This week has marked a grim milestone for deaths in our country of people with COVID. We mourn every single one, especially those we have loved and lost in Cheltenham. It is essential that we come together as a town in due course to pay a fitting public tribute, and put our arms around the families who need our support.
The data is, mercifully, now pointing in the right direction. Daily infection rates in Cheltenham are coming down, with the number contracting the virus the lowest since before Christmas. The restrictions are working, and I thank everyone for playing their part.
Meanwhile the fightback is accelerating, with the local vaccination effort proceeding with remarkable speed and efficiency. Every day I receive emails from local people praising the NHS operation at Cheltenham East Fire Station. This week, I even received a personal letter of thanks to Cheltenham from the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. You can see it on my Facebook page.
Positively too, the data from Israel is also starting to show how vaccines slash the reproduction rate of the virus, slowing its progress.
All this means that we should start to think about the moment when we get all our children back in schools. Although schools have remained open, many children in Cheltenham have remained at home as parents juggle home schooling. If there is any silver lining from this pandemic, it is that parents now fully understand what a difficult job teaching is. It requires skill, dedication and deep reserves of patience.
Key to fully opening schools is getting teachers vaccinated at the earliest opportunity. I am delighted that, thanks to the efficiency of the local vaccine rollout, it has been possible to make significant inroads into protecting our special school staff, particularly older staff with recognised medical conditions now vaccinated. That process will accelerate.
Education is precious. Getting children back to school must not happen a day later than necessary.