Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles 3:30 pm, 13th October 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker,

“I am not confident, and nor is anybody confident, that the tier 3 proposals for the highest rates…would be enough to get on top of it.”

Those were the words last night of the chief medical officer, but sadly the Government knew this in September, when SAGE scientists advised the immediate introduction of a list of measures including a circuit breaker. In the following days, the Prime Minister went ahead with only the work-from-home U-turn and the 10 pm curfew. Now we know the truth. Last night, we saw that the SAGE minutes clearly stated that the curfew measure was likely to have a marginal impact, as it also seems the Government’s tiered approach will do.

Further, after the initial lockdown, any semblance of economic normality that would have kept the public safe was predicated on a comprehensive test, track and trace system, but with people still making vast round trips to get a test and risking their details being lost in an Excel spreadsheet never to be seen again, it is clear that we do not have a comprehensive testing system. And how can we forget Operation Moonshot? Salford was to be one of the pilot areas testing the Moonshot programme. However, my local council confirmed to me this morning that, some time ago now, it asked the Department of Health and Social Care to share the clinical validity data behind this new technology. To date, that query remains unanswered, and until this morning Salford City Council had been told to pause the programme. So can the Secretary confirm his current plans for the development of mass testing?

We all know what needs to be done. Any resumption of normal life depends on bringing the infection rate down, followed by robust test, trace and isolate systems, but for this to happen, we need clear direction from Government, and our businesses and workers need economic support to do what is required of them. So far, the Chancellor’s support still does not extend to the more than 3 million people who are excluded, and the watering down of economic support means that, even under tier 2, many businesses and workers across Greater Manchester will see a significant drop in income that they will not be able to sustain. So it seems we have a choice here: either we do not follow the science and instead impose the misery of prolonged tier 2 and tier 3 restrictions in many areas with little economic support, and cases and deaths will rise; or we follow the science and bring down transmission with a short national circuit breaker and a reform to test, track, trace and isolate. Frankly, the pandemic strategy so far has been akin to throwing a glass of water on a chip pan fire, and the Government need to change course today.