On Monday evening the Prime Minister announced the closure of all places where people can gather. This is a deep blow but a necessary one. We are now required to do what, until today, was simply advised: stay home, except to fetch the essentials, to exercise, or to go to work if you can’t work from home. It’s very simple and stark and no-one can misunderstand.
If we succeed, by minimising the transmission of the disease from one household to another, we can avoid the fate of Italy, where the disease leapt upon them before they had sufficient capacity in their health service to withstand it. The reason for the restrictions announced tonight is simply to slow the spread so we can build up our stocks of ventilators, protective personal equipment, and testing kits.
In general I don’t inflict my private life on you but on this occasion I thought I’d share what my family and I are doing. We came down to Wiltshire at the weekend. I expected to return on Monday to go to Parliament. But on Sunday, my wife and I both developed very mild symptoms which might, or might not, be Covid-19 – so far we think not, or that we’ve had the weakest dose possible. Anyway, we are self-isolating in our cottage near Great Bedwyn. This means I am trying to do my job as an MP while also helping my wife manage three children age 10, 8 and 6 – all of whom seem convinced they are on holiday! I mention this because I have every sympathy with every family suddenly thrown into the dual challenge of home-working and home-schooling. There are upsides, of course – spring is here, and at lunchtime we had a game of football among the daffodils, which is not what I normally do on Mondays. But this isn’t going to be easy for anyone, particularly the elderly.
Our village is like so many others across the constituency. There is a huge store of goodwill, built up over the years, on which neighbours can draw in time of need. We have an elderly couple down the lane who are being supported by everyone else. My family and I have also been offered massive support for our 14 day isolation, which I hope to repay some day. I also want to praise the work of the parish and town councils, and the brilliant volunteers, often organised through churches, who have sprung up to organise the practical and social support that so many elderly people are going to need. And above it all, Wiltshire County Council, whose staff and leadership have been exceptional.
I won’t go on. It’s been a strange week since I last wrote, with Parliament effectively closed, except for the few MPs allowed into the chamber at any time. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone to businesses, councils, hospitals, and other community leaders, to understand the pressures they’re under and how Government can help. Obviously a huge number of people have been in touch with problems, offers of help, or suggestions for national policy, and my brilliant team and I have been busy responding as fast as we can, reassuring or helping where we can and passing requests and offers up the Whitehall chain as fast as possible.
The Prime Minister said this week ‘each of us is now enlisted.’ This is a war, and we must all act to stop the virus spreading. For some that will be a greater sacrifice than for others, but we are all called to carry the burden that is placed upon us, and to put others ahead of ourselves.