Coronavirus - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:27 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:27 pm, 9th March 2020

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place earlier today. The Answer is as follows.

“Madam Deputy Speaker, the coronavirus outbreak continues to advance around the world. The number of cases in China and South Korea keeps rising, but at a slowing rate. However, the outbreak in Iran, Italy, Switzerland and now France and Germany is growing. In Italy alone, we have seen 1,492 more cases overnight and 102 more deaths. Here in the UK, as of this morning, there were 319 confirmed cases. Very sadly, this now includes four confirmed deaths. I entirely understand why people are worried and concerned, and we send our condolences to the families.

The UK response is guided by our four-point action plan. We continue to work to contain this virus, but we are also taking action to delay its impact, to fund research and to mitigate its consequences. Throughout, our approach is guided by the science. That is the bedrock on which we base all our decisions. Our plan sets out what we are prepared to do, and we will make the right choices of which action to pursue at the right moment.

The scientific advice is clear: acting too early creates its own risks, so we will do what is right to keep people safe. Guided by the science, we will act at the right time and we will be clear and open about our actions and the reasons for them. These are the principles that underpin the very best response to an epidemic like this.

Turning to research, I can report that we have made available a further £46 million to find a vaccine and develop a more rapid diagnostic test. We will continue to support the international effort. Here at home, the NHS is well prepared with record numbers of staff, nurses and doctors. I want to thank all those involved for their work so far.

The number of calls to the NHS 111 service has increased and we have recruited an extra 700 people to support that effort. The 111 online service is now dealing with more inquiries than voice calls. To date, Public Health England has tested nearly 25,000 people and the time taken to test is being reduced as we bring in a new system for faster results.

Responding to coronavirus will take a national effort and everyone must play their part. Of course, that means the Government, but it also means everyone washing their hands more often and following public health advice. There is much more that we can all do both through volunteering and through support for those who are most vulnerable. We will shortly bring forward legislative options to help people and services to tackle this outbreak. The Bill will be temporary and proportionate, with measures that last only as long as is necessary, in line with clinical advice.

I can also report that over the weekend we initiated action to assist the 120 passengers on the “Grand Princess” cruise ship off the coast of California in coming home.

We will stop at nothing to get this response right and I commend the Statement to the House.”