Covid-19 Update

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Thursday 4th February 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I have huge sympathy with those looking at the human rights of those who cannot visit care homes. We have taken a huge hit to our civil liberties in our fight against this pandemic; no one can be under any illusion about that. However, I must say that the noble Baroness is wrong to hope that the vaccination gives any short-term hope that this will be changed. At the moment we are still living in a world where not enough people are vaccinated in order to stop the transmission through society, and where the rules on the transmissibility of the disease by those who are vaccinated have not been fully clarified. Therefore, even those who have been vaccinated should be staying at home.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the Secretary of State rightly led his Statement with praise, mentioning the NHS and the many who have contributed to the successful jab results so far. However, he did not happen to mention the contribution made by members of the Armed Forces. Can the Minister say how many service men and women have been tasked with supporting this programme, and will the Treasury require the normal interdepartmental contribution to the defence budget to meet these military aid efforts?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I do not have the precise figures that the noble Lord asks for at my fingertips. All I know is that the armed services have performed an enormously important role in the deployment of the vaccine. Their logistical expertise and hands-on implementation of the jabs themselves have been invaluable. But, without making too much of it, this really has been an NHS-led achievement. It has been the NHS at its best, and I pay tribute to those in social care and on the front line of the NHS who have led this remarkable deployment.

Covid-19: Vaccines

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Monday 1st February 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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I reassure my noble friend that we have put in place a systematic arrangement to visit care homes and those living at home with domiciliary care in order to bring the vaccine to their homes. That system includes GPs, community pharmacists and, where necessary, mobile vaccination units. It is proving to be extremely effective. The big numbers will be delivered by the mass vaccination centres, but we will not overlook those who cannot move from their home.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, what information does the Minister have about individuals who may have tested positive for Covid-19 after their first vaccination, either because they are a carrier but healthy or because the first vaccination—which statistically is not 100% successful—did not work?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord touches on a number of connected issues. The first vaccination does take a little bit of time; depending on which vaccination is administered, it takes between one and three weeks before it is truly in the system and protects the patient most effectively. It is, of course, possible to subsequently catch the disease without showing symptoms. One of the most emphatic results of having a vaccination is not necessarily that you do not catch the disease but that it saves you from serious disease and hospitalisation. That is where the vaccines are making a massive difference. We are expecting a dramatic fall in the number of hospitalisations and deaths as a result, but it is possible that people will still carry the disease. That is why the advice to all people, including noble Lords, is that just because you have had the vaccine, it does not mean that you can travel around the community as you did previously.

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the Statement refers to a new variant of the virus. Is this the only variant, or are others being found overseas? Porton Down is working to discover whether the current vaccines will remain effective. When does it hope to report? I declare an interest: I was vaccinated in the Fakenham medical centre in Norfolk this morning—a very efficient and reassuring experience—which had 365 planned for today.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) [V]
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I massively congratulate the noble and gallant Lord on his vaccination this morning. I am extremely proud of that moment and glad that he has taken a step towards safety. It is a fantastic piece of news, which we should all celebrate.

On the noble and gallant Lord’s question on the variant, there are dozens—possibly hundreds—of variants, some of which are minimal and insignificant. The one that has been thrown up in Kent is being singled out only because it correlates with an increase in transmissions in Kent. It is not certain whether this is because of the variant or because of behaviours in Kent, but naturally we are worried about it. I am not a biologist, but I am assured by the biologists that the new variant does not seem to show any attributes that would mean that it could escape the vaccine. Naturally, we are looking at it very closely and hope to have an answer to his question shortly.

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Monday 30th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, although I am only a humble Health Minister, I do believe that the frameworks we are recommending are in the best interests of the economy. If the NHS cannot cope, if trust breaks down in society, if people stay at home and will not shop or go to hospitality, and if people are laid off then the economy suffers. If the pandemic and the presence of Covid, as a driver of behaviour in our society, rolls over for month after month, then we will be the long-term sufferers of economic decline. That is the reason why we believe that the tiering and community testing is essential, and that is why we support these measures.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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Can the Minister confirm that the initial advice from the independent committee on vaccinations is that, after NHS and care homes staff, priority should be given to people over 80 in the rest of the population in order of age and risk? That is medically sound advice, but in the wider national interest would it not be preferable that those who contribute to recovery and education are prioritised over the more elderly who successfully kept themselves free from the virus and do not expect to continue to benefit at the expense of working individuals?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The noble and gallant Lord makes a fair point. We looked at the very scenario that he describes, but ultimately our priorities are to save life, protect the NHS and keep schools and the economy going. The best way of doing that is to prioritise the elderly because there is a direct correlation between illness from Covid and age. The best way in which we can protect society and the economy is to ensure that those who are oldest get the vaccine first.

Covid-19: Great Barrington Declaration

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The noble Lord is entirely right to champion the role of fitness, exercise and fresh air, and this Government are doing an enormous amount to try to keep sports going during current arrangements. He is entirely right that for families, young people and those used to the outdoors, the prospect of being locked up presents a huge challenge. No one is under any illusion: the prospect of a long winter under restrictions is deeply challenging and unpleasant. However, I celebrate and totally endorse his advocacy of fresh air and exercise.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, comment on Barrington has been destructively dismissive, so at present it seems to have little chance of acceptance. However, should the new three-tier strategy falter, will an alternative other than national lockdown be adopted which does not decimate the economy? If NHS pressures were thereby increased, have enough personnel been identified to staff the Nightingale hospitals fully, and continue other NHS work, and will they be ready for action if required?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The noble Lord is entirely right: the impact on the economy of a full national lockdown has been learned already. We know what that looks like. It is a very tough decision and it is my hope and expectation that the British public and the health system will respond to the challenge they face and will step up. I would like to guide the noble and gallant Lord to the publication by the Government Actuary’s Department, the Office for National Statistics and the Department for Health and Social Care Direct and Indirect Impacts of COVID-19 on Excess Deaths and Morbidity. It spells out in very clear terms the economic and mortality effects of letting the disease rip. Those costs are simply unconscionable.

Covid-19: Local Restrictions

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Friday 9th October 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I take exception to the noble Baroness’s characterisation of our approach. In fact, local planning and response are recognised as an essential part of our response to Covid, and are very much at the heart of the service. We want to have local outbreak control plans across the country. The development of local outbreak control plans is led by directors of public health; they are done on behalf of upper-tier local authorities, where the statutory responsibility for directors of public health sits, and are regularly reviewed by the local NHS, GPs, local employers, voluntary organisations and other community partners. There is also a link with local resilience forums, integrated care systems, combined local authorities and directly elected mayors as appropriate.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this begs the question of whether local administrations in England might be given blanket parliamentary authority to make their own rules and guidance, as do devolved regions. Is that acceptable to the Government? What evidence do the Government have on whether these divergences in rules and guidance create public confusion, misunderstanding and breaches of them?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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Our approach is based on the partnership between central and local government. Local government has a distinctive and unique role to play; local authorities work with employers, businesses and other relevant commercial groups to help prevent and control outbreaks, and their local outbreak plans will provide opportunities to build on that information best to support businesses and other local services to return to normal operations in a safe way. It is that partnership between national and local government that will build a successful response to the Covid epidemic.

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Tuesday 6th October 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, cars can kill, but driving is not banned. Medical treatment reduces the mortality of those badly infected, but will banning work, study and family meetings through lockdowns and crashing the economy be the right strategy for months to come while leaving the more vulnerable to choose which precautions to adopt?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I completely sympathise with the observations of the noble Lord. No one wants to see the economy crashed. No one wants to see families separated. Nor do we think that locking up those who are either vulnerable or elderly is a thoughtful or reasonable way to approach this epidemic. What we are seeking is a middle way—a strategy that balances the needs to preserve the economy, education and the NHS with the importance of suppressing the virus and breaking the chains of transmission. That is the approach that we are pursuing today, and it continues to be our strategy going forward.

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Monday 21st September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, does the care home sector, the NHS and those who work in them a massive disservice. There are hundreds of ways in which we have learned to deal with this disease better, such as how we use therapeutic drugs; how we store and use PPE; how we manage and protect our workforce; how we handle mental health and the entertainment of those who live in care; how we use modern technology, including television and diagnostic devices; how we transfer patients in and out of hospitals; and how we use testing. I could continue, but I think I have made my point.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, Lord Sumption and others say older people should be allowed to take their chances with the virus if they prefer that to cutting off contact with family and friends. Does the Minister agree that senior citizens—I am 91—should be allowed to take responsibility for their own safeguarding, rather than face their remaining years in perpetual lockdowns and feeling guilty that their protection is at the expense of younger, working people and the economy?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I do not like telling anyone what to do. I do not like telling anyone that they should lock themselves up or stay away from the people they love—of course I do not—but in this epidemic we have learned that my health affects your health and your health affects my health. If you wander around catching the disease and giving it to other people, the impact on the whole of society is enormous. We all have to get used to this fundamental public health truism.

Covid-19: Response

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Monday 27th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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My Lords, I pay tribute to colleagues at Southampton, who have been managing this exciting trial of saliva-based LAMP testing. The LAMP process is extremely exciting, as it removes the time-consuming RNA extraction process from the testing; turnaround times are therefore dramatically reduced. Saliva is a much more accessible vector for the virus than swabbing and therefore has potential for mass appeal. We are extremely interested in the pilot of the OptiGene technology. It is, though, at an early stage. I would not want to raise expectations too quickly on this, but it remains one of a great many similar exciting technologies that our innovations and partnership team is looking at. I am extremely optimistic about the speed and scale of innovation in our test and trace programme, and I believe that we can move more quickly, at bigger scale and with more accuracy than we ever have before in the very near term.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that confusion arises in the UK and overseas because England and the devolved Administrations’ Covid announcements often differ in content and timing, and may lack distinction between guidance and statute? Such announcements will continue for months, so can a structured and less confusing scheme be adopted for all regions—for example, including agreed regular days and time across the UK—for making or updating announcements?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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It may appear from the outside that there are differences between the devolved nations and England, but my experience is that the four-nations approach to combating Covid has been extremely united and effective, and that we have worked extremely well together. It is true that we move at a different pace on some subjects, but we are generally moving to the same destination and in the same direction, and for that I pay tribute to my colleagues in the devolved nations.

Covid-19: Personal Protective Equipment

Debate between Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bethell
Thursday 16th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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My noble friend is entirely right: the news from Oxford appears to be incredibly encouraging. Coronaviruses are typically very difficult to provide vaccines for, but the Oxford team is clearly confident that it is making serious progress. It has a contract with AstraZeneca, which is its private sector partner in the UK and globally. The administration of that vaccine, should it be successful, or of any other successful vaccine, is a matter of huge national importance. Thanks to Kate Bingham and the Vaccine Taskforce, we are putting a huge amount of work in to ensure that the administration of that vaccine into the arms of the country will be done in a speedy and efficient fashion.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, was appointed last April, with much fanfare, to resolve a national PPE crisis. Is he now responsible for ensuring adequate PPE, both clinical and other types—particularly for care homes, to deal with any second wave and the expected higher numbers infected through the winter months—for the whole of the UK, or just for England?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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My noble friend Lord Deighton is still in place: I spoke to him recently. His impact has been immense, and I owe him a huge debt of thanks for that. He is particularly focused on the “make” leg of the PPE project, and within that he has recruited firms such as Medicom, Redwood, Photocentric, Ramfoam, Elite and Macdonald & Taylor Healthcare—British manufacturers that are, between them, providing hundreds of millions of items of PPE.