Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:19 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 3:19 pm, 12th January 2021

If my hon. Friend will show a little forbearance as I make a little progress, I will come to vaccinations and the vulnerable in a moment. I will seek to address his point then; if I do not, I am sure that he will prompt me.

I think every Member of this House fully appreciates and understands the huge burden that these restrictions now place on people today and every day: on pupils, on parents, on businesses, on individuals and on families. The Secretary of State for Education has set out our plan to support people in education settings, including with the provision of new equipment for remote learning. For businesses such as those in retail, hospitality and leisure that have been forced to close their doors once again, we are providing an additional £4.6 billion of support. There will be not a single Member in this House who has not received correspondence and pleas from their constituents who run businesses, be it in hospitality or the self-employed—a whole range of people. Members on both sides of the House will be working flat out to seek to assist them. I do appreciate the pressures that they are under. Of course, that support comes on top of our unprecedented £280 billion plan for jobs, including the extension of the furlough scheme until April.

Let me turn to vaccines. We know that in the long run the best way to help everyone in this country is to suppress the virus and to vaccinate people against it. The NHS is committed to offering, by 15 February, a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups, who currently account for more than four out of every five—roughly 88%—covid fatalities. The groups include older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff, and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. In working towards that target, there are already more than 1,000 vaccination centres throughout the country, including more than 200 hospital sites, which will increase to 270, and some 775 GP-led sites. Of course, pharmacies are already working with GPs to deliver the vaccine in many areas of the country. As vaccine supply increases, community pharmacies will continue to play an essential role.

Before my hon. Friend Mr Wragg prompts me, let me turn briefly to the question he asked. The Prime Minister and ministerial colleagues will take into consideration a number of factors when looking at the right time—the safe time, based on the scientific and clinical advice—to ease the current restrictions and to move to a tiered system. One factor that I know will weigh with them and play a part in that decision will be the extent to which vaccination has significantly reduced the risk of death in those groups most likely to be affected by the virus. It would, though, be premature—indeed, it would go well beyond my pay grade—for me to set out the detail of what precise considerations the Prime Minister will be looking at as we reach that point, hopefully in a few months’ time.

This week has seen the announcement of the opening of seven mass vaccination hubs in places such as sports stadiums and exhibition centres, and yesterday we launched our full vaccine deployment plan, which includes measures that we will take, together with local authorities, to maximise take-up among harder-to-reach communities, and our new national booking service, which will make it easier to book and access appointments. In that context, I should pay tribute to one of the great strengths of this country, which is the willingness of the people of this country to step up, pull together and volunteer to assist in times of great need for this country. We are seeing that happening now. In that context, I also pay tribute to The Sun’s “Jabs Army” campaign, through which The Sun is doing its bit to encourage people to sign up and to volunteer—I believe it has got more than 30,000 people to sign up. All this is a reflection of the innate strength of community in this country: when something needs to be done, the people of this country step up and do their bit.

Another part of the plan is our new vaccinations dashboard, which gives daily updates on our progress in the biggest vaccination effort in British history.