Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme 6:17 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Lloyd Russell-Moyle. I have only three minutes and I have three somewhat disconnected points, so I will try to make them quickly.

I shall start with the situation in my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme. We have had a lot of good news on the national level recently in the medium to longer term. We have had good news on the amount of testing available, good news on PPE and the best news of all, obviously, is about the vaccines. Congratulations to the scientists on their breakthroughs and congratulations, too, to the Vaccine Taskforce on all the work that it has done to make sure that we are in the right place when those vaccines become available.

But locally and in the short term, I am afraid the news is not so good. The case rate in Newcastle-under-Lyme has risen to 464 per 100,000 and in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent, it is up to 562 per 100,000, which I believe is the seventh worst in the country, there or thereabouts. This has put a huge amount of pressure on our local hospital, the Royal Stoke. I would like to praise all the staff there, including the doctors and nurses, under the leadership of Tracy Bullock, who is doing a phenomenal job and has been briefing all the local MPs on what is going on. They have 304 people in hospital with covid at the moment and 32 are in critical care. They expect a further 100 by the end of next week based on modelling. They also have a lot of staff absence related to covid, with people having to self-isolate—62% of the staff absence is related to that. In the time available, I would like to impress upon the people in north Staffordshire the seriousness of the situation we are facing and the importance of continuing to follow the Government guidance.

I turn briefly to what we are asking of people in isolation and the evidence we heard on the Science and Technology Committee’s joint inquiry. I believe that what we are asking of contacts of people without symptoms is not rooted in probability, is not realistic and is not rooted in human behaviour. We heard from Professor Sir John Bell on 10 November that the data on asking people who have no symptoms and are just a contact to isolate for 14 days shows that very few of them are actually infected. He said:

“In order to prevent a single transmission, you have to isolate 70 of those people for one day. It is massively ineffective. The trouble is that people out there know it is massively ineffective. That is why they hate it.”

I think we have to be realistic about how isolation works. What we need to do, using the new lateral flow testing, is to find a way, as Sir John Bell said in his evidence, to enable people who are merely contacts to essentially test their way out of isolation at an earlier stage. I believe that the same could also be applied to travel quarantine.

Finally, as I have only three minutes, I wish to turn to long covid. I bring high praise from my mother-in-law, who has suffered from long covid, to the Secretary of State for what he said at the press conference on Monday. I have seen for myself how debilitating long covid has been for her. It is debilitating for lots of people across the country. It is damaging to everybody, not just the older people who are suffering worse from covid—I should stress that my mother-in-law is not an older person. I very much welcome the 40 long covid clinics that the Secretary of State has set out. We have a lot still to learn about this disease and that will be of great benefit to the people who have suffered.

To conclude, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Science has shown us the way and I pay tribute to the Department for Health and Social Care for everything that it has been doing.