Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet 4:33 pm, 1st December 2020

It is rather apposite that we are having this debate on World AIDS Day; many hon. Members are wearing its symbol. We should consider what we did in the 1980s, when AIDS was the pandemic and the risks were very much there: we told people to change their behaviour and we had very strict messaging, but we did not take away liberties, fine people or close down the pubs that were obviously a place where future infections may have started.

Today, Thanet District Council in my constituency has a very high level of covid-19 of 448 per 100,000, which is in the top five in the country. I understand that the Government are having to make some tough decisions to buy time to bridge to a vaccine, but we need some honesty about how rapidly it will come. The Daily Telegraph is chirruping away that it is coming, but it is not quite in sight yet.

We are waiting for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to approve the vaccines. It will then be a large logistical exercise to roll out 66 million vaccines, times two, in a period of time when, currently, the NHS manages to roll out 15 million seasonal flu vaccines every year over four months. It will be a major undertaking and it will take time. The Government need to lay out very honestly that we will be living with this virus for some time to come.

It is to the great credit of the Government that we have a massive amount of testing and that we have granular regional data on the level of infection per 100,000. That is the most powerful tool that the Government have. That is the driver of good behaviour—when people see that their infection levels are higher, they innately do something more sensible. We are, however, subject to short-termism and to the precautionary principle, which has perhaps infested our lives too much.

We have to ask: what about personal liberties? We have not heard that much about that this afternoon. Yesterday, I had an email that touched me particularly. In September, a chap had sent me a photo of his father in an old people’s home. He was not unwell, but frail—he looked bright and well, and had that sparkle in his eyes still. The son sent me another photo yesterday. There is nothing wrong with the man. Nothing has changed; there are no more health conditions, but he looked broken. That is the worry. We are breaking older people where there is nothing left to live for. Are we assessing all the health outcomes properly?

Obviously, we want to put more money towards those in hospitality, but surely it is better to get them covid-ready, so they can open again—they do not want the money. It is easy to give the Government the benefit of the doubt, but they need to be at a higher level than that. Tonight, I cannot support them.