Skip to main content

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation etc.) (Revocation) (England) Regulations 2022

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that there is an amendment to the Motion. Given that, I think it would only be appropriate to allow the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to speak first so that I can respond at the end. I beg to move.

Moved by

As an amendment to the above motion, at the end insert “but that this House regrets that the Regulations are (1) contradictory to guidance provided by the UK Health Security Agency and NHS England on what action to take when you test positive for coronavirus, (2) an example of public health messaging that has caused confusion amongst the public, and (3) financially exclusionary to those on low incomes who cannot afford either the costs of tests or to isolate without financial support.”

My Lords, I want to make it clear that this amendment to the Motion is not a discussion about plunging the UK back into lockdown or imposing mass restrictions on individual liberties. I am talking here about the Government’s decision to scale back sensible public health measures—measures that would help us to continue to manage and monitor this pandemic, which is far from over.

Last week, the WHO reminded nations such as the UK that even when a virus is endemic, it needs managing, including testing, self-isolation and mask wearing. Even if not required by law and regulation, the WHO says that messaging and communications from Governments are vital in ensuring that people can take personal care. I am talking about clear and consistent messaging from our leaders about what they mean by “personal responsibility”. I am talking about support and guidance for those who still want to do the right thing and avoid spreading Covid-19. We still need to protect our NHS and ensure that those who are most likely to get severe disease, even if vaccinated, are also protected. I hope that we can all agree on these principles.

By the way, the Government keep changing the terminology for the group who have variously been called shielders, the clinically extremely vulnerable, immunocompromised and immunosuppressed. I hope the House will forgive me if I just refer to them as the CEV as a shorthand; otherwise, it becomes a real mouthful.

Time and again over the course of this pandemic, we have seen boom and bust policies relating to controlling Covid, stretching our NHS and care systems to the brink of breaking point and then introducing half-baked policies to tackle a fire that is already raging. Now we are seeing the bust again, with the withdrawal of almost all our tools to tackle this pandemic.

While we continue to allow Covid to spread through our hospitals, we cannot possibly hope to tackle the backlog of over 6 million patients waiting for treatment. The weekly average for Covid hospital admissions last week was 1,500 per day—an increase of 18% on the previous week. I am hearing that the NHS in the east of England and in London regions is already at level 4, and cases are still rising extremely quickly. Can the Minister say what plans there are if hospital admissions continue at this pace, and, given that they are a lagging indicator to cases, which have risen over 50% on the government dashboard in the last few days, how will people be protected from infection without access to test and trace from 1 April?

Sickness absences everywhere are also rapidly increasing. What are Ministers doing specifically to help keep infection levels lower among key workers, especially, but not only, in the NHS and social care sectors? Today, the Health Service Journal reports that Covid sickness absence in the NHS is up 20% in one week. What is the contingency plan if that continues to rise?

Those against any precaution say that we have to learn to live with Covid, but many people with omicron BA2 are saying that it is more like a cold at the start, and then it is like flu and worse. The problem is that it is ultra-transmissible when it is asymptomatic and in those early sneezing days. Would Ministers consider a campaign to strongly encourage wearing face masks, and at the very least try to protect key workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable?

The difference between what is being said at the Dispatch Box and in the Government’s living with Covid plan and guidance published at the end of February is most concerning. The UKHSA webpage is very clear: you must self-isolate if you have symptoms and are unwell. But this is not a clear message coming from our leaders, with statements such as “Stay at home if you can” and “Take personal responsibility”. Can people afford to? Can they manage to arrange deliveries? Can they even be bothered? Will the Minister today state in clear terms that, even though the legal requirement to self-isolate has ended, it is still absolutely expected that anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 will self-isolate? Will employers be told that they should not tell staff—as Wilko and Asda have already done—that they must work even if they test positive?

Speaking of testing, the policy document on living with Covid mentions the continued availability of

“limited symptomatic testing available for a small number of at-risk groups”.

As for who is included in these at-risk groups, yet again the public are still in the dark. We are only two weeks away from 1 April and we still do not know. We are told that information on who will have access to tests is coming. Surely this has to have been decided already. Why are we left waiting for this vital information yet again? We know already the groups that should have access to tests: the clinically extremely vulnerable and their close contacts; pregnant women; NHS staff; those working with vulnerable patients; those who attend hospitals regularly; unpaid carers; and, frankly, at the moment, our military as well. These groups will make up a sizeable proportion of the population, and I wonder how the Government are planning to identify those who will qualify for free tests.

Portsmouth City Council is so concerned at the 74% increase of positive Covid cases in just one week—to 630 cases per 100,000—and the 50% increase in cases at the Queen Alexandra Hospital to more than 150 Covid beds that it took the decision yesterday to provide free lateral flow tests to residents for three months if the Government will not. This is really tough, given that local authority public health budgets this year have not even covered inflation, and there is no extra money for any Covid mitigations such as test and trace. By the way, the Minister said on Monday that local resilience forums will now cover test and trace as the central ones are being closed down. But what are they going to do that with? No money at all. But in Portsmouth, a city full of key workers, the council feels that it has to do it.

By not providing tests for asymptomatic contacts of the clinically extremely vulnerable, we are placing them in perpetual lockdown. Not providing asymptomatic testing in hospitals also puts patients at risk. It is interesting that PPE is still going to be provided free of charge for NHS trusts until March 2023. But why has PPE been prioritised over testing? We need to know where the Covid is, and we need to protect our patients and staff. Can the Minister please confirm that this “limited free testing” will be only for people with symptoms and that the plan is to end all asymptomatic testing?

From these Benches, we have talked about the lack of financial support for those who should be self-isolating, and the revocation of that means that many people will have no choice but to go into work unwell. We ask again for this to be reinstated. By taking away the little support that was offered, the Government are clear that people’s self-isolation sacrifices are not worth anything to them—it just does not matter. Ministers talk about personal responsibility but people need to be supported financially to do the right thing, especially with reinfection rates as high as they are.

To conclude, the Government are determined to tell everyone that we have to learn to live with Covid. But by throwing away all surveillance testing and tracing, leaving individuals, employers, our NHS and even the Government completely blind about what is happening, and standing down SAGE at exactly the time that we have the highest level of infection rates, with spiralling cases and hospital admissions and, sadly, a likely increase in deaths in the next couple of weeks, how on earth is the country meant to assess and take their own responsibilities? I hope that the Government will change their mind on these epicentral precautions and mitigations. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the arguments that the noble Baroness has just made, but I think this is probably not the time to have a general debate about the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These regulations are fairly narrowly drafted and are designed to repeal the earlier regulations that required vaccination against Covid-19 to be a condition of deployment in the NHS. I support the repeal of these regulations. The Government have made a good case for the repeal in the Explanatory Memorandum, but none the less, it represents quite a significant and dramatic U-turn in government policy.

I do not think it made a lot of sense to require compulsory vaccination; there were other ways of ensuring the protection from harm of NHS patients. Of course, the loss of critical front-line NHS staff which the earlier regulations might well have produced would itself have represented quite a significant risk of harm to NHS patients.

Today, I have only one question I want to ask the Minister. Again, it is something that is contained in the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 7.29 says that the Government will engage with NHS employers to review their policies on the hiring of new staff and the deployment of existing staff to take into account their vaccination status. I ask the Minister what the Government want to see change in NHS hiring and employment practices. Will new employees in the NHS, for example, need to have been vaccinated against Covid-19? What does this paragraph in the Explanatory Memorandum actually mean?

My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment from my noble friend Lady Brinton. One of the main reasons I am doing so is that I think the messaging being put over at the moment is entirely wrong and out of sync with where we are in this pandemic.

I watched a very short World Health Organization video this morning. It was only a minute long and it was called “Moving from Pandemic to Endemic”. The clear message was that endemic does not equal good. During an endemic, you actually require strong health control programmes if you are going to continue to reduce infections, hospitalisations and deaths—something I am sure we all want to do. In my view, there is a pressing need to maintain some of the public health measures that can help us control this virus as it becomes endemic. You can change the label but that does not change the challenges facing us, which, in my view, require sustained protections, particularly for the most vulnerable, and a very strong public health system.

Looking back at the Statement from the Prime Minister when the living with Covid plan was introduced, I was perplexed. He set out the rationale that cases were falling, hospitalisations were falling and the number of excess deaths from omicron was actually in negative territory. Were that still the case, I suspect I would feel quite a lot more relaxed than I do at the moment. This morning, I reviewed the figures and the latest stats from the ZOE study, the ONS and the Government’s own dashboard. Just on the Government’s dashboard we are seeing an increase of 52% in people testing positive over the last seven days and an increase of 18% in patients admitted to hospitals over the last seven days. That is not a virus in retreat.

For that very reason, I have some real concerns and some questions that I would like to put to the Minister. I am perplexed at the statement that people should stay at home if they can and what that means. I think people will find that extremely confusing. I am very concerned that there is going be only limited symptomatic testing available in the population. Can the Minister say what that will mean, for example, for people who are asymptomatic but attending hospital appointments, for unpaid carers who work on a daily basis with people who are extremely clinically vulnerable, and for relatives visiting their loved ones in care homes?

Many relatives visit their loved ones in care homes on a daily basis and, to my knowledge, those care homes—certainly the care home where my mother is—are still insisting, quite rightly, that all visitors do lateral flow tests before they visit. Who is going to fund these tests after April when my understanding is that they stop being free? What funding are the Government going to make available to both the NHS and social care settings to continue with testing where they feel that that is required for patient and staff safety and for relatives? At the start of the pandemic, we found out to our cost what happens when you do not have the right measures in place in very vulnerable settings such as care homes. I do not understand the rationale for why PPE will continue to be provided but not testing. We so clearly need both. Can the Minister explain the rationale for that?

I have two final points. On vaccines, I am worried that the current messaging will mean that people who have not had the vaccine will perhaps be less likely to take it up. What does it mean for a fourth booster? What does it mean for primary-age children? I know from a number of colleagues, and indeed from my own family, that primary-age children are coming home and testing positive. What are the Government’s plans for vaccinating primary-age children?

Finally, on the issue of mental health, I fully understand that the end of restrictions is a welcome moment for many people, but, frankly, for those with mental health problems or underlying health conditions it is going be a time of immense worrying, particularly now people are allowed to leave home, it seems, while Covid-19 positive. What are the Government going to do to make sure that support, particularly mental health support, is in place for those who are very anxious about the Government’s policies?

I conclude by saying that I just do not think it is possible to put across the message that this is now endemic, Covid-19 has gone away and we do not need to worry any more. I do not think that that is a responsible position for the Government or anyone else to take.

My Lords, I would like to ask some questions about data. We are told that the Government’s policy has been data driven. As my noble friend just pointed out, the Prime Minister suggested that the case figures and hospitalisations are going down, when in the last seven days cases have gone up by 52% and hospitalisations by 18.4%. This is a trend: the Prime Minister constantly fiddles the figures. First, we had him misleading Parliament on unemployment figures, then on crime figures, and now on Covid figures. This is very important.

I would like to know why the Government are withdrawing funding from some of the studies that enable us to know what the data is, such as the ZOE study. Without the data, the experts cannot properly advise the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister then cannot, if he chooses to, take the right decisions. Why are we withdrawing funding from these studies? As my noble friend says, if the virus is endemic, we still need to control it and we need the figures to do so.

Lateral flow tests that people can take at home are particularly important, especially in the light of the symptoms of this new subvariant—B2, I think—of omicron because the symptoms start as a bit of a runny nose. If somebody has a runny nose, yes, it could be a cold, but it could be Covid. If we are being asked to be sensible and to protect other people, if it is a Covid runny nose one should stay at home, and if it is a cold one should take precautions, but without the test—and poor people cannot afford £20 a box—people will not know which kind of runny nose it is. Can the Minister say how people on benefits or low incomes, who cannot pay the price that some companies are charging for these lateral flow tests, can afford to have them standing by at home so that when they get symptoms they can check the cause of those symptoms and protect everybody around them?

My Lords, as I said in this House on Monday, I had to stay at home for seven days because I had a very bad chest cough, a bad cold and a lot of catarrh. I tested myself and the test was negative. Those bad symptoms continued for nearly six days and I tested myself every other day. It was very clear that I had a sudden form of flu, but its effects on me were quite strong. I was encouraged because I was able to test myself and the lateral flow tests revealed that I did not have Covid but had an awful cold and flu.

The programme that the Government embarked on in testing and tracking was world class. When we are still in the middle of this very cold weather, why withdraw free testing in April? It is the only assurance we have. I hope the Government will think again about that possibility, although the regulations have gone. To take responsibility for yourself, you need to know whether you have Covid, otherwise you will go out and infect other people, which you should not do.

The messaging still needs to go out. I was quite shocked when “Look North” said that people in our area who are testing positive and sometimes ending up in hospital had stopped washing their hands. That is a shock. It may be said that we have all grown up and know how to wash our hands regularly, but I am afraid that in some places that has gone, so the messaging should still be going out that for the protection of other people we must take responsibility and wear a face covering, not because it is regulated but to be considerate towards others. Sometimes you should keep your distance when you hear people coughing. You are keeping your distance to try to protect people.

When these regulations have all gone and such things are no longer mandatory, will the Government please continue to inform people that there are some places where you still need to keep your distance, some places where you must continue to wash your hands and some places where wearing a face covering is the responsible thing to do? Although it is not going to be policed, we need to create that culture. It happened during lockdown. I used to be shocked when I went to a toilet and people who had not washed their hands came out. We are now going back to our bad habits. Although the regulations have gone, could the messaging still go out to persuade people that the steps we took during lockdown and before these regulations are still worth doing?

My Lords, we, too, do not want to see restrictions in place for a day longer than necessary but, as noble Lords have said, lifting the legal requirement to self-isolate needs to be backed up with a plan and an understanding. While it is one thing to acknowledge that free tests cannot go on for ever, while the number of infections remains so high, it is surely sensible to monitor the situation and guard against any new and potentially more severe variants. Not to do that risks being somewhat blindsided by future mutations of the virus. We know that testing is one of the key ways that the return of the restrictions can be avoided. It makes long-term sense to make tests widely available while the threat of a new wave remains.

Questions remain about the implications of the revocation for people’s lives. For example, if you need to care for a clinically vulnerable relative, will you be left out of pocket for that test? After all, should we not be encouraging people to make sensible decisions rather than making it harder for them to do so? I remain unclear about whether unpaid family carers, in particular, will retain access to free testing to allow them to look after their loved ones safely. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this point in addition to confirming that free tests will remain for NHS staff. We cannot have vulnerable patients going into hospital and being treated by NHS staff who have been unable to get tests.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hutton that this does not feel like the right time to be having this debate, but we are in the situation we are in. In acknowledging that, I echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and immunosuppressed. We should have regard to how they are feeling as well as giving them continued practical support. I am sure the Minister will respond to the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

I have a question about plans and support for those who live with long Covid. We should not forget that it continues to be a blight on the lives of a number of people. In this regard, it would be helpful if the Minister will tell us about any discussions that have been held with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about working with employers to protect clinically vulnerable employees and to assist, through support and guidance, employers of people still suffering from long Covid.

More than 1.3 million vulnerable people are eligible for Covid-19 treatments, such as antivirals. Can the Minister indicate whether they will be eligible for free tests? What about their families, friends and close contacts? Will there be a limit on how many tests eligible people can receive? It would be helpful to have clarification from the Minister to give people the reassurance they need.

The potential confusion in public health messaging has been referred to. On the one hand, there is guidance telling people to self-isolate if positive, yet on the other there are still pressures—financial from employers, or from elsewhere—that force people to go to work. This suggest that the message that people will take is that Covid-19 is no longer a threat, but we know that the pandemic is not yet over. The British Medical Association has argued that asking individuals to take greater responsibility for their actions while taking away free testing is likely to cause more uncertainty and anxiety.

Finally, I shall raise the matter of sick pay with the Minister. What is the reasoning behind the Government’s decision to scale it back? Those who are sick with coronavirus will now have to wait until the fourth day of their sickness before claiming statutory sick pay. We are highly concerned that when people cannot afford to stay at home they will be forced to bring their infection into work. To put this into some perspective, after April some 7 million workers will have to survive on just £38 per week if they find themselves suffering from Covid. Covid is not going anywhere, and it is right that we learn to live with it, but proper provision needs to be in place to help people make the right choices in what is, I hope, a late stage of this pandemic. I hope the Minister will be able to give assurances to your Lordships’ House today.

I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today, and in the previous debate on this issue last week. I will try to answer the questions posed, some of which were raised again today.

I think we should be clear about one thing: in every government Statement, we have been quite clear that we are not saying that the pandemic is over. I am surprised when people say that we say it is over. Every government Statement says the pandemic is not over, that we need to be aware, and we need to take precautions. We would not have a living with Covid strategy if we believed it was over. I am slightly puzzled when it is claimed that we are telling people that it is over, and it is “Freedom Day”. We have used the term “Freedom Day”, but we have also said it is not over, you have to live with it. We have repeated that, and we have been clear in every message. I am slightly concerned when every time the Secretary of State or I get to the Dispatch Box, we are told that we are giving the impression that it is over. We have a living with Covid strategy precisely for that reason.

Throughout our management of the virus, our strategy has always been about vaccines, therapeutics and antivirals. The successful rollout of this programme has weakened the link between infection and hospitalisation, and between hospitalisation and death. Evidence suggests that the link between infections and progression to severe disease is substantially weaker than in earlier phases of the pandemic. For instance, the numbers of patients in hospital per 100 infections have remained very low over the last few months. The proportion of patients being admitted to intensive care and requiring mechanical ventilation remains lower, with rates declining even when prevalence has increased.

The Government’s approach has always been informed by a wide range of scientific and medical advice. As I said clearly in the debate last week, when I asked one of the modellers about their data, they said that first they give us scenarios, including a worst-case scenario, not because they want us to work towards a worst-case scenario, but because we need to know what we can do to make sure that we do not reach the worst-case scenario. Then I asked about the other considerations, such as mental health, the backlog, and people’s jobs and livelihoods. The modeller said, “Minister, all we do is give you the data on where we think coronavirus is. It is for you, as a Government, to balance all the other competing issues.” That is what we do: we look at the data and we balance it up with other medical data, such as people who have missed diagnoses or operations, the significant mental health issue and the increase in eating disorders, and we have to consider all that in the round. We have to consider the spread of Covid, but at the same time we have weakened the link—and this is widely acknowledged—between catching Covid and hospitalisation, and between hospitalisation and death.

We are also continuing to monitor a number of variants. We have looked at the BA2 variant, which is more transmissible than omicron, and has become the dominant variant in the UK. It is not driven by increased immune evasion and BA2 does not appear to cause more severe disease at the moment, but we are continually monitoring it.

A number of noble Lords asked about surveillance, and due to the reduction in serious illness and deaths we have begun a new phase of living with the virus. We continue to monitor Covid-19 through our world-leading studies such the ONS Covid infection survey, SIREN and Vivaldi, and there were claims in last week’s debate that we had ended some of these, so let me put it on record: we have not ended them. I wish that any claims made were factual. We will also continue genomic sequencing of cases to provide further insights. We thank all the participants for supporting our surveillance work and the UKHSA will maintain the critical surveillance capabilities, including the population-level COVID-19 Infection Survey, genomic sequencing and additional data. This will be augmented by the SIREN and Vivaldi studies.

Previous debates on the coronavirus have not always pointed to this data, but have pointed to other data produced by global, regional and local academic institutions, so there are many sources of data out there. If I may give an analogy, when I used to look at financial services, there were concerns when the American Fed stopped publishing data on M3 as a measure of money. People said, “Why aren’t you doing this?” but academics and other experts were out there, and they were reconstructing M3, so there was no need for the Fed to do it because those experts were able to look at it. This is what is happening in academia and elsewhere; many people are looking at the data, and will continue to do so, and some of their grants are given on this basis.

We will continue to work with public health partners to make sure that people have the information they need. We are quite clear that the GOV.UK guidance was updated to reflect the legal end of self-isolation on 24 February 2022, and we have always been clear that it is not over, and we have to learn to live with Covid. We also expect it to be managed regionally and locally as part of a wider all-hazards approach, using existing health protection frameworks, and we need a continued focus on protecting the settings at highest risk, through local outbreak investigation and management activities led by UKHSA and the existing local health protection frameworks. Local government has been a vital partner in all this and will continue as such. The Government will continue to provide limited symptomatic testing for a small number of at-risk groups, and free symptomatic testing will remain available to social care staff, and we will look at this in more detail.

We will also look at affordability. This is quite right, as disparities have been a constant theme throughout the Health and Care Bill. We want to encourage a thriving private market, and one of the conversations we are having with private providers is to how to make sure it is more affordable. We are also having conversations across government to make sure that we tackle issues of access for those who are poorer. Noble Lords may have different levels of income, but people do buy tablets, and will buy testing, as part of their personal responsibility. Are noble Lords suggesting that we make it free to everyone, or just the very poor? We have to remember that any money spent on giving free tests to those who can afford to pay for them are resources that could be used elsewhere in the health service. We have to focus on tackling this backlog in particular—it is important that we get more people to diagnostic centres.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about the immunosuppressed, and we recognise the importance of this cohort. The noble Baroness and I had meetings with the Anthony Nolan charity, Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care UK. I understand that on 22 February there was a meeting of the Disability and Health Charities Communication Forum, at which the Anthony Nolan charity, Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care UK were present, and there was a follow-up meeting on 8 March. These meetings will continue, and the issue of the immunosuppressed is raised with those charities at the meetings, where we talk about communications measures, as well as what we can do to continue to protect those people. I spoke to one of the officials today about their plans, and he told me that the meetings will continue, and in addition they are looking at the idea of inviting the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, along with the three charities that came to the original meeting, to a further meeting, and after that will discuss whether there should be regular conversations. At government level, the effort is led by Jenny Harries of the UK Health Security Agency. We make sure that there is continued engagement with these vital charities to ensure that those whom the noble Baroness referred to as the clinically extremely vulnerable continue to have the appropriate advice, but also that we are informed about the best way to get that advice out to the many sufferers.

We looked at the data and at the public sector equality duty, and we know that there are issues that we have to look at in further detail, such as health and social care staff getting free testing, and some of the other issues raised today. We are really looking into that to make sure that it is targeted, but I recognise that some people can afford to pay for their testing.

We are having conversations across government on the employment support allowance, statutory sick pay, and where an individual’s income is reduced while they are off work sick. I am not sure of the exact status of those conversations, but we are fully aware of the issues that noble Lords have raised and the provision of further financial support, including universal credit, and hardship funds from local authorities.

Employers are responsible for people who enter their workplace, as has always been the case, but we are quite clear that employers should not ask any workers with Covid-19 to enter the workplace. We must get the right balance between personal responsibility and safety. We have always been clear that it is not over. We must learn to live with Covid. It is not defeated. We are monitoring, with these surveys and outside surveys, the different variants: those which become variants of concern, their severity, and whether we need to scale up some of the measures that we have just scaled down. One of the conversations that I have had was about how quickly we can scale up some of the measures that we are scaling down if there is a significant outbreak or variant of concern. We are aware of it. All this, including the Living with Covid-19 strategy, shows that we are not saying and have never said that this is over. We must simply continue getting the precautions right, getting vaccinated, ventilating shared spaces, wearing a face covering in crowded or enclosed spaces, getting tested if you have Covid-19 symptoms, and staying at home. We are not ignoring the virus.

I end by thanking all the people who have got us to this point: the scientists, the health and social care workers—

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister and I thank him for all that information, but is he in a position to answer the question asked by my noble friend Lady Tyler about vaccination of primary age children? There is an awful lot of Covid in primary schools. Vaccinating children was slow to start and the delivery of the programme has been even slower. Perhaps he could tell us something about that.

Yes, I apologise for my enthusiasm to answer.

We have accepted the JCVI advice to offer the vaccine to all children aged five to 11. The advice follows a thorough review by the MHRA, which approved Pfizer’s paediatric vaccine as safe and effective for children aged five to 11. The NHS is also prepared to extend the offer to all children in April, so parents can ensure good protection against potential future waves of Covid-19. Every parent will have the opportunity to make an informed choice. I remember an email from my younger son’s school saying there was a vaccination clinic at the school. Sometimes vaccinations are done in schools, sometimes in an NHS setting, and sometimes in these pop-up centres that we have debated previously. I hope that answers the question asked by the noble Baroness.

I am sure that all noble Lords will want to join me in thanking all the scientists, the health and social care workers, the volunteers, the life sciences industry, and the postal, courier and transport workers, the Uber Eats people—all those who brought stuff to us while we protected ourselves. We have always sought to get the right balance between the safety of the public and keeping the country open. We were criticised sometimes when we went into lockdown and we were criticised sometimes when we came out of lockdown. We have looked at the scientific debate. Whatever you do, there will be scientists who agree with you and scientists who disagree with you. You just have to do the right thing on balance, with all the economic and social factors, as well as all the health factors.

We will continue to monitor the data, listen to scientific advice, build defences and encourage people to get vaccinated. We are always making it clear that it is not too late to get your first and second vaccine. We have targeted community groups, sometimes through faith organisations and sometimes through local community organisations, to reach people who are distrusting of authority, asking who the right people are whom they will trust. We must understand the motivations and why people are not getting vaccinated, rather than tell them that they are silly or complain about them. We must understand and work with them.

I end by saying that we agree with noble Lords who have said that this is not over. We must learn to live with Covid; we must get vaccinated, ventilate shared spaces, wear a face covering in crowded or enclosed spaces, and get tested. Lifting these restrictions does not mean that we are ignoring the virus. We have this Living with Covid-19 strategy, and I welcome all noble Lords’ scrutiny of it and their helpful suggestions. If I have not answered any questions, I will read Hansard and make sure that I sweep up all the other answers.

I hope that I have offered some assurance and answered most questions. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for whom I have incredible respect for her championing of the clinically extremely vulnerable, to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken.

The Minister said that we were saying that the pandemic is over. Not one person speaking today has said that it was over. We have all said that is has been moving to endemic and that the WHO advice was about making sure that, as formal restrictions lift, there should be continuing precautions. The Minister said that omicron BA2 is substantially weaker. Yes, it is, but the maths is also simple. He said that it is the dominant strain, but, if you have a very high level of case numbers, hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths will also rise. The point about testing was well made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu. If local government’s public health is a vital partner, will the Government please fund this extra work?

The Minister asked us whether we only fund the very poor for lateral flow tests. The point is that the virus does not distinguish and it is really important that those on low incomes, who are facing astronomically high cost of living rises, are given some support. I thank him for his comments about the CEV forum, but just talking, without any active support for the clinically extremely vulnerable, is a chocolate teapot. The noble Lord, Lord Hutton, asked a key question on whether this is the right time to change all these mitigations and, while the Minister thanked all the doctors, scientists and other NHS key workers, I think we all agree that most of them are saying that it is too early to lose these mitigations.

I regret that the Minister has not given me reassurance. However, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.