Andrew Murrison – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Andrew Murrison, the Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

May I start by welcoming very much the powerful speech from my right hon. Friend the Minister, the statement from the Prime Minister earlier and the plan published today, which I most certainly support?

I want to highlight the Nightingale hospitals. The construction and operation of them has been extraordinary —far better and far more impressive than anything we saw in Wuhan—and we need to be extremely proud of what we have achieved in respect of that part of our response. They may not have been used greatly, but as is pointed out in page 46 of the plan, we may very well have to come back here again, because this will not be the last pandemic and we need to be preparing for the next one. While I hope very much that Nightingale will not be used during this particular pandemic, we need to ensure that what we have learnt through the process on this and many, many facets of the response are not forgotten or shelved, but are there ready to be used in the future, because I fear we are going to have to come back to this again, and maybe again. It is all part of resilience and recognising that the No. 1 threat to this country is not Russia or terrorism—it is pandemic. We need to be alive to that and to prepare for it.

I very much welcome the appointment of Baroness Harding to be our tsar for test, track and trace. I sound a cautionary note, though: many of us who are potential NHS returnees have not been impressed by outsourcing. I know that this has all been done at a rush and that the options open to Ministers are very limited, but we need to be careful about choosing trusted partners with a track record of service in the public sector and make sure that we do not put up with second best.​

Let me ask the Minister about the scientific basis for quarantine. It is traditional to quarantine people who are coming from high-risk countries, not those coming to high-risk countries, and we need to be selective about who we quarantine. Otherwise, it will simply completely close down our aviation industry—it will kill business stone dead—and I am afraid that it is going to hamper our economic recovery.

I am also very cautious about the R value. It is interesting, important and always beguiling, of course, to focus on a number that we can dish up on a daily basis, but it can confuse the picture. The Robert Koch Institute in Germany has been clear about this: it is a useful index but it is only one of several. I am more interested in the number of new cases a day. That particular figure has been declining but not as fast as modelling has predicted. We must expend all our energy on driving that down and make sure that we do not expend all our energy on chasing R, because I suspect that R varies greatly among communities and regions of this country, and settings in particular. It is very important to understand, as others have pointed out, that it may vary greatly among the nations of this United Kingdom. We should not let our politics get in the way of making sure that we address the pandemic in different parts of the country in ways that are suited to where we are with the virus in those settings.

I ask the Minister to focus very heavily on what is going on in care settings right now. That is actually where the action is, in terms of this dreadful virus. That is where the Government need to be focusing all their attention right now, to make sure that we drive down R at a granular level in those settings, and in so doing deal with R across our United Kingdom.