The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 21 September.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on coronavirus. This deadly virus continues to advance across the world. The World Health Organization has confirmed that the number of new cases in Europe is now higher than during the peak in March. Here, the latest Office for National Statistics figures indicate 6,000 new infections a day—almost double the previous week.
As the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser said earlier today, we are seeing a rise in cases across all age groups. That pattern is emerging across the entirety of our United Kingdom. Earlier this afternoon, the Prime Minister held discussions with the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to make sure that, wherever possible, we are united in our efforts to drive this virus down.
We know that the epidemic is currently doubling around every seven days and that, if we continue on that trajectory, we could see 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, so there can be no doubt that this virus is accelerating. We must all play our part in stopping the spread.
I would like to update the House on decisions the Government have taken so far. The first line of defence is, of course, the social distancing that every single one of us has a responsibility to follow. That includes the basics—hands, face and space, and the rule of six—and a crucial part of that is people self-isolating if they are at risk of passing on the virus. People who have tested positive and their close contacts must self-isolate. That is the primary way that we, together, break the chains of transmission.
I know that self-isolation can be tough for many people, especially if they are not in a position to work from home. I do not want anyone having to worry about their finances while they are doing the right thing, so we will introduce a new £500 isolation support payment for people on low incomes who cannot work because they have tested positive or who are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. It will start next Monday. It will apply directly in England. The UK Government will be providing funding through the Barnett formula to the devolved Administrations so that similar support can be offered to people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
As we are strengthening our support for those who self-isolate, we propose to strengthen the sanctions for those who do not. The vast majority of people who are asked to self-isolate do, but the rules are so important that we must ensure that nobody breaks them. We are therefore proposing a new legal duty to self-isolate, again for people who test positive or who are asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace. That is backed by fines of up to £10,000 for repeat offences and serious breaches.
We will step up enforcement too. NHS Test and Trace will make regular checks on those who are self-isolating, and we will crack down on employers who try to prevent staff from following the rules. Over the past few months, self-isolation has been instrumental in breaking the chain and blunting the force of this virus. We know that it works. With winter ahead, we will support everyone to do what is right to help stop the spread of the virus.
The next line of defence is testing and contact tracing. We are doing more testing per head than almost any other major nation. Our daily testing capacity is now at a record high of 253,521, and it continues to grow. On Thursday, we announced that two new Lighthouse labs will be set up in Newcastle and Bracknell, increasing capacity further. As the House knows, alongside that record expansion, demand has gone up, too, so we need to prioritise the tests for those who need them most to save lives, to protect the most vulnerable and to make sure that our health and care services and our schools can operate safely.
Today, we have published our list of where tests are being prioritised, setting out how we will make sure tests are allocated where they are needed most: first, to support acute clinical care; second, to support and protect people in care homes; third, NHS staff, including GPs and pharmacists; fourth, targeted testing for outbreak management and surveillance studies; fifth, testing for teaching staff with symptoms, so we can keep schools and classes open; and then the general public when they have symptoms, prioritising those in areas of high incidence. I want to reinforce this important point: the system relies on people coming forward for tests if—and only if—they have symptoms of coronavirus or have been specifically advised to by a health professional. The testing capacity we have is valuable and we must together prioritise it for the people who need it the most.
The next part of our defence is local action. We have been vigilant in monitoring the data and putting in place targeted local measures so that we can come down hard on the virus wherever we see it emerging. In the summer, when the virus was in retreat, we were able to relax some of the measures that we had put in place, but now as the virus is spreading once more we have had to act.
On Thursday, I updated the House on the changes we are making in parts of the north-east, and on Friday we introduced new rules for parts of the north-west, West Yorkshire and the Midlands. We have seen some concerning rates of infection in those areas. Liverpool, for instance, now has more than 120 cases per 100,000 population, and in Warrington it is about 100. As a result, working with local councils, we are putting in place stronger restrictions to protect local people. In parts of Lancashire, Merseyside, Warrington and Halton, we are putting in place new measures from tomorrow. As with our strategy overall, our goal is to protect education and employment as much as possible, while bearing down on the virus. Residents should not socialise with people outside their own households or support bubble. Hospitality will be restricted to table service only and operating hours will be restricted, so venues must close between 10 pm and 5 am. From tomorrow in Wolverhampton, Oadby and Wigston and the whole of Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale, people should not socialise outside their household or support bubble.
We know from experience that local action can work when local communities come together to follow the rules, to tackle the virus and to keep themselves safe. I know how hard that is. We are constantly looking to how we can ensure measures bear down on the virus as much as possible, while protecting lives and livelihoods.
I have heard the concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements. For many, informal childcare arrangements are a lifeline, without which they could not do their jobs. Today, I am able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults where that is necessary for caring purposes. That covers both formal and informal arrangements. It does not allow for playdates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed.
I would like to thank colleagues from across the House, including my right honourable friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) and the honourable Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and my honourable friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for working with us on this important issue. I hope the change will provide clarity and comfort to many people who are living with these local restrictions. It shows the benefit of cross-party working across the House and listening to concerns as we all do our best to tackle this dreadful disease together.
The virus is spreading. We are at a tipping point. I set out today the measures the Government are taking so far. We are working right now on what further measures may be necessary, and the Prime Minister will update the House tomorrow with any more action that we need to take. This is a moment where we, once again, must come together to tackle this deadly disease. I commend this Statement to the House.”
I thank the Minister for taking questions on this Statement today. It was noticeable yesterday, and on Monday, that at no point was there any attempt to reveal any scientific basis or evidence for the impact on the spread of the virus of either a 10 pm curfew or going back to working from home if you can. A few weeks ago, we were all being urged to go to the office or workplace if we could. We have certainly not been told what SAGE’s modelling shows as the impact a ban on mixing households indoors would have.
The Government are lacking a clear Covid-management approach. We recognise that the pandemic, and its impact, are complex. The response can be no better than the best compromise, and that should be admitted. Timely policies to rejuvenate the economy will fail if policies to contain the infection fail; we recognise that. In the absence of a vaccine, testing, tracing and isolation is the only response that matters now. Covid infection data should be published, to make it clear to the public where the risks are. The Prime Minister said that more information would be made available. I would like to know that it will and when that might happen.
This leads back to testing, tracing and, importantly, isolating, as every conversation about the containment of Covid-19 does at the moment. Looking back over the last few weeks of growing disquiet, and then serious concern, about not being able to get tests, does the Minister agree that part of the problem—leaving aside the seeming failure of the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, and her operation—is the clear lack of communication about testing? I plead with the Minister not to treat the House to the mantra about the record number of tests and so on. It is completely clear, from MP’s postbags and the media, that “them out there” were under the impression that tests were more widely accessible than they in fact are. Lecturing us on how simple all this is both misses the point and is dangerous.
As far as schools are concerned, I asked a headmaster how things were going. He said: “If they ran a school the way they are running the country, what Ofsted grade would they put on their self-evaluation form?” I thought that was quite a good question. The tone of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister in their Statements rather gave the impression that the Government were blaming people for breaking the rules and allowing the virus to grow. The reality is that people have done everything that they were asked to do. They have missed birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals; they have, quite rightly, sent their children back to school; they have gone back to their workplace. They have done what they were asked to do. In return, Ministers were supposed to fix test, trace and isolate so that we could return to something like normality.
The mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:
“With cases rising the government is right to bring in stricter restrictions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. In Tower Hamlets we need to keep each other safe by following these new rules”.
“Government also needs to ensure adequate testing is available and that there’s continued support for those losing out financially due to these restrictions. The next few months will continue to be challenging—as a community we’ll remain resilient and together can get through this”.
He puts the case extremely well.
The Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, said the 10 pm curfew on pubs in England has been brought in after evidence from places such as Bolton, where the curfew has already been in place for two weeks, suggested it will drive down coronavirus infection rates. However, according to the latest figures released by Public Health England, the infection rate in Bolton has risen again. Does the Minister share my concern that the new regulations may be based on poor evidence? Will the Government review this decision and immediately publish the evidence to allow it to be scrutinised in peer review?
Why is that 10 pm curfew not on all sales of alcohol? For example, you get thrown out of the pub at 10 pm with five of your mates; you go to the off-licence, buy whatever you want and go to somebody’s home. I cannot see the evidence that this will make any difference. I would really like to know.
Returning to tests, can the Minister confirm that only half of all tests have been received in less than 24 hours and will he publish the Pillar 2 data which breaks down how many people asking for those tests were symptomatic and how many were asymptomatic? Many parents report going to walk-in centres with their sick children, when they had no symptoms, and being given a test. Was that a national policy? Has it been abandoned? This is further evidence of confusion.
I welcome what the Minister said about prioritising NHS staff, care workers and teachers, but can he clarify why he has issued guidance to hospital trusts placing restrictions on the number of tests they can carry out? Also, how he will protect care homes? In a previous exchange this afternoon between the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, my noble friend asked the noble Baroness about domiciliary care. I think she maybe did not understand what was being said—it might have been after a question from the Back Benches. Will people in domiciliary care, going from one home to another doing social care, be given PPE and will the tests available in care homes be available to them? I am trying to put it as simply as I can because it is a very important question.
Will the Minister ensure that no one is discharged into a care home without a Covid test? Given where the virus is, what is his advice to the shielding community? What protections is he putting in place for those from black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities, given that there are disproportionate numbers from those communities in intensive care units even today?
None of us wants to see another lockdown or circuit-break. We will understand if one becomes necessary, but test, trace and isolate should be fixed. The failure of that has left us vulnerable and exposed. It seems to me we must now act with speed to save lives and minimise harm.
My Lords, three months ago the Secretary of State said that test and trace was the single most important thing that had to be done to conquer the virus. Yesterday the Prime Minister said it had “little or nothing” to do with the transmission of the virus. These two things cannot both be right. For six months, the problem has been that we have had confused messages, careless use of statistics and a persistent refusal to work with and listen to people who run local public services and know what needs to be communicated to whom and how.
All those are the fundamental reasons we find ourselves in this situation. We still lack an effective and timely track, test and isolate system. In its place and without any evidence base behind them, we have come up with messages which, quite frankly, do not make sense to the general public. The rule of six does not make any practical sense at all, as was very well evidenced today by my noble friend Lord Newby in an earlier interaction with the Leader of the House.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said the Government now had granular data that enabled them to understand the transmission of the virus. When will that evidence be released? And when will it be released to Members of this House and the other place, who, next week, are going to be asked to renew emergency powers the like of which have never been seen before to this Government? If the Government cannot come up with that evidence—and, I have to say, over the last six months, they have persistently failed to answer any kind of detailed question from Opposition Benches in this House—why on earth should they be trusted to have those powers renewed? When are we going to get the evidence base?
It is helpful, looking at the Secretary of State’s Statement, to see that finally, after repeated questions from these Benches and the Labour Benches, we have got a clearer statement on who is being prioritised for testing and in which area. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, it is remarkable that there is nothing about black and minority ethnic communities, which we know are at greater risk, and nothing about the important people who work, for example, in domiciliary care, or who work in hospitals but are not medics.
I would like to ask one final question. When will they start listening to local authorities, who are persistently asking, in helpful ways, what they can do to expand the capacity for testing and to make sure that testing is better tied into the rest of the services? We are about to have an app launched, and local authorities are already telling us that there is soft intelligence that people who think they have symptoms but are unable to get a test just give up, and that people whose children are ill give up. It is all well and good for the noble Lord to say, as he did the other day, that they are going to completely redo NHS 111 to make it a more streamlined portal into the NHS, but if people have given up looking for tests long before they should, we are never going to get the data we need to get on top of this.
So I ask, as I did the other day: when they are revamping NHS 111, will they talk to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health about the NHS 111 protocols? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton; I think the public are desperate to do the right thing. They have been extraordinarily patient and have listened throughout, giving the Government the benefit of the doubt. But they will not go on doing that indefinitely while the Government continually fail to come up with a decent evidence base for their actions.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for correctly characterising our response to the epidemic as “the best compromise possible”. It is a compromise. We have competing demands on our strategy: we have to protect lives and the NHS, but we also have to be conscious of the economy and the livelihoods of people, and we have to look after our students and pupils. The package of measures being put forward by the Government is the best compromise we can make for this moment, and we are unashamed of that compromise.
But the noble Baroness is wrong when she says we do not have a strategy. The strategy is really clear; it is to suppress the virus and protect the economy and education until the vaccine and mass testing are ready. It may not feel like it now, but there are glimpses of sunlight in the distance. The vaccine and mass testing provide a strong opportunity for us to suppress the virus. The strategy that we have put in place, as the Prime Minister rightly described in his address to the nation, is a way to “get through the months” until we have those arms at our disposal.
Both the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about the publication of data. I must confess that I have a genuine sense of confusion about that point, because we publish so much data. If there is one thing that this Government have got wrong, it is that we have published too much data too early. Too much has not been audited; too much has been put out as early as possible in our efforts to be transparent. Tomorrow, we will have a REACT survey; we will have an ONS survey; we will have test-and-trace data. There are SAGE minutes; there is NIHR; there is literally data coming out of every organisation of government. It is a fantastically huge amount of data. It is, I confess, extremely difficult to process all of that data all at once. The story it tells does chop and change at an amazingly fast rate—much faster than any experience I have ever had in my life. It is a rollercoaster that the Government have to ride.
I make no apology, however, for the fact that this Government have sought to act swiftly and to bring in measures quickly when the evidence has changed. In the last few weeks we have seen the latest example of that, where the infection rates have clearly lifted quickly in a way that was not expected, and we have had a discussion about that point in previous sessions in the Chamber. We have moved promptly to address the challenge that those worrying and concerning figures have presented to us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised the question of testing. I completely and utterly acknowledge the frustration of anyone who has not been able to get a test for themselves, for their child or for a loved one. It is true that we have more people wanting tests today than we have supply. However, I cannot avoid pointing out that—boy oh boy—we have come a long way since February, when we were doing 2,000 tests a day, to today, when we are doing 240,000 tests a day, and we are well on the way to doing 500,000 tests a day by October. Our aspiration is to do many times that within the near future.
That is not in any way to avoid the fact that I wish that we had more tests today. I want to convey to the House that this Government are 1,000% committed to answering the needs of this country for testing and have put every resource—human, technological, administrative and financial—behind the testing programme in order to deliver that promise.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised the question of tone. I completely accept her point that the people of Britain have made a terrific sacrifice. There is no question at all of blaming the people of Britain, but we have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus indicates as a fact within itself that some people are not respecting the principles of social distance, hygiene and isolation, and we have to move in order to shore up the basic principles of this country and, by the way, of any country that is effectively fighting the virus—because, if we do not, the virus will sweep through the country.
I thought that the Prime Minister put that challenge very well, and in a way that a large majority of this Chamber would support. He said that the choice was before us: we could ask those who are vulnerable and older and shielded to simply lock the door and we could turn our backs on them. That is not the choice that this Government have made. They have made a choice to fight the virus at every level, because we love the people whom we care about; and it is a pragmatic choice, because if we find the virus growing in one part of our society, whether that is young people, health workers or the very young, then sure as night follows day, it will sweep through the rest of society.
I turn to the evidence on the curfew. This is a moment where I do not have the science at my fingertips. However, I have been in pubs and clubs after 10 o’clock enough times to know about the proximity and intimacy of late-night drinking, and I know that what happens then is not conducive to social distancing. This is a moment when plain common sense can tell you that a curfew will help to break the chain of transmission among young people. It is, unashamedly, a signal that we cannot go on like this and, in particular, that young people have to change their behaviours because the signs of infection are crystal clear. The prevalence among young people is too high, and we have to turn that corner.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about symptomatic and asymptomatic testing. The honest truth is that it is very difficult to tell; if someone is standing in a testing queue, we do not turn them away. By the way, in order to get a test, people do have to fill in a form, on which they are asked if they are symptomatic. What we do know from closer analysis and questionnaires is that a proportion of testees—between 20% and 25% at current rates—do not meet the strict criteria of our testing. I am grateful to the British public for beginning to show respect for the fact that every test counts, and for helping us direct them at the most needy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about domiciliary care, an issue that has been raised in this Chamber a few times. I reassure all those in the Chamber, including the noble Baroness, in answer to her specific questions: yes to PPE, yes to testing and, by the way, yes to new guidelines that help minimise contact and the number of patients seen by each itinerant domiciliary worker; and yes to substantial extra funds for the social care system, specifically to help social care avoid relying on people travelling from patient to patient.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about our relationships with local authorities and the local teams. I reassure her that we have moved a very, very long way in the last six months and that the picture she paints is understandable but out of date. We have come a huge way to share all of our insight, data, analysis and systems with local authorities, local directors of public health and local infection teams. Decisions on lockdowns now have a protocol whereby they are led by local teams after engagement with local civic groups and brought to the Secretary of State after they have been agreed at a local level.
Substantial sums—billions of pounds—have been given to local authorities to help them afford the kinds of local intervention that they choose to make in order to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged during the epidemic. Money is given to local authorities for PPE for the people that they decide need it. Community health is being supported within the NHS in order for communities to be given the support they need. Engagement with local civic groups and business leaders is at a level I have never seen in government before.
I will give one example in relation to contact tracing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, specifically asked about. In Leicester, money has been given to the local council for it to commission its own contact tracing, because we recognise that the local authority may well have the insights, cultural connections and sensitivities, and contacts needed for this kind of work. Therefore, we have provided financial and logistical support, and professional advice on how it can fill the gaps. We recognise that a national system cannot do everything, and that we have to be both national and local at the same time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, ended by talking about the public mood and her concerns that people are reaching a state of despair. I completely recognise the exhaustion that many people feel about the state of the epidemic. I particularly recognise the morale within the NHS and social care, where people have worked incredibly hard, often in circumstances and doing tasks that they did not originally sign up for, and the sacrifice that many people have made, whether they work in the healthcare system, are supporting people they love, cannot do the things they want or are isolated and on their own. Of course, lots of people have made massive sacrifices, but I do not recognise the world she describes.
I think the public largely support the steps taken by this Government to suppress the transmission of this virus. After all, it is the virus that is the enemy. In many respects, we have an incredibly united country in fighting that enemy. The way in which the British public have supported the regulations and guidelines, which have had a tough effect on many people’s lives, demonstrates a huge amount of support. No Government —and certainly not this Government—will stretch that beyond what is tolerable. I posit to the Chamber that, to date, that support is still in place, and I remain extremely grateful for it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for coming to take questions on this Statement. I will ask about two issues. If he cannot answer me now, could he kindly write with information? My main concern is people who are still going to work and caring for people who are Covid positive. Based on the highest prediction of need, how many days’ worth of PPE stock does the UK currently have in store for the NHS and voluntary and independent-sector providers of health and social care, including care homes and domiciliary services? How rapidly can stocks be replenished? What proportion is produced and manufactured in the UK? Have we tested the distribution systems and are they satisfactory?
My second question is in relation to vaccination. Vaccination will obviously be really important, but what are we doing now to support the Prime Minister’s approach, declared in August 2019, that we will increase MMR vaccination rates, among other needs, so that all people are protected as far as possible against other infections during the rise of Covid?
My Lords, the noble Baroness asked about PPE, which is naturally a concern as we go into winter. I assure her that the NHS has 15-day, 45-day and 90-day plans for the supply of PPE to the NHS and the independent sector. Roughly half of that comes from British sources. The distribution mechanisms have been radically overhauled and tested, and have proved to be utterly modernised.
We are working extremely hard on the deployment of a Covid vaccination. She rightly mentions other vaccinations. I assure her that we have 30 million doses of the flu vaccination. As she rightly points out, there appears to be a strong link between having flu today, Covid tomorrow and problems with a combination of both at a later date.
Sweden did not go for a total lockdown, as we did in this country. Although there is some evidence that its number of infections is going up at the moment, it still has far fewer deaths from Covid per 100,000 than we do. On top of that, its economy is supposed to be declining by about 5.5%, while ours will decline by at least double that. Does my noble friend think there are any lessons to be learned from Sweden?
My second question is about herd immunity. We started this whole process of dealing with coronavirus by talking about herd immunity. We then seemed to completely desert that idea and did not think it held any promise. Where do we stand now on herd immunity?
My Lords, it is with sadness that I note that the infection rate in Sweden is inching up, and with regret that I note that Stockholm is bringing in many lockdown measures similar to those in the UK. The noble Lord is right that Sweden has had a distinctive approach, but it is not as distinctive as would appear. Many of the same regulations that we have had here have been applied in Sweden. One area where Sweden has shown leadership is in compliance among the public. When regulations have been brought in, there have been extremely high levels of compliance, and therefore the optics are different from the reality. This Government have never supported a herd immunity strategy.
My Lords, I remind the House of my presidency of the Health Care Supply Association. I want to ask the Minister about testing. He will be aware that the medicine supply chain rose to the huge challenge presented partly because, early on, pharmaceutical wholesale staff were classified as key workers. That gave them access to priority testing, but on Monday the Government issued a revised list that excludes those pharmaceutical wholesale staff. The Healthcare Distribution Association has reported to me that there are already delays in staff accessing these tests. It is very concerned that, if this continues, it will have a very detrimental effect on the supply of medicines to hospitals and pharmacies. Would the Minister be prepared to take this away, look at it and see whether they could be added back to the priority list?
The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. I am grateful to him for alerting me to this question in advance. We take the contribution of pharmacists to the battle against Covid extremely seriously. I am not sure, right now, why pharmacists have been taken off the list and I would be glad to look into the matter and respond to him shortly.
My Lords, turning to the new proposals affecting people advised to self-isolate, on the one hand, an isolation payment of £500 is being offered, which is an incentive; on the other, there is a new legal duty, the enforcement of which could result in some quite swingeing fines if people do not do it. It is a two-sided thing. I have two questions about this. First, what involvement will local authorities have in this process? Will it all be done centrally or locally—like the payments in the pilot areas—or will it be both together? Secondly, there is obviously a lot of scope for disputes about this—about individuals and how they are treated and so on. What documentation will be involved? It is rather more than simply getting a telephone call and being asked to do something. It is an offer of quite a bit of money, and it is an instruction to do things. Will they be sent pieces of paper or will it be done by email or whatever? Will there be documentation to back all this up?
My Lords, implementation of both the payment and the legal sanctions will run their course through exactly the same channels as any other social care payment or the implementation of any other social duty. That will be led by local authorities, as it would be with any other social penalty. The police will be involved. The courts will be involved. Appeal processes will be involved. We hope that there will not be many sanctions, and that the payments will make a big difference to isolation protocols.
My Lords, I ask the Minister whether the Government have considered better ways of communicating the data to the public. One of the things that many of us have found, in talking the issues through with the general public, is that they simply do not understand the limitations of data analysis, which inevitably will be part of the whole story. Therefore, particularly when it concerns younger people, we should be trying to explain the data better than by giving the absolute numbers that always seem to come over. Inevitably, those who think they are not affected disregard the data. An improvement here would help with people’s agreement to isolate and to take preventive measures to stop the continued transmission of Covid-19.
My Lords, I have said on other occasions that we publish a lot of data, and I would be glad to share a full list of our data sources with my noble friend. To put a different perspective on the point she makes, the biggest challenge we have is to persuade people that their personal health is not a private matter that affects only them; it is a public matter that affects the people they love, the people they are standing next to and everyone else. This is particularly challenging for young people, quite understandably. Young people may have very few symptoms or none at all. They may carry the disease without any personal implications whatever but are vectors of disease who carry it to the vulnerable, ill or elderly. Persuading the country that their health is a public matter is our number one priority. My belief is that we are making great progress, but there is some way to go.
To break the chain of transmission, people must isolate if carrying the virus. Therefore, people have to understand that a negative test means only that they were not carrying the virus at the time the test was taken. The new contact tracing app being launched tomorrow has the potential to interrupt the transmission of the virus, but in order for it to work, a large proportion of the population will need to download and use it. Is it true that only just over half the mobile phones currently in circulation in the UK are compatible with the new app?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is entirely right that a test today only proves that you have not got it this morning; it does not necessarily prove that you might not have it in a couple of days’ time, when you go and see your loved ones. However, she is not correct on two points concerning the app. First, all the epidemiological data suggests that even small numbers of downloads—even two people, but certainly 10% of the population—can make a difference. Our aspiration is much higher than that, but it is not true that a large proportion of the population needs to use it for it to be effective. Nor is it true that that it works on only half the phones: our belief is that it will work on a very large majority of phones.
If I may take a moment, I shall use it to advertise the “Distance Aware” badge sponsored by the noble Baroness. It is a really good device for encouraging people who are near those who are shielding to respect the social distancing rules.
Again, I take the Minister to his own department’s weekly statistics for test and trace for the latest week, 3 to 9 September. He said on Monday that I did not understand the chart on page 8. Has he now read the annexe on page 37, which states, in table 1, in bold, that the number of people tested under pillar 1 and pillar 2 was 571,400? This amounts to 81,628 per day. So, can he now tell us the date on which more than 100,000 people were tested?
My Lords, I recognise the expertise of the noble Lord on public transport. It is my observation that the public have come a long way on mask wearing. When I was on the Tube this morning, absolutely everyone, including small children, was wearing a mask. That is huge progress. Yes, there is more that could be done, and we have brought in fines and support for isolation, but I pay tribute to the public attitudes that have moved a long way in this matter.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for all the work that he and the Government have done in Leicester. The many millions that have been spent have been hugely helpful to our communities there. However, given yesterday’s Statement by the Prime Minister about increased restrictions, my concerns relate to the mental and physical well-being of women and girls, in particular, in the densely populated areas of Leicester, as they will not be able to go out and get the right amount of exercise or make good choices when it comes to eating. Will my noble friend assist me in trying to get those messages across to people in communities such as mine in Leicester, where the messaging is so important? If the restrictions are extended, those communities will suffer far worse outcomes, and for much longer
My Lords, I recognise that this epidemic has hit women hard—it really has—particularly in high-density areas such as Leicester where women and girls do not have access to the kind of exercise and space that they need in order to lead fulfilled lives. We have given substantial funds to the authorities in all cities, including Leicester. I greatly encourage those authorities, including the ones in Leicester, to think about how they can help women and girls to access the space and exercise that they need to fulfil their lives during this difficult period.
[Inaudible] the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, perhaps I may refer the Minister to his response to me when he presented a Covid update on 14 September, and indeed as he has confirmed today. On what calculation does he anticipate that
“we are looking at making up to half of our PPE requirements in the UK.”—[Official Report, 14/9/20; col. 1007.]?
Why do the Government have their sights on only 50%, and what plans do they have to increase national production? Is it suggested that this is the sum total of our manufacturing prowess?
Absolutely not, my Lords. I pay tribute to British manufacturers, which have come an enormous distance—everyone from high-end manufacturers such as Burberry to those which once made recycled bin bags and have now turned their factories over to producing aprons and other important PPE articles. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Deighton, who has done an enormous amount to generate interest among British manufacturers of all kinds in order to support British PPE production. However, we have to have a balance to this. Some specialist goods, such as gloves, are best made elsewhere, but having the capacity and expertise to make 50% of our PPE means that we now have a route to making it all if necessary.
My Lords, I am delighted to hear that there are 30 million doses of flu vaccine. I remind the House of my interest with the Dispensing Doctors’ Association. How and when will the flu vaccine reach doctors’ and GPs’ surgeries? My noble friend will be aware that PPE will presumably have to be worn for the dispensing of each dose of flu vaccine, which means that the vaccination will be administered at a loss to dispensing doctors and others. That does not seem sustainable. Is that an issue that my noble friend will be able to address?
My Lords, flu vaccines are being distributed right now. I know that because I had mine yesterday. The person who gave me the vaccine was not in PPE and in fact spoke very movingly about the way in which walk-in methods are being used to make administering the vaccine as easy and quick as possible, removing all barriers to the public. When I asked him about the commercial practicalities, he gave me an encouraging update on the financial settlement for the distribution of vaccines by pharmacists. I am led to believe that there will be a huge amount of interest by pharmacists in distributing as many flu vaccines as they can.
House adjourned at 6.45 pm.