Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:47 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 2:47 pm, 13th October 2020

I think I made that point, but, yes, I most certainly would. If I had proposed that amendment, I hope the hon. Gentleman would have joined us in the Division Lobby, although I know that since leaving the Government he has been very lax about going through the Lobby with the Opposition—[Interruption.] I drank my water too quickly as the hon Gentleman’s intervention was shorter than I anticipated—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon; I assure Members it is not the virus.

Many Members affected by this in recent days will know that the decisions made to put an area into restriction will be effective only if they are made in conjunction with local people. I know that extremely well as a Leicester Member, where we have had restrictions for 105 or 106 days. People in towns such as Bury or Bolton or across Greater Manchester or in boroughs such as Wolverhampton, West Bromwich or parts of Birmingham need clarity about their future and local leaders need reassurance that there is a plan. Local leaders need reassurance that if they are put into a tier there is a plan to get them out of it and moved into the lower tiers. It is not clear at the moment why particular areas are in the medium tier and not in, for example, tier 2. I do not want to pick on my near parliamentary neighbour, Edward Argar, but I hope he can explain when he responds to the debate why the city of Leicester is in tier 2 with restrictions yet his constituency, where the infection rate is 150 per 100,000, is not. Why is North East Derbyshire, where the rate is 164 per 100,000, not in that tier? Why is Barrow, where the rate is 277 per 100,000, not in that tier? There are many other examples across the House. People living in areas where restrictions are in place would like to be reassured that there is some consistency in these matters and that decisions are made transparently. I do not want to pick on the hon. Gentleman’s area, but he will see the point I am trying to make.

Of course, the areas where hospitality has closed need support to save jobs and protect livelihoods. At the moment, there is a financial package on offer for tier 3 —the Opposition do not think it goes far enough; we do not think it is adequate—but there is no financial support for tier 2, even though there will be a significant impact on the local economy, as we have seen in Leicester. On tiers 2 and 3, could the Minister, in responding to the debate, say a little bit about care homes? What does he say to the thousands of families who, under tier 2 and now tier 3, will not be able to visit their loved ones in care homes? The impact on a loved one in a care home of not being able to see their family is immense, especially in the winter months as we run up to Christmas. What steps will the Government take to support those areas in tiers 2 and 3 so that families can safely resume visiting their loved ones? Will he commit to a 24-hour turnaround in test results in care homes so that care homes and residents are protected?

This brings me to testing and tracing. One of the great strides we made in Leicester was door-to-door testing. Can the Minister guarantee that any areas in tier 2 and tier 3 will get capacity for door-to-door testing? Back in August, the Government promised that local areas would have more control over test and trace, with dedicated teams backed up by local authorities, but under this tiered system it was reported yesterday that only areas in tier 3 would have greater local control over contact tracing and testing. Why was this not put in place months ago, and why has it not been put in place everywhere across the country, not just for tier 3? This is the point that Mr Harper made, and he made it extremely well.

I am sorry, but the testing and tracing regime has become a broken system that continues to misfire. We even have SAGE now warning that it is having a marginal impact on transmission, as the right hon. Gentleman said. To be frank, and I know Conservative Member will groan at this, if Serco has not come up with a solution by now, it never will. Scrap the contract, put public health and local NHS partnerships in control of testing, and invest in the widespread backward contact tracing we need. It is still only in its infancy, but it is absolutely vital to getting in control of the virus, and we need to expand it at a local level.