With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the road map that will guide us cautiously but irreversibly towards reclaiming our freedoms, while doing all we can to protect our people against covid. Today’s measures will apply in England, but we are working closely with the devolved Administrations, who are setting out similar plans.
The threat remains substantial, with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave last April, but we are able to take these steps because of the resolve of the British public and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating over 17.5 million people across the UK. The data so far suggest both vaccines are effective against the dominant strains of covid. Public Health England has found that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces hospitalisations and deaths by at least 75%, and early data suggest that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provides a good level of protection, although since we only started deploying this vaccine last month, at this stage the size of the effect is less certain. But no vaccine can ever be 100% effective, nor will everyone take them up, and like all viruses, covid-19 will mutate.
As the modelling released today by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies shows, we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths. This will happen whenever lockdown is lifted, whether now or in six or nine months, because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccines. There is therefore no credible route to a zero-covid Britain or indeed a zero-covid world, and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing, and the life chances of our children That is why it is so crucial that this road map should be cautious but also irreversible.
We are now setting out on what I hope and believe is a one-way road to freedom, and this journey is made possible by the pace of the vaccination programme. In England, everyone in the top four priority groups was successfully offered a vaccine by the middle of February. We now aim to offer a first dose to all those in groups five to nine by 15 April, and I am setting another stretching target: to offer a first dose to every adult by the end of July. As more of us are inoculated, so the protection afforded by the vaccines will gradually replace the restrictions, and today’s road map sets out the principles of that transition.
The level of infection is broadly similar across England, so we will ease restrictions in all areas at the same time. The sequence will be driven by the evidence, so outdoor activity will be prioritised as the best way to restore freedoms while minimising the risk. At every stage, our decisions will be led by data not dates, and subjected to four tests: first, that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; second, that evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths; third, that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations, which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and, fourth, that our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of covid that cause concern.
Before taking each step, we will review the data against these tests. Because it takes at least four weeks for the data to reflect the impact of relaxations in restrictions, and because we want to give the country a week’s notice before each change, there will be at least five weeks between each step. The chief medical officer is clear that moving any faster would mean acting before we know the impact of each step, which would increase the risk of us having to reverse course and reimposerestrictions. I will not take that risk.
Step one will happen from 8 March, by which time those in the top four priority groups will be benefiting from the increased protection they receive from their first dose of the vaccine. All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be. That is why I have always said that schools would be the last to close and the first to reopen. Based on our assessment of the current data against the four tests, I can tell the House that, two weeks from today, pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face-to-face teaching, supported by twice-weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils. Families and childcare bubbles will also be encouraged to get tested regularly. Breakfast and after-school clubs can also reopen, and other children’s activities, including sport, can restart where necessary to help parents to work. Students on university courses requiring practical teaching, specialist facilities or onsite assessments will also return, but all others will need to continue learning online, and we will review the options for when they can return by the end of the Easter holidays.
From 8 March, people will also be able to meet one person from outside their household for outdoor recreation, such as a coffee on a bench or a picnic in a park, in addition to exercise, but we are advising the clinically extremely vulnerable to shield at least until the end of March. Every care-home resident will be able to nominate a named visitor, able to see them regularly, provided they are tested and wear personal protective equipment. Finally we will amend regulations to enable a broader range of covid-secure campaign activities for local elections on 6 May.
As part of step one, we will go further and make limited changes on 29 March, when schools go on Easter holidays. It will become possible to meet in limited numbers outdoors, where the risk is lower. So the rule of six will return outdoors, including in private gardens, and outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted on the same basis, so that families in different circumstances can meet. Outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts and open-air swimming pools, will be able to reopen, and formally organised outdoor sports will resume, subject to guidance. From this point, 29 March, people will no longer be legally required to stay at home, but many lockdown restrictions will remain. People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel wherever possible.
Step two will begin at least five weeks after the beginning of step one and no earlier than 12 April, with an announcement at least seven days in advance. If analysis of the latest data against the four tests requires a delay, then this and subsequent steps will also be delayed, to maintain the five-week gap.
In step two, non-essential retail will reopen, as will personal care, including hairdressers, I am glad to say, and nail salons. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will reopen, as will holiday lets, but only for use by individuals or household groups. We will begin to reopen our pubs and restaurants outdoors; hon. Members will be relieved that there will be no curfew, and the Scotch egg debate will be over because there will be no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal. Zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas will reopen, as will public libraries and community centres.
Step three will begin no earlier than 17 May. Provided that the data satisfies the four tests, most restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, subject to a limit of 30, and this is the point when you will be able to see your friends and family indoors, subject to the rule of six or the meeting of two households. We will also reopen pubs and restaurants indoors, along with cinemas and children’s play areas, hotels, hostels, and bed and breakfasts. Theatres and concert halls will reopen their doors, and the turnstiles of our sports stadiums will once again rotate, subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue. We will pilot larger events using enhanced testing, with the ambition of further easing restrictions in the next step.
Step four will begin no earlier than 21 June. With appropriate mitigations, we will aim to remove all legal limits on social contact and on weddings and other life events. We will reopen everything up to and including nightclubs, and enable large events such as theatre performances above the limits of step three, potentially using testing to reduce the risk of infection.
Our journey back towards normality will be subject to resolving a number of key questions, and to do this we will conduct four reviews. One will assess how long we need to maintain social distancing and face masks. This will also inform guidance on working from home, which should continue wherever possible until this review is complete, and it will be critical in determining how Parliament can safely return in a way that I know hon. Members would wish.
A second review will consider the resumption of international travel, which is vital for many businesses that have been hardest hit, including retail, hospitality, tourism and aviation. A successor to the global travel taskforce will report by 12 April so that people can plan for the summer. The third review will consider the potential role of covid status certification in helping venues to open safely, but be mindful of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy. The fourth review will look at the safe return of major events.
As we proceed through these steps, we will benefit from the combined protection of our vaccines and the continued expansion of rapid testing. We will extend the provision of free test kits for workplaces until the end of June, and families, small businesses and the self-employed can collect those tests from local testing sites.
In view of these cautious but, I hope, irreversible changes, people may be concerned about what they mean for the various support packages for livelihoods, for people and for the economy, so I want to assure the House that we will not pull the rug out. For the duration of the pandemic, the Government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set out further details in the Budget next Wednesday.
Finally, we must remain alert to the constant mutations of the virus. Next month we will publish an updated plan for responding to local outbreaks with a range of measures to address variants of concern, including surge PCR testing and enhanced contact tracing. We cannot, I am afraid, rule out reimposing restrictions at local or regional level if evidence suggests that they are necessary to contain or suppress a new variant which escapes the vaccines.
I know there will be many people who will be worried that we are being too ambitious and that it is arrogant to impose any kind of plan upon a virus. I agree that we must always be humble in the face of nature and we must be cautious, but I also believe that the vaccination programme has dramatically changed the odds in our favour, and it is on that basis that we can now proceed.
Of course, there will be others who believe that we could go faster on the basis of the vaccination programme. I understand their feelings, and I sympathise very much with the exhaustion and the stress that people and businesses are experiencing after so long in lockdown. But to them all, I say that today the end really is in sight and a wretched year will give way to a spring and a summer that will be very different and incomparably better than the picture we see around us today. In that spirit, I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for the telephone call between us earlier today. This is the third time that the Prime Minister has announced a plan to come out of national lockdown. In the past, we have emerged without sufficient caution, without a clear plan and without listening to the science. We cannot afford to make those mistakes again. This has to be the last lockdown. The vaccine roll-out, as the Prime Minister said, has been remarkable, and I pay tribute to everybody involved. It is the light at the end of the tunnel, but if we are going to get there, we have to tread very carefully. I am glad that the Prime Minister spoke today of caution, of this being irreversible, of assessing the data and following the evidence. Those are the right guiding principles—and, I have to say, it is a welcome change from some of the language the Prime Minister used in the past. I urge him now to stick to that.
I turn to the substance of the matter. First, on schools, we all agree that the priority must be for all children to be back in school as quickly as possible and to stay in school. We want that to happen on 8 March, as the Government have promised. The confidence of parents, teachers and school staff will be critical, so will the Prime Minister please confirm that the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser support the full reopening of all schools on 8 March? Will he commit to publishing all the relevant medical evidence on this issue?
Will the Prime Minister also indicate what the Government are doing to overcome the huge logistical challenges this presents? He touched on mass testing in his statement, but there was nothing on Nightingale classrooms and extra capacity, which is a huge problem, particularly for schools with smaller buildings. Will the Prime Minister update the House on how he will deal with that in just over two weeks’ time?
Let me turn to a linked issue. Within weeks of schools returning last autumn, thousands of teachers and school staff were self-isolating, causing huge disruption to the running of schools and children’s learning. We do not want that again. That is why Labour called for the early vaccination of all teachers and school staff. In my own constituency, the fantastic Crick Institute, which has been doing amazing work, has been vaccinating hundreds of people a day. The institute has been very clear to me—and publicly—that it could be doing more, and it is obvious to me that over one weekend it could have vaccinated all teachers and school staff in Camden if it had been allowed to do so, without bumping anyone else from the priority list. There are similar examples across the country. Will the Prime Minister see what more can be done to speed up the vaccination of teachers and school staff to ensure that children and young people not only return to school on 8 March, but stay in school having returned?
Let me turn to isolation support. As we release health measures, however gradually, there is a risk that infection rates will go up; the Prime Minister made that clear in his statement. It is therefore more important than ever that test, trace and isolate is working and working well. One of the most concerning figures in a recent SAGE report is that only three in 10 people who should be self-isolating are actually doing so. It is obvious that one of the main drivers of this is insecurity at work. As the chair of Test and Trace has said, people are “scared” to take the test because they cannot afford to self-isolate. That not only harms our health response, but it costs the economy too—and it has to be fixed. We have proposed that the £500 isolation payment, which is currently only available to one in eight workers, be made available to everyone who needs it. Will the Prime Minister consider that? If we do not shift the three in 10 figure, there will be a huge hole in our defences.
I turn to economic support. The Prime Minister announced a road map today, but it will not have escaped businesses that many of them will not be able to open until mid-April at the earliest, and many not until mid-June. I am not questioning the health basis for that decision, which I support, but I am reiterating what we have always said—that health restrictions must be accompanied by proper economic support. It makes no sense to announce today that businesses will be closed for many more weeks or months without announcing new economic support at the same time. The Prime Minister says, “Well, the Budget will be next week”, but there is nothing stopping him saying today that business rates relief will be extended, that furlough will be extended, or that the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure will be extended. Businesses are crying out for that certainty and the Prime Minister should give it to them today.
The Prime Minister should also announce proper support for the 3 million self-employed who have been left out of all support for the last year. I was asked about this issue again on LBC this morning, by a self-employed business women who is at her wits’ end at the lack of Government support. This road map means that she may not be able to get her business up and running again until mid-June. Surely the Prime Minister needs to act now to close the gap for those 3 million people.
We support the twin principles that the Prime Minister has set out today—that the lifting of restrictions must be both cautious and irreversible. But I know that the Prime Minister will come under pressure from those on his own Benches to go faster and throw caution to the wind. Last week, it was reported that around 60 of his own Members of Parliament called for the end of all restrictions by the end of April, and I am sure that there are going to be similar calls this afternoon. I hope that the Prime Minister takes the opportunity to face this down because if the road map is to work, he needs to listen to the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer, not to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) or the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). If the Prime Minister does, he will have our support and will secure a majority in the House. If he does not, we will waste all the sacrifices of the last 12 months.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his overall support for the road map. Indeed, I also welcome his support for the vaccine roll-out. I am sure that many people will be glad to hear what he says. I cannot help but remind you, Mr Speaker, that he did vote to stay in the European Medicines Agency, which would have made a vaccine roll-out of this speed impossible.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that it is a priority to get schools back safely. I am delighted that he agrees with that. I can certainly say that that plan for all schools to go back on 8 March is supported by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser. It would be a good thing if he could perhaps persuade some of his friends in the unions to say so as well and to say that schools are safe
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the importance of self-isolation. We will continue to support those who are asked to self-isolate and, indeed, increase our package of support for them. As for the support for business and for the self-employed, which he rightly raised, we will continue to put our arms around businesses and livelihoods around the country, as we have done throughout the pandemic, and the Chancellor, who has been extremely creative in this respect, will be setting out the details in the Budget next week, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman would expect. Overall, I think we can safely say that we have had cautious support from the Leader of the Opposition today, but bitter experience has taught me that his support is very far from irreversible. Who knows what he will be saying next week, but I am glad of it today.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today? I particularly welcome the return to school on 8 March, but there is another sector that is important for jobs in my constituency, fundamental to our economy and critical to global Britain—the aviation sector. He says that there will be a taskforce report by 12 April so that people can plan for the summer, but that will not allow people to plan. At every stage, the Government have taken weeks, following these reports, to provide certainty to the industry. The industry needs three months’ preparation from the point of certainty, so I ask him to look again at the timetable for the taskforce report and to bring it forward so that we can open up our international air travel and ensure that Britain is open for business.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. She is quite rightly a doughty campaigner for the aviation industry and all that it brings to our country. I can tell her that we will continue to support that industry throughout these difficult times, but I believe that setting a deadline of 12 April for the report of the newly formed, reconstituted travel taskforce will give people time to make their plans for the summer. If things go well, and if we can meet these “not before” dates, I believe there is every chance of an aviation recovery later this year.
The success of the vaccine roll-out, led by our incredible NHS staff, is something to behold and something that we are all thankful for. For the first time in many months, people across these islands are genuinely hopeful that an end to the current lockdown is finally in sight, but people also know that one major threat could undo much of that hope. The spread of new international variants of the virus now poses the single biggest threat to finally getting out of the pandemic. That is why quarantine measures for international arrivals are so important. We simply cannot afford to get this wrong. That is why the Scottish Government have taken tough but absolutely necessary action. Those arriving in Scotland on an international flight have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. In England, though, the policy applies only to people travelling from red list countries.
The evidence shows that people across the United Kingdom are demanding stronger measures to prevent the spread of any new variant. YouGov polling last week showed that only 18% support the UK Government’s rules on quarantine, while a massive 72% of people across the United Kingdom prefer the Scottish Government’s comprehensive approach. Prime Minister, your plan to end lockdown will be worthless if your insufficient quarantine measures allow a new variant in through the back door. People right across the United Kingdom are continuing to make huge sacrifices: children are not yet physically at school, families are isolated and there is a loneliness epidemic. People are really struggling, and all this cannot be for nothing. Do not leave the back door open. Do not risk all the hard work and all the sacrifices that have been made.
Given all that is at stake, can the Prime Minister explain why the UK Government are failing to introduce the strong quarantine measures that the public across the United Kingdom are demanding? Will he think again and introduce the Scottish Government’s comprehensive approach for international travellers? Let us all do what we need to do to drive down the spread of the virus and get us all into a position where we can reverse lockdown and begin to restore social interaction for all our wellbeing.
We have among the toughest quarantine measures anywhere in the world, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, including the mandatory incarceration in hotels appointed by the Government if people return from one of the 33 red list countries. We will continue to impose very, very tough controls on people coming into this country. He should also know that we are confident that all our vaccines are effective in reducing death and serious disease, and we have no reason to doubt that they are effective in reducing death and serious disease from the new variants as well. He should also know that over the course of the next few months we will see new vaccines to defeat these vaccine-escaping variants and that is evolving the whole time. Other than that, I was delighted by the unaccustomed note of optimism with which he began. He is not often notable for his optimism in this House. He is rolling his eyes, but I rather liked it when he began with optimism. I think he should stick to it; I think it suits him. More optimism from him would be nice to hear.
Talking of optimism, the Prime Minister’s approach feels similar to that of Harold Wilson, who said he was an optimist but one who always carried a raincoat. The Prime Minister’s caution is absolutely right in the face of these new variants, when we are potentially so close to the finishing line. But as we get there, will he recognise the brilliant work of our health and care staff by building back better for them, potentially in next week’s Budget, by announcing that we will finally make sure we are training enough doctors and nurses with a long-term workforce plan and by giving the social care sector a 10-year plan, just as we gave the NHS 10 years ago?
Yes, indeed. I pay tribute again, as I have many times before, to the incredible work of not just our NHS staff, but our social care staff, who have really borne the brunt of the pandemic and have done fantastically well. We will certainly be bringing forward reforms of social care, in addition to the massive investments we have already made.
The road map to recovery must put people hit hardest by this pandemic first, not least people with learning disabilities. They have died at rates that are more than three and half times those for the rest of the population, yet many are still not being prioritised for vaccination. Jo Whiley has spoken powerfully about how “hideously unfair” it was to be offered the vaccine before her sister Frances, who is now in hospital with covid after an outbreak in her care home. I know that many other carers across the country feel the same while our loved ones remain so vulnerable to this virus. So will the Prime Minister tell us when, on his road map, everyone with a learning disability will have been offered their first jab?
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the particular suffering endured by vulnerable groups throughout this pandemic. That is why those with learning difficulties, those with particular vulnerabilities, do appear high up in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation priority list, which I am sure is exactly what he would expect.
First, can I congratulate the Prime Minister on his incredibly bold decision last year? It is due to that and getting the vaccines roll-out going that we are now looking at the eventual end to this covid nightmare, so he deserves all the plaudits he gets for that and more. I agree with his caution in this roll-out and going back to being unlocked, but I just say to him that the hospitality sector is a very big employer of the poorest in society and it is they who have suffered the most in terms of incomes. Nearly half of those businesses are talking about closing, so I wonder whether he would feel it possible to review again the nature of opening up inside those restaurants and pubs, to check that there is no real risk beyond that for any of the other elements he is opening up and, if that is the case, to take that bold decision as and when the data dictates it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said just now. I totally understand where he is coming from and the urgency of those in the hospitality sector who want to open up as soon as possible, as indeed we all do. Everybody in this House wants that to happen, but we also understand the risk of another surge and the consequent risk of a fourth lockdown, which I do not think anybody wants to see, least of all the businesses concerned. What we have in this road map are dates—admittedly, they are “not before” dates—to which businesses can now work: 12 April for outdoor hospitality, 17 May for indoor hospitality. That gives at least some certainty. I think, in this very, very difficult time, with these difficult trade-offs, people would be prepared to trade some urgency and some haste for more certainty and more reliability, and that is what we aim to give.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Lefarydd. Workers across the UK still face a hopeless choice: self-isolating and suffering a loss of earnings, or going to work, where they risk spreading the virus. Eight months ago, I raised the very problem of the UK’s unfit sick pay system with the Prime Minister, but there are still people in work who cannot afford to self-isolate. Ahead of the Budget, will the Prime Minister commit to raising and expanding statutory sick pay once and for all as a key long-term lesson to be learned from this pandemic, or is he content for our poorest communities to be blighted by ill health now and quite possibly again in future?
I thank the right hon. Lady and repeat the point that I have made to her many times before, although I am grateful to her for raising this again: we will continue to look after people throughout the pandemic. We have increased benefits. There is the payment of £500 and other payments that we will make available. Our undertaking is to make sure that we protect people, whether they are self-isolating or are forced not to be able to work throughout the duration of the pandemic, and she will be hearing more about that from the Chancellor on 3 March.
Thankfully, my right hon. Friend has clearly stated today that an extreme zero-covid approach is impracticable. Can he confirm that most, if not all, of his key scientific advisers now accept that our strategic goal must be and is a practical, vaccine-based method of controlling covid like any other serious respiratory virus, such as influenza?
My right hon. Friend is completely right in the analogy he draws. The only reason I am able to say to the country that we must learn to live with covid as we live with flu in the long term is, of course, because we have this vaccination programme and the capability to evolve our vaccines.
As well as welcoming the success of the vaccination programme, I want to emphasise that there is a lack of sufficient financial support for self-isolation. There is, in the words of one of the Government’s own advisers, a “huge gaping hole” in the Prime Minister’s covid strategy. The payments are not enough and they are not reaching the right people. So as well as fixing that once and for all, will he also take this opportunity to respond, with the seriousness it deserves, to the High Court’s ruling on Friday that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to publish covid contracts? No one has ever suggested that Ministers did not need to act fast to procure PPE and other covid-related contracts, but transparency matters, even in a crisis, so if the Government have nothing to hide, will the Prime Minister now publish details of who benefited from the VIP lane, who lifted the velvet ropes for those favoured companies, what price they were paid and why they were chosen? Parliament and the country have a right to know.
Of course, we will continue to look after those who are self-isolating and improve their support where we can, as I have said. As for the contracts that the hon. Lady just mentioned, all the details are on the record, and of course it was right to work as fast as we possibly could to get the PPE that this country so desperately needed.
I thank the medics and the volunteers who have worked so hard in providing covid-19 vaccines across the kingdom. In the Wakefield clinical commissioning group area alone, more than 87,000 vaccines have been administered. The vaccine roll-out is the fundamental route out for us, ensuring that we are able to return to our much lamented normality and properly follow the pathway that has just been outlined by the Prime Minister. I am concerned that vaccine disinformation has specifically targeted ethnic minority groups, leading to some refusing the vaccine when they are offered it. Can my right hon. Friend outline what steps the Government are taking to encourage black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to receive the vaccine when they are offered it?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and congratulate him on the spectacular throne on which he appears to be sitting. Not so long ago, he and I were together in the Al-Hikmah community centre in Batley. I thank all those involved in this roll-out, including the community groups up and down the land that are doing an outstanding job in promulgating vaccinations. He raises a very important point, and I thank him for what he is doing to promote vaccinations for everybody.
My constituents are seeking explanations. Most of them have lost income, many have lost their jobs and all are facing varying degrees of stress, ranging from the very severe to concern about their lives. Many local small businesses have closed for good because they see no future and they are not getting the support that they need. Yet, Mr Speaker, answers are required from the Prime Minister: how £10.5 billion of NHS contracts were awarded without tender; how a further 99% of all NHS contracts were awarded, again, without tender; and how, last week, the High Court found that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care had not acted legally in the awarding of those contracts. I ask the Prime Minister to do two things: will he end this scandalous privatisation of our NHS, which is happening before our very eyes; and will he replace the Health Secretary with somebody who will stand by and obey the law and publish in advance all contracts that are due to be let, so that the public can see how their money is being spent.
To the best of my memory, the Labour Opposition were advocating during the early stages of the crisis that we should secure PPE from, I think, a theatrical impresario who specialised in capes and gowns and a football agent who claimed to be able to get hold of masks. We went as fast as we possibly could to get PPE and those who are now denouncing us for going too fast were those who were complaining back them that we were not going fast enough.
My right hon. Friend and the Government have rightly been unapologetic throughout this pandemic in their determination to safeguard children’s educational opportunities and wellbeing. Can the Prime Minister confirm that, once all schools reopen on 8 March, the Government will be putting in place all the measures necessary to keep them open, working with academy trusts and, crucially, local authorities to avoid any further disruption to our children’s education?
Yes, indeed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend because that is exactly why we wish to take this cautious but irreversible approach to make sure that we do not have to go back into measures that would keep kids out of school again. He is quite right in what he says.
I welcome the progressive road map of the Prime Minister and the Government, which, of course, is underpinned by the incredibly successful roll-out of the vaccine. Can the Prime Minister confirm that we have no supply issues and are on target to give the second dose to all of those on the NHS frontline who are due them in the next few weeks? Can he also assure us that this will not adversely affect the continuous supply and availability of first vaccines for the informal carers of those who are shielding?
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the fact that sunlit uplands now beckon us. He is right to say that the threat remains substantial, because while we are unlocking, at this stage only a third of the adult population has been vaccinated. What will the Government do to minimise the threat of another lockdown—for example, by strengthening the track, trace and isolate operation, particularly at a local level; providing covid-safe spaces, so that it is easier for people who are infected to self-isolate; and deploying testing capacity more effectively, such as testing schoolchildren twice a week in schools, as we will already be testing teachers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in the ideas that he puts forward. Test, track and trace has been improving the whole time over the period of the pandemic. He is right to draw attention to the potential of lateral flow testing, not just in schools—as he says, we will be doing it twice a week for secondary school pupils after the first couple of weeks—but rolling it out for companies and local communities to take up as an additional support and an additional way of fighting the disease.
I know that the Prime Minister was in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) last week to see the vaccine programme being rolled out by the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board at Cwmbran Stadium. I join him in thanking all the Welsh NHS staff and volunteers who are working so hard to save lives by rolling out the vaccine programme. However, does he agree with me and many people across Newport West that every single penny of public money must be accounted for? If so, what is he going to say to his Health Secretary, who, according to the Court, breached his legal obligation by not publishing details within 30 days of contracts being signed? We have had two attempts at getting the Prime Minister to answer, so I am hoping it is third time lucky.
I am going to ruthlessly repeat what I said before, which is that I believe that it was absolutely right for this country to secure PPE as fast as we possibly could, just as it has been right to roll out a vaccine programme as fast as we possibly can. It was great to be in Cwmbran and see what they are doing there. That is thanks to the dynamic work of the NHS and everybody in the Department of Health and Social Care, including the Health Secretary.
Today I hosted a Zoom meeting between Bolton North East’s pubs and restaurants and the Minister for Small Business, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). Can the Prime Minister ensure that we allow businesses enough time to improve our hospitality’s operating data and make the dates in 2021 utterly delectable?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to help local businesses and rally them. If we can stick to this road map—and I believe that we can—there is not long to go now for those businesses. For hospitality in Bolton, there are two dates: there is outdoor hospitality on 12 April and then indoor, with all its potential, on 17 May. That gives some dates for us all to think about and for business to work towards, and I hope that it will be of some reassurance to them.
Some eminent members of SAGE have indicated that they are concerned about a resurgence with the return of children to schools. Can the Prime Minister say whether the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser support reopening schools in their entirety on 8 March? During the last term, many schools suffered an enormous amount of disruption because staff were off isolating. Is not the best way to prevent that from happening in the future to ensure that all school staff are vaccinated?
I have a deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman as he and I have clashed many times over issues in London, but I think he uncommonly showed a failure to follow what I already said in my answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer): the CMO and the CSA both approve of reopening in full.
More than anything, the nation’s businesses need certainty in order to plan. Today’s road map provides that certainty, and the reopening of schools is a welcome and critical element of it. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is important that, like navigating lock gates on a canal, we now proceed sequentially, as fast as possible, but always in a forward direction?
As anybody who has steered a narrowboat or barge on a canal will know, the important thing is not to oversteer and then be forced to correct and bump the sides of the canal. That is what we are trying to avoid, which is why we are embarking on a cautious but irreversible approach.
I will leave it to another time to ask the Prime Minister why we did not have adequate PPE stocks given the fact that Exercise Cygnus in 2016 stipulated that we needed to increase our PPE stockpiles.
I was really concerned about the tone of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care when he did the media round yesterday: he seemed to imply that he had done nothing wrong and that the judge was the one making a mistake. This is not how a healthy democracy works, so I repeat the questions asked by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas): will the Prime Minister publish all outstanding contracts, because there are outstanding contracts that have not been published; bring an end to the emergency procurement powers; and reintroduce a tendering process?
I can see that there is a concerted attempt to make a point about this issue today, but I must say that the Government made every effort to secure PPE as fast as we possibly could, and I think that is what the people of this country wanted. We ended up with 32 billion items of PPE and, thanks to Lord Deighton, the PPE taskforce and others, we now have the capability, which I think will reassure the hon. Lady’s constituents more than anything else, to make 70% of our PPE needs in this country.
It is brilliant news that we have now vaccinated one in three adults in the UK—it is a huge testament to British science; to the NHS; to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) and his whole team; and to everybody involved in the vaccination programme, not least my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister agree that because of his swift roll-out of the vaccine programme, we are now in a much stronger position to start to ease restrictions and put ourselves back on the path to some form of normality much sooner than we would have been able to without a vaccination roll-out programme?
Yes, of course. My hon. Friend is completely right and I thank him very much for what he just said. The only reason why this road map is possible—we are one of a tiny number of countries around the world that have been able to set out a road map with dates and milestones this far ahead—is the vaccination roll-out programme.
The people of this country have endured so much in the past year, including personal tragedies among the highest excess death toll and job losses under the worst damage to any major economy. But they have also seen the Prime Minister’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, break the covid regulations, the Home Secretary break the ministerial code and now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care break the law to hide crony contracts—all without consequences. Will the Prime Minister end this system of one rule for his Tory pals and another for the rest of us?
Contained within that question was possibly another suggestion that we could have done things differently with the procurement of PPE. All I will say is that the contracts are there on the record for everybody to see. I think most people in this country will understand that in very difficult if not desperate times last spring, we had to work as fast as we possibly could.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, especially the announcement on schools. He is right to be driven by the evidence. Last week, Professor Mark Woolhouse told the Science and Technology Committee that during the whole year
“there has been very, very little evidence of any transmission outdoors happening in the UK.”
Will my right hon. Friend continue to look at the evidence and see whether it is possible to bring back outdoor activities such as sports during the weeks ahead? With the spring weather coming, that would be a great boon to millions of people throughout the country.
Of course my right hon. Friend is right to raise the point about outdoor transmission. That is why, on 8 March, with the return of schools, we are also going to be seeing school sport, which is great, plus outdoor recreation one on one in the way that I described earlier on, and then on 29 March it is the rule of six plus two households together, plus more sport outdoors of all kinds, up to and including, I think, rugby with tackling but without the scrums, as I understand the guidance.
Analysis by the Royal College of General Practitioners of NHS England’s covid-19 vaccination figures shows that people of black ethnicity are half as likely as people of white ethnicity to get vaccinated and people of Asian ethnicity are under two thirds as likely as their white counterparts to accept vaccination. What additional specific steps will the Prime Minister take to encourage greater uptake of the vaccine in those communities?
The number of people receiving the vaccine is actually increasing in all communities on roughly the same gradient, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the concern that I think everybody has about uptake in some communities. It is now going faster. We have rolled out a network of community champions. I think we have put about £23 million into supporting community champions for hard-to-reach, vaccine-resistant communities. The most important thing is for everybody to get across the message that the vaccine is a wonderful thing and everybody should get it: “Get your vaccine when you get your message from the NHS.”
I welcome very strongly the reopening of schools. After what we have been through over the past year, it is time we prioritised the interests of our children and young people. The Prime Minister sets out a programme based on data, not dates, and that must be right, but will he please publish the precise criteria for each of those stages to be met? Finally, when the renewal of emergency powers is due, will he undertake to bring that vote to the House before the Easter recess and not after?
Yes indeed: there is going to be a massive data dump—I think that is the word I have been quoted today. Some colleagues may already have seen some of the data that is available, underpinning the road map that we have set out. There will of course be another vote in this House about these measures before Easter, and then those measures, in turn, elapse on 21 June in the way that I have described.
Local council public health teams will continue to be pivotal in controlling the virus, but the Government’s decade of austerity and cuts has damaged their capacity, and the public health grant last year—2020-21—was 22% lower per head in real terms compared with 2015-16. Will the Prime Minister tell the House when the public health grant allocation for this year will be announced and whether it will include a significant real-terms increase to ensure that councils can continue to keep our communities safe?
I am very grateful to councils, and particularly public health officials, for the incredible work that they have done in the past year—the absolutely amazing work that they have done. We are supporting them with another £4.7 billion, as the hon. Lady knows, to support local councils in everything they do, and we will continue to offer support throughout the pandemic.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for the precautionary approach that he is pursuing to lifting the lockdown. It is clear that the impact of covid will be with us for some time, and I would thus be most grateful if he could confirm that this plan is co-ordinated and synchronised with the measures that the Chancellor will announce in the Budget, and that there will be ongoing support both for badly affected businesses in sectors such as hospitality and for those people who are relying on the £20 uplift to universal credit.
Greater Manchester has been under local restrictions since the end of July, and it has been a long few months, so I welcome the road map out of lockdown and also the success of the vaccine. As somebody who has just about shaken off long covid symptoms 11 months after contracting covid, can I urge the Prime Minister not to forget those still struggling and the many more who will develop long covid as a consequence of the latest wave of the virus? As the economy switches back on and as lives return to normal, will he also commit to doing more for those who still do not have access to long covid clinics and who still do not have access to support or help, so that nobody is left behind?
I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman back on fighting form. Having enjoyed lively on-screen debates with him in the past, it is good to see him back in shape. He is right to draw attention to the long-term consequences of the disease, and we will do everything we can to alleviate suffering and to continue to invest in support for those who need it.
First, I thank the Prime Minister for the measures to get our children back to school on 8 March, which is very welcome—it is something we have called for, and I think he should be congratulated on that—and also for the speed of the vaccine roll-out. Could I just press him a little on the thoughts behind vaccinating groups 1 to 9, which is everyone over 50 and those aged 16 to 64 with a health condition that makes them vulnerable to covid? Those groups account for 99% of deaths and around 80% of hospitalisations, so for what reason, once they have been vaccinated and protected from covid by the end of April at the latest, is there any need for restrictions to continue?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The difficulty is that, of course, there will be at least a significant minority who either have not taken up the vaccine in those vulnerable groups for the reasons that the House has been discussing or who, having had the vaccine, are not given sufficient protection. We believe that the protection is very substantial, but there will be a large minority who will not have sufficient protection. The risk is that letting the brakes off could see the disease surge up in such a way as again to rip through a large number or rip through those groups in a way that I do not think anybody in this country would want. I am afraid it is pure mathematics; there is still a substantial body of risk. We also need to wait and see exactly what the effects of the vaccine are. There is some promising data, but I think what the country would want at this stage is caution and certainty and irreversibility, and that is what we aim to provide.
Throughout this crisis, the Government have been slow to offer the financial support that people need. From 3 million people excluded from any support, to thousands of people failing to self-isolate because they cannot afford to miss work, it is clear that we need to do more. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, to get through the next few months, the Budget will bring forward adequate financial support for everyone who cannot work due to the pandemic, including those who are self-isolating, rather than the current system, which sees too many people fall through the cracks?
Yes, I certainly can confirm that, and the hon. Member should wait to see what the Chancellor has to say next week. I think colleagues on all sides of the House would concede that the programmes of support that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has brought forward have been extremely effective and generous by virtually all international comparisons.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Those of us who represent constituencies where retail, hospitality and tourism are an absolute lifeblood will welcome the dates and the fact that domestic holidays in England are open as normal for the summer, but may I ask the Prime Minister to give a little more detail on the global travel taskforce, which reports by 12 April? Will it set out the requirements regarding testing, vaccination certificates, social distancing and face masks and, I hope, measures towards an end to quarantine?
Yes, indeed. The travel taskforce will be looking at all those things—quarantine, destinations and so on and so forth. I think at the moment one consideration is that we need to make sure that there are countries that will be willing to accept British tourists in the way that we would like to see. Some of them have stepped forward and said that they will, but they are currently not very numerous.
Lateral flow testing is central to the Prime Minister’s educational reopening plans, so can he explain why our only real-world published figures—from the student asymptomatic testing programme in Scotland before Christmas—showed that almost 30% of positive tests turned out to be false when subject to a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction test? Considering the financial, educational and mental health impact of self-isolation, does the Prime Minister share my concerns that a lot of students will be told to self-isolate for no reason?
I welcome the statement today and the prudent and cautious measures to reducing lockdown restrictions. We have all had our role to play in combating the virus, and it is a role that will continue for some time, so will the Prime Minister join me in saying thank you to all my constituents in Stourbridge for their continued patience and resilience, whether that is the fabulous Dudley NHS, my care homes, Mary Stevens Hospice, all those unsung heroes, my teaching fraternity, the army of vaccinators, all key workers and those essential workers who have kept us fed and watered—truly heroic efforts by one and all?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her brilliant question. I plant my flag firmly on everything she has just said and echo it sincerely. I add my thanks not just to the people of Stourbridge for their patience and resilience, but to the people of the entire country.
Too often, children and young people have been an afterthought during this pandemic. Aside from lost learning, many children are feeling anxious and lonely due to not seeing their friends and missing out on play and other activities. We know that one in four has self-harmed in the past year, that eating disorder rates are soaring and that demand for acute beds is reaching crisis point, so will the Prime Minister please commit to providing a ring-fenced resilience fund for schools, as proposed by YoungMinds, to ensure that young people are given the mental health support they so desperately need?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to endurance and the things we have asked young people to put up with this year and over the past 12 months. There cannot be a generation like it, who have experienced so much disruption to their education. She is right to call attention to the pressures and stress that that has caused. We have invested massively in mental health provision, particularly for young people’s mental health. One of the things we have done is appoint a young people’s mental health ambassador in the form of Alex George, but the top priority for the Government is now not just to get kids back in school on 8 March, but to make sure that we remediate their education with a programme of much more than £1 billion. The Secretary of State for Education will be setting out more about our plans to help those pupils later this week.
The people of this country are desperate to be set free as soon as possible. As my right hon. Friend knows, many of the tourism and hospitality businesses in Derbyshire Dales have been hit heavily by this pandemic, so please will he encourage the country to book self-catered, self-contained accommodation for staycation holidays in places like Derbyshire Dales this summer, where families are able to minimise mixing with other people but have some fun?
Following the High Court ruling that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the transparency rules, will the Prime Minister now publish the names of the companies awarded contracts that were introduced to high-priority lanes by Ministers, hon. Members, peers and officials, and set out any material, financial or fiduciary responsibility or relationship between each company and the persons responsible for that introduction to the priority lane?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and we all recognise the huge work that has been done to make the vaccine roll-out a success, but may I press him on why some of the dates are set as “no earlier than”? If we believe in the vaccine, the programme and the data, is not the logic that if the data shows we can move to free up sectors of the economy sooner, we should not artificially hold them back? Surely that is following the data. Should there not be a little more flexibility there?
We need to see the data and the effect of each successive relaxation. As I explained to the House, we need four weeks to assess whether the relaxation has caused a surge in the virus, because that is the time it takes—so, from the opening of schools until 12 April. We will need to assess that, and then we will need a further week to give people due notice, and the same onwards through 17 May to 21 June and so on. The reason for that cautious but irreversible approach is that I think people would rather have certainty than urgency. We are going as fast as we reasonably and responsibly can, but if there is a trade-off between haste and certainty, I think people would prefer certainty.
The Prime Minister will appreciate that parts of my constituency and others in West Yorkshire have been in heightened restrictions and higher tiers since last summer when others had many more freedoms. Our people and businesses have paid a disproportionately high price in the national effort to tackle covid, and because of this many areas are building back from a more challenging position. Can the Prime Minister confirm today that funding packages will address this specific inequality and that there will be no return to regional tiers, ensuring that our recovery from covid is truly a national recovery?
May I congratulate all the staff and volunteers, particularly at the Bosden Moor surgery in Offerton in my constituency, where I had the privilege of joining them as a marshal for the car park on Friday afternoon as they administered over 500 vaccines? My right hon. Friend says he is led by the data, not the dates, yet his statement outlines many dates, so will he commit to publishing the thresholds of data that will determine the easing of lockdown measures?
On 18 February, the UK Government announced £18.5 million for four research projects to better understand the causes, symptoms and treatment of long covid. However, the linkage between sepsis and covid, and between long sepsis and long covid, as evidenced by the UK Sepsis Trust, was not mentioned. Will the Prime Minister please outline his plans to make sure that this very important linkage is included in those research projects?
I thank the Prime Minister for setting out these measures today. I know that everyone is keen to start socialising in a safe way as soon as possible, so will the Prime Minister allow pubs to reopen their gardens as quickly as possible? If six people can buy alcoholic drinks from a shop and meet in a park, I hope that pubs will be given a chance to provide a takeaway service to allow consumption in their gardens as soon as possible.
Last month was the worst on record for new aircraft orders, and the aerospace sector, which is so important to my constituency, will suffer a long time after these restrictions are lifted, along with tourism, travel and aviation, as we have heard. Will the Prime Minister therefore commit to continuing support for those areas of the economy, which drive so much of the value of the economy, but which will suffer from a much longer lag before they are able to pick up again?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. That is why we have done everything we can through Time to Pay and other means to try to look after the aviation sector, although it has been incredibly hard for that sector, which matters a great deal to our country. The best way forward for it is to get people flying again. As I said, it is a bit of a time to wait, but the travel taskforce will be reporting on 12 April, and I am hopeful that we will be able to make progress this summer, but we will have to wait and see.
As an animal welfare champion, I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister mention zoos, but in terms of being able to get out there and visit these places and go to pubs, he described certainty as more important than urgency, and mentioned his concern for the unprotected, unvaccinated element of the population, who could be holding the rest of us back. What more can we do to encourage people who might not have taken up the vaccine to make sure that they get jabbed and let the rest of us out?
Of course, we must encourage everybody to take the vaccine, which is a wonderful thing. One of the problems is that, at the moment, we are not, as my hon. Friend knows, vaccinating children—children are not approved for the vaccine, although they are possible vectors of the disease. As he knows, there are also people who are vulnerable to the disease, even though they may have been vaccinated—there will be at least a percentage—so we have to make sure we proceed with caution and in a way that means we do not have to go back.
Do the Prime Minister and his Government intend to do anything at all for the 3 million or so people who have been excluded from financial support since the start of this pandemic?
I welcome the Prime Minister setting out the road map as promised, and it is great that schools will be returning, including, importantly, with their sporting activities. However, with that in mind, 8 March would also have been the optimal time to reintroduce for every one non-contact sports such as golf, which it is scientifically proven can to participated in safely during the pandemic. Will the Prime Minister set out why it has not been possible to reintroduce those sports at this stage, given that that will leave millions of people having to wait for another five weeks before they can return to their favourite form of exercise?
My hon. Friend is quite right to vent his frustration. I share his frustration; as somebody who yearns to go out and play sport myself, I understand completely how he feels. We must face the fact that, by comparison with any period last year, the virus remains very prevalent in our country, and we have to continue to keep it under control. What we are trying to do is a cautious but irreversible approach, and he only has to wait for another three weeks beyond 8 March to be able to hit a golf ball with a friend.
The Prime Minister’s handling of this pandemic has been marked by false promises and inconsistent messaging. Hospitality was covid-secure, yet it had an arbitrary curfew imposed on it and it was then closed down. Today, that industry, which is the lifeblood of coastal tourist towns such as mine, has heard that people can meet outside in a park, yet outdoor areas of safe, regulated pubs, bars and restaurants cannot open until April. It simply cannot see the logic behind that. Can the Prime Minister explain where he found it?
The logic lies in containing a pandemic, and I think people in this country understand that. I deeply sympathise with the businesses in the hon. Lady’s constituency. The wonderful hospitality sector across the country now has a date to work for—to look forward to—for outdoor hospitality and for indoor hospitality, and I think people would rather have certainty than anything else.
Further to my question to the Prime Minister on 27 January and representations from Medway MPs, Medway will now have a mass vaccination centre, and I thank the Prime Minister and the Government for that. The impact of covid-19 on the mental health and wellbeing of young people has been raised with me repeatedly by local schools and the local university. The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has suggested that all schools should have a dedicated mental health worker. Is that something that the Government will look to take forward, or will there be specific alternative support for young people? With that, I thank the Prime Minister for his recent response to me with regard to the report that I sent him from Professor Young at King’s College London on mental health and covid-19.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the people of Rainham on the vaccine centre and everything that they are doing. He is completely right to raise mental health. That is why we are investing massively in supporting children’s and adult mental health, and I recently appointed Alex George to be mental health ambassador for young people.
As the Prime Minister charts his road map out of this third national lockdown, he has undoubtedly presided over a disastrous response to the pandemic—one of the worst in the world. The sluggishness, double-mindedness and mixed messaging has led to billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money going into crony contracts with firms with links to the Tory party. We have one of the worst economic crises of any major economy in the world, and we have the worst death toll in Europe: more than 100,000 people have died, including members of my family. Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise to the British people and reassure them that the steps he is now taking will not lead us into yet another lockdown?
I fully support my right hon. Friend’s cautious approach. However, he will know that coastal resorts have been particularly badly hit, as they rely to a considerable extent on the hospitality sector. That said, northern Lincolnshire and the Humber can play a major part in the post-pandemic economic recovery. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the Government will continue to support established and new businesses in the area?
The Prime Minister indicated in his statement that wearing face masks will still be a factor in the fight against covid over the months ahead. Many people with hidden disabilities are unable to wear face masks, yet many of them face abuse when they go out in public and people do not realise that they are exempt from wearing face coverings. Will the Prime Minister commit to a public awareness campaign for people with hidden disabilities so that they do not face abuse in public?
Scientific research from leading Scottish universities has today shown substantial reductions in serious covid-19 hospital admissions following the administration of the first dose of the vaccine. Given this success, does the Prime Minister agree that it is now time to prioritise critical public servants, such as teachers and other key workers, to ensure that maximum protections are in place as we begin to ease our way out of this lockdown?
I think that most people in this House would agree that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation was right in its prioritisation of those who are most vulnerable, and that our ambition in the vaccine roll-out programme should be to vaccinate first those who are most at risk of serious disease and death; that is the right approach.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement this afternoon and very much hope that it is matched by the First Minister’s statement to the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, because it is better for business—not least the tourism and hospitality sector—that the whole country moves at the same pace. In that vein, does the Prime Minister agree that the incredible success, pace and take-up of the vaccine just shows what this country can achieve when we do it together?
My hon. Friend is completely right. It has been a stunning example of the whole of the UK working together to roll out a programme that has been absolutely vital for our whole country. Co-operation with the devolved Administrations has been terrific on this, but it is something that could not have been achieved without the UK working together.
The Prime Minister should know that there can be no post-pandemic economic recovery without a strong and healthy UK steel industry, but he should also know that our steelworkers are having to compete with one hand tied behind their backs because electricity costs our steelmakers 86% more than in Germany and 62% more than in France. What steps will the Prime Minister be taking to reduce British electricity costs to internationally competitive levels so that our steel industry can thrive in the wake of the pandemic?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Of course, that was one of the consequences of some of the taxes and some of the skewing of the prices that have been chosen over many years by Governments. We want to ensure that we have a steel industry in this country that is able to compete, and we must indeed address the discriminatory costs of energy; he is completely right to raise this point.
Thank you very much on behalf of Whipsnade zoo, but will the Prime Minister now instruct that a further test case be taken to the courts so that those hospitality businesses whose business interruption insurance is still not paying out can get the relief that they need, having paid thousands in premiums, for decades in some cases?
I welcome the road map that has been put before the House this afternoon, because Bradford has had extra restrictions since July. The Prime Minister outlined plans for opening the hospitality industry by 12 April, but he said that the wedding industry, with its larger venues, would not be able to open before 21 June. For some businesses, those 10 weeks could make the difference between closure and bankruptcy. We have some amazing wedding venues in Bradford; they are a big part of our industry here. Like restaurants, they could open with people staying 2 metres apart, so I urge the Prime Minister to reconsider whether wedding venues could be opened sooner. I invite him to come and look at some of our amazing wedding venues in Bradford West, as we have so many beautiful ones.
I am very happy to take up the hon. Lady’s invitation to visit the beautiful wedding venues of Bradford. I know that they do an amazing job there. But, in answer to her point, we cannot do full Cecil B. DeMille weddings earlier than 21 June—we can do smaller weddings before then, as she knows—but at least the great businesses that she talks about now have a date to think about and to aim for.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and in particular for the inclusion of dates that will help businesses to plan. However, with respect to international travel, the inside page of our passport requests, in the name of Her Majesty,
“all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance”.
With regard to quarantine hotels, may I remind the Prime Minister that just because a policy is popular, that does not mean that it is right?
I have a high regard for my hon. Friend, whom I have known for many years, and I know that he speaks for many in our party and beyond in what he says. These are difficult judgments to make, as I know he appreciates, but it is right, when we are facing a pandemic and the risk of new variants, to have a very tough border and quarantine policy indeed.
The Prime Minister has been asked several times about how the Government procured contracts during the pandemic. My question to him is slightly different. Are there any plans for the Government to claw back any of the funds spent on pandemic contracts that have failed—for example, those that have delivered unusable or unsafe personal protective equipment, at great expense to the taxpayer?
I want to congratulate our NHS and my right hon. Friend on the great British success story that is the vaccination programme. Because the UK is ahead of others on vaccination, we can open up sooner. My right hon. Friend said that he would focus on data, not dates, but these five-week dates seem arbitrary. If progress against the four tests looks better than expected, might the Government be flexible and review the data and restrictions on a weekly or fortnightly basis, and not on pre-determined dates?
These “not before” dates are not arbitrary; they are crucial. They are determined by the time we need to evaluate the impact on the pandemic of the openings-up that we are doing. For instance, we will need four weeks to see whether the opening of schools has caused an uncontrollable surge in the pandemic, and then a week to give advice and so on. So they are not arbitrary; they are dictated by the science, and that is the right way forward. But if we look at the overall road map, it is beyond what many other countries are currently able to achieve, and that, as my hon. Friend rightly says, is thanks to the roll-out of the vaccination programme.
Five local NHS areas in England, including Hammersmith and Fulham, have vaccinated 73% or less of the over-70s, despite the best efforts of NHS and public health staff and volunteers. This falls to a 60% take-up for the most deprived tenth of residents and below 50% for some ethnic minority groups. As the country moves on to vaccinate younger and less at-risk groups, what comfort can the Prime Minister give to the quarter of my elderly and vulnerable constituents that his Government have left behind?
Take-up is accelerating among all those groups, but the hon. Member is right to say that it has been slower in some groups than in others. That is why we have rolled out the network of community champions. However, it is also important for him and for all of us to champion the uptake of vaccines across all our communities in our constituencies.
The vaccine roll-out has been more successful than even the most optimistic of us could have predicted in December. While the Prime Minister is clearly right to insist that this road map must be irreversible so that we do not risk a further lockdown, will he ensure that, if vaccinations prove to be as effective as we all hope, the Government can continue to review whether later stages might progress more quickly as long as the numbers of deaths and hospital admissions continue to fall?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which I am sure will have occurred to many other colleagues and people up and down the country. I have given the reason for the interval between the dates I set out: we need to be certain about the impact of the relaxations we are making, with the four weeks plus one that we need. The other point is that I think people would much rather have a date they know is as certain as it can possibly be at this stage to fix on and work towards rather than more uncertainty and fluidity.
Last week, I met Kathy the practice manager and the team, including volunteers, at St James medical practice who have vaccinated thousands of people in North West Norfolk. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to them and those at other sites in Kings Lynn and Snettisham who are making it possible to reopen our hospitality sector—albeit more slowly than some would want—as well as importantly reopening our schools and other businesses in the coming weeks?
Last week, the gaps in support all-party parliamentary group heard evidence on how tens of thousands of women have been forgotten about during the pandemic. Will the Prime Minister meet with Maternity Action, Pregnant Then Screwed, Bethany Power and Sonali Joshi to hear how he can redress the unfairness faced by those who were pregnant and on maternity leave during the pandemic?
In view of the Prime Minister’s sensible commitment to act on the basis of data not dates, which I fully support, will he clarify whether there is scope and flexibility in his road map to go faster in relaxing restrictions if the vaccination programme proceeds more rapidly than expected and the data shows enhanced effectiveness of a vaccine—as more of that data comes forward—resulting in radically reduced transmission and hospital admissions? Surely if we are following the data, that flexibility has to work both ways.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is already a very fast unlocking programme by other international standards. As I have explained, the timetable is dictated by the intervals we need to evaluate the effect of each successive unlocking. I think that what people want to see—what businesses want—is as much certainty as possible, rather than uncertainty, and that is what we aim to provide.
Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I did not hear the Prime Minister’s reply just then because one of the Zoom operators was talking to another Member. The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say we should be driven by the data and not dates, and that his dates are therefore subject to review. Given the stunning success of the vaccination programme, with the evidence today of how it prevents serious illness and death, why is he not prepared to bring his dates forward, as well as back, if the data justifies that?
The right hon. Gentleman did not hear my answer to the previous question, so I will repeat it, because his question is identical to several previous questions. The answer is that we need time to evaluate the success or otherwise of each unlocking; we need four weeks to see what has happened. We must bear in mind that we are dealing with a disease that is extremely contagious and large numbers of people who are still unvaccinated and still very vulnerable, so we have to proceed with caution. That is why there is the five-week interval that we have. The second reason is that we want a timetable that we can stick to. People would really much rather have a sense of certainty and security—the maximum possible certainty and security—rather than any sense that this is fluid again and the date they have in their heads could change. That is very, very important. Certainty in this particular road map is of great value.
In Wales, excess deaths over the five-year average are 13% more, compared with a figure of 20% more in England. So will the Prime Minister ensure that the UK Government website says, “If you live in more highly infectious areas of England, you should not travel to Wales”?
I really welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which will give certainty to businesses and constituents in Harlow, and it is good news about school re-openings on 8 March. Given that so many children have lost months of school, with an impact on their education, attainment and mental health, will he ensure that every pupil is assessed for their loss of learning and how much catch-up is needed? Will he consider extending the school day, not by putting an extra burden on teachers and support staff, but by using civil society to offer sporting activities, mental health support and academic catch-up, where necessary.
I thank my right hon. Friend. That is exactly why I have appointed Sir Kevan Collins to be the educational recovery commissioner, to champion all those ideas and initiatives that my right hon. Friend has just rightly mentioned. He will be hearing more about that all later this week.
Although the Government’s announcement that indoor care home visiting for one named person—one named relative—is to be permitted from 8 March sounds like progress, the fact that this remains a matter for guidance only is very concerning. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has heard too many examples of previous guidance on this issue not being followed, denying meaningful visits when they might safely be facilitated. The Joint Committee has drafted regulations that would ensure that nobody in a care home was denied a face-to-face visit without a carefully thought through, individualised risk assessment. Will the Prime Minister commit to bringing these regulations into force?
I direct the hon. and learned Lady to what I said earlier about ensuring that people get the ability to see a nominated visitor, and I remind her of the sad reality of the infection that we have seen in care homes and the need to protect against it. There is a balance to be struck, as she knows.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Everyone—especially young people, small businesses and the hospitality and pubs sector—in North West Durham and across the country have made massive sacrifices to achieve the huge progress in tackling the pandemic. As long as the Government’s world-leading vaccine programme continues, the road map means that we will be out of almost all restrictions by late June, with the certain approach that the Prime Minister is pushing for. May I extend an invitation to the Prime Minister, his fiancée Carrie, Wilfred and Dilyn to visit North West Durham this summer, to see some of Britain’s most beautiful but least well-known countryside?
Earlier this month, nearly half the constituents I surveyed reported severe financial insecurity. Shockingly, almost a third also said that they struggled to afford daily living costs. That is the financial reality of millions around the country. One respondent told me that they feel utterly hopeless about their financial situation. The Prime Minister could now deliver some peace of mind for my constituents by agreeing to extend the support schemes that have kept many families afloat during this crisis, including payments for people self-isolating. Will he do so?
Our vaccine roll-out has been an amazing success so far, and I want to thank those in the Eston primary care network, Redcar Hospital, James Cook University Hospital and the Government for their efforts in delivering it. We are hitting targets and reaching new milestones each day, and soon we will have the Novavax vaccine, made in Teesside, to help us as well. When does the Prime Minister expect this new Teesside vaccine to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency?
I was thrilled to go up to Teesside to see the site where the Novavax vaccine will be made and look at one of the bioreactors that will be used. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact date by which the MHRA will give approval, but we are pretty confident that it will be forthcoming before too long.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign and the urgent need for funding to clear the cancer backlog? Otherwise, we risk turning the covid crisis into a cancer crisis, with tens of thousands more lives lost. Will he commit to the funding to create a world-class cancer service and work with the Catch Up With Cancer campaign to deliver the investment in the cancer workforce, new equipment and IT networks that we urgently need to tackle this backlog?
Yes, and the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. That is why we are investing an extra £52 billion into the NHS but also tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic in cancer and many other conditions. The point he makes should be attended to by all those who think that another wave of covid is something we can simply put up with easily. The NHS is already under terrific pressure, and the more covid we have, the more it displaces other vital treatments, as he rightly points out.
This morning I visited Manor Academy in Mansfield Woodhouse to see the amazing job it has done in setting up covid testing for pupils and staff. It is very keen to see its children back in school, as it knows that the inequalities that existed pre covid will only have been exacerbated by closures. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that wide-ranging support will be offered to schools to address not just academic issues but the social and emotional challenges that many children will face as a result of those closures?
Yes. One of the most important things we can do is not just support kids’ mental health, address those issues and help teachers to address them, but also invest in one-on-one tutoring, which will be of massive value to kids who have come under particular stress and who have fallen behind but who may show great potential that needs to be unleashed. One-to-one tutoring is something we will be investing in heavily.
To add to the helter-skelter of various pending cliff-edge dates—stamp duty, the eviction ban, business rates, universal credit, the furlough—a little known one ended yesterday, with the expiry date on those who are shielding being able to claim a four-month supply of free vitamin D. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the 1.7 million new shielders just added to the list will be eligible? Will he advertise this more widely, and, given how vitamin D builds immunity to all viruses, even for people who are not yet eligible for their vaccination, will he commit to a year-long advertising campaign for all? Kellogg’s is on board; will he do it?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today and acknowledge the tremendous leadership that he has shown in driving forward the vaccine programme. As my right hon. Friend is aware, the tourism and hospitality sectors are vital to the Fylde economy and they are ready and willing to trade their way to recovery. Will he assure me that he will keep the sector at the front of his thoughts both ahead of next week’s Budget and when implementing his road map?
The tourism sector is absolutely vital for our country and the faster that we can get it open, the better, but the best way to open it up fastest is to have a road map from which we do not deviate and on which we are not forced to go backwards. That is what we are setting out today and I am glad that we have my hon. Friend’s support.
The Prime Minister has today acknowledged the importance of holidays abroad but also that strict quarantine is essential to address the global transmission of covid. The aviation sector has estimated that, at best, aviation will return in the UK to only a third of 2019 levels this year and that full recovery could take five years, so when will the Government release their delayed aviation recovery plan, and what additional support will they provide for communities such as mine and the Prime Minister’s, who are dependent on the aviation sector for employment?
My right hon. Friend has quite rightly placed emphasis on the reopening of schools, with the return to school of all children in England on 8 March. In Wales, primary schoolchildren aged seven and under will return this week, while it is hoped that the remainder of primary schoolchildren and some older pupils taking qualifications may return on 15 March. However, there appear to be no plans until after Easter in Wales—beyond the reopening of some non-essential shops—for most secondary school pupils to return. Will the Prime Minister urge the Welsh Government to reconsider their approach, given the harm that young people have already endured during the pandemic?
In Liverpool, only 23% of those who applied for a test, trace and isolate payment received it, and over two fifths of them received a discretionary payment from money that is now exhausted. Effectively facilitating isolation will be key in preventing the resurgence of the virus via new strains that might compromise the vaccine, so does the Prime Minister accept that eligibility for the test, trace and isolate payment is not drawn widely enough to provide support to those who need it and who cannot afford to stop work without extra help? Will he agree to extend it to include all those people who have no access to statutory sick pay?
We will continue to support all those who are isolating. Indeed, we will do what we can to increase our support for them, but we will also support everybody throughout this pandemic. The hon. Lady should wait for the Chancellor to announce his Budget next week.
I want to welcome and to raise a hallelujah, along with parents and children, for the good sense of schools returning for all pupils from 8 March. It is the right thing to do on so many levels. May I ask the Prime Minister, however, what evidence has driven his decision that outdoor sport—not in-school outdoor sport, but wider outdoor sport—for those same children cannot go ahead for another month? Furthermore, can he say why, after all the good work that they did last year to create covid-secure environments, restaurants and cafés face another three months before they can open in any meaningful way? What is the evidence that he has seen that has convinced him to make that decision today?
Our covid rates in Yorkshire have fallen much more slowly than in London and the south-east, partly because fewer people can work from home and more people in our towns have to go out to work to keep our factories and distribution centres running. The Prime Minister keeps saying that he is supporting self-isolation, but most workers are not getting that support, and that is particularly hitting our manufacturing towns. Will he think again? Will he extend that support, help those workers, and help us to get our rates down?
We are increasing our support, as I have said, for people who are self-isolating and continue to look after our workers throughout the pandemic. The best thing for all those businesses in Yorkshire is to continue, as they are doing, to get the disease down and keep it under control.
Disabled people have been one of the hardest hit groups during this pandemic. Communication with disabled people and those shielding has been poor. Far too often, communications have been late and not in accessible formats, but the Prime Minister can seek to rectify that now. Will he provide a clear road map for those people shielding so that they know when it is safe for them to rejoin society?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his sensible and measured statement, just as I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) in thanking all those across the Tees Valley involved in the vaccine roll-out so far. Children and parents will be delighted that schools across England will return on 8 March. I fear greatly that white working class children will have borne the brunt of the lack of progress in educational attainment during this time. May I urge a specific focus on targeted support for those young people as we rebuild our country?
I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We will support all pupils who have suffered loss to their learning as a result of the pandemic. That is why we have now distributed 1.3 million laptops and put another £1.3 billion into catch-up of all kinds. He is totally right to focus on this. It is the No. 1 challenge that the country now faces.
University students, many of whom were not eligible for furlough for their part-time jobs, were already struggling financially. Today’s road map suggests that the vast majority of those students will not be able to return to their university accommodation until after Easter at best. They are legally being prevented from returning to accommodation for which they are obliged to pay. Does the Prime Minister think that that is fair? If he does not think that it is fair, what will he do about it?
I sympathise deeply with students who have had a time at university that no other generation has put up with. I sympathise deeply with their sense of unfairness, with the experiences they have had. They have been heroic, by the way, in the in which they have been able to bring the disease down in some university towns by obeying the guidance. We will do whatever we can to support them, working with the university sector, to make up for the experiences they have been through and to make sure, insofar as we can, that we help them to get compensation.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today and the sustainable way out of this situation. It is absolutely right that we prioritise the reopening of schools and getting all children back into the classroom. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is now essential we work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan for pupils to catch up on the education they have missed out on, particularly in areas like Bolsover?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed as the education recovery commissioner. We will be setting out plans that are intended not just to remediate the loss that kids have suffered during the pandemic, but to take our educational system forward and to do things that we possibly would not have done before to find new ways of teaching and learning that will make up the difference for those kids and more.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my constituency there are a lot of strong community events, especially things like Zumba classes, about which I get a lot of emails. When does my right hon. Friend envisage indoor activities like Zumba classes will be allowed to start again in village halls and the like?
If one can do outdoor Zumba, then 29 March is the date—assuming you cannot do it one on one, in which case you could do it earlier. Indoors, as my right hon. Friend will have picked up from what I said earlier, is currently down for 17 May, along with all other indoor settings.
Macmillan Cancer Support warns that more than 100,00 people who live with cancer in the UK are struggling to cover basic living costs due to the impact of covid-19. Tragically, many cancer patients who are having difficulty paying for essentials have experienced suicidal thoughts in recent months. Will the Prime Minister commit to making the £20 per week universal credit increase permanent and extend the uplift to legacy benefits?
The hon. Gentleman is totally right to raise the issue of cancer patients and other patients who need treatment. We are going to do everything we can to clear the backlog as fast as we possibly can. That is one of the reasons we have to keep the covid virus going down. He will hear more next week from the Chancellor about supporting people across the country.
It seems to me that many of the 88 people who have gone before me and been critical of the Prime Minister have been wise after the event, so let me now do precisely that and plead guilty to the charge. If severe quarantine measures had from the very start been as effective as in Australia, and, equally, if tough local lockdowns had been as effective as those in China, does that not rather beg the question—why we did not do it over a year ago? I do not say that to be difficult, but to learn for the future and to ponder on what we should do next time. I think many people in the country think it is better to be tough on foreign travel than tough on children attending schools.
I think my right hon. Friend speaks for many people in the country when he says that. We do have a very tough regime on international travel—one of the toughest in the world—and we will certainly be making sure we learn all the lessons we need to about the early handling of the pandemic.
Events and exhibitions companies in my constituency are still struggling to get any support for lost business. The fact that they are not customer facing means that they do not get the retail, hospitality and leisure grant. The fact that they have not actually been forced to close, although they service businesses that have, means that they have lost out on the council’s now closed local restrictions support grant. They are not arts organisations as such, so they do not get the Arts Council funding, and the advice and guidance that is being given to local councils about what grants they should be giving to the events and exhibitions sector is incredibly vague and inconsistent. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give me that, in the Chancellor’s Budget next week, there will finally be help for those companies, like the ones in my constituency, that are absolutely on their last legs?
I am acutely conscious of the businesses that have fallen through the cracks, as it were—wholesalers, for instance, that have found it difficult to qualify under one scheme or another—and we are doing absolutely everything we can to make sure that we give the support that people want. There is extra discretionary funding available for councils to support such businesses, and the hon. Member will be hearing more, certainty from the Chancellor next week.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Millions of young people have had their lives put on hold over the past 13 months and they have been the least likely to suffer severely from this virus, so I wonder whether the Prime Minister can look ahead and inform me and the House what we can do to help those university students who are going to enter the job market for the first time and those leaving school. Right now they look ahead and they look, post lockdown, into a world that is very uncertain, and their future must be safeguarded, so what can we do?
My hon. Friend raises a vital point, and that is why we have the £2 billion kickstart fund in addition to many other schemes to help young people into work and to help them with what could be a very difficult transition, but the best thing possible is to get the economy open and firing again.
The German equivalent of furlough, the Kurzarbeit scheme, will be accessible to employers until at least the end of this year. Given that the Prime Minister said that the United Kingdom would “prosper mightily” outside the European Union, why cannot his Government—or why will not his Government—provide that level of certainty and support to employers on these islands so that they can plan with some confidence for our new post-pandemic normal?
The hon. Member will be hearing a lot more next week about the support that we are going to give throughout the whole of the UK. While we are on the subject, perhaps he could confirm that the Scottish nationalist party would have remained in the European Medicines Agency? I think he is a member of the SNP.
Last year, a wonderful young couple in my constituency had to cancel their wedding because of covid. They contacted me this morning so that I could ask the Prime Minister whether he could guarantee their wedding would be able to go ahead on 1 July, and if he can, Briana and Jordan will send a wedding invite in the post tonight.
I thank my hon. Friend. I cannot absolutely guarantee that Briana and Jordan’s wedding will be able to go ahead on 1 July, but if we can stick with this road map, and I hope very much that we can, then all is set fair for them, and I hope the sun will shine on them both with or without my presence.
We have more than 120,000 covid deaths, the highest death rate of any large country in the world, and the deepest recession of any major economy. This is the Government’s horrific pandemic record. The Prime Minister now claims that he has taken a cautious approach to easing restrictions, but Government scientists themselves have warned that the big bang reopening of schools on 8 March could lead to the infection rate rising above 1, triggering an exponential increase in cases. Nine education unions have described the plans as “reckless”, so instead of repeating his mistakes, will the Prime Minister listen to teachers and scientists, and follow the devolved Administrations with a phased return to schools?
Perhaps the hon. Member might direct her fire at her own Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition, because he has just quite rightly supported those plans. I think she has possibly been failing to pay attention—[Interruption.] No, he is withdrawing his support. I told you—I told you—but there you go. We have been here barely two hours, and it has gone again: one minute you have it, the next minute it has gone. There you are. I thought he was with us on reopening schools, but never mind.
The success of our north Wales economy is critically dependent on visitors from the rest of the UK, and indeed the world. Llandudno is the queen of resorts and is the largest in Wales. Our hoteliers are eager once again to open their arms and offer a warm welcome to visitors. Will my right hon. Friend continue his good work with the Welsh Government to ensure that no obstacles are put in the way of visitors? Will he confirm that shared prosperity funds will be used to accelerate economic recovery in places like Aberconwy?
My hon. Friend mentions Llandudno, where I recall spending an absolutely hysterical new year’s eve in the St Tudno Hotel. I seem to remember it was 1997—a wonderful year. I wish that hotel and all others in Llandudno all the very best. We will get them open just as soon as we possibly can. I thank my hon. Friend for his representations.
What the Prime Minister said earlier about a zero-covid solution is simply not true. Since he lifted lockdown prematurely in December, which I voted against, we have had 60,000 deaths, whereas there have been fewer than 1,400 deaths across all the countries with a zero-covid plan, despite their populations being 20 times bigger than ours. Those unnecessary deaths are on him, and he is still refusing to learn the lessons. Last month, the Prime Minister called schools “vectors of transmission”, yet he is recklessly forcing 10 million school pupils and staff to return on just one day. Does not that run the very real risk of the virus running out of control yet again?
This is one of those moments when I sympathise very much with the Leader of the Opposition, because there speaks the authentic voice of the union-dominated Labour left. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right in what he says. I think most people in this country understand that schools need to go back. I just heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) that he does support schools returning on 8 March, which is good news.
Prime Minister, you have timed step two perfectly. Why do I say that? Fosse Shopping Park in my constituency—one of Britain’s biggest out-of-town shopping centres—has expanded, with a £168 million investment including the UK flagship Next store. It was due to open last year; obviously, covid did not allow that, but it will open just as soon as you allow it to open. Will you do the honours, come and cut the ribbon, and help to boost consumer confidence across our country?
As I have told the House, non-essential retail will reopen on 12 April. I doubt that I am essential to the opening of Fosse Park, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the invitation. I am sure that if I cannot get there, he will do a magnificent job in my place.
I am very concerned about the large numbers of care home staff in black and ethnic minority groups who will not take up the vaccine. Local authorities have for weeks been asking the Government to supply the detailed data they need to identify and resolve vaccine non-compliance. As the Prime Minister knows, the vaccine roll-out is a race against time. Will he make the data available today, so we can ensure that enough people take the vaccine to reach the herd immunity necessary to prevent another lockdown?
We are making as much data available as we possibly can. Clearly, we cannot make people’s medical records available because that would breach patient confidentiality. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of take-up among some groups and care home staff. That has been increasing, but we all need to work together to ensure that we encourage everybody to come forward and take the vaccine.
The Prime Minister raised the possibility of new variants having an impact on the plan. Ordinarily, the laws of natural selection will favour more benign variants. However, lockdown reverses that, favouring the more potent. Therefore, in addition to an urgency on the basis of the economic and social costs of lockdown, there is indeed also a scientific urgency to lift it, isn’t there?
I defer to my right hon. Friend’s doubtless superior understanding of the biology of the variants, but I have a couple of reassuring points for him. First, we have no reason to think that our vaccines are ineffective in preventing death or serious illness against all the variants of which we are currently aware. Secondly, our scientists are getting ever better at evolving new vaccines to tackle the new variants.
The Prime Minister is right to prioritise education and to say that people can now do outdoor activities more freely—or, at least, they will be able to over the coming weeks and months—but he says nothing about outdoor education, which is an industry of vast importance to us in the lakes and dales, and of great value to young people right across the country. There are 15,000 people employed in the sector; at least, there were, but some 6,000 have now lost their jobs. If we lose that sector, it will be very difficult ever to get it back and we will suffer hugely as a country if that happens. Will the Prime Minister agree to reopen outdoor education or residential stays from the summer term, so that we can take advantage of the skills of the professionals in outdoor education to help our young people to re-engage with a love of learning and to tackle many of the mental health issues that they face? If he is not able to make that guarantee, will he at least do what has happened in Northern Ireland and Scotland by providing a bespoke financial package to support and save our outdoor education sector?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really interesting point. As he knows, indoor education is opening on 8 March. Given that transmission is much less likely outdoors, I would have thought, a fortiori, that outdoor education should be able to open on the same date, but I will make sure that we get back to the hon. Gentleman if that should, for any reason, turn out not to be the case. I cannot see why it should not be the case, but we will get back to him.
As the owner of one of my local hair salons has just said, the future now looks a little brighter thanks to this road map. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking the wonderful volunteers, GPs, pharmacies and nurses who have helped to administer thousands of vaccines in my area? Will he also ensure that the Chancellor announces in his Budget support for the wedding, hospitality and events sectors, which will have to wait just a little bit longer now before they can fully reopen safely?
My hon. Friend has caught the tone exactly right; there is just a little bit longer to go now. The Chancellor will be setting out the support that we need to put in place for all the businesses that he mentions. I echo his support and thanks to them, particularly to hair salons, which I look forward to being able to use myself without too much delay.