Tuesday 9 February 2021 / 1:57 PM Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to the Health Secretary’s statement on coronavirus

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

“Vaccination needs to reach everyone.

“What is his plan to drive up vaccination levels in minority ethnic communities?

“Some areas won funding to tackle hesitancy in minority ethnic communities, but a city like Leicester – one of our most diverse –  was not on the list. Will he rectify that?
“Last night he said ‘the way we deal with new variants is to respond to them as they arise. The first line of defence is to identify and stop spread.’

“But our first line of defence is to surely to do everything we can to stop them arising in the first place.

“That means securing our borders to isolate new variants as they come in.

“Why then are over half of countries where the South African variant has been identified not on the so called ‘red list’? According to newspapers briefings, he wants the quarantine arrangements to be more extensive.

“I want that. The British public want that. Why don’t we work together to force the Prime Minister to fix this hole in the nation’s defences and make our borders stronger against further variants?
“Mutations occur as long as the virus can replicate and transmit.

“And the greater the spread, the greater that opportunity.

“We have the South African variant, the ‘eek’ E 4 8 4 K mutation in the B 1 1 7 strain has been identified as well.

“Isn’t the cold reality that the virus is here for some time? And therefore for vaccines to succeed in protecting us, we need to do more to protect those vaccines by cutting transmission chains and spread, especially when lockdown eases.

“Last year the Secretary of State in launching Test and Trace said it would ‘help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.’

“But it didn’t keep the virus under control, did it? What will be different this time? Will retrospective testing be routine everywhere not just in response to variants?

“Extra testing where there are variants is welcome. But for many who can’t work from home on zoom calls and laptops, the poorest and low paid, or those living in overcrowded housing, or care workers using up their holiday entitlement when sick so not to lose wages, a positive test is not just a medical blow but a financial one as well.

“Last Tuesday he boasted of the £500 payment, yet over 70 per cent of applications for financial support are rejected.

“By Wednesday his own head of Test and Trace was pointing out 20,000 sick people a day don’t isolate, And two months earlier Dido Harding had already said:

‘People are not self-isolating because they find it very difficult. The need to keep earning and feed your family is fundamental’

“So is it any wonder infections are falling at slower rates in the most deprived communities?

“We need the financial self-isolation support his scientific advisors call for and has been shown to work internationally.

“But if he thinks I’m wrong can he tell us why he thinks Dido Harding is wrong?

“Secondly, we know this virus can be transmitted through aerosols. Will he look at installing air filtration systems in public buildings such as schools?

“And given concerns the B 1 1 7 variant may shed more viral load through coughing and sneezing will he update the guidance on facemasks, as Germany has with F F P 2 masks on public transport and in shops and will ensure higher grade PPE for frontline NHS staff becomes the requirement as the BMA, RCN and unions have called for.

“Finally: next week is children of alcoholics week – a cause close to my heart.

“Today we learnt that excess deaths from liver disease are up 11 per cent since the start of the pandemic. Many children are in lockdown in homes under the shadow of alcohol abuse. Will he look at providing more support for those organisations that are helping children through this difficult time?”