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Devon MPs want Tier 1 restrictions for county

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020 7:27pm

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter and Radio Exe News

Anne-Marie Morris MP believes covid measures don't benefit wellbeing

Only Newton Abbot's MP says she'll vote against measures

MPs from across Devon are united in their relief that England’s second national lockdown won’t be extended, and all are calling for the county to be placed into the lowest tier of restrictions. Only Anne-Marie Morris, the Conservative member for Newton Abbot, says she'll vote against the new measure.

Three tiers of regional measures will return from Wednesday 2 December and the lockdown will end, but each tier will be toughened. Tier allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, and the regional approach will last until March. Devon’s MPs want the county placed in the lowest level.

New coronavirus cases across the county are dropping, and only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, Suffolk, Dorset, West Berkshire, Cambridgeshire and Central Bedfordshire of upper tier authorities currently have a lower infection rate per 100,000 than Devon’s 106.6. And in terms of people who have died within 28 days of a positive covid-19 test, Devon currently has the lowest rate per 100,000 population of anywhere in England.

At a district council level, Teignbridge has the fourth lowest rate of England’s 315 districts, with West Devon, Mid Devon and the South Hams also in the bottom 15, based on the previous seven days' figures. 

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, said “The hope must be that Exeter and Devon are in Tier One, but it is essential that the government publishes a clear set of criteria for each tier and for moving between them. The last three tier system did not work and the government refused to implement an earlier circuit breaker, which is what led to the current four-week national lockdown.

“The government must also publish the scientific basis for the restrictions in the various tiers, if it wants to regain public trust and compliance with the rules. It would be awful if, by making the wrong decisions now, the government has to tighten restrictions again over Christmas and New Year, just when families are looking forward to the chance of getting together.”

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said: “We should welcome the move from national to local restrictions. We must safely re-open businesses forced to close to help protect jobs and our economy. Devon should be in the lowest tier of restrictions to reflect the hard work and significant sacrifices we’ve made to suppress the virus.

“We must safely re-open businesses forced to close to help protect jobs and our economy. And, as an example, I spoke this week in parliament about gyms and leisure centres being closed for this period. Can we be certain that closing them to limit coronavirus transmission is worth it on balance? Hundreds of East Devon residents contacted me saying their closure is physically and mentally detrimental to their wellbeing.

“Behind all the charts and graphs, there’s a very real social side to lockdown that no amount of financial supports schemes – however welcome – can replicate. And if we are to consider tighter restrictions again, the government must publish stronger evidence that they protect more lives than they harm.”

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP for Central Devon, said: “Tiering is the right way to go as it will help match the measures taken with the level of threat from the virus. My constituency has been generally highly compliant with lockdown rules and I am hopeful that we might be in Tier One.”

Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said that he hoped and wanted the region to be placed in the lower tier of restrictions, and that the vaccine news was light at the end of the tunnel. He said: “Of course I want us to be in the lowest possible tier of restrictions, because it means we are doing well at combatting the virus here in the wescountry.

“I want our businesses to be open and thriving and for people to have safe working and social environments to enjoy. However, even if we are in a higher tier than before, I am particularly pleased to see that places of worship will be open across all tiers, as will recreational sports, and retail too. This is a welcome change – and I think people can look forward to safer, brighter Christmas, after the tough month we have all endured.”

Sir Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, also a Conservative said: “I am in regular contact with all Plymouth and Devon Conservative MPs and we all agree that the South West should be placed in Tier 1 and we are pressing hard for this. The south west for this purpose includes Bristol which still has significant transmission of the virus and accordingly, we are asking for Devon and Cornwall to be treated as a separate sub-region for this purpose, if necessary. We will find out tomorrow or Thursday whether we have been successful.”

Anthony Mangnall, Conservative MP for Totnes said: “We have a vaccine and the end of the lockdown is in sight, and now it is about making sure that we are in the lowest tier. I do think it is very important that people recognise, including those in Whitehall, the difference between Bristol and the surrounding areas, and the south west around Plymouth, Devon and Torbay, and our numbers are significantly lower here.

“It is very important that when we come to a tiering system, we don’t get lumped in with places like Bristol as it doesn’t equate. I have been perfectly clear, I will not vote for another lockdown. I will support the tier measures, provided they are based on accurate information and divided in the correct manner, and that must be done in a way that reflects what is going on in the ground.

Torbay’s infection rates are currently 160 per 100,000, although have also been falling quite sharply. The Bay's Tory MP Kevin Foster said: “It will be especially welcome to see church services return and many retail businesses re-open in time for Christmas, with the news about a possible vaccination programme giving a real sense of light at the end of the covid-19 tunnel.

“In terms of the next steps in our Bay, it is vital these are guided by the advice of our local public health teams, yet I hope we will soon have confirmation many hospitality businesses will be able to re-open under the tiered system, given we are very unlikely to be placed in the highest tier.”

Newton Abbot MP, Anne Marie Morris, who voted against the second lockdown, said hopes next Wednesday will be the end of lockdowns forever, but her fear is that most of the country will be in tier two or three with very few in tier one.

She said: “With Devon MPs I am fighting for a place in Tier 1. This lockdown has seen small, family-run, independent businesses closed and pretty much sacrificed, whilst the major out-of-town supermarkets have been able to remain open and make a fortune selling non-essential items. 

It is welcome that collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, subject to social distancing and that people will no longer be limited to seeing only one other person in outdoor public spaces, with the rule of six now applying as it did in the previous set of tiers. But being placed in Tier 2 would have a hugely damaging impact on our hospitality sector, with pubs and bars being forced to close unless operating as restaurants. Much like the 10 p.m. curfew, which has quite rightly been extended to 11 p.m., the government needs to publish the evidence to show that transmission of the disease in a wet-led pub is any different to that in a restaurant, church, cinema or any other enclosed space.”

She added: “I am enormously concerned with the talk of us having to lockdown in January in order to pay for those four or five days over Christmas. This is utter madness. January is already a miserable time of the year for individuals and businesses, and to lock us all down again would have an even more significant impact not just on the economy but on mental health, loneliness and other non-Covid related health conditions.”

And on whether she will vote for the tiered system, she added that unless the evidence for it comes forward, she would vote against any further restrictions. She said: “Serious damage has already been caused by previous lockdowns and restrictions and I simply will not vote for measures that cause further damage to the health and wellbeing (physical and economic) of our community. A tiered system will have such a huge impact on people’s lives, their health and their businesses, and the government needs to prove that these measures are going to save more lives than they cost.

“Therefore, they need to produce the risk assessment for these measures and prove beyond doubt that they have an overall benefit. So far, that evidence and the necessary assessments have not been forthcoming, and, therefore, I will be voting against the measures. We need long term planning and an exit strategy, not short term, knee-jerk reactions.”

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