Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 1st September 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 3:42 pm, 1st September 2020

I will answer as many of the hon. Gentleman’s questions as possible. His first question about the effectiveness of NHS Test and Trace is very important. He is right that we are investing in public health teams, and so we should. As we discussed in Health questions earlier, it is important to have the combination of the national system and the local one. It is also important that we communicate to people that it is important to engage in testing and contact tracing for those who test positive and their contacts. It is important to be able to communicate to people so that they get those messages, and we will do that in whatever way is effective to get those messages across.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the importance of mass testing. I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for mass testing and am glad that he supports my drive for it. He might remember the exchanges we had some time ago when I rather stuck my neck out in pushing for mass testing when we needed to get to hundreds of thousands of tests. We now need to increase the number of tests again.

The hon. Gentleman mentions both saliva tests and pool tests; we are trialling both of those. As with vaccines, to which I shall come briefly, we will only use testing that is validated and for which the results are safe, so it is important that we use the world-class facilities that we have at Porton Down to make sure that tests are validated before we use them in public. Saliva testing and pool testing are both options that we are working on.

Local lockdowns are working. Local action, taken jointly between national and local government, is having an effect, as the hon. Gentleman knows well from Leicester, where the case rate is right down. We do publish the data on which such decisions are made. In fact, from last Thursday, we now publish data at lower-super-output-area level, which is the lowest level in terms of how local the test results can be reasonably published. We also provide extensive data to directors of public health.

It is important that all elected officials are engaged in the process of making lockdown decisions, so, as we set out the week before last, we require councils to seek consensus with local elected officials, which includes colleagues in this House. For instance, if your area, Mr Speaker, were under consideration for the need for intervention, we would require your local council to seek consensus with you—although that consensus is not always possible, and there have been a couple of examples where it has not been—and would then make as targeted an intervention as possible. We want to get to the point at which everybody is on the same side in the battle against the disease. I am glad to say that in nearly all council areas the process has worked well. I urge all council leaders to work to engage with their local MPs and with colleagues from across the House to make sure that colleagues’ views are taken into account in trying to seek consensus.

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that a vaccine must be deployed only when safe and effective, and he is completely right. He and I are as one, along with every single Member of this House, in our abhorrence at the anti-vax people who peddle lies, and in our abhorrence at the anti-test people who similarly try to argue that testing is somehow wrong when it is not. In the UK, a vaccine will be deployed only when it is safe and signed off by the regulator. The UK health regulator, the MHRA, is one of the finest regulators in the world. It is robust, independent and technically brilliant. People should know that we will sign off a vaccine only when it is safe. Having said that, we will also work incredibly hard and give all the resources that the vaccine development teams need to try to get a vaccine over the line as quickly as possible.