As the Prime Minister said, in less than a year, this disease has killed over a million people worldwide and caused havoc to economies everywhere.
In March, we all pulled together in a spirit of national sacrifice and community. Acting together, for the benefit of all, we ensured the NHS was protected and thousands of lives were saved. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that the virus has recently started to spread again in an exponential way and that is why the Prime Minister has acted. Indeed, models provided by Government scientists suggest that unless we act now, we could see deaths over the winter that are twice as bad or more compared with the first wave. Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level.
The tiered framework previously announced by the Prime Minister was designed to simplify local restrictions and enable targeted action to be taken in areas where the number of cases was increasing significantly. However, when it became clear that cases were increasing in all regions, the Prime Minister took the difficult decision to put further restrictions in place across England, asking people to stay at home as much as possible for four weeks. The legislation is time limited, but as the current situation has shown, we must be guided by the facts. When this new lockdown period ends, I believe that the tiered framework already in place will continue to enable the Government and local authorities to work together to target regional outbreaks.
Having looked into this, I understand any further national restrictions would need to be voted on in Parliament after the end of the four-week period. I am told the advice is that this four-week period will make a significant difference to the progress of the virus. MPs would need to be given compelling evidence if they were to come to Parliament being asked to consider further national measures.
I know that, in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, devolved authorities have taken a slightly different approach. This is in line with the goal of the United Kingdom Government that measures should reflect the latest local information, rather than placing unnecessary restrictions on regions where that would not be appropriate. The Welsh Government has recently carried out a similar short term period of enhanced restrictions, and the Scottish Government has established additional tiers of restrictions. My colleagues in Westminster continue to work closely with the devolved nations as the whole of the United Kingdom works towards our common goal of protecting the NHS and saving lives.
I appreciate that these stricter measures impact on all our way of life, but we must comply and play our parts in saving lives and protecting vulnerable people. What we must remember is that, unfortunately, what is one person’s mild cough can be another person’s death knell – as the Prime Minister said. The overrunning of the NHS would be a medical and moral disaster beyond the raw loss of life. The huge exponential growth in the number of patients – by no means all of them elderly – would mean that doctors and nurses would be forced to choose which patients to treat, who could get oxygen and who could not; who would live and who would die; and they would be forced to choose between saving COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients. The sheer weight of COVID-19 demand would mean depriving tens of thousands - if not many more non-COVID-19 patients - of the care they need. Therefore, we must act in a spirit of togetherness to suppress this virus now to save lives.
Measures must continue to be proportionate to the risk the virus poses, and the impact on the economy, livelihoods and personal freedoms cannot be too great. I will bear in mind the views you have raised and continue to ensure the people of Fareham are represented when these matters are debated in the House.