Monday 21 September 2020 / 4:32 PM Coronavirus / Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth response to Government’s Covid-19 Statement

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Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, speaking in response to the Government’s statement on Covid-19 in the House today, said:

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement and we particularly welcome his announcements on childcare.

The presentations from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor earlier were stark and deeply concerning.

The Secretary of State yesterday described this as a “tipping point”.

I agree we are at a perilous moment.

The exponential growth of the virus cannot be ignored.

This virus takes lives and leaves many with long term debilitating conditions.

Every reasonable action must be taken to save lives, minimise harm and keep our children in school.

That means a suppression strategy to drive infections down.

So will he reject those siren voices telling him the virus has lost potency or that we should let it rip through the herd while the vulnerable shield?

We support the local restrictions that have had to be imposed, including Chorley, Mr Speaker, I understand why he has made that decision.

Neither he nor I came into politics to place upon individuals a heavy burden of curtailments on our freedoms.

And while we would always welcome extra parliamentary scrutiny of restrictions, we will continue to work constructively on a cross party basis where restrictions are necessary to arrest the spread of the virus.

But can I also say to him, that the tone of his remarks yesterday rather gave the impression he was blaming people for breaking the rules and allowing the virus to grow.

When the reality is that people have done everything they were asked to do. They have missed birthday celebrations, missed weddings, missed funerals.

People have sent their children, quite rightly, back to school. They’ve gone back to work.

In return ministers were supposed to fix test, trace and isolate so we could – in the words of the government’s own adverts – ‘get back to the things we love’.

Before the summer the government commissioned the Academy of Medical Sciences to scenario plan.

They modelled the R value could rise to 1.7 in September. That’s what Imperial estimated it to be as well.

They recommended “Significantly expanding the capacity of the test, trace and isolate programme to cope with increasing demands over the winter.”

So ministers were warned.

Yet testing capacity in pillar one and pillar two stayed flat over the summer.

In recent weeks only half of all tests were have been received in less 24 hours and he repeated his point about asymptomatic people asking for tests. Can he published the pillar two data which breaks down how many were asymptomatic and how many was symptomatic and asking for those tests? Many parents report going to walk-in centres with sick children when themselves have had no symptoms and been given a test –  was that a national policy and has that national policy been abandoned?

As I understand it it’s only available to those low-paid workers who are also on benefits but not all low-paid workers so will they consider expanding the eligibility criteria I understand he will tell us that we have to wait for the Prime Minister statement but can he confirmed that he will use a lockdown if we have one use the time wisely but he will expand NHS lab capacity

Tracing still isn’t hitting 80 per cent of contacts, and 1 in 4 contacts weren’t reached last week.

We welcome recognition people need financial support to isolate, as we’ve been saying for months,

As I understand it it’s only available to those low-paid workers who are also on benefits but not all low-paid workers so will they consider expanding the eligibility criteria I understand he will tell us that we have to wait for the Prime Minister statement but can he confirmed that he will use a lockdown if we have one use the time wisely but he will expand NHS lab capacity?

A working test, trace and isolate regime is how we avoid a cycle of lockdowns until a vaccine is found.

But when testing breaks down, tracing breaks and the virus gets out of control

So we are now facing a second wave of infection,

We don’t want a second wave of ministerial mistakes.

And we all want to avoid another national lockdown.

Lockdowns – or circuit breaks – extract a heavy social and economic price especially on the poorest and most vulnerable.

But controlling the virus and protecting the economy are linked objectives not in conflict with one other.

So I understand that he will tell us Lockdowns or circuit breaks aren’t solutions in themselves but instead give us time to prepare and build capacity.

Will he expand NHS lab capacity, will he put public health teams in the lead on contact tracing, will he quickly the assess the University pilots of saliva testing, that he will validate PCR pool testing, so that when lockdown is lifted we can contain the virus for the future?

I welcome what he said about prioritising NHS workers, care staff and teachers today.  But can he clarify why he has issued guidance to hospital trusts that places restrictions on the numbers of tests they can carry out?

How will he protect care homes?

According to reports today many care homes have had to wait over two weeks for their test results

Data from PHE shows that over 200 care homes have had outbreaks of Covid in the last two weeks.

Will he ensure that no one is discharged into care homes without a Covid test result?

What is his advice for the shielding community?

And what protections will he put in place for BAME communities who we know are at risk and currently disproportionately represented in ICU admissions.

None of us want to see another lockdown or circuit break but we of course understand if one becomes necessary.

But Test, Trace and Isolate should have been fixed.

That failure has left us vulnerable and exposed.

Now we must act with speed to save lives and minimise harm.