Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins.

Since the start of this month we’ve seen a rapidly deteriorating position with the regards to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On 1st December the rolling seven-day average infection rate per 100,000 people in the Folkestone and Hythe district was 193, whereas three weeks later it is nearly 700.

In other parts of Kent the situation is even worse, with current infection rates in Ashford of over 800, and in the worst affected area on the Isle of Sheppey it’s above 2,500.

The government now believes that these rising infection rates are being driven by a new variant of the virus which appears to be much more contagious. Whilst this appears to have first been discovered in Kent, it is now spreading into Essex, East Sussex and London.

The consequence of this has been for these areas to be included in a new tier 4 of COVID social contact restrictions which are more similar to the previous national lockdown measures. It also means that extended families living in separate households will not be able to gather together for Christmas. In fact, we will not be able to share that day with anyone outside of our household bubble.

Many people had already made the decision, including in my own family, not to gather together this Christmas for fear of risking infection for more vulnerable members, particularly as the opportunity to receive the vaccine is so close. I had hoped that this would be a decision that we could leave families to make for themselves, but it is now clear that the situation with the virus was so bad that the government needed to issue clear guidance to people living in tier 4 areas.

Advice has been given that people should not travel into or out of a tier 4 area. The French government has also created a travel ban on people of any nationality arriving into their country from the UK because of the rising rates of COVID infection. On Monday this week, that led to the closure for outbound journeys, initially for 48 hours, of the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, requiring the Operation Stack measures to be commenced in order to manage queuing lorries unable to leave the country.

I have been in touch with Transport Ministers, along with other Kent MPs urging them to introduce the quick moveable barrier on the London bound carriageway of the M20 between junctions 8 and 9. This will create a contraflow system allowing the movement of traffic in both directions, whilst the other side of the motorway is used by queuing lorries.

The government had been planning to deploy this on the 27th and 28th December as part of its Brexit contingency planning, but it should be introduced now. Allowing the motorway to run traffic in both directions will make a big difference to travelling in the county and will reduce congestion on other local roads, like the A20.

Land at Manston Airport, enough to park 4,000 lorries, is available now to lorries bound for the Port of Dover. An additional park for up to 2,000 lorries at Sevington near Ashford will also be available in early January. All of this gives us much better infrastructure to manage delays in moving road freight out of the country than we have had before and should make local journeys easier than during previous cases of Operation Stack.

Finally, however you are spending Christmas this year, along with my wife Sarah and our children Claudia and Hugo, we send our best wishes.  

By Ed