Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Robathan
Wednesday 1st December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I first support what my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said about impact assessments. In fact, I have tabled a Motion on a later coronavirus order regretting the lack of impact statements, which I look forward to debating with the Minister in due course.

I start by recording what Reuters reported today from a World Health Organization official. He said that, to date, most omicron cases have been “mild” and that there is no evidence yet of reduced vaccine effectiveness. On that basis, we may find that these orders have been overhasty and that we do not see an extension of them.

I will concentrate my remarks on the mask-wearing order, because I continue to believe that there is insufficient scientific evidence on which to base requirements for people to wear masks. Much attention was paid, a week or so ago, to a meta-analysis that was published in the British Medical Journal. Its headline was that masks showed a 53% cut in the transmission of infection. When one looks at the detail of that meta-analysis, the case falls apart. Of the large number of studies included, only six related to mask wearing, of which two had a critical and four had a moderate element of bias. Of those four, only one was a properly randomised trial and its results were inconclusive. There is no evidence that scientifically supports the wearing of masks.

I will not oppose this order and I hope it runs out in a few weeks’ time, but I hope that the Minister ensures that the right messaging is put out. I have heard that the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, want it extended, including to theatres. They may like to know that this is already happening. I reveal one of my hobbies by saying that, yesterday, I received emails from both the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House telling me that, as of yesterday, they were mandating masks. I have to put up with a mask for the sake of listening to Wagner, this weekend, but the messaging that this order relates only to shops, transport and the close personal services that were referred to earlier is not out there.

In addition, when I got back to my apartment block last night, the management company had splattered the place with “Masks now required”. I challenged that today and of course there is no legal basis for that prohibition, so I have asked it to remove or alter the messaging. Unless the Government give clear messages to the public at large that this is a very limited measure for very good reason, and there is no need for it to be extended further, it will carry on spreading like some kind of virus throughout all social activity. We must not let that happen.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, I would like to add to the words of my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe. I am afraid the Government have got themselves in a muddle over this. This is a “worrying new variant”, as the Minister rightly said, and I think he quotes from the WHO. But while sitting here, I got an alert from the news that said exactly as my noble friend Lady Noakes just said:

“Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and there's no evidence to suggest vaccines may be less effective against the variant, says WHO official”,

speaking on behalf of the organisation. He specifically said that people should

“apply an evidence-informed and risk-based approach”

to travel measures and that

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the … spread”

of the new omicron Covid variant.

We should look at the evidence, not opinions. What is the number of deaths that this or Covid are causing? I am going to yet another memorial service tomorrow for a Member of this House who died of cancer, not Covid. I think I have been to six memorial services so far this year of people who have died from cancer—nobody from Covid. All Peers should ask themselves how many people they know who have died from Covid under the age of 85.

We need to show some understanding of risk and should not be scaring people. As my noble friend Lady Noakes said, we are just scaring people into running around like headless chickens, worried about what on earth this variant means. I regret to say that I think the Government are trying to look decisive after what has not been an extremely good month or so for them. They are responding to the accusations of the Opposition that they must be more decisive and take firm action. We are keeping people scared, not keeping them safe. We are damaging children’s education and hugely damaging the economy, and cancer waiting lists are stretching. I heard today that waiting lists for hospital treatment may extend to 12 million by the end of next year. This is shocking.

My noble friend Lady Noakes asked to see the proof about face coverings, because we do not actually know if they work. Of course surgical masks work, but these flimsy paper or cardboard things we are all wearing are not effective. Since, according to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we have to wait for the scientific advice, let us listen to the advice that Jenny Harries gave us in March last year that, in fact, if you wear a face mask you are more likely to increase the severity of any Covid you have, because you would trap all the germs and keep them there. As late as August last year, she was saying that she did not think there was any point in us wearing face masks.