Sunday shows: Covid border policy put UK at risk from India variant, says Reed

Elliot Chappell

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary Steve Reed backed the easing of Covid restrictions on Monday, but he criticised ministers for not putting India on the ‘red list’ sooner.

  • Asked whether restrictions should be eased on Monday despite the spread of the new variant: “I’ve just been listening to the scientists on your show and they seem very clear… Easing the restrictions tomorrow is the right thing to do.”
  • Put to him that science on the variant is not clear: “We don’t know the answers to some of the questions… This was always going to be a balance of risks.”
  • He added: “The problem for me is, why has the road out of the lockdown become so much more uncertain than it looked just a few weeks ago? And the answer is that the Prime Minister is not always following the science.”
  • He offered the government delaying placing India on the red list as an example: “During that three-week period, 20,000 passengers came back to the UK and the Indian variant appears to have got into the country because of that.”
  • On government policy: “If the government was prioritising the protection of the borders, we may not even have this level of uncertainty. Now we have to deal with it… But, frankly, we shouldn’t even be in this position.”
  • On restrictions on Monday: “We should go ahead with the easing of the lockdown tomorrow, keep a very close eye on what developments are so that we can review whether the planned opening later in June is the right thing to do.”
  • On the action the government should take in light of the new variant: “Short-term, we need to make sure that the measures are in place to contain the variant, or the virus, in those area where it seems to be gaining more of a foothold.”
  • On what that involves: “That means looking at contact tracing and making that work far better… The other core issue that also heard your other guest refer to is self-isolation payments. If people are afraid they will lose income by self-isolating, because they’re in low-pay or insecure work, then we run the risk that they won’t afford to be able to do it.”
  • Asked whether regional restrictions should be imposed: “The regional tiers didn’t really work very well last time. They very quickly broke down because people move around. The lesson from that for me is, it’s best if we move together.”
  • Asked what Labour’s slogan going into the May 2021 elections was: “Secure the economy and protect the NHS was the core of the message that we were going into those elections with.”
  • On the results: “Despite the huge disappointment of the Hartlepool result, if you look at the results across the whole country they were much more mixed than they looked the morning after Hartlepool.”
  • Asked whether it was a “good set of election results” for Labour: “It was mixed. I’m not going to pretend it was good. I absolutely admit we’ve got a mountain to climb, but it was a bit more mixed.”
  • On Labour’s electoral prospects: “Last week, we have halved the Tory lead compared to the general election. That’s progress, but it’s not enough because we need to overhaul the Conservatives if we’re going to win the next election.”
  • He added: “But that was never going to be done in one year. No-one ever pretended it was going to be done in a single year and, particularly given the circumstances of the pandemic, it’s been very difficult for a party to come out and project a set of proposals for the future. As we come out of the lockdown… That is when Labour can start to make its future offer.”
  • Asked what Labour’s “vision” is: “I genuinely don’t think it’s right for me to just sit here and describe to you what the outcome of a process of engagement with the British people over the next few months is going to be.”
  • On work: “There have not been enough good, new secure jobs in every part of the country… We have to work out how we’re going to work with the different regions to bring in the investment to sustain the good jobs of the future.”
  • On how that is done: “One of the key ways of doing that is through devolution, it is by opening up power so that all the decisions aren’t taken in Whitehall but many more decisions are taken in localities.”
  • On the government and devolution: “The government has been trailing, for the last two years, a devolution bill… They dropped it and the reason I think they dropped it is because Labour won 11 of the 13 metro mayoral elections.”

Matt Hancock discussed coronavirus and the spread of the Indian variant. He told viewers that the data the government has “tells us that our strategy remains on point” but the new strain is “challenging” to the pandemic response.

Asked how widespread the variant is in the UK, he said that there have been just over 1,300 cases. “It is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country, for instance in Bolton and in Blackburn,” he said.

Discussing the spread of the variant in Bolton, he told viewers: “The people who are ending up in hospital, in Bolton, with this new variant, are largely people who are eligible for the vaccine but haven’t taken the vaccine.”

The Health Secretary reported that there is new data from Oxford University that “gives us a degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant, but it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast”.

The Andrew Marr Show

Chair of the home affairs select committee and Labour MP Yvette Cooper criticised the government’s approach to border restrictions during the pandemic, saying that it should have placed India on the red list sooner and the spread of the Indian variant was not “inevitable”.

  • Asked whether restrictions should ease on Monday: “We’re in a very difficult position and we’re taking the government on trust on this at the moment. I think we shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, because this was not inevitable and they should have taken action on the India variant much earlier.”
  • Pressed on the issue: “I feel worried but I also feel like we’ve got a lot of businesses that have all prepared for tomorrow, there’s been a lot of work done and the government is telling us that the vaccine is effective.”
  • On what should be the priority now: “The priority needs to be the surge vaccinations, surge testing in those areas and crucially filling the gap in the test, trace and isolate system, which is that people still aren’t often self-isolating.”
  • On the border: “You’ve got to have a system that works with proper safeguards in place. So, of course, we need to continue to trade, of course there will be travel as part of that, however look at what other countries… have done.”
  • She added: “The point is the government could have done this differently. They could have much stronger testing and quarantine systems in place right from the very beginning. They’ve made this mistake three times now.”
  • Put to her that Labour’s position has been the same as the government: “It’s the government in the end that is in charge on this. Look at what they’ve done on the India variant – this was not inevitable, they should have put India on the red list.”
  • Asked whether people should be allowed to go on holiday this summer without mandatory hotel quarantine on return: “The government needs to slow down its plans… They should be much more cautious on that.”
  • Pressed on holiday travel: “This has to be assessed on a month-by-month basis but, as we are now, I don’t think that this is possible to be lifting the restrictions at a time when we’ve got so many new variants.”
  • On mandatory hotel quarantine: “My view has always actually been that the South Korea model is a more effective one and that is a combination. So it does include some hotel quarantine, but it also includes home quarantine.”
  • Describing a trade-off: “Most people would figure they want to be able to hug their relative, they want to be able to go out… If the price of that is having stronger restrictions at our border, I think most people would say that is the right thing to do.”
  • Asked whether Andy Burnham’s comment that Labour would have retained more ‘Red Wall’ seats under him is correct: “He’s also said that that not’s what his intention is right now… We had some tough results [in the May elections], we also had some good results. West Yorkshire was one of them.”
  • Asked whether Labour needs a “new northern policy” to win back former ‘heartland’ seats: “We have to make sure we’re addressing the lessons from the 2019 election. We haven’t really addressed those scars yet.”
  • On what Labour needs to do to win over Leave-voting areas: “We have not yet set out what a post-Brexit, positive Labour vision of Britain actually is. People in our Leave-voting areas have never heard what that post-Brexit vision is.”
  • Asked whether she was offered a position on the Labour frontbench: “I wasn’t, but that’s for Keir to decide… It’s for Keir to decide who he wants in his shadow cabinet and what kind of shadow cabinet he wants.”
  • Asked whether she would like to be the Labour leader one day: “We’ve got a leader of the Labour Party, he’s getting on with the job.”

Asked whether the Indian variant is under control, Matt Hancock told viewers this morning: “The whole pandemic is currently under control… it does appear to transmit more easily from person to person, we have to be careful.”

On whether there should be mandatory vaccination in areas with the most cases of the new strain, he said: “We don’t think that’s the right approach… We think that you might end up putting off more people.”

The Health Secretary said that restrictions easing should go ahead on Monday and added: “I’m confident that we can take the step tomorrow but we should all be careful about how we take that step.”

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