Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 3:44 pm, 13th October 2020

I have heard one or two people say that the Government do not have a plan, but I do not agree with that. I think the Government have a good plan, which they set out in May. I read it at the time and thought it was very sound. My problem is that the Government often do not seem to remember that they have a plan and do not always follow through on some of the things in it, for example, the risks of a vaccine, which my hon. Friend Mr Baker reminded us about. The Prime Minister said in the foreword to the plan:

“It is clear that the only feasible long-term solution lies with a vaccine or drug-based treatment.”

But he was frank enough to say that

“while we hope for a breakthrough, hope is not a plan. A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away.”

The best evidence, even now, is that that year, which would take us to next May or so, is about the best-case scenario for being able to vaccinate older members of the community if all goes well, so it is clear that we have to do other things.

The first phase of the Government’s plan was the lockdown, to drive down the virus to a very low level. The second phase was to introduce smarter controls, for example, covid-safe workplaces in hospitality venues, combined with an effective testing and tracing system. I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, looking at the evidence at the moment, that the second most important piece of that, according to the Government’s plan, was the following:

“local authority public health services to bring a valuable local dimension to testing, contact tracing and support to people who need to self-isolate”.

I welcome the extra support given to the local public health teams in the high-risk areas that the Government have set out, but I would argue that it should go further and extend across the country. The importance of that is seen if we look at the data, which shows we are reaching only about 74% of those who test positive to get their contact information. We are reaching only 68.6% of those contacts in total, according to the latest data, which is the lowest percentage. That means that overall we are reaching only about half of the contacts of people who test positive.