Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 78.  As of today, we have a total of 722,409 positive cases of COVID-19 with 43,646 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 8,469 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 75 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 230 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.

Restrictions Over the weekend, London was officially put into tier 2 or ‘high’ alert level. This means that people can no longer meet non-household groups inside and that groups of six can only meet outside. The situation in Surrey remains stable, but cases are on the rise, and Waverley remains an area of ‘concern’ which means that there will be a focus on reminding people about the current guidance. You can read it in full and check what restrictions are in place here but it cannot be an unreasonable assumption to think we will follow London which means the opportunity to socialise outside household bubbles may be limited.

New Tests From this week a new test is being rolled out known as “lateral flow” involving swab samples examined on the spot by a portable machine, not requiring a lab for processing and giving an answer within an hour. If the trials work they will be transformational, allowing for example relatives to be tested on the spot before visiting a care home. Initially the plan is to use them to help control localised outbreaks particularly in areas currently subject to a ‘Very High’ alert level. We are still on track for 500,000 tests a day by the end of October for the traditional PCR swab system so some welcome good news for the much-criticised testing processes. Say it quietly but together these mean we could be a step closer to population testing - about 2 million tests a day if it were to be once a month - which is what I argued for in the House last week.

On Saturday I was on Radio 4’s Today Programme, talking to Mishal Husain about the same issues shortly after Sir John Bell had told her about the new faster tests. I also said that that it is essential the country acts fast and decisively before the virus gets out of control and that it is really important to end the war of words between local and national leaders so that we can get a clear public health message across to the public. You can listen to the whole interview here (from 8:30 am onwards) and Nick Timothy has written a thoughtful opinion piece in the Telegraph today about what these issues tell us about our rather creaky constitution.

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

Select Committee Double Bill Tomorrow the Health and Social Care Select Committee will be taking evidence on NHS and Social Care Workforce Burnout and Resilience. Data shows that the NHS faces a shortage of doctors and nurses, and ‘burnout’ is one of the major reasons that people are choosing to leave the NHS earlier than they would - as well as being a risk to patients if people end up making mistakes under pressure. Part of the answer has to be the publication of independent assessments of the staffing levels we will require over the next five to ten years together with a plan that shows how we intend to do that. Then on Wednesday morning I will be co-hosting an evidence session with Greg Clark to look at the way modelling and forecasting has worked during the pandemic (including those controversial Imperial predictions by Neil Ferguson.) You can tune in to both here.

WHATS GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY

Green home funding Waverley residents on lower than average incomes will be able to apply for a grant worth up to £10,000 to help improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The government has made available £6.2m to help Surrey households make home improvements that will save them money on future energy bills and lower the UK's carbon emissions. Private and social housing landlords can receive up to £5,000 to cover two-thirds the cost of installing solid wall insulation. As funding is time-limited, contact Action Surrey as soon as possible on 0800 783 2503 or via www.actionsurrey.org/enquiries to check your eligibility for support.

Mental Health Survey Last week – following my mental health round table with local and national NHS leadership - I launched my mental health survey, to help me and policymakers (here in Surrey and at the national level) understand our local experience when it comes to mental health services. Please do complete the survey – it's completely anonymous - and share it with friends and family. The higher the response the more ammunition I will have to fight our corner on better resourcing for these vital services locally.

Farnham Board Survey While we’re on surveys, there is still time to complete the Farnham infrastructure survey – who are looking at what can be done to improve the traffic situation in the town - before it closes at the end of the month. You can complete it here.

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

THE ECONOMY AND JOBS

Support to pay energy bills The energy regulator Ofgem is introducing new rules from 15 December to help vulnerable customers who struggle to pay their energy bills this winter. Suppliers will be required to offer emergency credit to customers who cannot top-up prepayment meters. And if customers are in debt, suppliers must put them on "realistic and sustainable" repayment plans. More details here.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON

Drinking on the Parliamentary estate What is it about MPs and drinking? Having never been part of the booze culture here in Westminster I find myself wondering whether I have missed out on all the best parties or whether this is a rather unfair amount of bad press involving only a small minority of MPs… I thought it would be worth sharing the full story.

And finally A really lovely twitter thread about ‘happiness.’ Never let it be said your local MP only brings you doom and gloom in these emails…

 
 
 
  

Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 74.  As of today, we have a total of 502,978 positive cases of COVID-19 with 42,350 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 6,443 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 802 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 210 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.

Missing figures Last night it was announced that some 16,000 positive test results were missing from the past few weeks because of an IT glitch – essentially the files were too big to be uploaded to the government dashboard – which is both worrying and astonishing. The Health Secretary will be on his feet around the time this email hits your inbox. I will ask him whether the repeated problems in testing mean it is time to re-look at the structure of the system: is it too over-centralised, trying to depend on three large laboratories for nearly all our testing? Admittedly this is being expanded to seven laboratories - but given that nearly every hospital and university has testing capacity, should we not be asking them to do care home and NHS staff testing to reduce pressure on the beleaguered system? You can hear me talking about the missing test results on the World at One earlier today with Sarah Montague who gets my prize for having the calmest voice on the radio right now.

Traffic Lights A lot of talk this morning about inconsistencies in the local lockdowns. A Daily Mail editorial questions why Wolverhampton is being locked down with half the infection rates of Barrow which is not. The answer it appears will be a traffic light system to make the situation less complex. Alert Level Three will be tougher than anything we have now and involved the closure of all pubs and restaurants. Level 2 is roughly where swathes of the North of England are now  and Level 1 would be roughly where the rest of the country is including the rule of 6. A full statement is expected in the next couple of days, but the Guardian has the full story here. Interesting to see whether we end up going all the way on traffic lights as they do in China where people have individual traffic lights based on their infection status and where they have been which control where you can go and whether you can use public transport. If that feels creepy worth remembering Chinese people have a lot more freedom to travel right now than most people in the North of the country…strange times indeed.

President Trump Whatever your views on this most marmite of Presidents we all wish him a speedy recovery - even if the motives for doing so are varied: his supporters want him back on the campaign trail and his opponents want to see him better so that a potential defeat does not lose legitimacy as Matthew Syed argued thoughtfully in yesterday’s Sunday Times. But his decision to drive outside the Walter Reed hospital yesterday afternoon to wave at supporters was utterly reckless for the reasons explained by one of the doctors at Walter Reed. Surely a President should set an example and not flout the rules everyone else with the virus is being asked to follow?

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

Mutant algorithms must be muted Thursday afternoon will see the first debate on the government's new planning reforms and housebuilding targets. I am extremely concerned about these: not only are they unlikely to reduce the asking price for new houses in our area (a pressing need for young people trying to get on the housing ladder) but there is a real risk Waverley will be pressurised by the dramatic housing increases required by the ‘algorithm’ to approve permissions on green belt/AONB/AGLV areas. I will put in to speak (although there is no guarantee I will be called) but more importantly Robert Jenrick has agreed to meet me to discuss the concerns put to me by Farnham town council, Frensham and Dockenfield parish councils, CPRE and many others.

WHATS GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY

Farncombe Street Patrols Last week I wrote about my meeting with new police commander, Sam Adcock and the request from Sgt Claire Sutherland for more volunteers for street patrols. Anyone who can help can email me or Andy Poulsom who heads up the local community group at andy@trinitytrustteam.co.uk or farncombecommunityteam@gmail.com. Important to say this is a cross-party effort and Cllrs Paul Follows and Penny Rivers have been closely involved, including helping to set up the first public meeting on the issue last year.

Business Waverley A great resource (and e-newsletter) provided by the local Borough Council is its Business Advice website. The website has the latest advice and support from government and information on partner organisations offering free webinars and support during the pandemic. You can all play your part in helping the local economy by completing and sharing my South West Surrey Bounceback campaign survey which has already had more than a thousand people signing up. To the slogan ‘hands, face, space’ I would add ‘shop local, eat local, visit local!’

Mental Health Round Table Saturday is World Mental Health Day and to mark it on Friday I will be chairing a Godalming Mental Health Roundtable, being joined (virtually) by the top NHS England psychiatrist, Professor Tim Kendall, Surrey Heartlands NHS boss Dr Claire Fuller and Godalming College Principal Emma Young. It will be a fascinating discussion so please sign up here and share it with your friends and family locally. It starts at 5 pm.

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

THE ECONOMY AND JOBS

Airport testing Hopefully some much needed good news for the aviation and tourism sector with the government considering introducing rapid mass testing upon arrival from high-risk countries, as opposed to the current quarantine policy that is in place. Stephen Barclay, the Treasury Secretary, said on Saturday that we would be hearing more about this from the Transport Secretary in the next couple of days.

Growing Sectors The Work and Pensions Secretary has today announced the ‘growing sectors programme’ as part of a £238m Job Entry Targeted Support package. JETS is aimed at helping those out of work because of COVID-19 for three months and boost the prospects of more than a quarter of a million people across the UK. You can read more about this scheme and other employment support packages on the government website.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON

Conservative Party Conference Usually at this time of year I (and most of my team) would be in Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. The pandemic has, of course, meant we have had ‘gone virtual’ but it does give the party (and non-party members) better access to a wide variety of speeches, panels and debates. So if you are a member why not take a look and if you’re not a member why not join the local Conservative party… we are a friendly bunch, I promise!

And finally, If you haven’t seen David Attenborough being quizzed by Princes George, Louise and Princess Charlotte, it is well worth a watch. David Attenborough is of course the closest thing to royalty it is possible for a non-royal to be.

 
 

  

Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey email update No. 71.  As of today, we have a total of 394,257 positive cases of COVID-19 with sadly 41,777 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 5,656 confirmed cases in Surrey, 558 confirmed cases in Waverley and currently an estimated 93 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.

Going in the wrong direction? This morning the Chief Medical and Chief Scientific Officers, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, outlined the latest statistics on the increased transmission of  COVID-19. No new restrictions were announced but what they did say was that we are entering a critical moment. Graphs showing what happened in France and Spain were used to show the risks. The message was if we do not ‘change direction’ we could be seeing 50,000 cases a day by mid-October and 200 plus deaths per day in November (the slides with all the data can be found here). The Prime Minister is expected to address the nation tomorrow and set out what that change in direction will be - most people think everything will be on the table except stopping people going to schools and offices. In better news Sir Patrick sounded reasonably confident of getting a vaccine into circulation by the end of the year (in ‘limited quantities’). Part of the purpose of the briefing was to stress the importance of the social distancing guidelines including the new ‘rule of 6’ with draconian £10k fines for breaches being floated in the Sunday papers. Overall I thought it was a pretty impressive and convincing performance.

Test, Track and Trace While the pandemic is growing in the UK at an alarming rate Britain’s Test, Track and Trace system continues to creak at the seams, with the number of people receiving their test results within 24 hours falling further behind. Local schools are finding it particularly hard - one I know of has had a COVID-19 case and is desperately trying to get more tests but will only be allocated more in 3 weeks’ time. I am on the case with all of these issues but as we see cases rise locally these kinds of delays are immensely frustrating. In some better news, the NHS Test and Trace app is due to be launched on Thursday. The app will help support the test and trace programme and provide medical advice to people who may be suffering from the virus. I gave my verdict on the testing issues in a broad ranging interview with Laura Kuenssberg last week. You can listen to the full interview hereor hear a one minute clip here.

Lone Births In yesterday’s Mail of Sunday, I wrote about the traumatic fact that thousands of women face having to give birth alone because of COVID-19 restrictions - at the same time up to 6 people are allowed to go to the pub. The government released guidance earlier this month to try to address this but not all hospitals are complying. There are genuine patient safety issues here - keeping higher risk BAME mothers safe for example - but surely this can be solved? On the theme of maternity safety I also wrote for the Daily Mail on Friday about the ridiculous situation where we pay more in compensation bills for mistakes in maternity care than the entire cost of every maternity doctor and nurse in the country - it followed Thursday’s World Patient Safety Day. As I mentioned then, anyone who would like to sign up to my weekly patient safety email can do so here. For the most up to date details on what you can and cannot do please read these FAQsThe key number to remember is 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm).

WHATS GOING ON IN WESTMINSTERLast Thursday Baroness Harding (Dido Harding is in charge of NHS Track and Trace) updated the Science and Technology Select Committee on the challenges facing NHS Test and Trace. There are a mixture of issues facing the current system, including a finite number of tests, miscalculations in the number of tests required and general teething problems. In fairness Baroness Harding did lay out pretty clearly the steps she and her team are taking to fix these growing number of issues and how they plan to get a grip on the situation. Steps being taken include daily testing reports so the government and management can identify specific areas and labs that are underperforming. But the root issue is demand outstripping the undoubted increases in capacity that are taking place - and the worry in parts of the country like ours that see infections rising but testing capacity still concentrated in the North.

WHATS GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREYNew planning laws being considered by the government continue to cause worry. I have spoken recently to Cllr Carole Cockburn and Cllr John Ward, Waverley leader and today caught up with David Howell, Chairman of the Planning Committee of the Farnham Society. The principal concerns are about the potential loss of localism after the huge effort put in by Carole and others to the Neighbourhood Plan. But there are other issues including the risk that it will not address the need for affordable housing nor deal with landbanking by developers. The price of new houses is set by the price of current houses and these proposals will do little to bring in the lower price starter homes we need. Another real concern is the pressure on the Green Belt/AONBs if Waverley has to increase its housing permissions by potentially 40%. I am not the only Surrey or South Eastern MP with these concerns and will be taking them to Robert Jenrick. I fully support the need to do more to help younger people get onto the housing ladder, but this seems a set of reforms full of unintended consequences.

Spelthorpe on warning list While not directly affecting any local residents nearby Spelthorne Borough has now been placed on the government’s COVID-19 watchlist and is officially an ‘area of concern’. Being an ‘area of concern’ does not mean there will be a local lockdown or closures at this stage, but it does mean that residents must be extra vigilant and follow government guidelines to stop the spread of coronavirus. So don’t forget if you have coronavirus symptoms – a persistent cough, high fever, or a change in smell or taste – then you should book a test by calling 119 or by visiting www.nhs.co.uk/coronavirus. Slots are made available the evening before for morning appointments, and in the morning for afternoon appointments.  

Climate Change Service It was great to hear that so many people attended the ‘virtual’ Climate Sunday service at Parish of Badshot Lea and Hale. If you couldn’t join the event live, you can re-watch the whole service here

I have been compiling a list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents. You can view them on this link.

THE ECONOMY AND JOBSChoo choo…The Transport Secretary today announced that emergency contracts signed at the start of the pandemic would be extended for another 18 months in a multi-billion-pound investment. This is needed because passenger numbers dropped to just 4 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in April before recovering to between 30 and 40% now - still a massive hole in train operating company finances. But it is making it delightfully easy to find a seat for anyone who is venturing onto the railway.

Support for those isolating. Very sensibly the government has announced additional financial support for people who cannot work because they are required to self-isolate. From this week you will be able to claim a £500 lump sum from the government if you can prove that you are unable to work. To be eligible, individuals will need to be employed or self-employed; unable to work from home and will lose income as a result, and; currently in receipt of Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON

Sasha Swires diaries The Westminster village has been gripped by the serialisation of former Conservative Minister Sir Hugo Swire’s wife, Sasha’s diaries. Filled to the brim with gossip from the Cameron years, I think it is safe to say the Swire’s may be receiving fewer Christmas cards this year. I am rather relieved I did not know her - but do not escape totally unscathed. You can hear me talking about the diaries on the BBC Newscast here.

And finally, an amazing bit of history from the archives. The first ever video recording of Parliament in action from 1968. Taking place in the House of Lords we learn all about the proposed construction of Stansted airport.

 

 

 

Good afternoon and welcome to my South West Surrey email update No. 68.     

September 10th 2020.

As of today, we have a total of 355,219 positive cases of COVID-19 with sadly 41,594 confirmed deaths in the UK. There are 5,366 confirmed cases in Surrey and 541 confirmed cases in Waverley. The King’s College London JoinZoe [LINK] data set estimates there are 45 active cases in Waverley at the moment. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.

 
Prime Minister’s press conference The Prime Minister, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance addressed the nation for the first time in a while yesterday to provide an update on the recent worrying increase in cases, where there appears to have been a particular spike in the 17-21 year old group. Earlier in the week Professor Jonathan Van Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, warned that we should worry about an increase in cases in young adults as infections in the young do eventually filter up to older, more vulnerable people. Most encouraging yesterday were the references by Chris Whitty to other European nations that show, if we act early, we can get things back under control. Time to follow Belgium, perhaps not something I have said before. You can see the slides he talked through here.
 
The new rule of 6 To achieve this the PM explained he was introducing a new ‘Rule of 6.’ This replaces and simplifies previous rules on socialising and means that from this Monday (14th September) it will be illegal to socialise in groups of more than six people, indoors or outdoors. Police will have the power to enforce this new rule including the ability to disperse, fine and arrest any who breach the rule. There are exemptions for larger families, and Covid secure venues like pubs can have more than 6 people in them in total but each bubble must be no more than 6. Weddings and funerals can take place with up to 30 people and organised sport can continue. The new rule means that two households which add up to more than 6 people will not be able to meet up which may mean not everyone can be there when granny and grandpa come round. Of course it is a shame for all of us that we are having to do this but much better to act early than end up in a second national lockdown.
 
Mass testing The Prime Minister also talked more about the ‘moonshot’ programme that would enable mass, regular testing of the whole population. A number of us have been calling for such a programme so this is very good news as it is basically the only proven route to normality ahead of a vaccine. You can watch the whole of the press conference here but what I was most struck by was Chris Whitty’s caution - we are clearly in it for the long haul. I spoke to Cathy Newman of Channel 4 news on Tuesday about this earlier in the week which you can watch here.
 
For the most up to date details on what you can and cannot do please read these FAQ’s
 
Locally the key number to remember is 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm). It remains the number to call if you or anyone you know is in difficulties.

WHAT’S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER

Lawmakers or lawbreakers? A new focus for Brexit fury this week as the Northern Ireland Secretary Brendon Lewis told the House of Commons that the Internal Market Bill has provisions that allow the government to break international law in a “specific and limited way”. As Foreign Secretary one of things I was most struck by was how other countries respect us as one of the doughtiest defenders of international law, so it would be a great concern to me if we did end up actually breaking it. This is nonetheless an exceptional situation which does not have an easy solution. If there were to be no deal, there would be a risk under the Withdrawal Agreement that we could have a hard border between two constituent parts of the United Kingdom, something no Prime Minister or government could accept (and which would indeed have serious ramifications for the peace process in Northern Ireland.) But I am still hopeful a deal will be reached that makes such measures unnecessary. We should remember this is in the heat of a negotiation in which the EU are playing equally tough - having offered a ‘Canada’ solution to Theresa May which was magically withdrawn when Boris Johnson said he actually wanted it.

Select Committee This week Matt Hancock was in front of the Health and Social Care Select Committee for questions on social care funding and the coronavirus outbreak. You can watch the full session here but we spent some time on the issues of testing capacity which will apparently take weeks not days to resolve. I have heard one of the main reasons is a spike in demand for tests now children are back at school - mums and dads naturally worry if kids come home with a cough. We also asked him about funding for the social care system where he accepted that demographic pressures alone mean the system is under severe strain. We will be publishing a report on the future of social care in a few weeks.

Naughty Mr Hancock was admonished by the Speaker who seemed genuinely angry yesterday that the new ‘rule of six’ was not announced to parliament before it was put out to the media. What particularly upset the Speaker was that Matt Hancock was in the chamber for a statement anyway but chose not to mention it. So today we will see the statement we should have had before. But what he did mention in his previous statement was particularly welcome for those with ‘long Covid’ - persistent symptoms lasting several months after having the virus. According to King’s College 300,000 people in the UK have reported symptoms lasting for more than a month and 60,000 have been ill for more than three months. I know there are a number of people in South West Surrey who fall into this category so they will have been pleased their condition has now been recognised. You can watch my question on this and government testing plans here.

Vaccine takes a pause A setback on the path to a vaccine was announced yesterday as the Oxford University trial was paused because one participant has fallen ill. All is not lost though as the team carrying out the research describe this as “routine” and expect a decision on restarting the trail to be made in the next few days. Fingers crossed.

WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY

Local testing problems I know a number of constituents have had problems booking COVID-19 tests over the last few days and have been pursuing their cases with the local NHS. I am particularly concerned that there have been delays for some key worker staff getting their results back (one teacher who tested positive took a week to get hers back) and some people with symptoms haven’t been able to book tests at all. If you have had issues accessing tests please do let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.

Waverley support in numbers I’ve been sent a few rather impressive facts and figures that show just how much our local community has risen to the challenge of the pandemic. The Community Support Helpline has fielded over 5,000 calls, 11,000 meals have been delivered to the most vulnerable residents in Waverley, nearly 36,000 pieces of PPE equipment have been issued locally, 1500 local businesses received rates relief, 1900 companies got support grants, and nearly 2500 residents got help with their council tax. Well done to everyone involved.

Time for Farnham chaos to end In this week’s Herald I express my frustration at the ‘temporary’ pavement widening measures in the town centre that look awful, cause congestion and are putting people off coming into the town to shop. You can read the article here but some late good news according to Farnham Town Council leader John Neale is that Surrey has agreed to replace the ugly cones with a planter-only solution. The sooner the better.

I have been compiling a list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents. You can view them on this link.

THE ECONOMY AND JOBS

Pavement Licenses Businesses across Waverley can now apply for a temporary license via a new fast track system aimed at enabling them to provide additional socially distanced outdoor seating. This is allowed by new legislation which streamlines the process for restaurants and bars to place tables on the public land outside their business. Is al fresco Britain finally happening? I hope so. Any businesses wanting more information or to apply for a pavement licence should visit the Waverley website.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON

And finally be careful before tut tutting…not everyone can wear a face mask on public transport because of pre-existing medical conditions, many of which are hidden. To help people show that they are exempt (and cut down disapproving stares) the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme has been launched. You can find out more about the scheme here and buy a sunflower lanyard or pin if eligible.


 

 

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Good afternoon and welcome back to my regular South West Surrey email update no. 66.  As of today, we have a total of 335,873 positive cases of COVID-19 in the UK with sadly 41,501 confirmed deaths. There are 5,116 confirmed cases in Surrey and 514 confirmed cases to date in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning. You can find all the data here.

Back to normality? This week is Back To School week, meaning many parents are freed of daytime childcare responsibilities for the first time in nearly six months. But normality still feels a long way off, with Westminster deserted as I cycled into Parliament this morning. The number of cases has plateaued to a controllable level but there is general nervousness given resurgences even being seen in countries like Germany, Switzerland and Korea, which are thought to have had a ‘good’ pandemic. That caution is affecting government ministers, with Portugal perhaps returning to the quarantine sin-bin (sorry, list) - you can see the full list of countries where it is in force here. With the winter flu season ahead, we are surely right to be cautious - and for those worried about the economy I would simply say the biggest threat to getting back to normal is a resurgence of the virus, so no easy choices. But it remains essential to follow the social distancing rules, wear face coverings and get tested if you have symptoms (which is now pretty efficient and quick).

Lies, damn lies and you know what… Due to an error in the way in which Public Health England were recording the statistics, someone who had previously tested positive for COVID-19 but later died of other causes (such as a car accident) were previously included in the overall death numbers. Public Health England has now changed its data recording systems so that this figure only includes people who have died from COVID-19 if they tested positive for it within the last 28 days which reduced the total count. However, we still rank amongst the worst in Europe on the more reliable ‘excess deaths’ count.

Return to school. The vast majority of children across the country will be returning to their schools this week. The Department for Education, Surrey County Council, and local teachers have been working hard to ensure they can re-open. The evidence is clear – as articulated nicely by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers last week – that schools are safe for children and there is a greater chance of children catching the flu than COVID-19. Secondary schools headteachers have the power to ask their students to wear facemasks, and they will be compulsory anywhere in a ‘local lockdown.’ The most up-to-date guidance on schools can be found here. I talked about how testing all secondary school teachers every week would help boost confidence at 0750 on the Today programme this morning.

 For the most up to date details on what you can and cannot do please read these FAQ’s

The key number to remember remains 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm).

WHATS GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER

Public Health England The Health Secretary will today answer questions in Parliament about the decision to scrap Public Health England. The successor body has been modelled on the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, which sounds quite sensible, although it would be wrong to blame PHE for everything that has gone wrong. One of the main issues about our response was over-preparedness for a flu-pandemic and under-preparedness for a SARS one - so a critical question for me is whether pandemic preparedness - of all varieties - will be the responsibility of the new organisation.

Maternity safety Over the break the Health Select Committee announced it is doing a review into maternity safety following scandals at both East Kent and Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals. NHS maternity care remains extremely safe and high quality (I have three children to thank the NHS for), but it is none the less true that if we had the same neonatal death rates as Sweden, 1400 more babies would live every year. You can read my article in the Daily Mail on this here..

WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY

Godalming Rotary Club has launched a Waverley-wide COVID-19 Support Fund to ensure financial support and advice is available to all those in need across the Borough of Waverley. As well as providing financial support, the fund will work closely with Citizens Advice Waverley, who will give tailored, practical help and advice so that individuals can make the best use of financial support provided. To find out more visit the Support Fund’s website. If you wish to donate, please visit their JustGiving page

I have been compiling a list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents. You can view them on this link.

THE ECONOMY AND JOBS

Government support. The unprecedented economic support packages introduced by the government in recent months have benefited families across the country, including here in South West Surrey. Locally, over 12,900 jobs have been protected via the furlough scheme with £13.6 million of grants made to support self-employed people, £54 million of Bounce Back loans for companies have been approved, and £18.7 million worth of business grants paid. There is still lots more support that is needed though, especially for people in the arts and travel sectors who continue to suffer, and other organisations who have not been eligible for support. Whilst it is encouraging that help is getting through, the Sunday papers were full of talk of tax rises which reminds us there will be a day of reckoning to pay for this largesse.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON

These emails. With Parliament returning this week and things getting back to full swing next week I will continue to be sending out these emails every Monday and Thursday. Please feel free to share them with your friends and family, and they can subscribe here.

And finally, if you need a heart-warming moment (and your faith in politicians restored a little) then this clip of Joe Biden, the Democratic Nominee for President, helping a kid with his stutter… a really amazing moment.