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Covid-19: Test, Track and Trace

Volume 675: debated on Tuesday 5 May 2020

We are developing a new test, track and trace programme to help to control the spread of covid-19, and to be able to trace the virus better as it passes from person to person. This will bring together technology through an app, an extensive web of phone-based contract tracing and, of course, the testing needed to underpin all that. The roll-out has already started on the Isle of Wight, and I pay tribute to and thank the Islanders for the enthusiasm with which they have taken up the pilot. I hope that we learn a lot from the roll-out, so that we can take those learnings and roll the programme out across the whole country.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. I welcome the plans to introduce the contact-tracing app, but for it to be effective it will need to be rolled out to a large proportion of the population. What plans does the Secretary of State have to achieve that, and how will he alleviate privacy concerns?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. She is right to say that the more people download the app, the more people will protect themselves, their families and their communities. The cross-party support for this test, track and trace programme is important, and right across this country people need to know that the app has privacy in its design. The data it holds is held on people’s phones and it does not go to the Government, until of course someone needs to get a test, in which case of course they have to get in contact with the NHS. So privacy is there by design, there is cross-party support and, according to a very early poll, 80% of people on the Isle of Wight want to download it. These are good early signs and we will have a big communications campaign to explain to people the benefits of the test, track and trace programme as we roll it out across the country.

In welcoming Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, may I say thank you for what you and all the staff do in the NHS, saving lives? It is appreciated.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. If I may, I would like to start by saying a huge thank you, on behalf of us all in the Chamber today and all those watching, to our NHS and care staff, who are working so hard on the frontline.

Frontline workers like me have had to watch families break into pieces as we deliver the very worst of news to them: that those they love most in this world have died. The testing strategy has been non-existent. Community testing was scrapped, mass testing was slow to roll out and testing figures are now being manipulated. Does the Secretary of State commit to a minimum of 100,000 tests each day going forward? Does he acknowledge that many frontline workers feel that the Government’s lack of testing has cost lives and is responsible for many families being unnecessarily torn apart in grief?

No, I do not. I welcome the hon. Lady to her post as part of the shadow Health team, and I think she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow Secretary of State’s book on tone. I am afraid that what she said is not true; there has been a rapid acceleration in testing in the past few months in this country, including getting to 100,000 tests a day. We have been entirely transparent on the way that has been measured throughout, and I have confidence that the rate will continue to rise. Currently, capacity is 108,000 a day, and we are working to build that higher.

Of course, we have been working very hard to make the testing capacity grow as fast as possible, and as more tests are available, so we are able to make them available to more people and test people right across the NHS. I pay tribute, too, to the work of NHS and social care staff on the frontline; nothing should take away from the team spirit with which we approach this.

Test, track and trace is possible only with a mass testing programme, so I offer many congratulations to the Health Secretary on achieving such a challenging expansion in our testing capacity. He has always said that he follows the science in the decisions he takes, but does he appreciate that, Zoom or no Zoom, it is very difficult for us as MPs to scrutinise such decisions if he does not also publish the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that he receives at the same time as he makes those decisions?

We are making public the membership of SAGE and a lot of the science. I know that my right hon. Friend is also able to scrutinise the scientists before the Select Committee on Health and Social Care, as he and his team did again this morning. The overall approach of transparency, which has been a lodestar of the Government’s response to this crisis, is important. Of course, different scientists have different views, and they make those plain, but, as he said, we are guided by the science in the decisions that we take, and that has been an important part of the response.