Speech: Coronavirus debate: opening speech

first_imgMadam Deputy Speaker,The House meets today to debate the coronavirus pandemic once more.The peril of this pandemic has no short-term quick fix, but calls for ingenuity, commitment and resolve from us all.We have responded with one of the greatest collective efforts this nation has seen in peacetime.But this fight is not yet over, and the virus continues to spread.Cases, hospitalisations and, tragically, deaths are all rising.Yesterday, we learned that Liverpool Hospital Trust is now treating more COVID patients than at the peak in April.And across the UK, deaths have doubled in under a fortnight.StrategyAnd yet, just as the situation we face is grave, so the hope of a solution is growing.And, with every day, my confidence in the ingenuity of science to bring resolution grows.But until that moment, we must have resolve.Madam Deputy Speaker, we are focused on finding a long-term solution. We reject political point-scoring.And I call upon this House to work together in the interests of our whole nation – and indeed the whole world.[political content removed]Strategy and rebuttalAnd so we need this long-term solution, and I would say, like other liberal democracies around the world, we are wrestling with this question, as we have just wrestled in the last few minutes, with the question of how we keep people safe from this virus whilst at the same time protecting the important things in life: our liberties, our livelihoods and the things that we love.And that is what leads us to this strategy of suppressing the virus, supporting the economy, education and supporting the NHS to do all the things the NHS needs to do until a vaccine is available.And I reject the false choice that says we must pick a side – and choose between a healthy economy and a healthy nation.Because the 2 are intrinsically linked.If we were to, God forbid, let the virus unleash its full force, then the damage – not just to the NHS and the hundreds of thousands of lives, but to our livelihoods too – would be catastrophic.And we can only get our economy and our society going gangbusters again if we drive this virus down, so people have the confidence they need to live their lives to the full.Long COVIDAnd drive it down we must. Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, this is a deadly virus and yes it reserves its biggest impact for the oldest in society, which means the rise in cases among the over 60s gives me such cause for concern.And as we have just heard, compellingly, from the Minister for Equalities about the impact on people from ethnic minority backgrounds.But the impact is not confined to these groups. The virus can affect anyone, of any age, and of any background.And we have already seen worrying numbers of young, fit and healthy people suffering debilitating symptoms, months after contracting COVID.Yesterday, a study by King’s College London showed that one in 20 people with coronavirus are likely to have virus symptoms like fatigue, breathlessness, muscle pain, and neurological problems for 8 weeks or more.Yesterday I visited the cutting-edge long COVID clinic at University College London Hospital.I met people in their 20s and 30s, unable to work, sapped of all their energy, living with the long-term effects of a virus that has completely changed their lives.So to anyone, of any age, catching COVID can be very grave indeed.Long COVID underpins, again, our strategy of suppressing the virus until a vaccine arrives.[political content removed]I now want, Madam Deputy Speaker, to turn to question of how we do that.Social distancingWe cannot reiterate enough the importance of the basics: social distancing, and hands, face, space.Local actionThe next area, Madam Deputy Speaker, is through following the rules on local action, which is at the core of how we, and increasing numbers of other countries around the world, are tackling the crisis.Through our local COVID alert levels we have been able to take a balanced approach.And today I’d like to update the House on some further changes that we are making.Unfortunately, we are seeing rising rates of infection in Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and in Slough.In all these areas, there are over 100 positive cases per 100,000 people.Cases are doubling around every fortnight and we are seeing a concerning increase of cases among the over 60s.So we have agreed, in partnership with local leaders, to move these areas into the high local alert level area, coming into force at one minute past midnight on Saturday.The central change is that people cannot now meet other households socially indoors. This applies in any setting, at home, or in a restaurant, or any other venue.The rule of 6 still applies to any outdoor setting.And although you may continue to travel to open venues, you should reduce the number of journeys where possible.I’d like to thank local leaders in these areas for the work that they’ve done, for their cooperation. And I can assure the people of Stoke-on-Trent, of Coventry and of Slough that we will support you all the way through, including with the business support that the Chancellor announced earlier today for all areas with a high local alert level.We are also formally beginning discussions with Warrington about moving into the very high alert level, due to a continuing rise in cases there.[political content removed]The virus moves quickly and so we must respond quickly, and in a targeted way, like this, to keep it under control.Local enforcementAs part of local discussions, Madam Deputy Speaker, local authorities including the LGA have asked for stronger enforcement powers.And I agree.To support businesses who are doing the right thing, it is fair that we take action against those businesses who are doing the wrong thing.So firm enforcement helps make these restrictions fairer on all.So we want to put in place stronger regulations to give local authorities further powers to take action in their local area.The proposals we will bring forward will mean councils will be able to act without delay and use closure notices to shut premises on public health grounds, to help suppress the virus.We will work with local authorities in the coming days on the detail of these proposals so we can act in a firm and fast way against the minority who are breaching these life-saving rules.New testing and vaccinesMadam Deputy Speaker, these changes will help us fight this virus in the here and now.But we are also making progress on long-term solutions.The long-term solution is not to give up, as some would have us do or to wish the problem away.It is to harness the science and ingenuity of innovation, whilst supporting people through.First, if I can turn to testing.Thanks to exceptional work from so many people, we have built a critical national infrastructure of diagnostic testing.Today’s testing capacity is now over 370,000.And alongside this expansion of the current technology, I want to update the House on mass testing.Now I know there have been many questions about this project.Last week we began rolling out new testing technologies to hospitals, based on the point-of-care LAMP test.That will allow the regular, repeat, testing of NHS staff and patients.And I am delighted to be able to tell the House that yesterday we began the roll-out of lateral flow tests to schools and universities.Lateral flow tests don’t require a lab or a machine. The kit gives you the result within minutes.We’ve successfully purchased many millions of these tests, and they’ll allow us both to find the virus where it spreads, and to reduce the disruption that virus control measures inevitably create.If we can deliver a mass testing solution, so pupils in a bubble don’t have to isolate for a fortnight when one in the bubble tests positive, we will not only help control the spread of the virus, we will protect education better, and help schools, teachers and parents to live their lives much closer to normal.These tests will also allow directors of public health to have more rapid access to testing capacity.And we are starting the rollout to councils, including today with the council in Stoke-on-Trent.Second, vaccines.Progress continues on the development and deployment of vaccines.And we are determined to give those developing vaccines all the support they need.I can inform the House that we are initiating human challenge trials to speed up the development of a coronavirus vaccine.And to improve further its safety.We are contributing £33 million to back these trials, joining forces with academia and industry.What a human challenge trial involves is taking a vaccine candidate that has proven to be safe in trials, and giving it to a carefully selected small number of healthy adult volunteers who are then exposed to the virus in a safe and controlled environment, closely monitored by medics and scientists.And that gives us the chance to accelerate the understanding of promising vaccines that have been through clinical trials, so we can improve on their safe deployment.And the UK is one of the only countries in the world with the capability to run this kind of programme.And we should all be proud that once again we are leading this global effort.ConclusionMadam Deputy Speaker, our response to this lethal virus has been one of the greatest collective endeavours that this nation has ever seen.And thanks to those efforts, we are so much better prepared this time round.As a nation, we built the Nightingale hospitals in just 9 days.As a nation, we came together as one to protect the NHS. And it wasn’t overwhelmed, and now the NHS is better yet prepared still.As a nation, we built the biggest testing capability of all our peers.And as a nation, we have made huge and historic advances in vaccines and treatments.We understand this virus infinitely more than at the start at of this pandemic.But we are not there yet.Not when the virus is spreading at pace.So we must, each of us, look at what we can do and the role we can play – what actions we can take.Because as we have seen throughout this pandemic, we are at our best when we come together.And we know that with science on our side, ultimately, we will prevail.last_img

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