Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 4:52 pm, 13th October 2020

With time short, I want to highlight just a few issues relating to the measures being debated today. I have always said that I will support any measures required that will successfully contain and minimise the devastating impact of this virus, but I hope it has become clear to the Government, after a weekend of discontent, that this country will not accept measures determined by stealth and communicated through press leaks in the night. Those affected by these measures are owed much greater respect than that. The leaks last Thursday evening caused widespread anxiety across Newcastle. People are fearing for their jobs, businesses are cancelling orders and preparing to batten down, suppliers are finding themselves left with goods that are no longer wanted and families are fearing that this might be their last chance to meet. This is no way to treat people who have already suffered so much as a result of the virus.

Everyone accepts that sacrifice is needed. The resolve that people have needed to make those sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable and support the NHS has been unwavering, but they must have confidence that their sacrifices are worth the pain and will actually bring the right results. That is why the Government’s approach has been so damaging. We cannot afford to lose the confidence of those we rely on to make this work. The Government need to be open, honest and transparent, and respectful to those who need to live with these restrictions. We saw a much better approach yesterday, and I hope the Government have learned and will not put people through that anxiety again.

I want to put on record my concern about whether these restrictions are necessary at all. There is a sense of inevitability about this, but the fact is that the UK is far from world-leading when it comes to handling this virus, despite its regular over-inflated claims. We need a functioning test, track and trace system, and we need support for those who are isolating. Also, we are not on top of asymptomatic transmission, and that is a major problem. It was needed last time and it is still needed now.

I have one more specific issue to raise. With no financial support being provided to hospitality businesses in tier 2, we have to know that these measures will work. By allowing restaurants to remain open in the tier 3 areas, despite closing the bars, the Government seem to have acknowledged that restaurants carry a lower level of risk. The effects of alcohol consumption on social distancing are well documented, but the situation where alcohol is served alongside a meal is clearly different. We are not talking nuts and crisps, but a meal, yet the blanket 10 pm curfew for all hospitality in tiers 1 and 2 does not account for the different transmission risk. It does not look after restaurants which, as Jackie Doyle-Price pointed out, can offer two sittings. There is no time for dessert or coffee. That sounds trivial, but it can be make or break for a restaurant business. The Government need to look again at lumping all hospitality businesses into the same restrictions. It does not work.