I would like to make the following points based on my 20 years’ experience as a former public health consultant.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the new tier system and measures that were introduced yesterday are sufficient to contain the virus. The localised approach will not work because of seeding. The virus travels where people come from. I came down on the train yesterday—I talked to Sir Graham Brady about this point—and there might have been people who were asymptomatic who unknowingly have spread the virus, unfortunately. There may also have been people who wanted to exercise their personal choice, who have the virus and knowingly exposed people to that risk. Unless the Government are prepared to set up roadblocks across the M1, M6, M62 and all other routes to and from the north, I am afraid that, just as happened in the first wave in Italy, the virus will spread.
To understand what we need to do now, we must understand how we got to this position. It is abundantly clear, as has already been said, that the national test and trace programme is not fit for purpose. In spite of clear WHO guidance, it was not fully operational in June when the first lockdown measures were eased, and as a consequence it has failed to cope with the predicted rise in infections ever since. On top of that there were, unfortunately, significant specific failures.
I support the calls of the CMO, SAGE and others for a short circuit break to help drive down infection rates, but that should be at the national level. Any circuit break period should be used to undertake the transfer of test and trace to local public health departments. That must be accompanied by full resource transfer. Currently, less than 10% of the money used by local authorities at a local level has been reimbursed by the Government. That is unjustifiable and unsustainable, and it must be resolved.
In addition, the circuit break should be used first to ensure that the NHS and social care are fully prepared. They must have adequate PPE. They must have flu vaccines. They must have regular testing regimes. We should identify vulnerable people for supportive shielding, and not via some algorithm. We need to define exactly how we are going to support people in a way that does not mean they will be detrimentally isolated. We must also make sure we have simple, coherent messaging with local community engagement, and I support what the Government are trying to do with the simplification. We must also make sure that we have monitoring and enforcement capacity.
All workers and businesses need to be fully supported during any circuit break. We are at war with the virus. The Treasury needs to recognise that and respond adequately. Finally, the Government must recognise that covid is a disease of poverty.