Today the Prime Minister announced the next stage of easing the lockdown from 4th July.
I know this will be particularly welcome by the tourism, hospitality and leisure industry in East Devon but I’m acutely aware some will still have concerns.
Having spoken to leaders of the NHS and Devon County Council Public Health, I have been reassured that the current levels of coronavirus in the region are low and under control. Indeed, the infection rate in Devon is but only one thirteenth of the national average and there are currently only two people in hospital in all of Devon with coronavirus. Both cases are in Plymouth. Devon County Council has developed a clear Local Outbreak Management Plan working with NHS Test and Trace to quickly respond to localised outbreaks.
As the PM said today, this pandemic has inflicted permanent scars on our society and we mourn everyone we have lost.
The success of the local response to the pandemic is down to each and every one of us who followed the rules combined with the efforts of the NHS, Devon & Cornwall Police and our councils. We must remain vigilant as we safely reopen our businesses, schools and communities. We must all continue to wash our hands and keep at least one metre apart. These include wearing a face covering, installing screens, making sure people face away from each other, and providing extra handwashing facilities.
The NHS Nightingale Hospital in Exeter is being built at an incredible speed and is a testament to the skills and determination of both local building firms as well as NHS staff. The Nightingale will open on 6th July where it will be ready to support the RD&E and East Devon's community hospitals so they can continue to reintroduce and deliver their outstanding services. Some of the Nightingale’s facilities will be used to provide healthcare treatment and services that were put on hold during the height of the pandemic.
The UK continues to meet the government’s five tests for coronavirus, so it is absolutely right that the alert level has been reduced to reflect this. Therefore, based on the scientific and medical data we have, we are able get tourism and leisure businesses of East Devon back open safely.
I asked the Prime Minister about getting detailed guidance to help these businesses reopen. I was pleased to hear him confirm the government has now published guidance on how businesses can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers. East Devon’s B&Bs, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, and community centres will be working hard to get ready for 4th July. It is incumbent on all of us to follow the rules when using these venues as they reopen. You can watch my question to the PM in the video.
With nearly all schools in Devon already open, it will be great to get all children back in to the classroom and learning with their teachers and classmates. The Prime Minister was clear that all children will return to school in September and those who can return now should do so – it is safe. Libraries, playgrounds and community centres can once again spring back into action. It is also good news that places of worship can reopen and that weddings can take place this summer.
Over the past three months, I have spoken with many constituents, businesses and charities all eager to continue to working and earning for both themselves and their communities. It’s great that the communal efforts of us all in East Devon now allow us to safely reopen holiday cottages, hotels, B&Bs and campsites. We should all do are bit to welcome tourists to our beautiful part of the country to ensure that they have a great time and want to return here year after year. Regrettably, I can’t arrange sunshine.
On a personal level, I’m looking forward to a much needed haircut, a beer from my local pub in Sidmouth and visiting my Nan at her home in Devon. I’m glad that East Devon’s businesses, communities and families can safely get going again. However, we all need to play our part to keep ourselves and each other safe.
You can read more about the PM’s announcement easing lockdown restrictions from 4th July here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-announces-easing-of-lockdown-restrictions-23-june-2020
You can also find the guidance on how businesses can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/opening-certain-businesses-and-venues-in-england-from-4-july-2020
Devon’s Director of Public Health Dr Virginia Pearson said: “We are keeping a very close eye on the progress of the virus and so far, the news continues to be very good. We’re not seeing any evidence so far that the relaxations of the lockdown are increasing the spread of the virus, but we need to continue to be vigilant and people should continue to comply with public health measures.”
Chair of the South West Tourism Alliance, Alistair Handyside MBE, said: “We welcome the reopening of the tourism industry. It provides thousands of jobs and £11.5bn to the economy of the South West. However, as we start to reopen our pubs, hotels and holiday cottages it is incumbent on us all to do so in as safe and sensible a manner possible.”
Chair of the Exmouth Chamber of Commerce, Ian MacQueen, said: “Tourism is the lifeblood of the economy of Devon, especially for coastal towns such as Exmouth. The business community in Exmouth is taking every measure possible to ensure that it is COVID-Secure to protect our businesses, staff, local residents and tourists.”
Chair of the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, David Cook, said: “It’s fantastic that Sidmouth businesses are allowed to re-open safely and carefully. It is everybody’s responsibility to keep themselves and their communities safe as we see the lockdown eased. Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce is working with businesses and the council to get our economy back up and running for the good of everybody.”