Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott Conservative, Sevenoaks 6:18 pm, 11th November 2020

I was glad to hear the Minister, in his opening remarks, refer to the need to focus on data because I am going to use my limited time today to argue for more data analysis specifically on the effectiveness of lockdown restrictions, and to support the move towards an approach that Professor Sir John Bell calls enablement, which essentially means using testing to allow us to continue as normal a life as possible.

As with many across the House, I had hoped that we could continue the management of coronavirus through a system of regional alert levels. Sadly, it was clear that that was not the case. Although it controlled the virus, the virus was spreading faster than we could accommodate in the NHS. The key question we now need to ask ourselves is, why was that the case? Why did the regional approach not slow the spread of the virus fast enough? We need to establish why, so we can fix it and resume the regional system with renewed confidence that it will contain the virus without the need for further national lockdown.

One aspect that needs more analysis in particular, is compliance. It is possible, indeed probable, that a lack of compliance played a role in the regional tier approach insufficiently controlling the virus, but we do not have the data at the moment to fully establish that. Baroness Harding, the NHS’s test and trace head, appeared before a joint evidence session of the Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees yesterday. She gave preliminary data showing that 54% of people quarantine when asked, but also cautioned that the remaining 46% will include many people who have gone outside very briefly to get some fresh air or maybe to get some food that was completely necessary. It is clear that we need firmer data on this because, as we focus on driving up the number of contacts reached, it will ultimately not be effective if those people are not staying at home when they are asked to do so. We need a clear-eyed understanding of whether people are complying and a strategy for addressing it—whether we need to change the monetary incentives or the information we are giving people, or simply change the rules.

Professor Sir John Bell raised the point that we need buy-in for people to want to have a test and quarantine. He believes that many people are being put off having a test for fear of condemning their contacts to two weeks of quarantine without hope or reprieve. He suggested a system where the contacts of those infected are tested and released from quarantine if they test negative, and then rechecked every few days. I am really pleased that the Department has confirmed that it is pursuing that approach and trialling it in limited areas, and I hope it is something we can go forward with, because the data-led approach that accepts a level of risk in order to drive up compliance, with the aim of allowing people to return to normal as far as possible, is something that we should applaud.

I wholeheartedly echo the remarks of my right hon. Friend Mr Jones about testing in care homes and making sure that we get the relatives and friends of people in care homes tested so that they can visit, because it has been a devastating time for so many.

On the topic of evidence, please can we have the evidence base behind why golf, tennis and children’s sports have not been given an exemption from lockdown rules? If people can take a walk outside, they might as well be able to do it with some golf clubs.

Back on the theme of data, may we have a data-driven approach on whether we still need the curfew if we go back into a regional approach? While I completely understand why we introduced it, it had a devastating effect on hospitality across the country. If it works, we can understand why it is imposed, but if it does not work, we will all be better off without it.