I know just how tough this pandemic has been for our community. I am so pleased that this week more places can open, and we can all see more of our loved ones once again.
However, it is vital that the Government doesn’t repeat the mistakes it made again and again last year. We need to see clear plans to deal with local or national surges in infection rates caused by the new variant.
Case rates remain low across Sunderland, but we should all remain cautious and vigilant in following the guidance. But it was the Conservative Government’s failure to introduce strong protections at the border that has left us exposed to new mutations of the virus arriving from overseas.
The Prime Minister must give the public answers to why he delayed putting India on the Red List, and explain the chaotic scenes of passengers from Red List countries mixing with others in our airports. It is extraordinary that ministers left our country and our people so exposed.
No one wants to see restrictions re-imposed. But in the event of flare ups, businesses will need confidence that support will be available right away, and workers need to have proper income support if they have to isolate – a problem Labour has been raising for a year and the Tories have yet to fix.
We have been clear again and again that economic support for workers and businesses must go hand-in-hand with any additional public health restrictions.
We all hope that we are close to the end of this journey – but we are all relying on the Government to get this right, take responsibility, and help us all to emerge from this pandemic steadily and safely.
Lockdowns and the pandemic have had a terrible toll on all of us – most of all on those who have lost loved ones, but for all of us, it has been an extraordinary year.
There have been some positives: many families have been exploring the wonderful countryside, open space and coastline we have on our doorstep. But we also need to make sure that the undoubted effects on children’s learning don’t set them back forever.
I know from talking to parents and teachers throughout the pandemic how much of a problem this has been, and talking to local headteachers recently brought this point home.
The challenge ahead is not to let the last year hold back a generation.