First, I want to highlight how amazing the community of Hyndburn and Haslingden has been throughout this pandemic. The sacrifices they have made have been unbelievably difficult, and we have faced higher levels of restrictions than most across the country. All through this, I have tried my best, as have local leaders in our community, to bring people with us, and one of the difficulties we have faced is the varying restrictions. Many have said that the new tiered system and the simplification of messaging is the best approach to take. I understand how difficult the balancing act is between getting the numbers down, protecting those who are vulnerable and protecting people’s jobs and livelihoods, and so do most of my residents across Hyndburn and Haslingden, who are doing everything they can to get our rates down.
The reality we face is that, in Hyndburn and Haslingden, the rate of infection is now over 300 per 100,000 people. As of today, 40% of our ICU beds in the Royal Blackburn Hospital are now occupied by covid patients. Hospitalisations are increasing, people are losing their lives and the virus is taking hold across Lancashire. We are seeing this virus move from young adults to those who are most vulnerable. Nobody wants that, and we cannot let this virus go unchecked. These are people’s friends, loved ones and family members. The Royal Blackburn Hospital is not cancelling elective surgery, but I echo the concerns of Lancashire chiefs about what will happen if covid cases continue to rise. I urge Health Ministers and officials to continue their engagement with local leaders across Lancashire.
I also want to comment on how the announcement will affect the hospitality industry. Many pubs across Hyndburn and Haslingden have contacted me about the financial struggles they fear they will face due to the rule on only households and bubbles being allowed to meet in their premises. My local pubs, such as the Albion in Clayton, the Tinker and Budget, and the Hare and Hounds, have expressed their worries that it may have been better for them to be forced to shut their doors rather than to operate under tier 2 restrictions. It would be beneficial for the Treasury to look at a tiered approach to the financial support available to the hospitality sector, as those who have to close will receive financial support while those who fall under tier 2 still face tighter restrictions and could be operating at a loss of about 60%. I ask Ministers to work across Departments to find a financial strategy that matches the tiered approach, as we urgently need to support the beating heart of our communities. Nobody wants to shut their doors and most are doing all that they can to keep people safe in their establishments.
Finally, I want to highlight how critical road maps are. If we need to move between tiers, then we need to do so with clear messaging and to bring our community with us. We need to explain why certain measures are being brought in, backed up by the data. Let us do what is necessary now to protect the vulnerable and save lives while supporting jobs and livelihoods.