Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
I was saddened to hear about the Prime Minister’s admission to hospital Coronavirus – proof if needed that anyone is vulnerable. I hope all that becomes infected goes on to make a speedy and full recovery.
When I heard the news, though, I did reflect that it is only a month, 39 days to be exact, since I welcomed him to the annual conference of Conservative councillors which was taking place in my constituency, and when we talked about investment in both our national and local infrastructure.
Those 39 days feel like a lifetime away. The morning that I welcomed the Prime Minister to Hinckley I had just come back from a meeting with the Chairman of my local NHS Trust, we did touch on the emerging Coronavirus outbreak but only in passing. It’s difficult to believe that only a month ago Covid-19 was little more than ‘any other business’ on a meeting agenda.
It’s hard to comprehend how the world has changed in those five or so weeks; how the Government has stepped up; and the astonishing amount of effort that has been put in by key workers and community volunteers alike.
The past week has felt a little bit strange. In Hinckley and Bosworth, with outstanding Conservative councillors leading the way, we’ve created networks of volunteers ready to help the vulnerable; and answered questions from hundreds of constituents ranging from the importance of handwashing through to the Government’s furlough scheme and business interruption loans. But it is noticeable that constituents are adjusting already.
I’m very conscious from colleagues in Birmingham and London that most people are related to, or at least know, someone who has been hospitalised from Coronavirus. I’m acutely aware that out in our rural communities, where in infection terms we are a few weeks behind major cities, that it isn’t like that yet. We’re still waiting for the impact which we hope rigorous social distancing and self-isolation means will never come.
And whilst for most in our rural communities Coronavirus continues to be a news story we’re fortunate that gives us time to think and plan.
Last Friday, my team reassessed about how we should organise our work for the coming weeks. We decided quickly that in those immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld there are still too many known unknowns, and for that matter unknown unknowns, to do anything other than continue in our plan of being reactive whenever and wherever we are needed.
It’s vital that we continue to scan the horizon for the challenges that the coming months will bring. Sadly, we’re hearing in the news about the all too predictable increase in domestic violence, but spikes in suicide though, on the positive side, those in birth rates are equally as likely.
During a pandemic which could last months, now is the time to be considering how we prepare for those ‘unknowns’ which are entirely predictable. At the same time, we need to be planning for harder punishments for COVID-related fraud and tax evasion, something which I am already asking ministers about.
On a local level, that same horizon scanning involves having the conversations now with local partners and agencies. Last week, I spoke with my local policing unit commander about preparedness for social unrest both during and immediately after restrictions being lifted. It is positive to know that our police force is considering and planning for issues exactly like that, it’s worrying to consider that actually no one really knows how they are likely to manifest themselves.
So it feels on the ground at least that this week is very much the lull coming before the storm that you hope will never arrive. But it’s often during those lulls that you discover a sense of clarity.
Coronavirus isn’t something our economy will recover from in a year or even a decade; and in just the same way as repayment of Second World War debt took many years to repay, a similar timescale will be necessary for the Coronavirus outbreak of 2020.
When all of this is over the route back to economic prosperity won’t be through exploding the tax burden, but as far as possible by the investment we had previously started to enable business and entrepreneurship.
This might be a lull before a storm, one which we hope never comes, but we won’t recover from it by changing our principles but by sticking to them; principles that support outstanding public services, and principles that support business and our economy too.