Covid-19: Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 11th May 2020.

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Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:44 pm, 11th May 2020

I am grateful for all the questions the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised and for the spirit in which he has raised them. Let us be absolutely clear: what we are trying to do now—he was good enough to refer to it—is move from a situation in which the people of this country have had the overwhelming impression that there is a very clear and simple piece of advice that we all have to obey, which is, broadly speaking, “Stay at home”. The people of this country have, by and large, followed that advice, perhaps more emphatically, more thoroughly than many other populations around the world. Thanks to their efforts, we have made huge progress in fighting the disease—we have got the R down. We need now to begin to acknowledge the progress that has been made and to take the small, limited steps that we can with the R down where it is. That is what the Government are trying to do.

Clearly, when coming out of a message that is so gloriously simple as, “Stay at home”, there will inevitably be complexities that he has rightly alluded to.

Let me try to deal with some of the issues that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised. What we are saying now is, “You should stay at home if you can, but go to work if you must—if your job does not allow you.” Plainly, he raised, properly, the issue of people who do not have the right childcare, and we will count on employers to be reasonable. If people cannot go to work because they cannot get the childcare that they need, plainly they are impeded from going to work, and they must be defended and protected on that basis. If their kids cannot yet go to school because the schools are not back, plainly they cannot go to work. I think that people with common sense—businesses and employers with common sense—do understand that, and it is incumbent on all of us to get that message across. One thing that was perhaps missing from his analysis was the simple fact that over the last couple of months plenty of businesses, from construction to manufacturing, and office businesses of all kinds, have been proceeding and they have been working. They have been doing so in a way that respects social distancing and is as covid-compliant as possible.

To answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s specific questions about the timescale for the publications of our guidelines, we will be publishing the guidelines on places of employment tonight; transport will be out tomorrow.

We are being very, very consistent in what we have said throughout this period. At the very beginning, we said, “You should stay at home if you can, go to work if you must.” What has changed now is the emphasis and the encouragement we are giving people to follow the initial guidance of 23 March. He asks about what science it is going to be based on and how we have reached the conclusions that we have. As I said last night, and as I told the House, the R—the reproduction rate of the disease—is now between 0.5 and 0.9. It varies across the country, as he rightly says. That is why different approaches by the devolved Administrations are to be welcomed, where those are appropriate to their specific needs. Overall, and I think all leaders of the devolved Administrations would confirm this, there is a very strong desire to move forward as four nations together.

Perhaps I can sum up. We all share the strong view that people should stay at home if they can, and that remains the position. The steps we are taking today are modest, and entirely governed by the science. We hope—and this is entirely conditional—that we may be in a position to take further steps in the next few weeks. Given the complexity of what is being said, the right hon. gentleman raised a perfectly reasonable point about people moving across the border into Wales for recreational purposes, and there will be myriad other hypothetical situations that people can raise. But let us be clear: everybody understands what we are trying to do together. We are working together as a country to obey the social distancing rules, which everybody understands. The British people understand that this is the moment for the whole country to come together, obey those rules, and apply common sense in their application of them.

I have huge admiration for the way that the police have enforced the rules so far. I know that the British public will continue to help the police, and everybody, to enforce the rules, get the reproduction rate down, and get this disease even further under control, by continuing to apply good, solid, British common sense. That worked throughout phase 1, and I have no doubt that it will work in the second phase of the fight against the disease.