I am pleased to contribute to the debate. Many of us on the Back Benches fought for this opportunity to contribute, although I was hoping that we would have longer than three minutes. I do not doubt that Ministers are grappling with the most difficult trade-offs in managing the spread of the virus. In particular, I know that the Minister for Health bears a huge responsibility in trying to ensure the lowest possible number of covid fatalities.
I support the Government in their efforts to manage the virus and their three-tier system, but I have concerns similar to those of my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, and I want to raise three of them. First, the Prime Minister was brutally honest yesterday in telling my hon. Friend Mr Baker that a vaccine may or may not be available, depending on what science delivers. If that is the case, we need a long-term covid strategy that does not involve areas being put in and out of restrictive measure for many years to come, which will not only damage local economies but have a tragic impact on the diagnosis and treatment of other potentially fatal health conditions among my constituents in Wealden.
In particular, cancer comes to mind. The national health service has been called the national covid service by many of my constituents. I received an email from a local resident, Mike, who is trying to get a neurosurgery consultation appointment. He has been told that, for his condition, he has to wait 48 weeks, not the 26 weeks that it would have been in February. Amusingly—even though my residents in Wealden are struggling, they still have a sense of humour—he says that patients are asked to use their “fastest finger first” when ringing to try to get a same-day hospital appointment:
“Anyone without a swish redialling telephone and the persistence of Miss Marple has little chance of getting an appointment.”
That is the problem we face. Our efforts to protect the NHS and protect our constituents from getting covid are unfortunately leading to people being unable to manage their other health conditions.
Secondly, testing and tracing continues to be an issue in my care homes and schools, and I urge the Minister to do what he can to ensure that the turnaround time for tests is much swifter than it is at the moment. The final point I wish to raise is about hospitality. It is clear that there is no scientific basis for the 10 pm curfew. The SAGE scientists say:
“Curfews likely to have a marginal impact. Low confidence.”
We are repeatedly told that this virus spreads indoors. A story in today’s Telegraph says that spending on alcohol is £261 million more than it was in September. That is no doubt because people are spending money on booze to drink at home, where the virus spreads much more. We need to be clear about the unintended consequences of the decisions we take.