Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:19 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 2:19 pm, 13th October 2020

Yes, absolutely, and I will go further than that: we look at this at sub-district level, if that is appropriate. In High Peak we put four wards into level 2 and the rest of the wards stayed in level 1. So we are prepared to look at the sub-district level if that is appropriate. Some districts within North Yorkshire have individual outbreaks in individual institutions that we are managing, and we should not mistake that for general community transmission and therefore put those areas into a higher level than is necessary. I am happy to go through the local epidemiology from near Thirsk that affects my hon. Friend’s constituency.

In a sense, that brings us to the point of these local covid alert levels. These are the first statutory instruments to be debated under our commitment to consult Parliament on significant national measures that have effect in the whole of England or are UK-wide and, wherever possible, to hold votes before the regulations come into force. That is what we are doing today.

Local action has proved to be one of our most important lines of defence. Where firm action has been taken—for instance in Leicester, or in Bolton, where we flattened the curve—our local approach has inevitably produced different sets of rules in different parts of the country, as my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell set out. We have already moved towards simpler national rules that are centred on the rule of six, and we are now acting to simplify and standardise the rules at a local level.

The regulations set out three levels of alert: medium, high and very high. The medium alert level, which will cover most of the country, will consist of the current national measures. This includes the rule of six and the closure of hospitality at 10 pm. The high alert level reflects the interventions in many local areas at the moment and that aims to reduce household-to-household transmission by preventing social mixing between different households indoors, with the rule of six outdoors. That is super-simple: no household mixing socially indoors and the rule of six outdoors.

The very high alert level will apply where transmission rates are rising most rapidly and where the NHS will soon be under unbearable pressure without further restrictions. In those areas the Government will set a baseline of prohibiting social mixing, while allowing households to mix in public outdoor spaces, because that is where the risk of transmission is lowest, as long as the rule of six is followed. That baseline is set out in the very high alert level regulations being considered today. Pubs and bars will be closed, and we will advise against travel into and out of very high-risk areas.

We also offer a package of support for individuals, businesses and councils. That includes more support for local test and trace, which many have asked for, more funding for local enforcement and the offer of help from the armed services, as well as the job support scheme announced by the Chancellor. That is best done as a team effort and, wherever possible, we want to build local support on the ground before we introduce these measures. So in each area we will work with local government leaders on the extra measures that need to be taken. We do not rule out further restrictions in the hospitality, leisure, entertainment, or personal care sectors, but retail, schools and universities will remain open.