Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:56 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 4:56 pm, 11th November 2020

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In taking the action we are to protect the NHS, we are of course also seeking to suppress the number of people who need hospitalisations to maintain the availability of those hospital beds for other people in dire need, exactly as she alludes to. I have to say to those who question the impact of this disease or its seriousness when someone gets it that I am reminded—as I suspect other Members will be—of the extraordinary dignity and suffering of the Lewis family in the Rhondda, who were on “Channel 4 News” and various news outlets last week. Mr Lewis had lost his wife and his two sons in under a week to this disease. It was a truly dreadful story, and I have never seen a more dignified man than Mr Lewis when he was talking about it.

The latest R rate is between 1.1 and 1.3, so it was essential to take action to protect our NHS and to enable us, as my right hon. Friend said, to maintain vital services for those without covid that sadly had to be paused in the first wave. From the Dispatch Box, I would like to take the opportunity once again—every time we are here it is right we do it—to thank all our staff in the NHS and care sectors for the incredible work they have done and continue to do in the face of these unprecedented challenges.

As I have set out, the virus remains a serious threat. We recorded more than 20,000 positive cases yesterday. Average daily hospital admissions currently stand at 1,366 and, sadly, yesterday we recorded more than 500 deaths—the highest death toll since mid-May. It is a painful reminder that the real battles are not in fact fought here in this Chamber, but in our hospitals up and down the country and by those who are suffering from fighting this dreadful disease. But in this Chamber, there are steps we can take that I believe will help them in that battle, and I believe that we were therefore right to act as we did.

Despite the seriousness of our current situation, these measures are time-limited. They legally expire 28 days after they were passed by the House—on 2 December. At that point, we will look to return to the tiered system, using local and regional data and trends to determine our response and adapt to local needs.

The measures in place are also quite different from last time. Schools and universities rightly remain open to avoid further disruption to education. People can establish childcare bubbles, take unlimited exercise and meet one person from a different household outside. More than that, however difficult it has been, I believe that we as a nation have made huge strides to better overcome the challenges that these measures bring. However, I am acutely aware that for many people in our country any restrictions are still incredibly difficult, especially this second time around. They are difficult for our NHS and care home staff, who have shown such resilience but still face a difficult winter ahead; for the families who have not been able to see their loved ones and once again cannot meet them in the ways they would wish to; and for individuals who live alone and are still, despite support bubbles, having to cope with the challenges posed by these restrictions.

It has also, of course, been an especially tough time for the businesses that have had to close their doors just as they were coming back, and that is why we are providing an unprecedented package of economic measures, with more than £200 billion of financial support since March to protect lives and livelihoods in every region and nation of the United Kingdom. The package was recently described by the International Monetary Fund as

“one of the best examples of co-ordinated action globally”.

Of course I feel deeply for those businesses and individuals, and I appreciate the position they find themselves in, especially when they have done all they can to do the right thing. That was why it was important to extend the furlough scheme and to provide further support in extending the scheme for the self-employed.