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PM Commons statement on coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement on coronavirus to the House of Commons.

Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will make a statement on our continuing fight against coronavirus and how we intend to fulfil our simultaneous objectives, saving lives, protecting the NHS, while keeping our children in school and our economy running, and protecting jobs and livelihoods

This morning the Deputy Chief Medical Officer set out the stark reality of the second wave of this virus - the number of cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks, there are now more people in hospital with Covid than when we went into lockdown on March 23 and deaths are already rising, and of course there are those who say that on that logic we should go back into a full national lockdown of indefinite duration, closing schools and businesses, telling people again to stay at home as we did in March, once again shuttering our lives and our society.

I do not believe that would be the right course. We would not only be depriving our children of their education, we would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services. And on the other side of the argument there are those who think that the patience of the public is now exhausted and that we should abandon the fight against Covid, stand aside, let nature take her course, and call a halt to these repressions of liberty and of course I understand those emotions.

I understand the frustration of those who have been chafing under the restrictions, the sacrifices they have made. But if we were to follow that course Mr Speaker, and let the virus rip, then the bleak mathematics dictate that we would suffer not only an intolerable death toll from Covid, we would put such huge strain on our NHS, with an uncontrolled second spike that our doctors and nurses would be simply unable to devote themselves to the other treatments for cancer, for heart disease and hundreds more that have already been delayed and that would be delayed again with serious long term damage to the health of the nation and I am afraid it is no answer to say that we could let the virus take hold among the young and fit, while shielding the elderly and vulnerable, because the virus would then spread with such velocity in the general population that there would be no way of stopping it from spreading among the elderly. And even if the virus is less lethal for the under 60s there will still be many younger people for whom, alas, it remains lethal.

So Mr Speaker, we don’t want to go back to another national lockdown. We can’t let the virus rip and so we have followed since June a balanced approach with the support of many Members across the House, to keeping the R down, while keeping schools and the economy going and controlling the virus by changing our behaviour so as to restrict its spread. That is why we have the Rule of Six, and why we have restrictions such as a 10pm closing time on our hospitality sector. Mr Speaker, I take no pleasure whatsoever in imposing restrictions on these businesses, many of which have gone to great lengths to reopen as safely as possible. Nor do I want to stop people enjoying themselves, but we must act to save lives. And the evidence shows that in changing our behaviour, in restricting transmission between us, our actions are saving lives.

Left unchecked each person with the virus will infect on average between 2.7 and 3 others but SAGE assess that the current R nationally is between 1.2 and 1.5. So we are already suppressing that R to well below its natural level, which is why the virus is not spreading as quickly as it did in March.

But we need to go further. In recent months, we have worked with local leaders to counter local spikes with targeted restrictions. But this local approach has inevitably produced different sets of rules in different parts of the country that are now complex to understand and enforce. So just as we simplified our national rules with the Rule of Six, we will now simplify and standardise our local r