Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
Many constituents have contacted me about the new national Covid lockdown.
We all want this to end, but Covid remains a risk to the clinically vulnerable and the elderly. Most studies have suggested that Covid kills between 0.5% and 1% of people who catch it compared to seasonal flu which kills about 0.1% of people affected. Far too many people have died from it already for us to run the risk of more people dying because we didn’t take the right measures at the right time.
The decision to introduce the new lockdown is both inevitable and necessary given the growing number of Covid cases and the increasing pressures on our NHS, including at the LGI and Jimmy’s. There have been more Covid cases in our Leeds hospitals in this second wave than there were in the first wave in Spring. One of the consequences of this is that our hospitals are less able to do other treatment or elective surgery and this has a huge impact on people suffering from other medical conditions. And the latest strain of Covid, which transmits much more easily, has of course been a significant factor in the new lockdown.
I am only too aware of how difficult things have been for many people and their jobs, for businesses and for mental health and welfare. There are lots of people who are really struggling with reduced incomes as the bills mount up. We need to support those who find themselves in this position so the Government must keep the £20 increase in Universal Credit.
Many people have asked about the extent to which certain activities may spread the virus in seeking to find an answer as to why particular businesses have been required to close. The science on all of this is imperfect and I don’t think we will ever get to understand the precise contribution of each activity to the pandemic. But a basic truth holds – namely that the more contacts we have in the course of a day, the greater the risk that the virus will be passed from one person to another and on to those we live with. To put it bluntly, we have to act because we are losing control of the virus.
Some of you have called for all restrictions to be scrapped or asked why a different approach isn’t being taken; for example, shielding the elderly and the clinically vulnerable while everyone else gets on with their lives. The problem with this suggestion is that I have seen no practical proposal as to how this could be done with multi-generational households. For example, if a family lives with an elderly parent then either the family or the parent are going to have to move out of their home to go somewhere else to shield or else there is the risk that the virus will be passed on by those family members who have been at work, for example. How exactly could this be done? And would it be right anyway to separate out families and members of our society on the basis of their age or medical condition? That is not to say, of course, that those of us who are at greater risk shouldn’t take the greatest precautions. That is simply common sense. And if we look around a lot of the rest of the world you will see broadly similar approaches being adopted to the control of the virus.
The other point I would make is about freedom and how we exercise it, which some people have raised. Freedom can never be absolute and one of the tests we apply as a society is whether the exercise of freedom by one person will cause harm to others. For example, there is a legitimate issue for society if we don’t get a sufficient level of vaccination because the virus may continue to circulate more than it would otherwise do. In those circumstances some people will catch it, some of those people will become ill enough to require hospital treatment and some of those people in hospital will sadly die.
Finally, the good news. We do now have the Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca vaccines and vaccination has begun. The more of us who get the vaccine the better the chance we have of overcoming the virus.
We now have a means of starting the journey back towards a more normal life for businesses and families and it can’t come soon enough.
MP for Leeds Central