Over this summer recess period I have been thinking about how we can live with Covid until a vaccine is available.
Progress towards developing a viable vaccine remains very positive. More than 170 candidate vaccines are now being tracked by the World Health Organisation, and three have entered the stage of testing on humans, including the Oxford vaccine, some of which is being manufactured at Cobra Biologics on Keele Science Park.
The Government has already placed orders for six different candidate vaccines – 340 million doses in total – as a way of hedging our bets.
However, new vaccines require rigorous testing, and it is important not to get ahead of ourselves.
The stakes are extremely high, and we must be guided completely by the science to ensure that any vaccine is both safe and effective.
So we must accept that we must learn how to live with the virus in the short-to-medium term.
While Covid is a terrible disease, we need a sense of proportion about the scale of the problem now that we have reduced the mortality rate from the virus to very low levels.
The UK daily death figures are now regularly in the single digits, and our levels of community infection are manageable.
We have learned how best to treat severe cases of Covid in hospitals. And we have successfully used local lockdowns –
like in Leicester – to contain and control outbreaks.
But trying to eliminate all cases of Covid, and then maintaining a Covid-free country, would take enormous resources.
The impact of this on all aspects of life would be significant, and there would be huge downsides in terms of travel, tourism and trade.
Instead, the right approach is for us all to work hard, keep community infection rates under control, and to be vigilant in the face of local outbreaks, such as the recent spate of cases in Silverdale.
But we should also look to how we can restore some normality to our lives, where we can do so in a safe manner.
Easily accessible testing is our key strategy to keep the virus under control. If you develop any symptoms of coronavirus, you should book a test as soon as possible, either at gov.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.
Therefore, I am delighted that Newcastle now has its own walk-through coronavirus testing facility in the Ryecroft car park.
I have already been down to get a test myself, and was pleased with how quick and easy the process was – the whole thing took less than 10 minutes and I got my negative result back within 36 hours.
Beyond health, we must find ways to live our lives. Over the summer, I have been glad to have my staff back in the office, rather than working from home all the time.
And it has been truly enjoyable for me to be back out and about in the town and borough.
My family and I certainly took full advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme during August.
Not only was it a real pleasure to be able to support local businesses who have had a tough time recently, I also welcomed the sense of community that comes from being around other people.
Similarly, I was pleased to see that fans will now be allowed back to non-league football clubs such as Newcastle Town FC, following a letter I co-signed to the Minister of Sport.
Preventative measures should be tailored to the actual risk involved, and non-league sides do not put stress on public transport and can easily manage social distancing.
I know others too, who found the isolation of lockdown and shielding very challenging, have benefited from the simple pleasure of being able to be out talking with other people.
So as our children return to school, I would encourage everyone to be calm, patient and open-minded as we adapt to our new normal and wait for good news from the scientists.