At the beginning of this week, the new “rule of six” for social gatherings came into effect. I regret that these onerous restrictions have proved necessary, because I realise how much disruption and even heartache they cause. But I also accept that there was no realistic choice.
Although cases remain mercifully low here in Gloucestershire, community transmission is a fact. What’s more, the uptick across the country, particularly in young people, is undeniable. So the clear message from other countries is that we have to act decisively now. As Prof Sir Mark Walport, a member of the government's Sage scientific advisory group has said:
"You've only got to look across the Channel to see what is happening in France and what's happening in Spain." In those countries daily cases have been exceeding 10,000. Hospitals are reporting intensive care capacity is already “close to overload” in areas like Marseilles and Bordeaux.
On the other hand, it is possible to see how Belgium has successfully addressed the second wave. That country had the highest infection rate in Europe at the start of summer, but has since brought it down while avoiding the surge hospital cases seen in other European countries. It has done so with measures including restrictions on social interaction.
As for the suspension of Cheltenham’s A&E, I am naturally very disappointed that the Trust has decided to take this step. I accept of course that COVID presents immense challenges, and I accept the repeated, written and public assurances that A&E will reopen. My call is for transparency – transparency about the criteria that must been set for its restoration. Is it the rate of COVID in Gloucestershire? If so, what level? Over what period? Or the scale of the operations backlog? If so, what level?
It would reassure people living here in Cheltenham and beyond to get answers to those questions. We deeply value our A&E and want to see it up and running as soon as possible.