Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:16 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 1:16 pm, 1st December 2020

I am grateful for that intervention and I am setting out exactly why not—and I will take interventions along the way so that what I say can be challenged—but the first point, which I have just finished making, is that we have been here before; this is at least plan no. 5 and the first four have not worked. So I think everybody would forgive the British public for being sceptical about the fifth plan.

I will go on now and set out the second point I want to make, which is that the public health risk of the Prime Minister’s approach is significant. The prevalence of the virus remains high; even if the R rate is below 1, it is only just below 1, and we know that the virus is at its most deadly during the cold winter months, exactly when the NHS is under the most strain. So if we are to keep the R rate below 1 during winter and not waste the progress that has been made in the past four weeks, we need to proceed with precision and caution. But instead of levelling with the British public, the Prime Minister spent the weekend telling his Back Benchers that the plan is all about, in his words, loosening restrictions across the country, and he has been fuelling a promise that within two weeks or so local areas have a real prospect of dropping to a tier below the one they are in.

We need to level: in my view, that is highly unlikely, and we might as well face that now. It is obvious that the new tier 1 may slow but will not prevent a rise in infections, and it is far from certain that the new tier 2 can hold the rate of infection. [Interruption.] I hear the mutterings, but let us just see where we are in two weeks. I look across the House to Members who think that perhaps, in two weeks, their area is going to drop down a tier just before Christmas. Let us see.