Thursday 26 November 2020 / 1:34 PM Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to a statement from the Health Secretary on Covid-19 in the Commons

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Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to a statement from the Health Secretary on Covid-19 in the Commons, said:

“Mr Speaker, the news of vaccines is light at end of the tunnel. But we are still in the tunnel.

“Yesterday there were 18,213 new cases, 698 deaths, there are still over 16,000 people in hospital. We still have significant way to go to drive infections down and keep people safe.

“We understand tough restrictions are still needed. But today millions of people currently trying to survive in the second lockdown will soon be forced to endure further lockdown restrictions.

“Does he accept these interventions are most successful when made in tandem with local communities?

“When areas like Bury and Trafford moved into lockdown the Secretary of State promised that MPs would be involved in the decision. Has that commitment now been abandoned?

“Then Ministers agreed to involve regional leaders but took exception to being challenged by Andy Burnham. So what role do regional leaders now have in these decisions?

“Is it really the position that the Prime Minister will impose from Downing Street restrictions on communities across the Midlands and the North that have huge repercussions for the family livelihoods of families and small businesses?

“Christmas is vital for pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues. They need substantial financial support to get through this period.

“And will those areas that went into Tier 3 before lockdown like Greater Manchester now get backdated economic support for their local small businesses?

“There are now parts of the country like Leicester, like Bury, like Leigh where for months and months families have been forced apart, where grandparents haven’t seen grandchildren. Those families tonight will want to know what the exit strategy is? And what voice they will have in that strategy?

“He has outlined five criteria by which local lockdowns will be judged. Will he publish clear transparent rules for areas entering and leaving tiers – a score card for every area assessing their Covid progress against that criteria?

“He talks of mass lateral flow testing. Over two weeks ago he announced he was sending 930,000 to local authorities lateral flow yet only 8,500 are being used a day. Why is that?

“Slovakia recently tested over 3 million people over a weekend, they incentivised people to get tested by offering greater freedoms. Is that the Government’s plan?

“Evidence from Liverpool suggests lower penetration in poorer, harder to reach communities. If people and their contacts will be financially penalised for a positive test, they will avoid a test, they will switch off their app, they won’t answer the phone to call centre numbers.

“The reason people ‘just soldier on’ when ill, isn’t because of a ‘stiff upper lip’ it’s because they can’t afford to feed their families if they don’t.

“Surely it is now obvious that people need better support to isolate, that care workers have no option but to move between homes because of their zero hour contracts, so why didn’t the Chancellor increase statutory sick pay yesterday?

“The Test and Trace budget is increasing to £22 billion – that’s more than the annual budget for the police and the fire service combined.

“But yesterday the OBR confirmed their forecasts are based on the fact that “a less effective TTI system necessitates keeping a more stringent set of public health restrictions in place over the winter”.

“At what point will he accept that Serco has failed?

“I’m not against using the private sector, but I am against throwing shedloads of taxpayers money at failing private sector contracts. Local authorities should be leading retrospective tracing from day one.

“And why was their no uplift to the public health grant yesterday? Surely we should be in public health at a time like this.

“We know this virus thrives on interaction, this isn’t a time for flippancy. January is an immensely busy and pressured time for our NHS.

“It’s not just Covid, emergency pathways are already running at hot, there is an immense elective backlog. There are less beds, staff are exhausted, one in seven hospitals have restricted elective or planned operations so far this winter.

“What plans are in place to protect the NHS through January especially if there is a long cold snap?

“How many elective operations does he anticipate will be cancelled over January?

“Nobody wants to see a third lockdown.

“So can he guarantee the measures he has announced today will be enough to bring the R rate down and sustain it below 1 for the coming months until a vaccine allows life to return to normal?”

Ends