Clive Efford – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

This would be a difficult situation for any Government, but there are questions that must be answered and lessons that must be learned if we are to come out of lockdown safely. The large number of fatalities in this country was not inevitable. My heart goes out to those who have suffered a loss. The Government have made a religion of cuts and non-intervention, which led them to delay the decision to go into lockdown. Why did we ignore the warnings from other countries ahead of us in the epidemic? In Italy, lockdown began on 9 March; in Spain, it began on 15 March; in France, it began on 16 March. We finally entered lockdown on 23 March. Only Italy had more deaths at lockdown than the UK.

The lack of urgency was repeated over PPE and testing. We hear of frontline staff terrified of going to work without appropriate PPE. As late as 13 March, covid-19 guidance for care homes was issued. It stated that facemasks do not need to be worn in residential settings, and stressed:

“It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”

That guidance was not changed until 2 April—10 days after lockdown. Why was it not changed earlier? How has it contributed to the epidemic in care homes?​

There is a worldwide PPE shortage, yet we hear even now of companies in the UK offering to supply PPE and being ignored by the Government. Why did the Government not act earlier to set up a secure supply structure here at home?

On testing, we have had announcement after announcement. On 18 March, the Prime Minister announced that we had a target of 25,000 tests per day. That was not reached for more than five weeks. On 25 March, he said that testing will “hopefully very soon” reach 250,000 per day. On 29 March, the Health Secretary tweeted, “We’ve reached 10,000,” but that was not correct. On 2 April, the Health Secretary announced that we will reach

“100,000 tests per day by the end of this month.”

That was achieved by sending 40,000 tests out in the post, and the 100,000 target has been missed every day since. This is more about media management than giving the public solid facts.

This far into the crisis, why are we sending tests to the USA? Why have we ignored the laboratories around the country in hospitals, universities and the private sector, many of which said they were geared up to answer the call to help that never came? The Prime Minister has changed the message to be alert, but it is the Government who must stay alert. Without an effective and efficient tracking and tracing system, this is a reckless move. It has already caused confusion. People were given 12 hours’ notice to go back to work today, but the detailed guidance is not being published until today, with some further guidance due tomorrow.

Too slow to lock down and secure the supply of PPE and testing; too rushed to end the lockdown in a coherent and planned way; the performance of the people has been superior to the Government’s. The Government must improve if we are to keep people safe as we come out of this crisis.