One last heave...and then we can look to the future with optimism | Antony Higginbotham
When the Prime Minister took to the television screen on Monday night, I think most people recognised the difficult nature of the decision, and the reasons for taking it.
Cases have started to rise once again, and although we have made great strides with our vaccine delivery programme, we’re now in a race to get second jabs in the arms of those most at risk from Covid-19.
Because whilst millions have now received protection against this disease, the Delta variant, which has now become the most dominant in the UK, requires two doses to provide full protection.
Listening closely to the experts in this field, as I have over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that the Delta variant cannot be allowed to undo all the sacrifices we have made over the past 14 months, as it would do.
And so a short delay of four weeks in order to vaccinate millions more within the UK has to be the sensible option.
Since the first vaccine was administered in December 2020, we have seen the NHS, volunteers and armed forces work at tremendous speed to outpace the spread of the virus.
With that has come the easing of restrictions that we have all enjoyed. At every stage we have stuck to the dates set out in the roadmap announced back in March.
And life now feels far more normal than for a long time.
Many businesses, including pubs and restaurants, have reopened, and crucially we’re now all able to meet with friends and family, both indoors and outdoors.
There are, however, some businesses that are still struggling either through much reduced capacity, or because they can’t fully restart trade like travel agents.
I will never stop working as hard as I can, publicly and privately, to help those businesses get through to the other side of this pandemic.
So whilst it is not what any of us were hoping for, the 4 week delay will allow us to press ahead even faster with the vaccine.
By the time July 19th comes around - the new date for the final step of the roadmap - we will be in a position where every adult in the UK will have been offered a Covid vaccine; and more importantly all those over the age of 50, all the vulnerable, all the frontline health and care workers and everyone over 40 who received their first dose by mid-May will have received their second jab, giving them maximum protection.
We also ought to recognise the work of our local NHS and volunteers so far.
As I write this column, 53,886 people in the borough have now received their first jab, with 35,897 second doses already administered.
The Prime Minister has been clear throughout that the reopening of our society will be irreversible; something I am fully committed to seeing too.
If we all have one last heave, which is what is being asked, then we can emerge next month knowing we have done everything in our power to keep people as safe as possible from this deadly disease.
Life will return to normal; fans will return to the Turf, theatre lovers to the Mechanics and night clubs can welcome revellers again.
We can then focus our attention to the task of rebuilding our local economy; bringing the investment I promised I would; to transform our borough into a thriving town, with world class educational facilities and job opportunities for all.
Burnley and Padiham has a fantastic opportunity to build back better, benefitting from a regeneration programme that I have been fighting tooth and nail for since I was first elected.
And with the International Trade Secretary opening world markets to British producers we can grasp the benefits of having an independent trade policy and significantly increasing our level of exports.
Only this week we signed a historic free trade agreement with a long-time ally and friend, Australia.
This new agreement is the first major trade deal negotiated from scratch since we left the EU and will allow for tariff free trade for all British goods.
It will enable more producers access to a growing market, cutting red tape for UK businesses who already export to Australia, whilst furthering opportunities for those businesses who wish to export for the first time.
Coming through a global pandemic has been incredibly difficult but we are now at the finish line.
The 4-week delay is to be reviewed within the next 2 weeks but whatever the outcome we are at the end of a very rocky road, one none of us will forget any time soon.
We can then look to the future with optimism for what Burnley and Padiham can become.