I would like to start by remembering all those in my constituency, in Oxfordshire and across the country who have tragically lost their lives. The number of people dying at present is thankfully fewer than it was before—it is in the handfuls—but for every single one, there is a family who has lost someone just before Christmas. It is right to start by remembering them.
I am sure I speak for many when I say that I cannot wait to see the back of 2020. It has been the most ridiculous year in so many ways, but it has also given us glimpses of hope and positivity. In Oxford West and Abingdon, there are so many people to thank, because they deserve it and they are working so incredibly hard, but I will just name a few. I think of the Abingdon Bridge, a group that works with deprived young people who often have nowhere else to turn. Other Members have spoken about mental health, which affects all parts of society, but I am particularly worried about our young people right now—their loss of chances for the future and their feeling of despair, with many feeling that they have nowhere to turn. It is an incredibly difficult time.
It is a difficult time, too, for families. Furlough has, of course, been welcome, but far too many businesses are on their last legs. They tell me that if Oxfordshire goes up from tier 2 to tier 3 or, even worse, if there is a spike and we go into a national lockdown in January, they will have to close. The very last of their resilience is nearing its end, and those families are finding themselves relying on food banks such as the Cutteslowe Larder, the Botley Fridge and the Oxford Food Bank more than they ever have before. We must thank those volunteers, but we must also make the case for a sustainable way through this crisis. That is what those businesses crave—the stability. They tell me that they would prefer to stay in tier 2 longer than to open up too quickly and risk a spike, which is what we are seeing in some parts of the country now, sadly.
I am proud that many of the scientists who work as part of the Oxford Vaccine Group with Sarah Gilbert and her cohort live in my constituency. They are nothing short of heroes. When the vaccine is approved, as I am sure it will be, they will save lives, and not just in this country. Because this vaccine does not need to be stored in extraordinarily sub-zero temperatures, it will save millions, if not billions, of lives across the globe. Those scientists all deserve extraordinary thanks.
There are others who deserve our thanks. Oxford United have given facemasks not just to their fans, but to the wider community. I have never been more grateful to our local papers, including the Oxford Mail, and to our local BBC networks for covering these extraordinary moments of heroism locally. It has made me and, I am sure, others really appreciate the value of our local broadcasters.
I would be remiss not to mention organisations such as the Children’s Air Ambulance, which has helped some of those most vulnerable families during this time. Of course, I also thank our local NHS teams, GPs, those who work in our care homes and our teachers, who have stuck on the frontline through thick and thin, and are desperate to be included in the first roll-out of the vaccine. That is my ask of the Minister: please encourage the Government to include teachers in that first wave of the roll-out; they desperately need it because they have been there throughout, looking after the children so that others could go to work.
Let me turn to the sustainable way out. It is not fair to say anything other than that the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is what we all want to get to, it is how we are going to eliminate this virus. It is the way out, but as miraculous as the vaccine is, we are a long way away from that point. When the Government started hyping up the vaccine, I was disheartened to see in my own area—other Members may have seen this too—that people were thinking, “Oh, it’s around the corner. People are going to get it in December and January, not appreciating that the scale of the task means that in reality we are not going to get there until Easter at the very earliest, and probably much later than that.
Let me tell the House a story from the Oxfordshire trusts today. GP surgeries in north Oxford were lined up to vaccinate the over-80s. They had called people and said, “Come—here’s your appointment.” But at the 11th hour, NHS England contacted them to say, “You haven’t quite got the right information in the right place. Computer says no. Stand everyone down.” The disappointment among my constituents was palpable. There was frustration in the clinical commissioning group and the GP surgeries, which had worked through the weekend and overnight to ensure that the vaccine was available. I say this not to apportion any blame, but to point out that these kinds of mistake will happen. There will be hiccups on this road. We cannot assume that this will be over quickly.