Philip Dunne speaks in Coronavirus lockdown restrictions debate

4th May 2020
Philip Dunne urges the Government not to introduce arbitrary age limits on relaxing the lockdown restrictions and also asks about the prospect of an antibody test being readily available.
Philip Dunne MP, May 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to you for calling me on my first occasion of trying this virtual system.

I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Minister and his team for the extraordinary efforts they have displayed during this crisis in galvanising both the health service and the entirety of Government to get behind combating this disease. This is no easy task, and I think they have done it admirably, if I may say so. I would also like to pay a brief tribute to everybody working in the NHS, in the care sector and in the public services generally—local authorities, emergency services—right across the country and particularly in Shropshire in keeping a grip. As some other speakers have said, we are some way behind the rest of the country, being a rural shire county, but that does not mean to say that the disease is not now present and, regrettably, killing people.

On the debate today, it is very clear that we are making regulations that are unprecedented in scope in taking away people’s liberty. It is therefore absolutely right that Parliament, which regards itself as the beacon of democracy around the world, is here to scrutinise, to hold Ministers to account and to hold the Government to account. I share the comments made by earlier speakers that it is absolutely right that we have the ability to review these measures every 21 days, and I encourage Ministers to acknowledge—perhaps the Minister can do so in his winding up—that it is the Government’s intent to speak to the measures as they are either repeated or relaxed over the coming weeks.

I would like to make three quick points in this debate. First, and directly related to the regulations before us, some of the most heartrending cases I have heard of during the weeks of lockdown have been the difficulties for family members of those who are patients in intensive care units in hospitals, where they quite properly cannot be visited because they are on incubator ventilators. However, when that treatment does not succeed and, regrettably, there is a tragedy and the death of a patient, it has been difficult for family members to be able to come to terms with their own grief because they are initially not able to attend either burials or cremations. I warmly welcome, first, the announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that close family members should be able to attend burials or cremations, but also that this is being confirmed in these regulations.

I would just like to add my support for care, when the Government look at relaxing the regulations, and for not imposing age-related restrictions on individuals. As we have seen all too vividly, it is possible to reach 100 and to walk—with assistance, but to walk—and take exercise in the way that Captain, now Colonel, Tom did so magnificently and galvanised the nation. We cannot introduce specific restrictions for those aged over an arbitrary limit—70-year-olds have been mentioned —without imposing very great inequality, in my view, on healthy individuals, so please do not do that.

Secondly, it is very clear from the Government’s five markers for relaxing restrictions that testing is one of the key platforms. I take my hat off to the Government again for the extraordinary effort in galvanising academia, the scientific research laboratories, the NHS laboratories, industry and even the military in achieving the very demanding testing target set by the Secretary of State for April. It is a tremendous achievement. However, these tests have all been swab tests—the antigen test—which tell whether an individual currently has the disease, so such a test is of limited use for as long as that individual is presenting symptoms. It does not help in identifying whether they have had the virus. Therefore, the antibody test is vital in order to allow us to get back to normal. It would be helpful if the Minister could give an indication to the House of what prospects we as a nation have of moving towards an antibody test that is effective.


Order. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman is going to conclude very soon, because his five minutes are up.

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would just like to echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) that the contact tracing and tracking app needs to be introduced on a voluntary basis, and the Government should take great care in explaining to the public why it is such an important tool in fighting this disease.


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