Monday 5 July 2021 / 5:34 PM Coronavirus / Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth statement on lifting lockdown restrictions from 19th July

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to the Health Secretary’s statement in the House on the lifting of lockdown restrictions from the 19th July, said:

Can I start by paying to tribute, on its 73rd anniversary, to our National Health Service and our extraordinary health and care workforce.

The birthday present the NHS deserves is a fair pay rise not a real terms pay cut for health care workers.

We all want to see restrictions end.

But what he is announcing today isn’t a guarantee that restrictions will end – only what it will look like.

Can he confirm that ending will be based on SAGE advice and the data?

But let’s be clear only 50 per cent of people across England are fully vaccinated and another 17 per cent partially.

Infections continue to rise steeply, hospitalisations are rising.

Inherent in the strategy outlined is an acceptance that infections will surge further, that hospitalisations will increase and we will hit a peak later this summer.

Some of those hospitalised will die.

Thousands – children and younger people – will be left exposed to a virus with no vaccination protection.

Leaving them at risk of long term chronic illness, the personal impacts of which may be felt for years to come.

So as part of his learning to live with Covid strategy: How many deaths does he consider acceptable? How many cases of long Covid does he consider acceptable?

And given we know high circulations of the virus can see it evolve and possibly escape vaccines, what risk assessment has he done of the possibility of a new variant emerging and will he publish it?

The Secretary of State says that every date for unlocking carries risk and we have to learn to live with the virus.

Because we don’t just accept other diseases.

He compares it to flu but flu doesn’t leaves tens of thousands with long term illness.

And we don’t just accept flu, measles, or sexually transmitted infections.

We put in place mitigations so we live in as low a risk way as possible.

Israel has reintroduced its mask mandate because of the Delta variant so why is he planning to bin ours?

Masks don’t restrict freedoms in a pandemic but when so much virus is circulating, they ensure that everyone who goes to the shops or takes public transport can do so safely.

If nobody is masked, Covid risk increases and we’re all less safe; especially those who have been shielding and are anxious.

Why should those who are worried and shielding be shut out of public transport and shops.

That’s not a definition I recognise.

And who else suffers most when masks are removed?

It’s those working in shops, those who drive buses and taxis, it’s low paid workers without access to decent sick pay, many of whom live in overcrowded housing who’ve been savagely disproportionately impacted by this virus from day one.

We heard last week in Greater Manchester that deaths were higher than the average.

So given isolation will still be needed does he think living with the virus means the low paid should be properly supported or does he think they would just game the system as the previous Health Secretary suggested?

Masks are effective because we know the virus is airborne.

He could mitigate further Covid risks by insisting on ventilation standards in premises and crowded buildings. He could offer grants for air filtration systems. Instead all we get is more advice.

Ventilation in buildings and grants to support air filtration systems don’t restrict anyone’s freedoms.

Finally he announced we can all crowd into pubs, meanwhile infection rates in school settings continue to disrupt schooling, with nearly 400,000 children off in one week.

The root cause of this isn’t isolation but transmission.

One in twenty children were off school isolating the week before last.

There are still three weeks of term time left – will he bring back masks in schools, will they be provided with resources for smaller classes, will they get ventilation help and when will adolescents be eligible for vaccination as they are in other countries?

Yesterday he said he believes the best way to protect the nation’s health is to lift all restrictions.

I know he boasts of his student year at Harvard studying pandemics but I think he must have overslept and missed the tutorial on infectious disease control.

Because widespread transmission will not make us healthier.

We’re not out of the woods, we want to see the lockdown end but we need lifesaving mitigation in place.

We still need sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask wearing, ventilation and support for children to prevent serious illness.

I hope when he returns next week he will have put those measures in place.