As we come to the end of the second lockdown, public health and safety still has to be paramount. The fact that Covid numbers are going down nationally shows that restrictions do control the spread of the disease. But I am still concerned that the numbers are too high – the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths.
The first lockdown was introduced far too late in the UK. When it was clear what was happening in northern Italy the UK should have acted decisively with travel restrictions from abroad and effective well-funded local test and trace before coronavirus cases increased. Plenty of other countries managed this and many of our European partners have had systems in place since May. This would have prevented the need for the NHS to totally reorganise itself to deal with Covid. Normal diagnosis and treatment could have continued.
Because the number of cases was allowed to rise so far, the test and trace system in England has been overwhelmed. Concerns have repeatedly been raised about the speed at which test results are returned, the number of contacts of positive cases being reached, and the extent to which data about confirmed cases is shared with local authorities and local public health teams. The outsourcing of NHS Test and Trace to private firms has been widely criticised by experts, including the British Medical Association, not least for the exorbitant cost involved and lack of any track record of delivery. I have long argued that local public health teams and the NHS, backed by resources and national support, would be more effective at contact tracing.
The slow start and disastrous test and trace system meant that the first lockdown had to be much longer, and resulted in more severe economic damage. There were too many gaps in the Treasury’s safety net.
Because the test and trace didn’t work, the numbers began to rise again in the autumn.
That is why in mid-October I joined with my colleagues in calling on the UK Government to implement a short “circuit-break” in England, in line with the recommendations of scientific advisers.
I am disappointed that Ministers in the UK Government did not act on the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – SAGE – back in September, only to then ask MPs to approve emergency regulations to shut England down. I am concerned that that delay in introducing restrictions came at a further economic cost and a distressing human toll.
I did not come into Parliament to restrict people’s freedoms, to prevent people meeting their friends and their loved ones, or to decide when people can and cannot leave their home or how many people may attend a funeral. I do not want Parliament to be closing businesses, gyms, bars or places of worship. Indeed, I do not want Parliament to be legislating on any of these issues, least of all after the British public have made so many enormous sacrifices already.
But tough restrictions are still needed. In the interests of protecting public health, I have supported the Government on the big decisions, including the two national lockdowns. However, I am concerned about the gaps that remain in the Government’s plan for a return to a tougher three-tier system
- Statutory sick pay for workers who need to self-isolate is not good enough. They should not have to take a cut in their income.
- There should be comprehensive support for businesses that are struggling. Too many of the self employed are excluded from support and the problems for sole director / sole employees needs to be addressed. All hospitality businesses need effective protection whenever their ability to trade is restricted or curtailed because of the virus.
- Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council needs fair funding to cover the true costs of the pandemic response.
- Serious anomalies in the allocation of different areas to each of the three tiers needs to be addressed urgently and with complete transparency. There are currently 23 areas with a higher infection rate than Stockport that will be moving into Tier 2; cases in Stockport have been falling consistently over the past four weeks to 174.8 and the latest data records an ‘R’ rate of 0.629; hospital admissions have continued to fall while infection rates among the over 60s is 104.1 per 100,000.
That is why I cannot vote for the three Tier restrictions until these crucial issues are addressed, but in the national interest I cannot vote against either because that would be a vote for more Covid deaths.