Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 22nd October 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 2:23 pm, 22nd October 2020

It is very difficult to know. We estimate that approximately 8% of the population have had covid and that one in 20 people who has had it has symptoms for longer than eight weeks. Of course, the fewer people who get covid, the fewer people who get long covid, which reinforces the overall strategy of suppressing the virus until we get a vaccine. Let me turn to how we do that.

We cannot reiterate enough the importance of the basics: social distancing and “hands, face, space”. The next area is following rules on local action, which are at the core of how we and an increasing number of other countries around the world are tackling the crisis at the moment. Through our local covid alert levels, we have been able to take a balanced approach; I would like to update the House today on some further changes that we are making.

Unfortunately, we are seeing rising rates of infection in Stoke-on-Trent, in Coventry and in Slough. In all those areas, there are more than 100 positive cases per 100,000 people, cases are doubling approximately every fortnight and we are seeing a concerning increase in cases among the over-60s. We have agreed, in partnership with local leaders, to move those areas into the high local alert level, which will come into force at one minute past midnight on Saturday.

The central change is that people will not be able to meet other households socially indoors. This applies in any setting—at home, in a restaurant or in any other venue. The rule of six still applies in any outdoor setting, and although people may continue to travel to open venues, they should reduce the number of journeys where possible. I thank local leaders in the areas for the work they have done and for their co-operation. I can assure the people of Stoke-on-Trent, of Coventry and of Slough that we will support them all the way through, including with the business support that the Chancellor announced earlier today for all areas with a high local alert level.

We are also formally beginning discussions with Warrington about moving into the very high alert level, owing to a continuing rise in cases there.