Today is the 75th Anniversary of the signing of the act of military surrender which took place in Reims in a rural setting some distance from Paris. The signing took place at 02.41 on 7th May and even though our nation was still at war, this led to the Victory in Europe event on the next day. Clearly if the British Army had made the assumption that because they had ended the biggest threat to our nation that they could then pull back all of their troops to the UK the impact of the battles and indeed the war in Asia may well have ended up destroying our nation. Of course there was no prospect of that as the people fighting in Asia were not going to withdraw as they were in the battles but had Winston Churchill and his Government at that time pretended the war was really over and removed their support from our Asian fighters, that could have placed the army in a very difficult and deadly position and placed our nation under threat.
Today 75 years later however is also a very high risk point for our nation, albeit due to a very different threat compared to any war. There will be decisions made today by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet regarding the next steps for our COVID-19 arrangements which will not be disclosed until Sunday when Johnson will make a public statement and then the House of Commons will not be allowed to discuss this until Monday with the Prime Minister or the Government!
It is now several weeks since the number of COVID-19 deaths that were being published has passed what has appeared to be a daily peak. However matters could change very easily and indeed the figure yesterday were a significant point in our nations history to COVID-19 as the official deaths arose from 29,427 to 30,076. Although these 649 deaths are only just over 2% of the total number of deaths that have taken place, they passed us over 30,000 deaths and if we were to go back to what took place on 27th March, at the daily press conference at Downing Street, Prof Stephen Powis said: “If we can keep deaths below 20,000 we will have done very well in this epidemic…… If we do ensure we are to stay within the NHS capacity everyone has a part to play … and it can work.” That call for a national effort to reduce deaths came as the total who had died rose by 260 to 1,019 and a total of 17,089 people had tested positive in the UK.
So we have now passed not only the line of 20,000 deaths that Powis had identified but also a 30,000 line which he clearly did not want us to reach and within the next 2-3 weeks we could reach 40,000 deaths if matters do not reduce dramatically from where they are now. What has so far been the highest number of deaths based on the data published took place on my Birthday which was the 10th April so nearly a month ago and that was when we were told that 980 people had died. On that day the cumulative total reached 9,884 and so we are already three times beyond that total and yesterday 649 people died which represents 66% of our peak number, so we are still having very high numbers of daily deaths, despite all of the lockdown procedures. The risk is that if lockdown is ended we may discover that 980 deaths was not our daily peak. Along with the publication of the death rates, the Government also publishes the levels of tests and infections. Although the number of tests did not get mentioned on the 27th March, they were at 9,793 on 1st April. The test levels rose to around 80,000 at the end of April with a one day peak of 122,000 but since then the number has dropped to around 80,000 again and indeed yesterday it had dropped to 69,463. The number of daily tests is vital to extend significantly if we are to move onto a stage that does not require lockdown as I suggested a few days ago this should be around 500,000 a day. On 27th March the number of infections was identified as 2,885 and shortly after that from 1st April onwards it was over 4,000 almost every day apart from 4 and indeed on several days it got very close to 6,000 people. On the 29th April it passed the 6,000 mark and although it has dropped lower in the last few days, it reached 6,111 people yesterday.
There continues to be a range of challenges and so it is vital that we have meaningful decisions set out by our Government today. In the same way as the Government in 1945 needed to and made a sensible decision following on from the military surrender of Germany. However today, matters look very much more concerning based on what has happened in Parliament in the last few days. One of these is that along with a number of Conservative MPs who want to end the lockdown, Daniel Hannan who was our ex MEP who I wrote about yesterday does not believe it should ever have happened. Two others including the Chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady who I wrote about a day earlier believes people are preferring to stay away from work “I am sure I am not the only Member who has heard from employers who are struggling to fulfil orders because it is difficult to get employees back from furlough” and John Redwood who in the same debate stated “These measures are doing great damage to the livelihoods and incomes of many of my constituents and people around the country, and they are also damaging to our freedoms and liberties, so I urge the Government to find safe ways to get more people back to work as quickly as possible” Indeed Boris Johnson has implied he will end it very soon. However one of his colleagues is Edward Argar who is the Minister of State for the Department of Health and Social Care who hosted the debate on Monday on the subject of the lockdown regulations which MPs had not been able to discuss at all since they were first set out on 26th March, after Parliament was recessed due to COVID-19.
The final aspect of the regulations that I draw attention to is the requirement that they be reviewed every 21 days, to ensure that they remain necessary and appropriate. The first review took place on 16 April, with the First Secretary of State confirming that they would remain in place. The next review is due on 7 May. I am aware of the desire of Members and across the country for more detail on the UK’s progress and future steps, which I understand. The review on 7 May will consider the necessity of the regulations against the public health aim, including the five considerations set out by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State: first, that the NHS can provide critical care across the UK; secondly, that there is a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate; thirdly, that infection rates decrease to an acceptable level; fourthly, that supplies of personal protective equipment and testing meet future demand; and fifthly, that evidence is clear that any changes will not risk a second peak of the virus. The Prime Minister has set out that further announcements on this will be made soon. As he said on Thursday last week, the Government will set out a comprehensive plan this week, which will explain how we will get our economy moving while continuing to suppress the disease. It will set out how we will seek to get life back to normal for as many people as we can, as quickly, equitably and fairly as we can, while continuing to protect the NHS. And it will, of course, as throughout, continue to be guided by the best scientific and medical advice. I hope the House will understand that I do not intend to pre-empt what the Prime Minister might say later this week on the basis of that advice.
Along with the actual statistics which clearly show that lockdown needs to continue for a great deal longer if we are to match these criteria, we are also still reading appalling news about the PPE which the Government along with the NHS and the private sector in this nation and beyond need to resolve. If this 5 stage approach is to be taken, lockdown is clearly vital to be retained. However there are real risks that today Boris Johnson and his colleagues will determine a way forward which meets the demands of their own members and as we have been told will announce it on Sunday. On Monday Graham Brady who represents the backbench Tories stated:
I very much welcome the tone that has been adopted by both the Minister and the shadow Minister. The overriding point was that they accepted that these are extreme and unusual measures that no Government or Parliament would want to see lasting longer than is strictly necessary. I hope that as Ministers approach the second 21-day review, they will do so always with a view to removing restrictions and removing the arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom as quickly as possible….. It is deeply regrettable that the current 21-day period of extension will end on a day when the House is not sitting. The announcements that will be made on Thursday would be better made in the House. We should hear them here first; it should not be the media that get to question Ministers on those announcements. I hope that when future periods of review are considered, the House, and perhaps the Government, might bear that in mind.
Brady’s view was shared by Andrew Griffith, the MP for Arundel and South Downs who stated “it is hard to argue that a touch more parliamentary scrutiny would not have exposed, and therefore narrowed sooner, the gaps between legislation and guidance.” and this was also shared by the Speaker of the House who stated during the Prime Ministers Question time “hopefully in the future such statements will be made to the House first.” which came immediately after this statement from Johnson which is why today is so crucial for the safety of our nation. Whatever the views of the Cabinet, it should be Parliament that adopts or rejects their decisions.
I will, of course, undertake that there will be a statement to the House—as you, Mr Speaker, and the House would properly expect—about what we propose. I just want to explain to the House, as a courtesy, why it is happening on Sunday; I am sure that you would be interested to know that, Mr Speaker. The reason is very simple. We have to be sure that the data is going to support our ability to do this, but that data is coming in continuously over the next few days. We will want, if we possibly can, to get going with some of these measures on Monday, and I think it will be a good thing if people have an idea of what is coming the following day. That is why I think Sunday—the weekend—is the best time to do it, but of course the House will be fully informed and will have the full opportunity to debate and interrogate me or the Government on that matter.