Keir Starmer – 2020 Statement on the Coronavirus

The statement made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, on 13 October 2020.

Good afternoon. We’re at a decisive moment in the fight against coronavirus. The figures are stark and I’m afraid they’re all heading in the wrong direction.

The number of Covid cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks. Cases may be doubling as quickly as every 7-8 days. There are now more people in hospital with Covid than on 23 March when we went into national lockdown. And while the number of cases is rising more sharply in some areas it is increasing across all regions of the UK and in all age groups.

We know from bitter experience and great personal loss where all this leads. Three things are now clear: the Government has not got a credible plan to slow infections. It has lost control of the virus. And it’s no longer following the scientific advice.

The SAGE minutes from 21 September – published yesterday – underline this. They warn that: “A package” of “stringent interventions” is now urgently needed. SAGE also says that: “not acting now…..will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences….”

They warn that: “As in the first wave…..the burden of a large second wave would fall disproportionately on the frailest in our society [and] on those on lower incomes and Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities”.

Among their recommendations is a “circuit breaker”, a short period of national restrictions that SAGE believes would bring the R-rate down and “re-set the incidence of disease to a lower level”. “SAGE’s advice is that this could set the “epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more.”

They’re very clear that: “The more rapidly these interventions are put in place the greater the reduction in COVID-related deaths and the quicker they can be eased. The Prime Minister has not acted on this advice.

In the last three weeks he’s introduced two sets of far less stringent restrictions – one on 22 September, one yesterday. Both times the Prime Minister has promised that his measures will control the virus and drive down the R-rate. But we now know this is not supported by the evidence.

We also know that SAGE has concluded the £12 billion test and trace system is only a having – in their words – “marginal impact.”

And we also know that in 19 of the 20 areas that have been under local restrictions for over two months infection rates have gone up, not down. There’s no longer time to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The Government’s plan simply isn’t working. Another course is needed.

That’s why I am calling for a two-to-three week circuit break in England in line with SAGE’s recommendation.

A temporary set of clear and effective restrictions designed to get the R rate down and reverse the trend of infections and hospital admissions.

This would not mean closing schools. But if this happens imminently….it can be timed to run across half-term to minimise disruption. But a circuit break would require significant sacrifices across the country.

It would mean only essential work and travel. That everyone who can work from home should do so. Non-essential offices should be closed. Household mixing should be restricted to one household except for those who’ve formed support ‘bubbles’. And all pubs, bars and restaurants would be closed for two-to-three weeks – but compensated so that no business loses out because of the sacrifices we all need to make. It should also mean the UK Parliament moves to remote working.

A circuit break would also provide an opportunity to reset and to rectify some of the mistakes the Government has made. In particular to get a grip on testing and hand over track and trace to local authorities. A circuit break will have to be accompanied by extensive support for jobs, businesses and our local economies.

Because if we’re requiring businesses to close we must provide the financial support necessary to protect people and our local communities – because every job matters and every business matters.

Introducing these kind of restrictions is not something anyone wants to do. This was not inevitable. But it is now necessary if we are to: protect the NHS, fix testing, and get control of the virus.

I also want to say this directly to the Prime Minister. You know that the science backs this approach. You know that the restrictions you’re introducing won’t be enough. You know that a circuit-break is needed now to get this virus under control. You can’t keep delaying this and come back to the House of Commons every few weeks with another plan that won’t work.

So act now. Break the cycle. If you do you will have the votes in the House of Commons. I can assure you of that. You don’t need to balance the needs of your party against the national interest.

As the Deputy Chief Medical Officer said a few days ago, we’re at a tipping point. But if we act now – if we follow the science and break the circuit – we can get this virus under control.

If we don’t, we could sleep-walk into a long and bleak winter. That choice is now for the Prime Minister to make. I urge him to do so.

Thank you.