Once again I want to remind you that if you get the opportunity for a vaccine please take it. If, for whatever reason, you have missed your initial invite remember that invitation remains open and I would encourage you to make contact and catch up, if you need advice please let us know and we will try to help.

My week was officially recess, this meant that instead of working virtually from home and keeping an eye on Westminster I was working virtually from home! I had meetings on Green Homes grants; talking to local farmers; a Vaccine rollout update and a Police briefing as well as a number on local railways. I am actively supporting bids for Ferryhill Station, the Leamside Line and also for the Bishop Line (which is the one going through Aycliffe) to be upgraded.

The big event of the week, of course, was the Prime Ministers announcement on Monday as regards the route out of lockdown. To summarise the announcement, it started with the great news regarding the continued excellent progress of the vaccine rollout and, importantly, also the increasing quantum of data showing the efficacy of the vaccines. The data is beginning to show clearly what the benefits of vaccination are in preventing infection, preventing symptomatic cases, and in significantly reducing hospitalisation and mortality for those who do show symptoms.

Then the Prime Minister outlined a four stage road map, each stage of which requires four tests to continue to be satisfied to allow progress. The 4 tests relate to vaccine rollout; vaccine effectiveness in reducing hospitalisation; infection rates that would not put unsustainable pressure on the NHS and also that the risk has not been fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid.

Each of the dates currently associated to each step is the earliest date and are therefore at risk of delay if the tests require it.

The current steps and some of the key changes are: –

Step 1 – 8 March

Schools and and Colleges are open for all students as well as practical Higher Education courses; Recreation outdoors with household or one other person; No household mixing indoors; Wraparound childcare allowed; Funerals (30 people) and Wakes and Weddings (6 people) can proceed. You should still stay at home as much as possible.

29 March

Rule of 6 or two households; outdoors with no household mixing indoors, Outdoor parent & child groups (up to 15 parents); Outdoor sports and leisure facilities open and organised outdoor sport allowed. You should minimise travel but holidays not allowed

Step 2 not before 12 April

Indoor leisure, libraries, community centres open for individual use or household groups; Personal care and all retail and outdoor attractions open. Overnight accommodation in self contained units or domestic stays for households allowed, international holidays not permitted and travel should be minimised.

Step 3 not before 17 May

Indoor entertainment; Organised indoor adult sport; Outdoor entertainment; All accommodation and some large events allowed. International travel will be allowed (subject to a review).

Step 4 not before 21 June

All legal limits on social contact removed and any remaining closed settings (like nightclubs) and large events will be allowed above the Step 3 capacity constraints.

If you need any clarification on any of the above please email us or give us a call.

As I am sure you are aware the data locally continues to get better and better which will support the above programme. It is however noticeable that we still see some hot spots, so, as and when restrictions on travel are allowed it would be common sense to take a look at the data for anywhere you consider travelling to and check you are not putting yourself or others at risk. Remember the vaccines are good but they are not absolute in their protection so you will still have a degree of risk.

Please continue to follow the rules as we now take the final steps.

Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives – Stay safe

Paul Howell,

Member of Parliament for Sedgefield