To point the finger at people and places that have not been vaccinated is disingenuous
To speed up our ability to respond to new Covid variants, the government must do away with its contempt for local government.
The Health Secretary stood up in Parliament earlier this week and was clear who he thought was to blame for the spread of the Indian variant.
Of those that have been hospitalised in Bolton, he said “the majority have not been vaccinated and, of them, most of them could have been vaccinated, which is frustrating to see, but is also a message to everyone.”
To point the finger at people or places that haven’t vaccinated is disingenuous. Should everybody get vaccinated when they’re called up to do so? Yes, absolutely. It’d protect them and their loved ones, take the pressure of the NHS and allow us to return to normal more quickly. I encourage everyone who is eligible to get the jab.
Yet we know that vaccine uptake has been extraordinarily high in the UK. Accord to polling by YouGov, the UK is more pro-vaccine than anywhere else in the world. Brits polled higher than Australians, Swedes, Italians, Americans, Norwegians, Germans, Danes and the French.
The truth is the Health Secretary is weaponising vaccine hesitancy. He’s using it as a red herring to cover his tracks – and the poor record of his government.
Local authorities shouldn’t have to wade through mud for days before the government will listen to them
For a start, India was added to the Red List on 23 April – two weeks after neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, despite having higher levels of infection.
That was a serious mistake and allowed thousands of people to enter the country without having to quarantine. As of Monday, local authorities up and down the country – 86 in total – now have five or more cases of the Indian variant as a result.
So, what now needs to be done to stem the rising tide of cases?
The government must go further and faster. It must also be held accountable for its inaction.
It took the government far too long to agree to surge vaccinate in Blackburn and Bolton, despite SAGE concluding that it would be consistent with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s approach to prioritise those with the highest risk.
In order to speed up our ability to respond to new variants, the government must do away with its contempt for local government – and its assumption that Westminster knows best – as well as trust councils and local directors of public health who have the on-the-ground expertise.
Blackburn has been granted 1,000 additional vaccines a day for a period of two weeks. That’s not enough and will need to be extended for at least another two weeks.
Second, the government must urgently set out its local outbreak strategy. The government has been asleep at the wheel and must have a proper plan in place to surge vaccinate, wherever that may be. Local authorities shouldn’t have to wade through mud for days before the government will listen to them.
Third, the government must support councils to carry out mass testing door-to-door – and draw on the resources of the Armed Forces where necessary.
Fourth, the government must put its hand in its pocket and do all it can to help people self-isolate. This same issue crops up time and again. For too long the government has let the most hard-pressed families down, too many of whom are struggling to live on soup because self-isolation payments are too low.
That means following the lead of the Resolution Foundation, which has suggested the government provide self-isolation payments that resemble something akin to furlough.
Only by taking swift, direct action, cutting red tape, and put people first can the government stop the Indian variant. If the government is serious about avoiding regional lockdowns, we need more action and less words.
Kate Hollern is the Labour MP for Blackburn.
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