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Jonathan Ashworth response to Government’s Covid-19 statement

covid testing

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, responding to the Government’s Covid-19 statement in the House today, said "There is no question that the rise we have seen over the last two days in case numbers is deeply worrying. We should be taking every reasonable measure possible to suppress this virus. There can be no room for complacency.

It was reported in the Times today that ministers were surprised by the increase.

Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, responding to reports of people unable to book Covid-19 tests, said “It beggars belief that six months into this pandemic that the Government are only now realising that the testing system is not set up to meet demand.

“It is now clear what a major strategic error it was for the Government to decide to set up a brand new laboratory infrastructure from scratch and once again we are playing catch up. Ministers urgently need to get a grip on this ahead of the winter.”

But the trends have been clear for some time, in Greater Manchester and indeed in Leicester, that this was spreading among the young cohort and many have warned we could be facing resurgence as we move into autumn and winter.

On Bolton: can he confirm he has just announced pub closures across Bolton. Was this agreed with the Mayor of Greater Manchester. I grew up in Radcliffe next to Bolton – what happens if people from Bolton travel to Bury, Radcliffe, Atherton if they want to go for a drink, how will this be enforced?

What guidance is he issuing for hospitality venues in other hotspot areas? On household transmission, I ask him again will he set out the evidence why people in Leicester cannot meet in gardens?

Universities are set to return imminently. Yet SAGE analysis was not published until last Friday. Will he urgently provide a national plan for reducing transmission of the virus in higher education? And on schools, we have seen a number of schools close because of outbreaks.

But the exact circumstances in which a school ought to close if a pupil displays symptoms is unclear. In what circumstances does the Health Secretary believe a school should close? And it means a test and trace system that finds cases, tests them quickly, traces and properly supports people to isolate. I warned him early on that the biggest barrier to self-quarantine wouldn’t be fatigue, but finances.

Will he accept that the government has to go much further in helping people who need financial or housing support to isolate otherwise he will never get on top of infections in areas characterised by low pay, child poverty and overcrowded housing?

How does he explain the poor record of contact tracing in these areas?

In Bolton only 57% of none complex cases reached. In Oldham only 50% of none complex cases reached; Blackburn only 47% non-complex reached; Bradford only 43% non-complex cases reached. Nationally 69.4% of contacts were asked to self-isolate, compared with 77.1% in the previous week. What is ‘world-beating’ about that?

And on testing. Where was his explanation for the testing shambles we have seen in recent days? What are the current problems with lab capacity and what is he doing to fix them?

Mr speaker did it not occur to him, that with 8.8 million pupils returning to school, with thousands following the Prime Minister’s instruction to return to the office and young people about to head to university that more capacity would be needed in the testing system at this time of year?

And the Secretary of State said no one should have to travel further than 75 miles for a test. But for many people, such as the 20% of home care workers that are on zero-hours contracts, taking a 150 mile round trip for a test simply isn’t feasible. And at the moment not even possible.

Last night it was reported there were no tests in London. People in Kent were asked to travel to Cardiff. In Denton, they were advised to visit Llandudno. In Leicester, someone was advised to head north 245 miles to Edinburgh. But in Devon, helpfully people were told they only need to travel 20 miles. Unfortunately, that involved crossing the sea to get to Swansea.

I know the Secretary of State thinks he can walk on water, but sadly our constituents can’t.

At the Health Select Committee, he admitted it will take weeks to fix these problems.Yet last week he was boasting of plans for 10 million tests a day as part of his Operation Moon shot. But when he can’t even get the basics right. Never mind his moon shot, people will think he’s on another planet.

His testing regime has been a fiasco in recent days and yet we had no apology from him today.

Isn’t the core of this problem this – he didn’t listen to the experts, but instead outsourced testing and tracing to firms like Deloitte, Serco and G4S – firms with no experience in this field. Surely he should now accept that NHS labs and local public health teams would be better placed to lead this work.

My Speaker we must do everything reasonable to suppress this virus. Instead, we have muddled messages, failed testing and ineffective contact tracing.

Winter is coming, he needs to get a grip.