Like many, I had an unwelcome start to the new year in the form of two little red lines on a lateral flow test. So, while my colleagues returned to the Houses of Parliament, I have been engaged in events behind a laptop screen from South Cambridgeshire, ably assisted by my black Labrador Pepper.
I am far from alone. The Office of National Statistics estimates that more than 3.7 million would have tested positive in the days leading up to New Year, around 6% of our entire population or one in fifteen people. So, while it is clear that Omicron is much milder than the Delta variant, it spreads astonishingly quickly.
That is why the Government will keep Plan B in place for another few weeks as we continue to bolster our defences against the virus. The Booster programme is key to this - 34 million people have now been boosted (including myself). I’m delighted that so many have heeded the call in Cambridgeshire and would encourage everyone who has not yet booked an appointment to do so. My vaccinations have meant covid has caused little more than a sniffle.
For those worried about the effect on the NHS and our supply chains, as well as basic business needs, I was glad to see the government acting here too. They identified 100,000 critical workers who will receive free lateral flow testing for every working day from 10 January – helping keep essential services and supply chains running.
Last Friday, the Government also delivered £737 million to local councils as part of a £1 billion support package for business, so that councils can deliver targeted grants worth up to £6,000 each to hospitality and leisure businesses, as well as discretionary funding to other businesses affected by the Omicron surge.
I am confident we can overcome Omicron with no more restrictions, but the best way to save lives, reduce the pressure on our NHS and keep our country open is to get your jabs.
After two years of pandemic, we cannot keep letting it dictate the agenda. We need to learn to live with the virus, and get on with the rest of our lives. The year ahead, 2022, needs to be a year of delivery.
After jabs, comes jobs: we need to get more people into work, with the Plan for Jobs ensuring more people are in work than before the pandemic began. We will deliver the biggest catch-up programme in the NHS’s history, with an extra £36 billion in funding for health and social care and delivering around nine million more checks, scans and procedures. Building on the 11,053 new police officers recruited already, we’ll boost police funding by £1.1 billion this year and deliver on our recently passed Nationality and Borders Bill to crack down on people smuggling gangs.
Locally, we will see the benefits of new farming and environmental legislation, with announcements in the last few days of new measures to tackle hare coursing, a Local Nature Recovery scheme which will pay farmers for making space for nature, and a Landscape Recovery Scheme which will support more radical changes to land-use change and habitat restoration. Our entrepreneurs will enjoy the benefits of twice as much tech investment last year, double Germany’s £14.7 billion and more than triple France’s £9.7 billion. The Government’s Ten Point Plan to unleash a green industrial revolution will create jobs as we build back greener, and our new trade deals, such as the one with Australia, will unlock new work and travel opportunities for local people, with billions of pounds in additional trade for British businesses.
2022 is a year of opportunity - for Britain, and for Cambridgeshire. Think I am overselling it? Well if you are a glass-half empty type, put it like this: it has to be better than last year.