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Covid measures: Q&A

This week Parliament voted on a number of measures as it becomes increasingly clear that Omicron is a threat and that government must act swiftly to limit its spread.

Labour wants to ensure that everyone can enjoy Christmas safely this year, and also want to make sure we do all we can to protect the NHS – which has been suffering a staffing shortage and record waiting lists since before the pandemic hit.

In recent weeks Stephen has received lots of emails and letters from constituents who are angry about the revelations regarding Downing Street parties last Christmas. Stephen shares that anger, but would not want to let that get in the way of doing the right thing now in the national interest and to protect lives.

We set out here some of the key measures and a Q&A on Labour’s and Stephen’s views:

Covid passes

Many of the emails received in recent days refer to ‘vaccination passports’ as if we will all be required to show that we have been vaccinated. It is important to understand that this is not what was being proposed this week, nor something put to MPs to vote on.

The vote was on ‘Covid passes’ where we will have to show either vaccination status or proof of a negative lateral flow test in order to gain entry to large venues or mass gatherings where there is a greater risk because because of the number of people attending. This includes nightclubs, indoor events of more than 500 people, outdoor settings with more than 4,000 people, like music festivals, and all settings with more than 10,000 attendees, like football stadiums. A vaccination passport to access essential services is something very different and Stephen remains opposed to these.

During the summer not everyone had been offered a second jab, and with the local economy reopening it would have been wrong to create a two-tier society by imposing these checks. But Omicron is a new threat on top of the existing variants of the Covid, and we need to act swiftly to limit its spread. Throughout the pandemic, as the opposition, Labour has always put public health before party politics, and they will continue to do so. That’s why they supported the measures on their merits.

The ‘covid pass’ system is similar to one that has been operating in Wales for some time, people travelling abroad have long got used to showing a negative test result and many other venues have been asking for proof of a negative test result on a voluntary basis.

Stephen is aware that a vaccine status alone does not prove that an individual is not carrying the virus. That’s why Labour called on the Government to include the option of a negative lateral flow test as an alternative to proof of vaccination status and we are glad that Ministers have listened.

Vaccination passports

Stephen remains clear that vaccination passports should never be used to bar people from essential services. This would be discriminatory and Stephen opposes these. At the time of writing, the Government has not brought forward measures to introduce this, and Labour will not support any future attempt to do so.

Getting the vaccine

Stephen recognises that some people are very strongly opposed to getting vaccinated but it is not right to suggest that what was proposed this week in Parliament will somehow force people to do so.

He voted for measures because presenting evidence that you don’t have the virus is not unreasonable given the threat from the Omicron variant. These are sensible and measured steps to help reduce the spread of the virus, but must be used in conjunction with other public health measures like vaccines and testing.

More broadly, it remains really important that all of those who are eligible get their vaccines and booster jabs when possible. Vaccination remains the most important thing we have available to us in the fight against the pandemic. The evidence is now clear that it helps to reduce severe infection and death, and we have an obligation to each other to provide the maximum protection against the virus.

Getting the booster

With preliminary evidence suggesting that two vaccinations alone provide less protection against the new Omicron variant, it’s absolutely vital that the rollout of the booster is accelerated and we all take up our opportunities when we are called.

Now more than ever, the choices we make ourselves have an impact on the health of those in our community. Those who remain unvaccinated are at a much higher risk of serious illness and death, which in turn will mean more pressure on local hospital beds and on NHS staff, and an adverse effect on other patients waiting for tests or treatments for things like cancer.

Q&A

Do you support the call for everyone to work from home?

  • Labour has always said workers should flexibility to work from home should they choose to.
  • The scientific evidence suggests people should from home where they can and we support this.

Will you support requiring use of the Covid NHS app to enter certain settings?

  • Labour called on the government to include an option to present a negative test as an alternation to vaccination status, and to ensure the app isn’t required for access to essential services.
  • They have given us those assurances this week, so we don’t oppose this.

Will you vote for further restrictions if the Government introduce them?

  • Labour has always supported measures that have been necessary to keep people safe, and we won’t alter that approach.
  • But we urge the government to urgently boost the booster programme as this is the best way to ensure people can enjoy Christmas safely this year.

Is it time for mandatory vaccinations to be introduced, as they are being in Europe?

  • Labour think the best approach is to persuade the general public of the need and safety of vaccines. The arguments in favour of getting the vaccine are overwhelming strong.
  • So Stephen is urging everyone who hasn’t yet received their first, second or third dose if they’re eligible to get vaccinated, protect themselves and protect their loved ones this Christmas.

You’ve previously said Covid status certification (“vaccination passports”) are discriminatory. Is this still the case?

  • Labour has always said that that the use of Covid vaccination status alone would be costly and impractical, and discriminatory. Being double jabbed doesn’t prove you aren’t carrying the virus.
  • That’s why Labour called on the government to include an option to present a negative test as an alternative to vaccination status, which is what was used at Labour Party conference. The Government has listened to Labour’s call, so we don’t oppose this.
  • We remain opposed to the use of covid status certification (vaccination passports) for access to essential services.
  • There are other measures that can be used to keep people safe in these settings, such as mask wearing and ventilation, and Covid Passes described above, which Stephen has supported for mass gatherings (500+ people) and for nightclubs.

What would Labour do differently on economic support?

  • Labour wants a common-sense approach that helps get businesses through the next few months. No one wants to see businesses go under after they have worked so hard to get through the last year
  • Businesses are telling us they need clarity from the Government, the Government must not return to last minute decisions and vague guidance
  • The Government must get a grip of the situation to protect our health, our economy and our jobs. That means doubling down on vaccinations and ventilation, and improving sick pay.

Should there be further border restrictions?

  • The lesson from the first wave and the Delta wave is that the pandemic accelerates steeply when there are lots of separate new cases being seeded from abroad. That’s why it is so important to act fast by introducing tests and adding countries to the red list when needed.
  • The government should have listened to Labour when we called for pre-departure tests much sooner. It is vital the government acts much faster to stop the spread of dangerous variants from entering the UK. Unfortunately, the variant is now spreading within the UK.

What are you calling for on global vaccination?

  • The Government must release and ship any excess vaccines that aren’t needed for our vaccination programme. We will keep seeing new variants like Omicron developing until all the world is vaccinated.