Tuesday 2 February 2021 / 1:57 PM Jonathan Ashworth

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

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

The news that the South African variant has been identified in eight different local authority areas spread nationwide is alarming and suggests significant community transmission.

Can I ask him to run through the time-lines, when did these 11 cases test positive, how long does the genetic sequencing take and when was he told of these cases?

Can these processes be made speedier?  I’m told for example the Ealing case tested positive in late December.

These variants bring into focus the importance of border controls.

Times Radio has reported that hotel quarantine arrangements won’t be in place till 15th February. Why the delay?

And according to the Times newspaper, SAGE warned two weeks ago tougher quarantine restrictions for everyone entering the UK were needed.

The government disputes this so will he publish the SAGE minutes from 21st January?

I welcome the extra testing. Will all positive test results be sent for sequencing?

Can I suggest he goes further;

People move about beyond their post code boundaries. They go shopping, many still go to work.

Will he therefore roll out testing in neighbouring postcodes?

He wants to ‘come down hard’ on this variant, but isn’t the lesson of mass testing, such as in Liverpool, that people are hesitant to take a test if they aren’t compensated for any loss of income associated with self-isolation?

We are fighting this virus with one hand tied behind our back, asking the low paid to go hungry in order not to spread the virus.

Transmission chains won’t be broken without decent sick pay and isolation support.

We’ve seen the Kent B117 variant spread with speed. Now Public Health England’s latest report identifies B117 sequences with the E484K mutation seen in the South African variant.

It’s this mutation which is thought to be behind partial vaccine evasion.

Further action is going to be needed.

Germany, Austria and France are recommending FFP2 facemasks on public transport and shops. Will he now review the evidence and look at this?

On Vaccination, again I congratulate the NHS, but not all care homes with a Covid outbreak have been vaccinated yet. How many homes are outstanding?

There have been reports of some care staff turning down vaccination. Will he ensure the NHS collects data on the numbers turning down vaccination so we can target and overcome vaccine hesitancy more effectively?

Unicef have warned “Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims” I accept it was inevitable schools would close given community transmission levels. But that doesn’t make it any less devastating.

We are depriving young people of social interaction, of play with their friends.

Learning is not the same. Mental health problems are increasing.

There will be children locked in homes where violence or drink abuse is prevalent.

Children’s health must always be a priority.

On his plans, how many teachers will be vaccinated as part of bands 5-9? How many teachers and support staff will have to wait until the period between Easter and Summer to be vaccinated?

Given last September it was reported that 25,000 teachers had been off sick because of Covid, further disrupting children’s learning, how will he ensure we don’t see the same disruption again from March when its hoped schools return?

Finally, this is HIV Testing week, and over the weekend I binge-watched It’s a Sin.

I was in tears.

Thankfully HIV is not a death sentence today.

People living with HIV are in phase 6 for vaccination but only if they have disclosed their HIV status to their GP. Many haven’t and still don’t want to because of the stigma we saw portrayed in It’s a Sin.

Will he ensure that people living with HIV will be able to access vaccination at their HIV clinic?