I deeply regret the announcement of a one-month lockdown – even if this one will be less severe than its predecessor. But after carefully weighing up all the arguments I have decided this is the right thing for Cheltenham.
It is disappointing because here in town our Covid-19 rates are high but not yet stratospheric – around 95 per 100,000, compared to figures many times higher elsewhere in the country. The number of infected patients in Cheltenham General and GRH is still relatively low, and intensive care departments are so far coping well. I am also acutely conscious about the grim impact on businesses and livelihoods. On top of the individual heartache, you can only have a first-world NHS with a first-world economy.
But it is now clear that a short lockdown is the only way we can guarantee to keep non-Covid treatments, such as cancer care, going. At the moment Cheltenham General is the “green”, non-Covid site, used for so many planned, life-saving, treatments. Cancelling those operations again would be a medical and moral disaster.
I know some try to undermine the SAGE experts, despite their clear advice. But the reality is, we don’t need a crystal ball – just look at the Continent. France reported 854 deaths on Tuesday, a massive jump on a week before. In Belgium, doctors with Covid are being asked to carry on working amidst massive staff shortages. This is a northern European wave, and we are not immune.
As well as the support for Cheltenham’s economy I am arguing for common sense exemptions. Outdoor sport and distanced church services in particular provide such physical and mental sustenance to people here in Cheltenham. They can be carried out in a Covid-secure way, and would make a real difference.
Rapid diagnostic tests and a vaccine are on the way. A short lockdown now will maximise their impact in the weeks ahead.