Many of you have asked me for my view on the government’s approach to Covid-19 and what approach I would like to see taken. I have set out my views in detail below.
When rumours of the emergence of a new deadly disease emerged from Wuhan, in China, health authorities around the world started considering its potential impact. As Covid-19 overwhelmed parts of the health system in Italy, national health systems around the world urgently activated their pandemic response plans. We all soon discovered that the United Kingdom’s plan was weak and focussed on a possible influenza outbreak rather than a novel coronavirus.
It took time for doctors in western countries to develop an understanding of how to effectively treat Covid-19 – not least because of the secrecy of the Chinese government – and many lives were lost as we learnt. We did not have the right personal protective equipment or sufficient supplies at the beginning and the scaling up of production and correct distribution took too long to become established.
We are now in a far better position. The medical treatment is more effective and processes, such as the intubation of patients, that can have a detrimental effect on health are more cautiously applied and the use of existing safe and effective medicines and when to deliver them has advanced.
From London, Covid-19 spread around the United Kingdom, and we saw the impact it had and the deaths that resulted. The Nightingale hospitals were built in record time but were fortunately barely needed. As is normal with many respiratory illnesses, it dissipated with the onset of warmer weather and was suppressed with better controls such as hand washing and social distancing.
A key aspect of this particular coronavirus, where our understanding has shifted, is in our immune response. Initially, its novel nature prompted fears that the population in the UK would have zero resistance so, if not controlled, it would ‘rip’ through society. Now, with better understanding and scientific research, it is reckoned that our starting point of resistance – that is, the percentage of the population with pre-existing immunity to Covid-19 – could have been from 30% to 50% of people. The common cold is made up of a wide variety of different bugs but part of it is a type of coronavirus and it is thought that resistance to one gives resistance to others.
Many who have had the disease have now built up their immune system and I, like many others, are learning that it is more complex than just acquiring antibodies which quickly fade. SARS, which broke out in 2003, is a coronavirus and people who had it then still have a robust immune response all these years later.
During the peak of the pandemic, it was clear that Covid-19 was a killer and was causing a huge increase in deaths. Since then, even up until today, the death rate has been in line with what doctors would expect in a typical year. Everyone knows that respiratory illnesses increase with the onset of winter and the start of the school year. Whilst the Spanish Flu of 1918 attacked the young, Covid-19 targets the elderly, obese and those with other underlying health problems. The average age of death of a victim of Covid-19 is about 83 which is a year older than average life expectancy in the UK.
The initial impact on the residents of care homes and hospitals was terrible and mistakes were made but many lessons have been learnt and practices changed. In fact, normal life has changed radically and many of the consequences are grim in their own right.
As a Member of Parliament, I have a unique insight into the life and times of my constituents. In many ways, I see the best and the worst – I get to celebrate successes and do my best to help people when they have hit rock bottom.
I have a position to understand what the impact of the ongoing lockdown is, to appreciate how it is going to get worse over the winter months and to consider whether the cure is better or worse than the disease.
Comments on social media, face-to-face surgeries, phone calls, emails and letters have no successes to celebrate or joy to share. I only hear of families being split apart, medical treatment being cancelled, suicidal thoughts, business collapse and young people’s futures being taken away. Bolton West and Atherton is not at rock bottom but so many of my constituents are.
So many months ago, when the first national lockdown was imposed, I supported the Government. Now, our understanding has changed. I voted against this second national lockdown and fear a third in the New Year because the cost of it is too high compared to the threat.
Across England, tens of millions fewer GP appointments have been had, 4.7 million fewer hospital appointments have been attended and three million have not had cancer screening because of the lockdown. We do not yet know the details of the health impact these cancellations will have – it will be a number of years before we see the impact on cancer survival rates – but I do know that many people are already suffering and it is getting worse all the time.
Over 50,000 more people now have an undiagnosed cancer. When and if it is discovered, will each patient have to undergo far harsher treatment or will it already be too late?
Pregnant women have been denied the support of their husband or partner when going for scans and treatment. Dads-to-be have be denied the ability to give the support that they know their wife or partner needs. I have heard of dads-to-be waiting in cold car parks for days on end, not knowing what joy or worry awaits them, of women who have been told sorry, there is no heartbeat, alone in a hospital room.
Cataract operations, hip replacement, dental surgery and a multitude of other treatment is creating an unimaginable backlog which means that many will never receive the treatment they expect their taxes to provide. We are told that the NHS will be there for us in our time of need, but for an increasing number of my constituents this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Parent and toddler groups, holidays, weddings, sports clubs and so much else of normal life has been cancelled. Society has become atomised and loneliness has taken root. The recovery will take years.
Children had lost six months education due to the first lockdown and now find that their entire class or year can now been sent home for two weeks at a time because of one suspected case. Parents have told me about their children who have already missed four weeks of school since September - how many more times will they be sent home before this is over?
There are few, if any, jobs for school leavers and youth unemployment has more than doubled in a year. The young are losing their education and employment but will be the ones who have to pay the hundreds of billions of national debt that we are amassing. They are almost immune to Covid-19 but will suffer all the reverberations of the lockdown for years to come.
Huge sums have been given to businesses large and small and a fortune has been paid in furloughing. Many of the self-employed have received no support and will not whilst lockdown, in its various forms, continues. Businesses that have take years to build have been broken in months. Last month, a prominent local businesswoman broke down in my office and confessed she had become suicidal because the business she has spent her life building is unlikely to survive any further lockdowns.
Beauticians, hairdressers, pub landlords and café owners creating and having pride in their own business are not part of the mega rich elite. Most businessmen and women make a modest income but we do not hear enough of them in the media because business it too often presented as being about corporations and the wealthy executives that run them. These are the businesses which make our high streets such vibrant places. Many will not survive lockdown.
Where is the exit to this and what is the “new normal” for society? How much closer to rock bottom are we going to get before the Government offers us a way out. Despite the media excitement, the early crop of vaccinations do not promise to protect anyone from contracting the disease or prevent its onward transmission. Is submitting to the mass testing the entire UK population every week a way out when the Prime Minister has gone into two weeks isolation even though he has the antibody immunity from Covid-19 that recovery gives and has since had a negative test?
Covid-19 is not the threat it was because we have learnt so much over the last nine months. It is not the threat the Government thinks it is as their terrifying projections fall apart under the lightest of objective scrutiny.
Lockdown is doing for more damage than I could ever have imagined. Health services, education, employment and so much of what makes life worth living have been taken away from so many and we have no assurance of when the return will be permitted.
Our new Cromwellian age will permit some celebration at Christmas but we have yet to learn whether this includes midnight mass, family gatherings on Christmas Day or a visit to an elderly relative in a care home.
The cycle of lockdowns has failed and the attempted cure is worse than the disease. The Government, who have been supported by the opposition every step of the way, has the opportunity to reset their approach to restore normality whilst ensuring that those who need protection continue to receive it.
Many of the most vulnerable are already isolating themselves from the rest of society and they should be supported to do so and remain safe. We now have rapid screening techniques so those should be used to test those who come in contact with people who are Covid positive to enable a quick return to school or work. A second test should be given to those who have tested positive to ensure that it was not a false positive – false positives are a significant proportion of all tests. Maintain social distancing between groups in pubs and restaurants, including mandatory table service, but allow families and friends to meet each other.
People do understand the real risks that Covid-19 presents so let us continue with high quality public information and encouragement to maintain those essential behaviour patterns that are key to reducing the spread of disease whilst allowing the majority to return to normal.