Thank you to those who have contacted me with their views on the government’s latest COVID-19 regulations, which are set to be voted on in the Commons this afternoon (14th December 2021) There are a range of concerns in the emails I have received about these new measures. I want to try to respond to these points and offer my view on the decisions that must be taken. There are no easy solutions.
Firstly, I understand and personally share the anger many feel about the recent revelations of what was going on in Downing Street last Christmas. At that time, I was only able to visit my dad at the bedroom window of his Rotherham care home because I followed the rules and other families fared far worse, unable to visit loved ones who were ill or dying in hospital. The Prime Minister has lost the public’s trust and this is now undermining trust in the government’s public health measures.
However, none of this should get in the way of us doing the right thing now in the wider national interest. Omicron is a new threat on top of the existing variants of the virus, and swift action is needed to limit its spread. Throughout the pandemic, I have put public health before party politics, and will continue to do so. I will judge the measures on their merits and the evidence shows vaccines are the best weapon in our fight against Omicron. I think it’s really important that we do get vaccinated – I and my family are all fully jabbed. It helps protect us and those around us, it reduces severe infection and death and it relieves pressure on the NHS.
Secondly, I want to deal with the argument some have made to me that a third jab isn’t necessary, if someone’s already had two. The Omicron is still a new variant of the virus but evidence is already established that two vaccinations alone provide less protection against it than previous variants but that a third – booster – vaccine jab significantly raises protection levels. It’s therefore vital – as the Government is now saying – that the booster programme is extended as fast as possible and we all get this booster. I’ve done this and I also volunteer at local vaccination sites to support this drive.
Thirdly, many of the emails I’ve received refer to ‘vaccination passports’, suggesting we will all be required to show that we have been vaccinated. This is not what is being proposed or voted on today in the Commons. It could more accurately be called a ‘covid pass’ to gain entry to large venues or mass events, which means showing proof of a negative lateral flow test – which Labour have forced the government to include – or confirmation of vaccination status. In other words, the new rules will not require us to show that we have been vaccinated and neither will they mean that people who haven’t been vaccinated cannot enter these events. This system has been operating for some time in Wales, people travelling abroad have long got used to showing a negative test result and many UK venues already ask for such proof on a voluntary basis.
We want people to have a good Christmas with friends and family; we want businesses to stay open and avoid further restrictions. These measures give us the best chance of doing so over the festive period, while also helping to protect public health and the NHS. I don’t regard having to show evidence of a negative covid test or wear a face mask in certain places as unreasonable give the threat of the Omicron virus, nor do I believe these measures put our fundamental liberties at risk. On the contrary, they are common sense public health steps that are part of protecting each other as well as ourselves.
Fourthly, on the separate concern about mandatory public vaccination: I am opposed to this, as is the Labour Party. Forcing the general population to have the vaccine would be wrong and, I believe, simply would not work. However, the government are not proposing this and would not get our Labour support if they did.
Fifthly, the government want to make vaccination mandatory for NHS staff. This is a difficult question and I would much prefer all frontline NHS staff voluntarily to agree to have the vaccine. However, the latest specialist advice (from SAGE) suggests Omicron increases the risk of hospital acquired infections. While vaccination will not eliminate all transmission, it will reduce the risk and protect both patients and staff from severe disease. There is a precedent for requiring certain NHS staff to be vaccinated – for example against hepatitis – and given the evidence that covid vaccination reduces transmission and therefore the risk to patients being treated in the NHS I think it is reasonable to ask those looking after our loved ones to take every possible step to prevent the virus being passed on.
Finally, all of us want to enjoy Christmas safely this year and we all want to safeguard our NHS which has been suffering from a staffing shortage and record waiting lists since well before the pandemic. Our best defence against all variants of the virus – including Omicron – and the best way to reduce the need for future restrictions remains vaccination, which is why we must urgently step up the booster programme.
Thanks very much again to those that have contacted me. I hope you have a safe and happy Christmas.
With good wishes.