Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:10 pm, 18th November 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered covid-19.

Yesterday, there was an increase of 19,609 cases of coronavirus in the UK, and sadly we recorded 529 deaths. I am sure I speak for everyone when I say that our sympathies and prayers are with each and every family. It is a stark reminder, if we needed one, that we still have a long way to go in beating this disease and seeing our country thrive again.

I know that Members across the House will join me in wishing those who are currently unwell a speedy recovery and thanking all the staff across health and social care and key workers for all they do, but I would also like to mention one or two who do not always get a mention: those working in community health, including our health visitors and our pharmacists, and many of the volunteers who keep many of the shows on the road.

As the Office for National Statistics report on loneliness earlier today showed, these changes are taking a toll on our lives. They are taking a toll on individuals, families and businesses, so the news this week of further successful vaccine trials with Moderna and today’s update from Pfizer have given rise to the very real prospect of an effective vaccine in the near future. While I share that sense of hope with many, we still have some way to go, and we must never lose sight of the challenges that we face at the moment. A vaccine still has to go through a regulatory process, but it is right that the planning of the huge logistical exercise of a vaccine roll-out led by the NHS is now very much under way. Throughout this pandemic we have had to learn, and each week brings further understanding.

As more information continues to emerge on the risks of long covid, for example, we are reminded how this virus can remain a threat. I am sure hon. and right hon. Members will be pleased to hear that the NHS will have a network of 40 long covid clinics in place before the end of this month, bringing together doctors, nurses, therapists and other NHS staff to help those patients suffering from the lasting effects of this virus. That is an example of how our response to the virus has to continue to evolve and strengthen to protect staff, patients and the public, moving with the science as we learn more.

It is hard to overstate how little was known about the virus at the start of the year. We have done many things for the first time, and the learning curve has definitely been a steep one, but looking back, we have come a long way through this difficult year. We have always sought to base decisions on evidence, data and scientific advice, and we have been willing to reflect and adapt as we go. From repatriating individuals from Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic, we have constantly faced and met enormous challenges. In the words of General Sir Nick Carter back in April, distributing personal protective equipment, for example, was

“the single greatest logistical challenge” in his 40 years of service. However, with others helping, such as the Army, we built those supply chains and responded to demand. In some areas, demand went up by 17,000% for eye protection, for example, and by approximately 4,700% for masks. So far, we have distributed more than 4.9 billion items of personal protective equipment to the frontline, and today we have a four-month stockpile in hand across all nine key lines, with a further 32 billion items of PPE on order. We have regularly delivered to more than 58,000 health and care organisations. I would like to pay tribute to Lord Deighton and his team for their extraordinary efforts in building resilience into the supply chain, to enable us to be as confident as we are today.

I am clear that none of this would have been possible without the incredible collaboration we have seen between industry, social care providers, our NHS, the armed forces and others. Industry and individual businesses stepped up to meet the challenge. At the start of the pandemic, only 1% of PPE was manufactured here in the United Kingdom. By the end of the year, we will be manufacturing 70% of the amount of PPE we expect to use from December to March in all key areas bar gloves. This enormous national effort has put our country on a strong footing today and for years to come. Following the launch of the PPE strategy in September, we are looking at sustainability and initiating a UK production site for gloves.