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Cambridge Post-COVID. What's next?

We caught up with Daniel Zeichner, the Member of Parliament for Cambridge, regarding what businesses and members of the public can expect going forward post-COVID.

Question: In light of the government's restrictions on shops relaxing, more businesses are re-opening. What can you advise these businesses to consider going forward?

"The re-opening of non-essential shops, including many of the quirky, independent shops that make Cambridge special, but which were forced to close to keep us safe, will be widely welcomed!

It is important though that employers keep their staff protected, and that staff and the public have confidence in the measures Ministers have set out to limit the spread of this virus as the lockdown is eased.

I am a Labour politician and I don't speak for the Government - I think that much of the guidance that they have produced over recent weeks has been muddled, as well as published too late.

We now have COVID secure guidelines set out by the Government, but this only takes employers and employees so far. Undoubtedly there will be disputes over whether workplaces are COVID secure, a point I recently raised with the business secretary.

Customers will need reassurance too. We have seen the changes in supermarkets with screens, lines on the floor marking distances and one-way systems, which I imagine are likely to be a blue print for other shops, but it remains to be seen how quickly shoppers will return to physical stores”.

Question: How will social distancing measures be implemented and monitored throughout the busy city streets of Cambridge?

"Clearly, there a number of practical challenges because of Cambridge’s narrow streets and pavements, which is a part of the city’s ancient and unique character but are not really conducive to maintaining social distancing in line with Public Health England guidance.

As MP I have no direct power over implementing or monitoring social distancing but the Combined Authority, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge City Council have been developing proposals to reallocate road space for cycling and walking and to ensure people maintain social distancing. However, this will undoubtedly remain a challenge in the coming weeks as more businesses start to reopen.

What is also important is that we do not see an increase in car use. One of the silver linings in this crisis has been a reduction in Cambridge's crippling congestion. I certainly don't want to see a return to that which is why I'm backing initiatives such as Cambridge Cycling campaign's Space to Breathe campaign”.

Question: If our region were to see a second rise in COVID-19 patients, will Cambridgeshire return to the lockdown restrictions first implemented?

“Again, this is not a question that I can fully answer. It is the Government that decides whether we are locked down. I wanted an exit strategy, but what we appear to have is an exit with no strategy. The Health Secretary insists that the infrastructure is in place to deal with regional flare-ups through localised lockdowns, but what this means in practice is unclear.

Crucially ministers have not yet got a fully functioning test, track and trace system in place. We know that NHS Test and Trace will not be fully operational until September. The Government should stop making policy by soundbite, address its confused and contradictory communication strategy, and provide more detail to local authorities on the proposal for local lockdowns as a matter of urgency”.

Question: A lot of independent businesses rely upon the influx of tourists and international students. However, due to the quarantine rules for those who come to England, how will Cambridge be able to cope with the potential increase in numbers?

“I think it is highly unlikely we will see a return of tourists and international students any time soon. I speak with tourism industry representatives regularly and they do not expect to see pre-2020 international visitor numbers for some time. However, this could potentially be an opportunity to change the model of who visits and enjoys Cambridge. It could be a city which is much more about the people who live and work here, a chance to get out and rediscover it”.

Question: How can you reassure the public that we can return to our normal lives (under the social-distancing rules)?

“I can't. But I also don't want to. There is no way we want to go back to Cambridge’s crippling congestion, or to insecure poorly paid work being the norm. We have also seen during the pandemic who the key workers are. Returning to normal is not right for them: front line staff deserve a much needed and well-earned pay rise.

Of course, I want some things to go back to how they were, allowing people to hug their friends and families, stay overnight and enjoy music, sport, performance, zoos, museums, cafes and pubs. I can only promise that my colleagues and I will continue to work constructively with the Government when they have sensible policies and to scrutinise and call them out when they do not.

The Government’s mishandling of events during the past few weeks, including the Dominic Cummings affair, has also undermined public confidence in the UK government at a time when it is most needed. If R does increase, I am afraid responsibility for that will lie squarely with the Government”.

Question: With the recent hot weather there were many larger groups of people gathering at the parks. However, there was not enough of a presence from the local authorities to disperse these groups. With more good weather predicted for the coming months, how can you reassure the public that larger gatherings will be monitored?

“Throughout this crisis I think we have seen a government playing catch up. People started to stay away from larger gatherings and work at home before the official guidance, and after the Dominic Cummings affair, some people voted with their feet. I think the local police have done an excellent job in difficult circumstances. Clearly the most danger is indoors rather than outdoors. But the government need to keep public health messages about the basics clear - especially on hand washing and maintaining social distance”.

Useful links:

Cambridge Cycling Campaign - Spaces to Breathe

CCC Coronavirus: Ask for help

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