Theresa May – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the Conservative MP for Maidenhead, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.

First, I pay tribute to all those in the NHS, in care homes and in other settings for working so hard to save lives. But I also pay tribute to all those other workers—the people in local authorities and the emergency services, and others, as well as volunteers, including those in communities across my Maidenhead constituency, who are ensuring that the country can keep going.

Let me say to Ministers that having been there, I do not envy the Government the difficult decisions they have to take. There are no risk-free answers. It is not about eliminating risk, because that is not possible; it is about managing and mitigating risk. It is right that science should underpin decisions, but the science can only take us so far, because essential data is lacking. ​We do not know how many people have had covid-19 in the UK. Although the Office for National Statistics survey is building a better picture, the scientists are still making estimates and debating consensus. The Government are putting an emphasis on R—the rate of infection—but that varies across areas, across different parts of the UK, and across different settings. So there are no absolutes, and both scientists and Ministers have to exercise judgment.

As I say, it is not possible to eliminate risk, but in assessing the risk to be managed and mitigated, it is necessary to assess other risks to lives and livelihoods from covid-19. While the number of people dying from covid-19 has been falling, we see lives being lost prematurely not from covid but because people have not been going to hospital and treatments have been postponed that could impact their prognosis in future. And that is without thinking about all those whose mental health will be affected by this lockdown, increased domestic abuse, and the impact of loneliness. So dealing with covid has unintended consequences.

Protecting the NHS for the future, and protecting our public services for the future, means ensuring that we have an economy that can provide the taxes that pays for them.

Without that, as The Sun commented this morning, many more lives will be lost. As well as listening to the science, the Government need to apply common sense and, as I said earlier, judgment. To do that, I hope that alongside assessing the science and assessing the rate of infection, the Government are also looking closely every day and assessing the wider impact of the lockdown on lives and livelihoods.

This is about judgment. As we pull away from lockdown and as we take those steps to return to a more normal life, we need to ensure that we are being driven not just by an absolute science, which is not there, but by an assessment of the wider impact of covid on people’s lives and their livelihoods. I trust the Government are making those assessments, because it is only by making those assessments that we can ensure not only that we restore our economy to a normality that will supply taxes for our NHS and public services, but that people are able to return to a more normal life.