Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:53 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party, The Prime Minister 12:53 pm, 1st December 2020

I want to begin by telling the House that I was hugely encouraged by a visit I paid only yesterday to a vaccine plant in north Wales, where I saw for myself the vials of one of seven vaccines backed by the UK Government that could turn the tide of our struggle against covid, not just in this country but around the world. It is the protection provided by those vaccines that could get our economies moving again and allow us to reclaim our lives. That one plant in Wrexham could produce 300 million doses a year. Yesterday was the momentous day when it began to manufacture the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was a very moving moment. I talked to one of the brilliant young scientists there, and she described the extraordinary moment in her life of being part of an enterprise that she thought was truly going to offer humanity a route out of this suffering.

But we have to be realistic, and we have to accept that this vaccine is not here yet—no vaccine is here yet. While all the signs are promising, and almost every scientist I have talked to agrees that the breakthrough will surely come, we do not yet have one that has gained regulatory approval, and we cannot be completely sure when the moment will arrive. Until then, we cannot afford to relax, especially during the cold months of winter. The national measures that are shortly ending in England have eased the burden on the NHS and begun to reverse the advance of the virus. Today the R is back below one, and the Office for National Statistics survey shows signs that the infection rate is levelling off. Imperial College London has found that the number of people with covid has fallen by a third in England since 2 November.

But while the virus has been contained, it has not been eradicated. The latest ONS figures suggest that, out of every 85 people in England, one has coronavirus—far more than in the summer. Between 24 November and yesterday, 3,222 people across the UK lost their lives. Despite the immense progress of the last four weeks, our NHS remains under pressure, with hospitals in three regions—the south-west, the north-east and Yorkshire—all treating more covid patients now than at the peak of the first wave.