Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth has called on the government to adopt a national ‘circuit-break’ lockdown and asked the Health Secretary “how many more deaths” it would take before Downing Street implemented the policy.
Discussing the government’s response to Covid this morning, the Shadow Health Secretary voiced support for new restrictions announced in London and Essex but argued that more needed to be done to “take back control of the virus”.
Matt Hancock told MPs in parliament today that although Covid-19 is “spreading exponentially” across the country, the country needs a “firm and balanced decisions to keep the virus under control” rather than nationwide measures.
Responding to the Health Secretary’s statement, Ashworth said: “Given what we know about the rising prevalence of the virus, given what we know about rising admissions to critical care, we totally understand why he has had to make difficult decisions today…
“While I don’t quibble or object to the public health interventions he is making, I’m afraid they’re still not backed up with the financial package that is needed to mitigate their impact on jobs and livelihoods.”
He added: “While the virus growth is accelerated in northern regions the embers are burning bright nationwide… A full national lockdown stretching for weeks and weeks like we had throughout April, May and June would be disastrous for society.
“But we are urging him to adopt a short, time-limited two- to three-week circuit break. To take back control of the virus, to reboot and to fix test and trace, protect the NHS and save lives.”
The Shadow Health Secretary concluded: “The SPI-M [the scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling] subgroup of SAGE say a circuit break of two weeks will save almost 8,000 lives…
“What are the government’s criteria for a national circuit break? How many hospital admissions? How much non-Covid care delayed? Dare I say it, how many more deaths? Action needs to be taken right now.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer called for a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown on Monday following reports that ministers ignored advice from experts to implement the measure to combat the spread of the virus.
Ashworth also criticised today’s government tracing figures, which found just 62% of contacts were being reached, and argued that this is “equivalent to 81,000 people” circulating in society despite being exposed to the virus.
MPs rejected an opposition day motion put forward by Labour on Wednesday that called on the government to put control of the test and trace system in the hands of local public health teams, as opposed to private firms like Serco.
The Conservatives voted down the motion despite markedly better results on contact tracing carried out by local authorities. Data last week showed that local health protection teams had reached 97.1% of contacts.
Below is the full text of Ashworth’s contribution to the Commons.
Given what we know about the rising prevalence of the virus, given what we know about rising admissions to critical care, we totally understand why he has had to take the difficult decisions on tier 2 for London and other areas including Erewash, Essex and Barrow. I hope will agree these decisions are most effective when made in tandem with local leaders.
While I don’t quibble or object to the public health interventions he is making I’m afraid they’re still not backed up with the financial package that is needed to mitigate their impact on jobs and livelihoods. More people will fall into poverty and destitution. Families across Bury and Bolton, small businesses across Burnely, or Hydeburn or London have been failed by the Chancellor, so I urge him and the government to introduce a stronger package of financial support for those areas in tier 2 or tier 3. The British people have made tremendous sacrifice already and now we are heading into the bleakest of winters. Much of this could have been avoided if the misfiring £12bn Test and Trace had been fixed over the summer.
Today new figures show just 62% of contacts reached. That’s equivalent to 81,000 people not reached circulating in society even though they’ve been exposed to the virus. Another record low. Yesterday we learnt consultants working on test and trace are being paid over £6,000 a day to run this failing service. In a single week, the government is paying these senior consultants more than they pay an experienced nurse in a year.
Can the Secretary of State explain why such huge sums of money are being paid to consultants to run a service that is only getting worse? The Prime Minister said yesterday these new restrictions would bring the R below one. But while virus growth is accelerated in northern regions, the embers are burning bright nationwide.
Let me repeat to the House – and the Tory party is welcome to clip me again for Twitter, it will save my staff the trouble. A full national lockdown stretching for weeks and weeks like we went through in April, May and June– would be disastrous for society. But we are urging him to adopt a short, time-limited two-three week circuit break. To take back control of the virus, to reboot, and to fix test and trace, protect the NHS and save lives.
SAGE recommended a circuit break. NHS providers say they are ‘urging politicians to listen to the scientific advice and move as fast and as decisively.’ The SPI-M subgroup of SAGE – say a circuit break of two weeks will save almost 8,000 lives. And for all the ponderous blustering and carping from the Prime Minister, he told the House with some haste – as if he didn’t want his own backbenchers to realise – ‘I rule out nothing of course.’
So the Prime Minister has not ruled it out, which we welcome, so what are the government’s criteria for a national circuit break? How many hospital admissions? How much non-Covid care delayed? Dare I say it how many more deaths? Action needs to be taken right now. Plans need to be put in place today.
Everyone accepts that the government were too slow in the spring. How certain is he that his government is not making the exact same mistake again with more catastrophic consequences? This is a moment in history. Look around. Can the Health Secretary explain why not a national circuit break now? Because if we do this in a few weeks or months’ time more lives and livelihoods will have been lost. So in the national interest, I offer to work constructively with him today, to deliver the circuit break that is now needed.”