Covid-19 Update

Part of the debate – 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.