Wednesday 6 January 2021 / 3:36 PM Coronavirus / Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to Health Secretary’s statement to the House

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to the Health Secretary’s statement in the House of Commons, said:


“I didn’t come into politics to restrict freedoms like this.


“I understand the awful toll lockdowns exact on people’s wellbeing.


“I’ve put on record in this House, from this despatch box my belief that lockdowns lasting weeks harm our economy, they impact detrimentally on the mental health and wellbeing of our constituents.


“Many will be devastated at the prospects of weeks and weeks – or more possibly –  until the end of March in isolation, lonely, feeling anxious.


“In the months following last year’s long term lockdown 19.6 million antidepressants were prescribed – a 4 per cent increase on the same period in 2019.


“More than 6 million people in England the highest figure on record.


“So we need mental health services to be fully resourced, open and able to respond to people’s needs through this lockdown.


“I know many find solace through prayer so I am grateful that communal prayer can continue.


“Can I take this opportunity to thank Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby and all our councillors especially those across Stoneygate, Wycliffe and Spinney wards who have all worked so hard with our many mosques, temples, gurdwaras, synagogues and churches across Leicester on ensuring Covid-19 secure worship.


“This lockdown will hugely impact the wellbeing of our children. A plan to get children back safely into school is a priority.


“There will be thousands of children out of school, in overcrowded, cramped accommodation unable to access learning properly from home.


“They will be others at risk of abuse and violence.


“Members might know I’ve spoken of my own experiences growing up in a home with a parent who had a problem with alcohol. Many children will be facing the prospect of parental drink or drug abuse alone.


“I urge ministers to work with, and fund, children’s advocacy and support groups such as NACOA, who I have worked with, who will be doing so much through this lockdown.


“But today we have to restrict freedoms in order to safeguard freedoms for the future and save lives.


“The tragic reality is the virus is out of control.


“There is no freedom in the graveyard.


“There is little freedom for those enduring the debilitating effects of long Covid, some of whom in the most severe cases suffer from neurological disorders, psychosis, heart problems and breathing difficulties.


“Yesterday almost 55,000 cases were reported in England.


“One in 50 people have the virus.


“Almost 27,000 people with Covid are in hospital.


“Over 1,800 are in intensive care.


“Yesterday there were over 3,351 hospitalisations – a record – and admissions are going up in all regions.


“This is a national emergency and a national lockdown is necessary.


“Indeed we should have locked down sooner.


“We are voting this lockdown through on 12th night, yet in the run up to Christmas the alarm bells were ringing.


“The Secretary of State came to the House on 14 December to report a new a strain, now known as the B117 had been identified. He told the House “Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.


“The Prime Minister learned of the rapid spread of the new variant on 18 December.


“The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group met that day and concluded the new strain added at least 0.4 to the R.


“On 21 December the Chief Scientfic Advisor, Patrick Vallance, said the new strain was ‘everywhere’ and cases would rise after ‘inevitable mixing’ at Christmas.


“The lesson I think you have to learn about this virus is that it’s important to get ahead of it in terms of actions,”


“SAGE met 22 December the following day and concluded ‘It is highly unlikely that measures with stringency and adherence in line with the measures in England in November would be sufficient to maintain R below 1 in the presence of the new variant.’


“And here we are two weeks later with half a million infections since 22 December and 33,000 hospitalisations.


“This is a national tragedy.


“Why is this Prime Minister, with all the scientific expertise at his disposal, all the power to make a difference, always the last to grasp what needs to happen?


“The Prime Ministers hasn’t been short of data, he has been short of judgement.


“Yet again we are all paying the price for this government being too slow to act.


“But at least there is light at the end of this long tunnel.


“I want to pay tribute to all involved helping distribute and administer 1.3 million vaccine doses.


“This is a great achievement.


“But we need to go further and faster.


“The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid February.


“That depends on around 2 million a week doses on average.


“Both he and the Prime Minister have reassured us it’s doable based on orders.


“In the past ministers have told us they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by end of 2020.


“So can ministers tell us:


“How many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?


“How many have been delivered to the NHS?


“How many batches are awaiting clearance through the MRHA checking processes?


“2 million a week should be the limit of our ambitions, surely our long-term aim should be to scale up to 3 then 5, then 6 million jabs a week.


“If we can vaccinate 29.6 million people, deaths and hospitalisation will be reduced by 99 per cent.


“We should be targeting that now.


“Many NHS staff on the frontline, in the face of danger, are scared and exhausted.


“They were sent out in the initial weeks of the first wave without the protection of PPE and now they are exposed again without the protection of inoculation.


“Will he move heaven and earth to get all frontline NHS staff vaccinated urgently?


“And if manufactures can increase supply, what more can be done to improve distribution?


“In addition to GPs, I know our community pharmacists have tremendous links with hard to reach communities.


“We need to be full making use of them.


“Vaccination not only saves live and is the route out of restrictions.


“But we are also now a race against time.


“Our home grown B117 strain is fast becoming dominant in just a matter of weeks.


“The more virus there is circulating, the more there are opportunities for further mutations –


“Mutations that could give this virus greater advantage.


“Possibly a variant where vaccines no longer work, risking another devastating covid wave in winter 2021.


“Vaccination both at home and across the globe is fiercely urgent.


“And the race to vaccinate is literally a race against evolution.


“Lockdown is about reducing transmission.


“But not everyone can work from home on their laptop.


“There are 10 million key workers in the UK of which only 14 per cent can work from home.


“Key workers, many low paid, often using public transport to travel to work in jobs that, by necessity, involve greater social mixing are more exposed to risk.


“And often because of their home circumstances expose others to risk as well.


“We witnessed this in Leicester, 2here it’s suspected a spike back in the summer was the result of a spill-over of infections into the community from those sweats shops who didn’t adhere to proper health and safety rules.


“We need to make our work places Covid-secure otherwise we won’t get on top of transmission.


“So what support is the government offering to install ventilation systems in workplaces?


“Will the government introduce a safety threshold for ventilation of indoor workplaces without outside air?


“Given the B117 strain is so much more transmissible is the government considering reintroducing the two metre rule?


“And when fewer than 20 per cent of those who should isolate do so fully, will the government finally accept that sick workers need proper sick pay and support, otherwise they will be forced to work spreading this illness?


“The British public have done so much over the last year and made great sacrifices.


“We are a great country and our people can and will rise to the occasion.


“All everyone asks is for the government to do the right thing at the right time.


“Make all workplaces Covid secure; Vaccinate health care workers as soon as possible; Introduce decent sick pay and support to isolate; Roll out a mass vaccination plan like we’ve never seen before.


“This is a race against time.


“A race against evolution.


“We will support this lockdown tonight.”