St Albans MP calls government to account over lockdown strategy
- Credit: Archant
St Albans MP Daisy Cooper believes transparency and public trust are key factors in any future strategy to ease lockdown restrictions.
She told the Herts Ad: “As early as January, [COVID-19] was reported as a SARS-type virus and medical journals were reporting high death tolls and infection rates from those countries that were already suffering. The World Health Organisation was advising a ‘test, test, test’ approach and it seemed clear that the UK should be strictly limiting and tracking the spread rather than letting it run rampant through the population.
“The problem for the UK was the secrecy behind advice, methodology and advisors at that time. It turns out that the UK was using a ‘flu model’ that was completely inappropriate for COVID-19. Keeping the science secret meant that it couldn’t be challenged earlier.”
But could more have been done to prevent the tragic number of deaths reported in the daily government press briefings?
“The UK has the highest number of COVID-19 hospital and care home deaths in the world, with the exception of the USA. Other official data showing how many excess deaths we have compared to normal for this time of year indicates the tragedy may yet be double what is being recorded as coronavirus.
“We know there have been problems and delays with the UK’s readiness for a pandemic, with the ‘herd immunity’ approach, the delayed lockdown, implementation of a testing regime and, of course, the sourcing and distribution of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to our frontline and key workers.
“Many of these issues are still not solved but with the death toll in care homes still rising and insufficient PPE and testing, it is still the priority of every MP right now to focus on solving issues rather than pointing fingers.”
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Asked whether she thought the stringent restrictions imposed during the lockdown have been a success, and if now is the time to ease these measures, she was clear on the approach she believes the government needs to take: “The lockdown has clearly helped in bringing down the number of new cases and deaths, but the rates are still alarmingly high, and even growing in care homes.
“The Liberal Democrats have been clear that restrictions should not be lifted until we have a proper Test, Trace, Isolate strategy in place to contain and treat new cases.
“This requires far more capacity than the 200,000 tests per day that Boris Johnson is promising by the end of the month or even the 250,000 tests per day that he originally promised back in March. And the turnaround time for tests needs to be reduced from five days to 24 hours.
“It will also require the government to roll out a tracing app that can be proven to be safe and effective. The government must work on regaining public trust, not just relaxing guidance. More transparency about the alert system, the data behind the decisions and the data harvesting tracker app will be vital to build trust instead of losing it at this critical time.
“Any future strategy – such as easing lockdown restrictions, or creating a tracing app – will depend on public trust, and that can only be achieved through greater transparency.
“That’s why I’ve asked the government to publish the criteria and process used for selecting SAGE [Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation] experts after reports that it doesn’t include any virologists, public health experts or nursing leads; it’s why I asked the UK Statistics Authority to ask the government to more clearly present its statistics after its ‘100,000’ tests a day was debunked and then started to fall; and it’s why I asked the Prime Minister to publish not only the data on the procurement of PPE, NHS capacity and testing, but to also publish the amount actually needed for each, and to explain to the public how the difference between the two will now inform the decision on setting the new ‘alert level’.”
Finally, she also doesn’t believe people should be pressured into returning to work: “Each individual and family will have their very own set of circumstances: some will be shielding, some will have caring responsibilities, some will be able to work from home and others may be pressured to return to work. It’s not for me to encourage or not encourage people to return to work: everyone will have to make their own decisions based on their own circumstances.”