Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 27 January 2021.

On 26th January the first mass vaccination centre in Kent for COVID-19 opened its doors in Folkestone town centre. This is based in the building known as Folca, which was formerly the Debenhams department store. Last week I visited the building along with the Leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, Cllr David Monk, to meet with the team from the NHS who were preparing the centre for its opening. They believe that it will be able to vaccinate over 3000 people a day when operating at full capacity, meaning over 20,000 people a week can be treated there.

Kent residents will be invited through their GP surgery to make an appointment at the vaccination centre. This will include people not just from Folkestone and Hythe, but from across the east of the county. This gives us fantastic facilities now to accelerate the process of vaccinating people for coronavirus, alongside the existing local vaccination hubs, including at the Civic Centre in Folkestone, Oaklands surgery in Hythe, and Lydd Airport.

Last week I visited the hubs at the Civic Centre and at Lydd Airport and it was great to speak with the teams who were administering the vaccines. The operations were running smoothly and it was also good to meet some of the volunteers who are working to support the process. The overall target established by the government is for the four most vulnerable groups, including everyone aged over 70, to be vaccinated by the 15th February, and we remain confident of meeting that target. This will be a considerable achievement, delivering the biggest vaccination programme in our nation’s history, and doing so at a considerably faster rate than in other European countries

Coronavirus at Napier Barracks

Concerns were raised last week about an outbreak of coronavirus at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, which has been used to accommodate people in the asylum system.

It is believed 130 people tested positive for COVID, out of the 380 people based there, 100 people tested negative, and test results were being awaited for the rest.

Since last September I have raised concerns about the suitability of the barracks to accommodate so many asylum seekers on the same site, when it was clearly not designed for this purpose. The COVID pandemic has made the situation worse, as it has not been possible to effectively isolate people who’ve tested positive for the virus, using the limited facilities available.

I have tabled questions to the Home Office, asking them to confirm how they intend to manage this problem, and what advice they’ve taken from Public Health England. I’ve also asked them to confirm that no new asylum seekers will be sent to Napier Barracks.

Last week, I called for people who’ve tested negative for coronavirus to be removed and accommodated elsewhere. This has now happened and some of these people have been placed in hotels in Hythe. 

Again, I don’t believe this is the right decision to move people who have been asked to self-isolate because they have been in close proximity to the virus and accommodate them in hotels near the centre of the town.  I have asked the Home Office to explain why they have acted in this way and how long these hotels will be used for this purpose. Overall, I believe the Home Office should commit to reducing the numbers of asylum seekers being held at Napier Barracks and to close this facility as soon as possible.

By Ed