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Covid-19: Local Lockdowns

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 16 July 2020

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on plans for potential further local lockdowns in response to the covid-19 outbreak. (904842)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on cross-government planning for a potential second wave of the covid-19 outbreak. (904849)

The Government’s recovery strategy, published on 11 May, stated that we would move from a series of national restrictions to a more targeted set of local measures. We have put in place tools to help us do that, including the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Although areas in the Jarrow constituency are not currently at risk of going into a full lockdown, like the one that we have seen in Leicester, it is vital that the Government take proactive measures to prevent further local lockdowns. Councils are getting testing data that is sometimes nearly a fortnight old, and they have little information, which is often of little or no help. Will the Minister provide assurances that the Government will improve communications and that data from any test and trace app, when it is operational, will be shared with local authorities to enable them to respond effectively to outbreaks in local areas?

The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I hope that I can give her those reassurances. I gave evidence earlier this week to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, where I emphasised that sharing local data, whether on testing or other planning assumptions, with local authorities, but critically also with the local resilience forums, is vital. They are in the frontline of this fight, so I hope that I can give her those assurances.

The report on preparing for a challenging winter by the Academy of Medical Sciences makes for sobering reading. It warns of a reasonable worst-case scenario in which the R rate rises to 1.7 from September onwards, leading to a second wave of hospital admissions and deaths similar to or worse than the spring. But it also offers hope. As Professor Stephen Holgate says, with relatively low numbers of covid-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us. I am confident that the Minister will have read the report. Will Cabinet Office and the Government grasp that opportunity and act now to implement the report’s recommendations?

It is vital that we do prepare, and we all know the challenges the NHS in particular faces in winter months. Clearly, with the prospect of a second wave, that will be intensified. Yes, we must prepare, but it is also a reason why we still all need to follow the chief medical officer’s advice to ensure that we minimise the chances of a serious second wave.