Covid-19 Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:27 pm on 18th May 2021.

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Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 1:27 pm, 18th May 2021

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for coming before the House to deal with this Statement, and also for his work ethic in dealing with Covid-19 over the last 14 months.

From these Benches, we have always said that we will support whatever is proportionate and follows evidence to keep people safe. The more that you delve into the Government’s reason for not including India on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and Bangladesh, the more it feels like a big ball of candyfloss that initially seems tempting but disintegrates on touch. Yesterday, both the Minister and the Secretary of State said that India was not put on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and Bangladesh because of the positivity rate.

Looking at the figures for the two weeks before Bangladesh and Pakistan were put on the red list, the positivity rate for India was 5.1%. For Pakistan, it was slightly higher at 6.2%, yet for Bangladesh it was lower, at 3.7%. The same data—the Government’s test and trace data—shows that in the same two-week period, 50% of all new variants entering the UK, including those of concern, were from India: the largest country by far. Therefore, variants of concern and positivity rates show India to be on a par with, or ahead of, Bangladesh and Pakistan. So what data were the Government actually using, if it was not their own test and trace data? Can the Minister place on the record that data and the raw data which made him, and the Secretary of State, say that India’s positivity rate was three times higher?

Another area of concern is people entering the UK being huddled together at the border with people entering from red-list countries. One needs only to look at the significant Twitter feeds from yesterday of people arriving from green or amber countries, who were spending up to four hours in queues to get over the UK border and having to stand next to and mingle with people entering from red-list countries. Heathrow and Manchester Airports were responding that, despite asking the Government for more border staff to deal with the issue, none had been forthcoming.

This was planned. We knew that international travel was allowed and the Government knew that the traffic-light system was being introduced, so why have the Government not carried out the wishes of the airport operators to ensure that more border staff and more guidance are available to segregate those entering from red-list countries? This is a clear public health crisis at our border, and the Government have not, to date, solved it. So, as a matter of urgency, when will this public health breach right at our borders be solved?

Finally, as variants of concern continue to enter the country and replicate at speed, “isolate, isolate, isolate” becomes vital. Yesterday, the Secretary of State in another place indicated to Munira Wilson MP that the Government were worried that isolation might not be as robust as required, and that some pilots were taking place. Can the Minister outline where they are, what the parameters of the pilots are and when the results will be made public? Also, overwhelming evidence now shows that people on lower salaries must be paid their full wages and given support to ensure that they can comply with full isolation requirements. Will the Government now look at this as a matter of urgency?