Last week saw a number of announcements on Covid-19 regulations. The House had a heated debate about them- and the subsequent votes while passing the regulations, were very far from unanimous. I did not support the introduction of these new regulations. Despite this, these rules are now law and it is vital that we all play our part and abide by them.
It is clear that the Omicron variant is highly transmissible. Thankfully however it is causing mild illness to the vast majority of those who become infected. Many are, in fact, asymptomatic. One of the reasons for this has been the world-class vaccination and booster campaign that has taken place across the country. Everyone who can be vaccinated should take this opportunity to get vaccinated – after all the main beneficiary is to the person vaccinated - who is less likely, then, to get seriously ill!
However, when it came to the new measures introduced last week, given the huge strides we have made getting everyone vaccinated, and given the comparatively low numbers being hospitalised because of Covid, I did not believe they were justified. While of course the Government has important duties when it comes to public health and needs to be vigilant, we need to get the balance right between protection from Covid-19 variants and the protection of the population from other serious health issues.
I have real concerns that further restrictions will create an even greater sense of fear leading to those needing hospital treatment not seeking it and resulting for many others in serious mental health problems. We’ve already seen cases where, for example, people have missed cancer diagnoses leading to problems that could have been solved if caught earlier leading to serious illness and sometimes death. The current pressure on the NHS is as much about the backlog from the last lockdown and winter pressures as Covid. Creating a new backlog isn’t going to help.
The modelling relied on is just that, a model, not a firm prediction. To date all of the modelling for this virus has overestimated the negative health outcomes and hospitalisations from Covid. More concerning, no modelling has been done on the impact of these restrictions on the health of the general population as a whole. Surely that is equally important?
Having received the vaccine, while improving personal health outcomes, it doesn’t mean that an individual cannot catch Covid or cannot pass it on to others. Therefore, to try to use a vaccine passport as a way of showing that somebody doesn’t have COVID for large events makes little sense. It also risks stigmatising those that cannot be vaccinated – and is a first step away from the libertarian society Britain always has been.
The introduction of mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff is worrying. When similar measures were introduced to the care home sector, significant reductions in staff numbers put more pressure on an already overstretched resource. The reality is that the NHS cannot afford to lose the estimated 70,000 members of staff that is predicted to happen when mandatory vaccination is introduced. We should be testing staff daily instead, which is a much better tool to identify those infected! Far more important must be to increase the number of doctors and nurses in the system and cut the red tape stopping those who have retired offering their services once again. As I said in the House, a proper emergency strategy addressing how we increase NHS capacity is urgently needed.
Right now, what we all want is clarity from government regarding whether there will be any further restrictive measures over Christmas and the New Year. Lack of it is hugely damaging as we have already seen as hospitality businesses see their income collapse as bookings are cancelled in anticipation, and family gatherings are put on hold. While some financial support is now being offered under a new culture fund, that will not help the many businesses fighting to survive. Much more needs to be done.
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