Covid-19: One Year Report

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Thursday 25th March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, on 13 March last year, this country had a carefully prepared plan from the Department of Health, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to. It was to be used in the event of a pandemic caused by a serious respiratory disease with a projected death toll of up to 750,000. It involved shielding the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable, but keeping life as near normal for the healthy and the working population. China had imposed a draconian lockdown; Italy, France and Spain followed and got away with doing it. Overnight, our plan was dropped into the wastepaper basket and we followed the others. Was that wrong? With hindsight, I believe that it was. Would I have made the same decision on lockdown then? Possibly, but knowing what we do now I would not.

Those who advised that decision, those who made it and those who subsequently supported it were doing their best as they saw it to protect the population from a highly infectious, deeply unpleasant and sometimes fatal disease. How did they persuade us to comply? How did we so readily and swiftly surrender our freedom? First, we were told that, if we did, we would beat the virus and, in the Prime Minister’s words, put it “back in its box”. Then, this nation’s affection for our National Health Service was employed mercilessly. The fact is that successive Governments have underfunded and mismanaged the NHS, so we have the lowest critical care capacity in Europe.

Fear and guilt were part of the Government’s strategy: Don’t kill your granny”, and the advertisement with the old man pictured in a mask, asking “Can you look him in the eye?” There were swingeing fines for trivial breaches and even a government Minister urging people to report their neighbours for any rule infringements, which was presented as some sort of praiseworthy, patriotic act. All this was set against a background of relentless media coverage of hospital crises and deaths. Of course we all wanted to help to beat this virus, but a great many people were also very frightened, many unnecessarily, and many still are.

The full consequences of that decision are now much clearer. I hope that it reduced the death toll, but ours is still one of the largest in the world. However, as a result of that decision, a health crisis has been supplemented by both an economic and a social one. Massive damage has been done to the education of our children and to our businesses, industry, court system, arts and culture. There is a massive backlog of people who are in urgent need of treatment for serious, often fatal, conditions, some of whom have died or will die for lack of it. Basic human needs and civilised rights were prohibited: the need to be with a dying relative, to hold a mother’s hand in a care home, to hug grandchildren. The toll on mental health is incalculable.

We were told then, and at each successive lockdown, that this would be temporary, until a vaccine came along. I am afraid that that has proved unrealistic. Now we are being told that the virus is endemic and we will have to learn to live with it. The vaccine has been brilliantly created in record time and is being superbly administered through the NHS. It may protect the vaccinated against the worst aspects. More and better treatments will also, hopefully, be found, but this virus is going to continue indefinitely.

Against that background, we must surely resolve never again to use lockdown in this way in a health emergency such as this. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was right. Parliament, too, must not allow itself to be sidelined again. We have had legislation with virtually no debate; we have had ex post facto debate on legislation already in force. We have had guidelines that have been accorded the status of law, with constant changes and uncertainty, so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, the public, police and even parliamentarians find it impossible to keep track of the latest rules and timetables.

The police, too, have been put in an impossible position, not just in policing lawful, dignified, peaceful protests but in trying to enforce legislation, some of it so petty in its application as to be laughable. I cannot forget the image of the elderly couple with their sticks, sitting together alone on a park bench, resting briefly during their one hour of permitted exercise, being made to move on by police. It is still going on: last week, an 83 year-old woman in Cheltenham was visited by two policemen at night, having been reported for having a cup of tea with two friends in the garden of her sheltered home. She was told that she would be fined if she did it again. If you enact bad law, people lose respect for it. Look out on the streets on any fine day, or at the beaches when it is hot, and you can see it. People are making their own decisions about the level of risk that they are prepared to take for themselves, their families and their friends. If those who have never broken any rule since March were asked to put their hands up, I do not believe that there would be many in the air.

Here we are again today, doing it all again, taking a few regulations away, adding more and changing the ever-moving goalposts. These provisions go through because there are not enough people in Parliament—too few like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—who will stand up and say, “Enough is enough”.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I remind the noble Baroness of the advisory time limit for Back-Benchers.

Covid-19: Restrictions

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Thursday 7th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that sage advice. I can reassure him that lockdowns do work—in Leicester, Bolton, Luton, Liverpool—and I can give him very clear case studies of how specific measures have affected national, regional and local outbreak infection rates. The truth is that tier 3 was enough for the original variant, but it is not enough for the new variant, which is 70% more transmittable. That has hit our country hard, which is why we have to have this new, horrible lockdown.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the figures surely show that this pandemic is now endemic in our population. Clearly, lockdowns cannot permanently suppress the virus but might just temporarily prevent medical facilities being overwhelmed. What are the Government doing to ensure that vaccination is rolled out 24/7, including by Public Health England, and skilled medical staff on Covid duties are relieved from all non-specialist aspects of their work by the many skilled and suitable volunteers who are offering to help?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness analyses the situation extremely well and has laid out exactly the Government’s plan for rolling out the vaccine. She is entirely right that we are using lockdowns to bridge the gap until herd immunity is achieved through the vaccine. We have mobilised an enormous amount of the NHS, and are very grateful to the volunteers who have stepped up and are making an enormous difference. We are trying to get as much of the vaccine as possible out of the factories and warehouses, with batch control, and into the country’s surgeries and hospitals to vaccinate millions of people before the spring.

Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Wednesday 4th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I cannot support the regulations, because the damage which they are bound to cause cannot, I fear, be justified by the very limited and temporary benefit which might result from them. Until we have a cure or a vaccine, or the virus burns itself out, we will have to live with Covid. No one here or overseas has the certain answer to what should be done, and I certainly would not want to walk in the Prime Minister’s shoes or of those who advise him, all of whom I accept are honourable, decent and trying to do their best, but nor can I any longer respect their judgment.

The country has stoically supported three months of lockdown, lessons in handwashing, face masks, shutting down at 10 pm, confinement to groups of six, division of the country into tiers of restriction, all of which have had little effect, and then temporary, or we would not be here tonight. I would love to see the basis for the claim made by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, of half a million lives saved. I think I can guess who that figure comes from—perhaps he could tell us in reply.

Those measures have also inflicted enormous damage not just economically but socially and in terms of both the physical and mental health of our people. They have caused great human misery to many. These regulations will simply add to them. We are told they are needed because of a possible lack of hospital capacity or, in some places, an actual lack of capacity, but trying to stop demand cannot provide a lasting solution. Increased capacity is the only answer to lack of capacity, and that means more ICU beds and serious financial incentives to staff them—not shutting down the local hairdresser or pushing the local pub into bankruptcy.

A new and courageous approach is needed; we are not going to get it now but let us hope we do in a month’s time or when sense starts to prevail. How do we get the co-operation of the nation, which is increasingly fed up? How about giving them the facts without frightening them, and the facts rather than guesswork? Covid is a horrible illness and kills some people, but as many as eight out of 10 who catch it are symptomless and the death rate is just 0.2%. Then give us simple, readily available, reliable and speedy tests at home which sick people do not have to drive miles to get. Stop pretending that things which are not working, such as track and trace, are triumphs because if you do, people see that they are being taken for fools. Do not tell us that restrictions are only for a short period of weeks; we know that they are going to go on after the month is up.

Above all, do not deprive us of the right to make our own life choices and decisions for ourselves and our families. A sizeable part of the nation is at tipping point and the protests are daily growing. Preservation of life is of course important, but so is preservation of a life worth living. For an increasing number of people, those in charge appear to have forgotten that.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Tuesday 6th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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I, too, am sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but the fact is that the Government are making a mess of handling this health crisis. As the mayor of Manchester has said, the public have had just about enough of it. Parliamentary democracy has been sidelined, and basic civil liberties have been cancelled. In their place we have been given ever-changing draconian regulations, often incomprehensible, unenforceable and apparently based on speculation, someone’s pet theory or pure guesswork, and all done without any prior debate. This regulation is a good example.

Back in March, we gave the Government almost carte blanche; we wanted them to succeed and we still do. Now, we know a great deal more about Covid and its potential death rate. More people have died of flu and pneumonia over the same period, and many more are likely to die from conditions that have been untreated as a result of this epidemic. We also know that current repressive policies are destroying our industries, our culture, our sport and indeed our way of life.

Randolph Churchill said, “Trust the people”. The Government have not done that, but if they do not do it then people will stop trusting the Government, and that is what is happening. Of course we need rules, but we need sensible ones which everyone can see are sense and which are enforceable. Some people are foolish and irresponsible, and they are now, but no one wants to get Covid and most people will co-operate with things they think are worth doing. If you order people to obey laws which they can see make little sense and which are almost wholly unenforceable, and if you try in this particular regulation to ban things such as “mingling”—whatever that is—you undermine respect for the whole rule of law and you will come to a tipping point in compliance, even with the most law abiding among us. We are reaching it now, and I support the noble Lord, Lord Lamont.