news though as this morning the first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine began getting rolled out. The ambition is to get 2 million doses in people's arms each week from the middle of this month up from the half a million doses expected to be injected this week. There are some teething issues including working out how to test each batch needs before handing it over to the NHS. There has also been a slight change in the NHS vaccine strategy (extremely dangerous according to the New York Times) which will mean giving the first doses out to as many people as possible before doing second shots. A good write up from the BBC on why this is not only safe but a good change in our strategy. Don’t forget that you will be contacted by the NHS when you're due for your vaccine, so please don’t contact your GP surgery.

As we potentially go into another lockdown, the key number to remember for anyone with pandemic-related difficulties remains 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm).

WHATS GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER

Getting Brexit Done On Christmas eve, the Prime Minister announced that the UK-EU had reached a comprehensive free trade agreement with a deal that many said was never going to happen. The agreement provides for the free movement of goods, 90-day visa-free travel in the EU, a continuation of free EU wide health insurance and a reduction in EU fish quota access. There are still some areas where further agreement is required, notably financial services and data sharing but the mood music on both feels positive. The BBC have an excellent video which explains what has and hasn’t changed here. I know Brexit arouses big passions so won’t stir them up in this email except to say (as someone who always believed a democracy must implement the results of a referendum) that we now have the chance to put the poisonous debate of the last four years behind us with a deal that allows for both continued trade and close international cooperation.

Bye bye Erasmus I know that locally lots of students have benefitted from the free study in EU countries that the Erasmus scheme provided so leaving the scheme will be a disappointment to many. The new scheme, named after Alan Turing who arguably invented the first computer, will help nearly twice as many British students study abroad and not just in Europe - but as a former foreign sec I would also say we benefit when Europeans study here in the UK in terms of our global influence and greater international understanding so let’s make sure we do not lose such benefits. The full details can be found here.

WHATS GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY

Congratulations to: Cassandra BuchananNick MorganRyan KelleySusan Owen-Weaver, and Victoria Sellick all South West Surrey residents who have been recognised in the Queen's New Year’s Honours list. Also, huge congratulations to Peter Glover, who has been a local hero in keeping the local NHS afloat during this pandemic and received an OBE. The full list of those who have been honoured can be found here.

Power issues I know that just before Christmas residents in the Godalming area were suffering from intermittent power outages. SSE told me that this was because of the main network fault, which was resolved pretty quickly by engineers. The issues residents faced in 2013 shouldn’t repeat themselves since the network is now mostly underground and protected from the weather.

See my list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents here.

THE ECONOMY AND JOBS

Abolishing the tampon tax  One of the benefits of leaving the EU is that the UK can now set its VAT policy, which led the Chancellor to scrapping the VAT on Female Sanitary Products. There has been a lot of debate about if this could have been done sooner, which is brilliantly put to rest in this twitter thread. We could also see the contactless limit increased to £100 which would be a good pandemic-control measure anyway.