Newton Aycliffe’s MP says he’s proud of the way the general public has reacted to social distancing measures – but insists we must keep it going for a few weeks yet, amid the coronavirus crisis.
The Conservative MP for Sedgefield Paul Howell admits it’s difficult to maintain measures not seen in peace time – but that it has to be done to save lives.
The killer Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep the UK after taking the lives of thousands across the world, and social distancing measures could potentially go on for up to six months.
Mr Howell told Aycliffe Today: “From a personal perspective, the Sedgefield constituency number of people affected is low, in comparison, and long may that continue.
“But the message remains the same for us all – stay indoors, protect our NHS and save lives. It’s a very straight forward message.
“The general public are, by and large, heeding the messages which is fantastic, and I’m proud of the way they’ve gone about that. But we’re due some nice weather this weekend, and I just hope it stays that way.”
Mr Howell added: “The work of our essential workers – NHS staff, social care workers, police, firemen etc – is fantastic and it’s great to see all the praise they’re rightly getting.
“But what’s warmed my heart has been the volunteers, the people in our communities going out and helping others. They’re our community champions, our local heroes.”
The government has rolled out a series of support packages for businesses, employees and the self-employed over the last fortnight, securing the future of several hundred jobs in Newton Aycliffe alone.
Although their measures have so far offered little support to private limited company directors, who range from one-man-bands to multi-millionaires, who can only access 80% of their basic salaries (about £560 a month) but then can’t continue running their business, when the self-employed can access up to £2,500 a month and continue trading.
But Mr Howell said: “When I campaigned to become MP for Sedgefield, I certainly didn’t envisage this, nobody did. So we’re all trying to deal with it as best we can. But I do think the government is doing an extremely good job in such exceptional circumstances.
“In County Durham alone, more than £43m has already been handed out to businesses, and Durham County Council is doing a brilliant job in facilitating the funding and signposting businesses to further support.
“I’ve had a number of businesses contact me to say the help they’ve had will keep them afloat, and that’s great.
“It’s up to us to find new opportunities, to evolve during this crisis and to come out the other end.
“I watched Sara Davies (Crafter’s Companion founder) on the TV this week, and she was talking about how they’re having to adapt. Businesses have to find a way. They, like most people, don’t have much of a choice.
“But I’m confident the people of Sedgefield and County Durham have it in them to find that way.
“Some of the bigger businesses also have a responsibility, in terms of how they treat their suppliers and their staff.
“When they react in a certain way under challenging circumstances, they’ll be remembered further down the line for how they reacted, whether that’s good or bad.”
And Mr Howell reiterated the government message: “Stay home, stay safe and protect our NHS.”
The Durham County Council helpline for businesses is 03000 260260.
Alternatively visit www.durham.gov.uk/ndrgrants for more details.