There is only one subject on most people’s minds at the moment. With the threat of coronavirus (Covid-19), we are facing the biggest national challenge since the Second World War and the largest public health emergency since the Spanish Flu outbreaks of 1918-19.
Most people, especially younger people, will only have a mild illness if they catch coronavirus. And mercifully this disease seems to spare children almost entirely.
But the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are at significant risk, and we as a society need to take drastic action to protect them.
The measures the Government have asked us to take are undoubtedly severe, and regrettably further measures may yet have to be taken under emergency legislation that the House of Commons will be considering in the next few days.
These restrictions will be particularly tough on older people and on businesses.
By the time this column is published I expect to have heard again from the Chancellor about what we can do to support workers.
The fact that this will be less than a week after he gave his Budget demonstrates just how quickly the situation is evolving.
I want to reassure Sentinel readers that the Government are being guided by the scientific advice throughout. Research is happening in real-time: evidence from both our experience in the UK and that of other countries, especially Italy, is being added into our models, and all the measures that the scientists recommend are based on the best available information.
We are fortunate here in the UK that we are a few weeks behind other countries. This means we can learn from their experiences, and so we will also be following closely the progress of the outbreak in countries like China, Japan and South Korea, who have taken very draconian social isolation measures to fight the virus.
As an MP I have had the privilege of hearing briefings from Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, as well as regular updates to the House of Commons from Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.
I am also part of the Science and Technology Committee which has taken evidence from leading scientists about the likely spread of the virus, what treatments to alleviate the symptoms might be developed, and the timeframe for a possible vaccine.
Although the situation is obviously very worrying, I have found their command of their subjects very reassuring. The Government is getting the best possible advice.
This is not a time for partisan politics and I have been very pleased to see the constructive support offered by the other parties in the House of Commons.
In a crisis such as this, the usual distinctions between our parties are not meaningful – everyone who enters Parliament wants to make people’s lives better. What is most important is that we pull together as a nation.
In doing so it is going to be the local community response that matters most of all. I have already spoken with many leaders of the various councils – the County, Newcastle Borough and individual parishes – who are putting together plans to help support those who need to isolate themselves for their own protection.
Local Facebook groups and pre-existing WhatsApp networks are also coming together to help identify those most in need and set up ways to keep isolated people supplied with their necessities. I thank the Sentinel too for setting up their Covid-19 updates group on Facebook, which already has 16,000 members as I type.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to those who are going to be on the front line of this fight – those working in our NHS and in our social care sector. The next few months are going to be the most challenging of all our lives and their professionalism and compassion will be vital in helping us to manage as best we can and get through this together.