For most of us, last year was the first time we couldn’t spend Christmas with family and friends. It has certainly made my family, especially my children, look forward to this Christmas even more than usual. But we must remember that Covid has not gone away and there is much we don’t know yet about the new Omicron variant. By following the latest guidance and taking a few simple precautions such as washing our hands, keeping rooms well ventilated and wearing masks as required, we can reduce the risk to ourselves and our loved ones. The night before a busy day of meetings in Central Devon I always take a lateral flow test – they are free, straightforward and give both myself and those I am meeting some peace of mind. If you are travelling to spend Christmas with family or friends, it would be a good idea to do the same.
But being responsible does not mean we need to hide away. Quite the opposite – by being sensible we can enjoy ourselves over Christmas and do the things we missed out on last year. We can support the Christmas markets and fayres that are being held locally, which give a boost to local shops and charities. I particularly enjoyed visiting the annual Christmas Tree Festival in Crediton last week which celebrates local organisations and catching up with locals in the Boniface for a cup of tea (pictured). We should also feel comfortable enjoying a meal out, and in doing so know that we are supporting a local pub, café or restaurant that is relying on its Christmas trade for vital income. The owner of one local pub I visited last week as part of Small Business Saturday spoke about how the next few weeks will be make or break for him.
It is in order to support businesses as much as possible that the Government has not re-introduced a complete lockdown in the face of Omicron and it is important for two key reasons that we shouldn’t overreact with a full lockdown at this stage. Firstly, from a public health perspective we are in a very different position now to where we were twelve months ago. Thanks to our world-leading vaccination programme and high levels of take up, currently only 1 person in 16,500 who catches Covid now ends up in hospital. A year ago this figure was 1 in 10. This could change with Omicron but it is too early to tell. Secondly, as I’ve alluded to, the economic damage could be severe. So while I am supportive of sensible and proportionate measures as we learn more about the Omicron variant, I will continue to stand up for local businesses here in Central Devon who an economy that continues to recover. Covid caution matters but livelihoods matter too.