Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 5:40 pm, 13th October 2020

I would like to talk briefly about the need for a plan, the use of language and the use of science. I am delighted that the Minister is here, because he is a very diligent Minister and I know he listens closely to his colleagues.

First, we need a longer-term plan than the one that I think is on offer. We need a sense of strategy and a sense of clarity. We may be living with this virus for months or, in the worst case scenario, for years. Waiting for the cavalry in the shape of a vaccine is taking longer than we hoped, and there is a chance—a small chance—that it may never happen, but even if we get that vaccine in the weeks and months ahead, it may only be a mitigation, not a cure-all.

The promised return to normality by December clearly has not happened, so we need to articulate what is paramount to protect people as much as possible, while ensuring that the cure is not worse than the disease. I think that, at times, our posture has been reactive. That does not mitigate the fact that lots of good stuff has been done: our economic response has been powerful; Test and Trace, even imperfect, is an extraordinary achievement; and likewise, the Nightingale hospitals.

We are getting there, but I do not think we are there yet, and I think the answer needs to be more of a plan and perhaps more of a decentralised approach. Many of us have had concerns about this. We have said these things to the Whips, and I have been very careful about saying so publicly, but I think we are now at a juncture where it is beneficial that I and other colleagues are saying this.

Secondly, on language, I do not think the language of battle helps. Does the Minister agree with Professor Sikora, who has said:

“If you try to scare people with worst case scenarios, it doesn’t work”?

Talk of battle should be replaced by talk of “Keep calm and carry on”, because that is the language that I think we need.

Thirdly, and perhaps most critically, the Government talk about following the science, but actually it depends what question we ask the science. If we say, “Defeat the virus: suppress it in any way you can”, we get one course of action, and potentially a very destructive one. We must accept that the virus cannot be defeated, but be determined to mitigate it to protect as much as possible the elderly and the vulnerable, while trying to limit the damage to other people’s lives through increased cancer deaths, heart disease and strokes and—God knows—what must be happening to mental health in this country with people cooped up so much. We need a sense of balance.

To me, on the pubs issue, and on gyms and swimming pools, there is absolutely no evidence that shutting a pub or the restaurant in Yarmouth I was in on Saturday at 10 o’clock, or shutting a swimming pool or shutting a gym, actually helps prevent the transmission of this virus.