IT has been another challenging week for everyone as we continue to live with the impacts of coronavirus.

As you will all be aware, following the recent review, Somerset remains in Tier 2.

I am pleased that the Chancellor has extended the furlough scheme until the end of April 2021 with loan schemes until the end of March 2021 which will help give many local businesses and employees much needed certainty into the New Year.

In addition, much has changed in recent days and many of you have understandably been in touch with queries relating to the rapid spread of the virus driven by a new variant.

While there is no evidence to suggest it causes more severe illness or that the vaccine will be any less effective; it appears to be passed on significantly more easily and given this, the Prime Minister was compelled to act urgently, introducing new restrictions in the most affected areas (Tier 4).

I know many are bitterly disappointed because of the impacts this is inevitably causing for Christmas plans.

To clarify, the rules allowing up to three households to meet (excluding those living in Tier 4) has been limited to Christmas Day only. Also, given that scientific experts indicate that 1 in 3 of those with the virus never experience any symptoms but are still likely to be infectious, it is important to follow the detailed guidance diligently.

On a more optimistic note, over 500,000 people in the country have already received their first dose of the vaccine, including many here in Somerset.

There is a clear order of priority for the vaccine so please wait to be contacted by the NHS who will inform you when it is your turn.

This Christmas it will be hard not to think about the relentless impact the pandemic has had on our lives and my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost friends and family this year.

My heartfelt thanks as ever; to our health workers and everyone helping to get us through this time.

We will get through this, together.

Blessings and best wishes to each and every one of you over this festive season.

MP for Taunton Deane