On almost a daily basis I receive communications from constituents on our current situation and on whether we should go back into lockdown or simply take away all restrictions. I welcome the Government’s tier system which I think provides a middle way between these two extremes. I fully appreciate the fear that some people have of contracting the virus and the implications that it could have on their health. I also fully appreciate the concerns of those who feel that other medical needs are not being met, of those who are suffering from mental health issues exacerbated by the situation, and those who see their jobs or business at increasing risk as time goes on.
This week leaders of Oxfordshire’s Councils wanted to take the whole County into Tier 2 restrictions with a hint of wanting to look towards Tier 3 restrictions. The decision is, of course, one for the Government based on the detailed advice that they have from medical and scientific experts. The Oxfordshire Director of Public Health put forward data that raised many questions across all the issues I have listed above and others. It is important to remember that officials advise and politicians have to decide taking a whole range of factors into consideration. Indeed there was a difference of opinion between the local advice and that from Government advisors represented by the Chief Medical Officer and the Joint Biosecurity Centre, It was the latter who advised that the data should be re-examined in a weeks time.
Taking decisions on this sort of area is complex and whichever way a decision goes there is much at stake for those affected by them. In the early days there was much cross Party co-operation which benefitted us all. Hindsight is an exact science and it is easy now look at data and reports in the light of it. It is clear that across the country, but particularly in Oxfordshire, this pandemic is being turned into a Party political issue which I think is entirely wrong.
In response to media interest in this issue four Oxfordshire MPs have issue the following joint statement below.
Joint statement regarding Oxfordshire’s Coronavirus Tier level
“Public health must be the priority but Coronavirus rates in much of Oxfordshire, outside of the city of Oxford, remain low. We would be concerned about the prospect of individuals and businesses in wider Oxfordshire being placed under Tier 2 restrictions on the basis of a problem that appears centred on the student population in Oxford city.
Tier 2 puts tight restrictions on people being able to see friends and family and would have a negative impact on mental health and on our businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector who have already faced significant difficulties due to Coronavirus. While we welcome the Chancellor’s statement today, Tier 2 should not be entered into lightly and without any consideration of the economic or mental health impacts of this action. We would also need a clear exit strategy to ensure any restrictions do not endure indefinitely as they have in other areas.
As Members of Parliament we could see the case for potentially putting Oxford City into Tier 2. However, in trying to do what is right for our constituents as a whole we felt there was insufficient evidence to make the case for the whole county to be placed into Tier 2 at this stage. Ultimately, the Government makes the decision on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and the Joint Biosecurity Centre and that advice is that the evidence does not suggest that Tier 2 is required for Oxford at this time, never mind for the wider Oxfordshire region as council leaders are proposing. We will of course continue to engage closely with the Government, local leaders and public health chiefs, to ensure that the appropriate measures are taken at the appropriate time for our area.
The experience of other areas serves as a reminder to us all that we must wash our hands regularly, use face coverings and make space to control infection rates in Oxfordshire.”
Robert Courts MP, John Howell MP, David Johnston MP, Victoria Prentis MP