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Freedom day is within touching distance, promises vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi

Nadhim Zahawi Photo: PA Media (48778970)
Nadhim Zahawi Photo: PA Media (48778970)

ON 14th June, the prime minister made the difficult decision to push back ‘Freedom Day’, Step 4 of his roadmap, until 19th July. This is not a decision that was taken lightly. There is not a single member of the government who does not want to see their constituencies bustling – bustling with lively restaurants, busy markets with local produce, and pubs full of familiar faces. I sincerely want that for all of Stratford-on-Avon, and that day will come. It will come.

When the prime minister set out his roadmap, he was extremely clear, from the outset, that the government would be looking at data, not dates, and 21st June was the earliest possible opportunity for lifting these restrictions. There were four tests established.

Test one is that the vaccine rollout continues successfully. Thanks to the tremendous work of all those on the frontline, and indeed a number of dedicated civil servants, we are delivering the vaccine at lightning speed. At the time of writing, over 72million doses of the vaccine have been administered, with over 30million of those being second doses. We are racing to ensure that all over 50s, the vulnerable, and those working in care receive their second dose by 19th July, as well as accelerating second jabs for those over 40. Additionally, we are bringing forward our target to have given every adult at least one jab by 19th July. Eighteen and overs have already been invited to get their first jabs, offering protection and helping breakdown community transmission.

Test two concerns the effectiveness of the vaccine to prevent hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19. The figures for this are extremely reassuring with both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine providing 96 per cent effectiveness against hospitalisation from the Delta variant and Oxford-AstraZeneca giving 92 per cent protection. It is clear every jab is an opportunity to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community. We owe the scientists who have developed these remarkable vaccines an enormous debt of gratitude.

Test three relates to the rate of infection and whether the NHS could cope with the level of hospitalisations. As the prime minister reported on 14th June, the Delta variant is spreading faster than was predicted when the roadmap was established. Currently, the number of new cases is growing by approximately 64 per cent a week and doubling in the worst affected areas. Unfortunately, this surge in cases has also correlated with an increase in hospitalisations, with a 50 per cent week on week increase. It is this data that has ultimately informed the government’s decision.

Test four is based on scientists’ assessment that the risk of reopening is not massively changed by the discovery of a new variant. It is important to stress, while the Delta variant has undoubtedly caused a surge in cases, the vaccines remain an incredibly reliable source of protection.

The vaccine rollout means the end of the pandemic is within touching distance. In our race against the virus, this is the final push. We have rounded the bend and the finish line is in sight. This has undoubtedly been a testing time for everyone in Stratford, and the country, it has tested our strength, our resolve and our communities.

But now we have a choice. We can fall at this last hurdle and throw away everything we gained. Or we can hold on, dig in, and, most importantly of all, get the jab.

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