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Covid-19 Update

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2021

Today marks 12 weeks since Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive a clinically approved vaccine for covid-19. She has since been joined by over 20 million other citizens of this country in the biggest and fastest vaccination effort the world has ever seen.

This is a phenomenal achievement. Our vaccination programme is a national success story for the whole United Kingdom, and the reason it matters is that it allows us to replace the protection currently given by restrictions on our freedoms with the protection from science.

The data confirms that this strategy is working because the vaccines work. The number of hospital admissions is falling faster than the number of new cases, whereas in the first peak it fell more slowly, and the fall in hospitalisations is faster among the age groups vaccinated first than in younger age groups yet to get a jab.

I can tell the House about some further analysis that backs up this excellent news. The halving time of hospital admissions is now every 18 days. Over the past fortnight, it has fallen for those aged over 85 from 18 days to 15. This morning, the Office for National Statistics published data showing the number of deaths falling by over a quarter a week in mid-February. More than that, the number of deaths each day is not only falling faster than after the first peak, but it is falling faster in the over-80s, who got the jab first, compared with the under-80s. The number of daily deaths is halving every 12 days, but among the over-80s it is now halving every 10, so while the fall in cases is decelerating, the fall in the number of deaths is accelerating. What all this shows is that the vaccine is working, reducing the number of deaths among those who were vaccinated first and preventing hospital admissions. This is real-world evidence that the vaccine is protecting the NHS and saving lives, that the 12-week dosing regime is saving lives, and that this country’s strategy is working.

As well as this real-world data, I would like to update the House on two new pieces of analytical research published over the last 24 hours. First, this morning the Office for National Statistics published new data on the levels of protection people have. They show that up to 11 February, one in four people are estimated to have antibodies against coronavirus in England, up from one in five. The levels are highest in the over-80s, the first group to be vaccinated, showing again the protection from the vaccine across the country. The second piece of research, published last night, shows that a single dose of either the Oxford or the Pfizer vaccine delivers protection against severe infection in the over-70s, with a more than 80% reduction in hospitalisations. It is great news that both vaccines work so effectively. In fact, the protection from catching covid 35 days after the first jab is even slightly better for the Oxford jab than for the Pfizer, so people can have confidence that they will get protection, whichever jab they are offered.

I am grateful for the work of colleagues across the House in promoting vaccine take-up, which has helped to deliver some of the highest levels of enthusiasm for vaccination in the whole world, and I am pleased to inform the House that we are now inviting over-60s to be vaccinated too. Although the day-to-day figures for supply are lumpy, we have some bumper weeks ahead later this month. Given that our vaccination programme began 12 weeks ago today, from now we begin in earnest our programme of second vaccinations, which ramps up over the month of March. I can assure the House that we have factored these second jabs into our supply projections, and we are on track to meet our target of offering a vaccine to all priority groups 1 to 9 by 15 April and to all adults by the end of July.

Our vaccination programme means that we can set out our road map to freedom and put this pandemic behind us, but we must stay vigilant because covid-19, like all viruses, mutates over time. Part of controlling any virus is responding to new variants as they arise, just as we do with flu each year. Knowing this, we invested in genomic sequencing right at the start of the pandemic, giving the UK one of the biggest genomic sequencing capabilities in the world. Thanks to that, we have been able to spot variants here at home and support others to detect variants in other parts of the world.

I would like to update the House on the six cases of the variant of concern that was first identified in Manaus in Brazil and that we have now identified here in the UK. We know that five of those six people quarantined at home, as they were legally required to do. We have been in contact with them, and I would like to put on record my gratitude to them for doing their duty and following the rules. Whenever we identify cases of a new variant, we respond fast and come down hard by bringing in enhanced sequencing and testing, so we are stepping up our testing and sequencing in south Gloucestershire as a precaution. We have no information to suggest that the variant has spread further.

Unfortunately, one of the six cases completed a test but did not successfully complete the contact details. Incidents like this are rare and occur only in around 0.1% of tests. I can update the House with the latest information on identifying this case. We have identified the batch of home test kits in question, and our search has narrowed from the whole country down to 379 households in the south-east of England. We are contacting each one. We are grateful that a number of potential cases have come forward following the call that we put out over the weekend, and I would like to thank colleagues from across the House who have helped us to get the message out there.

Our current vaccines have not yet been studied against this variant. We are working to understand what impact it might have, but we do know that the variant has caused significant challenges in Brazil, so we are doing all we can to stop the spread of this new variant in the UK, to analyse its effects, to develop an updated vaccine that works on all these variants of concern, and to protect the progress that we have made as a nation. This country is on the road to recovery and we have freedom on the horizon. We must proceed with caution because although we are moving quickly, the virus moves quickly too. Let us not waver; let us do whatever it takes to keep this virus under control.

As always, I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. On the Brazilian variant, in January and February cases here were running at tens of thousands a day and we were in lockdown—we are still in lockdown—because of our own home-grown new infectious variant, yet people were allowed to fly in from abroad, bringing the P1 Brazilian mutation with them. Throughout history, epidemic after epidemic has exploited international travel. Surely it is obvious that tougher border controls should have been in place sooner.

I welcome the progress that the Secretary of State has made on identifying the batch, but how on earth can a test be processed that does not collect the contact details? What mechanisms will be put in place to fix that in the future? Twenty-two billion pounds has been allocated to this system, and it feels as though someone has vanished into thin air. Can he assure us that it will not happen again?

I note that the Secretary of State said that there is no information to suggest wider spread of this variant, but he will recall that John Edmunds from SAGE told the Home Affairs Committee in January that for every identified South African variant, there were probably another 30 unidentified. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he has received any estimates of the number of unidentified cases in the wider community?

I welcome the tremendous progress that has been made on vaccination and driving infection rates down. It is a testament to the NHS and everybody involved in the vaccination programme, and to everybody who is playing their part in this lockdown. We also know that the virus can quickly rebound and that mutations could evade vaccination. We are in a race against evolution, so we have a long way to go. To be frank, nowhere is covid-safe until everywhere is covid-safe. None of us wants to yo-yo in and out of lockdowns, so will the Secretary of State guarantee that the lockdown easing will, as promised, absolutely be based on data, not dates, and that the assessment time between each step is not compromised? I welcome the extra surge testing, but what is the current timeframe for genetic sequencing? How can it be sped up?

Overall trends are coming down, and that is welcome, but infections in some areas remain stubbornly high. The national average is 100 cases per 100,000, but in Leicester, my city, the infection rate is one of the highest in the country at 222 per 100,000. In Ashfield, the infection rate is 246 per 100,000. In Hyndburn, the infection rate has increased to 162 per 100,000. In Oadby and Wigston, it has gone up. In Watford, it has gone up. In Worthing, it has gone up. What steps will be taken to ensure that areas such as Ashfield, Leicester, Watford, Worthing, Hyndburn and so on are not left behind when the national lockdown restrictions begin to lift, or will those places remain in localised lockdowns? Will the local authorities be given extra resources to do more door-to-door testing and retrospective tracing? Will workplaces in those areas be inspected by the Health and Safety Executive to ensure they are covid-secure? And of course, will people finally be given decent sick pay and isolation support?

Many areas such as Leicester are facing a double whammy of relatively high infection rates and relatively low vaccination rates. What further action will now be taken to drive up vaccination rates among hesitant communities? Will the Secretary of State fund faith groups, community groups and local public health teams to develop more targeted and tailored local vaccination campaigns?

Tomorrow’s Budget cannot be about the Chancellor’s Instagram account; it has to be about the NHS and social care accounts. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that tomorrow we will get an increase in public health allocations to help public health teams plan their local covid response over the next year? Will our NHS heroes get the pay rise they deserve? With 224,000 patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment, will our NHS get the resources it needs to deliver the patient care that patients and our constituents deserve?

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to thank all those who are responsible for the vaccine roll-out. It has been an absolutely remarkable effort. He is right to say that the NHS has played its part—it has played a central part—but it has been more than the NHS. It has been the brilliance of the logistics, in particular, of our armed services. It has been the volunteers who have come forward in their droves. It has been the regulator and the partnership with private industry, and I think that this model of a combination of academic excellence and partnership between Government, regulator and private industry is one on which we can build. I know it is a model that they do not like much on the Opposition side of the House—

The right hon. Gentleman says he likes it. We always knew that he was misplaced over there. His problem is that sometimes his rhetoric is aimed more at his Back Benchers than what he thinks is right. I urge him to listen to his conscience and to back us and the businesses that are making this vaccination roll-out happen, and to put that support into practice.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about sequencing—again, done by a brilliant combination of academics, Government and private businesses. We are now sequencing a third of the positive tests in this country. That is not yet a full survey of all the positives, although we are working towards that, but it does mean that we are able to spot the variants much more than anywhere else in the world. We currently provide around 40% of the total global sequences of this disease—this virus—and we are driving up that sequencing capacity.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about increasing the uptake of vaccination. He was quite right to, and we are working with faith groups and local directors of public health and others. Councils have a very important role to play alongside pharmacists and, of course, GPs in increasing the vaccination uptake. However, the vaccination uptake has been very, very high—higher than I expected—and I am really thrilled about that.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about making sure that the road map follows data, not dates. We have rigorously set out the gap between the steps to ensure that we can see the effect of one step before we take the other. That is with the goal of having this road map as a one-way route out of restrictions so that we can all get back to the freedom that we crave.

I congratulate the Health Secretary on the brilliant progress of the vaccine roll-out, which is a personal achievement for him as well as a collective achievement for the Government. I also thank him for transparency in that programme and the transparency on the risks of the new Brazilian variant.

I would like to ask about transparency in another area, which is the new integrated care systems that he is planning in his White Paper and the concerns expressed by the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and NHS providers at this morning’s Health and Social Care Committee about the lack of detail on how the public will know how well their local ICS is doing. Sir Robert Francis told the Committee that he favoured asking the CQC to Ofsted-rate the new ICSs and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend thinks that that might be a solution to the accountability issue.

Transparency has played a vital role in our approach to responding to this virus, and I think that is an important lesson from it that should be heeded globally. In terms of the future of the NHS arranged around the ICSs, that transparency will be important, too. There will be a crucial role for the Care Quality Commission, which currently rates hospitals according to, as my right hon. Friend put it, an Ofsted-style rating. It is vital that the CQC has a similar role when it comes to ICSs, and I look forward to working with him and other members of his Committee to make sure that we get the details of that right.

Although the number of cases of the Brazilian variant is thankfully small, it is a warning that being tested in advance does not rule out travellers carrying covid. The South African variant is resistant to antibodies in previous covid patients, and there is concern that both variants may be resistant to vaccine-induced immunity and could therefore undermine the success of the vaccination programme.

The Brazilian variant has already been identified outside South America, and the South African strain is present in 35 countries not on the red list. The arrival of the Brazilian strain via both Switzerland and Paris demonstrates the various routes to the UK from high-risk countries and shows how a traveller can avoid the current hotel quarantine system by separating the legs of their journey. Those infected spent several hours in close quarters with other travellers, who would not be subject to hotel quarantine even now.

I assume that the Government are tracing the passengers from the flights, but with genomics taking some time, the window for worrying variants to get a foothold in the UK before they are discovered is significant. The situation would not have arisen with comprehensive hotel quarantine, as advised by SAGE, so why did the Secretary of State agree to such an inadequate system? Can he tell us the view of the Joint Biosecurity Centre? Does he recognise that quarantining just 1% of international arrivals does not protect the UK from these variants, or protect it from those that may evolve in other parts of the world? Will the Government now review their hotel quarantine policy and make it fit for purpose?

The hon. Lady is completely wrong, and she knows it. Quarantine is in place for 100% of passenger arrivals in this country. In fact, this episode, in which all those we have successfully contacted—all five—have fully isolated and quarantined at home as required, demonstrates that the policy is working. We have further strengthened it and introduced hotel quarantine, and that will no doubt give further reassurance. The hon. Lady’s characterisation is wrong, and some of the descriptions of the organisations involved are wrong as well. I am happy to ensure that she gets a private briefing so that she can understand the situation in future.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the vaccine roll-out and on the use of the SureScreen tests, which were bought local to me. The pressure on the NHS due to coronavirus has caused the cancellation of thousands of elective operations. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to ensure that hospitals catch up on cancer diagnosis and care and cardiothoracic diagnosis and surgery? How fast does he expect to progress that?

My hon. Friend makes two critical points. The first is that the manufacture and purchasing of British-made tests is an incredibly important project. I thank SureScreen in her constituency for working closely with us over several months. We now have a product that we can all be proud of and that will test people in Britain to help break chains of transmission and control this virus. I am grateful for her work in that regard.

I also agree with her second point. The spending review put aside £1 billion for the recovery of elective operations, as well as half a billion pounds for the recovery of mental health services. That is crucial for cancer and all the other elective areas, including cardiothoracic, and we will publish further details of the recovery programme soon. The NHS is just exiting a stage of significant pressure—more than 10,000 people are still in hospitals with covid—and we need to ensure that staff get some rest and recuperation, but next year will be all about the recovery my hon. Friend talks about. The money has been allocated, and we will need to get on with it.

The Brazil variant cases arrived a month after I raised this issue with the Prime Minister, and they show not only the problems of delays, but the limitations of the pre-travel tests that did not catch those cases. Even now, 99% of the 15,000 daily arrivals are not covered by hotel quarantine, and most people can still travel home from the airport by tube, train or even plane, mixing with others—as some of these travellers did—without being tested on arrival in the UK. Why are the Government still refusing to introduce additional tests on arrival, and still allowing international passengers to travel onwards on UK public transport? Does the Secretary of State recognise that those gaps in the system will let more new variant cases spread?

These cases would be caught by the new hotel quarantine policy. The right hon. Lady talks about the need for more testing, and we have introduced tests on day 2 and day 8, to ensure that we keep everybody who arrives as a passenger in the UK under the necessary level of surveillance.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that my constituency is extremely diverse in its racial and religious makeup, and our national health service staff have done a brilliant job in keeping up the fantastic vaccination rate during this period. However, we are still having to combat the anti-vaxx propaganda that is going out. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that people get the truth about the wisdom of taking the vaccine, regardless of what race, religion, and cultural background they come from?

That is an incredibly important question, and I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in getting that message out. In Harrow we are vaccinating in mosques, temples, and GP surgeries. A critical part of the roll-out is to ensure that the message gets to everybody that this vaccine is safe and it works. It is no good just my saying that. We want to, and we are, engaging with leaders of all communities—faith leaders, and people who have strong voices in their community. Critically, we must ensure that people feel as much as possible that the vaccination effort is accessible to them. It is on us to ensure that the vaccines are easy to get hold of, and that people get answers to any reasonable questions they may have. I look forward to working further with my hon. Friend on delivering that across Harrow and the whole of the country.

I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that every hour is vital in tracking down new positive cases, particularly new cases of new variants. Will he explain why the eye-watering £22 billion that has been spent on the test and trace system does not track each and every test that is sent out, based on a unique code for every test? Surely that would help close the net on positive tests much quicker than the public calls for help that we have seen over the past few days, when that vital information is missing when each test is returned.

I am not sure you were in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I addressed that precise question in my statement. Not having the contact details happens in about 0.1% of tests. In this case, we think the test was done as part of a home test kit, when it is incumbent on the individual to set out those details. Home test kits can be sent to someone’s home, in which case of course we have the details of where it was sent. Alternatively, in response to surges, tests can be taken round by local authority teams and dropped off. We therefore need to find out exactly where this test was dropped off. What the hon. Lady omitted to say is that the team has done a good job of narrowing down where that may be to 379 households. The call-out at the weekend was answered with a number of leads, and we are working hard to make sure we find the individual concerned.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Both the scientific news and the progress of our vaccine roll-out suggest that we are well on the way to getting back to normal. In particular, I was delighted to learn about the fantastic new data showing that both the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines are effective in hugely reducing hospitalisations and deaths from covid and, indeed, that the Oxford jab, which is being manufactured here in Newcastle-under-Lyme, may even be the more effective of the two. Will he join me in welcoming the fact that our European neighbours, such as France, have recognised that fact and are moving to allow this terrific vaccine to protect the lives of older people there, just as it has done in the UK?

I am delighted to see any country recognise the life-saving value of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as we recognise the life-saving value of all that have passed assessment by our regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. We know that this vaccine is not only safe but is saving lives and stopping hospitalisations right across this country right now. I pay tribute to the scientists behind it, who have done so much work to get it to this place, and it is simply fantastic to see in the data with the naked eye that these vaccines are saving lives.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on having the temerity and leadership to identify early on that vaccination and getting a good vaccine was the way ahead. Here we are, leading the way for not only Europe but the world. Indeed, a few weeks ago, the Irish Government and Europe tried to steal vaccines out of the arms of people in Northern Ireland because they were so jealous of how well the United Kingdom was doing. With that in mind, what will the Secretary of State do in late summer, given the fact that we have eight times the amount of vaccine that the United Kingdom will need? Is a list being compiled of needy countries where the United Kingdom can help people with vaccination?

Yes, absolutely. While I am so proud of the work that we have done in this United Kingdom to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and to buy vaccines from around the world that are safe and effective, so that we are able to vaccinate everybody here at home, I am also cognisant of the fact that vaccination around the world will be necessary. I was very pleased to see that COVAX started vaccinating in Ghana last week. It currently looks as if we may have excess vaccines in the future, and we have clearly committed that we will make them available around the world.

We know for sure that we seek to vaccinate with two doses every adult in the UK. There may well be a need for a third vaccination over the autumn against variants, and there is currently a clinical trial considering the vaccination of under-18s. So the exact number of vaccines that we will need for the UK population is not yet known, but we are keen to ensure that we then go on to support, with vaccines and with the money that we have already pledged, the vaccination of the most underdeveloped parts of the world.

The Secretary of State knows how well the vaccination programme is going here in Warwickshire, and his remarks at Friday’s national briefing were greatly appreciated here. Many of the residents being vaccinated at Locke House in Rugby have asked me about the road back to normality, and some have asked about getting some sun on a foreign holiday. Could he say something about any plans the Government are considering for people wishing to travel both at home and abroad to be able to demonstrate that they have received their vaccination through some form of certification?

Coventry and Warwickshire have done an amazing job, and I was very pleased to see them top the ranks published on Thursday of the areas of England that have vaccinated the most. I congratulate my hon. Friend and his team.

On foreign holidays, we said in the road map that international holidays will not be allowed before 17 May. We are working with the global travel taskforce, which met this lunchtime, just before I came to the House. It is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. I am on it, along with Home Office and Foreign Office colleagues and representatives from the travel industry—from the airlines, cruise ships and others. That will report by 12 April. Last year, international travel restrictions were about restricting the number of cases due to high prevalence elsewhere when the prevalence here was low. The challenge now is that we have to take into consideration the risks from variants of concern, which means that more understanding about the impact of vaccines on variants of concern, such as the one first discovered in Manaus in Brazil that we were talking about earlier, is critical to answering the question of when we will be able safely to reopen international travel.

I received some welcome news this morning that Lambeth’s local covid vaccination team is one of the highest performing teams in the country. Our local clinical commissioning group reports that 85% of people over 75 and 89% of residents in care homes have now been vaccinated. Here in Vauxhall, we have had to implement the surge testing operation in the past few days because a case of the South African variant was discovered locally. This is all down to the tireless efforts of our primary care workers, nurses, GPs, pharmacies and an army of volunteers. I am concerned, though, that despite this heroic effort, there is still some misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Does the Secretary of State agree that more needs to be done to counter this misinformation and to support the vaccine roll-out and take-up among our black, Asian and ethnic minority communities?

Yes, I do. I want to add one more person to the long list of people whom the hon. Lady rightly thanked for their incredible work of getting take-up in Lambeth to as high as 85% among the over-75s, and that is her. She has played a personal leadership role, and I thank her and pay tribute to her for that. There is still much more work to do, and I hope that we can keep working together on it.

The pace and scale of the vaccination programme has been incredible, and we owe a debt of thanks to everyone involved. In Wolverhampton, we have kept pace by using a variety of locations, including our leisure and community centres. As we all look forward to restrictions ending, I hope that these public buildings will be returned for leisure and community use. For how long does the Secretary of State predict that we will need a mass vaccination programme? With the potential need for a rolling programme of booster injections or vaccination against new variants, what infrastructure is being planned so that we can protect our entire population for as long as is necessary without overburdening our NHS?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point: free the leisure centres! Many are being used as vaccination centres now, but, like her, I look forward to the day when they can be used for the purpose for which they were built—as leisure centres. It is important that, should we need a continued vaccination programme, for instance, over the summer and into the autumn, as seems likely, we will have to move to more permanent places or places that are free to be used as vaccination centres over that period. In fact, that has already started to happen. We have already started to move some of our testing and vaccination centres to more semi-permanent sites to free up the original sites that we started with, because we needed things to move incredibly quickly. That is an important consideration. Frankly, it is best done as close to the local area as possible, so it is right that I do not get involved in each individual one. I am absolutely certain that the NHS in Wolverhampton is far better placed to make those sorts of decisions than I am from this Dispatch Box, but I hope that it will keep my hon. Friend informed.

I am afraid that “data not dates” clearly has not worked, because people have quite understandably just focused on the dates. The spring sunshine at the weekend meant that in lovely places such as Cambridge it was very busy. Are the Government now going to make a precautionary adjustment or, with hospital numbers still so high, take a chance and risk running the NHS into the ground?

Given that we believe in people taking responsibility for their own actions, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the refusal of a minority to accept vaccination is no reason to delay the lifting of restrictions on society as a whole?

That is an important point. We do not have mandatory vaccinations in this country. We do encourage as much uptake is possible, but with the percentages for uptake well into the 90s among the groups who have been offered the vaccine, it is clear that we will be able to get very high levels of coverage and therefore lift restrictions. I hope will be able to lift restrictions on the basis of the dates in the timetable set out but, as per my answer earlier, we will also monitor the data on the impact between each one.

Anita Barker, the headteacher of Scott Primary School in Bedford, is doing all she can to keep her school safe and open, but she knows that more can be done and wants her staff to be vaccinated. I understand the JCVI’s reasoning on priority, but we have already made a special case for schools. The success of the road map hinges on schools going back safely, so does the Secretary of State have the political will to do all that he can to prevent further school closures and recognise that that means vaccinating school staff as soon as possible?

I am very happy to ensure that, as much as possible, school staff are vaccinated whenever they possibly can be within the JCVI categorisations, but we have to follow the clinical advice on this, because there is no evidence of teachers being worse affected by covid than other professions. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that the message gets across that the prioritisation—the order of the queue, so to speak—is based on the best clinical advice as to how to save the most lives most quickly. I am sure that is something in which everybody wants to share.

I again congratulate my right hon. Friend on the 20 million milestone, which is fantastic achievement for everybody involved. May I probe him on the question of outdoor transmission? It has been quite clear in the past few days that the level of adherence to the rules has dropped in outdoor settings; has my right hon. Friend’s research shown that there is genuinely an issue around the transmission of the virus outdoors? Have we actually seen any significant incidents of widespread transmission in outdoor settings?

The clinical advice is that outdoors is safer than indoors—the likelihood of transmission outdoors is much lower—but that in crowded outdoor areas in particular it is not nil. Hence, the road map is based on opening up outdoors sooner, but people should still follow social distancing and, of course, follow the rules, which should mean that come the 29th of this month we are able to open up outdoors first.

Scottish health protection teams are having to trace all the people who travelled on the plane to Aberdeen, and there must be similar risks and concerns in England, given the travel through London. Of course, there are no passenger lists for anyone who travelled on by train. Does the Secretary of State not therefore agree that it is a matter of urgency that his Government change policy to reduce the risk of importing further and more dangerous variants?

Since the six people under discussion with the variant of concern first found in Brazil travelled here, we have introduced further strengthening at the border—the hotel quarantine. I think the best approach would be a UK-wide one. I discussed that with my colleagues in the devolved Administrations and I look forward to a time when we are able to have an aligned policy.

The constituency data released by Public Health England last Friday showed that more than 30,000 people in Harrogate and Knaresborough had had their first dose of the vaccine. This fantastic local performance, alongside the stunning national performance, reflects the expertise, determination and teamwork of many people, and I put on record my gratitude to them. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we are on track to give everyone their second dose of the vaccine within 12 weeks of the first?

Yes; we have the vaccines available, and local areas need to know that the vaccines will be delivered to them in order for them to meet their schedule commitments for those second jabs. The logistics of the second jab are slightly more complicated than the first, because we need to make sure that the right person gets the right vaccine on the right date. There is a huge amount of work under way as that programme starts—today being 12 weeks to the day since the vaccination programme as a whole started. May I put on the record my thanks to the team in Harrogate, who have done an amazing job vaccinating over 30,000 people—more than the national average, if my memory serves me correctly? I thank my hon. Friend for his leadership in Harrogate and for supporting the team there to make this happen.

The roll-out of the vaccines by the NHS and the efficacy of the vaccines are to be celebrated, and I congratulate everybody involved. However, the UK has the highest mortality rate per capita of any major country. Given that the Government maintain that they have consistently followed expert scientific advice, how soon does the Secretary of State think we should review that scientific advice and the decisions of the Government that were based on it so that we can learn the lessons of the past year as soon as possible?

We are constantly learning—about the asymptomatic transmission of the virus, the way in which it mutates and what works effectively against it; and we update policy according to what we learn. That is the nature of science; it is about constantly learning as new facts come to bear. We do not wait until after a pandemic to learn; we learn all the way through it.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the pace of the vaccine roll-out, and welcome the good news about the sharp decline in hospital admissions and deaths among vaccinated groups. Does he agree that this provides real hope that we will be able to end social distancing, along with other restrictions, from 21 June?

I know that the Secretary of State shares my concern that not every community is as confident as others about taking up the vaccine. That is why I know he will want to congratulate my local doctors, primary care networks and local church leaders in Walthamstow, who led a vaccine clinic last week in our community to help support the black and ethnic minority residents to take up the vaccine. He will also want to congratulate my doctors on being some of the highest performers in the country in terms of getting people to have their vaccine. Will he meet me to discuss what we can learn about this community-led approach to vaccination and how we can do more to help that outreach work bridge the gap between different communities in our country, so that nobody is left behind in this health challenge?

Yes; this is one of the hon. Lady’s campaigns that we can all get behind. She is quite right to raise the work that is being done in Walthamstow, which is very impressive. I will arrange a meeting between her and the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), to see what we can learn and what we can replicate.

This morning I received an email from a lady who is extremely clinically vulnerable. For perfectly good medical reasons, she cannot receive a flu jab or a covid jab, so she is very concerned that she will not be able to leave her front door if we bring in covid passports. For reasons of civil liberties, will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear that we are not interested in bringing in covid passports internally, but that they are useful for foreign travel? I say to the shadow Secretary of State that, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps we should have introduced a hotel quarantine system much sooner. Will the Secretary of State make it clear that he will resist the travel lobby? Will he be absolutely up-front and honest with people, and say that it is unwise to book summer holidays now because there may be these mutants and it is better to hold off? I think that people accept the Government being tough, as long as they are consistent, particularly on foreign travel.

I will address each of my right hon. Friend’s questions in turn. The point about certification is important. While decisions on certification are being reviewed in a review led by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is clear that we will need to provide people with the ability to certify whether they have had the jab, and we will absolutely need to consider those who have a certified clinical reason why they cannot have the jab. That applies to a relatively small number of people, but it is an important consideration that will be taken forward as part of that work.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for expressing his views on the approach to international travel. Quarantine is required for everybody who arrives as a passenger to this country, as well as testing on day 2 and day 8. That means we have a robust procedure to ensure that cases cannot be brought into this country and then spread in the community.

With covid rates in Devon now down to just 31 per 100,000 and with all the vulnerable groups due to have been vaccinated by the end of this month, what will be the justification for keeping my constituents locked down and local businesses closed through Easter and beyond because rates happen to be higher somewhere else?

We obviously had a tiered system over the autumn and one of the challenges we found was of people travelling from a part of the country where rates are higher to those where rates are lower. Therefore, while we do not rule out a localised approach to outbreaks, we will move down the road map as a nation across England.

People understand figures more than percentages, so I ask my right hon. Friend: how many people in England have been admitted to hospital having already had a vaccine for at least three weeks? That figure will illustrate the risk assessments that people would like to be able to make in respect of this set of vaccines. In the same way that I have been told that flu vaccines are only 40% efficient, these seem to be at least 80% efficient, which is really good news.

I do not have those specific figures to hand, but the MHRA—the regulator—regularly publishes what are called adverse events when somebody still has a problem with coronavirus having had the vaccine or has a response to the vaccine, and I will ensure that the appropriate body, whether it is MHRA or Public Health England, publishes both the number and the percentage.

The covid testing package reservation form for international travellers from red list countries into England requires proof of purchase of two covid-19 tests before they can travel on to England and Scotland. However, there is no reference to Wales on the form. Will the Secretary of State assure me that that is an oversight that will be remedied immediately and that international travellers from England continuing on to Wales are indeed required to comply with the testing and quarantine rules?

Yes, all international passengers are required to comply with the rules. It is the first time I have heard of that particular issue. I will write to the hon. Gentleman to set out either why the system is done in that way or that it has been rectified, if that is what is needed.

The road map contains a chapter on building resilience to future pandemics, which I think we must be honest and say will not leave us alone for another 100 years. Therefore, with respect to the global network of zoonotic research hubs, as the Prime Minister wisely set out in his five-point plan at the UN last September, can we ensure that they build on the work of experienced virus hunters already out there such as the Global Health Network who have years of experience searching for unseen viruses that leap from animals to humans?

Yes. The proposed work, as set out by the Prime Minister at the UN General Assembly, which we are working on with our presidency of the G7, aims precisely to build on and strengthen the existing work that is under way. However, clearly we need to ensure that all the future risks, whether they are from zoonotic diseases or are due to environmental changes that lead to risks to human health, are taken into account and we need to have an early warning system that is as effective as possible.

This very afternoon, I am going to get a jag—a “jag” is a Scottish term for a vaccination, not a posh car. Getting the maximum number of people in the highlands vaccinated as fast as possible is crucial to the reopening of businesses in my constituency, including those in hospitality and tourism. Will the Secretary of State give the maximum encouragement to the Scottish Government to make sure that that happens?

The vaccination programme is a successful UK-wide programme. We work very closely with the Scottish NHS and indeed the Scottish Government to make sure that right across all these islands we have the vaccination available fairly, according to clinical need, as fast as we possibly can. We can deliver this because we are one United Kingdom, with the buying power and scientific capability that comes from being one United Kingdom, all working together; this simply would not be possible if there were the separation that some propose. I will do everything I can to ensure that businesses and residents in Scotland get the protection from the jab that they deserve at an equal pace to everywhere else in this country. It is a crucial part of getting all of us on the road to recovery.

In order that we get and keep herd immunity, is my right hon. Friend planning any hard-hitting public information campaigns to ensure that younger adults take up the vaccine with the level of enthusiasm that my relatively elderly constituents have done?

Yes, we are absolutely planning to instil as much enthusiasm as we can muster among younger people, as we have seen among older people. The message to anybody who is younger is that getting a jab helps to set us all free and back on the road to recovery. It helps protect them, including from long covid, which can be a debilitating condition, and all of us. It is the right thing to do.

I thank the Secretary of State for an incredible, record-breaking vaccine roll-out, with which we are all incredibly impressed. Given the wonderful results showing that even one vaccination dose reduces the chance of hospital admission by 80%, will he outline the rationale for not vaccinating all workers in frontline services? At present, a 61-year-old writer who is able to work from home will receive a vaccination before a 59-year-old shop worker who is face to face with hundreds of different people each day. Should the Secretary of State and the Government not consider those thousands of frontline workers, who have made the continuation of life possible during these difficult times?

We did consider this question and asked our clinical advisers, the JCVI, to look into it. It found that notwithstanding the different risks that different occupations face, the overriding determinant of risk is age. Therefore, we are proceeding on the basis of that advice across the UK.

More than 40% of the adult population of my constituency have now received a vaccination, which is a truly magnificent effort, but across Kirklees there was an uptick in covid cases last week. What message can the Health Secretary send to my constituents so that we can stay on track with the road map out of lockdown?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question because we have seen, in a minority of areas, a small increase in the number of cases and that does include Kirklees. We have seen this in just under one in five local authority areas. My message to everybody in Kirklees is that this is not over yet. We have a road map out but it is not a road map for Government alone; it is a road map for all of us to walk down together. That means following the rules, and that means, for now, staying at home, but by doing that, we can all then move on the dates that are set out, and instead of “not before” dates they will become the dates that we can make the next step. But it is on all of us, and so I would urge everybody to continue. I know it has been a difficult winter and the sun is starting to shine a bit brighter, but we must all stick at this. We can see the way out and I hope that we can get there together.

Over 3,000 clinically vulnerable people in cohort 6 are going to have their vaccinations cancelled in St Helens at the end of this week, unless the required supplies are delivered by Thursday lunchtime. The vaccine site is serving four primary care networks, yet the national supply team is only recognising and supplying one network. The mutual aid gathered to cover this shortfall in the past is no longer available. Will the Secretary of State please urgently intervene to address this misunderstanding so that no vaccinations are cancelled?

I will absolutely ensure that the Minister for Vaccine Roll-out gets in contact directly with the hon. Lady. This is a massive effort, so there may be logistical challenges. We will look at and understand what the situation is in St Helens. As I have some family in St Helens, I am pretty keen to make sure this gets sorted ASAP. But it just shows that it is not easy to do this. The team are working incredibly hard all the time to resolve issues like the one that she rightly raised to make sure that this can go as smoothly as possible.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and suspend the House for three minutes to make the necessary arrangements for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Bill Presented

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Kwarteng, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Matt Hancock, Secretary Oliver Dowden, Secretary Ben Wallace, Secretary Grant Shapps, and Amanda Solloway, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 264) with explanatory notes (Bill 264-EN).