On Tuesday (8 September 2020), the Health Secretary made a statement on coronavirus. This follows a rise in the number of positive cases recorded on Sunday and Monday, the highest figures since 22 May.
The Health Secretary stressed the continued importance of social distancing, testing and contact tracing, and targeted local intervention. He confirmed that new technologies, including a rapid test for coronavirus that can deliver results in 20 minutes, are being rolled out to relieve capacity constraints and to expand asymptomatic testing.
I welcome that the Health Secretary and his Department have recognised the long-term health impacts of COVID-19. Six months on, many people are still suffering chronic fatigue, muscle pain and breathing difficulties. A King’s College London survey reveals that 300,000 people in the UK have reported symptoms lasting for more than a month and that 60,000 people have been ill for more than three months. I am pleased about the emerging research into the long-term effects of the virus.
The Health Secretary made a further statement on COVID-19 on Thursday (10 September 2020). He confirmed that, from Monday (14 September 2020), social gatherings in England will be limited to six people. This will apply in any setting – indoors or outdoors – with the exception of schools, workplaces and COVID-19-secure weddings, funerals and organised team sports. There are also exemptions for households with more than six people. Support bubbles larger than six can also continue to meet.
The Health Secretary confirmed that this “rule of six” replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors.
On testing and contact tracing, I remain concerned that the system is still not able to meet demand. Many people are being forced to drive for miles across the country for tests and the contact tracing system continues to miss its target. Instead of outsourcing contracts to firms such as Deloitte, Serco and G4S, which have no experience in testing and tracing, I believe the Government should instead focus on investing in public health teams and NHS laboratories.
More widely, children are now returning to schools and universities are expected to open shortly. There have been several outbreaks in schools recently. However, the exact circumstances in which a school should close if a pupil displays symptoms are still unclear. I believe the Government should provide clarity. Ministers should also provide a national plan for reducing transmission of the virus in the higher education sector.