This week Parliament was asked to introduce important new measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus known as Plan B, a contingency plan drawn up some months ago, which we all hoped would never be needed. After thinking through the measures carefully I supported these measures as I believe that they strike the correct balance of being proportionate, while effective. They required scientific advice and tough decisions, and they were underpinned by an urgent need to protect the NHS. While there has been a degree of misinformation about what was contained in Plan B, I wish to make clear about what I supported in voting it through. We asked people to work from home if they can, wear a mask in indoor settings, though not in hospitality settings, and importantly at events with more than 500 people we ask people to show they are double vaccinated. If people choose not to be double vaccinated a lateral flow test is required for entry to these events, to reduce the likelihood someone infectious is in close proximity to large groups of people.
Omicron is significantly more infectious than the previous Delta strain of the Covid virus. Cases are doubling in the UK every 2 days, with the ‘R’ rate of infection showing that one person could be infecting up to five others. Independent modelling suggests that despite the efforts we have made so far, doing nothing now will lead to 75,000 extra deaths in the UK by April. No responsible government could allow that to happen by doing nothing.
As a country we have benefitted from a world-leading vaccination programme, but we must not become complacent. The initially recommended two doses reduce the likelihood of becoming infectious and passing the virus onto others. Three vaccines adds even further protection, reducing the likelihood of infecting others by 75%. Getting as many people boosted is therefore our top priority, and the actions we are taking will help slow the spread of Omicron, allowing us to get as many people fully protected as possible. I was pleased to be able to get my third jab this week at a walk-in clinic, a month ahead of the appointment I initially booked. I would urge as many constituents as possible to join me in getting their booster jabs as soon as possible.
The measures we are taking now focus entirely on actions which stop the virus from spreading. They are proportionate and necessary. Vaccine passports are fully enforced in Scotland and much of continental Europe. Where vaccine passports are enforced proof of vaccination is necessary, with no exemptions for people showing a negative Lateral Flow Test. Vaccine passports were not proposed to Parliament, and if they were I would not have supported it. This is an important distinction. With a negative Lateral Flow Test (which the government provides for free) you can demonstrate you are less likely to be infectious than someone who is untested, fully vaccinated, or presenting a positive test.
Current advice on working from home remains advisory. Mask wearing has already been used on public transport, and for many people in crowded indoor settings. Extending its use, with appropriate exemptions seems a sensible measure, and one which I suspect most people would support. Hospitality is excluded to try and reduce the impact on a sector that has taken the brunt of previous restrictions. Proof of vaccination status has already been commonplace at many sports and music venues for a long time, without the government mandating it.
In my role as Minister of State for School Standards I am acutely aware of the challenges Omicron could present schools, teachers and students. Young people are still working incredibly hard to catch up on the work they have missed as a result of previous interruptions, and for this we have an incredible set of teachers and support staff to thank. Keeping staff and students safe will always be our top priority, but we have to also do all we can to keep schools open so young people do not fall further behind. That is a key factor in my decision to support measures to reduce the prevalence of the Omicron variant. One welcome change as a result of this week’s votes is the move from ten days isolation for contacts of people who have tested for Omicron to daily Lateral Flow Testing. I hope this will keep more pupils in school when schools reopen in January.
My role as the Member of Parliament for Worcester is to represent all constituents, no matter what their view and I have heard from many residents both for and against the steps that were taken this week. For that reason I have read and understood the arguments on both sides of the debate in respect of the vote for new restrictions. However, the threat of Omicron is as clear as it is present. That is why, on balance I support measures which reduce the spread, and I hope that by doing so we can avoid further lockdowns and return to normality as soon as possible.
Coming up to Christmas I hope everyone can spend time with their loved ones. I hope these measures will allow people to do so safely, and with a degree of confidence, that when socialising and celebrating the festive season they are doing so with a lower chance of catching and spreading Covid than if these measures had not been introduced.