It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Robbie Moore. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of North Devon. Throughout the pandemic, our rate of infection has remained below the national average, and that is thanks very much to their hard work in following the guidance throughout. I thank the community groups who have kept one another safe. In a rural community, those networks are absolutely vital. We do not have those great big meeting places where transmission is easy, and those small villages have held themselves together. I thank the social care workers and those working in our care homes and particularly our NHS for everything they have done and are about to do in rolling out the vaccine.
It is with regards to the vaccine that I, like the Secretary of State, shed a tear that morning when the news came through. I find it really quite moving even now to see that light at the end of the tunnel. However, I also emphasise to the Minister the importance that my community places on timely information about the roll-out of the vaccine. We have been waiting nine months for the vaccine and we know that we might have to wait a little bit longer, but just to know when it is coming would be a huge help for so many. My elderly population and many who have shielded are desperate to find out when they will be able to receive the vaccine. As it is rolled out, how will this dovetail with reducing restrictions? I hope that now that we have a vaccine, a plan will come forward. I am delighted to hear of colleagues across the House tonight whose elderly relatives have been able to book an appointment, and I very much hope that the same will be true for my residents in the coming days and weeks.
In addition to my concerns about the vaccine roll-out in North Devon, I would like to flag the plight of my local hospitality industry. This week, Devon as a whole is running at 71 cases per 100,000 and North Devon is a bit higher at just over 90. Whereas others have spoken about tier 3 and wanting to get into tier 2, my hospitality businesses say that tier 2 is the worst of all worlds and they would dearly like to get to tier 1. Unfortunately, with cases at 71 per 100,000, I recognise that my 146 pubs are unlikely to see that this week. However, I would like to propose perhaps a tier 1a or tier 2-minus for when we are clearly heading in the right direction. Please, is there any chance that our pubs, which are covid-secure businesses and were grateful for Eat Out to Help Out—a quarter of a million meals were consumed under the scheme in my constituency with not one coronavirus case linked to them—could perhaps have the rule of six in a covid-safe environment? We are robust in North Devon. Could we sit out and have a drink without a substantial meal?
This Friday, I went and had a substantial meal in the lovely Quay Inn in Instow—it was a slightly isolated experience, being the only table in there at eight o’clock on a Friday two weeks before Christmas—having walked past the Wayfairer, the Boathouse and the Instow Arms to get there. Yes, I am lucky, my village still has four pubs, but all of them would normally be packed at this time of year and all of them were deserted. Therefore, while they are grateful for the support that has come to date, and they are delighted to be open, I very much hope they will still be open when we get through the worst of the pandemic.
I am told that my local tourism sector is down by 56% compared with last year and that up to 70% of my tourism and hospitality businesses are not sure they will still be there by Easter. The lack of planning is what they are finding so difficult. Now that we have that light at the end of the tunnel, I hope we can help them plan for next season. Only once we begin to exit this dreadful pandemic and normality is beginning to return—hopefully by Easter—can I hopefully revert to being the self-appointed one-woman tourist board for North Devon and welcome everyone back to my lovely constituency. Only then will we start to know how much of North Devon’s tourism and hospitality industry remains. As we continue to balance lives and livelihoods, I very much hope that just a little bit more can be done to protect both in North Devon.