Statement from Robert Halfon MP on the national lockdown and school closures

Dear residents,

TONIGHT, the Prime Minister has announced a national lockdown in England, in part due to the new variant of the COVID-19 virus, which is spreading at an aggressive rate.

Primary and secondary schools will also close and move to remote education from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers. Early-years settings, such as nurseries, will remain open. It was also confirmed tonight by the Prime Minister that exams will not go ahead in the summer. The Education Secretary and Ofqual will work to put in place alternative arrangements for GCSEs, A Levels and vocational and technical qualifications.

Under these new measures, we must stay at home and only leave for limited reasons, such as to shop for essentials, to work (if you absolutely cannot work from home), to exercise, to get a COVID-19 test or to escape domestic abuse. The full guidance is available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/949536/NationalLockdownGuidance.pdf

No one wants to be in this situation, but the medical experts have suggested that the NHS could be overwhelmed within 21 days if we do not take action now.

In Harlow, the latest figures suggest that total COVID-19 cases in Harlow were up by nearly 30% in the 7 days to 30 December 2020. We have a high rate nationally.

Britain is not unique. There are lockdowns happening across Europe, in Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.

The difference this time, however, is that there is hope. Vaccinations are already being rolled out, and reaching residents in Harlow.

If things go well, the NHS realistically expects everyone in the top 4 priority groups (all care home residents and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline workers, and everyone who is extremely clinically vulnerable) will have been vaccinated by mid-February. Once this has happened in Harlow and across the country, restrictions can be lifted.

I will continue to do all I can to support local residents in any way I can, and signpost them to the services they need to get help.

Residents across Harlow and the villages are already doing all they can to follow the rules but we must redouble our efforts to wash our hands, wear masks, and follow social distancing. By doing so, we can defeat this once and for all.

On school closures, I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to all the headteachers, teachers and support staff across Harlow and the villages for everything they have done, and continue to do, to keep our children learning. I know that this pandemic has been incredibly difficult, especially given the fast-changing policy. As a constituency MP, I am sorry that this has happened.

Moving forward, I will urge the Government and Ofsted to bolster support for schools with remote learning and boost investment into mental health provision – as we know children and young people at home suffer increased mental health issues from the disruption caused by school closures. I will also press for an urgent decision from the Department for Education and Ofqual about grading arrangements to give certainty to pupils in exam years, their parents and teachers.

This is not how we wanted to start 2021 and it will be extremely difficult for many; but there is light at the end of this bleak tunnel. The vaccine will be a game-changer in controlling the spread of the virus and God-willing, we can get back to normal soon.”

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