Covid-19 Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 8th September 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 1:50 pm, 8th September 2020

I will certainly answer the questions posed by the hon. Gentleman, but as for his proposal to dismantle the testing system that we have built so painstakingly over the past six months using not only the NHS and PHE, but all the testing capacity of the nation, that is one that I and the British people will reject. We need to build our capacity, and we need to build on what we can do. We have built one of the biggest testing capacities in the world over the past six months, and I will reject all narrow, partisan calls to dismantle a testing capacity that is working.

Of course, with the increase in demand for tests that we have seen in the past few days, there have been challenges, which we have acknowledged, and we are working day and night to fix them. The long-term solution, using the new technologies that are coming on stream, is a critical part of ensuring that we can expand testing capacity still further.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman got into a bit of a muddle on contact tracing, saying that under 70% of contacts are traced. That is simply untrue and below the number that we publish weekly—we published the latest figure last Thursday.

Some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions were sensible. On schools, he is quite right that having clear guidance on how we approach schools and on what schools should do in the event of an outbreak is important. That guidance has been published and sent to schools. In the first instance, of course, a school should work with their local director of public health to minimise the impact of an outbreak.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about financial support for those who have to self-isolate, and we have put that in place. We have rolled that out in areas of the north-west, and we are watching the progress effectively.

The hon. Gentleman rightly asked about Leicester, where, of course, he has both national responsibilities and a local interest. The local lockdown in Leicester has resulted in a significant drop in the number of cases, and we will take a formal review of the measures in Leicester on Thursday. I will be certain to talk to him in advance of that and take his local intelligence and views into account.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a plan for higher education. An enormous amount of work has been done with all universities to ensure that the sector can open safely in the coming weeks.

Finally, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman started his response in a constructive form in respect of the measures that we must take in Bolton. I have communicated with the Mayor of Greater Manchester and he has had a briefing from the official team—that has been offered. The statutory responsibility of course lies with Bolton Council, with which we have been working very closely to put into place measures that in essence build on the measures that Bolton Council has been putting in place. I put on the record my thanks to those in Bolton Council—its leader, David Greenhalgh, who has been doing an excellent job, as well as the director of public health and the chief executive—because it has been a difficult challenge in Bolton.

Thankfully, what we have learnt from this sort of local action elsewhere in the country is that we do not see large-scale numbers of people travelling to other areas nearby where there is a problem. We have not seen that yet. Of course, we remain vigilant on that and on all these measures, but I am sure that the people of Bolton will understand how significant this problem is and will follow the guidance and, indeed, the new laws that we will bring in to back up the proposals we have made today.