As the number of newly recorded cases, hospital admissions and deaths are starting to come down from their extremely high peak in January, I continue to encourage everyone to follow the rules by staying at home to reduce transmission of the virus. I am strongly concerned about the news of new Covid variants entering the UK. Particularly, the South African variant which research suggests current vaccines may work less effectively against. Labour is urging the government to go further and faster on testing and the vaccination rollout to save lives. We also continue to call for proper financial support for those needing to isolate to help break the chains of transmission.
This last month also marked the sad passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised tens of millions of pounds for NHS Charities during the first wave of the pandemic. I stood with The Speaker of the House of Commons and senior representatives from other political parties and joined the rest of the country in a national applause in tribute to Captain Tom and all of the frontline health workers that he helped.
Supporting the Vaccine Rollout
I applaud the scientists and all those responsible in the NHS for their work in rolling-out vaccines. However, Labour is calling on the government to go further and faster, doubling the number of vaccinations to 4 million a week. This would mean that both key workers and those aged 50 – 69 would be able to be vaccinated alongside one another. I would like to see teachers and support staff vaccinated as soon as possible, as part of a national effort to reopen schools. Beyond this Labour would urge the government to instruct the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to draw up a list of critical workers prioritised for the vaccine. This would include people like police officers and transport workers who have been shown to be at higher risk of transmission throughout the pandemic.
Stopping the Spread of Dangerous Coronavirus Disinformation
I am strongly concerned about campaigns spreading disinformation about the virus. They undermine the public health response and public support of the restrictions necessary to get through this. My view is that the current law does not do enough to address these kinds of campaigns. There has been an ongoing debate on this in relation to influence by foreign governments and conspiracy theories such as those surrounding the 5G rollout. I agree with the Leader of the Labour Party on this and would actively support the Government in passing legislation to deal with disinformation regarding Coronavirus.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party in Parliament cannot do this on it’s own, we need the government to take this issue more seriously. Disinformation must be addressed specifically in online spaces such as social media. While social media companies have put measures in place in response to virus disinformation, more must be done through legislation. These companies have allowed the spread of conspiracy theories and provided a platform to extremists. In some ways the advertising and search algorithms of social media have even promoted this.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been looking at this issue and called on the Government to bring forward the Online Harms Bill that has been progressing too slowly to address the current crisis. I do not believe that freedom of speech is unlimited, it must be used responsibly and does not extend to uses that are intended to cause harm. Recent events have made the importance of this clearer than ever. Labour will continue to press the Government to address this.