Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
I left you last week on something of a ‘columnist’s cliffhanger’.
The County of Leicestershire, and the city of Leicester that lies in its centre, had gone through days of speculation about the possibility of a local lockdown, and subsequent uncertainty about exactly where lines would be drawn. On a personal level, that included working out whether my own constituency of Bosworth would be affected, and if so how, and what that meant.
As it transpired, in the end Bosworth remained free from local lockdown. Even the areas which may loosely be described as the outer suburbs of the city were left untouched.
The focus for my own constituents quickly, and understandably, changed from fear that they could be part of a Coronavirus spike with all the implications which that brings, to concern that, especially as nationally enforced lockdown restrictions were being lifted, what might be the implications of Leicester residents escaping their locked down city to enjoy the pubs and restaurants of Hinckley and Bosworth?
After I left you last week, a great deal of time was spent trying to answer exactly that question.
I held several meetings with our local policing unit commander and two further ones with the County’s Chief Constable.
County MPs, all Conservative, met virtually to discuss strategy; and, as you would expect, I stayed in close contact with council leaders, chief executives and the head of our local resilience forum.
Not least, I spoke with councillors, especially those whose wards lay nearest to the city, and whose concerns were entirely understandably at their most heightened.
There were serious discussions about whether, even at an informal level, the lifting of lockdown restrictions should be postponed. Should I speak with publicans and ask them to stay closed? Should they take a further hit to their livelihoods to ensure that the heightened spread in the city could not be brought out to our rural communities?
As with so many other things there is seldom a binary choice when it comes to protecting health and livelihoods and inevitably, as with crime, there is a significant difference between the fear of what might happen, and what actually does.
It was interesting to see that research published by YouGov last Friday indicated that in this case the fear of what might happen was substantially greater than the likely reality.
In one of those oddly specific polls that the YouGov panel seems so proficient at producing, regular pub goers, regular prior to lockdown that is, were asked how soon they would return to their locals after July 4th.
Just four per cent of regulars said they would venture out on the day itself, and another four per cent in the first week, but not on Saturday.
Of course, that type of research certainly doesn’t mean that city dwellers would definitely stay at home but it does indicate that whatever happens it wasn’t going to be likely that pubs, and the police, would be inundated.
My conversations with the police were clear. They had planned, and part of their planning meant having more officers on duty than they would typically have on New Years Eve – but they weren’t expecting a day of mass rebellion.
I was delighted on Monday morning to be able to share a tweet from the Chief Constable stating that over the weekend in Leicester ‘the was huge compliance with the lockdown rules’, whilst in the county the ‘vast majority of residents were acting responsibly and adhering to guidelines’.
Of course, we always knew there would be incidents, which with a camera to hand and a media willing to share them will always gain penetration.
But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of decent people within the city and county are doing all that they can, and all that they have been asked, to beat this virus. I keep coming back to the same point that when the majority stick together we will win this fight.
Last weekend wasn’t the end of the local lockdown and it isn’t the end of the lifting of restrictions. We know that there are going to be outbreaks, people testing positive leading to the need to track and trace and temporarily close pubs. Indeed there have already been such cases.
But those cases aren’t indications that lifting the restrictions are failing but rather signs that this new normality is working.]
We haven’t got to the stage where we can say we have beaten Coronavirus, but by the great majority of us following the rules we can at least say we are not letting it beat us.