It appears we are about to face the second stage of the Governments directions over COVID-19 under the heading of Contact Tracing. It will be fascinating to see if this will ultimately bring most of us back to a level of normality without an urgent return to lockdown if things go wrong. It is of course relatively simple, albeit very expensive to set up a lockdown. Most people have been very responsible in their actions and deserve to be thanked for doing so. There have been some exceptions in terms of people visiting settings that they should have avoided and holding events that were far larger than could be justified under the current requirements. However it has been amazing to see the dramatic reduction to all forms of travel apart from people exercising and to hear many positive responses from agencies such as the police regarding locations that many of us would have visited on days when the weather is so nice. There have been gaps of course in the lockdown arrangements, one of which has been the failure by the Government to send clear messages out regarding the building and manufacturing industries which in some cases seem to be due to the economics of the Conservative Party rather than the most appropriate way of achieving a lockdown. However according to the Government statistics the number of people being tested has trebled in the last 3 weeks and the number of people testing positive has reduced by a third so if these statistics are reliable, it would appear that matters have improved significantly even though many people are still drastically impacted by this illness.
As we approach and then enter the second stage of C-19 there are some very clear themes that do need to be fully discussed, not just by MPs and indeed Ministers, but also by the public. There is the time to do this and with technology that sits MPs in their offices or homes and links them to other MPs, this is a very clear opportunity for the MPs in Sussex to be able to set out their ideas alongside each other and then to listen and respond to the ideas and concerns of the residents of Sussex who are facing many of the most challenging issues with a number of working class environments, a range of very rural and poorly connected communities and then locations such as the seafront areas which would usually be very busy at this time of year and which are far more empty than would be the case in the winter months. There are also issues which may not be presented by the people themselves but can be explained by their supporters reflecting the challenge of those who are still very ill, or people who are being impacted by Domestic Abuse and Violence due to their lockdown situation. There are also the challenges impacting the people working on our behalf such as the NHS and Carers, the Police and Fire and Rescue and the workers in settings such as travel and food retail.
A few nights ago the subject of Contact Tracing was being discussed on Newsnight and one of the two speakers was a medical professional called Gabriel Scally who was able to explain what the resources and processes for that approach would need to include. It was very interesting to hear about the sort of challenges that our nation is about to face, given how the funding and infrastructure cuts have impacted the NHS, Regional Government and Local Authorities over the last 10 years. Although it was not mentioned, one of the factors that did not exist 10 years ago was the technology available on smart phones but persuading us to allow the Government to track us is one of the reasons why a public debate needs to take place. Clearly if our freedom or the reversal of lockdown will need us to allow our phones to be followed, then I would personally be happy for that to happen providing there was the right sort of Big Brother prevention. As I have written before, this Government has recently reintroduced a Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, 10 years after this sort of role was removed from the departing Labour Government. This Ministerial role along with the vital regional structure is what many of us would argue is needed to make Contact Tracing likely to succeed, but it was ended when the coalition Government arrived. Sadly the Government website that refers to the Minister and names him, includes a heading Responsibilities under which it states “Responsibilities are being confirmed”. One question that could be directed to the Sussex MPs is what they will do to ensure the Minister has a list of responsibilities and what their recommendations would be?