The beginning of September marks the start of the new school year, and few can have been as eagerly anticipated as this one. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and the education of our children for most of the last sixth months, and its vital that students get back into the classroom, so they can continue their education. Local schools have made their plans for the return of students, and unless a community is in a lockdown, it will be for headteachers to decide whether or not face masks need to be worn in communal areas of the school.
We cannot say that there is a zero-percentage risk of COVID-19 infection from children returning to full time education in the classroom, but we can say that it is very low. In fact, the impact to the mental health of students being denied the chance to return to school is probably greater than the risks that might come from the coronavirus. When the schools were closed in March the key point made by the Government then was that it was an essential measure to reduce the infection rate of COVID-19 and protect the resources of the NHS to make sure that everyone who needed treatment would receive it. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 are not only well below their peak but have continued to fall throughout the summer. We need to be vigilant to make sure that we minimise the risk of another acceleration in COVID-19 infections, but we should expect that students can safely return to school this week.
The House of Commons also returns from its summer recess, and the first piece of legislation to be debated will be the Fisheries Bill. This creates the new rules for UK fisheries following our departure from the European Union. In particular the Bill will end the automatic right for EU vessels to fish in British waters. If access to UK waters for foreign vessels is negotiated, the Bill will also enable the Fisheries Administrations to ensure that foreign vessels follow the same rules as UK trawlers. The legislation will also ensure that fish stocks, and the marine environment, are better protected for future generations with new powers to set UK fishing opportunities and days at sea. I know that our local fishermen who are part of the under 10 metres inshore fleet of trawlers have long argued that regulations should be based on days at sea, rather than the strict applications of quotas on the weight of the catch, as required by the EU’s common fisheries policy.
The latest government figures also show how many local businesses have benefited so far from the different coronavirus support schemes. Self-employed people in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency have accessed £14,200,000 worth of Government grants, which do not need to be paid back, to cover lost earnings. £45,881,215 has been paid out to local businesses in the form of Bounce Back Loans, which provides loans of up to £50,000 within days of an application. £29,170,000 worth of grants has been handed out to businesses in our area, which again do not need to be paid back. These are challenging times for businesses, but I’m pleased so see this support being delivered to the front line in our recovery from COVID-19.