Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth has criticised Boris Johnson over the unlocking, saying “the mayor from Jaws has decided to reopen the beaches” by “recklessly throwing off all restrictions with no safety precautions in place”.
He was responding to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who announced today that children aged 12 to 15 with certain disabilities and those who are immunosuppressed, or live with somebody who is, will be offered the Pfizer vaccine.
The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that clinically vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds continue to be offered the vaccine and that it should be extended to 370,000 over-12s with underlying health conditions.
On whether all children over 12 would be offered Covid vaccines, Zahawi said: “Although we are not taking this step today, the JCVI is keeping this matter under review and they will be looking at more data as it becomes available.”
He confirmed that those who are double-jabbed and working in “critical roles” such as air traffic controllers will be able to go to work after being asked to self-isolate, though the exemption would be used “sparingly and responsibly”.
The minister also revealed that entry to nightclubs and other venues that can be crowded will be limited from the end of September to those who are fully vaccinated, with some medical exemptions allowed.
In response, Ashworth pointed out that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved Pfizer for 12- to 18-year-olds and they have started to be vaccinated in other countries.
The Shadow Health Secretary also raised questions over why Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were initially allowed to avoid self-isolation, before withdrawing from the daily testing clinical trial that would have made them exempt.
After Ashworth’s request for information on how a clinical trial “so helpfully “randomly” selected the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster”, Zahawi accused him of engaging in “petty politics”.
Below is the full text of Jonathan Ashworth’s speech.
Firstly can I say of course people have the right to protest against a lockdown that no longer exists, but will he join me in condemning the ugly scenes of harassment, pushing, thuggishness, throwing of objects and intimidation directed at police officers outside on Parliament Square earlier?
On vaccinating adolescents, The MHRA have approved the Pfizer Jab for 12–18-year-olds. The US, Canada, Israel, France, Austria, Spain, and Hong Kong have started or will start vaccinating 12 -18 year olds.
Risk of death to children from covid is mercifully very low. But children can become very sick from and develop long covid. According to the ONS 14.5% of children aged 12-16 have symptoms lasting longer than 5 weeks.
Can he spell out in detail the clinical basis as to why the JCVI have made this decision, will he publish all their analysis and can he guarantee this decision was made on medical grounds not on grounds of vaccine supply?
Infections levels among children have been hugely disruptive for learning. So what is his plan for September when children return to school? Will he support schools to install air filtration units this summer?
Testing is already stretched with turnaround times lengthening. Can he guarantee that through the summer – especially when contacts can be released from isolation on the back of a negative PCR, and September when schools return, will there be sufficient PCR testing capacity to meet demand?
We anticipate more flu and respiratory virus – illnesses with overlapping symptoms to covid. Will he invest now in our testing capacity so alongside a covid test it will be possible to test for flu and RSV as well? We will need this multi-pathogen testing this winter.
Three weeks ago the Health Secretary told us unlocking would make us healthier and promised it would be irreversible. But today with some of the highest infection case rates in the world the mayor from Jaws has decided to reopen the beaches recklessly throwing off of all restrictions with no safety precautions in place like mandatory mask wearing.
It risks re-imposing new restrictions in the future. It means the NHS facing a summer crisis.
Admissions for covid are already 550 a day. And hospitals are cancelling cancer surgery; liver transplant operation cancelled at Birmingham.
Throwing all restrictions like this will see thousands suffer serious long term illness. The clinically vulnerable and scared are feeling shut out of society.
Selection pressure could see a new variant setting us back and evading vaccines – snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. More infections, mean more isolation.
NHS staff will be released from isolation if doubled jabbed. But they and the patients they care for need protection, so will he upgrade the standards of masks to FFP3 for health care workers?
Which brings me to Prime Minister and Chancellor who sought to dodge isolation. So can he tell us how this “random” clinical trial that so helpfully “randomly” selected the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was set up?
What exactly happened between 8.00am and 10.38am on Sunday, that persuaded the Prime Minister and Chancellor to withdraw from this presumably valuable clinical ‘random’ study? How many other ministers have participated in this trial? And how many government departments and officials were involved and why? Or should we just simply conclude it’s one rule for Tory ministers and another for the rest of us?”