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Better to act now than to regret it

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In a global pandemic, it has been a good rule of thumb to expect the unexpected.

Certainly, the risk that a new variant could pose is well understood after the effect of the Alpha and Delta variants here.

Without coming over all Donald Rumsfeld we are in a situation where there are many known unknowns about the newly identified Omicron variant including the first case in North Norfolk.

James Wild (Con) NW Norfolk MP. Picture: Richard Townshend (32497291)
James Wild (Con) NW Norfolk MP. Picture: Richard Townshend (32497291)

According to the World Health Organisation, we don’t know whether Omicron is more transmissible nor whether infection causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.

Importantly, work is underway to understand the potential impact of this variant on vaccines.

Given the uncertainty over the risk of this variant there are choices.

Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccine and syringe for injection. (53017054)
Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccine and syringe for injection. (53017054)

We could simply carry on with the situation that has applied since the move to step four in the summer and the lifting of restrictions which has seen the economy bounce back and life return to more normality.

Alternatively, we could take no chances and reimpose stricter controls such as limiting the numbers of people who can meet up.

Or we could hedge our bets and take limited measures to reduce the spread of Covid.

My judgment is it is better to act now in a proportionate way as scientists do their work to answer those unknowns - rather than impose draconian controls or get to a position where we wished we had taken measured action to limit spread.

So face coverings will once again be compulsory in shops and on public transport.

This is bothersome but compared to some previous restrictions most people would judge it a relatively minor inconvenience.

Being required to self-isolate is very challenging and we should not underestimate the impact particularly for people who have had to do so several times.

That’s why the review of the situation is vital and ministers must be held to account for the commitments given in the House of Commons that the regulations will not be in place a day longer than needed.

To slow the spread from abroad international arrivals must take a PCR test on or before day two and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

I have raised with ministers on behalf of constituents the importance of rapidly considering requests for medical exemptions from hotel quarantine requirements.

It is important amidst this uncertainty to remember that vaccines remain our most effective tool against Covid-19.

The Government has accepted the independent expert committee’s recommendation to make booster jabs available to those aged 18-39.

The new target is to offer a booster to everyone eligible by the end of January.

And while case numbers may rise, it is the impact on severe illness and hospitalisations - rather than transmissibility - that should be our major concern given the high levels of vaccine uptake.

Everyone who is eligible should come forward for their booster jab.

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