I know how distressing it was for people in Maldon and Chelmsford to hear that new Tier 4 restrictions were being imposed on London and the Home Counties from Sunday morning. In addition, the withdrawal of the five day relaxation for Christmas is another huge blow to families, many of whom have already been unable to see each other for several months.

No-one in Government wanted to have to take this decision, especially given the assurances by Ministers a few days earlier that the Christmas bubble measures could go ahead. However, the discovery in just the last few days that a new more transmissible variant of the virus is driving up the infection rate  meant that further action had to be taken quickly to protect lives. The latest estimate of the infection rate in Maldon District is 365 per 100,000 with the number testing positive having risen by 140 per cent in the last 7 days. In Maldon itself, it is 461 per 100,000 with a similar rate across Chelmsford. The number being admitted to our local hospitals has also risen sharply so that they are now approaching critical levels. These are frightening figures and it is clear that the restrictions under Tier 3 are not enough to stop the virus spreading. I know how difficult it will be to cancel for many who had pinned their hopes on seeing their family over the Christmas break. However, it is vital that we do whatever is necessary to protect the vulnerable and to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

Across Europe, Governments have all had to take similar steps in the face of the pandemic. However, the development of the new vaccine offers real hope that an end to the current nightmare is in sight.  Already those locally that are the highest priority are receiving it at Basildon and Colchester Hospitals, at the Danbury Medical Centre and now at the offices of Maldon District Council where a local vaccination centre has been established.

Over the next few months, everyone will in order of their priority receive an invitation to attend. In the meantime, I would like to thank all those who continue to work so hard to support our local community in the Health Service, as key workers or as volunteers. I wish you all a Happy Christmas and look forward to a better New Year.