2020 has been awful for so many. Every time it gets worse, you hope to wake up as if from some bad dream. But no, with almost 70,000 excess deaths this year from Covid-19, the nightmare is real, and it is impossible to conceive of how much worse this would have been without the restrictions in place. People have told me that the Government is weak and out of its depth. No doubt some hold this view for subjective political reasons, but the opposite is true. This is a Government that has taken decisive action based upon the best medical and scientific advice available, Boris Johnson has never failed to take a tough call, however much he may not have personally wanted to, and the decision he took last Friday to place London and the South East into Tier 4 over Christmas would have been one of the toughest decisions of any premier in modern times. Like him or not, this is a Prime Minister who is damned if he does and damned if he does, but he gets it, and he cares deeply. And the support package on offer to the British people is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Last week, the decision to place the whole of Berkshire into Tier 3 was devastating, even though our proximity to both Reading and Slough had made this ever more likely. While I was gutted on behalf of every constituent and beyond, this decision was taken on the back of the recent spike in R rate, which is now ripping across the South East, wider UK, Europe and further afield. Cases in the Bracknell Forest area alone have increased exponentially from less than 60 per 100,000 barely four weeks ago to 250 today and this quintupling is now the 3rd highest rate of any borough in Berkshire, with the sharpest rate of growth.
I wrote privately with other Berkshire MPs to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to urge him to adopt a borough by borough approach for Berkshire, to ensure that any decision to impose Tier 3 is made as a last resort only, to remain mindful of the impact on local people and to keep this under constant scrutiny, with a view to continued engagement on future measures. It is clear from the latest data however that ignoring the increased risk to the public was not an option. And then, the announcement barely 48 hours later that Berkshire, London and much of the South East would be placed into a new Tier 4, came as a further shock. Although my inbox has been full over the weekend from angry constituents, it is still impossible to comprehend how devastating that this must be to so many. But as I have tried to reassure, this is not personal, the Government only wants to do the right thing in good faith, this new mutant strain of Covid-19 needs to be halted and we do have a moral duty to protect our NHS and save those who would otherwise be adding to yet more awful statistics. This is about casting personal interest aside in support of the national effort.
As we look ahead towards 2021, I would urge you to take whatever positives you can from 2020 and to enjoy Christmas as best you can. My own extended family will be home alone at Christmas for the first time in many years, but I know that all of you will be making much greater sacrifices. As difficult as this is, please do adhere to the rules for it is our failure to do so in recent months which has contributed to the recent spike. And please spare a thought for all those who are on their own, sick, bereaved or those whose livelihoods and businesses continue to suffer as a result of Covid-19. Thank you to everyone who has done so much to help others, support our communities, to our NHS staff, key workers, blue light services, public servants everywhere and all those who have simply reached out to ensure that our neighbours, families and friends are ok. 2020 has been grim but the vaccine is being rolled out and we have much to look forward to as we return to normality in 2021.