Today, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Julian pressed Boris Johnson on the importance of York returning to the lowest tier 1 level (medium alert) of restrictions when the renewed national lockdown expires on 2nd December in line with the fall in the virus locally, and asked him to call on City of York Council to accept the government’s provision of mass rapid lateral flow testing.
Prior to the new national restrictions, York was put tier 2 (high alert) from 17th October. Tier 2 (high alert) is the next level up from the tier 1 norm, and is meant to reduce household-to-household transmission, with all indoor mixing between different households prohibited, with an obvious significant impact on social and business activity.
Yesterday, the Health Secretary announced a national roll-out of new quick ‘lateral flow’ tests, which can give a result in under 15 minutes, allowing the virus to be more effectively targeted, and reducing the need for restrictions. These tests are now available to all local authorities that wish to use them to control the virus locally, at a rate of 10% of local population per week, with an initial 600,000 quick tests being sent to 67 local authorities who expressed interest as a first step.
Following the announcement, Julian checked in with York’s director of public health about York not participating in this first wave of rapid local mass testing.
In the House of Commons, Julian asked:
With yesterday’s positive news on the covid vaccine and the roll-out of mass testing, and as York’s virus figures continue to fall well below the level at which we were put into tier 2, can the Prime Minister give York some hope to sustain our great city, by clearly outlining the criteria under which we can escape immediately into tier 1 from the 2nd of December? And will he also urge York Council to take up the government’s offer of mass testing?
The Prime Minister responded:
I urge York Council and councils across the land to take up this offer of mass lateral flow testing. I think it’s a very, very exciting possibility….it’s one of the boxing gloves we seek to wield to pummel this disease into submission, the other is the prospect of a vaccine, and that is what we will do continuously throughout the weeks and months ahead.
But I must stress that the way to get ourselves in the best position to achieve that is to make these current restrictions work, so we can come out well, back into the tiers on December 2nd.
After leaving the Commons, Julian said:
As someone who only voted reluctantly for this month’s renewed lockdown on the basis it was a strictly time-limited measure, I thought it was essential to tell the Prime Minister that York must return to the relative normality of tier 1 when the new national restrictions expire next month.
York residents have made serious sacrifices to get our virus rate significantly below where it was when we were escalated from tier 1 to 2 pre-new lockdown, and the government has to demonstrate that the community’s resilience and self-denial will be rewarded. Our local economy also cannot afford a renewed period of tier 2 limbo, with the household mixing ban devastating trade.
I also hope our city’s public health team heed the Prime Minister’s words, and proceed rapidly with their plans to introduce 15-minute lateral flow tests into York. I appreciate the huge effort they are already putting in, but the opportunity to return towards normality offered by quick localised mass testing has to be seized with both hands.
Meanwhile Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Paul Doughty has questioned the City Council over their apparent slow reaction to offers from the Secretary of State for Health for Mass testing which means that York will miss out on the first tranche of Councils who will be rolling-out testing.
The LibDem Council Leadership have been the first to criticise Government-level response to the pandemic despite record levels of targeted Government funding and have been unashamedly and disgracefully politicising Covid. Despite very recent messages from the Council Leadership that mass-testing was crucial for York in the battle against Covid, they fall short by admitting they are not prepared when it matters.