Wuhan Coronavirus

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:28 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 4:28 pm, 3rd February 2020

I will try to answer all the shadow Secretary of State’s questions, not least because I want to pay tribute to him for his balanced and reasonable approach in tackling what is ultimately a very significant public health challenge.

I entirely share with the shadow Secretary of State, and perhaps should have put in my initial statement, the rejection, which the whole House demonstrates, of any racism and insensitivity towards the Chinese community here or visitors here of Chinese origin. That will not help us to tackle this disease. We will do everything we can to tackle the disease, but racism will not help anybody, so I share his comments entirely.

We have no plans to evacuate all remaining UK nationals in China. There are an estimated 30,000 UK nationals in China, and the proportion of the population who have the virus outside Wuhan is much lower than in Wuhan. Of course, there are continued flights—not by British Airways and Virgin, which have suspended flights, but by Chinese airlines. We have appropriate measures in place at the airports, as advised by Public Health England, to ensure that those coming from the rest of China also get the appropriate advice, which includes to self-isolate if they have symptoms. We are clear that this evidence-led approach is the right way to take things forward. Of course, if the evidence and the clinical advice change, we will update policy, and I will come to the House at the first available opportunity to explain that. We are trying to take a science-led approach at all times.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the challenge of the virus getting out to other countries, and especially developing countries. I am working closely with the Department for International Development and have spoken to the Secretary of State on a number of occasions about this. Of course, the WHO represents the whole world. The Global Health Security Initiative is chaired by the UK and had a call this weekend. We are leading efforts around the world to ensure that we can help all countries, no matter the calibre of their health systems, to get a grip. I have authorised a team of British experts to go to the Philippines to support their work.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the goal is to slow down the spread of the virus, and we will take all actions that are proportionate and scientifically appropriate to do that. In the case that the epidemic here gets much more serious, we have 50 highly specialist beds, and a further 500 beds are available in order to isolate people, but of course, we are working on further plans should there need to be more.

Public Health England’s contact tracing is ongoing. We will explain how far it has gone when we are ready to, and when we have managed to get in contact with all the people we need to get in contact with. I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking his colleagues from the Wirral, several of whom I have spoken to, for their support of the rational and sensible approach that we have been trying to take.

The hon. Gentleman asked about self-quarantine at home. The truth is that it is belt and braces to have full-blown quarantine. All those who are in quarantine have signed a contract agreeing to go into quarantine in return for getting on the flight. That is a good deal, because the flight was provided by the UK Government so that they could come back from an area that we deemed did not support their health. In return for coming back, they agreed to quarantine.