At the end of February, I was at an economic event where people were asked to indicate what they thought the big challenges of 2020 would be – fewer than half the room raised their hands when the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Wuhan was put to them. Now, as we live through one of the greatest challenges the country has ever faced outside of wartime, it is the only thing on our minds.
Suddenly we are aware of the everyday miracle of our daily lives. The ability to go to work, or school, or a place of our choosing, has become precious and rare.
I must take this opportunity to thank all our NHS staff and key workers. The sight of doctors and nurses coming out of retirement, people who’ve already served their time but who are voluntarily putting themselves into this most challenging of environments, brings a lump to my throat.
The last few days for me have been spent going between constituents and officials in all aspects of Government to try and help them. We’ve been trying to get people back from other countries, achieve clarity on how the support for businesses will work, draw up plans to protect incomes and provide reassurance where possible. I’ve dealt with so many people doing everything they can for the national cause and they all deserve our thanks.
I need to ask some things of you too. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is the right response in wartime, but it is not the right response to a pandemic. You must follow latest Public Health England advice, including avoiding non-essential contact with others, or you are potentially putting others at serious risk. I also need you to only purchase the groceries you need, and to not share inaccurate information online.
This is an extremely difficult time for many – the threat to health, concern for relatives, the struggles of isolation, the impact on incomes, the need to keep children stimulated and safe at home. Yet despite the challenges I feel grateful that we face this as a country with the capacity to get through it. I cannot imagine how a place without universal health provision would even begin to prepare for this, and it is easy to understand how Spanish flu killed so many people worldwide back in 1918-20, before we had the NHS and when housing and hygiene was so much poorer. We have both the medical and economic means to get through it. We must do whatever it takes.