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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee 5:36 pm, 23rd March 2020

My right hon. Friend knows, as a clinician— and I am concerned—that in our desire to get PPE out we have not understood the vital role that local authorities play in this. Residents in care homes are extremely vulnerable, and their carers need that equipment, so I very much support his concern about that.

The second area where the Bill needs to do more is testing. A week ago today our strategy changed from mitigation to suppression. I strongly support that change in strategy. Suppression strategies are being followed very successfully in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China, which appear to have turned back the virus. Here, all our public focus has been on social distancing, but testing and contact tracing to break the chain of transmission are every bit as important, if not more important. Those countries that have turned back the virus rigorously track and test every case and every suspected case, then identify every single person with whom a covid-19 patient has been in contact to take them out of circulation. As a result, those countries have avoided the dramatic measures and some of the economic damage that we have seen in Europe.

South Korea has avoided national lockdown, despite having a worse outbreak than us; Taiwan introduced temperature screening in malls and office buildings, but kept shops and restaurants open—it has had just two deaths. In Singapore, restaurants remain open and schools are reopening, although working from home is discouraged. Again, in Singapore, there have been just two deaths. Ten days ago in this country, we went in the opposite direction, and stopped testing in the community. How can we possibly suppress the virus if we do not know where it is? So far, we have had 281 deaths, tragically. According to the modellers, there is about one death per 1,000 cases, which means that we have just under 300,000 cases in this country. According to the same modellers, the number of cases is doubling every five days, which means that at the end of next week we will have about 1 million cases or more in this country. Unless we radically change direction, we will not know where those 1 million cases are.

The Prime Minister talked about expanding testing from 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000, which is welcome. He even talked about 250,000 tests a day, which would be more than anywhere in the world—I welcome that ambition, but ambition is not the same as a national plan, and we have not seen a national plan on testing.