Mr Speaker, before I turn to my remarks today, I wanted to say something to you Sir. I wanted to take a moment, ahead of this House rising for the summer to thank you Sir, and everyone who works here in Parliament your whole team for everything you’ve done to keep us all safe over the past few months.
The fact that we’ve kept our democracy running – and running safely – at this time of crisis is an incredible achievement and we’re all extremely grateful to you and your team. Mr Speaker, with permission, I’d like to make a statement on the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week we’ve taken a decisive step forward. Taking step 4 on our roadmap, and carefully easing more of the restrictions that have governed our daily lives. But although we’re moving forward, we must move forward with caution. Because this pandemic is not yet over.
The average number of daily cases in England is around 41,000, and hospitalisations and deaths are rising too although at a much lower level than if we had this number of cases during previous waves. So, even as we take step 4, we’re urging everyone to think about what they can do to make a difference and today we’re launching a new campaign, encouraging everyone to keep taking the little steps that have got us this far. Like wearing face coverings in crowded public areas making sure rooms are well ventilated and getting rapid, regular tests.
We’re also supporting businesses and organisations, helping them to manage the risk of transmission within their venue including through the use of the NHS COVID Pass for domestic use. I know that this has been of great interest to Honourable Members and I wanted to use this opportunity Mr Speaker today to reiterate this policy, and offer the chance for the House to have its say.
Mr Speaker, this week, after a successful trial, we have rolled out the NHS COVID Pass. This allows people, safely and securely, to demonstrate their COVID status whether it’s proof of vaccination status, test results or natural immunity. Anyone can access a Pass via the NHS app on the NHS website or by calling 119 and asking for a letter to demonstrate vaccine status. People will also be able to demonstrate proof of a negative test result.
Although we don’t encourage its use in essential settings, like supermarkets other businesses and organisation in England can adopt the Pass as a means of entry where it’s suitable for their venue or premises and when they can see its potential to keep their clients or their customers safe. But for proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and likely to mix with people from outside their households for prolonged periods deploying the Pass is the right thing to do.
The Pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and so we reserve the right to mandate its use in the future.
Next, Mr Speaker, I’d like to update the House on vaccination as a condition of entry.
We all know the benefits that both doses of a vaccine can bring. Data from Public Health England estimates that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine offers protection of around 96% against hospitalisation. And today Mr Speaker we have new data from PHE that estimates the vaccination programme in England alone has prevented 52,600 hospitalisations, that’s up 6,300 from two weeks ago.
A fitting example, I am sure you will agree Sir, of the protective wall that our vaccination programme has given us – a wall that’s getting stronger every day. It’s this protection that’s allowed us to carefully ease restrictions over the past few months but we must do so in a way that’s mindful of the benefits that both doses of the vaccine can bring.
This strategy, this philosophy has underpinned our approach over these critical next few months.
This week, as part of our step 4 measures, we allowed fully vaccinated adults – and all children – to return from amber listed countries without quarantine with the exception of France, due to the persistent presence of cases of the Beta variant. From the 16th of August, children under 18 and people who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate as contacts, given their reduced risk of catching and passing on the disease.
And as I updated the House on Monday, at the end of September we plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry to those high risk settings where large crowds gather and interact. By this point everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to be fully vaccinated and so everyone will have that opportunity to gain the maximum possible protection.
So, as a condition of entry to these venues, people will need to show that they are fully vaccinated and proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient.
This is not a step that we take lightly, Mr Speaker. But all throughout this pandemic – just like Governments all across the world, whether it’s Singapore or Australia or Germany and France, we’ve had to adapt our approach to meet the threat of this deadly virus. And this is no different. But we will always keep these measures, like all our measures, under review with the goal of returning to the freedoms that we love and cherish.
Mr Speaker, we should all be proud of the enthusiasm and uptake we’ve seen for our vaccination programme. 88% of all adults have now had a first dose, and 69% of people have had both doses and this uptake means the latest ONS data shows that 9 in 10 adults now have COVID-19 antibodies. But there are still many people who are unprotected, including 34% of people aged 18 to 29 who have not had either dose.
So I’d like to once again – ahead of the summer recess – urge everyone to come forward and get both doses. To protect yourselves and protect your loved ones and your community.
Mr Speaker, our battle against this virus is not the kind of battle where we can simply declare victory and move on with our lives. Instead, we must learn to live with the virus, doing whatever we can to slow its spread while we maintain the vital defences that will keep us safe.
And that is exactly what this Government will do.
I commend this statement to the House.