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Covid-19: Departmental Response

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 13 July 2021

Since the start of the pandemic, we have acted swiftly to reduce the spread of the virus and to keep the public safe. As our vaccine programme progresses, links between cases and hospitalisations weaken, and that means that we are confident we can move forward with step 4, as I set out in the House yesterday.

I thank the Health Secretary for that answer. After the planned changes next week, the Health Secretary is predicting that covid cases will reach 100,000 a day. Research is suggesting that that could result in 3,000 hospital admissions and again put our health services under pressure. What is his response to Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation, who described the proposals to remove all covid measures and simply let people get infected as “epidemiological stupidity”?

The hon. Gentleman talks, understandably, about pressure on the NHS, and he will know that the restrictions we have necessarily had in place during the course of this pandemic so far have also led to considerable pressure on the NHS, especially when it comes to non-covid health problems. He may be aware, perhaps for his own constituents, that mental health problems are up, there are many undiagnosed cancer cases, domestic violence is up and child abuse is up. I hope he will agree with me that one of the things we can look forward to as we gradually start removing restrictions is helping people with their many non-covid health problems too.

I also welcome the Secretary of State to his new role. I hope he will soon see that the Department performs best when it follows the scientific advice. This morning, Professor Graham Medley, the chief modeller for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said of mask wearing that

“if it’s not mandated it probably won’t do any good.”

That advice would explain why, last year, the Government moved from just guidance on mask wearing in May 2020 to making it compulsory on public transport in June and in shops in July. So if the advice is clear and the Government took that advice last year, why on earth are they moving away from it now?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government’s decisions are rightly informed by the best possible scientific advice there is and, as well as that, looking at the data and then taking all of that into account when reaching decisions. The hon. Gentleman asks about masks, and I have answered that question a number of times at the Dispatch Box. I am very happy to repeat that we are moving away from a system of regulation to guidance, but in that guidance, which was published yesterday, we have made it very clear that in certain situations masks will still make sense, and we believe that people will use their common sense and follow that guidance.