As we continue the fight against the Coronavirus, I wanted to write to you to update constituents on the latest guidelines, some local news and the work that has gone on recently as Parliament enters its summer recess.
I would like to start by thanking all of our healthcare and key workers who have all worked so hard to help tackle the outbreak, often under very difficult circumstances.
As you will all know, the past few months have been incredibly difficult for all of us, but I am pleased recent weeks have seen a resumption to normality in a manner that is safe, cautious and consistent with our plan.
Recently, we have been able to restart a wide range of sectors and activities, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidelines, as well as easing the restrictions on social contact - enabling people to meet in groups of two households in any location or, as previous, in a group of any six people outdoors.
I am glad that from tomorrow, we will take some of the following steps on our return to normality:
- Give employers more discretion on how they ensure employees can work safely. Working from home is one way to do this, but workplaces can also be made safe by following COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
- The clinically extremely vulnerable will no longer need to follow advice on shielding, though should still take particular care to follow the social distancing guidelines when meeting people.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to take all of the measures that we hoped to. The further easing of restrictions which had been due to come in England have now been postponed until August 15th at the earliest.
I know this will be unwelcome news for business and residents who were looking forward to reopening, but we have taken swift action as cases in England are increasing for the first time since May. Therefore, we will not be able to:
- Reopen most remaining leisure settings, such as bowling, skating rinks and casinos, accompanied by COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
- Enable all close contact services to resume, including any treatments on the face such as eyebrow threading or make-up application.
In September, we plan to open schools, nurseries and colleges for all children and young people on a full-time basis. They will all put in place protective measures to minimise the risks to children and teachers and reduce the risk of transmission. This includes keeping children and young people in consistent classes or year groups and encouraging older children to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible. Universities are also working to reopen as fully as possible.
In my ministerial role, many of you will have seen that we recently removed Spain from the travel corridor and that people coming to the UK from Spain, or its territories such as the Balearic and Canary Islands, will need to self-isolate for 14 days. I know how difficult this will be for travel operators, holiday makers and business travellers. However, we have acted quickly, working with the devolved administrations, to protect public health.
If you have existing holiday or flight bookings and are wondering about refund your rights relating to refunds will depend on individual airlines and travel operators and the circumstances of the flight or holiday being cancelled. If a flight is cancelled, passengers will be entitled to a refund or rebooking. However if the flight operates and you cancel, your rights to a refund will depend on the terms and conditions of their booking.
Locally, there have been some important recent developments that I will provide an update of. I have been in close communication with Medway Maritime Hospital over the course of this period who have been praised for their effective response to covid-19. I understand that many people will have had appointments cancelled over this period, but the most urgent surgery and appointments have continued to go ahead.
I know that the hospital has been working hard to restart many of its services and return to treating more patients. Plans are being put in place to reduce the number of patients waiting for treatment, including reconfiguring areas of the hospital to increase theatre capacity, additional clinics, and working in partnership with the independent sector and other hospitals. Elective surgery still remains a challenge across the country, and while it has been important to postpone some NHS activities to protect individuals and enable resources to be used as efficiently as possible, I am assured that this will resume as soon as it is safe to do so.
Many GP appointments have continued to go ahead via telephone and video calls, although face-to-face appointments have been available where a call or virtual appointment is not possible or practical.
As well as this, I was pleased to see some good news for two of our schools. Cuxton Community Junior School and Halling Primary School have received a share of the Government’s £434m Condition Improvement Fund. This funding will be used to ensure that schools have well-maintained facilities to provide pupils with a safe environment to receive a high-quality education.
You may have also seen that Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, has received a £111,005 share of the Government’s £25m Safer Streets Fund, which aims to improve security in local communities and crack down on burglary and theft offences.
The money will be used towards measures to cut crime which may include having locked gates around alleyways, increased street-lighting, the installation of CCTV, setting up Neighbourhood Watch/PACT schemes, and training Community Wardens. This announcement is great news for Kent Police, and I hope to see that local towns and villages in Rochester and Strood, and across Medway, will benefit from this funding.
On a national level, since returning to Parliament at the beginning of June, we have made great progress with a number of landmark bills, including those concerning our exit from the European Union. The Agriculture Bill, Immigration Bill and Trade Bill are all currently progressing through Parliament and will start the process of becoming a self-governing country.
Away from Brexit, the Domestic Abuse Bill passed through the House of Commons, marking a great step towards protecting victims of domestic abuse and ensuring perpetrators are properly punished. This bill strengthens the law enforcement and makes provisions to keep victims safe and ensure they get the support they need.
I hope you all have a great summer and, as ever, please do not hesitate to get in contact if I can be of further assistance in the future.