Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Lord Bethell:

Moved by Lord Bethell

That the Regulations laid before the House on 12 October be approved.

Instrument not yet reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, these regulations, which were made on 12 October and came into force today are necessary owing to the continued rise in the national transmission rates of coronavirus in England. They form a critical part of the government response to the ongoing threat to public health posed by the coronavirus epidemic.

The new local alert level approach, announced by the Prime Minister on Monday, will rationalise the important programme of local interventions that have been applied across the country. It will enable a coherent set of interventions across England, making it easier to communicate to the public which restrictions apply in their area. This will increase the likelihood of compliance and the effectiveness of social distancing measures.

Today we are debating three sets of regulations: very high, high and medium. The regulations in this debate set out the restrictions that will apply when the local alert level category is set at very high. These will apply when the local alert level category high measures cannot contain the virus or where there has been a dramatic rise in the transmission rates. There is no automatic trigger for an area to move into higher restrictions. Government, working with local authorities and directors of public health, will consider several factors, including the number of cases in the area, the rate of transmission, the effectiveness of current interventions, hospitalisations, the national picture and an assessment of the capacity of local health services.

Regarding restrictions on gatherings, in areas subject to local alert level very high restrictions, social contact will be reduced to break potential chains of transmission. For that reason, meetings in indoor venues and private gardens is limited to a single household. Meetings in outdoor venues are limited to a single household unless exemptions apply. The intention is to dramatically reduce social contact while balancing the social and well-being benefits of meeting family or friends. We recognise the risk of isolation, and have taken targeted policy interventions to mitigate this. For instance, a single-adult household and one other household of any size may link together to form a support bubble. A gathering that is made up of people from the same bubble is not subject to the six-person outdoor limit or the one-household gathering limit that applies indoors and in private outdoor settings.

The Government recognise that both weddings and funerals are significant life events. As such, the following higher limits apply to balance the need for people to recognise these significant events, while minimising the spread of the virus: weddings and civil partnerships are subject to a 15-person limit; funerals are subject to a 30-person limit; and wakes are limited to 15 people.

The restrictions placed on business seek to balance reducing social contact and enabling businesses to continue operating to minimise disruption to the economy. We know that hospitality poses a high transmission risk. PHE data shows that, between 3 August and 27 September, 148 known outbreaks occurred in restaurants and food outlets. PHE’s weekly surveillance report also highlighted that, from 21 to 27 September, 13% of those who tested positive for Covid-19 reported eating out in the time before symptom onset, when there is a high risk of asymptomatic transmission. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has also highlighted that alcohol consumption may increase risk of non-compliance with social distancing and that hospitality settings are associated with increased risk of transmission.

At alert level very high, businesses and venues must follow the restrictions imposed at local alert level medium and high. This requires the closure of all hospitality and leisure venues from 10 pm to 6 am. In keeping with the restrictions on businesses and venues at alert level medium and high, hospitality settings in alert level very high must only use table service for the consumption of food on their premises. This is to reduce the potential for social mixing of customers from different households.

The regulations require the closure of services that pose a higher transmission risk and cannot currently be opened safely. These include nightclubs, dance halls, discos, sexual entertainment venues and hostess bars. The Government are conscious of the impact that this will have on these sectors and we continue to work with representatives from these industries to develop options to facilitate a safe way for them to reopen.

We know that alcohol consumption results in reduced compliance with social distancing rules. These regulations mandate that hospitality venues can only serve alcohol for consumption on the premises alongside a main course meal. Those venues that do not serve main meals must close.

Key to our approach is financial support. Businesses that are required to close will be eligible for support from the Local Restrictions Support Grant. Eligible businesses will receive a grant for each two-week period they are required to close, payable after the first two-week closure period.

In addition, the Job Support Scheme will provide a safety net for businesses across the UK required to close temporarily. The Government will support eligible businesses by paying two-thirds of each employee’s salary up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

Given the likely impact of the new measures introduced in very high alert level areas, it is important that local areas shape the restrictions introduced and that the restrictions reflect the local, economic, social and public health situation. The Government will work with the respective local authorities to achieve this.

The regulations create offences punishable by fines and provide for fixed penalty notices. I pay tribute to the vast majority of the general public who are doing the right thing and diligently following the rules, but it is vital that the police have appropriate powers to deal with those who do not.

I appreciate that these changes have caused real disruption to people’s lives. However, the evidence continues to indicate that the infection rate is rising across the country. It remains vital that the Government take decisive action to limit further spread. For that reason, I beg to move.