Before I call the Secretary of State, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of the statement will be available to watch on parliamentlive.tv. I call Secretary Javid to make his statement—and I welcome him back to the Front Bench at the same time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I am extremely grateful to you for accommodating the timing of this statement.
I would like to update the House on the pandemic and our road map to freedom. This morning, I joined some of the remarkable people who have been at the heart of the pandemic response at a service to mark the NHS’s 73th birthday at St Paul’s Cathedral. Together, we reflected on a year like no other for the NHS and for our country. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in celebrating the decision by Her Majesty the Queen to award the NHS the George Cross. I can think of no more fitting tribute to the NHS. I know that everyone in this House—indeed, everyone in this country—will celebrate that award.
There is no greater demonstration of our high regard for the NHS than the manner in which we all stepped up to protect it. Now, it is thanks to the NHS and many others that we are vaccinating our way out of this pandemic and out of these restrictions. Eighty-six per cent. of UK adults have had at least one jab, and 64% have had two. We are reinforcing our vaccine wall of defence further still. I can tell the House that we are reducing the dose interval for under-40s from 12 weeks to eight, which will mean that every adult should have had the chance to be double-jabbed by mid-September.
And those vaccines are working. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that eight in 10 adults have the covid-19 antibodies that are so important in helping our bodies to fight this disease. When we look at people aged over 50—the people who got the jab earlier in the programme—that figure rises to more than nine in 10. Allow me to set out why all this is so important.
Before we started putting jabs into arms, whenever we saw a rise in cases, it would inevitably be followed by a rise in hospitalisations and, tragically, a rise in deaths. Yet today, even though cases are heading upwards, in line with what we expected, hospitalisations are increasing at a much lower rate and deaths are at just 1% of the figure that we saw at the peak. Our vaccines are building a wall of protection against hospitalisation. And, jab by jab, brick by brick, that wall is getting higher.
For those people who sadly do find themselves having to go to hospital, we have better treatments than ever before. Last week on my visit to St Thomas’ Hospital, clinicians were telling me just how transformative dexamethasone has been in their effort to save lives. Taken together, the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is being severely weakened. That means that we can start to learn to live with covid.
As we do that, it is important that we are straight with the British people. Cases of covid-19 are rising and will continue to rise significantly. We can reasonably expect that, by 19 July, the number of daily cases will be far higher than today. Against this backdrop, many people will be understandably cautious about easing restrictions. After many months of uncertainty, that is entirely natural. But we can now protect the NHS without having to go to the extraordinary lengths that we have had to in the past. That is not to say that this is going to be easy.
Of course, the pandemic is not over. The virus is still with us; it has not gone away. The risk of a dangerous new variant that evades vaccines remains real. We know that, with covid-19, the situation can change and it can change quickly, but we cannot put our lives on hold forever. My responsibility as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care includes helping us to turn and face the other challenges that we know we must also address, from mental health to social care to the challenges of long covid. I am also determined to get to work on busting the backlog—the backlog that has been caused by this pandemic and which we know will get a lot worse before it gets better.
As I set out to the House last week, I remain confident that we can move to step 4 in England on 19 July and that the Government will make their final decision on this on 12 July, so today I wish to set out further details of what step 4 will look like. In essence, our national response to covid will change from one of rules and regulations to one of guidance and good sense. We will revoke all social distancing guidance, including the 2 metre rule, except for in specific settings such as ports of entry and medical settings, where of course it would continue to make sense.
It will no longer be a legal requirement to wear face coverings in any setting, including public transport, although we will advise this as a voluntary measure for crowded and enclosed spaces. It will no longer be necessary to work from home. There will be no limits on the number of people we can meet. There will no limits on the number of people who can attend life events such as weddings and funerals, and there will be no restrictions on communal worship or singing.
We will remove legal requirements on how businesses operate. Capacity caps will all be lifted and there will no longer be any requirement to offer table service. All businesses that were forced to close their doors will be able to open them once again. And we will lift the cap on named care home visitors so that families can come together in the ways they choose to do so. Ministers will provide further statements this week on self-isolation for fully vaccinated people, including for international travel, and on restrictions in education settings, including the removal of bubbles and contact isolation in schools.
Today, I can also confirm to the House that we have completed our review of certification. While already a feature of international travel, we have concluded that we do not think using certification as a condition of entry is a way to go. For people who have not been offered a full course of vaccination and for businesses, we felt that the impact outweighed the public health benefits. Of course, businesses can use covid-status certification at their own discretion and, from step 4 onwards, the NHS covid pass will be accessible through the NHS app and other digital routes. This will be the main way that people can provide their covid status—a status that they will achieve once they have completed a full vaccine course, a recent negative test or some other proof of natural immunity.
Taken together, step 4 is the biggest step of all: a restoration of so many of the freedoms that make this country great. We know that, as a consequence, cases will rise, just as they have done at every step on our road map, but this time our wall of protection will help us.
While step 4 will be the moment to let go of many restrictions, we must hold on to those everyday, sensible decisions that can help make us all safe. The responsibility to combat covid-19 lies with each and every one of us. That means staying at home when you are asked to self-isolate. It means considering the guidance that we are setting out, and it means getting the jab—both doses. When you are offered it, please, please take the jabs. This is something that everyone can do to make a contribution towards this national effort. It may even mean, for some people, that they will get three jabs in a single year. Last week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation provided interim advice on who to prioritise for a third dose, and our most vulnerable will be offered booster covid-19 jabs from September in time for the winter.
And preparing for the winter ahead is not just about covid, but flu as well. Because of the measures in place this winter, almost nobody in the UK has had flu for 18 months now. That is obviously a good thing but it does mean that immunity from flu is down. This winter’s flu campaign will be more important than ever, and we are currently looking at whether we can give people the covid-19 booster shot and the flu jab at the same time.
Step 4 is the next step in our country’s journey out of this pandemic. I know that, after so many difficult months, it is a step that many of us will look upon with a great deal of caution, but it is one that we will all take together, with a growing wall of defence against this virus—a wall that each and every one of us can help build higher. It is vital that each of us plays our part to protect ourselves and to protect others into better days ahead. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by paying tribute to our NHS on its 73rd anniversary and thank again our extraordinary health and care workforce. The best birthday present they could have, of course, is a fair pay rise, not the proposed real-terms pay cut that is currently on offer.
We all want to see these restrictions end. Lockdowns are a sign of policy failure and I hope that, when the Secretary of State makes the final decision next week, it will be based on the data, the modelling and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advice, but let us be absolutely clear about what he is talking about today. When only 50% of the total population across England are fully vaccinated and another 17% are partially, his strategy, as he indeed was gracious enough to concede, accepts that infections will surge further and continue to rise steeply, and accepts that hospitalisations will continue to rise until they reach a peak—presumably later this summer. Some of those hospitalised will sadly die, and thousands upon thousands of mostly children and younger people, but others as well, will be left exposed to a virus mainly because they have no vaccination protection—we also know that even double-jabbed people can catch and transmit the virus—and many of them will be at risk of serious long-term chronic illness, the personal impact of which may be felt for years to come.
Even though vaccination may have broken the link with mortality, there are still questions about the link to morbidity. As part of the Secretary of State’s strategy of learning to live with covid, will he spell out today for the British public what that actually means? How many deaths does he consider are acceptable when we are living with covid? How many cases of long covid does he consider acceptable when we are living with covid? Given that we know that covid can escape and evolve when the virus circulates at high rates, what risk assessment has he done on the possibility of a new variant emerging? Will he publish it?
The Secretary of State says that every date for unlocking carries risk and that that is why we need to learn to live with covid, but we should not have to take a high-risk approach. We should be pushing down risk. Indeed, we mitigate risk across society all the time. We do not just accept other diseases; we take interventions to try to prevent them. Why is he therefore collapsing all mitigations completely when he knows that covid rates will continue to rise? He will be aware that Israel has reintroduced its mask mandate because of the delta variant, so why is he planning to bin ours? Masks do not restrict freedoms in a pandemic when so much virus is circulating. They ensure that everyone who goes to the shops or who takes public transport can do so safely, because wearing a mask protects others. If nobody is masked, covid risk increases and we are all less safe. He must understand that those in the shielding community are particularly anxious. Why should they feel shut out of public transport and shops because he has abandoned the mask mandate? That is no definition of freedom that I recognise.
Who else suffers when masks are removed? It is those working in shops, those who drive the buses, those who drive taxis and those who work in hospitality—it is the low-paid workers who have also been without access to decent sick pay. Many of them live in overcrowded accommodation. It is those who have been savagely, disproportionately impacted by the virus from day one and now the Secretary of State is asking them to bear the brunt of the increased risk again. Will he explain why he thinks abandoning masks is a sensible proposal to follow?
Given that people will still need to isolate, as the Secretary of State recognised, and that test and trace will still be in operation, will he accept that living with the virus will mean that, more so than ever, those who are sick will need to isolate themselves from the rest of society? Will he therefore ensure that they are paid proper sick pay and isolation support to do it? Does he agree that it has been a monstrous failure of the past 15 months that isolation support has not been in place?
Now, masks are effective because we know that the virus is airborne. The Secretary of State could therefore further mitigate covid risks by insisting on ventilation standards in premises and crowded buildings. He could offer grants for air filtration systems. Instead, all we get is more Government advice. Ventilation in buildings and grants to support air filtration systems do not restrict anyone’s freedoms. Indeed, they would probably help get back into school some of those 400,000 children who have been off school because of covid.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State said that he believed the best way to protect the nation’s health was to lift all restrictions. I know he boasts of his student years at Harvard studying pandemics, but I think he may well have missed the tutorial on infectious disease control because widespread transmission will not make us healthier. We are not out of the woods yet. We want to see lockdown end, but we need those lifesaving mitigations in place. We need sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask wearing on public transport and ventilation in buildings and schools to prevent further illness. I hope, when the right hon. Gentleman returns next week, he has put those measures in place.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. First, I think he started by asking for reassurance on whether the final decision on go or no go for 19 July, which we will make on 12 July, will be informed by the very best expert data. Of course it will be, just as every decision has been informed in that way. I am only about a week into the job, but I must say that I am incredibly impressed by our scientists, medical advisers and Public health England. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all they have been doing.
Turning to the right hon. Gentleman’s second point about the link between cases and hospitalisation and death, that is absolutely central to the next step we are taking. Case numbers are high. As I said, they will go significantly higher and we need to be ready for that, but what is far more important is how many people are ending up in hospital and how many, sadly, are dying. That is where the vaccines have worked, alongside the treatments we now have that we did not have a year or so ago. That has meant that the link between cases and deaths has been severely weakened. The last time we had 25,000 new cases a day, we had around 500 deaths a day. The level now is a thirtieth of that. I know the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that and understand that there is no absolutely risk-free way to move forward, but we need to start returning things back towards normal and learning to live with covid.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about masks. Again, we have taken the best public health advice. He will know from what I have said that, although we will remove all legal requirements for anyone to wear a mask in any setting, we expect people to behave sensibly and think about others around them. The guidance will be there. If one is on public transport—let us say on a very crowded tube—it would be sensible to wear a mask, not least to show respect for others. However, if you are the only person in a carriage late at night on the east coast main line, then you can choose much more easily not to wear a mask because there is hardly anyone else around. We expect and trust people to make sensible decisions. That is the way we should move ahead.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about compensation and sick pay. He knows that many measures are in place and we will continue to keep them under review.
I support the approach the Secretary of State is taking for the simple reason that two doses of the vaccine work against the delta variant, but with 350,000 new cases daily across the world the battle against this pandemic is far from over. Does he agree that if we want to prevent another lockdown in the run-up to winter, apart from the booster jab programme the most important thing we can do is to improve the way test and trace works? In Korea, they managed to use it to stop any lockdowns. Here, it failed to stop three lockdowns. The head of test and trace told my Health and Social Care Committee that between 20% and 40% of people were not isolating when they were asked to. With his fresh eyes in the job, will he ask officials for new advice on what we can do to improve test and trace to stop further lockdowns?
First, may I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for the measures? He speaks with great experience and I want to thank him for that. Regarding test, trace and isolate, he is right. There are many successes over the past year that we can be proud of, but there are also many improvements that can be made. I have already asked for such advice and I look forward to talking to him about that in future.
This pandemic is very far from over, so, with cases soaring across the UK, I am surprised that the Health Secretary is planning to end all covid measures. The delta variant, which was allowed into the UK due to the failure of border quarantine, is twice as infectious as the original, and is infecting younger age groups, including children. It also shows significant vaccine escape, with only 33% protection against infection from the first dose. While receiving two doses of either vaccine dramatically reduces hospitalisation, the numbers are rising and only half the population are fully vaccinated. That means that the other half are not, and many will not have that opportunity until near the end of September.
The Secretary of State talks about the percentage of adults who are fully vaccinated, but he must know that that is not how herd immunity works. It is achieved by reducing the number of susceptible people in the whole population to stop onward spread of the virus. The UK Government’s failure to lock down last September allowed the alpha variant to emerge in the south-east of England and spread across the UK and, indeed, the rest of the world. If the Health Secretary is going to just let it rip, how does he plan to avoid generating yet another UK variant with even greater vaccine resistance?
With more than 150,000 people dead, why has the Secretary of State returned to the false narrative that covid is just like flu? Is it just wishful thinking? Why is he planning to end even simple measures such as mask wearing? He has suggested that people need to learn to live with it, but appears to be completely ignoring the risk of long covid, which is already affecting more than a million people, including children. How does he plan to avoid soaring cases of long covid in unvaccinated young adults and children? Does he consider them to be collateral damage, or just a price worth paying?
The hon. Lady started off well, but her contribution completely degenerated into political point-scoring. She should know much better than to engage in scaremongering among the Scottish people and the British people. She has no respect for what is happening, as we try to treat this whole issue with a degree of respect and seriousness. She used the phrase, “Let it rip”. If anything, the only part of the UK where cases could be described as “ripping” is in Scotland where the case rate is higher than in any other part of the UK. In fact, it has seven of the 10 highest hotspots in Europe in terms of its number of cases, and she should reflect on that.
The hon. Lady claimed that I had suggested that covid is like flu. I have never said that. It would be complete nonsense for anyone to suggest that covid is like flu. She should think about the millions of people across the world affected by this and the thousands of people who have died in the UK. How dare she even raise that—it is as if she is suggesting that it is like flu. In the same way that we have had to learn to live with flu, even though, sadly, in some years, we have had 20,000 deaths from flu, we will have to learn to live with covid. The hon. Lady should reflect on what she has said and stop playing political football with this serious issue.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and say to him in public—I hope that I have also said it to him in private—that, when he was Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, he was one of the few Ministers who understood the plight of residential leaseholders, and I thank him for that, and I hope that he will do as well in this job. May I put it to him that, as well as the recognition of the National Health Service, it would be a good idea if we found some way of recognising the role of teachers and their assistants in schools who have done so much to keep the young people of this country in education and occupied, even though remotely. Many people have contributed to that. May I also say to him that, despite the occasional political remarks that any of us may make, I hope he will work with the other nations of the United Kingdom and around the world so that we can defeat the impact of this condition together.
I thank the Father of the House for his kind comments. He may have heard me say earlier that the Education Secretary will talk much more tomorrow about the action we will be taking around schools and educational settings, including the removal of the bubble requirement from 19 July. He made an excellent point about working not just across the United Kingdom—despite what the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) said a moment ago there is great co-operation between us, which will continue—but internationally, both through our leadership of the G7 and the COVAX alliance.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, compared with the rest of the population, double vaccination provides a much reduced level of protection for clinically extremely vulnerable people with compromised immune systems. He will also be aware that pregnant women in their third trimester are considered clinically vulnerable. Many people in such groups are anxious about what today’s announcements mean for them. Will he confirm what advice is being published for the clinically extremely valuable? Specifically, will he consider allowing pregnant women to have their second jab after 21 days?
There will, of course, be people who are sadly more vulnerable to this virus who will be concerned about step 4. I entirely understand that caution and anxiety, and we will publish further guidance along the lines that the hon. Lady mentioned. As for her question on second doses for pregnant women, I will have to take advice on that.
The majority of my constituents will welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but NHS Digital data shows that the case rate in the council area is 591 per 100,000. That is considerably ahead of the national average and is causing inevitable concern, particularly among elderly and vulnerable groups. I have full confidence in the local NHS, the council and other officials dealing with the situation, but if it continues to worsen, will my right hon. Friend meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) to discuss whether additional support and resources are required?
I of course understand the importance of my hon. Friend’s question. As I said in my statement, I believe that the case rate nationally, including in his constituency, will worsen, but the hospitalisation and death rates are far more important. He will have heard what I said earlier, but I am more than happy to meet him on any occasion to discuss such issues further.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the central Government approach to drive the vaccine roll-out across all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—better together, as always. The approach outlined by Government seems sensible. Will the Secretary of State outline what discussions have taken place with his Health counterpart in Northern Ireland to ensure that Northern Ireland moves forward cautiously and carefully at a similar pace, bearing in mind our level of transmission, in tandem with the need to be wise and wary?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the vaccine. As he says, it is a successful UK-wide programme, and the take up of vaccinations in Northern Ireland is just as high as in any other part of the UK. I am working closely with my counterpart in Northern Ireland. We have already had two discussions in a week, and we will be speaking and co-ordinating on a regular basis. Things are working well.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which will be greeted with a sense of relief across the country due to the profound challenges that people have faced during the lockdowns. This success is, of course, possible only because of the vaccine roll-out, so will he keep up the pressure to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated? While doing that, will he also focus on the significant catch-up required to deal with other health conditions? I am thinking particularly of mental health and cancer.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. He points out—certain Members of this House sometimes miss this—that the pandemic has caused many other non-covid health problems, and he mentions two of the most important. We are seeing plenty of evidence of increased mental health problems, and departmental officials think that at least some 40,000 people who would have come forward for cancer referrals in a normal year have not done so. That is a reminder of why it is important for us to move back towards freedom and to learn to live with covid.
The Welsh Government have suggested that an easing of Welsh restrictions is unlikely before 19 July, and any divergence in the rules applicable on either side of the border will raise questions of enforcement. The responsibility for enforcing social distancing rules on trains lies with the British Transport police, so what discussions has the Health Secretary had with the Secretary of State for Transport and, indeed, the Welsh Government regarding the status of restrictions on cross-border rail travel?
It is understandable that there has been a difference in approach between Wales and England, and clearly that will continue, but we will continue to co-ordinate. I know that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), co-ordinated on a regular basis with his Welsh counterpart, and when it comes to transport, my Welsh counterpart and I will work carefully with the Secretary of State for Transport.
It is hugely significant and welcome that the link between cases and hospitalisation seems to have been broken by the vaccine. I would like to echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) has just said. Can my right hon. Friend assure me, notwithstanding the risks he has pointed out such as potential variants and increased cases, that the NHS will have the focus and the resources to continue to bear down on the backlog of cases such as cancer, which is scaring my constituents and everyone else?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The backlog is already at 5 million, and as I have said today, it is unfortunately going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I think we can all understand why, but today’s announcement will certainly have helped in our march to clear the backlog. My hon. Friend will know that the Government have given significant additional funding, in the billions, to help with that, but there will be a lot more to come in dealing with the priorities, especially cancer.
All the warm words from the Secretary of State towards the NHS at the top of his statement were completely demolished by his attitude towards a breast cancer surgeon when he said that she should know better. The reality is that she does know better, and he should apologise to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) for those absolutely outrageous comments. And to use the escalation of cases in Scotland as a political tool is absolutely disgraceful. I want to talk about the—
I apologise for any discourtesy to the House in not being able to be there in person. The Prime Minister has confirmed that there will be contingency measures in place for winter, and even if they are not legal restrictions, they will have an effect on business. Can the Secretary of State confirm what they are, and publish the details so that Members can scrutinise them at the earliest opportunity?
I believe that my right hon. Friend is referring to our keeping in place contingency measures, particularly for local authorities—the so-called No. 3 regulations—at least until the end of September in case those powers are needed in the event of a local break-out. Of course, there is no intention at this point that those powers will be used, but we believe it is necessary to have powers in place just in case. He will have heard me talking earlier about the risk that still exists from new variants. That is the plan, but I would be happy to discuss that with him further.
Can the Secretary of State explain why, when other public health and safety measures are not left up to individuals to decide, he thinks that that is an appropriate approach to covid? Failing to mandate mask-wearing in stuffy crowded places such as public transport, where people are often pressed together for much longer than 15 minutes, risks high costs, and allowing people to choose whether or not to put others at risk is both reckless and unfair. If the freedom to pelt down the motorway at 100 mph is restricted because it poses risks to others, why, with millions still unvaccinated, with some immunosuppressed and with the risk of long covid rising, does the Health Secretary not apply the same logic to mask-wearing?
I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from, but the important thing is that we have to learn to live with covid, which means that we have at some point to confront and start removing the restrictions that have been necessary until now. Now is the best time to do that, because of the defence that has been built by the vaccine.
Some have suggested that removing all restrictions in the way that the Secretary of State has announced will create factories for new variants in parts of our communities. What advice has he received from experts about the potential for new variants? What contingencies has he planned for containing such an outbreak if one were to occur?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard in my statement that no course of action that we take now is without risk, and I think he understands that. There is still a pandemic—as I said, it is not over—so we will of course continue first to monitor for new variants, and to have border restrictions and some test, trace and isolate procedures in place. Those measures, taken together with the success of the vaccine programme, are the best answer to his question.
One headteacher in my constituency tells a tale of losing more than 2,700 days of education, having 390 children sent home and zero transmission among pupils in school. So will my right hon. Friend assure me that swift action will be taken to ensure that children can get back to school and headteachers can get back to teaching as soon as possible, without the damage the current situation is creating?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Education Secretary will be saying more later this week, but I can confirm to my hon. Friend that on 19 July it is our plan to remove bubbles and end the requirement for early years settings, schools and colleges to carry out contact tracing routinely. I will have more to say on how we intend to exempt under-18s who are close contacts from the requirement to self-isolate.
Given that masks help to reduce the spread of not just covid, but all kinds of respiratory diseases, is it not important to avoid mixed messages and encourage everyone to continue that kind of practice and the likes of good hand hygiene as a relatively routine part of a new normal, to stop coughs and sneezes from spreading diseases?
I think the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that people should have the freedom to wear a mask if they wish, but it should not be mandatory—it should not be mandated by law. There are countries—I lived in Singapore for three years—where people would wear masks if they were feeling unwell, out of respect for others. If people choose to do that here, that will be a good thing, but it will not be a requirement from the Government. As I said, in certain settings—crowded places such the tube in London—many people would choose to wear masks, despite its not being a legal requirement.
The immunosuppressed want to know what the plan is for them. Will they be allowed tests for spike antibody levels on the NHS? Will they be able to get a booster before September if their antibody tests show that they have no protection, despite being vaccinated?
Until recently, Ministers were saying that decisions would be based on the link between infection and hospitalisation, but although the link has been weakened, it has not been broken. Hospitalisations are up 20% in the last week, and they have doubled in a month. We all want to unlock the economy, but surely we should maintain barriers to infection where we can. The Secretary of State has said that wearing masks would be a good thing, so will he accept that requiring them on public transport, in essential shops and in similar locations would make sense and would reassure people?
No one is suggesting that because of the vaccines, the link between cases and hospitalisation has been completely broken. What I have said, and this is a fact based on the evidence we are seeing, is that it has been significantly weakened. That is clear from the data we are getting on a daily basis. If we look at England, with a case rate of 25,000, I think less than 2,000 people are currently with covid in hospital. That is far lower than we saw before when we had such a high case rate.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement setting out the way forward. In the 150 years since the foundation of Cheadle’s Together Trust, it has championed and cared for people from 18 to 30 years old with disabilities. When I met its dedicated team last week, it was clear that having navigated the challenges of covid, it was preparing for the future. As the Government look to set out a new vision for health and social care, can the Secretary of State reassure voluntary and third-sector bodies such as the Together Trust that they will have their invaluable contribution recognised and be included as equal partners in its design?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Cheadle Together Trust and many other third-party and voluntary organisations across the country really stepped up during the pandemic when the country most needed them. We will continue to work with them, and I think that, at a suitable moment, we should give them the recognition they deserve.
It is a dereliction of duty by the Secretary of State for Health to tell people to live with the virus while denying people the basic financial and other support they need. In two weeks’ time, with restrictions lifted, there could be over 60,000 cases per day, and the Government say this will surge further. Huge numbers are denied the self-isolation payment and tens of thousands of people each day will be forced to isolate on statutory sick pay of just £96 per week. I ask the Secretary of State: could he live on £96 per week?
I draw the House’s attention to the story over the weekend about three batches of AstraZeneca vaccines affecting 5 million people and their prospects of travelling to the EU. I must declare an interest in that I have vaccinated many people with this batch and, indeed, had the batch myself. Can the Secretary of State confirm that this is purely a bureaucratic issue and that the vaccines are exactly the same, and will he update the House about what talks he has had with the EU to resolve this problem?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has personally been doing during the pandemic. I can tell him that all doses used in the UK have been subject to very rigorous safety and quality checks, including individual batch testing and physical site inspections, and this is all done by the medical regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Given that Americans and other Europeans have already been free to travel again for some time, and given that we were promised a vaccine dividend, when can the millions of British families who are separated from loved ones abroad or who simply want a foreign holiday expect to get back the same freedoms that other Europeans and Americans already enjoy?
Last week, I said that I wanted to see from the new Secretary of State
“a change in policy as much as a change in tone.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2021; Vol. 698, c. 60.]
We have had that today, or at least an indication of it for next Monday, and I am grateful. Will my right hon. Friend give us an insight into his thinking about the future of test and trace? Surely it cannot continue as now, with contacts of contacts—even if they are double-vaccinated—being forced into isolation for 10 days at a time, with all the knock-on effects that that has on society and the economy.
Last December, Professor Sir Michael Marmot revealed that the high and unequal covid death toll across England was down to historic structural inequalities that successive Conservative Governments have allowed to go unchecked. Last week, he quantified that, showing that Greater Manchester had a 25% higher covid death toll because of those structural socioeconomic inequalities. When will the Health Secretary deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise to me in January to implement Sir Michael’s recommendations to address those inequalities in my constituency and others, and ensure that we build back fairer?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. We have seen, sadly, that through the pandemic, because of various inequalities up and down the country, some people have suffered a lot more than others. It is an important point, and we need to do more—we all collectively need to learn from this. I give her the assurance that I know that Public Health England and the chief medical officer are looking into it and will report to Ministers shortly.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but may I ask for clarity? On the legal requirement to wear face coverings, including on public transport, he stated that
“we will advise this as a voluntary measure for crowded and enclosed spaces.”
Should that be “crowded enclosed spaces”? Does he intend to put out guidance? What will he do to ensure that private operators cannot mandate it outside that guidance?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the guidance is really asking people to use their common sense. If there are many other people around them, particularly if those people might be more vulnerable—older people, let us say, or groups who for some reason may be unvaccinated—we are really just saying, “Use your common sense.” I think that everyone in Britain will do just that. In private settings, it will be up to private businesses—shops, for example—to decide what they wish to do.