The following article was submitted to the Mail on Sunday in our joint names. It was edited in ways which changed its meaning which we positively rejected. The following is the copy we provided as our final version.
By Rt Hon Mark Harper MP (Chair of the Covid Recovery Group) and Steve Baker MP (Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group)
For those vulnerable to it, Covid is a dangerous disease so it’s vital we control it effectively. That’s why we set up the Covid Recovery Group in early November.
Our response to Covid must be rational and balanced, not driven by panic, and should take full account of all the health and economic consequences of lockdowns and restrictions. And our response to the virus should be based on informed scientific, economic and health data.
First, we want to know for sure that these restrictions are serving their primary purpose of slowing the spread of Covid. If they are not, we would be failing in our duty to protect people from the disease, to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed and needlessly grinding our economy into the dust.
We had a full national lockdown in November. Since early December, 99 per cent of the country has been living under the heightened restrictions of Tiers 2 and 3. New rules yesterday, which were announced on Thursday, forced four to five times as many people across the country into Tier 3 than before the November lockdown.
There is no logic in having a lockdown only for millions more people and businesses to have to live and operate under increasingly severe restrictions afterwards. And it is even harder to stomach when there is no transparency or logic from Government about what the criteria are for moving areas between or down the tiers.
This strategy is clearly failing at breaking the transmission of Covid. If it was succeeding, we would be talking about an exit strategy from repeated lockdowns or about areas moving down the tiers. Right now, the only way is up.
Second, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense social and health damage and have a huge impact on people’s livelihoods. From people not presenting for treatment and deteriorating mental health to the impact on young people’s education, job prospects and our country’s soaring debts, lockdowns and restrictions cost lives. The cure we’re prescribing runs the risk of being worse than the disease.
That’s why we have repeatedly asked Government for regional cost-benefit analysis showing the non-Covid health impact and the impact on society, people’s livelihoods and businesses of all these measures. Are these restrictions saving more lives than they cost? It’s a fair and reasonable question for any of us to ask. And this call for data and evidence should have applied to the rules for Christmas too.
Earlier this month, the Government legislated to allow for festive “bubbles” without social distancing over the Christmas period. And now there’s been a last minute ditching of these plans and a cancellation of Christmas for vast swathes of the country.
Of course we would all like to see restrictions eased, but again our call is for the data. What does the evidence suggest we should be doing, not least given we’ve been told that Covid case numbers will increase with even a minor relaxation in the rules?
We cannot expect our citizens to tolerate living under a system of laws that changes so frequently, which avoids the usual democratic checks and balances and which is riddled with so much complexity and uncertainty. Any change to the laws on Christmas must be debated and approved by the House of Commons in advance, using a Recall if necessary. Parliament must not be bypassed.
The best Christmas present the Government could give the nation is a different, enduring and sustainable strategy for living with Covid that lasts beyond Christmas, which doesn’t ask people to pay a heavy price for their freedom. And that requires an exit strategy.
It’s great news that a vaccine is being rolled out to the most at risk groups around the country. But as this work begins, it is imperative that the Government sets out how this will translate into a return to normal in 2021 for us all.
Vaccinating the most at risk groups dramatically changes the impact of Covid – both in terms of deaths, serious health consequences and admissions to hospital. In early December the Health Secretary said that once we have protected vulnerable people, lifting restrictions “obviously” becomes safer to do. Government should be clear about how it will lift restrictions in line with the vaccine roll out and when our freedoms will be fully restored.
Cycles of lockdowns and restrictions have failed. We need a strategy that slows the spread of Covid. The public and Parliament must be trusted with the data and analysis about the full impact these rules are having on people’s lives. And we need a clear exit strategy so that people feel hope and optimism for 2021.
Now is time to lead the UK out of the Covid crisis and into a positive future.