Covid-19 Update Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Thursday 7th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by associating myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, in respect of recent events in America. This is probably the most sombre Statement we have heard on Covid. Despite all the restrictions of the past nine months, the incidence of the disease and the numbers of hospital admissions and deaths are at record highs. These terrible figures make today’s measures inevitable and we support them.

The difference between the first time we went into lockdown and today is, of course, the arrival of the vaccines. This is what can give the country some hope. The key challenge now posed to the Government, the NHS and the whole country is how to get as many people vaccinated as speedily as possible. The government targets are extremely ambitions. While such ambition is commendable, the failure to achieve so many past targets, particularly in relation to test and trace, make us somewhat cautious about simply accepting them. If they are to be achieved, every possible resource must be brought into play. In this respect, there are legitimate questions to be asked of the Government.

First, we clearly need more qualified health professionals to administer the vaccines than those currently employed by the NHS. Many retired doctors and nurses are desperately keen to get involved, but they are finding that the bureaucracy required before they can get started is ludicrously burdensome and disproportionately prescriptive. Both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have said in recent days that they would look into this, so what is the Government’s target for producing a new, streamlined application process for such retired medics? The Government will not meet their targets without them, so they had better get a move on.

Secondly, I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and ask why more pharmacists are not planned to be involved. They have an extremely good track record in administering flu jabs. What reason is there for not involving in the Covid vaccination programme any pharmacy that takes part in the national flu vaccination programme?

Thirdly, particularly at the larger vaccination centres, there appears to be a need for volunteers to support the medics in managing the flow of those being vaccinated, helping, among other things, to sort out their transport requirements. Last year, some 750,000 people volunteered to help the NHS to deal with the disease. Is this volunteer pool being activated to help facilitate the vaccination process?

If we need every possible resource to be brought to bear, we also need to ensure that everybody who needs a vaccination actually gets one. In recent weeks, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has explained that, unless you are enrolled with a GP, you will not be covered by the programme at all. That is simply not good enough. Particularly in the inner cities, there are vulnerable groups, such as the homeless, who are unlikely to be registered with a GP, and unless the Government act those groups will fall through the cracks. Will the Government undertake to work with relevant homeless, refugee and other charities that are in touch with these registered groups to make sure that they do get registered and vaccinated in due time?

I fully accept that the Government need to be rigorous about the priority order in which they undertake the vaccinations. However, do they accept that there is a strong case for vaccinating teachers and other school staff at a relatively early stage, possibly placing them in category 7—that is, when all the over-65s and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated? This will facilitate the resumption of the education system and give those who work in our schools the protection that they deserve.

Even if the vaccination programme goes to plan, the economic costs of Covid will be dire for many individuals and businesses. The Government have taken many welcome steps to support those affected, but there are two areas where I believe further action is needed. First, we know that many individuals who should be self-isolating fail to do so because they cannot afford the loss of income that this would involve. The Government established a scheme involving a payment of £500 for those on low income, administered by local authorities, but this is not working properly. Not enough funds have been made available—we suggest that full salary support should be offered in any event—not enough of those affected even know about the scheme, and many of those who need support are not covered by it. Could the Government undertake an urgent and fundamental review of the scheme, because at present its failure seriously undermines the whole test, track and trace system.

Secondly, it is now clear that for many businesses, particularly in retail, hospitality, the arts and accommodation, the impact of Covid will last far longer than anybody ever feared. For those who cannot trade at all, even the current government support will simply be inadequate because they cannot escape their overheads, so many fundamentally sound businesses will go under unless the support packages are improved and lengthened. Will the Government now commit to an enhanced support package arranged to last until the summer? Will they modify the job support scheme to include those who were previously excluded?

The Government have consistently responded slowly, overpromised and underdelivered. Trust and faith in government requires the Government to level with people, not just on the current threat but on the realistic, unvarnished possibilities of dealing with it. Only on that basis will we all be able to work together, as we wish to do, to see off this terrible scourge.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments and questions. I wish the noble Baroness a very happy birthday. I hope she enjoys a gin or two later, as I am sure she will. I also fully endorse the comments of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary about the shocking events in the United States last night.

The noble Baroness asked about data. From Monday we will publish daily data on the vaccination programme, going through the levels of detail that she asked about. Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the economic response, quite rightly, and they will be aware that we have put in place one of the world’s most comprehensive responses to the pandemic, spending over £280 billion so far on economic support. Of course, this week, we also announced additional support worth £4.6 billion for businesses affected by the new restrictions.

All businesses in England legally required to close as a result of this lockdown will receive one-off grants of up to £9,000, which will benefit over 600,000 businesses. As more businesses are forced to close by the restrictions, more will also receive the monthly grants, worth up to £3,000, which, taken together, means that businesses could receive up to £18,000 over the next three months if they have been forced to close due to restrictions. That is in no way to diminish the terrible time many businesses are having, but it is further support, and I believe it shows that we will continue to keep the package under review and react to circumstances as and when we can. Of course, I remind the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that we have protected 12 million jobs so far through the furlough and self-employment schemes, both of which have been extended to April.

On the vaccine programme, by the end of the week, we expect there to be 1,000 vaccination centres across the country, with another seven major centres following next week. Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about community pharmacies, and as more supplies become available and they can administer significant numbers of doses of the vaccine, they will certainly play a role in the programme. We have undertaken months of extensive preparations and significant investment, including £230 million for our manufacturing infrastructure, so that we can ensure that this ambitious programme, as the noble Lord rightly said, is rolled out.

He mentioned the bureaucracy for those wanting to help with the vaccination programme, and he may have heard my right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday, when he was asked about this, saying that we will be tackling this as an immediate priority. Of course, we will work with charities and groups across civil society to help deliver our ambitious plan. Once again, the British people have shown their willingness to engage and help to deliver the programmes that we need, by volunteering and other things. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who is doing that on our behalf, and we thank them in advance.

The noble Baroness asked about education. We have bought over 1 million laptops and tablets for disadvantaged young people throughout this pandemic. Over 560,000 have already been delivered, with an extra 100,000 this week alone, and by the end of the week we hope to have delivered 750,000 devices to the most disadvantaged families. We are working with all the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data for educational sites and to deliver 4G routers to families who need to access the internet. Of course, we will continue to work closely with teachers to support them through this difficult time, and we are very grateful for all the work that they undertook over the Christmas holidays in order to provide Covid-secure environments for young people. We know how disappointing it is that, unfortunately, the variant has meant that we have had to take the very difficult decision to close schools in the short term.

The noble Baroness asked about culture. She may well be aware that theatres, although with no audiences, are still able to open for training, rehearsals and filming. Of course, we have created the £1.7 billion Culture Recovery Fund, and, so far, over £500 million of grants have been awarded to the sector. The noble Baroness also asked about support for renters. The measures are currently being reviewed and we will provide an update shortly.

There are a variety of ways in which the NHS can increase its capacity—for instance, through opening further surge beds in existing hospitals, mutual aid, using independent sector capacity and, of course, opening extra capacity in the Nightingale hospitals. I assure her that, around the country, options will be explored and taken up where they are both relevant and necessary across the country.

The noble Lord asked about the test and trace support payments—the £500 for those on low incomes to self-isolate. We have provided £50 million to local authorities delivering this scheme and have made sure that those advised to self-isolate by the NHS app can also access the payment. We have also made available £15 million for discretionary funding for those facing hardship when self-isolating but who are not eligible for the payment. The noble Lord will also be aware that we have made statutory sick pay available from day one.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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My Lords, we now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so that we can call a maximum number of speakers.

Lord O'Shaughnessy Portrait Lord O'Shaughnessy (Con) [V]
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My Lords, as the PM’s Statement yesterday made clear, this lockdown is sadly necessary to avoid medical catastrophe, but he was also clear that it comes with significant costs, not least to schoolchildren, who face a year of disrupted education—I declare my interest as a founder of two schools and a parent of three school-aged children. Does my noble friend agree that the closure of schools if necessary is nevertheless highly regrettable? Does she commit to reopening schools as soon as is humanly possible and before any other institutions in society reopen once the vaccination programme is rolled out? Does she agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, with Robert Halfon, the chair of the Select Committee, and with others that teachers and TAs should be vaccinated as an urgent priority to make that happen?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his questions. He is absolutely right. We entirely agree that schools and colleges are the best place for children and young people to be, not just for education but for their health and well-being, which is why we tried so hard to keep them open. Unfortunately, as my noble friend said, we just could not do it. It was not that schools themselves were unsafe for either children or pupils; it is that, with the new variant, we need to use every lever at our disposal to reduce community transmission and contact. It was for that reason that schools were closed; it was not because teachers have not done fantastic work. My brother and sister-in-law, who are both teachers, spent Christmas trying to make their schools Covid secure, but we still had to close them. We will certainly keep this position under review; we will certainly try to bring back schools as soon as we can. Of course, regular testing will be at the centre of our plans. All that hard work will not be in vain; it will just be used slightly further away than we may have hoped.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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As the Leader of the House knows, it is not yet clear whether a person who has been vaccinated is still able to transmit the virus; it is quite possible in theory for them to have no symptoms themselves and yet to pass it on. I understand that a group of scientists is working on this issue. Is the Leader of the House able to indicate when those scientists might be able to report? Clearly, this is vital information which we need to have sooner rather than later.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I can assure the noble and right reverend Lord that PHE will be employing existing surveillance systems and enhanced follow-up of cases to monitor how effective the vaccine is in protecting against a range of outcomes, including infections, symptomatic disease, hospitalisations, mortality and onward transmission. I can assure him that that work is in progress, but I cannot give him a timescale. He will understand that we will need time to gather sufficient data to get a clear picture, but he is right that it will be critical.

Lord Boateng Portrait Lord Boateng (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the black and Asian community is particularly at risk from the virus. The vaccine is our best hope. Yet that community is targeted by anti-vaccine campaigners. Will the Government work with faith leaders and work with and support the voluntary community health sector within those communities to promote strong and culturally appropriate public health messages? Will they work too with social media platforms to counter this insidious and deadly anti-vaccine propaganda?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Yes, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. Work is already ongoing, but he is absolutely right: it is critical.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this morning, the Health Service Journal has said that our already overburdened hospitals are trying to release Covid patients into care homes but that a major problem is stopping this. The National Care Forum reports that insurance for designated Covid settings is now almost impossible to get and that, without indemnity cover, they cannot take Covid patients. NHS Providers is begging the Treasury to help, as hospital beds must be freed up, but the Treasury is refusing. Can the Lord Privy Seal take this up with the Treasury as a matter of extreme urgency and help resolve this problem, not of care homes’ making, which is blocking beds in hospitals at a time of national crisis? Please will she keep me informed of progress?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am very happy to raise those issues with both the Department of Health and the Treasury. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Bethell in particular will be able to keep the noble Baroness updated on discussions.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government on being way ahead of the curve in vaccinating more people in this country than the whole of Europe combined—and thank God we did not sign up to the EU procurement racket. Does my noble friend agree that a jab in the arm is not rocket science and does not need experts to do it? Tens of thousands of people self-inject daily, and all we had was a two-minute teach-in from a nurse and that worked. Can we call on every able-bodied volunteer, not just retired medics and professionals and the military, cut out the NHS’s idiotic 21 forms to fill in, and run those vaccination centres 24/7? The public want to pile in to help. Let us encourage them to do it and put no obstacles in their way.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right: I am pleased to say that more than 1.3 million people across the UK have already received the first dose of the vaccine—as he said, it is more people than the rest of Europe combined. This is a united endeavour across all four nations. We will move every sinew to ensure that we can roll out the vaccine programme as quickly as we can, but, of course, it must also be done safely.

Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB) [V]
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My Lords, all GPs are required to register their patients with learning disabilities—that is just 200,000 people nationally. All are entitled to a flu jab, along with the over-65s. Given their 20-year shorter life expectancy in ordinary times and a Covid mortality rate for under-35s that is 30 times higher than for their chronological age group, will the Lord Privy Seal ask the Government to offer early vaccination to this whole group of registered patients with learning disability and not just to those with Down’s syndrome or severe learning disabilities?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will know, we are following the advice of the independent experts on the JCVI on which groups of people to prioritise for vaccines. The committee has advised that the immediate priority should be to prevent deaths and to protect health and care staff, with old age deemed the single biggest factor determining mortality.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
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My Lords, in his Statement yesterday, the Prime Minister said

“we must do everything possible to stop the spread of the disease”.

Of course, we all agree with that, but one thing missing from the Statement was any reference to the importance of wearing face coverings in places where it is mandatory—I am thinking particularly of public transport, shops and other areas where it makes a real difference to the spread of the disease. Last Wednesday, in the debate on the Covid SIs, I asked the Lord Privy Seal’s noble colleague what the Government intended to do about the attacks on public-spirited individuals who attempt to encourage non-wearers of masks to comply with the law and what advice they could offer to members of the public who believe that the law should be obeyed but are deterred by the threat of physical violence from confronting the law-breakers. He was not able to give me an answer; he said that it was not in his brief, but I wonder whether the noble Baroness is able to do so today.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am afraid I shall have to go back to my noble friend and ask him to get back to the noble Lord, because I do not have the answer. Obviously he will know that there are fines available, including enforcement fines, so there are mechanisms in place—but I will return to my noble friend and ask him to respond.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is not only American democracy that is under threat from conspiracy theories and fake news, as the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, indicated, so it is important that the Government keep their nerve and keep to a consistency of policy in taking us forward. We have some very hard pounding ahead of us, and it is important to make people aware of how difficult the way ahead is. To that extent I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that we have to avoid the tick-box approach to using the vast number of volunteers and retired medics who are willing to come forward and help us in this crisis. I hope that the Government will stay consistent, but also be flexible in bringing forward those volunteers to help.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I hope I addressed the noble Lord’s point when I responded to similar comments from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and also, of course, from my noble friend. The Prime Minister said yesterday quite clearly that we wanted to cut through the bureaucracy as an immediate priority.

Lord Bishop of Rochester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Rochester
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My Lords, if any may have doubted the seriousness of the current situation, they had only to watch last night’s BBC report from University College Hospital, or to note that we are once again seeing multiple deaths in care home settings. Along with the Prime Minister’s Statement, it was announced that places of worship in England may remain open. I know that that has been welcomed by some faith communities, although others have already gone largely online. However, all such communities continue to engage with energy in acts of pastoral and community service. In the light of this, would the Leader of the House care to suggest what she and her colleagues would most wish to ask of our faith communities? What further might we offer? I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, may already have provided part of an answer.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate—and, of course, all the people from all the different faith communities who are working so hard to help with the difficult situation we find ourselves in. He is absolutely right: the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, raised some very important points, and we all need to come together to encourage people to take up the vaccine, and to deal with some of the myths and worries that people have. Trusted local community leaders such as faith leaders can really help to do that. We want to try to get everyone involved, so that we can get to the light at the end of the tunnel and, we hope, beat this thing once and for all.

Lord Haselhurst Portrait Lord Haselhurst (Con) [V]
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My Lords, may I ask my noble friend what assurances have been received from AstraZeneca that vaccine supply will be able to keep pace with the Government’s commendably ambitious deployment plans? And what contribution is expected of other vaccine sources?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am sure we would all like to pay tribute to everyone who has worked so amazingly quickly to help to develop both the Oxford vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine. I can assure my noble friend that AstraZeneca is accelerating its delivery schedule. Obviously, we are working extremely closely with the companies in order to deliver what the noble Lord called our ambitious programme. We of course have access to 100 million doses of the vaccine on behalf of the whole of the UK, the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories.

Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty (CB)
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My Lords, about 40% of those working in the arts, which continue to buckle under the strain of the pandemic, remain ineligible for financial support. Will the Government allow the guidance for the culture recovery fund to be changed so that freelancers can benefit, if there is still time—or will they provide directly the necessary support that they and the rest of the 3 million workers who have fallen through the gaps in support since March desperately need?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As the noble Earl rightly says, we have created the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund, of which £500 million in grants has already been awarded to more than 3,000 museums, music venues, independent cinemas, circuses, heritage sites and theatres in England. I know that there is ongoing dialogue between the Secretary of State and the sector to which he refers, and I am sure that all is being done to try to see what else can be done.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as we now know that, in facing this virus, no one is safe unless everyone is safe, are the Government going to repeat and expand the successful Everybody In programme from the first lockdown, to ensure that every rough sleeper is in safe accommodation, with adequate washing and toilet facilities, so that they are safe and the community is safe?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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The noble Baroness refers to an extremely important issue. Through this dreadful time, we can all agree that the programme to help get rough sleepers into accommodation has been one of the positive things that has come out of it. I can assure her that our £15 million Protect programme, which is running alongside the Everyone In campaign, is providing targeted funding for councils in areas with high numbers of rough sleepers, prioritising the clinically vulnerable and those with a history of rough sleeping. That is on top of the £10 million cold winter fund, which is helping all councils support rough sleepers into self-contained accommodation. By September 2020 we had housed 29,000 vulnerable people as part of the successful Everyone In programme.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Portrait Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister quite rightly said that we now have access to Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, which will be distributed across the United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies. Can she also undertake to publish data on a regular basis on how many vaccines per 100,000 of population are being made available in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I can say to the noble Baroness that currently we are allocating the vaccine doses based on the business as usual Barnett formula. As I have said, we will begin to publish daily data next week. I suspect that the data she is talking about will be part of that, but I will make sure that her request goes to the Department of Health, because I am sure that is data that everyone would be interested in.

Baroness Pidding Portrait Baroness Pidding (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the rollout of vaccines is a massive achievement, and gives us much-needed light at the end of the tunnel. However, I read today that clinicians in South Africa suggest that administering a single dose of the vaccines leaves patients at great risk from the new coronavirus variants. Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that urgent research is being undertaken in this country to ensure the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, now that the second dose has been moved from the original recommended three-week gap to 12 weeks?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I can certainly assure my noble friend that, obviously, this will be kept under review—but the UK CMOs agree with the JCVI that the evidence shows that one dose of either vaccine can protect people against the effects of the virus, reducing severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths. For both vaccines, data provided to the MHRA demonstrates that, while she is right to say that efficacy is optimised when a second dose is administered, both offer considerable protection after a single dose in the short term. I would also reassure her that everyone will still receive their second dose within 12 weeks of their first. The second dose completes the course and is important for longer-term protection—but the data provided to the MHRA gives us comfort that giving one dose with that gap remains an important thing to do.

Baroness Bull Portrait Baroness Bull (CB)
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My Lords, as the need for tighter restrictions is, sadly, all too evident, can the Minister explain the rationale for issuing regulations that fall short of the guidance? The government website offers a sphinx-like riddle by way of explanation: the law is what you must do—that bit is clear—and the guidance might be a mixture of what you must do and what you should do. How does this confused messaging help citizens who are trying to do the right thing, and how does it help our police, who are being asked to enforce restrictions that are not, in truth, mandated by law?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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We are continuing to work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing on updated guidance. I think that with the new strain, and the figures we are seeing on a daily basis, people are well aware of the situation we are in. The British people have been fantastic in all the work they have done and the efforts they have made to get us this far. With the vaccine rollout there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we repeat the message “Stay at home, wash your hands, keep your space and protect the NHS”.

Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy (Lab) [V]
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I hope that the noble Baroness will support the campaign launched today by the Daily Mirror, the TUC and the Labour Party called Let’s Vaccinate Britain. To go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said—and I might not agree with everything he said—it is an effort that we should all be making on a 24-hour basis. Furthermore, what are the Government doing about the 9% of children who do not have technology at home so they can take advantage of remote learning?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I said in a previous answer, we have bought more than 1 million laptops and tablets for disadvantaged people, which are being distributed. By the end of the week we will have delivered 750,000 devices. We are also working with all the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data for educational sites and have been delivering 4G routers to families who need access to the internet. Of course, the BBC has also announced that it will deliver 14 weeks of educational programmes and lessons to every household, which is also very welcome.

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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I remind my noble friend and this House that major elections involving millions of people have actually successfully taken place in Georgia this week, and by-elections have taken place in Scotland. Given the rollout of the vaccine, could my noble friend please reconfirm that elections will take place here on 6 May? As with other aspects of government, will that be reviewed in mid-February and stuck to? At the same time, could the request be made to all parties that they desist from delivering literature until the end of March?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As my noble friend will know, primary legislation provides that local elections take place in May. The Cabinet Office is working with election administrators and public health bodies to make sure that everyone can cast their vote safety and securely. I am sure that the whole House would like to thank those authorities for the work they are undertaking to make sure that elections can go ahead in a Covid-secure way.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, do the Government anticipate approving a programme of digitalisation of all vaccination records when passporting of such becomes a necessary fact of life? Will that include those from abroad, and in a way that counters fraud, which I am informed occasionally happens with PCR test results? In so saying, will the Government consider an immediate mandatory pre-boarding PCR test within 72 hours of travel to avoid the need for self-isolation on arrival, while somehow making provision for in-transit passengers?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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We will be, and we are, looking at additional measures for international travel. Pre-departure testing is an option that we are considering for an extra layer of protection, which would be in addition to our mandatory 10-day self-isolation period for countries not on the travel corridor or the test and release scheme. Work is going on in the DfT and an announcement on decisions around that will be made in the coming days.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, could the noble Baroness come back to the issue of community pharmacists? They have huge experience of flu vaccination, are used to opening all hours and are very accessible, yet the Government and NHS seem very reluctant to use them in the vaccination programme. Is that being reviewed?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I said, as supply becomes more available, community pharmacies will be involved in the programme as we roll things out, so conversations are certainly ongoing.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the additional financial support for businesses and communities announced by the Government this week. I highlight in particular the extra £729 million that will go to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Does my noble friend agree with me that that further underlines the value of our union and the fact that, during and beyond this pandemic, we are stronger, safer and better off together?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I entirely agree with my noble friend. He is absolutely right about the £729 million that we have provided to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, as we have already discussed, the vaccination programme is a UK-wide effort, and we will all be working together for a common aim within our union.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, the Government have given commitments regarding rolling out the vaccination programme in England. Is the noble Baroness aware that the Government of Wales have been unable to give such a firm timescale because of uncertainty about time scheduling and the quantity of vaccine available to them, which is provided by the NHS in England? Can she ensure urgent transparency concerning an adequate supply of this vaccine for the Welsh Government?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I think all the devolved Administrations are working closely with central government. As I mentioned in response to a previous question, we are allocating vaccine doses based on the business-as-usual Barnett formula, and more than 1.3 million people across the UK have already received the first dose of the vaccine. Of course, we will continue to work closely together because we want to ensure that the programme is rolled out across all four nations so we can all benefit from it.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness may well be aware that in Brighton and Hove the council made the decision to close nurseries under its control, except to vulnerable children and those of key workers. Councillor Hannah Clare of Brighton and Hove Council has written to the Education Department to say that it believes that the same data and science that led to school closures applies also to the early years sector. I note that the Early Years Alliance says that many nurseries are closing voluntarily to protect the staff, the families and their communities. Will the noble Baroness tell us how the science differs between primary schools and nurseries, and whether the Government will provide financial support to nurseries making this decision in the interests of their communities?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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What I can say to the noble Baroness is that within schools, vulnerable children and those of key workers can still attend, and we intend that early years settings remain open.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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The rollout of the vaccines means that many people will shortly have had two jabs, which in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, at least, confers over 90% immunity against catching Covid-19 and also against transmitting it. Are such people still forbidden from seeing their children and grandchildren or from using public transport?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I mentioned in a previous answer, those who have been vaccinated still need to follow the rules, as the challenge we currently face is that we do not yet know how the vaccine impacts on transmissibility. As I mentioned, PHE is assessing the effectiveness of the vaccine in protecting against a range of outcomes, and the issues that the noble Baroness raises will be among those considered. We do not yet have the data to say to people anything other than what I have just said, which is, I am afraid, that if you have been vaccinated you need to stick by the rules.