Coronavirus, Testing and Reopening of Schools
Over the last month the Labour Party have supported the gradual easing of some lockdown measures. Whilst these restrictions are being lifted it is essential that everyone continues to follow social distancing guidelines.
In order to ensure a safe reopening, the Government must ensure that it gets testing right. Mass testing and contact tracing is fundamental to breaking the chain of transmission. I am disappointed that the Prime Minister’s so called “world-beating” test and trace system has not been delivered.
One of the main ongoing concerns I have is regarding the reopening of schools. I believe it is vital that children return to school so that existing educational inequalities are not exacerbated and so families are not troubled by childcare arrangements. We have seen the Government miscalculate the challenges of reopening schools in June and have tried to support them in achieving a phased return. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister failed to listen to the education unions and head teachers.
I have received a considerable amount of correspondence from parents who are anxious about their children’s education being stunted by lockdown and apprehensive about the safety of schools reopening. The Labour Party have supported the National Education Union’s five tests which include whole school testing. We have called on the Government to produce a national plan for reopening schools in September that ensures schools are safe for pupils and staff. We continue to work with the trade unions and schools on this important issue.
Coronavirus and Face Masks
I welcome the Government’s announcement that from 24 July it is mandatory to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as shops, supermarkets, banks, building societies and post offices. I understand this does not include vendors of food and drinks such as cafes or restaurants.
Scientific research suggests that wearing a face mask helps prevent the spread of coronavirus by reducing the transmission of bacteria from the mouth and nose of those who have the virus. The World Health Organisation advise that where social distancing is not possible, face coverings should be worn.
I am disappointed that there has not been consistent messaging from the Government on where and in what instances face coverings should be used since the start of the pandemic. I am aware that this has led to concerns from some individuals about the effectiveness of wearing face coverings.
I urge the Government to develop a public information campaign and make funds available to assist with public access to face coverings. Government guidance on how to make your own face coverings can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-wear-and-make-a-cloth-face- covering/how-to-wear-and-make-a-cloth-face-covering
Coronavirus and Retail Workers
I am aware of reports that the Government was considering suspending Sunday trading laws for a year to support the economy. The Prime Minister, Chancellor and Business Secretary, were reported to be in favour of the measure. It was reported that a loosening of Sunday trading laws is one measure the Government was planning to introduce as part of a “Coronavirus Recovery Bill”. This Bill was published on 25 June 2020 as the Business and Planning Bill. I am glad that it did not include any changes to Sunday trading regulations.
I am opposed to changes to Sunday trading hours. Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, retailers and shopworkers have worked hard to ensure people can get vital food and supplies. I am worried that worsening regulations on Sunday trading would put greater pressure on retail workers. I am also concerned that small shops and high streets would be hit hardest by these plans, putting their future viability at risk.
Supporting the economy as we come through the pandemic is essential. However, I do not believe allowing large shops to open for longer on Sundays is the right way to go about this. The Labour Party will continue to urge the Government to support retail workers, not enforce misguided changes that will put them under even greater strain.
Coronavirus and Global Poverty
I am strongly concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on developing nations. The coronavirus pandemic risks seeing half a billion people pushed into poverty across the globe and has the potential to devastate national economies.
I believe that developing countries should be able to prioritise public health spending over debt repayments. This will help us all in the long run as these nations can further strengthen their public health infrastructure and help prevent the spread of the virus throughout the global population.
I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to join other G20 nations in a temporary suspension on debt service repayments from the 77 poorest countries under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). It is also encouraging that the Government have made available £150 million in aid spending through the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT). £75million of this aid is conditional on future need.
Whilst I welcome these important steps, there is no indication from the Government of permanent debt restructuring or cancellation. The Shadow International Development team wrote to the Government to highlight Labour’s concerns. These include the issue of some countries not qualifying for debt suspension and the implementation of the recommendations of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.