After a most challenging week for everyone and the start of a period of extended restrictions to curb the virus, I want to focus on the really positive news of the vaccination roll-out.
We face some difficult weeks ahead but I am also sure the end is now in sight. The additional £4.6bn economic support measures I announced on Tuesday are designed to help businesses through to the spring.
I was really encouraged to see the start of the immunisation programme here in North Yorkshire.
At the vaccination hub at the Northallerton Forum I witnessed the programme underway with elderly care home residents receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
It was running very smoothly with an orderly and of course socially-distanced flow of people coming through for their precious jabs. It was a wonderful thing to see and the staff – and the marshalling volunteers from Northallerton Rugby Club – were brilliant. Everybody was clearly uplifted by having the chance to do something so vital in contributing to an end to the pandemic and which will ultimately make such a difference to all our lives.
The first vaccinations involving the University of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine took place in North Yorkshire this week and this vaccine – which is easier to store and distribute - is key to the escalation of the nationwide programme. I am pleased to say the Friarage Hospital will have a role to play in its roll-out and in North Yorkshire we have made good progress in vaccinating the over 80s. At the beginning of this week more than a third of this age group had received their first dose of a vaccine.
I am in regular contact with local health chiefs about the vaccination programme. People will receive the vaccine in a priority order designed to protect the elderly, the most vulnerable and health and social care workers first.
Looking ahead to the end of the pandemic, the rebuilding of our economy will be my primary focus and locally I was delighted to see Hambleton District Council receive £6m from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund to help Northallerton adapt to the new retail environment.
I supported the council’s bid in my role as local MP and the money will be used to help the High Street in a world where more people are choosing to do a proportion of their shopping online – a trend we have seen accelerate during the pandemic.
The High Street has to change and I am very supportive of the council’s plans to find new uses for empty property and bring more people back to live in the town centre to help breathe new life into the town centre, particularly in the evenings.
Right now of course we face the restrictions announced this week until the middle of February at least and I know the numerous local community support groups – from Hawes to Stokesley - which did so much to help the vulnerable and those who have to shield are preparing to provide that support once more.
A positive aspect of the pandemic has been the way our communities have responded in this magnificent way and at Christmas I was glad to play a small part in one such community support effort.
The Secret Garden Christmas event at the United Reformed Church in Northallerton was a very successful attempt to bring some festive cheer to families denied the usual Christmas experiences because of the pandemic.
Members of the church and its supporters had created a series of beautiful Christmas story tableaux in the garden and I joined members of the Rotary Club of Northallerton Mowbray to serve refreshments to the families who came to see the garden.
It was another great example of community spirit - literally in this instance - shining through the darkness and heralding better times ahead.