COVID UPDATE

Over the past few weeks, I have been contacted by a number of constituents regarding the Omicron variant, the Government’s Plan B, and the revelations regarding potential Covid regulation breaches in Downing Street last year.

Omicron is a clear threat and the data released on the transmissibility of the variant is very concerning. We know from other variants that there is a lag time between infection and hospitalisation and whilst we await further information on the variant, it is important that the Government act swiftly to limit its spread.

My approach throughout the pandemic has been to support measures to get this virus under control, but also hold the Government to account to ensure that people are given necessary protections and support.

I have listened to the evidence and information made available to all via expert public health officials including the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Officer, other civil servant experts within the Department for Health, and on Friday last week received an update from the Director of Public Health in Newcastle. This information can be found on the Gov.UK website here and the Director of Public Health in Newcastle also issued comments on Friday which can be found here.

Plan B and Boosters

When the Government eased restrictions back in July, there were concerns about the full reversal of guidance on mask wearing – particularly on public transport – and working from home where possible. These would have been sensible and proportionate measures to have kept in place. I therefore understand the important of reintroducing these measures, however, I also believe that there is more that the Government must do, such as improving sick pay so that nobody has to choose between feeding their family and doing the right thing and isolating when necessary.

I also wait to see the Government take further action to support children staying safely in school by increasing vaccination rates and improving ventilation in schools, to avoid children learning in freezing classrooms.

The Government have also announced the speeding up of the booster programme. I support this measure and have encouraged all constituents to come forward for their booster when eligible to. The booster vaccine is our best defence against omicron. You can find further information on the booster and booking here.

On Tuesday, MPs will vote on the Government’s Plan B to combat Covid-19 – including the requirement for ‘covid passes’. As ever, I anticipate that the Government will table an unamendable motion that will require MPs to vote for the measures in full, or for no measures at all.

I appreciate that there are strongly held views on ‘covid passes’ and I have been contacted by a number of constituents taking a wide range of positions on their implementation. The Government’s ‘covid passes’ proposal will require people presenting at large venues or mass gatherings to demonstrate their vaccine status, or proof of a negative lateral flow test. The Labour Party pressed for the Government to include the option to present a negative lateral flow test as an alternation to vaccination status, and to ensure the app isn’t required for access to essential services.

With these assurances in place, and the option to present a lateral flow test, which are freely available,  as part of the pass, I therefore anticipate that I will support this measure.

Alleged Covid Breaches

I know from my inbox that the actions of the Prime Minister have undermined public trust and distracted from key public health messaging at a critical time. Serious times call for serious leadership and it is clear that this Prime Minister simply isn’t up to the job. I absolutely share the anger given the sacrifices so many made to prevent the spread of Covid-19, protect our loved ones, and to follow the rules set out by the Government.

The footage of the Prime Minister’s aides laughing and joking about their covid-rule breaching Christmas party took place at the same time that many were separated from their families, unable to visit loved ones who have since passed away, businesses were collapsing, and schools were shutting with children missing out on vital education. There have been further reports of other parties taking place which seem to show once again, that the Prime Minister believes the rules that everyone else has to follow simply don’t apply to him or his friends.

It is important that we get answers and clarity on these issues. The Cabinet Secretary has been asked to investigate this and other alleged parties, and I await the outcome of this. I want to see the investigation widened to ensure that it covers reports of all alleged parties within Downing Street which may have breached the rules.

Even more worrying is that these actions may yet again undermine vital public health messaging at a time when restrictions are being put in place. What moral authority do Ministers have to enforce their message when people in their own Government have seemingly ignored the rules with impunity. I fear this risks people not adhering to the guidance and regulations. You can see my comments on the situation in the Chronicle here.