A Cornish MP who voted against the Government’s plan to enter into a second national lockdown has explained his decision.
The MP who also represents Helston and Penzance said that he wanted to see the Government continue to operate a regional system of tiered restrictions based on the rates of infection in local areas.
“The Government was right to have three tiers and, in fact, they could have gone for four tiers. I don’t know that we gave enough time to be able to see if that worked, we didn’t look properly at whether it did work.
“I got elected to represent my constituents in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and I just can’t square that circle in my mind. We have done a good job in keeping coronavirus at bay and significant time and money has been spent keeping people safe.
“Lockdown is not the right thing for parts of the country that are not seeing cases rise.
“I fully supported the last lockdown, we had to move quickly and we could learn from that. We talked about unprecedented and unpredictable, that is not the case now.”
Mr Thomas said he was concerned about the impact that a second lockdown could have on people and on small businesses which he said were “vulnerable”. And he suggested that the increase in cases being seen in the UK was due to people being allowed to travel around the country freely.
He added: “When there was talk three or four weeks ago about a circuit break I argued strongly with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister to strengthen the travel restrictions in law. I was assured then that there would be no lockdown.
“We will never know but I think it would have been better for businesses and people in Cornwall if the restrictions were a bit more robust about letting people travel around the country.”
Mr Thomas said he had received a huge number of emails about the lockdown issue and people who are opposed to it.
On his Facebook page he wrote: “I was unable to vote for the Government’s plan for a second national lockdown.
“I agree that the NHS must have the capacity to treat Covid patients and keep treating all those who need other urgent care. This is why the Government should have stuck with the three tier system (which has not been properly reviewed) where data is suggesting that the system is bringing cases down. I had argued that travel restrictions should be considered to strengthen the tier system rather than impose the national lockdown.
“There are too many curious aspects of this lockdown where the restrictive measures are not based on evidence such as outdoor sport, gyms, collective worship and shops (all have taken great effort to be Covid-safe). These must be reviewed.”
Two other Cornish MPs have explained why they voted with the Government in favour of the lockdown.
“These restrictions are not something I would support in normal circumstances. None of us wanted to be in a position of having to do this.
“But these are not normal circumstances, and it is with deep regret and after a great deal of careful consideration that I have come to the decision that supporting these measures is the responsible thing to do.
“In making my decision I have liaised closely with our local NHS leaders, to consider their views, and carefully considered the available data. There is a great deal of information, some of it conflicting, from various sources. I can assure constituents that I have looked at a wide number of sources and considered the different views and opinions.
“Although Cornwall still has some of the lowest numbers of cases of COVID-19 and hospitalisation, our most recent figures show our rate of increase has been among the highest in country. With cases doubling every week or so it would only be a few weeks until our hospital was full if we did not take steps to prevent this.
“It is therefore my view, on balance, that it would be irresponsible to not take action at this time. Inaction would risk allowing the virus to continue to increase in Cornwall, which would put more pressure on, and risk overwhelming our NHS. Protecting our NHS from becoming overrun, in the fight against COVID-19, has to be the primary objective of any restrictions. The consequences of this would be serious both for those suffering from COVID-19 and other patients requiring treatment.
“This is especially true when you consider the number of older people resident in Cornwall. We know that this virus has much more serious consequences for people over 60 years of age. Whilst this second wave initially started among younger people and students, we are now seeing it spread into the older population and this is driving up the number of hospital admissions across the country and in Cornwall.
“I have also sought and received assurances from the Government that they will extend the support being given to businesses that are closed and employees who are unable to work as a result of them. Among others, such measures include extensions of the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, extension of government-backed loans, and additional funding for local councils to pass on to businesses. Cornwall Council will also be receiving in excess of £5million for further support for local businesses.
“Moving on from the implementation of these restrictions, I also wanted to be confident of there being a clear exit strategy, both nationally and for Cornwall. I was pleased to see the Prime Minister on Monday confirm that the review of the restrictions on 2 December will be subject to a vote in Parliament, which will give MPs the decision on what happens next. Also, that when they end, we will return to a local tiered system, one that I hope will once again see Cornwall placed on the lowest tier of restrictions.
“I am aware one of the main concerns of local people is that people are prevented from travelling from other parts of the country to visit their holiday homes. I am pleased that these restrictions make clear this is not allowed and anyone who does will be breaking the law and liable to be fined.
“These are difficult times and this was a difficult decision to make. However, I hope I have explained why I have taken it. I fully appreciate some will disagree, everyone is entitled to their own views. However, I trust everyone can accept that having considered carefully all of the factors and the information available to me, I have come to a decision that I believe, on balance, is the right one in the interest of the people of Cornwall.”
And Scott Mann, MP for North Cornwall, explained his decision saying: “I have spent the last few days seriously considering whether a second lockdown is in the best interests of North Cornwall and I can honestly say this is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as your Member of Parliament.
“From the start of this pandemic, I have been clear that our public health must take priority, but as you know, things are not always as clear cut as a simple yes or no decision. Locking down for a second time will have serious implications for our businesses, individual’s employment, and families – and there is only so much that the state can do to help. It will also take a toll on our community by restricting social activities and keeping us apart. The mental health of North Cornwall is at the forefront of my mind, as I am aware that many of you have contacted me and are struggling. If you think you might need mental health support or want confidential advice on how to get support, please do get in touch with me and I will help in any way I can.
“I have supported and continue to support a regional approach to Covid-19. The regional approach has only been in place for 25 days, and with the two-week lag in predictive data becoming actual data, it is difficult to determine if the higher-tiered approach is driving down the reproductive (r rate) of the virus below 1. I also believe that population density is the main contributing factor in transmission and therefore that making comparisons between cities and rural areas and trying to suggest they will behave in a similar way isn’t a fair or accurate comparison.
“However, that being said, the data that is available at the time of writing shows that the trajectory of infections is rising and this is obviously of great concern. The conclusion I have reached is that even if the scientists’ projections are overestimated, there are still going to be large numbers of people in hospital around the country in the coming 4 weeks – and sadly this rise in hospital cases will lead to a rise in deaths. I am aware that much of this information is based on predicted data which has many variables, but the signs are that the country needs to take stronger measures. After factoring this in, speaking with colleagues in Government, and with local NHS leaders, I feel that I must vote in favour of the second lockdown.
“When deciding whether to lockdown a second time I had to consider the ability of Cornwall’s health services to cope with a surge in cases, and our ability to share the burden with other parts of the country. Due to our geographic and rural location, we have a heavier reliance on our own local health infrastructure compared to other parts of the UK. Any potential rise in cases or fatalities weighs heavily on me.
“The second lockdown does not have my unconditional support. As I mentioned in my statement on Monday, I required a road map out of this lockdown to be set out, and a package of economic support for North Cornwall’s working people and businesses to be put forward before I would consider voting in favour. These points have now been addressed by the Government and I have made this clear to the Secretary of State for Health and the Scientific Advisors.
“I believe in the regional approach and I have also sought assurances that there will be another vote in Parliament on these measures at the beginning of December. If North Cornwall’s cases have stabilised and they are trending downwards, I would like to see us returned to the tier system before Christmas. I am sure the government will do both of these things but if I am in a position in December where Cornwall’s cases have fallen, and I am asked to consider another national lockdown, the government will not be assured of my support.
“Asking North Cornwall to lockdown for a second time is not something I want to do, and I know it will be difficult. However, for the reasons outlined above, on this occasion, I will be voting with the Government and the opposition to enact the lockdown restrictions. My team and I will be working hard to support the constituency throughout, and I will continue to keep our community updated.
“I would also urge constituents to remember that Cornwall had two million visitors over the summer from across the country and beyond and our case numbers stayed amongst the lowest in the country. I am confident that so long as we adhere to the restrictions, wash our hands regularly, and social distance where possible, we will be able to keep the transmission rate low – just as we have in the past.”