December began with most welcome news when the UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for the vaccination roll-out to begin the following week. Over 500,000 people have now been vaccinated, at last offering people some light at the end of a long and dark tunnel.
Unfortunately, this awful virus continues to spread – rapidly in many areas including Suffolk – and there was much less welcome news over the weekend when it emerged that a new strain has been detected with a transmission rate up to 70% higher than the original strain. This forced the Government to lessen the Christmas relaxation of restrictions for some and remove them altogether for others.
This decision has stirred up understandable anger. People have been desperate to spend time with their families at the end of a very difficult year, and the Government was keen for them to be able to do so. However, when the facts relating to the spread of the virus change, the action taken to control it must change, too. Governance which did not adhere to this rule would be irresponsible.
Unfortunately, tightened restrictions are now necessary in our own and other areas to control the spread of the virus whilst the vaccine is rolled out in parallel. The sooner the latter is completed, the sooner the former will become unnecessary. As a result, Suffolk will move into Tier 4 from Boxing Day. This is a pre-emptive and preventative move designed to ensure that infection rates do not rise to levels seen in other areas, including neighbouring Essex.
In what have been highly challenging times for the country, negotiations to secure a free trade agreement with the EU have also at last reached their conclusion. These negotiations have been protracted and difficult and both sides have had to make concessions. Whilst it is necessary to reserve final judgement on the agreement until one has had the opportunity to read through it, I have always been clear that securing an agreement is in our best interests, allowing us to minimise potential disruption and take full advantage of the opportunities for ongoing trade with the EU.
We will start the New Year with new arrangements for fishing as a result of the agreement. To revive the local industry, it is necessary for local fishermen to be able to catch more fish. The deal does provide for this and realistically our port and processing facilities are not at present adequate to accommodate a significant increase in landings. The Government now need to come forward with a strategy to promote investment in this infrastructure, so that we can get work under way in rebuilding an industry that alongside energy can play an important role in the economic revival of coastal East Anglia.
Coupled with the roll-out of the vaccine, securing this free trade agreement allows us to look ahead to 2021 with renewed hope after an extremely challenging year. I am acutely aware that hardship resulting from the pandemic is not felt evenly across our society, and in the New Year there will be a need to continue to push for additional government support to address this.
With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.