With the spread of the Omicron variant across the country we are seeing an extremely rapid rise in Covid infection rates. Recent figures for infections in the borough of Richmond show daily rates about five times higher than the average for October and November. We are beginning to see an increase in hospitalisations which will almost certainly accelerate over the coming weeks.

It is against this worrying backdrop that the Government introduced “Plan B” restrictions last week.  Liberal Democrats have supported the government on public health measures when they are backed up by scientific advice, which is why we voted for the reintroduction of mandatory mask wearing in indoor settings and the extension of the working from home guidance. We voted against the use of Covid passes however, as they give a false sense of security. It is still possible to transmit the virus if you are double vaccinated so testing should be used to protect people in crowded settings instead. To read more about the evidence supporting this position please visit my website.

The Prime Minister has done irreparable damage to his authority with the endless photos of him and his staff having parties during lockdown. However, we are in a health emergency and it is vital that everyone continues to follow the rules and show consideration and care for others, even though the Prime Minister has failed to show any leadership by doing so himself.  Vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, the NHS, and the whole community. I urge anyone who is not yet vaccinated to get their first jab, and for everyone else to come forward for their booster.

I will continue to monitor the situation day by day and pledge to support the Government if more measures, backed by scientific advice, are needed. I am sorry that this Christmas message is so sombre, but I truly wish you all a happy and safe Christmas. Take care of yourselves and other.

Local meetings, events and news

Richmond Christmas Day Dinner for Care Leavers

Last year The Richmond upon Thames Christmas Day Dinner provided Christmas dinner for 60 young people who had left the care system. The wonderful team of volunteers are working hard to make this year’s Christmas Day as special as possible for care leavers. I joined them to wrap presents for the guests who’ll get dinner in a beautifully decorated venue. Photos of my visit are here.

You can support TCD Richmond here.

Visit to Shooting Star Children’s Hospice

Last week, I was delighted to meet Paul Farthing, CEO of Shooting Star Children’s Hospice in Hampton. Shooting Star House is used for family and bereavement therapy and there are plans in the works to expand provision in order to help more families following the loss of a child.

Whilst I was at the site, I saw Christmas presents donated by London Irish RFC which will be given to children with life-limiting conditions and their siblings. Such a wonderful way to give back this Christmas by the Club and their supporters.

Project Rugby

I enjoyed being part of the Project Rugby Festival last week and visiting the Stoop. The Festival is supported by the Harelquins foundation and the Met Police. It involved inviting 140 school children from Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston to get involved with rugby training and also provided useful workshops on leadership, teamwork and mental resilience. Thank you to all involved in this wonderful project!

Get Boosted

I had my booster last Sunday afternoon at the Whitton Corner Pharmacy. Thank you to the community pharmacy staff and volunteers who made it go so smoothly. Please get boosted as soon as you can and if anyone has not yet had their first or second vaccines, now is the time.

Support available this winter

Local residents are eligible to apply for grants of up to £170 towards their annual energy bill through the Council’s Fuel Grant Scheme to protect residents at risk from fuel poverty. 

This fuel grant is open to all on benefits or low income, including pensioners. Residents who receive assistance with fuel costs from elsewhere, including the new COVID-19 funds, are also able to apply. More information is available here

Additional grants are also available from the Household Support Fund for food, bills and other essential items, via Citizens Advice Richmond and Richmond AID. See more information on this here. 

Supporting London Air Ambulance

Every day and night, London’s Air Ambulance is ready to attend the most critically injured patients in the capital. The festive period is no different, as they continue to serve London 24/7.

I’m proud to support this life-saving charity, thank you for being there for us!

Visit to Heathfield Junior School

It was great to return to Heathfield Junior School to see the wonderful facilities and fantastic staff. I recognised many familiar faces from when I was a governor at the school and received a warm welcome from Ms Child, Mr Colenso and all the other staff and pupils.

Heathfield is a leader in providing support for children with special needs, with the Willow Centre and Hub. I will keep calling on ministers to make sure that there is adequate local SEND funding for this work which is crucial for many children and parents. Thank you Heathfield for inviting me back. Some photos of my visit are here.

Standing up for you

Plan B restrictions and Covid Passes

Last week Parliament debated the introduction of further covid restrictions. Liberal Democrats have supported the government on public health measures when they are backed up by scientific advice, which is why we voted for the reintroduction of mandatory mask wearing in indoor settings and the extension of working from home guidance. We voted against the use of Covid passes, however, as they give a false sense of security. It is still possible to transmit the virus (especially Omicron) if you are double vaccinated so testing should be used to protect people in crowded settings.

Watch my contribution to the debate here. Further thoughts on Plan B and supporting evidence can be found on my website here.

Affordable Housing Question

I drew attention in Parliament to the issue of housing in Twickenham, and how difficult it is to get on the housing ladder locally. Additionally, the social housing waiting list is extremely long and many people are struggling to get rehoused.

I asked, where there are public-sector owned sites, such as Teddington police station, why there is national legislation that forces the Met police to sell to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, there are local housing associations keen to re-develop the site for affordable housing for local people and key workers or social housing, yet they are likely to be outbid by developers wanting to build luxury flats. This law needs to be reviewed. Watch the full clip here.

BBC Any Questions?

I was on the panel for the final BBC Any Questions of the year which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4. There were questions from the audience about Covid, social media use, refugees crossing the channel and the magnificent North Shropshire by-election victory for the Liberal Democrats.

You can listen again to the full show at BBC sounds.

Call in Parliament for an update on school ventilation

 I asked ministers, in light of the alarming rate of Covid-related pupil and staff absences, for an update on the Bradford pilot study to improve ventilation in classrooms. I asked for clarity on the air purifier situation in schools and when the findings from the report will be implemented?

The Government must share an update on the pilot and prepare to implement the necessary improvements as soon as possible to ensure schools can remain open safely to all pupils. Watch the clip in full here.

White Ribbon Walk

On Friday 10th December, to mark 16 days of action to highlight male violence against women there was a torchlight walk in the borough from Richmond to Twickenham, led by Councillor Ben Khosa. There were 133 white flowers carried to honour each woman killed this year. I addressed those who had gathered at the end of the walk and stood in solidarity to honour those women.

Support for #DeserveToBeHeard

I committed to Women’s Aid #DeservetoBeHeard campaign and pledged to #HearHer. This is a new mental health campaign to ensure that the mental health needs of domestic abuse survivors are heard and dealt with effectively. Almost half of survivors have experienced suicidal thoughts or depressions as a result. More information about the campaign can be found here.

Covid Information

Latest Covid Numbers

In the week December 11th to December 17th, there were 2917 cases of coronavirus in Richmond upon Thames. The incidence rate in Richmond is 1427/100,000, compared to a London-wide incidence of 1489/100,000 and England-wide rate of 801/100,000. These figures show a dramatic rise in case numbers in our borough and across London in particular.

Data source: https://www.datarich.info/covid-19/

Covid testing available to all

To book your free rapid lateral flow COVID-19 test or find your nearest take-home testing kits collection point, visit: https://maps.test-and-trace.nhs.uk/

These tests are for people NOT experiencing symptoms. If you have any of the main Covid-19 symptoms you should arrange a PCR test here.

Walk-in and pop-up vaccination clinics 

The nearest vaccination clinics are at Teddington Health and Social Care Centre, West Middlesex University Hospital and Richmond Adult Community College. These sites are open from now until 9th January, please check details of opening times here.