Column: Northampton MP outlines the case against Plans B and C in Covid battle

Andrew Lewer explains why he is against more 'draconian lockdowns'

Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 2:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 2:07 pm
Despite the latest Omicron concerns, the vaccine programme has broken the back of infections versus hospitalisations and deaths

This time last year, the Government brought in the three-tier restrictions across the country and by January 6, 2021, we were plunged into a full lockdown.

There was a surge not only of infections, but also hospitalisations and deaths.

The vaccination programme was in its infancy. We were told that the delivery of our vaccination programme would be a game changer and by getting the most vulnerable vaccinated, this would be enough to relax restrictions.

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By January 25 the vaccination programme was powering ahead, with almost 80% of the over-80s protected; 32% of all hospital beds were occupied by Covid patients, but hospitals coped and the system did not collapse.

Twelve months on, even with Omicron, we are in a profoundly different situation. We have administered more than 120 million vaccines with 22 million booster jabs already delivered. Even with infections at last January’s levels, the recent Covid bed occupancy rate is only around 5% (not 32%) and deaths are a fraction of January levels.

It is estimated that 95% of the population has Covid antibodies. The evidence is unequivocal, the vaccine programme has broken the back of infections versus hospitalisations and deaths. Medical interventions have improved and the length of stays in hospitals has greatly reduced.

Last week I was assured by Dominic Raab on the airwaves that the Government was not considering a Plan B, yet within 24 hours, at the height of consternation over the Downing Street party allegations, Plan B restrictions were hastily rushed through Cabinet and bounced on to the country.

In the absence of proper, evidenced-based decisions, we are not only back in the realms of mandatory face coverings, being forced to work from home and mandatory quarantine for travelling from a number of African countries, but the Government wants to go further and make it illegal to go about certain parts of our lives without mandatory vaccine passports.

We have also imposed mandatory vaccinations on care home workers and are now trying to make it compulsory to impose vaccinations on all NHS staff, which is causing great concern among many in the NHS community who worked hard during the height of Covid in mid-2020 and early 2021. In particular, the Royal College of Nurses has significant concerns around this issue.

As if that is not enough, there are plans afoot to bring in a Plan C and the prime minister said he wants a national conversation about mandatory vaccinations for everyone.

Yet evidence from South Africa in recent days has seen, despite a substantial increase in the number of tests performed, a dramatic decrease in test positivity for Omicron. This is very welcome news and a powerful counter to the knee-jerk reaction of further enforced restrictions on our freedoms and liberties here.

Lockdowns and restrictions (ie shutting down or reducing huge parts of our economy) should only ever be used as a last resort. We have done the opposite this time, with a huge price tag still to pay from the last three.

The goodwill and trust afforded to government and state institutions are eroding. As journalist Dan Hodges pointed out: “It is worth remembering that at almost every single stage of the Covid crisis, the modelling of the virus’s growth has been wrong. Not just marginally wrong, but so spectacularly wrong as to have minimal practical utility for policy making.” Yet here we are.

We were promised last year that the vaccine programme was the path away from what then Health Minister Matt Hancock described as “draconian lockdowns”. He was right and this is why I will be voting against the ever more draconian restrictions this week.

The tsunami we face is not deaths from Omicron, but missed cancer diagnoses, mental health crises and the demise of businesses which, given a fair crack of the whip, would be providing jobs and tax revenues for years to come. We are now seeing a rise of excess deaths that cannot be explained by ‘with Covid’ mortalities. We cannot afford to fight World War Two battles with World War One tactics and in the process erode all the hard-won freedoms we have amassed over the centuries. I owe it to not just my constituents, but also the country.