I want to put on record my sincerest condolences to all the families in Hyndburn and Haslingden who have lost loved ones far sooner than they ever should have due to this awful virus. There will be a chair at the dining table that will be empty this Christmas because of it.
I need to say a huge thank you to the whole Department, the Secretary of State and Ministers for how responsive they have been throughout and for really listening to what we needed in Hyndburn and Haslingden. I know I have been pestering for quite a number of things. I have highlighted the specific needs of my constituents. One of those was for families to be able to visit their loved ones in care homes. This is a really, really important step, especially as some have not been able to visit since March. It has had a drastic impact on people’s mental health, which we have seen deteriorate in care homes. It was announced that Hyndburn would receive mass testing. I also pestered the Prime Minister for that, so that is great, and the deployment of the Army so we can finally find those who are asymptomatic and break the chain.
We have faced restrictions since July. It has been a tier 3 area. It has been really, really tough. Vaccine distribution in east Lancashire is so welcome and it really is that light at the end of the tunnel that we have needed. We have seen a really positive drop in cases, and I echo everything my hon. Friend Jacob Young said. We were at 491 per 100,000 when we entered the new tier restrictions. In Hyndburn and Haslingden, and across Lancashire as a whole, we have seen a significant drop. Hyndburn’s latest infection rate is 169 per 100,000 for the period
With this drop, there is much hope across my community of the prospect of tier 2, which would enable parts of my brilliant hospitality sector to reopen their doors. I urge Ministers to look closely at the local data in Hyndburn and Rossendale when making a decision on tiers, because there needs to be a reward for all the effort that local communities have made. It has been so difficult, and my residents are fed up. To get to a rate of 169 from 491 in the space of two or three weeks is absolutely brilliant.
Unfortunately, my local police force has released a public statement today after issuing a number of fines related to gatherings in private dwellings. I speak to numerous residents day in, day out who are sacrificing so much to protect their loved ones and bring our numbers down, and it is so frustrating for them to hear that this is happening. I speak to my police force on a regular basis—its office is two doors down from mine—and it tells me about these situations. I desperately want to see an easing of restrictions, as do all the people who have made these sacrifices, but the only way to do that is by everybody playing their part. It is so frustrating for my residents to hear about these illegal gatherings at the weekend. It is really important that everybody plays a part in this.
The easing of restrictions over Christmas is welcomed by many, but it is important that everybody remains cautious and acts with caution, as I will be doing with my family. This virus is still here. We are still fighting an invisible enemy, and it is unfortunately still making families lose their loved ones far sooner than they should. I am questioning the use of PCR testing in tier 3 areas. The Eastgate testing site in Accrington is currently only for those with symptoms. It is brilliant that we have mass testing, but that site is not being attended enough. Opening it up to those who do not have symptoms would mean that people who need peace of mind over Christmas can go and get a test before seeing loved ones who might be vulnerable to this virus. When the capacity is not being filled at these sites, as has happened previously, that could be a good thing to do, especially in tier 3 areas, for those who are very cautious about seeing their loved ones over Christmas.
Over the past few weeks, I have visited many local schools and spoken to pupils and teachers, who still have serious concerns due to the number of pupils who are having to self-isolate numerous times. One headteacher I spoke to told me about a pupil who has had to self-isolate four times. I urge Ministers across Departments to continue to talk to local MPs and local schools about the effect that this disruption to pupils’ education will have on their exams next year.
I want to thank everybody in my community for pulling together. Those in our hubs have worked extremely hard, as have the volunteers going shopping and our NHS frontline workers. I have been shouting about my community and how much they pull together, but they really are amazing. We have Pastor Anne at the Clayton food bank, who I visit. We have our local volunteers at the hub and those who have been going shopping for others who cannot get out, and we have our NHS key workers. It has been amazing, and I thank everyone in Hyndburn and Haslingden.
In my maiden speech way back in March when this began—before I started getting grey hairs at the age of 25 —I said that, as a community, Hyndburn and Haslingden would get through this. We have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the hope that my residents need, and together, in Lancashire, we just need to keep this up. We need to remain cautious and we will get there. We have the prospect of the vaccine and mass testing, and I thank everybody who has contributed to getting us to this point.