I start by paying tribute to the amazing work undertaken by healthcare workers, care workers, teachers and support staff in schools, and all the key workers, who have not only kept us supplied during the pandemic, but kept as safe.
We have spent more than three and a half months in heightened restrictions in the north-west, and we are now starting to see a change in the curve. We reached a peak last week of 586.9 cases per 100,000 in the borough of Bury, and we are now down to 473.8 cases per 100,000. We are seeing a fall, but our numbers are still high and still of concern. I hope that trajectory will continue.
“Hands, face, space” has been the motto for many weeks, if not months, but I still think we are not as safe as we could be. Far too many hand sanitisers are out there that do not meet the set criteria. Many face masks are used mainly as a fashion accessory without offering any real safety protection. I would like to ask the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt what more work we can be doing to ensure that all products meet a set safety criteria and certain benchmarks to ensure we are as safe as we can be in public.
Following on from Feryal Clark, care homes have been of huge concern to many Members and members of the public throughout these isles. There was a well-attended Westminster Hall debate last week where a lot of comments were made in particular about the loneliness and isolation of those who suffer from dementia and who have not had any real visits for months. There was a small period where window visits could continue, and to have those taken away in areas with a large number of cases was not only heartbreaking, but cruel. We are getting to a point where we are now talking about rapid testing for visitors moving forward from December.
I hope we can get to a point where not only visits can continue, but families can be reunited and the heartbreak that residents, family members and care workers—they are having to see this each and every day—can be fully addressed. I pay tribute to the great work that the Fed at Heathlands Village in Prestwich is doing in my constituency. It has spent an inordinate amount of money to make sure it is as covid-secure as possible for when visits can restart.
We have some potential good news on the horizon in regard to vaccines. It is great news. However, we need not only a plan for delivery that addresses all locations across the UK and all communities, but a plan B in case these vaccines do not come to fruition. At some point, we may need to start living with covid, and we need to consider that. Although it was great that there was great promotion of the flu vaccine, can my right hon. Friend say how many people truly took that up? Are we as safe as we can be from the troubles of flu?
I will start bringing my speech to a close by focusing on certain sectors that have raised their troubles with me—mainly the events and hospitality sector. Through no fault of their own, they are arguably the ones who are struggling the most. Moving into tier 2 and tier 3, when all of a sudden we prevent any socialising outside of people’s households, had a huge detrimental impact on those sectors. We had conference providers that were no longer able to provide conferences. However, because we did not order them to close, they were no longer able to access Government support. We had events operators that were unable to operate because there were no events, but because they had no bricks and mortar, they also received no support. While I am pleased that some support is now starting to be offered, it is very late in the day and we need to consider that there has to be a sector to go back to.
Places of worship have gone above and beyond. I have been speaking to communities and community leaders—rabbis, priests and imams—across the north-west, and they have gone above and beyond in making sure that their places of worship are not only covid-secure, but offer a place of solace, a place to appease mental health and a place of hope. I urge my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister and all members of the Cabinet to do what they can to reopen places of worship for communal prayer and to give the hope that the nation needs.