“Right from the outset of the pandemic, an immense amount of hope has rested on a team of scientists somewhere in the world managing to develop a safe and effective vaccine.

"Not only have three such vaccines now been approved in the UK, including one developed here, but we are rolling out those vaccines more quickly than anywhere else in Europe; only the United States and China have vaccinated more people so far. The NHS have an ambitious plan to vaccinate the four most vulnerable groups – which account for 88 per cent of the deaths from coronavirus – by mid-February.

"There are now seven vaccination sites up-and-running across Dudley Borough, including ones in Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Kingswinford and at Russells Hall Hospital. Work is underway, to open an eighth at the Black Country Living Museum as a mass vaccination site to help get vaccines out even more quickly to the priority vulnerable groups.

"At the moment, most of those sites are only operating for part of the week because it takes some time for manufacturers to step up production of a new vaccine, but it’s really important that we have the capacity available for when supply increases. Last week, about 100,000 people a day were vaccinated in the UK; this week it is about 200,000. Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca are confident that they will each be able to supply 2 million doses of their vaccines to the UK each week by the end of this month.

"I look forward to the moment where we can lift the restrictions on our freedoms and liberties, but unfortunately – although it is now in sight – we are some way from that point. The new strain of the virus has seen infection rates in Dudley rocket – trebling over the past month.

"Admissions to hospitals of patients with coronavirus have risen at a time of year when hospitals are always under particular pressure. There are now 200 Covid-19 in-patients at Russells Hall, out of a total capacity of 596 beds, and the number of patients in critical care is more than double normal capacity. Additional capacity has had to be freed up by postponing non-urgent treatment, and other patients have been sent for treatment by private providers paid by the NHS.

"If the number of admissions carries on exceeding the number of discharges then our hospitals will not have the space and staff needed to care for everybody, meaning that patients in urgent need of treatment – whether for coronavirus, cancer, strokes, complications following child-birth or other conditions – could have had to be turned away. This happened last year in France and Italy, but I never want it to happen in our NHS.  

"It is often said that it is darkest before dawn – meaning that the toughest period is often experienced right before things begin to improve.

"With this in mind, and the growing hope offered with each jab that is given, let’s each continue to play our part. If we do, we will be able to save many more lives and as many of our loved ones as possible will be able to join us in good health once we have beaten this deadly virus.”