Covid-19 Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 16th July 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 5:10 pm, 16th July 2020

Before turning to Leicester, will the Secretary of State update the House and comment on Sir Patrick Vallance’s remarks at the Science and Technology Committee, where he said that SAGE had advised the Government to implement lockdown measures as soon as possible on 16 March? Why did it take a further seven days for the Government to implement lockdown if SAGE was advising to do so on 16 March?

I start by putting on record my thanks to the city council and all the health officials, particularly our director of public health, Ivan Browne, for all the work they are doing to drive our infection rates down in Leicester. I welcome the extra testing capacity we have received as a city, including the door-to-door testing, and I put on record my tribute to the people of Leicester, the city where I live, for their fortitude in doing all they can to drive this infection down through 17 weeks of lockdown.

If we still have to make further personal sacrifice to keep people safe and hunt this virus down with the lockdown, so be it, but there is no question but that there will be a degree of dismay across the city in response to the Secretary of State’s remarks. We welcome the opening of non-essential retail, but many businesses were preparing to open their doors for the beginning of July and still cannot open their doors, and they will want to know whether they will get any specific extra business support. The Secretary of State suggested in a previous statement that they would, but the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Nadhim Zahawi ruled it out.

The continued lockdown coincides with the traditional Leicester fortnight. I do not know whether the Secretary of State is familiar with the Leicester fortnight. It is the two weeks in July where our schools break up earlier than other schools across the country. It is a time when many Leicester families will have booked holidays, but they cannot go on holiday because they are not allowed to, and many travel companies are refusing to pay them compensation. Will he guarantee that families will not be out of pocket because they are not allowed to go on a holiday they have saved up for all year round? Will the Government step in, or can he force those travel companies to reimburse those Leicester families?

As the Secretary of State knows, Leicester is a city that suffers from high levels of child poverty, insecure work, low pay and a lack of decent sick pay. We have many deep-rooted economic problems and the spike or larger outbreak in the city appears to coincide with the inner-city areas where we know there are high levels of deprivation and overcrowding. We also have a large ethnic minority community, so will he explain why he has not yet implemented the recommendations of the Public Health England report on protecting those from minority ethnic backgrounds?

There has been widespread speculation about the garment industry. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many inspections by the Health and Safety Executive and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have now taken place in Leicester’s textile factories, particularly since the Home Secretary a couple of weeks ago promised us that she would stamp out any illegal exploitation?

We note that the Secretary of State has rejected the advice of the city mayor of Leicester to partially ease restrictions in parts of the city, although he has taken advice from the leader of Leicestershire County Council to ease restrictions in part of the county. Can he explain what the public health evidence is behind that decision? If the public health advice is to maintain, for example, the lockdown in the west of the city, when we know that the infection rates are at their highest in the east of the city, why does not that advice also apply to the neighbourhoods that border the city boundaries? This is one greater urban area. What is the public health reason why someone living on one side of Gilmortin Avenue—I do not expect him to know Gilmorton Avenue in my constituency, but it illustrates the point—is subject to restrictions because they fall under Leicester City Council, but they are not allowed to cross the road to speak to their neighbour, who lives opposite them, because they fall under Blaby District Council? There are other examples across the city as well. If he could offer us that advice, we would appreciate it.

Leicester went into lockdown because of the infection rate and because it took so long to get us the specific data. Local authorities are still complaining that they are not getting patient identifiable data, they are not getting data on a daily basis and they are not getting contact tracing data. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that we have a world-leading system—the best system in the world—for testing and tracing and it will avoid a second spike this winter, but we know that there have been problems with testing and tracing throughout. Last week, Sky News revealed that he has been overstating the test numbers by 200,000. Today, the Health Secretary has come to the House—we are grateful to him for updating the House—to explain what is happening with Randox. I believe that the £133 million contract was given to Randox without any competitive tender. Can he explain what is exactly wrong with these kits? How many of these presumably faulty kits have been used? Is there a health risk to anyone who has been tested with these kits?