This is the worst news for Buckinghamshire in the week before Christmas and heralds the bleakest of midwinters.
Just a fortnight ago, local people were told that the onerous restrictions of Tier 2 would lead to a rapid return to normality and freedom, and yet today they find they've been cast into the harshest regime of Tier 3.
The sudden change is especially difficult for local hospitality businesses who have already ordered food and drink for the days ahead. Much of it will now go to waste, adding still further to the money lost by these firms. I have immediately written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that it is imperative there is extra financial help for the local restaurants, bars, pubs and other companies who have been plunged to the brink of financial ruin through no fault of their own.
However, I have always stressed that we need to protect our local NHS, to ensure that those who need hospital care can get it. Infection rates have increased dramatically over the past two weeks, especially in Aylesbury itself. Stoke Mandeville hospital is currently under intense pressure, with queues to get into A&E, and many staff off either sick with covid or self-isolating. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse than a normal winter.
I was therefore extremely alarmed to learn that Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust has been given no date when it will get a supply of vaccines – especially when neighbouring Oxfordshire is in a lower tier and does have them. In the House of Commons this afternoon I asked the Health Secretary to commit to getting vaccines to eligible local residents and healthcare staff before Christmas, and I expect to have a response today, because it is crucial that Tier 3 restrictions last as short a time as possible.
This is not going to be a very merry Christmas for most of us, and today’s news comes as a further blow. There is hope on the horizon, though, and unfortunately we have no choice but to grit our teeth and wait that little bit longer to get back to our normal way of life. In the meantime, we can all play our own part in driving down the infection rate by following the guidance on hands, face, space; allowing fresh air inside; and limiting contact with other people to the absolute minimum, even over the festive period.