How to use lockdown to get to grips with virus crisis – Rachel Reeves
We know the Government’s failure to act quickly and decisively has already cost lives and jobs.
Boris Johnson wasted the summer when he should have used that time to sort out the terrible mess of test, trace and isolate – one of the critical tools in the battle against Covid-19.
When the Government’s scientists recommended an urgent circuit break on September 21, 11 people died from Covid-19 and there were 4,000 infections.
By the time the Prime Minister announced an even longer lockdown last Saturday, the toll has risen to 326 deaths and 22,000 infections.
I have highlighted at Westminster the scandal that has seen outsourcing firms like Serco and Sitel rake in huge profits from contact tracing, while people pay a heavy price for their failure to run the system efficiently.
The Prime Minister should sack Serco, improve the national system and use local public health experts like those in Leeds who know their communities and have a far better chance of getting this virus under control.
In addition to better community testing, the Government must speed up the roll-out of rapid turnaround testing, especially in high risk-workplaces and high-transmission settings.
All this is crucial if we are to use lockdown to get a grip of testing, tracing and isolating the virus.
But this crisis has also shown who we are as a country. Looking out for each other and especially for those struggling most.
So, I was really heartened to see the brilliant work of so many local businesses that offered free meals to children over half-term.
Among those in my Leeds West constituency was Carol’s Confectioners, in Bramley – a bakery and sandwich shop that did an amazing job handing out around 200 lunches to children in five days.
It is a terrible indictment on the Prime Minister that he is prepared to let children go hungry, which is why Labour is calling on the Government to fund free schools meals over all school holidays up to next Easter.
It is great that local businesses have stepped up, but the Government must now do the same. Its failure to support children during this crisis goes far deeper than the refusal to provide free school meals as more and more families struggle with welfare cuts and unemployment.
The Government has betrayed them at a critical time when many schools need extra help to enable more remote teaching. I have listened to local teachers let down by the Government when it comes to providing laptops for online learning when class “bubbles” are collapsed if anyone falls ill.
Teaching staff are trying their best to provide high-quality education, but their jobs are so much harder by the Government when the promised laptops to help children learn at home do not materialise.
This latest set of restrictions will hit everyone, but it will be particularly hard on those households in high-rise flats with no outside space.
And despite the difficult times facing our schools and communities, I am also intensely aware that local businesses are really up against it, with many of them in a battle for survival.
That fight has been made much harder by the Government’s failure to support them properly.
The chaotic, last-minute extension of the furlough scheme was no way to give businesses the clarity they need to plan – especially when many West Yorkshire businesses were already struggling with Tier Two and Tier Three restrictions.
That is why the Chancellor Rishi Sunak must set out a proper strategic plan for the next six months to give businesses the certainty they require.
However, it is his boss Boris Johnson who has compounded the problems facing businesses and raised the risk of unemployment soaring.
His decision to ignore the advice of SAGE’s scientists for 40 days while Covid-19 cases and deaths soared led to a longer and more economically damaging lockdown.
It is the Prime Minister’s failure of leadership and poor judgement that means the test and trace system is still not working properly.
People have seen through his boosterism and empty promises of “world-beating” systems and “moonshots”. Johnson constantly over-promises and under-delivers. He is only capable of moving swiftly in reverse gear.
It took far too long, but the latest restrictions are necessary. That’s why I and my Labour colleagues supported the Government this week.
But we will be holding them to account and pushing them to finally sort out test, trace – and crucially people’s ability to self-isolate – to get this virus under control.
The next few weeks will be tough. More than ever, we need to support each other and pull together to give ourselves the best chance of defeating the virus and building a better future for our communities.
Rachel Reeves is a senior Shadow Cabinet member and Labour MP for Leeds West.
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