Wednesday 2 June 2021
There has been considerable interest in the new variant of COVID-19 that originated in the Indian subcontinent. This new strain, similar to the Kent variant last year, spreads quickly, and there are areas in the north west of England in particular where there are growing numbers of cases. All of the evidence to date shows that the coronavirus vaccines are effective against this new variant, particularly so when people have had both doses, which around half of all adults in the United Kingdom now have. In the Folkestone and Hythe District cases remain very low, as they have done now for several months, as do the rates of hospitalisation due to COVID. We want to avoid people getting the virus, but the most important thing is that if they do get it, they do so without needing treatment in hospital. The vaccines provide this protection and should give is the confidence to continue to ease the social contact restrictions this month. The aim of the government is to meet the 21st of June deadline to lift the final restrictions, but they will continue to closely monitor the latest information about the spread of this new variant, to make sure that there is no risk of a serious increase in infection rates. We know though from our experience last year, and in previous pandemics, that the virus spreads far less effectively in the summer, and as the number of people fully vaccinated also continues to grow, we should soon be at the point where COVID-19 has run out of places to go.
This past week was English Tourism Week, and last Thursday Visit Kent organised for the Tourism Minister, Nigel Huddleston, to experience a number of the county’s attractions. Starting with Royal St George’s golf course at Sandwich, they also visited the creative quarter and harbour in Folkestone. It’s also been great to see so many people out enjoying the good weather this bank holiday weekend and supporting local businesses. As we come out of the COVID social contact restrictions we can also look forward to a full programme of events this summer, starting this Friday with the return of the Folkestone Book Festival, with a nine-day programme of authors talks and interviews at venues in the town, but which will also be available online. The full programme is available on the Creative Folkestone website. On the 22nd of July, the fifth Folkestone Triennial arts festival, delayed from last year, will also open. Despite all of the challenges of the last fifteen months, it’s great to see Folkestone to the fore as we bounce back from COVID-19.
Last week I took part in an online discussion with the Home Office, along with the leaders of Folkestone and Hythe District Council and Kent County Council, Cllrs David Monk and Roger Gough. The meeting discussed a wide range of residents' questions about the future use of Napier Barracks in Folkestone as temporary accommodation for people who have applied for asylum in the UK. The Home Office lease for the use of the site expires this September and I hope that they will cease to use the barracks at that time, if not before. You can view the discussion online at the District Council’s YouTube channel.