MPs Urge Government to adopt Covid-Secure Exit Strategy - or Risk Third Spike

  • Cross-party MPs’ group on Covid publishes biggest review to date of UK response to pandemic - with 71 key findings and 44 recommendations to government described as ‘more important than ever’
  • Report claims government is ‘gambling with UK’s future’ by relaxing restrictions over Christmas and returning ‘to a tier system we know has not worked before’
  • Findings identify that Test and Trace system in England has failed, with government prioritising arbitrary testing targets over co-ordinated testing strategy
  • MPs urge government to adopt Covid-Secure UK Exit Strategy to suppress virus and catch new cases at UK entry points even during vaccine roll out

The biggest review to date of the UK’s response to coronavirus is published today/Thursday – and it urges the government to adopt a ‘Covid-Secure’ exit strategy or risk a third spike in the New Year.
 
The warning comes in the first interim report of the cross-party MPs’ group on Coronavirus, which has heard from 65 witnesses in over 200 hours of live evidence sessions streamed on social media, and received just under 3,000 separate evidence submissions, since the summer.
 
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) was set up in July to conduct a rapid inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.  Its purpose is to ensure that lessons are learned and to issue recommendations to the government ‘so that its preparedness and response may be improved in future’.
 
Today’s report contains 71 key findings and makes 44 recommendations which are termed ‘more important than ever’, adding that the government is ‘gambling with the UK’s future by relaxing restrictions over the Christmas period and returning to a tier system which we know has not worked before’.
 
It adds that the government’s core argument that there is a ‘balance’ to be found between the country’s health and wealth has led to the UK having among the highest death tolls per capita and a worst predicted recession.
 
A key recommendation is the urgent need for a nationwide exit strategy which acknowledges that by saving people’s lives, the UK in turn safeguards jobs and the economy.  It adds that the government needs to adopt the Covid-Secure UK plan, to suppress the virus and then catch new cases at UK entry points while the vaccine programmes are rolled out.
 
The report - which is available online: Interim Report | December 2020 - Covid-Secure UK (marchforchange.uk) - adds:
 
The centralised and outsourced Test and Trace system operating in England has failed. It has consistently failed to meet the required target of 80% of contacts traced to be effective. The government has prioritised arbitrary testing targets over a coordinated testing strategy. Without adequate financial support and general assistance to isolate, the requirement to isolate is not being complied with by a significant proportion of cases. As a result, the chains of transmission are not being broken, and cases can continue to rise. Lockdowns have become the UK Government’s only solution to bringing down the incidence of Covid-19 in England, because it does not have a locally led Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support system in place throughout the country.
 
Isolation is having a devastating impact on those in social care. All people living in care or supported living need to be safely reconnected with their support networks for the crucial emotional and practical support that friends and families provide. The APPG recommends that the UK government ends isolation for all those supported or cared for in the social care sector, including all those in independent and supported living

The government should launch a national registry to count the number of people living with Long Covid in the UK and spearhead global efforts to research Long Covid
 
Layla Moran MP, chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said today/Thursday: “We are concerned that the government’s approach so far has not worked and has left the UK mourning one of the highest number of lives lost to the pandemic, while at the same time bracing for one of the deepest recessions in its aftermath.
 
“The Pfizer vaccine being approved is certainly promising news, but the Government can’t take its foot off the peddle as vaccines are approved. Our cross-party inquiry has clear evidence that we need a long-term exit strategy for a Covid-Secure UK that suppresses and controls coronavirus properly before rolling out vaccines.
 
“Our message to the Prime Minister is that without a proper long-term exit strategy, relying on a tier system we know doesn’t work and waiting for enough people to be vaccinated will only lead to a likely third spike and lockdown in the New Year.”
 
Caroline Lucas, vice chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: ‘It’s clear that today’s centralised and outsourced Test, Trace, Isolate and Support system simply isn’t working, and has consistently failed to meet the required target of 80% of contacts traced.  Local public health teams have a far better track record of delivery, and government needs to enable them to take this on.   But testing and tracing alone is not enough. For this system to be effective, it must be backed up with financial support and assistance for those isolating.
 


‘People can’t be expected to self-isolate if their families will go hungry as a result.   That’s why it’s so vital to learn from other countries and ensure adequate financial and practical support is available. Our inquiry has heard that the number of people fully complying with isolation is as low as 10%. This means that the chains of transmission are not being broken, and we risk increasing transmission as a result.
 
‘Even as we welcome news of the first vaccine being approved in the UK, we need the government to adopt our recommendations as a matter of urgency if they are serious about saving both lives and livelihoods.’
 
Martin McKee CBE, Professor of European Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: “News of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine gives grounds for optimism in the long-term that we will be able to protect people from the serious consequences of COVID through vaccination.
 
“It is right that the government starts preparations for the rollout, but we mustn’t forget that achieving sufficient immunity in the population through vaccination is still a long way off.  The virus is still not under control in the UK, let alone supressed.
 
“The Covid-Secure UK plan offers an achievable way forward while we wait for widespread vaccination. The government must continue to strive for suppression of the virus within the country and to put in place measures that minimise the risk of imported cases. 
 
“Supressing the virus in the UK by following the Covid-Secure UK plan and catching new cases at international borders is the best way to protect the health and wealth of the UK as we prepare for the rollout of any approved vaccine.”
 
 Ends