It is very welcome news that the number of Covid cases in Maldon continues to fall with 67 testing positive in the last 7 days, bringing the rate per 100,000 down to 147.9. With the R rate in the East of England now 0.7 to 0.9, this number should go on falling as long as we continue to follow the Government’s rules. The success in rolling out the vaccination programme will also help. By 31 January, in Maldon, 87.4  per cent of those aged over 80 had received their first vaccination and 14.6 per cent had received their second dose. Of those aged, 75 to 79, 87.3 per cent have had the first vaccination and 36.8 per cent of those aged 70 to 74. I am delighted to learn that the Mid and South Essex area is 18th nationally for the delivery of the programme. The UK is now second only to Israel across the world in rolling out its vaccination programme and we are on target to reach the target of all those aged over 50 being vaccinated by May. 
 
Hospital admissions are also falling but the NHS still remains under considerable pressure with 571 Covid patients in our three main hospitals across Mid and South Essex. The time lag between infection and admission means that this pressure will remain for some time to come.
 
If we are to maintain this progress, it is essential that everyone continues to keep to the rules and stays home. For those who have to travel to work or for any other reason, I strongly advise them to take advantage of the test facilities which are available for anyone who does not have any symptoms. Tests can often be booked for the same day through the Essex County Council website. I had a test on Friday at the West Maldon Community Centre (pictured) and received the result – happily negative – within 30 minutes. Testing remains a vital weapon in the armoury, particularly if we are to stop the spread of new variants such as those from Brazil and South Africa. Getting tested will both give peace of mind and also help to ensure that the number of cases continues to fall. 
 
It is almost exactly a year since the Government introduced the first Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations. No-one could have foreseen that we would still be under lockdown a year later. I realise how hard these last twelve months have been for everyone and we must remember all those who have tragically lost their lives. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the NHS staff, key workers and volunteers who continue to so much. We at last have reason to hope that an end is at last in sight. However, it is essential that we stick to the rules and do nothing that will put that at risk.