Monday 12 July 2021 / 4:18 PM Coronavirus / Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to Health Secretary’s statement on lifting Covid restrictions

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to the Secretary of State for Health’s statement on the lifting of Covid restrictions, said:


Can I pay tribute to the England side.

We are proud of each and every one of them.

The players of course took the knee to show they were taking a stand against racism.

We offer our solidarity again today and I join with others in utterly condemning the racist abuse we’ve seen.

Mr Speaker we want to see the economy reopen in a balanced, safe and sustainable way.

That means maintaining certain mitigations to contain the speed at which infections are rising and help reduce transmission and to limit the numbers exposed to the virus before they themselves are vaccinated.

Instead he’s taken a high risk, indeed fatalistic approach, trying to game what might happen in the winter, deciding that infections are going up anyway.

And instead of caution, he’s pushing his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seat belts off.

He admits that could mean 100,000 infections a day.

With potentially thousands suffering debilitating long Covid.

And the threat of a new more transmissible variant emerging.

Two weeks ago he justified unlocking suggesting it would make us healthier, now he warns waiting lists could hit 13 million.

Hospital admissions running at over 400 a day, there are now 393 people in ICU – up over 100 since the start of July. Any significant increase in admissions knocks on to the NHS’s ability to provide wider care.

He says the infection rates will not put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

But last week, in Leeds, cancer patients have had surgery cancelled. Last week, ambulance services across the country were reporting some of their busiest days ever. 111 is under increasing levels of pressure.

At the weekend he warned that the elective waiting lists could rise as high as 13 million.

So can he define what he means by unsustainable pressure?

What does he predict hospital admissions will peak at?

He has told he expects 100,000 infections, how many hospital admissions does he expect?

Does his confidence mean that the NHS will get no extra resources to get through this summer third wave?

He again highlights vaccination. Why are vaccination rates slowing down?

What will he do to drive up vaccination amongst young people?

Where still only 56 per cent of 18-24 have been vaccinated?

When will we begin vaccination of adolescents? Other countries are doing it why aren’t we?

Just to rely only on vaccination alone as infections climb is the approach of the one club golfer.

He needs other measures in place.

Labour would continue mandatory mask wearing. I notice his tone has shifted from last week.

It’s now his view that it’s irresponsible not to wear a mask in a crowded room, so surely it is equally irresponsible to abandon mandatory mask wearing?

Secondly on working from home, Susan Hopkins from PHE yesterday, said:

“If you are able to do your business effectively from home then I think over the next four to six weeks, with a rise in cases, we should try our best to do that.”

So will he guarantee that anyone who wants to continue working from home will be eligible to do so?

Thirdly, fresh air. Germany funded air filtration systems in public buildings.

Last week he referred to the infection control funding given to social care. But that wasn’t for ventilation.

There are British firms that manufacture air filtration and ventilation units, lets support jobs and offer grants for premises to install them.

Will he use the summer to install ventilation systems in all schools?

Fourthly, as more virus circulates, more people will be exposed, more people will become ill and more will have to isolate.

But some people still can’t isolate because of finances, and those with caring responsibilities for someone who has to isolate can also be financially penalised.

Given furlough is being withdrawn, financial support for isolation becomes more urgent.

Will he ensure those who need to isolate access adequate sick pay and support.

Fifthly, to get through this third wave and flatten the curve we will need ongoing testing and contact tracing will need capacity.

Will he give local authorities resources to lead enhanced contact tracing?

And will he abandon the proposed charges for lateral flow tests he is introducing?

Finally, when he was appointed he said any easing on July 19th would be ‘irreversible.’

Other countries have thought the same with their roadmaps, yet Israel reintroduced masks, the Netherlands closed nightclubs two weeks after reopening them.

Is it still his view the 19th is terminus day and that everything he has announced is ‘irreversible’ or does he agree it would be more sensible to have regular review dates in place through the summer as we deal with this third wave?