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Covid-19 Update

– in the House of Commons at 8:59 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 8:59 pm, 29th June 2020

Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement on local action to tackle coronavirus. The impact of coronavirus has been deeply felt, yet, thanks to the extraordinary action that this country has taken, it is now in decline at a national level. The number of positive new cases is now below 1,000 a day, and the number of recorded deaths yesterday was 25. I am pleased to report that there were no deaths in Scotland, for the fourth consecutive day, and that there is currently nobody in intensive care with coronavirus in Northern Ireland. So we have been able, carefully, to ease the national restrictions.

Alongside the easing of the national restrictions, we have been increasingly taking local action. In May, we shut Weston General Hospital to new admissions, after a cluster of cases there. Earlier this month, we closed two GP surgeries in Enfield and a meat processing factory in Kirklees, and the Welsh Government have closed factories in Anglesey and Wrexham. We have put in place a system to tie together local and national action, based on insight provided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, working closely with Public Health England and the NHS. Analysis is based on three levels of spread. Individual cases are identified and managed by NHS Test and Trace. When many cases are found in one setting, be it a care home, factory or hospital, that is classified as a cluster, and it will be dealt with largely by the local director of public health, who has statutory powers to close individual organisations. When PHE or the new JBC identifies clusters that are linked to one another, that is defined as an outbreak, and a range of local and national actions may be needed. Decisions are taken through our local action committee command structure, which works as follows: if PHE or the JBC spots a problem that needs attention, or the local director of public health reports up a problem, through the regional health protection teams, the outbreak is assessed at the daily local action committee bronze meeting; issues of concern are raised to the local action committee silver meeting, which is chaired by the chief medical officer; and problems requiring ministerial attention are then raised to the local action committee gold meeting.

Yesterday, I chaired an emergency local action committee gold meeting specifically to deal with the outbreak in Leicester. Unfortunately, while cases in most parts of the country have fallen since the peak, in Leicester they have continued to rise. The seven-day infection rate in Leicester is 135 cases per 100,000 people, which is three times higher than the rate for the next highest city. Leicester accounts for about 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week, and admissions to hospital are between six and 10 per day, rather than about one a day at other trusts.

Over the past fortnight, we have already taken action to protect people in Leicester: we deployed four mobile testing units and offered extra capacity at the regional test site; and we provided thousands of home testing kits and extra public health capacity to boost the local team. This afternoon, I held a further meeting with local leaders, PHE, the JBC, the local resilience forum and my clinical advisers, which was followed by a meeting of the cross-government covid operations committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. We have agreed further measures to tackle the outbreak in Leicester. First, in addition to the mobile testing units that I mentioned earlier, we will send further testing capability, including opening a walk-in test centre. Anyone in Leicester with symptoms must come forward for a test. Secondly, we will give extra funding to Leicester and Leicestershire councils, to support them to enhance their communications, and ensure those communications are translated into all locally relevant languages. Thirdly, through the councils, we will ensure support is available to those who have to self-isolate. Fourthly, we will work with the workplaces that have seen clusters of cases to implement more stringently the covid-secure guidance.

Given the growing outbreak in Leicester, we cannot recommend that the easing of the national lockdown, set to take place on 4 July, happens in Leicester. Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary, and discussed them with the local team in Leicester, and Leicestershire, we have made some difficult but important decisions. We have decided that from tomorrow non-essential retail will have to close and, as children have been particularly impacted by this outbreak, schools will also need to close from Thursday, although they will stay open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers, as they have done throughout. Unfortunately, the clinical advice is that the relaxation of shielding measures due on 6 July cannot now take place in Leicester.

We recommend that people in Leicester stay at home as much as they can, and we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester. We will monitor closely adherence to social distancing rules and take further steps if that is necessary. The more people follow the rules, the faster we will get control of this virus and get Leicester back to normal. We will keep all these local measures under review and will not keep them in place any longer than is necessary. We will review whether we can release any measures in two weeks’ time.

These Leicester-specific measures will apply not just to the city of Leicester but to the surrounding conurbation —including, for example, Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield. I know that this is a worrying time for people living in Leicester, and I want them to know that they have our full support. We do not take these decisions lightly but do so with the interests of the people of Leicester in our hearts. I want everyone in Leicester to know that we have taken every one of these decisions to protect them from this terrible virus. We must control this virus. We must keep people safe.

These actions are profoundly in the national interest, too, because it is in everyone’s interests that we control the virus as locally as possible. Local action like this is an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet. We said that we would do whatever it takes to defeat this virus, and we said that local action would be an increasingly important part of our plan. The virus thrives on social contact, and we know that reducing social contact controls its spread. Precise and targeted actions such as these will give the virus nowhere to hide and help us to defeat this invisible killer. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 9:06 pm, 29th June 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement, and also for the many direct conversations we have had in recent days about the situation in Leicester. I hope the House will forgive me if I ask a number of questions about the situation in Leicester; it is the city that I represent, but I hope the House will understand that many of the points that I raise would be applicable to their own local areas should they also see an outbreak in their own constituency.

The Prime Minister talks of his “whack-a-mole” strategy to suppress local outbreaks. We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago, and tonight we now have from the Secretary State the whack-a-mole strategy. Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are, as a nation, to ease from lockdown smoothly, those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response? Otherwise, we risk no moles getting whacked.

Ministers, Public Health England and other agencies must work closely with local government leaders—that has happened in Leicester and we are grateful for that—and local directors of public health need rapid and ongoing access to testing data. Can we resolve whatever the issues are around the data-sharing protocols, so that if we see flare-ups in other cities, local authorities can get data speedily? Will the Secretary of State look into ensuring that the testing data also captures ethnicity and occupation? For a city like Leicester, it is crucial to capture that level of intelligence.

People in Leicester were concerned, anxious and scared yesterday to read in the newspapers and see on TV screens news that we were going into some form of lockdown, based on anonymous briefings. Grandparents who had recently formed bubbles to see their grandchildren were asking me whether they had to withdraw again. Parents were asking whether they could send their children to school today. Those shielding were particularly worried. I have been around politics for a long time so I understand that things get leaked and so on, but I urge him to appreciate that on something of this seriousness and sensitivity, people need crystal-clear clarity and not briefings from over-eager advisers—perhaps; I do not know.

The Secretary of State has announced a number of extensions to the lockdown measures. I support those extensions, given the outbreak in Leicester. Will he just clarify what powers he has to enforce those extensions and whether he needs to bring forward any legislation or any statutory instruments? I welcome the fact that there will be a two-week review. Will he undertake to keep the Members of Parliament updated on that, and will he come back to the House to announce the outcome of that review?

This decision will impact many Leicester businesses, which were preparing to open up on Saturday. Many feel that they are now in limbo, so will they be eligible for adequate financial support for this extension period, and will employees affected be eligible to stay furloughed as well?

We know that this virus thrives on inequality, and that a disproportionate number of black and Asian people die from this disease. A disproportionate number of the poorest are also most likely to become infected and die from this disease as well. It means that a city such as Leicester is particularly at risk. The Secretary of State will know that Leicester is a proudly diverse city, but we also have one of the highest child poverty rates in the country. Those who are in work are often in low-paid, precarious employment. Our housing is overcrowded. Our public services have been cut back and years of austerity have taken their toll. Saving lives and keeping people safe across Leicester is always my priority, so I support the measures that he has announced, but we also need extra support, extra testing and extra resources to protect people in our city. I am grateful for the extra testing stations that he has put in Spinney Hill Park and Victoria Park. Will they remain in place for the duration of this outbreak? I note what he said about an extra walk-in centre, and I welcome that, but could he also provide the city with thousands of home-testing kits, so they can be distributed to local people?

I welcome the extra resources for Leicester and Leicestershire to translate literature into the many languages that we are proud of in Leicester. The Secretary of State will also know that, for those who are asked to isolate, financial security is absolutely crucial to the success of contact tracing. Where people live in multi-generational households, which we have a lot of in Leicester, will he provide accommodation for those who need to isolate away from home? Will he also ensure that workplace inspections happen to check that people who need to isolate have not been forced back to work? Furthermore, given that schools are closing, people who live in Leicester but work outside of Leicester will now have childcare responsibilities. Can they be furloughed and their employment rights be secured? Will he consider giving Leicester City Council facemasks to distribute to every resident? I am pleased that he accepts that the extension to restrictions cannot just apply to the tightly drawn Leicester City Council boundaries, but must include the wider Leicester urban area as well.

There will be many other cities and towns with similar demographic profiles to Leicester: Birmingham; parts of Manchester; parts of London; Bradford; and Coventry. What extra resources and testing capacity will the Secretary of State now put into those areas and what extra support and testing capacity is he putting in place to support the many occupations that are particularly at risk, such as taxi drivers and bus drivers?

Finally, tonight, the World Health Organisation has warned that the virus is still spreading at speed and that those countries that have opened up are beginning to see a resurgence. The virus remains deadly. It causes significant long-term harm and still demands a resolute response. If that means restrictions have to remain in place or be re-imposed, whether in Leicester or elsewhere, then so be it.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I want to put on record my gratitude to the shadow Secretary of State and his Leicestershire colleagues in this House, who have all worked in a constructive manner to try to make sure that we get the right answers here and then we communicate them in the right way to the people of Leicester. He, after all, is both a Leicester MP and the shadow Secretary of State.,

I set out in my speech the action that we have already taken over the past fortnight to support Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council to tackle this outbreak. We have been acting on it since it first came to our attention. It is clear now that further action is necessary. He talks about the debate that has been in the media. All I can say is that, within two hours of the final decisions being taken, I have come to this House. I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to come to the House at this unusually late hour in order to set out the decisions immediately.

The hon. Gentleman rightly asked about the powers that will underpin the decisions that I have taken. They will be brought forward with a statutory instrument very shortly, and I commit to keeping the House updated on the two-week review of whether we can lift some of the measures.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to talk about the proud diversity of the city of Leicester. It is very important that that diversity is taken into account in communicating these decisions and undertaking the public health measures in Leicester. That includes, for instance, the financial support that we put in place for the translation of the messages.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the testing units can be there for the long term. They will absolutely be there for as long as they are needed. He asked for the provision of home testing kits. I will take that away, but I commit to him that we will increase the number of home testing kits that are available for Leicester. He asked about accommodation for those who are required to self-isolate but whose accommodation does not allow for that in practice. We are working with the city council to put in place availability, on a discretionary and exceptional basis, for accommodation for those who are required to self-isolate by public health officials.

The hon. Gentleman asked about childcare. I appreciate that these decisions—especially the closure of schools—will have an impact on working parents. Childcare is, of course, a reason for essential travel, and I hope that, as during the broader lockdown across the country, people will be able to make arrangements for it.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about other areas that have high intensity. We are of course looking across the country at the cities where cases of this virus remain higher than elsewhere. However, the number of cases in Leicester is three times higher than the next highest city. That is not due to the fact that there is now more testing in Leicester. If it were, the proportion of people who test positive would be falling. Actually, that proportion has remained static, which is one of the reasons why we are specifically concerned about Leicester. It is not just that there is increased testing; it is that there is a higher prevalence in Leicester. That is why we have taken the actions that we have.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

I support the actions being taken in Leicester, but, like the whole House, I feel for the people of Leicester at this particularly anxious time.

I want to ask the Health Secretary about the broader matter of testing NHS staff. He has said many times that he supports the routine testing of NHS staff, but last Wednesday—the day we debated this issue in the House—a letter went out to the NHS saying that testing NHS staff will be based on the PHE SIREN study, which is the antibody testing programme. Given that it takes up to three weeks for an antibody to show, how can a regime that is meant to stop the asymptomatic transmission of the virus to patients and colleagues possibly work?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The regime for testing NHS staff, which will apply in Leicester and right across the board, is the one recommended by clinicians. The SIREN study starts with an antibody test, but then has regular swab testing, including at weekly frequency. There is regular testing to find out if people have the virus, and also a test at the start to find out if they have had it. That not only ensures that they are kept safe and finds out if they have the virus, but supports the immunology research to find out if people who have antibodies can catch the virus a second time. We are doing it that way in order to get the practical benefits and the research benefits.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Naturally, I too am delighted that Scotland has had no deaths for four days and only five cases today.

Public Health England began publishing combined data from commercial as well as NHS labs at the beginning of this month. Since then, it has become clear that Leicester has had far more covid cases than it was previously aware of, with almost 900 over the last three weeks. This data is published only weekly, however, which is of no use for tracing contacts or the early identification of an outbreak.

The Secretary of State tends to focus on the number of tests, but does he accept that it is actually tracing and isolation that stop the spread of the virus? How does he expect local public health teams to identify an emerging outbreak if they cannot access accurate data, and how can they manage one if they are not sent individual test results in realtime? When will he be able to guarantee that test results are sent immediately to GPs and local public health teams, so that they can trace contacts and isolate patients?

The lack of accurate data can also affect Government decisions. On 10 May, when the Prime Minister eased lockdown across England, almost 40,000 positive cases from the commercial labs were not included in the data of the four nations. Even now, the UK Government website claims that there have been just over 160,000 covid cases in England, despite Public Health England reporting that there have actually been 240,000. Does the Secretary of State really think it safe to go ahead with opening pubs and restaurants across England when there have been 50% more cases than previously reported? If the UK Government were aware of this much higher incidence, why have they knowingly been publishing false information on their website?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I think the best way to explain that is that all the data we have on Leicester has been made available to Leicestershire County Council. I pay tribute to Ivan Browne, director of public health at Leicester City Council, who has done a superb job through this. All the data available to us is available to him. Indeed, I can commit to the House that we will publish all the data on test results, in order to ensure that the wider public, as well as directors of public health, are able to access that data.

The hon. Lady frequently tries to divide the testing system between those tests done in hospital labs and those done in the labs that we have built over the past few weeks. That is the wrong approach—it is only because we managed to build those labs that we have such large testing capacity across the UK. Those tests from the lighthouse labs are available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as England. I pay tribute to the work of those labs, which have done so much to deliver what is now an extraordinary testing capability that we can bring to bear on specific problems, such as this one in Leicester.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

As the Secretary of State said, speed is of the essence in responding to the pandemic. However, on 8 June, in the Chamber, I asked my right hon. Friend to intervene immediately to correct the situation that elderly people and people with physical and learning disabilities in supported and sheltered accommodation cannot get testing kits. Three weeks later, they still cannot. How can we have confidence in a speedy and targeted approach to testing and tracing if those of great vulnerability still cannot be tested three weeks after a clear commitment was given to grip the matter?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. I am pleased to be able to say that we are now rolling out testing to the settings that he describes. This will be rolled out over the coming three to four weeks, to coincide with the time that it will take us to build that roll-out capacity. It is important that, first, that testing is where it needs to be, and secondly, that we do that on the basis of clinical need, which is why we supported testing in nursing homes and residential homes first.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

First, I thank the Secretary of State for his strong and focused response to the covid-19 rise in Leicester. Is he aware that, in my local council area of Ards and North Down, we have a lower than average number of cases in Northern Ireland? That is for many reasons, including the decision made by bodies such as the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Royal Black Preceptory not to hold our annual parades, which are so precious to so many, including myself. That is a sacrifice to be noted and replicated, so that the downward trend can continue. What is being done to encourage others to be safe in exercising their religious and civil liberty?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I know that, right across the United Kingdom, people have given up on events that they hold dear to them. That is a sacrifice, and tonight, we are asking the people of Leicester to take further difficult action. I appreciate that the decisions we have taken have led to people not being able to enjoy life in the normal way. I hope that, by cracking down on the disease in the way we have been able to across the country and then taking decisive action where there are local flare-ups, we will be able to get this country back to normal as much as possible, so that people can do the things they love.

Photo of Dehenna Davison Dehenna Davison Conservative, Bishop Auckland

My thoughts go out to the people of Leicester at what must be a very worrying time. I am grateful to the Health Secretary for taking such swift action to tackle this local outbreak. I know that many of my constituents will welcome being able to spend more time with family and friends and to visit restaurants and pubs like the Eden Arms in West Auckland for the first time in far too long. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that some restrictions may be put back in place if local outbreaks are identified, in order to keep people safe?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes. Today’s action demonstrates that we are willing to take action to protect people. Local action, in concert with the local council, is sometimes what is needed. There have been local outbreaks thus far, for instance in Kirklees. Along with Kirklees Council, to which I pay tribute, we managed to tackle the problem in one particular factory effectively, and it did not lead to onward community spread. Likewise, in Weston-super-Mare, they closed admission to hospital and tackled the outbreak, and it did not lead to community spread. In the case of Leicester, unfortunately, the outbreak has led to community spread, which is why we have had to take the wider action that I have announced today.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

The Secretary of State said that data has been made available to public health officials in Leicester, but the reports yesterday said that that was quite late in coming. I have talked to local government colleagues in Kirklees, and they are still struggling to get granular data at a street level. If we are going to rely on local authorities and local public health officials to manage this outbreak, we need postcode-based data, so that outbreaks on a street, on an estate or in a ward can be picked up very early and dealt with, and preferably broken down by ethnicity, given the demographic issues that have been highlighted in Leicester. Why is that not available in real time, as Dr Whitford asked? What is the problem with making that data available immediately at that level?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

That data is available to directors of public health in local councils who have signed a data protection record. I am committing to the House to publish it at as local a level as possible, so that everybody will be able to see and analyse that data.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Conservative, Bracknell

It was right to ease lockdown, as we must get the economy breathing again, but it is also dispiriting to see packed beaches, passengers without face masks on public transport and other mass gatherings. Given that the Government will no doubt get blamed for any second spikes, how serious is the Secretary of State about imposing similar measures more widely beyond Leicester?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

People will have seen from the action we have taken today and announced tonight that although I do not want to take that sort of local action, we are perfectly prepared to take it if that is what is needed to control the virus. Throughout the lifting of the lockdown measures, our plan has been to lift the national measures and have a more targeted approach, whether that is at an individual case, whereby NHS test and trace contacts all those who have been in contact with the person who has tested positive, or whether at a cluster in one setting, for example, in the factory in Kirklees that was mentioned, which was addressed at that level, or at a wider outbreak, as demonstrated by tonight’s action.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

The age- standardised covid mortality rate for severely disabled men is nearly 200 per 100,000, and for severely disabled women, it is over 141 per 100,000. That compares with death rates of 70 and 36 per 100,000 for non-disabled men and women respectively. When poverty is factored in, it will show even higher death rates for disabled people. Will the Secretary of State undertake an immediate analysis of the impact of covid on disabled people living in poverty? Will he speak to his counterpart in the Department for Work and Pensions about releasing data on the disabled social security claimants who have died during the covid pandemic, as to date those data have been very limited?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am absolutely determined to address the questions and the impact of covid on those who live with disabilities. The hon. Lady’s point is important and this will form part of our work on inequalities and the response to covid. The Minister for Equalities is taking that work forward.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

Will my right hon. Friend share what factors lie behind the infection rate being so high in Leicester? Will those factors be shared with local resilience forums, such as mine in the south-east, so that they can also prepare? Secondly, he said that children in Leicester were particularly vulnerable. That is not the norm for covid, so is this a separate strand of covid or can he say why the youngsters in Leicester are so vulnerable?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

To be clear, children have a very low risk of suffering from covid, but we have been looking at the proportion of children who have tested positive and therefore may be transmitting the disease. Thankfully, the disease poses a very low risk to any individual child in terms of their becoming ill or worse, but the challenge is that it still transmits through children. That is why we have taken the decision that we have on schools in Leicester. Of course, there are many reasons and potential reasons why the outbreak has occurred in the way it has in Leicester. We are still getting to the bottom of those, but I undertake to ensure that directors of public health in other areas understand those reasons. For instance, we are doing work specifically on food processing factories, which seem to have a higher rate of infection around the world, including in America, Germany and also in north Wales. Of course, there is a challenge in the community to ensure that we understand properly the origins and the spread of the outbreak in Leicester and then look at similar cities where the case rate is thankfully much lower, but ensure that we learn the lessons for similar cities, precisely as the shadow Secretary of State said.

Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

My right hon. Friend has mentioned the outbreaks in Wales. Does he agree that the Welsh and UK Governments working together would be beneficial for everyone, particularly on test, track and protect, but especially for my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire, who share a border with England?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes. I know the Welsh borders extremely well. My hon. Friend is right to raise the need to work cross-border. We work as closely as we can, supporting the Welsh Government, for example, with their testing capacity and with test and trace. We are working on better data sharing between the two Governments, not least because of the importance for those who travel across the border.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

I can get a routine blood test result on the same day with no problem, but a swab test typically takes days, not hours, severely limiting its usefulness as a public health tool, as Dr Whitford described. Does my right hon. Friend believe that directors of public health should have access to comprehensive datasets in good time if they are to identify the clusters that he envisages in his statement?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes, absolutely—in real time, effectively.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South

As the Secretary of State has detailed, when areas are put into local lockdown, businesses will have to close, including some that had probably been preparing to reopen this week. Can he confirm that any business impacted by a local lockdown in Leicester, and in other areas in future, will be able to access the furlough scheme as it currently exists, rather than having to subsidise the wages of staff who cannot work?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Of course the furlough scheme is available, as it is across the country. In addition, we have provided the councils in question—both Leicester and Leicestershire, because some of the affected area is in the conurbation of Leicester that is technically in Leicestershire—with support to use at their discretion for this sort of purpose.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

Although I welcome the fact that people have been able to make use of open public spaces during the recent warm weather, I have been shocked at the behaviour of a small number of visitors to Blackpool, who have left our lovely beach strewn with litter and not observed social distancing rules. Will my right hon. Friend join me in reminding people of the need to be considerate of others and to obey the current rules at all times?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend speaks for Blackpool, and he has a clear voice that people should listen to. The message that people should take away is this: to defeat this virus, we need to stick together and follow the social distancing rules. That is as true on a beach in Blackpool as it is anywhere else in the country. If people do go out and enjoy the beach on a day of good weather, they should follow not just the social distancing rules, but basic decency, and take their rubbish home with them.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Data are vital to how we tackle covid-19, and we see that this evening with what has happened in Leicester. Why is it that for 39 days, the Government have not been able to publish the number of people tested for covid-19, and why can the public not know how many people have been tested in their local testing centres, such as the Humber Bridge car park testing centre in east Yorkshire?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We are publishing more data on where tests are done and where those positive test results are based in order to understand better the clusters. On the hon. Lady’s point about the number of people tested, there is a long-standing issue in terms of de-confliction, and understanding and making sure we get those data right. We are working with the UK stats agency on resolving the problem, and I hope to have it resolved as soon as possible.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

At the statement on 18 May, my right hon. Friend confirmed to me that he was working on measures to support care homes that are in financial difficulties. When will he be in a position to publish those measures? A lot of care homes are facing significant difficulty right now.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am working with my right hon. Friends the Communities Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on exactly those measures.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care)

Sir Jeremy Farrar, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, has said that in winter we anticipate rebounds and second waves. He said that it was crucial to get to the position that Scotland is in, with low numbers of cases giving a low base from which to tackle local outbreaks. With 901 new cases reported over the past 24 hours, how confident is the Secretary of State of reaching that low base by winter?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Clearly, the measures that we have in place are there to bring the number of cases right down. We have been able to do that over the past few weeks, since the middle of April, when we saw the peak. That has been happening across the country. Where we see local outbreaks and that trend going into reverse, we can take action, whether that is at a highly localised level around a single cluster or, as demonstrated tonight, with an outbreak such as the one in Leicester.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

I welcome the decisive action taken today and the statement from the Secretary of State. There will of course be some nervousness in the country at large, so will he reassure people that lessons are being learned in real time and passed on to other local areas as they happen, and also that if it is necessary for him to go further to control this virus, that is what he will do?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes, I can absolutely confirm the point about the lessons being learned and then promulgated in other places around the country, not least because we want to empower local councils to be able to look out for a flare-up themselves and then to escalate that straightforwardly through the process I outlined in my statement. We will shortly be publishing more details on exactly how that process works. I absolutely agree with him and will commit to this House that if further action is needed, whether in Leicester or around the country, we are not enthusiastic about taking that action, but we absolutely will if it is necessary.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

Future lockdowns, where necessary, must be decisive and prompt, and they of course depend on public compliance, but in practical terms, can the Secretary of State give us a bit more detail about how they will work? For example, the furlough scheme pays 80% of wages during lockdown, and it is due to be rolled back from 1 August. Can he confirm that in local lockdowns after 1 August, wherever they are required, 80% of furlough support will be available to assist with lockdown compliance, which is so important for public health?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Of course, as we move from a national lockdown towards local lockdowns, we are going to have to take more specific action. For the time being and for Leicester, the existing furlough scheme of course exists.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. The majority of this House and indeed the country will be looking forward to some additional freedoms as of this weekend. I myself am looking forward to a pint of Papermaker at Radcliffe Market. The hard work and sacrifice of the British people have got us to this point, so will my right hon. Friend join me in urging everyone out there not only to maintain social distancing, but to stay alert and to make sure that this hard work is not undone and restrictions reimposed?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and speaks with great wisdom. While we are able to lift some of the lockdown measures and while people will, across most of the country, be able to exercise some more freedoms, such as the freedom safely to go to the pub, from this weekend, we have got to be aware—all of us—that this virus still lives in our communities. We must continue to tackle it and we must continue to stay alert, and so control the virus, because that saves lives.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

If we want to make local lockdowns work, we must ensure that people and businesses get the economic support they need to get through a further outbreak of covid. That means making furlough available where it is needed, and, as I hope the Secretary of State will also recognise, providing targeted relief for businesses that are affected. My colleagues in Scotland have this weekend proposed a VAT holiday for tourism businesses affected by covid. Will he speak to the Chancellor about providing similar targeted measures for those sectors that are shut down under a local lockdown?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We are providing funding for local support, but I just want to reiterate to those who are in Leicester right now and listening to this debate, that the furlough scheme is in existence and it works now in the same way that it has worked across the country.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Opposition Whip (Commons)

Ealing Council, which covers my constituency, is one of those concerned about receiving all the data it needs as quickly as it needs it for local outbreak plans to work as well as possible. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that full testing data will be shared with every local authority, GP and director of public health, and commit to there being no time lag between these tests being carried out and the data being shared?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes, that data was made available last week to all councils, subject to a data protection agreement, which the vast majority have returned.

Photo of Alberto Costa Alberto Costa Conservative, South Leicestershire

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me as the MP for South Leicestershire, an area directly impacted by my right hon. Friend’s statement this evening. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the funding that he has promised Leicestershire County Council and Leicester city will also be split to include the affected district councils such as Blaby District Council? Will he also explain what the impact will be for areas outside the city of Leicester? He keeps mentioning Leicester, but what areas in Leicestershire will be impacted by his statement?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes, absolutely; we will be publishing imminently the exact details of which wards are included in these measures. That decision is being taken by Leicestershire County Council along with PHE. I understand the call for financial support for district and borough councils as well as for the county council. In the first instance, that funding will flow through the county council, but I will absolutely look at the point my hon. Friend has raised.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier, during his response to my urgent question, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Chris Philp, stated that there were no confirmed cases of covid-19 among people living in Glasgow hotels. I have a constituent who has been in a hotel in Glasgow city centre and who has had covid-19 diagnosed. Is there a way of putting it on record that the Minister had perhaps had the wrong information provided to him when he said that no people had had covid-19 in hotel accommodation? Mr Speaker, will you be able to ask the Minister to come and correct the record, because my constituent has certainly had covid-19 and has isolated in a Glasgow city centre hotel?