The Papers

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Mary in the News Guardian

Fingers crossed or prayers according to taste but following the official guidelines is continuing to save lives and the number of deaths is falling. But we still need the lockdown to protect ourselves and the NHS.

The NHS is rightly revered and vital to us all. We see the passion about the NHS as people turn out to applaud health and care workers every week.

Many have been inspired by the example of Captain Tom Moore, who is 100 later this month. He modestly sought to raise £1,000 by doing 100 laps round his garden on his zimmer frame. He has so far raised £25 million which shows that so many people are eager to make a contribution for good causes.

For those who can, I recommend the initiative of our Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. It has launched a JustGiving page to enable people to donate money to benefit its staff and patients across Northumberland and North Tyneside. Through its Bright charity, donations to the ‘Standing By Northumbria’ will go towards supporting staff and volunteers’ health and wellbeing and improving patients’ experiences. Readers can donate at www.justgiving.com/NHCCF or by sending send a cheque payable to ‘Northumbria Healthcare Charity.’ The address is Bright Charity Office, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, 7-8 Silver Fox Way, Cobalt Business Park, NE27 0QJ To donate small toiletries and food to eat ‘on the go’ contact brightcharity@northumbria-healthcare.nhs.uk or call 0191 203 1351.

The NHS is there for us and you can help.

Mary in the Journal

VE day was muted but marked widely by separate households with record sales of bunting and flags. We were keen to be together if only virtually. Keir Starmer rightly recalled how much we owe to the wartime generation, who need support and especially in care homes. He cited harrowing stories of families unable to bid their last goodbyes and urged maximum safeguards for the most vulnerable, many of whom protected our country in its darkest hour.

Labour is right to generally support the government as it scrambles to mobilise the resources needed to tackle the virus. The government was initially slow on the uptake. There must be a full and forensic examination of the legacy of a decade of aggressive austerity and how ministers responded at the beginning. But that is best when we eventually come out the other end. The absolute priority is that the state boosts vital protection equipment and our testing capacity. Governments, however, often overlook issues and the job of public representatives, especially the Opposition, is to make sure neglected needs are acted upon. For instance, the concerns of millions of disabled people have been an afterthought. I recently joined MPs from different parties in telling the Prime Minister that disabled people face much higher risks from the virus and its long term social and economic fallout. We need a disability-inclusive response. It’s right that the government will quarantine those who fly into our country, as I suggested weeks ago. I’m also pressing for emergency state funding to charities that enhance community cohesion but whose funding is drying up.

The priority is saving lives and protecting our precious NHS, which is swiftly adapting to the crisis and has boosted its capacity. The new Nightingale hospitals are a major achievement but let’s hope they won’t be needed. People have generally accepted the lockdown and that is reducing the reproduction of this terrible disease. An unintended consequence is that people who should use the health service are staying away because they are afraid or don’t want to be a burden. I fear that cancers and other diseases will not be nipped in the bud and appeal to people to use the health service when they need it. Yet loose talk last week gave false hope that many restrictions would be quickly lifted. These confused signals encouraged too many people to flout the law.

The authorities need to remind careless and selfish people, sometimes sharply, that compliance isn’t a private matter that can kill other people. And the government needs to get a grip on its new messaging of a phased and conditional relaxation of restrictions. The Prime Minister garbled the message on Sunday but I hope it becomes clearer under pressure from MPs who are debating it in the Commons. Clarity is vital to enforcement. We often look to the experience of the Second World War to understand these dark times and the long haul to its conclusion. But the virus is not the Blitz. It is invisible and the metaphorical Nazis lurk on street corners and in shops.

But a valid wartime comparison is that the sacrifice of veterans and civilians ramped up fresh thinking about building a new society after VE Day in 1945. The NHS and the welfare state were the sweet fruits of that profound new start.

It’s perhaps easier to list aspects of our lives that won’t change than those that will. It's too soon to know what will be feasible and necessary but it seems likely that this once in a century crisis will be the opportunity to refashion our society.

We can all imagine the changes we need for a fairer and more resilient society but the first duty for all of us is to defeat the disease and save lives. It will take time, pain, and clarity but we must all stick at it for the common good.