Harpenden MP reveals how he has responded to coronavirus crisis

Harpenden MP Bim Afolami.

Harpenden MP Bim Afolami. - Credit: Archant

It is a grim concept to realise - more people have now died from COVID-19 than live in the town of Harpenden.

But with the Prime Minister now looking at measures for a post-coronavirus world, with many of the lockdown restrictions lifted this week, we wanted to reflect on the experiences of the last few months, and look forward to what challenges the future might hold.

We spoke to Harpenden and Hitchin MP Bim Afolami to ask him what he thought of the government’s handling of the crisis, starting of with whether it acted swiftly enough in the early days of the pandemic to prevent deaths, particularly in care homes.

He said: “The government has acted in accordance with expert advice throughout this crisis to protect as many people as possible. Where there have been challenges in particular circumstances, the government has been as decisive and prompt as it could have been in dealing with these.”

He would not be drawn on whether he outright supported the controversial stance on herd immunity, blamed for delaying the lockdown: “Herd immunity is a concept within epidemiology which essentially means that a virus, any virus, naturally dies out after a period of time because a certain threshold number of people get the disease, and survive completely healthily.

“That can happen one of two ways – either through a vaccine, or naturally. The answer with COVID is that it is likely that both of these things will contribute to making the population immune. The Government’s aim is, of course, to preserve life and livelihoods.”

Does he think the lockdown has been effective, and is now really the right time to be lifting restrictions when we’re still reporting large numbers of deaths and infections?

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“The lockdown has slowed the spread of the virus and allowed us to flatten the curve and ensure that our NHS wasn’t overwhelmed. As a result, the health service has coped remarkably well at this difficult time.

“The infection rate has now slowed and it is right that the government is therefore easing some restrictions in line with the scientific advice and the example of other countries dealing with this pandemic. This will be done in a very gradual way and only once it is clear that it is safe to do so.”

He also supports Boris Johnson in encouraging people to return to work under certain circumstances: “It is important that where people cannot work from home and it is safe for them to return to their workplace, they should do so. Employers should be working as hard as possible to ensure that workplaces are safe for those workers returning to work. If a constituent has a question about their own specific situation, they should contact me on bim.afolami.mp@parliament.uk and I will be able to provide advice on a case-by-case basis.”

The ongoing crisis has posed fresh challenges for the MP and his staff: “My office has been dealing with thousands of constituent cases related to the coronavirus pandemic. Everything from assisting local businesses with getting access to grant funding and emergency loans, to helping dozens of constituents stranded abroad to return home, to people who have needed support getting shopping and basic supplies, to helping others deal with concerns about their jobs and incomes, and much more.

“I’ve been worked hard to ensure that everyone in this constituency has the support and guidance they need to make it through this crisis. I’ve led with HM Treasury and other government departments to ensure that businesses who weren’t eligible for earlier grant schemes have access to a new discretionary grant administered by the local council.

“Don’t just take my word for it – the relevant Minister who implemented the changes, Simon Clarke MP, said that my ‘initiative and passion to give local councils more flexibility to help deserving local businesses has been hugely important, and appreciated’.

“I’ve been working with some of our fantastic local charities and community groups like Harpenden Cares, to ensure that they have the support and resources they need to continue to provide assistance to our most vulnerable residents.

“I’ve also been working through thousands of individual cases, supporting individuals and organisations with a range of issues across every aspect of society.”