With permission, I would like to make a statement on new measures to keep this country safe from coronavirus. Thanks to our collective efforts, we are turning a corner. Cases of coronavirus have fallen 47% in the last two weeks, and they are falling in all parts of the UK, but we are not there yet. Hospitalisations are falling, but there are still many more people in hospital than at the April or November peaks, and the number of deaths, while falling, is still far too high.
Our vaccination programme is growing every day. We have now vaccinated over 12.2 million people—almost one in four adults in the United Kingdom—including 91.4% of people aged 80 and above, 95.9% of those aged between 75 and 79, and 77.2% of those aged between 70 and 74, who were the most recent groups to have been invited. We have also vaccinated 93.5% of eligible care home residents. We have made such progress in protecting the most vulnerable that we are now asking people who live in England who are aged 70 and over and have not yet had an appointment, to come forward and contact the NHS. You can do that by going online to nhs.uk, or dialling 119, or contacting your local GP practice, so that we can make sure that we reach the remaining people in those groups, even as we expand the offer of a vaccine to younger ages.
These are huge steps forward for us all, and we must protect this hard-fought-for progress by making sure we stay vigilant and secure the nation against new variants of coronavirus that put at risk the great advances that we have made. Coronavirus, just like flu and all other viruses, mutates over time, so responding to new variants as soon as they arise is mission critical to protect ourselves for the long term. We have already built firm foundations, like our genomic sequencing, which allows us to identify new variants, our testing capacity, which allows us to bring in enhanced testing wherever and whenever we find a new variant of concern, and our work to secure vaccines that can be quickly adapted as new strains are identified.
Our strategy to tackle new variants has four parts. First, the lower the case numbers here, the fewer new variants we get, so the work to lower case numbers domestically is crucial. Secondly, as I set out to the House last week, there is enhanced contact tracing, surge testing and genomic sequencing. We are putting that in place wherever a new variant of concern is found in the community, like in Bristol, Liverpool and, as of today, Manchester. Thirdly, there is the work on vaccines to tackle variants, as set out yesterday by Professor Van-Tam. Fourthly, there is health protection at the border, to increase our security against new variants of concern arriving from abroad.
I should like to set out to the House the new system of health measures at the border that will come into force on Monday. The new measures build on the tough action that we have already taken. It is of course illegal to travel abroad without a legally permitted reason to do so, so it is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes. The minority who are travelling for exceptional purposes will be subject to a specific compliance regime and end-to-end checks throughout the journey here. Every passenger must demonstrate a negative test result 72 hours before they travel to the UK, and every passenger must quarantine for 10 days. Arriving in this country involves a two-week process for all. We have already banned travellers altogether from the 33 most concerning countries on our red list, where the risk of a new variant is greatest, unless they are resident here. But even with those tough measures in place, we must strengthen our defences yet further.
I appreciate what a significant challenge this is. We have been working to get this right across Government and with airport operators, passenger carriers and operational partners, including Border Force and the police—I thank them all for their work so far—and we have been taking advice from our Australian colleagues, both at ministerial level and from their leading authorities on quarantine. The message is, “Everyone has a part to play in making our borders safe.” I know this is a very difficult time for both airlines and ports, and I am grateful to them for working so closely with us. They have such an important role to play in protecting this country and putting in place a system so that we can securely restart travel when the time is right—the whole team at the borders working together.
Let me set out the three elements of the strengthened end-to-end system for international arrivals coming into force on
First, we are setting up a new system of hotel quarantine for UK and Irish residents who have been in red list countries in the last 10 days. In short, this means that any returning residents from those countries will have to quarantine in an assigned hotel room for 10 days from the time of arrival. Before they travel, they will have to book through an online platform and pay for a quarantine package, costing £1,750 for an individual travelling alone, which includes the hotel, transport and testing. That booking system will go live on Thursday, when we will also publish the full detailed guidance.
Passengers will only be able to enter the UK through a small number of ports that currently account for the vast majority of passenger arrivals. When they arrive, they will be escorted to a designated hotel, which will be closed to guests who are not quarantining, for 10 days or longer if they test positive for covid-19 during their stay. We have contracted 16 hotels for an initial 4,600 rooms, and we will secure more as they are needed. People will need to remain in their rooms and, of course, will not be allowed to mix with other guests. There will be visible security in place to ensure compliance, alongside necessary support, so that even as we protect public health, we can look after the people in our care.
Secondly, we are strengthening testing. All passengers are already required to take a pre-departure test and cannot travel to this country if it is positive. From Monday, all international arrivals, whether under home quarantine or hotel quarantine, will be required by law to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight of that quarantine. Passengers will have to book those tests through our online portal before they travel. Anyone planning to travel to the UK from Monday needs to book these tests, and the online portal will go live on Thursday. If either of these post-arrival tests comes back positive, they will have to quarantine for a further 10 days from the date of the test and will, of course, be offered any NHS treatment that is necessary.
Any positive result will automatically undergo genomic sequencing to confirm whether they have a variant of concern. Under home quarantining, the existing test to release scheme, which my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has built so effectively, can still be used from day five, but that would be in addition to the two mandatory tests. The combination of enhanced testing and sequencing has been a powerful weapon throughout this pandemic, and we will be bringing it to bear so that we can find positive cases, break the chains of transmission and prevent new cases and new variants from putting us at risk.
Thirdly, we will be backing this new system with strong enforcement of both home quarantine and hotel quarantine. People who flout these rules are putting us all at risk. Passenger carriers will have a duty in law to make sure that passengers have signed up for these new arrangements before they travel and will be fined if they do not. We will be putting in place tough fines for people who do not comply. That includes a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test; a £2,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take the second mandatory test, as well as automatically extending their quarantine period to 14 days; and a £5,000 fixed penalty notice, rising to £10,000, for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel. We are also coming down hard on people who provide false information on the passenger locator form. Anyone who lies on a passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they have been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
These measures will be put into law this week, and I have been working with the Home Secretary, Border Force and the police to make sure that more resources are being put into enforcing these measures. I make no apologies for the strength of these measures, because we are dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we have faced as a nation. I know that most people have been doing their bit, making huge sacrifices as part of the national effort, and these new enforcement powers will make sure that their hard work and sacrifice is not undermined by a small minority who do not want to follow the rules.
In short, we are strengthening the health protection at the border in three crucial ways: hotel quarantine for UK and Irish residents who have visited a red list country in the past 10 days and home quarantine for all passengers from any other country; a three-test regime for all arrivals; and firm enforcement of pre-departure tests and the passenger locator form. Our fight against this virus has many fronts, and just as we are attacking this virus through our vaccination programme, which protects more people each day, we are buttressing our defences with these vital measures, to protect the progress that together we have worked so hard to accomplish. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary State for advance sight of his statement. I again start by congratulating all involved in the vaccination roll-out. Vaccination needs to reach everyone, and we need to drive up vaccination rates among the over-70s. There have been reports today that over-70s have been ringing up to get an appointment but NHS computer systems are not yet ready to accept appointments over the phone. Will he look into that for us?
What is the plan to drive up vaccination levels in minority ethnic communities? I am sure the Secretary of State is as worried as I am about vaccination rates among diverse communities. I know the Government announced some funding for local authorities to tackle vaccine hesitancy in minority ethnic communities, but a city such as Leicester—my city, and one of the most diverse in the country—was not on the list. Will he rectify that?
At last night’s press conference, the Secretary of State said that the way we deal with new variants is to respond to them as they arise, and that the first line of defence is to identify them and stop spread. However, our first line of defence is surely to do everything we can to stop new variants arising in the first place. That means securing our borders, to isolate new variants as they come in. He announced a detailed package today, but he has not announced comprehensive quarantine controls at the borders. Why are more than half of the countries where the South African variant has been identified not on the so-called red list? According to newspaper reports, he wanted to go further, with more extensive quarantine arrangements. I want that as well, and the British public want that as well, so I will work with him to make that happen, so that we can strengthen our borders and fix any holes in this nation’s defences.
The Secretary of State knows that mutations occur so long as the virus can replicate and transmit, and the greater the spread, the greater the opportunity. We have the South African variant and the so-called Eek—the E484K mutation—and the B.1.1.7 strain has been identified as well. Is it not the cold reality that the virus is now here for some time, and therefore that, for vaccines to succeed in protecting us, we need to do more to protect those vaccines by cutting transmission chains and spread, especially when lockdown eases? Last year the Secretary of State said, in launching Test and Trace, that it would
“help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.”
But it did not keep the virus under control, did it? How will it be different this time? Will retrospective testing and tracing—the enhanced tracing he outlined for areas where there are variants—be routine everywhere?
Extra testing where there are new variants is of course welcome, but for many who cannot work from home on Zoom calls and laptops, who are poor or low paid, who live in overcrowded housing or who are perhaps care workers currently using up their holiday entitlement when sick so as not to lose wages, a positive test is not only a medical blow but a financial one. Last Tuesday, the Secretary of State boasted of the £500 payment, yet more than 70% of applications for financial support are rejected. By Wednesday, his own head of Test and Trace was pointing out that 20,000 sick people a day do not isolate. Indeed, two months earlier, Dido Harding had already said that people are not self-isolating because they find it very difficult, and that the need to keep earning and feed a family is fundamental, so is it any wonder that infections are falling at a slower rate in the most deprived communities? We need that financial support that his own scientific advisers have called for and that has been shown to work internationally. If he thinks I am wrong, will he tell us why he thinks Dido Harding is wrong?
We know that this virus can be transmitted through aerosols. Has the Secretary of State looked at installing air filtration systems in public buildings such as schools? Given concerns that the new Kent variant may shed more viral load through coughing and sneezing, will he update the guidance on face masks, as Germany has done, with FFP2 masks required on public transport and in shops? Will he ensure that higher-grade PPE for frontline NHS staff becomes the requirement, as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and unions have called for?
Finally, next week is Children of Alcoholics Week, a cause very close to my heart. Indeed, I will be running the London marathon again to raise money for an alcoholics charity—[Interruption.] If it is on. I am looking forward to the Secretary of State assuring me that it is going to be on, and perhaps he can run it with me. The number of excess deaths from liver disease is up 11% in the pandemic—a huge increase—and many children are in lockdown in homes under the shadow of alcohol abuse. Will he look at providing more support for those organisations that are helping children through this difficult time of lockdown when dealing with parents with substance misuse problems?
I was listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I think I take that as support for the measures we are bringing in.
On the specific points the hon. Gentleman raises, he is absolutely right that further driving up vaccination rates is critical. I am delighted by the vaccination rates and the uptake of over 90% in all of the groups over the age of 75, and rapidly rising now—above 75% and rising fast—in the 70 to 74s. I agree with him very strongly on the need to keep driving up the uptake of the vaccine. The Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, is leading the efforts across the NHS and local authorities to try to make sure that we can increase vaccination rates further. Nevertheless, the take-up has been absolutely superb so far, and there is still more to do.
I will absolutely look into the points the hon. Gentleman made about Leicester. I know that it is close to his heart and a very important matter.
I will commit to the hon. Gentleman to keep the red list up to date. It is important that we take the measures that are necessary to protect this country. There are countries around the world on a so-called green list that have very low rates of infection and no known variants of concern. I am absolutely in favour of keeping the red list up to date, but I also think it is important that we are proportionate when there are countries that do not have a record of variants of concern. However, we will use the fact that we will sequence every positive test from somebody who comes through the border as a global system of vigilance to make sure that we are always looking for those variants of concern.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of financial support. I reiterate that the £500 support is available for anybody on low incomes, so people should come forward for testing in all circumstances. I am absolutely delighted at the level of testing as well. There is now an average of over 650,000 tests a day done in this country, which is obviously a very substantial number.
The hon. Gentleman raised the point about air filtration systems, which are important. I will point him to guidance from the Business Department on air filtration systems and on PPE—we have taken clinical advice and follow the clinical advice on the correct levels of PPE.
Finally, I know that the issue of children of alcoholics is very close to the hon. Gentleman’s heart and to those of many colleagues across the House, so I will absolutely look at how we can ensure that the extra funding we have provided in this space continues to support the vital work not just of those in the NHS, but especially of charities that do so much in this space. The invitation to run the marathon with him is a very interesting one. I am not sure I have enough time for training this year, but it is certainly something I would like to do at some point in the future.
I strongly support the new measures. The higher the number of new daily cases, the more opportunities for variants and mutations to emerge, including ultimately some that may be immune to the vaccine. So does the Health Secretary agree that the central priority now must be to bring down the number of new daily cases, and as we do that, is he planning to introduce enhanced contact tracing for all new cases, including Japanese-style backward contact tracing and genomic sequencing of every new case?
We have the biggest genomic capacity in the world by some margin, and when the number of cases comes down, as our genomic capacity continues to expand—we plan to more than double it in the coming months—I hope to get to the position where we can genomically sequence every positive case, yes, but we are not there yet.
The strategy that I outlined to tackle new variants, of which the border measures are an important part, is itself one part of the four conditions that the Prime Minister set out for when we can lift measures. The other three are the successful roll-out of the vaccine, which is going very well, and the fall in the number of hospitalisations and the fall in the number of deaths, both of which, as I said, are moving in the right direction but are still too high. Therefore, this strategy to tackle new variants is crucial. The number of cases is a factor, because that itself determines the number of new variants. The conclusion of all that is that we must all stick to the rules now, and the more we stick to the rules now, the sooner we can get out of this.
The South African variant is a sure warning sign of the risk from other mutant strains that may be out there; combined with the question mark over vaccine efficacy with this variant, it is clear why we need effective border restrictions. Can the Secretary of State tell me why there are 35 countries where the South African and Brazilian variants are present that are not on the quarantine red list? Do the Government have a plan to redress that gap? From a Government obsessed with taking back control over their borders, that omission is surprising.
The Prime Minister has previously said that the UK cannot emulate other island countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, in preventing all unnecessary travel into the country due to the amount of food and medicine that it imports. Today’s change of heart is welcome. Can the Secretary of State confirm how these measures will keep the flow of goods and those transporting them open, while restricting travel not related to the import and export of goods?
The measures I have outlined today relate to passenger travel. There is, of course, a testing regime already in place for accompanied freight. There is a difference between this country and Australia and New Zealand, and that is that accompanied freight is a significant proportion of our daily imports, including just-in-time delivery, for instance, of food, whereas for islands that are further away from a continent, unaccompanied freight is a much more significant proportion of their international imports. We have to take these practical considerations into account. As I said, we keep the red list of countries under review, and the extra testing measures that I have outlined today will help us with that vigilance so that we can see where variants of concern are and to what degree they are present in other countries around the world.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement today. The people of Darlington and people right across the north- east have made incredible sacrifices to tackle this virus, and I know that they will welcome the tough measures that he has announced for those who seek to avoid quarantine. Does he agree that it is mass testing, vaccinations, following the rules and tough sanctions for those who break the rules that will help us to tackle this virus?
I agree with my hon. Friend that a combination of mass testing, vaccinations and tough enforcement is not only right to deal with this virus but, as he says, fair for people who are doing the right thing. This virus attacks us all as humans. It does not treat people differently just because they are better off and might be able to fly to Dubai for the weekend; it treats us all the same, so we should treat people the same. That is one of the reasons why it is important to bring these measures in with strong enforcement, so that they are both tough and fair on people who are working so hard and sacrificing so much to follow the rules.
I simply do not understand the logic being used for the red list. Countries where dangerous variants are present are not included, and multiple back doors are left open. Over the past few days, I have watched passenger flights, including a flight from Peru—on the red list—that is currently en route to the Netherlands, which is not on the red list but has substantial connections to the UK, and flights from southern African red-list countries en route to hubs in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and so on, which again have substantial onward connections to the UK but are not on the red list. We have even heard about UK troops in Kenya testing positive for covid today. Will the Secretary of State publish the epidemiological data that is being used to take decisions about which countries are included, and urgently review some of the very serious inconsistencies?
The hon. Gentleman raises important points, which are addressed in what I just announced in two ways. First, anybody who has been in a red-list country in the past 10 days must declare it on a passenger locator form. To fail to do so will be an imprisonable offence. Of course, nobody can come directly from a red-list country anyway because those flights have been stopped. That is a critical part of the enforcement of this system.
In addition, the second point that the hon. Gentleman raises is important. There are some countries where a variant of concern is the dominant variant, including in southern Africa and parts of Brazil. There are other countries where there are very small numbers of variants of concern, in the same way as in this country there are thankfully very small numbers of variants of concern. Absolutely, we publish information on a very broad scale. We have to make judgments about what is on the red list, and we will keep it under review.
Different countries have very different levels of genomic sequencing. There are some countries—even developed countries—that have very low levels of genomic sequencing. We have offered to support all countries around the world, so if they want a sample sequenced, we will do it for them to help with this vigilance. The mandated testing arrangements that we have introduced today will help ensure that we can strengthen the epidemiological data on which the judgments about the red list are taken.
Cases here in North Devon are now down to just 25 per 100,000. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give me that when the time comes to unlock, the hard work of the people of North Devon will not be undone by an influx of visitors from either home or abroad with new variants? Are options being looked at for local unlocking to enable schools to reopen and some local businesses to restart, given the very low level of community transmission here?
I am delighted to see that there are some parts of the country where the case rate really has come down a long way—down to 25. It is important for us to make sure we get the levels down across the country. We have seen before that when there are areas that are low, there is spread from elsewhere in the country. The experience of last summer was that tourists travelling to go on holiday within the UK did not contribute to an increase in levels. It was when levels elsewhere got much higher that we saw the transmission to other parts of the country. It is those judgments that will inform the road map proposals that the Prime Minister will set out on
The news of the new mutation is obviously of great concern to the people of Bristol, but local public health officials have rapidly set up new testing centres, including five new collect and drop testing centres today. It is a massive effort locally, and hundreds of people have come forward voluntarily since Sunday to be tested. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking those local public health officials in Bristol and the people who have come forward? Will he join me in encouraging more people in those postcode areas that have been identified to come forward for surge testing to help us understand this virus better?
I agree with every word the hon. Lady has said. This is an incredibly important effort by the people of Bristol, especially those in the postcodes that were identified. I want to thank all the public health officials, at Bristol City Council and more broadly, including those in South Gloucestershire, for the work they are doing to tackle the variant of concern, where it is found. Even though the numbers are small, we want to tackle every case we find and really get this under control. As you can see from this exchange, Mr Speaker, and as everybody in Bristol can see, this is a cross-party, cross-community effort in which everybody has a part to play, and I thank the hon. Lady for her leadership.
I welcome today’s statement and I am very proud of all my constituents across Stourbridge, Cradley and Lye for the way in which they have fully understood and taken on board the fact that we all have our role to play in defeating this virus. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the constant flip-flopping and reliance on hindsight by the Labour party is nothing more than its seeking only to score political points, rather than reinforcing the Government’s message that we all have a part to play to defeat this virus? Those on the Opposition Benches would be well served by following the fine example set by my constituents.
What the public want to see, in Stourbridge and across the whole UK, is people working together to defeat this virus. Some of the measures have to be tough, and some are difficult, but it is all done with the goal of getting this country through this as well as we possibly can, so that we can lift as many of these measures as soon as we safely can. That balance between pace and safety is central to the judgments ahead. I want to thank everybody in Stourbridge and say to them that there is no politics in this; the only thing that is important is the safety of the people of Stourbridge.
I am grateful to all those working together—the GPs, Queen Mary University of London, the Royal London Hospital, Tower Hamlets Council, the London Muslim Centre and others—in my constituency to make sure that people get vaccinated. As Members have heard, vaccine take-up is lower among minority communities and some other vulnerable groups. Some 77% of white residents are getting vaccinated, which is great, whereas only just over half of Asian residents and under 46% of black residents in our borough are getting vaccinated. Will the Secretary of State commit to increasing the supply of vaccines to our GP surgeries, as they are saying that this is where they can make a big difference with vaccine take-up? This would make a big difference to the death rates and the dangers that these minority communities face, in my constituency and elsewhere in the country.
I want to praise the hon. Lady for the leadership she is showing locally in driving up those vaccination rates. The fewer people who are left unprotected by the jab, the safer we will all be, both individually and in communities in London and across the country. My hon. Friend the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment is leading the efforts in this space, and I will make sure he gets in contact so that we can work together to reassure everybody that the vaccine is the right thing for you and the right thing for your community.
I welcome the roll-out of the vaccine programme, which has been a great success, and I congratulate the Secretary of State. May I ask for a bit of clarity on the statement? He states:
“Under home quarantining, the existing test to release scheme…can still be used from day five”.
Does that mean that somebody can successfully test negative on day five and is then free to interact in the community for three days, but will still have to take another test at day eight and if they fail that test they will have to quarantine again? Secondly, how long is this likely to last for? Obviously, summer travel is very important for the aviation industry. Is this just to last until we have vaccinated 99% of the mortality risk, which should be done by May? Or is it until we tweak the vaccination, in which case this could really have an impact on the aviation industry?
On the first point—the point of clarity—my hon. Friend has stated the position exactly correctly. On the second, we want of course to be able to exit from these arrangements into a system of safe international travel as soon as practicable and as soon as is safe, and Professor Van-Tam last night set out some of the details that we need to see in the effectiveness of the current vaccines on the variants of concern in order to have that assurance. If that is not forthcoming, we will need to vaccinate with a further booster jab in the autumn, on which we are working with the vaccine industry.
These are the uncertainties within which we are operating. Hence, for now, my judgment is that the package that we have announced today is the right one.
Many of us have been urging the Government for about 12 months now to take stronger action at our borders, so the measures announced today are very welcome, but Ministers have been consistently slow on this issue. With the ONS estimating today that, tragically, covid deaths in the UK have now surpassed 125,000, how many of those deaths does the Secretary of State believe could have been prevented by imposing much stricter public health measures at our borders since last March?
We have had significant measures at the border throughout. The new, stronger measures are necessary because of the arrival around the world of new variants of concern at the same time as the vaccine roll-out is progressing successfully. We do not want the very successful vaccine roll-out to be undermined, so it is reasonable to take a precautionary approach to international travel now, while we assess the effectiveness of the vaccines. We are clear that they have some effectiveness; the question is to what degree. That is being tested right now.
Given the incredible success of the UK vaccination programme, it would be terrible to put at risk our opening up by importing new variants like those seen in Brazil. Will my right hon. Friend stand ready to further tighten the measures at the border and the enforcement of quarantine, and does he agree that if we want to see rapid opening up, as we all do, we should be supporting strong measures at the border?
My hon. Friend is right, first, that we must keep the red list under review; and secondly, crucially, that strong protections at the border are part of defending and safely allowing the domestic opening up. For those of us who want to see that domestic opening up, ensuring that we have protection from variants that might arise from overseas is an important part, until we can get to a position where we can be confident in vaccine efficacy against all variants, not just against the current variants that are here in large numbers in the UK.
May I put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for all that he and his team are doing on this issue? Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border. As the Secretary of State is aware, the Republic of Ireland is enforcing the very apparent border in Northern Ireland, for its safety, on its side. It seems, as I said, that there can be a border when it suits. However, I am eager to understand what steps are being taken to ensure, as I highlighted last week, that officials and Government have access to pertinent travel information for those coming to Dublin, to ensure that the United Kingdom, on the Northern Ireland side, is also safe.
I spoke to my Irish opposite number, Minister Donnelly, this morning and he has assured me that that data will be provided appropriately and securely; we have been working together to ensure that that happens for some time.
As I said in my statement, we have been working with the Irish Government to ensure that there are appropriate measures, both in the Republic of Ireland and in the United Kingdom, to ensure that the border on the island of Ireland can be kept completely open, as it must, yet we have adequate protection against arrivals of variants of concern internationally. It is the two countries working together, putting in place similar arrangements both in the Republic and in the United Kingdom, that will allow us to deliver that goal, which I am sure we all share.
I am increasingly concerned about the effect of lockdown on the mental health of children; I am receiving so many emails from adolescents and teenagers. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that when he feeds into the
Yesterday, the number of deaths from covid in Wales passed the grim total of 5,000. Our public health leaders say that the Welsh Government’s £500 self-isolation payment is not enough and is indeed an economic driver for people to go to work. Sick pay, on the other hand, is the responsibility of this Government, so will the Secretary of State now commit the Government to increasing the paltry level of sick pay, as suggested, from £96 per week, to enable working people to self-isolate safely?
We have put in place the extra £500 for those on low incomes to ensure that everybody can get the financial support that they may need while self-isolating.
I commend my right hon. Friend on his statement. The Norfolk and Waveney clinical commissioning group, local NHS staff and volunteers are to be commended on rising to a challenge which on Sunday resulted in 1,000 people being vaccinated at Kirkley Mill in Lowestoft in very difficult weather conditions. There is a plan to significantly increase the number of daily vaccinations for more sites; so that this can be delivered can my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be a consistent and increased supply of vaccines and that the initial difficulties some have experienced with the national online booking system will be ironed out?
Yes, absolutely. I want to thank everybody across Norfolk and Waveney for the work they have been doing to roll out this vaccine. It is a critical part of the country in terms of the covid response, and the work done locally has been absolutely exemplary. I commend my hon. Friend on the part that he has played and the leadership he has shown in Lowestoft in making that happen; the uptake has been superb. I have seen some of the reports locally, and the emotional impact on people of getting vaccinated is absolutely fantastic. I will absolutely take away the points my hon. Friend has made.
Despite assurances from the Secretary of State and Ministers, it is now clear that the newly imposed NHS dentistry targets are in fact actively undermining patient access to urgent treatment during the pandemic, as I warned they would. Last week, a whistleblower at the UK’s largest dental chain with over 600 practices, mydentist, sent me an internal memo that advised them to prioritise routine check-ups over treatments in order to meet the new targets. Will the Secretary of State look at this urgently and agree to revise these targets to ensure that they do not undermine patient care, as the system as it stands incentivises routine check-ups above those in severe pain?
I want to thank our nation’s dentists, who have worked incredibly hard to get dentistry services going again. It is very important that we support them and that the financial incentives underpin the need to restart as much as is possible.
It is of course challenging to deliver services given that there are so many aerosol-generating procedures, and I will ask the dentistry Minister, my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, to speak to the hon. Lady and perhaps meet her to discuss these ongoing challenges.
I support the introduction of targeted quarantine for passengers coming from high-risk covid-19 variant countries. Will my right hon. Friend also commit to regular reviews and even a sunset clause on these regulations, as we seek later in the year to get our economy restarted and support our aviation sector?
I do not underestimate the impact that all these measures have had on Gatwick. My hon. Friend represents so many of those who work at Gatwick, and I understand the impact. I was at Gatwick airport on Friday, and the empty departure hall was really quite a sad sight. These measures are necessary, in my view, and I am glad that he supports them, difficult as they are. We are also acutely cognisant of the economic impact on airports and those who work in them, and I would be happy to keep talking to him about how quickly we can remove these measures safely.
The whole House has welcomed what the Secretary of State has had to say about the progress in fighting coronavirus, but he will be aware that there is a very real danger that one cohort will be left behind: black and ethnic minority communities. We already know that black people are four times more likely to die from coronavirus, and currently the statistics show that black over-80s are half as likely to be vaccinated as white people. I am conscious that the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment is aware of this issue, but will the Secretary of State give the House an undertaking that he will drive forward a whole series of measures to increase vaccine take-up among black and minority ethnic persons? When black and minority ethnic people are on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus as health and social care workers, it would be a tragedy if there was an increased death toll because enough was not being done to encourage take-up of the vaccine.
I do not say this lightly, but I agree with every single word that the right hon. Lady said. I want to pay tribute to her, because I have not had the chance in the House to thank all the black MPs who took part in the incredibly moving video to persuade people, who may have understandable concerns, that taking the jab is the right thing to do. She played a pivotal role in that short video, and it is just one small part of the huge effort we need to make, because the fewer people who do not have the protection, the safer we will all be. I am very grateful for her work and her support, and I hope that we can continue to work together to drive uptake among black communities right across this country.
Policies are often easy to announce and difficult to end. The chief scientific adviser says that covid is with us forever, and it will presumably continue to mutate into new variants forever. I listened carefully to the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, but I did not hear an answer to this: when is this policy going to end, if ever, because if the virus continues to mutate, surely the risk will be there forever?
The risk of mutations absolutely can and will be managed through the evolution of vaccines, in the way that the annual flu jab changes each year and allows us to protect ourselves. While necessary now, these are not measures that can be in place permanently. We need to replace them over time with a system of safe and free international travel; that is where we need to get to. The first task is to vaccinate the population. If we get good news on the impact of vaccination on hospitalisations and deaths for new mutations, we will be in a better place. If we do not get such good news, we will need to use the updated vaccines to protect against the variants of concern.
The scientists inform and advise me that there are, repeatedly and independently around the world, mutations of the same type in the E484K area of the virus, as mentioned by Jonathan Ashworth. That gives the scientists a good start in where to target the new updated vaccine—if we have to wait until then—but it may be that we get from the existing vaccines enough efficacy against hospitalisation and death that they work perfectly well to hold this virus down. We just do not know that yet; hence, the precautionary principle applies.
It is hugely important that we keep making progress in tackling the virus and in vaccinations. However, last week I heard from the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, the research of which indicates that we would need cancer services to work at 120% capacity for two years to catch up with the existing backlog. I am concerned that the cancer recovery taskforce lacks sufficient resources and scope to achieve the restoration of services and tackle the backlog. Will the Government, in the March Budget, increase the resources available to the taskforce, to expand the overall capabilities of the UK’s cancer services to tackle the backlog?
We announced in the spending review significant extra funding to tackle the backlog. I am very proud of cancer services throughout the country, which have kept up the work during this second wave in a quite remarkable way, owing to tenacity, working together, flexibility and, of course, very strong infection prevention and control.
Last week I was at the Royal Marsden Hospital, where they are doing 100% of their normal-time operations. That is not true everywhere—the Royal Marsden has the advantage of being, in essence, a cancer-only site, which makes things easier. The thrust of the hon. Lady’s question is right—we absolutely must catch up on the cancer backlog—but I am optimistic because people have worked so hard in oncology to keep cancer services going. As the number of covid patients comes down, so we must ensure that the backlog is worked through.
I pay tribute to everybody in Stockport who is part of the massive vaccination effort that is going so well, as it is throughout the rest of country. The original purpose of lockdown was to reduce hospitalisations and keep hospitals from falling over; if that is achieved through a vaccination programme, is it now the Government’s intention to use the level of virus in circulation—the number of cases in the population—to determine when to ease lockdown?
I add my congratulations to all those involved in the roll-out of the vaccine, particularly those in my local area who have been working non-stop. Will the Secretary of State say something about international co-operation, particularly in respect of identifying new variants and assisting other countries to stop their transmission? What discussions are taking place with the World Health Organisation and others to ensure that we are keeping track of new variants as much as is practicably possible?
That is a critical question, on which I point to three things. First, we have put in place the new variant assessment platform, which uses our genomic capability to be of service to countries that do not have the capability to identify variants and sequence samples, if that is needed.
Secondly, we are working with the World Health Organisation to ensure that its library of variants is as up-to-date as possible. Of course, it is that work from which must flow the assessment of what appropriate updates to any vaccine are necessary, which is how it works with flu. The system is nascent but incredibly important, and I am grateful to the World Health Organisation for its work on that so far. We need to go further.
Thirdly, on the measures put in place today, by testing every international rival—given the nature of the UK, even in these tough times, as an international hub—we will, where we spot positives, be able to sequence them and therefore gather the sequences of coronavirus from around the world. The announcements made today will directly help us to address the question of where variants of concern are arising and therefore help the international efforts to tackle them.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and join him in praising everyone involved in the vaccine roll-out. It is going incredibly well in Newcastle-under-Lyme; in Staffordshire, we have just passed 200,000 vaccinations given.
Brilliant scientists in the UK and around the world have delivered us these vaccines at an unprecedented pace, and I welcome the news that they are now working on new versions of them to fight variants. However, if we were to embrace even faster methods for evaluating the efficacy of vaccines, such as challenge trials, we could speed up the process even further.
Given the enormous economic cost of lockdowns, every month counts. That should prompt the whole world to re- evaluate our standard methodology for approving vaccines. Could my right hon. Friend set out what steps he is taking to allow new varieties of vaccines to be developed as quickly as possible, if they prove to be required?
Yes, we do not rule out challenge studies at all. We are working with Oxford University on such an approach. More broadly, I am up for considering anything that can ensure that a vaccine can safely be brought to bear and support this effort as fast as possible.
I would, though, caution against undue pessimism in this space because the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has done an amazing job of maintaining very strong safety and efficacy requirements while speeding up every process, constantly challenging the critical path to vaccine approval and asking how it can be sped up while maintaining the very high standards that it should expect. It is continuing that work with potential iterations of the vaccine to ensure that the level of assuredness is appropriate and the degree of checks that an iteration needs to go through is appropriate to the degree of difference from the original vaccine.
For instance, for flu, we do not need to go through the full clinical trials process because the underlying platform is known to be safe—we need to demonstrate clinical efficacy. It is that sort of flexible yet rigorous thinking that the MHRA should be very proud of.
People are at home with the windows closed and the heating on: those are potential conditions for carbon monoxide poisoning, whose symptoms are very similar to those of covid-19. What are the Government doing to enforce legislation on that issue and make the public aware of that silent killer?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, which is taken into account in the work that we are doing to push forward high-quality ventilation, which is good for tackling carbon monoxide poisoning and for trying to reduce the risk of the spread of covid.
I start by thanking the hard-working Secretary of State for yet again coming to the House and updating us on the covid situation.
In north Northamptonshire, we have a particular problem with covid infections—we just cannot get them down. In Wellingborough, we are 25% above the national average, in Kettering 50% above it and, in Corby, more than double the national average, with the highest infection rate in the country. Has the Secretary of State given any consideration to the mass testing of north Northamptonshire so that we can get infections down, rather as happened in Liverpool?
I am aware of and also worried about the continued high rates of infections in north Northants, which has not had a particularly bad pandemic thus far but now, at this point, seems to have a stubbornly high infection rate. I am absolutely up for all measures that might help to get it down, including mass testing. I will take that idea away, work on it with colleagues and return to my hon. Friend and his north Northants colleagues with a proposal.
The pandemic has been particularly difficult for those with a weak immune system; I therefore welcome the fact that UK Research and Innovation has provided funding to support research on vaccine responses in groups of immunosuppressed individuals, such as high-risk cancer patients. When does the Secretary of State expect the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to have enough data to develop a vaccine-protective strategy for immunosuppressed individuals that details whether any specific vaccine is preferred for this cohort?
This is a very important consideration. For those for whom the vaccine is clinically inappropriate, clearly the single most important thing is that everybody else gets the vaccine because that is what can best keep them safe. When we say that the vaccine is “good for you and good for others”, that includes those who are clinically unable to take the vaccine to protect themselves, so everybody around them needs to take the vaccine in order to protect them. More broadly, that work is under way. I will ask the deputy chief medical officer to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the precise clinical details.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. As I have so many constituents who work in the aviation industry, this is important information. I am thankful for the now ramped up provision of vaccine centres in South Derbyshire, but how will he ensure that housebound residents receive their jab? There seem to be gaps in communications between primary care networks, district health services and GP surgeries, leaving my constituents unsure.
I will look into the specifics of the situation in South Derbyshire and ask the Minister for Vaccine Deployment, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, to call my hon. Friend to try to understand precisely the situation in her area. It is absolutely the responsibility of PCNs to deliver vaccines to the housebound. That is working in most parts of the country. I had not heard of any concerns in South Derbyshire, but this is obviously incredibly important because we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people to covid in the country. We must make sure that everybody, including those who are housebound, has the offer of a jab, and that people can get out and make that happen.
New border restrictions to safeguard us from covid will mean a reduction in the amount of travel into the UK, which will of course cause further harm to aviation and travel firms. Will the Secretary of State update us on progress and give us more details about the ongoing Cabinet discussions regarding specific support for aviation and travel firms in the light of these additional measures?
Yes; we do not underestimate the impact of these measures on the travel and aviation industries. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is leading the discussions, as he has done throughout, because it is incredibly important that people get the right level of support. It goes to the point made by my right hon. Friend Mr Harper, which is that we need to ensure that we go into these measures with a plan for how we come out of them into a set of secure international travel arrangements, so that people can get moving again.
In Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke I have seen at first hand, while volunteering at the mass vaccination centre in Tunstall, the incredible effort of our local NHS heroes in getting jabs into the arms of up to 1,000 people each day. This is important, as the Royal Stoke University Hospital has been under tremendous pressure in critical care, dealing with capacity 220% above its usual averages. Will my right hon. Friend thank the local health and care heroes across Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, and assure us that we will get increased vaccine doses as the supply increases?
Yes, absolutely. The effort in Stoke has been absolutely magnificent. I follow it particularly closely because every time I come to this Chamber—it is normally at least once a week—I am grilled by a colleague from Stoke about performance in Stoke. I have been looking at it recently; across Stoke, the hospital, the GPs and the pharmacies have been doing a magnificent job in the vaccination effort. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his leadership locally in promoting uptake of the vaccine.
Given the evidence that some of the new variants of covid are much more transmissible, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association have raised concerns about whether current PPE guidance is adequate. It has been reported that some hospitals are offering staff high-grade PPE, for example FFP3 masks, while others are not, which means unequal levels of protection depending on where staff work. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether the NHS has reviewed the guidance about the standard of PPE to be provided to all staff when treating covid-19 pathway medium and high-risk patients?
I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the House with his statement today. Will he join me in congratulating the Henfield heroes at Henfield Medical Centre? They have already vaccinated more than 1,000 patients, who very much appreciated not having to travel 40 miles to the previous clinic in Storrington. I am grateful that artificial limits on the number of centres per primary care network have been relaxed in rural areas.
I pay tribute to everybody at the Henfield Medical Centre doing this incredible work. It is really uplifting being in a health centre. If Members have not been to a vaccination centre as a Member of this House, I would highly recommend it because it is such an uplifting experience. I am really glad that it is being carried out ever closer to home for people as we expand the number of vaccination sites, of which there are now more than 1,400 across England.
The maximum sentence for a person lying on their locator form will be 10 years in prison. What will the minimum sanction be for that offence? The cost of the hotel, including testing and transport, will be £750 for 10 days. Can the Secretary of State give the House an absolute assurance that that represents good value for money to passengers and that there is no undue profiteering?
Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we have been doing in our discussions with hotel groups and others is ensuring value for money as much as possible for passengers. Hence we have managed to get the costs down to £1,750 for an individual traveller in a room alone.
Will the Secretary of State maintain his war aim of protecting the NHS and eschew those siren voices calling for a desired level of infection in the community? If we depart from a level of hospitalisation with which the NHS can cope effectively, we will lose the proper sense of urgency to lift restrictions that are so devastating and costly to us all.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of the level of hospitalisations as one of the key factors and conditions for exit, as set out by the Prime Minister. The good news is that the number of people in hospital with covid is now falling. It is still higher than either at the April peak or at the November peak. The challenge in terms of the number of cases is that, when cases are very high, you are more likely to get a new variant, but, thankfully, cases are coming down very sharply, too.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary told me in Parliament that 100% compliance checks were now taking place at the border. Yet one passenger arriving at Heathrow yesterday from South Africa via Qatar has reported having no checks on her forms or tests and being just sent on her way through passport e-gates. This is a problem that I raised with the Prime Minister almost a month ago. Travellers have reported throughout that the reality is not matching the Government’s rhetoric, so why, when this is so important, does it appear that the most basic checks are still not happening?
The Home Secretary is looking into this individual case. The measures that we announced today further strengthen the enforcement to make sure that the rules that are currently in place are enforced more strongly, and indeed that we have brought in a new system of rules to strengthen the safeguards at our border yet further.
May I say a huge thank you to everyone on the frontline working hard on the vaccine roll-out in Bridgend and Porthcawl? When it comes to dealing with the transmission of the South African variant, could my right hon. Friend set out what steps he is taking on surge testing so that we can gather more information and effectively monitor any further community transmission?
Yes. When we see the community transmission of a variant of concern, we send in extra testing, and sequence all the positives to try to find any other variant of concern nearby. That means going door to door to offer testing, and enhancing contact tracing so that, for anybody who tests positive, we ensure that we test all those they have been in contact with and, in some cases, the contacts of those contacts in turn. That is currently under way in a number of locations, in targeted areas. Of course, I speak regularly with the Welsh Government to ensure that we take the same sort of approach over the border.
Vaccine hesitancy is highest among black, Asian and minority ethnic residents, and tackling it is vital to stop the existing covid-19 health inequalities widening and deepening further. My constituency has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country yet neither of my local councils, Lambeth and Southwark, was included on the seemingly arbitrary list of councils invited to bid for additional funding to address vaccine hesitancy. Can the Secretary of State explain why, and will he commit to working with the Communities Secretary to look again urgently at that decision?
The Secretary of State said earlier that the virus treats us all the same, which is of course quite right. Sadly, it does not go easy on those who do not take up the offer of a vaccine, so can I ask my right hon. Friend what his thinking will be if, despite all the excellent work going on to support the vaccine hesitant, and there is lots of it, we have fellow citizens not protected? Will he confirm that such a personal decision cannot impact on the ultimate release of our society and our economy?
We are not proposing to mandate vaccination, partly for the reasons that my hon. Friend sets out. Anyway, vaccine take-up has been really very high—much higher than expected—which is terrific. In fact, in the latest international surveys that I have seen, the UK has the highest enthusiasm for taking the vaccine—up from about fifth highest a couple of months ago. Our attitude, tone and communications throughout have been purposefully entirely positive about why the vaccine is good for people and for their communities, and how people like them are taking the vaccine. I praise the Government Communication Service, NHS England and local councils, which have worked so hard to drive vaccine take-up as high as it has been.
To date, Government communication with the 2.2 million people who have been shielding on and off for almost a year has been poor. On their behalf, I ask the Secretary of State a very simple question: will it be safe to stop shielding after they have received their second dose of the vaccine?
I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. Lady one bit. We write regularly to those who are shielding and we write to them individually, so I am not going to make a blanket announcement in the Chamber. We will communicate carefully and individually with people who are on the shielded patient list. It is too sensitive to play politics with.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s decision to fund the local authorities of Harrow and Hillingdon, which serve my constituency, to reach out to people who may be reluctant to come forward and get their vaccine. In respect of those who are in our country with an uncertain immigration status, but for whom vaccination is vital for both humanitarian and medical reasons, will he consider a similar approach and fund local authorities, which know their communities best, to reach out to those people, to ensure that they are also part of this great British success story?
Yes. We are working with GPs, with community parts of the NHS and also with local authorities to do this. As my hon. Friend may have seen, the Home Office has stated that the most important thing is that we vaccinate everybody who is present here, whatever their status or paperwork.
I am very glad to hear that exchange, because this is a considerable issue in Glasgow, with our large asylum-seeking population. Will the Secretary of State also tell us how his announcements about quarantining will be applied to people who arrive in this country seeking asylum and who probably do not have £1,750 in their back pocket? How will new arrivals be supported in the quarantine process?
A new arrival to the UK who has been in a red-list country in the past 10 days and who is not a resident of the United Kingdom or Ireland or a UK citizen will be denied entry and held in hotel quarantine until they can return to the country from which they arrived.
I am endeavouring to ensure that everyone on the list gets a chance to ask a question, but they will not do so if we do not speed up a bit, because we have a lot more business to come—[Interruption.] No, I do not criticise the Secretary of State. If he is asked complicated questions, he has to give complicated answers, so let us have quick and simple questions, then we can have quick and simple answers.
May I join my neighbouring north Staffordshire colleagues in thanking our health workers for the amazing job they have been doing in rolling out the vaccine? Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging everyone in Stoke-on-Trent who is in priority groups 1 to 4 to get an appointment and get their jab before
Yes. Stoke-on-Trent has been ably and effectively represented in this discussion, and everybody across Stoke deserves praise for the work that they are doing to drive up the vaccination rate. The higher the vaccination rate, the more quickly and safely we can all come out of this together.
The roll-out of the vaccine programme has been absolutely commendable. Brilliant! Well done! Locally, it has been really encouraging to see the mass vaccination centres working alongside the GP surgeries, but I am really worried that from this Friday onwards all the local mass vaccination centres will have to close because there will not be any more Pfizer vaccine except for the delivery of second doses, which will not start for another fortnight. On top of that, the number of AstraZeneca doses available locally will fall from 24,000 a week to 8,000 a week, so I am really worried that the next cohort of people are not going to get their vaccinations soon. Is there anything the Secretary of State can do to ensure that we get more vaccines locally by this weekend?
I am not aware of the closure of any vaccination centres. Of course, it is a matter for the Welsh Government if they are going to close vaccination centres, but I speak to the Welsh Health Minister regularly and this has not been raised as an issue of concern. Supply is of course the rate-limiting factor, as it has been throughout the roll-out. Supply continues, but we have to start ensuring that we have those second jabs ready for people. I am not aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is certainly not a problem across England, where I am directly responsible for the roll-out. So far, this programme has been going so well across the whole United Kingdom, and we have all been working so hard together to make it happen.
In warmly welcoming what the Secretary of State has said today, the question that I have to ask, like many people, is why we did not do this over a year ago. After all, we are an island. If we had done what the Australians and New Zealanders have done, perhaps we would not have had to close our schools for all this time. I am saying this to support the Secretary of State when he is locked in Cabinet discussions with people who say that we have to protect the travel industry or the aircraft industry. I would say: let us have tough quarantine regimes, like Australia and New Zealand, and tough, enforced local lockdowns like China. Let us get a grip on this rather than just saying that it is more important to keep the travel industry open than our schools.
I am very grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support in the way that he puts it. I have been talking to my Australian counterparts about the approach that they take, not least because their hotel quarantine has now been in place for some time. The central point that he makes is that once we get cases down through both the measures now, and then the vaccine to keep them down, a tough borders policy can help to keep us free domestically. That is a very important part of this consideration.
I pay tribute to all organisations in Liverpool working on the frontline to manage this pandemic. Does the Secretary of State believe that the Government are following their own guidance in making over 2,000 Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency workers physically attend the workplace for non-essential work processing provisional licence applications when driving lessons are not possible under current restrictions? Does he agree that no one is safe until we are all safe?
I congratulate all those in the local health service and volunteers rolling out the successful vaccine programme in Wimbledon. I agree that we need effective border security. However, my right hon. Friend said earlier that new variants could emerge anywhere, so could he allay my concern that our efforts might be better spent on ensuring effective, rigorous and enforced home quarantine for all rather than setting up a hotel regime that will only protect against red-list countries?
The rigour and the security of both home quarantine and hotel quarantine are important. It is a matter of the degree of risk, and that is why we have attempted to strike the balance that we have. However, what is not in balance is the need for rigorous quarantine both for those coming from red-list countries and those coming from all other countries who quarantine at home. It is important that this takes place, whether it is at home or in a hotel, and hence the stronger enforcement measures.
One of my constituents is a long-term in-patient in the spinal injuries unit at Southport Hospital. He is 70 years old and is tetraplegic. Despite there being covid cases on the ward, he has not yet received a vaccine, and staff tell his partner that they have no idea when they will be able to offer one to him. Vulnerable patients in units like this may be there for months or years. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that all long-term in-patients, including my constituent, get the vaccine at the same time as they would if they were an out-patient?
Yes, that is exactly the principle on which we are proceeding. I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Lady does in this area and in always speaking up for those who are in in-patient care. It is very important that we make sure that there is equal and fair support for all according to clinical need, and that will be addressed in the next phase of the roll-out, once we have ensured that the offer to all those in categories 1 to 4 is achieved by next Monday.
I put on record my thanks to everybody working at Newbury racecourse for leading a fantastic vaccination programme for my constituency. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement about very high rates of take-up of the vaccine. What has the take-up rate been among those under the age of 70 who have been offered it so far? What conversations has he had with the vaccine Minister about dispelling one of the most persistent myths that has been raised with me by young women—that the vaccine could negatively affect their fertility?
There is no evidence at all that the vaccine negatively affects fertility. There are many myths about vaccines, and I am very glad that they have largely been rightly ignored by the British public when they are inaccurate. The way we try to tackle such myths is by putting out as much positive, accurate, objective information from objective sources as possible, both on the NHS website and through the chief medical officer and deputy chief medical officers answering questions whenever possible. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that issue. I will ask one of the deputy chief medical officers to write to her, and we will publish that letter to provide the further reassurance that she asks for.
I refer to the answer I gave to my right hon. Friend Mr Harper. Absolutely, testing is a very important part of this, as I set out in the statement.
I know that my right hon. Friend is committed to securing our borders. Will he therefore consider commissioning and funding airlines and airports directly to run these new Department of Health and Social Care passenger and border restrictions? Airlines and airports such as BA and Heathrow have the experience, market innovation and incentive to deliver safe travel for Britain. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and representatives from the airline industry so that together we can deliver secure borders but a global Britain?
That is exactly our goal, and we have been working very hard with the carriers and airport operators to put this new scheme in place. There is further work to do in the days ahead, and no doubt after its initial introduction on Monday. What I would say very directly to my hon. Friend, the airline industry and the airports is that I know this is very difficult and tough. It is absolutely vital that we all work together constructively, positively and with the spirit of innovation that she describes to put in place a robust system that uses all possible technology to ensure that we have the basis of a future safe global travel arrangement. It is about both securing the borders now and ensuring that we can get global travel going for the long term.
Last week, the London director of Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton, said that London’s Asian communities have been the hardest hit by the covid-19 second wave. It is being felt deeply in my constituency, and I pay tribute to those on the frontline in my constituency who have been helping to drive up the vaccine uptake, and those serving in our mortuary and funeral services. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that the Government need to learn quickly from the impact of the first and second waves on minority communities, but that must be informed by evidence, especially to ensure the effectiveness of any strategy to deal with vaccine hesitancy. Will he and his colleagues ensure that data about the vaccine roll-out and mortalities in the second wave is published regularly in a meaningful format and disaggregated by ethnicity?
Order. Before I call the Secretary of State to answer the question, I give notice that we ought to be stopping this statement now, but I have seven more people who wish to get in. Can you please just cut your bits of paper in half and ask a question? It is not fair to everybody else, and the people who are sitting at home are not getting the atmosphere. We have got to do this quickly. We do not need speeches, just questions. If people take more than 20 seconds, I will cut them off.
The jury is still out on whether every vaccine can eliminate every covid variant, but we know that vitamin D builds immunity to all viruses. The Secretary of State promises a four-month free supply for the vulnerable, but how come nobody has heard of it? Will he commit to widely advertising it and its benefit to all Brits?
Yes, indeed I have, and I have written to more than a million people about the availability of vitamin D. Indeed, I know that that offer is being taken up, because there are Members of this House who have received their free vitamin D, taken a photograph of it and sent me the photo.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that autistic people and those with learning disabilities are vulnerable to covid-19, with a death rate 4.1 times higher than the general population. Will the Secretary of State use his influence to make sure that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation properly considers the right time for autistic people to be prioritised for vaccination?
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. There will be significant concern among the population of Northern Ireland that entering into the UK could continue through Dublin, putting people in my constituency at additional risk of new variants. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is not behaviour becoming of a good neighbour? In fact, it is quite shameful and irresponsible for the Government of the Irish Republic to refuse to share arrivals data with the UK. Furthermore, if this continues, does he agree that the hard border currently being enforced by the Irish Republic, restricting travel from north to south, will have to be enforced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to stop entrance into Northern Ireland from across the border, to protect the UK?
No, I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I reassure every one of her constituents and all citizens across Northern Ireland that we work closely with the Government in Dublin to ensure that data is shared properly and that both Governments have an appropriate system to safeguard our borders against the challenges that we face while allowing free travel within the common travel area.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to making a contribution to the roadmap on
The head of the Government’s own test and trace system admitted that up to 20,000 people per day who are asked to self-isolate are not doing so. Will the Secretary of State please confirm, after 10 months of being asked for it, when he will come up with a plan to fix the isolation system, so that those who need to self-isolate have the pastoral and financial support they need to do so?
We have put in place that support, including £500 for all those on low incomes. Everybody who is asked to self-isolate needs to self-isolate to break the chains of transmission.
What lessons can we learn from Israel which, uniquely, is ahead of us in this race to protect its people? For example, when we reach group 10—under-50s who have not already been injected—should we prioritise those who have not been exposed to the disease and who are not bursting with antibodies, so that we actually protect more people? Incidentally, the Israelis are also injecting 16 and 17-year-olds. Are there any lessons to be learned from that?
I talk to my Israeli counterpart regularly, and I am impressed by the effort that Israel has delivered on to vaccinate its population. I am very happy to look into the detailed points that my right hon. Friend raises.
Projections show that some countries in the global south will have to wait until 2023 to achieve widespread vaccination because pharmaceutical monopolies are creating artificial restrictions. Given that no one is safe until everyone is safe, will the Secretary of State use his influence with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the Government change their position and back proposals from India and South Africa to address pharmaceutical monopolies and help ensure that the world can produce enough vaccines for every country as soon as possible?
The hon. Lady would get a better hearing if she started on this subject by congratulating AstraZeneca, the British player in this vaccine race, on the fact that it is rolling out its jab with no profit at all. It is doing that in order to be able to vaccinate as many people around the world as fast as possible, at an affordable cost. That should be our starting point. There would be no vaccines if it was not for the global pharmaceutical industry. I pay tribute to all those working in the pharmaceutical sector. There is no way that we would have these jabs were a policy followed that disparaged the pharmaceutical sector in the way she proposes or in the way the Labour manifesto proposed at last election. Instead, we should come together to support industry, scientists, the NHS and Government. It is a massive team effort.
I will absolutely look into the suggestion that my hon. Friend makes, which is all about making sure that we reach out to people at a moment when everybody, or almost everybody, is going through a process together—and I hope it is everybody. It is very interesting proposal, which I will take away and hopefully speak to my hon. Friend about in the days to come.
There —we did it, and only seven minutes over time. I thank everybody for going relatively fast, and especially the Secretary of State, who has answered 60 questions, which is pretty good going.