It is not often that a regional approach benefits the South West. Under governments of all colours we tend to feel we are the poor relation and can get left behind.
But in terms of our response to Covid 19, a regional approach greatly benefits us. We have been very fortunate in the South West to have endured one of the lowest rates of Coronavirus in the United Kingdom. Having survived a torrid national lockdown earlier in the year, our local economy is gently moving forward once again. It would be a disaster to close that down as it is picking up pace. As government adviser Professor Van Tam said earlier this week, it would be hard to justify a national lockdown to regions where Covid cases are rising but rates are still very low.
Even given that the South West for this purpose is the wider seven county region including Bristol, even given the outbreak of Covid amongst students at Exeter University, the incidence of Covid in this region remains mercifully low. This is why I strongly oppose Labour’s call for a national lockdown. It would hurt us and we don’t need to do it.
Another reason not to close everything down again is that our local schools have made heroic efforts to get their classrooms open again and are managing well in very difficult circumstances. Well done all you teachers out there. Pupils need the whole school experience. Especially, for those taking life-shaping exams next year, they must have the consistency of education that contact time with teachers provides.
Obviously, we have to be on our guard against the virus being further brought here by visitors in the next few months, either to second homes or hotels. People from tier 3 areas will not be free to travel to our region, except for essential business. The answer to keeping us safe from those who do come down is to maintain our discipline: wash hands, keep two metres apart and wear face masks.
I recognise problems exist still in testing, mainly caused by the challenges with processing at laboratories, but capacity is increasing all the time and for most people this unprecedented logistical exercise is relatively smooth.
This Covid nightmare will end once an effective vaccine is rolled out across the country. This is not likely to be before next Easter. In the meantime, we have to stay safe, look out for each other and keep as much of our economy going as possible.
The regional approach is by far the best way to do this.