Wednesday 17 November 2021
Last Sunday I attended the Remembrance ceremony in Folkestone, the first full service that we have held since before the coronavirus pandemic. This is always an important and moving occasion, as we remember the sacrifices of those service personnel who gave their lives during the world wars, and in all conflicts since. The location of the Folkestone war memorial on the Leas, at the top of the Road of Remembrance, also provides a permanent link to the soldiers of the First World War. As you walk under the Step Short arch you are reminded of the journeys of millions of soldiers, many of whom left Folkestone for the trenches of the western front, never to return. However, Remembrance Sunday this year provided an additional reason for reflection, to think back over our experiences together during the pandemic, and the lives that have been taken by the coronavirus. At this first full service to be held for two years, it was good to see so many people come out to share in this together. As well as the excellent band of the Royal Gurkha Rifles I was also pleased to see so many young people on parade as armed forces cadets.
On Monday and Tuesday last week I visited Brussels in my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on the Online Safety Bill. I was there with other members of the Committee to meet with officials at the European Commission and members of the European Parliament, to discuss their draft Digital Services Act. This proposed legislation is similar to the Online Safety Bill in setting out the measures they intend to take to improve people’s experiences online and reduce the negative impact that harmful content can have. In Belgium you cannot escape the fact that you are required to show your proof of vaccination whenever you enter a restaurant or public building. This people do without fuss, but I’m glad we do not have the same provisions in place in England, and I believe it is very unlikely that we ever will.
Looking at the latest information on the coronavirus in the Folkestone and Hythe district, there is a marked difference between the infection rates over the last few months, and the peak of the virus last winter. At its peak the seven-day average daily rate for new infections was 134, whereas since the schools went back in September, the average daily rate has been below 40. For the East Kent hospitals trust area, last winter the peak seven-day average daily rate for hospital admissions was 40, whereas this autumn it has been nine. Since April this year in the Folkestone and Hythe district, there have been seventeen deaths where COVID-19 was noted as a contributory factor, whereas at the peak last winter we would have seen the same number of deaths in three or four days. When you look at the data on COVID infections locally, you can clearly see that unlike in the period before the vaccine was being delivered, younger people are far more likely to test positive for the coronavirus. These are also people who are more likely to be unvaccinated. So, the message from this phase of our battle against COVID-19 is clear. The vaccine is doing its job in stopping the spread of the virus, and in protecting people who are infected with it. I would urge people to get vaccinated if they haven’t already, and to take the booster jabs when offered.