This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Petersfield Post and Herald editions:
"The announcement made by the Prime Minister this week to delay the move to Step 4 of the Roadmap will be deeply disappointing for many people, and particularly for businesses reliant on larger numbers being allowed to mix.
I know just how tough the past year has been for local businesses and organisations, especially in the most impacted sectors like shopping, hospitality and events – all important employers in East Hampshire. From established high street retailers to new start-ups – the impact has been massive.
But despite the on-going success of the vaccine programme and evidence that they are proving effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths for those who are vaccinated, the rise in overall infections and admittance to hospital has meant a further period of caution has been necessary.
The arrival of the highly transmissible Delta variant here in the UK has meant that the race between the vaccine and the virus had become a great deal tighter, and we need more time to enable more people to be vaccinated and to be better protected against the now dominant variant.
Data from PHE suggest that it is between 40 per cent and 80 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant that originated in Kent. There are currently around 8,000 cases a day, and that is the highest level since the end of February.
So, the target to offer every adult a first dose is being brought forward to 19th July, with the ambition to have two thirds of adults double-vaccinated by that date, with second doses for all over 40s being accelerated by reducing the dosing interval from 12 weeks to 8 weeks - all over 40s who received a first dose by mid-May will be offered a second dose by 19 July.
This is important as two doses have now been shown to be highly effective in reducing hospitalisation from the Delta variant, with the latest PHE data suggesting this could be up to 96% for Pfizer-BioNTech and 92% for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
With us remaining in Step 3, it does of course mean that the current social distancing measures will stay in place for longer, including the wearing of facemasks in many indoor settings and on public transport, and the rule of 6 still applying when meeting friends and family indoors.
People will still be able to meet outdoor in groups of up to 30 and, significantly, this limit will be lifted for weddings and wakes from the 21st June. This does not unfortunately mean all weddings can go ahead as hoped, and I realise this will be a blow to couples and families who have their day scheduled for the next few weeks, and for the businesses supporting them.
Care home residents will also be able to spend more time with family and friends, including overnight stays, out-of-school settings can organise overnight stays for groups of up to 30 children, and event pilots will continue, including some Euro 2020 matches, Wimbledon, and some arts and music performances.
Importantly, there is no imposition of additional measures, or plans to re-impose any restrictions that have already been lifted. The government remains committed to ensure the steps taken in the roadmap are irreversible, and there is confidence that this can be achieved by slowing down the move to Step 4 and at the same time accelerating the vaccination programme.
This news will be hugely disappointing for some sectors, and that is understood by ministers and the scientists advising them, but this decision will hopefully keep us moving forward, albeit at a slightly slower pace.
But there is of course a good news story here too – the protection afforded by the vaccines, and particularly by two doses, far exceeds any expectation that scientists had hoped for in the earlier days of the pandemic. This success means that we can be confident in developing new vaccines as we will need to in the future.
It is clear from the conversations I have with local organisations and businesses that they continue to find ways to adapt, and that level of resilience and creativity is extremely impressive.
People are understandably impatient to see all restrictions lifted, but I hope we will look back at this point and see that after having made so many sacrifices it was right to mitigate the risk in this way."