Tuesday 2 March 2021 / 3:35 PM Coronavirus / 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:

In January and February, here cases were running at tens of thousands a day.

We were in a lockdown because of our own homegrown new infectious variant.

And someone was allowed to fly in from Brazil bringing the P1 mutation with them.

Throughout history epidemic after epidemic has exploited international travel.

Isn’t it obvious quarantine controls should have been in place sooner?

I welcome the progress the Secretary of State has mentioned on identifying the batch, but can he tell us how a test can be processed that doesn’t collect contact details, and what mechanisms will be put in place to fix this in future?

£22 billion has been allocated to test and trace so can he assure us this won’t happen again?

I note he has said there is no information to suggest wider spread of the variant but he will remember that John Edmunds from SAGE told the Home Affairs Select Committee in January that for every identified South African variant there were probably another 30 unidentified.

Has he received any estimate on the numbers of unidentified cases there are in the community?

I welcome the tremendous progress that has been made on vaccines and on driving infections down. It is a testament to the NHS and everyone involved in the vaccination programme.

It is a testament to everyone who is playing their part in this lockdown.

But we know this virus can quickly rebound.

Mutations could evade vaccines. And we’re in a race against evolution.

We have a long way to go even given nowhere is Covid safe until everywhere is Covid safe.

And none of us want to yoyo in and out of lockdown.

So can he guarantee that the lockdown easing will actually be based on data not dates

and that the assessment time between each step isn’t compromised?

I welcome extra surge testing but what is the current time frame for genetic sequencing, how will it be speeded up?

Is he as concerned as I am that despite the overall trends, infections in some areas remain stubbornly high.

The national average is 100 cases per 100,000 people.

In Leicester – one of the highest in the country, the infection rate is 222 cases per 100,000.

In Ashfield the infection rate is 246 cases per 100,000.

In Hyndburn infection rates have increased to 162 per 100,000. In Oadby and Wigston up.

There are other areas – Watford, Worthing, where infections are up.

So what steps will be taken to ensure that areas such as Ashfield, Leicester, or Hyndburn aren’t left behind, remain in lockdowns when restrictions lift nationally?

Will the local authorities receive extra resources now to do door to door testing and retrospective tracing?

Will workplaces be inspected by the Health and Safety Executive to ensure they are Covid secure?

And will people receive decent sick pay and isolation support?

Many areas like Leicester, are also facing the double whammy of relatively high infection rates and relatively low vaccination rates.

So what further action will he take now to drive up vaccination rates amongst hesitant communities?

Will he fund faith groups, community groups and local public health teams to develop more targeted local vaccination campaigns?

So tomorrow’s budget can’t be about the Chancellor’s Instagram account, it has to be about the NHS and social care accounts.

Can he guarantee an increase in the public health allocations to help public health teams plan their local Covid response over the next year?

Will our NHS heroes get the pay rise they deserve?

And with 224,0000 patients waiting over 12 months for treatment, will the NHS get the increased resources it needs to deliver the care that patients and our constituents deserve?