Sunday shows: Johnson failed to tackle Covid variants “at source”, Labour says

Trevor Phillips on Sunday

Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said Labour supports the increased Covid restrictions that were announced on Saturday in light of new variant Omicron. But she also argued that Boris Johnson has failed to tackle new strains “at source” by not ensuring that vaccines are available to people across the world – despite promises the Prime Minister made at the G7 summit earlier this year.

  • On Covid measures: “There are a number of outstanding holes in our defences that [Johnson’s] got to address. There still seems to have been very little action on ventilation in public buildings… There are still some outstanding issues around travel. The government is saying everyone has to have a PCR test on day two when they arrive back in the UK, but they’re not suggesting pre-departure tests before they board flights. There’s no advice for people about travelling back from the airport on public transport and there are very few checks on the PCR tests that are done.”
  • On Covid restrictions Labour wants reintroduced: “We’ve always said that mask-wearing in crowded spaces and flexible working from home where people can ought to be part of plan A.”
  • Asked about new restrictions announced on Saturday: “We support the measures to bring in greater use of masks, mandatory masks in some settings, and we’ll be asking questions about whether the scientific basis for that suggests that that needs to go further. We desperately want to see them tighten up the travel restrictions. There’s a real problem when, for 18 months, the government has been warned that there are holes in those defences and still hasn’t taken action.”
  • On vaccination: “We haven’t met our promises that we made this summer at the G7 to get the vaccine rolled out to other parts of the globe. There is now sufficient vaccine in order to ensure that it reaches almost every adult in the world. The problem is that there is no global plan to get the vaccine to people in places like South Africa.”
  • She added: “This lack of global leadership is the reason we’re seeing new variants emerge, and so while we’re keen to support measures to protect the British public and protect the NHS, you really have to ask why the government hasn’t got its act together in order to tackle the problem at source.”
  • On recent deaths in the English Channel and dealings between the UK and French governments: “Both governments are engaging in a blame game while children drown off our coastline. It is just simply unconscionable.”
  • On the nationality and borders bill: “You can’t legislate just to criminalise organisations like the [Royal National Lifeboat Institution] who go out to try and help people in the Channel and think that will solve the problem.”
  • On safe routes: “One of the people on the boat that sank just a week ago was an Afghan soldier who said he’d given up hope of being able to get to Britain through a legal route because although the Home Secretary announced an expansion of the Afghan refugee settlement scheme, that scheme hasn’t even opened yet… These routes simply don’t exist and they won’t exist as long as the government continues to engage in a blame game.”
  • Asked what a Labour government would do: “We should be working with the French to arrest those people smugglers who are fuelling this… But then we ought to be working together to deal with the bigger issue… A global asylum system.”
  • She added: “There are 1.4 million Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan alone. Some of those are people to whom Britain owes obligations but there is no route to get here at all… Until we have a global asylum system that is capable of responding to that, and sharing the strain of this together, we are going to see desperate people making desperate crossings.”
  • To people smugglers: “Under a Labour government, if you were to continue with this reckless disregard for human life, we will work with international partners to find you, intercept you and lock you up for a very long time.”
  • On the underlying causes: “We would work with our international partners to tackle the underlying drivers of conflict and insecurity, including climate change, which is forcing many, many people – 26 million people – to move.”

Also appearing on the show this morning, Sajid Javid argued that the UK should be “very proud of the sanctuary that we provide” to asylum seekers, claiming that the country has resettled more people than any other in Europe.

On the Omicron variant, he said the government is taking a “proportionate and balanced” approach and that other measures, such as working from home guidance, “carry a very heavy price”. He added that “we’re nowhere near” them being reintroduced.

Asked about Covid restrictions at Christmas, the Health Secretary said it would be “irresponsible to give guarantees” but people should “continue with their plans as normal for Christmas” and it is “going to be a great Christmas”.

On the new variant and the efficacy of Covid vaccines, he said: “There is reason to think that it may be, and I stress the word may, that this variant may turn out to make our vaccines less effective. It may not. We just don’t know enough.”

The Andrew Marr Show

There was no Labour representative on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, noted that the new variant Omicron “may be more infections” and has “some characteristics of vaccine escape”.

He defended the decision to reintroduce compulsory mask-wearing on transport and in shops but not hospitality, saying measures need to be “balanced”.

Asked whether the government will now again advise people to work from home, which SAGE has advised would have the greatest impact on transmission, Javid said: “No, I don’t think that’s necessary.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, was asked about imposing further Covid restrictions due to Omicron. She replied that she would “not rule anything out”.

Asked whether the arrival of Omicron will delay a potential Scottish independence referendum, she replied: “I don’t know the answer to that question right now.”

She added: “For as long as necessary, leading and steering Scotland through this pandemic is my focus and my priority.”

Sturgeon also acknowledged that A&E and treatment NHS waiting times in Scotland – as well as across the UK – are “longer than anyone would want them to be right now”.

T&G on Times Radio

Lisa Nandy said she was “troubled” by mask-wearing and travel:

  • “There’s no clear plan, as far as I’m aware about how we’re going to get mask wearing rates up again. I think there is a level of public confusion now, given that the Prime Minister hasn’t been wearing a mask for some time, about what those rules are.”
  • “People are getting onto planes without pre-departure tests. They’re getting off at the airport on the other side and travelling home on public transport without having had a test. And the government has now said we’ve got to have a PCR test on day two, but they haven’t closed any of those holes in our defences.”

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