Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, makes a statement to the House of Commons on the pandemic, moving to step 4 on the road map, the NHS covid pass and vaccination as a condition of entry.
The Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment (Nadhim Zahawi)
Before I turn to my remarks today, I want to say something to you, Mr Speaker. I want to take a moment ahead of the House rising for the summer recess to thank you, sir, and everyone who works here in Parliament, your whole team, for everything you have done to keep us all safe over the past few months. The fact that we have kept our democracy running, and running safely, at this time of crisis is an incredible achievement, and we are all extremely grateful to you and your team.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the covid-19 pandemic. This week, we have taken a decisive step forward, taking step 4 on our road map and carefully easing more of the restrictions that have governed our daily lives. Although we are moving forward, we must remember that we are doing so with caution, because the pandemic is not yet over. The average number of daily cases in England is around 41,000 and hospitalisations and deaths are rising too, although at a much lower level than when we had that number of cases during previous waves. So even as we take step 4, we urge everyone to think about what they can do to make a real difference.
Today, we are launching a new campaign to encourage everyone to keep taking the little steps that have got us this far, such as wearing face coverings in crowded public areas, making sure that rooms are well ventilated and getting regular rapid tests. We are also supporting businesses and organisations, helping them to manage the risk of transmission within their venues, including through the use of the NHS covid pass for domestic use. I know that this has been of great interest to Members and want to use this opportunity to reiterate the policy and offer the House the chance to have its say.
This week, after a successful trial, we have rolled out the NHS covid pass, which allows people safely and securely to demonstrate their covid status, whether that is proof of vaccination status, test results or natural immunity. Anyone can access a pass via the NHS app, the NHS website or by calling 119 and asking for a letter to demonstrate vaccine status. People will also be able to demonstrate proof of a negative test result.
Although we do not encourage its use in essential settings such as supermarkets, other businesses and organisations in England can adopt the pass as a means of entry, where it is suitable for their venue or premises and when they can see its potential to keep their clients or customers safe. For proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and mix with people from outside their household for prolonged periods, deploying the pass is the right thing to do. The pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus, so we reserve the right to mandate its use in future.
Next, I wish to update the House on vaccination as a condition of entry. We all know the benefits that both doses of a vaccine can bring. Data from Public Health England estimates that two doses of a covid vaccine offers protection of around 96% against hospitalisation. Today, we have new data from Public Health England that estimates that the vaccination programme in England alone has prevented 52,600 hospitalisations. That is up 6,300 from two weeks ago and is a fitting example of the protective wall that our vaccination programme has given us—a wall that is getting stronger every day. That protection has allowed us carefully to ease restrictions over the past few months, but we must do so in a way that is mindful of the benefits that both doses of the vaccine can bring. This strategy—this philosophy—will underpin our approach over the critical next few months.
This week, as part of our step 4 measures, we allowed fully vaccinated adults and all children to return from amber-list countries without quarantine—with the exception of those returning from France, because of the persistent presence of cases of the beta variant. From 16 August, children, under-18s and people who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate as contacts, given their reduced risk of catching and passing on the disease. As I said when I updated the House on Monday, at the end of September we plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry to those high-risk settings where large crowds gather and interact. By that point everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to be fully vaccinated, so everyone will have had the opportunity to gain the maximum possible protection.
As a condition of entry to such venues, people will have to show that they are fully vaccinated, and proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient. This is not a step that we take lightly, but throughout the pandemic, like Governments across the world—in Singapore, Australia, Germany and France—we have had to adapt our approach to meet the threats of this deadly virus. This step is no different. We will always keep all our measures under review, with the goal of returning to the freedoms we love and cherish.
We should all be proud of the enthusiasm for and uptake of our vaccination programme. Now, 88% of all adults have had a first dose and 69% have had both. That uptake means that the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that nine in 10 adults now have covid-19 antibodies. However, there are still many people who are unprotected, including 34% of people aged 18 to 29 who have not had either dose. Ahead of the summer recess, I would like once again to urge everyone to come forward and get both doses, to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones and their community.
Our battle against this virus is not the kind of battle where we can simply declare victory and move on with our lives. Instead, we must learn to live with the virus, doing whatever we can to slow its spread while we maintain the vital defences that will keep us safe. That is exactly what this Government will do and I commend the statement to the House.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Let us be frank: it was a shambles yesterday. It was an insult to the House and a let-down for health and care staff.
Ministers have been dragged kicking and screaming to this 3% settlement. Can the Minister accept—and does he accept—that it is not an NHS-wide settlement, as it does not cover the health and care workforce who do not fall under the pay review body? For example, it does not cover our junior doctors who have had an intense year caring for sick patients on ventilators, who have been redeployed to other sites across the NHS and who have seen their training disrupted. Will the junior doctors get a pay rise, especially given that the pay review body, in paragraph 10.6 of its report, urges the Government to recognise the role of doctors who are out of scope? Will all health staff who work in public health receive the settlement? Care workers are obviously not covered by the pay review, and we know how valuable they are, so will care workers finally get the real living wage that they deserve?
How will the pay settlement be funded? NHS trusts do not even know what their budget will be beyond September. The Health Secretary has said that the pay settlement costs £2.2 billion, so where is that £2.2 billion coming from? Is he expecting trusts and general practice to find it from their existing budgets? At a time when the NHS is in a summer crisis, with covid admissions increasing and more patients on ventilators in hospitals, with operations being cancelled again and waiting times growing because of the pressures the NHS is under, rather than getting a funded settlement for the NHS we have seen this week briefing and counter-briefing from the Health Secretary, the Chancellor and Downing Street about what may or may not be coming for health and social care.
The NHS needs more investment now to cope with the pressures that it is under. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will break their manifesto pledge to increase national insurance, or is the Business Secretary correct in what he said this morning? He said:
“I don’t see how we could increase national insurance”.
The Prime Minister promised, on the steps of Downing Street two years ago this Saturday, that he would have a social care plan, but this is not a plan for health and social care; it is a Government in disarray.
That brings me on to the so-called “endemic” problems of isolation. The problems of isolation that we are seeing are a symptom of what happens when Ministers allow infections to get out of control. The Government are apparently U-turning today and agreeing a list of workers who could be exempt from isolation, based on a negative PCR test. With infections running at more than 50,000 a day, and possibly on the way up to 100,000 a day, can the Minister absolutely guarantee that PCR testing capacity will be available to cope with the inevitable increased demand this summer?
If the Minister wants to avoid shutting society down, he needs to bring infections down, so why have the Government ruled out extending statutory sick pay to the lowest-paid, and what is he doing to drive up the vaccination rate among younger adults? He knows that allowing infections to rise among that cohort sets his vaccination programme back, given that somebody has to wait 28 days post-infection for vaccination.
Today the Minister has repeated his support for vaccine passports. Can he explain why he thinks it is safe to go out clubbing into the early hours this Friday, but in September it is only safe to go out clubbing if everybody is double-jabbed? Can he confirm when the relevant statutory instrument will be laid, and when the vote will be on introducing those passports?
The Minister has a proposal for nightclubs in September, but does he have a proposal for schools in September? A million children have been off school recently, so, as we asked him on Monday, will he use this summer to install air filtration units in schools in time for September, and is he considering bringing mask-wearing back in schools?
Finally, Mr Speaker, may I, like the Minister and others across the House, thank you, and all the staff especially, for the extraordinary work that you have put in, in these last 12 months, to ensure the smooth running of Parliament in these most unprecedented of circumstances? I hope you are all able to have a suitable rest over the summer recess.
The right hon. Gentleman asks who is included in the 3% pay rise recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body. They are the 1 million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics, consultants and, of course, salaried GPs. The junior doctors he mentions have a separate, multi-year pay rise over three years, amounting to 8%.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the capacity for testing. I looked at that before coming to the House, and the capacity currently for PCR tests is not 600,000 but 640,000 a day, according to the latest data that I looked at. He asks about schools. There will be two supervised tests for schools. He knows that in Monday’s statement we announced our acceptance of the JCVI guidelines on vaccinating vulnerable children, vaccinating children who live with vulnerable adults, and vaccinating those who are 17 but within three months of their 18th birthday. The JCVI will keep under review the vaccination of healthy children as more data becomes available from countries such as the United States of America and Israel.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a question around the covid vaccination pass and nightclubs, other crowded unstructured indoor settings such as music venues, large unstructured outdoor events such as business events and festivals, and very large structured events, such as business events, music and spectator sport events. They are the ones that we are most concerned about. We have seen other countries, whether it is Holland or Italy, opening nightclubs and having to reverse that decision rapidly. What we are attempting to do, and the reason we have the covid vaccination pass in place, is to work with industry while we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated. It would be hugely unfair to bring in that policy immediately. Giving people until the end of September is the right thing to do, while at the same time allowing businesses to open safely, using the app now—because the app went live and the industry is very much engaging with it.
There are no easy decisions on anything to do with this virus. That is the one thing we have learned. The most effective tool we have against the virus is, of course, the vaccine programme, followed by the tool of self-isolation. If we want to get back to normal and get our lives back, we need to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic—from pandemic to manageable menace—as quickly and as safely as possible. If we release all restrictions now, including self-isolation, which I am sure a number of colleagues will ask about today, we risk the number of infections, which the shadow Secretary of State worries about as I do, rising rapidly. That could risk the transition of this virus.
We are working flat out with industry. I commend companies such as Lidl, which knows it is under pressure but will work through it with us. We will allow critical, frontline and key workers and health and social care workers to get back to work if they take a negative test, as I announced on Monday. By 16 August, everyone who is double-vaccinated will be able to do that.
Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
May I start by wishing you and your family a ping-free summer, Mr Speaker? Thank you for upholding the values of this House over the past few months.
The Minister of State will have heard of YouGov, which said this week that a tenth of the people who had the NHS covid app have deleted it, and that a further fifth are considering doing so. Given that he made his living from listening to public opinion, does he not think it is time for the Government to listen to public opinion and immediately scrap the 10-day isolation requirement for double-jabbed people who are pinged, in favour of having to isolate until they take a negative PCR test? Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very important weapon against the virus.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would briefly like to ask you about the issue we were not able to ask Ministers about in the House yesterday, which is the decision on NHS pay. I support the decision to accept the pay review body’s recommendations. It is the right thing to do, but it costs £1.5 billion. Can the Minister confirm it will not be paid for by cuts to other parts of the NHS budget? If it is going to be funded through a new national insurance rise for health and social care, as The Times says today, will he confirm that the funding for social care will be ring-fenced, so that we do not have a situation in which social care, once again, loses out because of pressures in the NHS?
The right hon. Gentleman said “you,” but I was not responsible for the decision yesterday.
I will take those questions in reverse order. I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), for his always diligent and thoughtful questions. As he will know, we gave the NHS in England an historic settlement in 2018 that will see its budget rise by £33.9 billion by 2023-24. We have provided over £27 billion to support the NHS in England since the start of the pandemic, including £9.7 billion so far for 2021-22. We will continue to make sure the NHS has everything it needs to continue supporting its staff and providing excellent care to the public, throughout the pandemic and beyond.
My right hon. Friend specifically asked about social care, and I know the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are committed to making sure we deliver on our social care promise by the end of this year.
Public compliance is incredibly important, and I thank each and every person who has come forward and got themselves protected. Over the past few days, we have seen an almost doubling of the number of people going on to the NHS website to book appointments. There has almost been a doubling of appointments, too, which is incredible, considering where we are at the moment—we are almost touching 90% of all adults. These are the hard yards, and people are still coming forward. There are no easy decisions on this, as I said in answer to the shadow Health Secretary. We know that our most effective tool is the vaccination, but the second most effective is self-isolation. We are attempting to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status. If we allow all these things to happen too rapidly and people then decide not to self-isolate, we run the risk of infection rates running away with us and challenging the strategy of our being the first major economy to transition. So we are working with business, and we are working flat out with the frontline critical infrastructure and key workers to get that guidance out. I am sure that colleagues in this House will be the first to receive it—I will make sure of that, even during recess.
Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP) [V]
I wish you, colleagues and all the House staff a safe and happy summer recess, Mr Speaker. Clearly, vaccination is critical to fighting this pandemic. We all need to encourage uptake among younger adults, but is the Minister in a position to guarantee sufficient supplies of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to vaccinate them before the end of September? Whether this is done legally, as in the case of care homes staff, or through excluding people from social activities, does he recognise that making vaccination mandatory can increase distrust among those who are hesitant and drive them to become outright vaccine refusers? Despite the talk about caution, covid cases in England were already surging when the Government ploughed ahead with lifting all legal restrictions on Monday. Although vaccination has reduced the hospitalisation rate to between 2% and 3%, the Secretary of State suggested that covid cases could soar to 100,000 a day, which would result in 2,000 to 3,000 admissions, which is similar to what happened in the first wave. Does the Minister really not recognise that that would put health services under enormous pressure and cause the patient backlog to grow further? Are the Government even considering the impact of uncontrolled virus spread on vulnerable people, the incidence of long covid or the risk of generating yet another variant, with even greater vaccine resistance than delta? Finally, what contingencies are being put in place in case during recess the Government need to reintroduce covid restrictions, as has happened in Israel and the Netherlands?
The hon. Lady makes a number of important points, especially the final one, where she reminded the House, as I did in my statement, that a number of countries have opened up and then had to reverse some of their decisions, which is why we are being very careful to ensure that this transition is successful and then that transitioning the virus from pandemic to endemic status is as successful as possible. She asked about children’s vaccination. She will know that the Scottish Health Minister, Humza Yousaf, has accepted, as the Welsh, Northern Irish and ourselves in England have done, the JCVI guidelines on vaccinating vulnerable children, children living with vulnerable adults and those approaching their 18th birthday. If the JCVI goes further, as it is reviewing more data on vaccinating all children, I assure her that we have available the supply of Pfizer and Moderna to undertake that, while we also continue to deliver on the double vaccinations of all adults by the end of September. She asked about the immunosuppressed and of course the guidelines have gone out on the precautionary measures that immunosuppressed people would take; similar to the rest of the country, they should be careful and wear masks in crowded indoor spaces—there is advice on ventilation as well. The JCVI has gone further in its interim advice for our booster campaign, where it has placed the immunosuppressed at the top of the priority list. That campaign will begin in early September—that is the operational target we are working to for beginning boosting and of course co-administering, wherever possible, the flu vaccination.
Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Given the massive opposition that there is among those who operate nightclubs and events, the decision of the Government to make the introduction of covid identity cards voluntary is probably a sensible one, but may I explore with the Minister what he means when he says, “We reserve the right to mandate their use in the future”? We might have hoped, Mr Speaker, that the right that the Government sought to reserve was the right to seek the permission of this House to make their use mandatory in the future. I hope that this was just a small piece of ministerial arrogance that led the Minister to mis-speak, but I would like his assurance that we will be given the opportunity to express a view on this before the mandatory use of covid identity cards is introduced.
Last week, I asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care a whole range of questions about the practical consequences of this voluntary scheme. I asked what constituted large events, who would be the judge of what they were, what was meant by encouraging businesses, and what would be the consequences for any businesses that resisted the encouragement from the Government. The Secretary of State had no answers to those questions. Will the Minister today answer the questions, if not necessarily for the benefit of the people in this House, then at least with a bit of respect to those who operate nightclubs, big events, restaurants, bars and others who have absolutely no idea what is going to be required of them?
It is unlike the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) to accuse any colleague of being arrogant, and I certainly hope that I did not come across as such. He is always courteous and polite—I have certainly found him to be so over the years. He asks several important questions. On reserving the right, the Government will of course come back to the House if the decision is to mandate the double vaccination requirement for nightclubs, crowded unstructured indoor settings, large unstructured outdoor settings and, of course, the very large events such as business, music hall, and spectator sports events. In the meantime, we encourage the use of the NHS covid pass in facilities or at events where people are likely to be in close proximity to large numbers of people from other households. We are working with the sector. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), met people from the sector yesterday, as he does regularly. The sector itself will have seen what has happened in other countries such as the Netherlands. It is in the interests of all of the sector and of businesses to reopen and reopen permanently, and not have to open and close, open and close, which is why we are working with the sector in this period and giving people a chance to get their double vaccinations by the end of September.
Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
Just on that last point about the decision, the statement is very clear that the Government have decided. It says, “We plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry”. My reading of that is that a decision has been taken, so the Government need to come to the House to ask the House’s permission to legislate; the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) was exactly right.
May I ask the Minister about the pingdemic? We have just had the data for last week. More than 600,000 people using the app were told to self-isolate. The Minister has set out clearly that, on 16 August, the right way to proceed is that those who have been double vaccinated will be advised to take a PCR test, and, if that is negative, they can then go about their business, reflecting the reduced risk of their being infected and therefore passing on the disease.
In a discussion this morning on the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was told that businesses in a key sector were operating in that way now, with the advice from the app, and he was asked whether that was appropriate and safe. He said that it was not. If it is not safe now—I think it is safe—how does it suddenly become safe on 16 August? Given that it is safe on 16 August, because that is the Government’s policy, can we not just implement it now? The danger is that large numbers of people will either delete or stop listening to the app, and then, when we get to 16 August, they will not be getting the advice to take a PCR test, and we will have actually made ourselves less safe and less well protected. I urge the Minister to think again and to bring it forward now, because people will then be taking tests when they are advised to. If he does not do that, people will simply stop listening, which is very dangerous for public health.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s questions, as always: challenging but nevertheless the right challenges to think through. As I said, there are no easy decisions in what we are attempting to do. We will, I hope, be one of the first nations, certainly one of the largest economies in the world, that will see a transition of this virus from pandemic to endemic status—to manageable menace—through our vaccination programme, which is our primary tool.
The second most effective method is to make sure that people do self-isolate: I take on board his point and the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt). That is why we are working flat out with critical infrastructure and key workers—of course with frontline NHS and social care staff, as I announced on Monday—to make sure that people have the ability to do a PCR test and then follow it up with a week or up to 10 days of daily lateral flow testing instead of self-isolation for 10 days. The honest truth is that there are no easy answers, because the very clear clinical advice and evidence is that if we do not do this carefully and slowly, we could risk the transition of the virus.
On the requirement around nightclubs by the end of September, I assure my right hon. Friend that we will be coming back to the House to make sure that it has an appropriate say on the matter. As we have seen with this virus in other countries, it is the right thing to do.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
I thank the Minister for his statement and for all that has been done on the covid-19 vaccine roll-out. The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Health Minister recently stated that at the end of July the closure of mass vaccination centres—for example, the SSE centre in Belfast—will come into force. The Minister in this House has today taken the opportunity through the press to urge people one last time to get the vaccine. Has he come to an assessment on the closure of mass vaccination centres in England, given the clear success of the vaccination process, and ever mindful that this autumn we will be doing a covid-19 vaccine booster process, which, along with the flu process, will add pressure to the health system? Will he ensure that there are options in place—for example, pharmacies and community centres—to bridge the gap?
I thank the hon. Member for his excellent question. He is absolutely right. We are preparing a pretty ambitious vaccination programme, beginning in early September, for the covid boost. The interim advice from the JCVI could adjust as more clinical data comes through from the cov-boost trials that we are currently conducting. Wherever possible, we will co-administer flu vaccines at large scale. My big concern is that we have not had much flu circulating in communities and we could be in a position where in a bad flu year we could lose 20,000-plus people. Hence our ambitions are equally high for flu. We will look to co-administer wherever possible. We are looking to increase the number of pharmacies as well. We currently have over 600 pharmacies in the covid vaccination infrastructure, as well as the brilliant primary care networks, the hospitals and the vaccination centres. The cov-boost and the flu process will be equally ambitious as we look at the whole of the structure and how we utilise it, as well as making sure that GPs are able to get back to doing the work they need to do—looking after their patients.
Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
I am seeing in Hyndburn and Haslingden that, as has been mentioned, there is a hesitancy in my age group to take up the vaccine. What work is being done with local authorities to target these groups and alleviate their fears, because the only way out is the vaccine and we really need to get that message across?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her excellent question and for the work that she does in her constituency to highlight the benefits of being vaccinated—and fully vaccinated. The work that has gone on in Hyndburn is tremendous. We are working with local government to ensure that the NHS has flexibility, whether that is to launch pop-up sites or to increase the hours of vaccination during this period of Eid celebration in order to encourage more of our Muslim fellow citizens to come forward and get vaccinated. Of course, we are ensuring that there is lots of messaging and that people are just pointed to information, including through hyper-local media as well as some of the media with which my hon. Friend’s generation will be more familiar than mine, such as TikTok, social media influencers and YouTubers. That is all happening at scale. It is great to see that the number of appointments booked under the national booking system has almost doubled in the last couple of days, but there are also the walk-in centres, where people can just walk in and get their jab without an appointment.
Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
Mr Speaker, may I add my party’s thanks to you, to the House staff and to everyone across these islands who has worked so hard to save and preserve life during the pandemic?
I want to pick up on a vital component of vaccination that I believe the Government need to give great attention to. It will not have escaped the Minister’s attention, and anyone who has attended the regular briefings that we have had around the virus will have seen in Professor Van-Tam’s heat maps the distribution and upward spread of the virus, whereby it seeds in the younger population and exponentially grows up through the ages.
I really want to ask the Minister why he thinks the JCVI are being extremely cautious in extending vaccination to 12 to 17-year-olds, given that the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has now been vaccinating that population in the States—with some concerns, but, I think, manageable numbers of concerns—and why we are not progressing more vigorously to vaccinate that population and are limiting it to those with underlying health concerns or those related to people with underlying health concerns. There is a fundamental advantage to vaccinating this group, because it will increase their wellbeing and improve their access to schooling after their holidays, but, more importantly, it acts as—
Order. We have to be quicker if we can or nobody else is going to get in today; that is not fair to other Members. Questions in a statement have to be short. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is going to finish in a second.
I will finish now, Mr Speaker; I apologise.
Does the Minister not see the advantage of delivering those vaccines now, and what do we do if we decide that that needs to go live during the recess?
That is a very important question. The JCVI is constantly reviewing the data from other countries that are vaccinating all children of 12 to 15 years old. Its concern has been centred around vaccinating healthy children. There is a very rare signal of myocarditis on first dose. The JCVI is awaiting more data on second dose. It will continue to review that and will come back to us, and, of course, we will come back to the House.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
In north-east Lincolnshire, the infection rates has been hovering at around 1,000 per 100,000 for the last couple of weeks, which is of obvious concern to my constituents. I am in regular touch with the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, which is doing an excellent job, but could the Minister reassure my constituents that if additional resources are required by the trust, the Department will provide them? The trust has had a big expansion in demand for A&E over the last few days and the trust management asks whether the Department could step up the campaign to encourage people to use the 111 service.
My hon. Friend’s constituency of Cleethorpes has now done 122,397 cumulative total of doses, which is a tremendous achievement. I will take away his request and come back to him once I have had the chance to discuss it with NHS England.
Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
I must thank the Minister for our Friday mornings together. It is not just me; every Member of this House is grateful for that weekly fixture—the highlight Zoom-fest. Is he aware that there are already glitches in the shiny new NHS covid passport that he mentioned? Two of my constituents, Konnie and Charlie, have been going for a year for Novavax trials and now they are being treated as if they are vax deniers, with the texts they get from the NHS, and they are grounded. Another guy, Karl, returned to his native US to have his two jabs because he is not eligible for NHS treatment. He says that it is xenophobia that he cannot access events that Brits can. I am sure it is unintentional. People think that they are being punished for doing the right thing. Will the Minister rectify that?
I am really grateful to the hon. Member for that excellent question, and I am grateful for her comments about our Friday morning meetings. Her constituents can rest assured that those who are in clinical trials, including the Novavax trial, will have their data on the NHS covid app as being fully vaccinated, whether they are receiving the placebo or the vaccine, across all trials. That is happening. I will take it offline to look at her constituents’ case to make sure that that happens for them, because I am assured that the system already recognises that.
By the end of this month, UK nationals who have been vaccinated overseas will be able to talk to their GP, go through what vaccine they have had, and have it registered with the NHS that they have been vaccinated. The reason for the conversation with the GP is to make sure that whatever vaccine they have had is approved in the United Kingdom. Ultimately, there will be a co-ordination between the World Health Organisation, ourselves, the European regulator, the US regulator and other regulators around the world. Because we are working at speed, at the moment it is UK nationals and citizens who have had UK vaccinations who will be able to travel to amber list countries other than France and come back and not quarantine. We want to offer the same reciprocity as the 33 countries that recognise our app, and that will also happen very soon.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
I warmly congratulate the Minister for working his socks off over the last year and doing such a tremendous job in vaccinating the nation. In Northamptonshire, the vaccine roll-out has been a tremendous success, with between 90% and 100% of each of the five-year cohorts above age 50 receiving both jabs, and over 67% of 18 to 24-year-olds already having received their first dose. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the professionals and volunteers locally who have made possible that tremendous local success?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work locally and for taking that local leadership, like many colleagues have, to get the message out that vaccines are safe and our way out of this pandemic. Of course I join him in congratulating the whole team—the professionals and the volunteers—on the tremendous effort they have made. The figure I have is 124,042 in the Northamptonshire sustainability and transformation partnership. Its numbers are tremendous; even among 18 to 24-year-olds, it is leading the way, at 67%. We want to get that number even higher as quickly as we can.
John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that the virus is now endemic; indeed, the Government of Singapore have acknowledged that too. Unfortunately, Government dither on that may have scuppered the vaccine pass. Has the Minister had any indication from its diverse opponents of how the country can otherwise take a risk management approach, rather than the risk avoidance approach that has led, for example, to the pingdemic, or the wild west approach advocated by some on his own side, leading to a possible further lockdown? Will he also indicate whether the Treasury is actually engaged in this debate on the side of the economy and public finances—or is it still in Yellow Submarine mode, disappearing under the waves?
I am grateful for the right hon. Member’s question. I would just remind him that the Treasury has put £407 billion to work to shelter the economy and people’s livelihoods and, of course, protect jobs. He raises a number of important questions about looking at other countries. As I said earlier, these are all difficult decisions, but I think we are making the right, cautious decision as we transition—I hope—and see this virus move from pandemic to endemic status.
Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
Can my right hon. Friend give me a better sense of the scope of how the covid ID card may be used in the future? Would it apply to the London marathon? Would it apply to political gatherings: would someone need an ID card to attend a political gathering, whether supportive of or in opposition to the Government? Could he please rule out its use in educational settings such as sixth-form colleges or universities, which should be excluded? The focus now is on young adults, and the ID card should not be a passport to education or a denial of education.
On the last question, I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that in education or in any public buildings this will not be applicable. As to things such as the transport system or essential retail, that is our very strong commitment. Look, I keep repeating this message, but we know what we need to do. Part of what we are learning from the data here and around the world is about trying to work with industries, such as the nightclub industry and sports bodies, to make sure that we reopen fully as safely as possible and continue to be open. The worst thing for any industry or for any sport is to open and then, sadly, to have to shut down again, as people have seen around the world.
Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
I listened very carefully to the Minister when he was saying that, for events where large numbers are likely to gather together and be mixing with people from outside their own household, deploying the pass would be the right thing to do. Given that, and to ensure that we keep in step with the public, do the Government intend that to apply here? Might they even reserve the right to mandate the adoption of the pass in this place, or is this another example of us and them?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. As I said in answer to the previous question, in public buildings such as this place, and of course in essential travel and essential retail, that will not be applicable. That is very clear.
Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con) [V]
Some 22,000 people died from seasonal flu in 2017-18, and the modelling suggests that this year’s season will start early, be severe and affect younger people—a demographic that tends to go to mass events—than covid does. Have the Government also been considering mandating proof of flu vaccination, and can the Minister ensure that vaccination records are transportable between the NHS records of each of the home nations? That is not the case at the moment, to the huge frustration of those seeking second jabs or anticipating the need for the proof of vaccination that he has confirmed today.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question, and for what he has done during this pandemic in vaccinating and protecting people and helping with the covid vaccination programme. He raises an important question about flu, which I addressed earlier. I am concerned about the flu season, which is why we are being ambitious and looking to co-administer wherever possible. The operational plan is to go early—in early September—for both the covid boost and the flu campaign. However, he will know that flu is not in the covid category in that it is endemic. We are hoping to transition covid towards where flu is with an annual vaccination programme, but it is a very different virus to deal with.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab) [V]
On the vaccine roll-out, I would like to ask for the prioritisation of two groups. First, can unpaid carers be prioritised for boosters in the autumn? The JCVI has not put them on the priority list, but they were put in cohort 6 for earlier vaccines. Secondly, can I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) in asking for a solution to be found for the wonderful volunteers on the Novavax vaccine trial? They now find themselves not able to travel as they cannot get a vaccine certificate and their vaccines are not recognised in the EU. Will the Minister prioritise boosters for unpaid carers to ensure that they are fully protected this autumn? Will he also enable those trialists who have received live Novavax vaccines to have vaccine certificates?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. The Novavax trial participants will have their vaccine pass in the United Kingdom. We are working with other countries to make sure that that is recognised, but as far as the UK is concerned, they will be considered fully vaccinated, whether they have had the placebo or the vaccine. On her very good question on the booster campaign, the JCVI’s interim advice is that phase 1 should be the old categories 1 to 4, plus the immuno-suppressed, and phase 2 should be categories 5 to 9, which include unpaid carers in category 6.
Order. May I just say to everybody who is left, if we are short and quick on answers and questions, I will get everyone in? We are due to finish now, but I will give it a try.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) [V]
Will the Minister join me in thanking Sylvia, Fahad and all the fantastic local team who have vaccinated more than 47,000 people in Honley, Slaithwaite and other pop-up sites across Kirklees? Can he respond to one of the questions they are regularly being asked, which is about the rationale of the JCVI guidance that there should be an eight-week minimum interval between jabs?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in thanking Sylvia, Fahad and all the local team on the extraordinary work they have done. The JCVI advice on the eight-week interval is based on real-world data that suggests that it offers the highest level of protection in terms of antibodies and T cells. Anything below that—I know a number of colleagues have asked me this question—would not be advisable.
Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) [V]
Ministers should be aware of the fears of immuno-compromised people. Unlike the Health Secretary, I know that the Minister is aware of the OCTAVE study. Does he know when it will be published? Can we have some plans for antibody testing? Immuno-compromised people need to be allowed to make informed decisions. Has a ministerial directive been issued to the JCVI to investigate that? If people are seen to have low protection, what extra support are the Government looking to deliver for them?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s questions. She knows—she and I discussed this on Friday morning—that there is OCTAVE and OCTAVE DUO as well. I know that OCTAVE is to report imminently, and I will share that data with colleagues on our group even when the House is in recess. I will make sure that happens as soon as we receive that data. We want to make sure that people are protected. There was some very encouraging data from Public Health England on the immuno-compromised, with 74% production for some, not all, after two doses, but the hon. Member is quite right to point this out. We will look to vaccinate and protect them with a third dose—a booster dose—as the top of group 1 in phase 1 in September.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) [V]
Nobody underestimates the huge challenges the Government face or the great success of the vaccination programme, but does the Minister recognise the frustration of the many hundreds of thousands who have been double-dosed but are pinged and self-isolating—following the guidelines— when they learn of the data suggesting how many people are turning off or deleting the NHS app, with Ministers reportedly advising businesses that this is only guidance? Does he not share my view that surely what is right on 16 August for the double-dosed is right now? Will he agree to consider implementing the measure as soon as possible so that businesses do not have to close, the hospitality sector does not suffer, and many of us do not self-isolate unnecessarily?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point that he has made to me many times. It is important clinical guidance to people. It is important that people take personal and corporate responsibility, as we are seeing with some great companies, such as Lidl, which are coming under pressure at the moment because staff are having to self-isolate. As I said earlier, there are no easy decisions on this, but to be able to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic, we just need that careful, little bit more time until 16 August—it is not long to go—when everyone who is double-dosed will not have to self-isolate for 10 days.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab) [V]
We all know that a negative test is a crucial risk indicator. NHS staff are off work, restaurants and pubs are being forced to close, and there are empty supermarket shelves. This is a time-critical problem in essential parts of society, so when are the Government going to publish a list of sectors where staff can use a negative test result so that they can go to work now? Making employers apply for an exemption is simply not going to be enough, and the economy and society simply cannot wait until 16 August.
In the interests of time, I should say that I have addressed this question fully. Suffice it to say that I gently disagree with the hon. Member in that society came together, as we saw with the vaccination programme, with 80,000 vaccinator volunteers and 200,000 other volunteers. People are doing the right thing, as are corporates. We are working flat out in terms of the critical workforce, critical infrastructure and the frontline, and we announced on Monday that this would apply also to NHS and social care staff.
Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con)
I applaud the vaccination programme, but a number of my constituents have received the AstraZeneca vaccine from batches made in India, which is not recognised by the European Medical Agency. Will my hon. Friend reassure those constituents that they will be able to travel to Europe—to France and Italy, for instance?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his championing of his constituents’ concerns. He is absolutely right to raise them, although I would say to him that the European regulator recognises all AstraZeneca Oxford vaccinations in the United Kingdom and recognises our pass. France has now issued clear guidance that it recognises all batches of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, as well as most of the rest of Europe, and our regulator and the EMA are working with the Italian authorities to get that right. Suffice it to say that I also had a vaccine from one of those batches and it is an excellent vaccine.
Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab) [V]
Today it was announced that Australia and New Zealand have withdrawn from autumn’s rugby league world cup, which we are proud to be hosting, citing safety concerns given the shambolic pandemic response by the UK Government. The New Zealand rugby league chief executive has said:
“The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it’s simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.”
Will the Minister therefore commit to meet rugby league MPs and officials to ensure that a safe and competitive tournament can take place with appropriate measures to protect and reassure team and fans alike?
Just for the record, I am meeting the rugby league chief executive in an hour’s time.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I know that this is something that you focus on and that is important to you and your constituents. I will happily do the same and meet them, and bring the relevant officials to ensure that we reassure them as well.
Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
Will the Minister join me in thanking the many scientists and staff involved in developing and producing the covid vaccines in the UK, including the Wockhardt employees in my constituency, as their achievements have been truly world-beating and remarkable?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I would certainly join him in congratulating Dame Sarah Gilbert and her team and, of course, the team at Wockhardt, whom I know the Prime Minister has also visited and thanked on behalf of the whole nation.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab) [V]
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), what does the Minister suggest that a constituent of mine who has had the Indian-manufactured Covishield jab should do if they are planning to travel to Portugal or Italy in the next two weeks?
The MHRA, our regulator the EMA and, of course, officials are working with the Commission. Wherever we spot these inaccuracies we address them—we have addressed them with Malta and now France. I am assured, as of last night, that pretty much the whole of Europe, other than the Italian authorities—which we are working with—will accept the AstraZeneca vaccine from any batch, because all batches, all factories, are approved by our regulator before they enter the United Kingdom.
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
Today you could go to the Latitude Festival with a negative test or two jabs, and you could go to the open golf last weekend with the same, yet you cannot report for work in the NHS or put food on supermarket shelves. We are rightly worried about the 3 million healthy 18 to 30-year-olds who have yet to get a vaccine, but let us put ourselves in their shoes: they see us all get a jab and wonder what they get in return. So I ask the Minister: do we believe in our vaccine or not, and what is the scientific evidence to explain the difference between 19 July and 16 August when it comes to isolation for the double jab?
I thank my hon. Friend, who always asks important yet challenging questions. The 18-year-olds can now look forward to travelling to 33 countries that have accepted double-jabbed Brits who can demonstrate that. If they have their jab now, they can go to those countries from mid-September. They can look forward to clubbing by the end of September as well—enjoying the Winchester nightlife. I hope I have made it clear to the House that giving ourselves that additional few weeks, given that self-isolation is probably the second most effective tool after vaccines, makes a huge difference as we transition this virus. It is not easy, but I certainly think we are doing the right thing by giving ourselves the space and time to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status.
Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
The app forcing self-isolation is making our country grind to a halt. Delivery drivers, shops, transport, hospitality, factories, and essential public and blue-light services are at breaking point. The Minister has said that there will be no more exemptions to self-isolating. The Business Secretary said the same just this morning. Then, just over an hour ago, he told the press—not this House—that he had changed his mind. Who are we to believe—this Minister or the Business Secretary?
I think the hon. Lady has just demonstrated how difficult these decisions are. I would just say to her that we are working flat out, in the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to work with business—whether it is the critical infrastructure that the Business Secretary spoke about, or any other part of the economy—so that we can safely return to a place where we open up, and open up permanently.
Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
Redcar and Cleveland had the highest covid rates in the country, at more than 1,500 per 100,000, yet in the past 28 days we have not seen a single death from covid, such is the protection provided by the vaccine. We need more people to get the jab to ensure that our hospitalisations and deaths stay low, so will the Minister work with me and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to ensure that we have the additional centres, supplies and vaccinators? Also, will he consider the chemical industry as part of our critical infrastructure, producing the pharmaceuticals for vaccines and the plastics for syringes, for exemption from the usual isolation rules, ahead of 16 August?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his championing of his businesses and his constituents. There is no shortage of the vaccine. I will happily work with him on the workforce and making sure that there is the resource to make it possible to continue to vaccinate at scale; and of course the industries that are delivering some of the essential products for the vaccination programme are incredibly important in that effort.
Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
In order to beat this virus, the Government must take care of not only their domestic responsibilities but their international ones. Will the Minister update us on what is being done to ensure vaccine supply to middle-income and lower-income countries, and update us on the international approach?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his excellent question. It is incredibly important, because we pledged to deliver 100 million excess doses, beginning with 5 million immediately and 20 million by the end of the year, and then the balance next year, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being delivered around the world at no profit to AstraZeneca or Oxford. To update him, we have sent out our first deliveries of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as per the Prime Minister’s pledge, and speaking to the Serum Institute of India, they are now not producing 100 million doses a month of that vaccine but are up at 200 million doses a month. It really is an extraordinary achievement by Sarah Gilbert and her team and AstraZeneca in saving the world from this awful virus.
Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
We were very grateful to the Minister for helping us to secure the Tunstall mass vaccination centre, which has delivered over 50,000 jabs into the arms of people and is the city of Stoke-on-Trent’s mass vaccination centre. As part of the autumn roll-out, when we will be getting a third dose into the arms of many residents, will the Minister confirm that the Tunstall mass vaccination centre will stay in place over the autumn and winter this year?
I thank my hon. Friend for his effort in getting 116,657 jabs into the arms of his constituents and offering them that protection. I will certainly have a look at the vaccination centre as part of our infrastructure. We have a very ambitious programme to deliver to about 15 million people in the first phase and, with the second phase, a cumulative 32 million people. So we will be doing that at scale as well as, of course, flu vaccination wherever possible.