Chris Green: The narrative for vaccinating children and Covid passports is getting stronger. We need to stop and think.

28 May

Chris Green is MP for Bolton West and Atherton.

A narrative is being developed around Covid-19 that can have awful consequences. Fundamentally, it is that the only solution to the pandemic is to achieve a UK and then a global zero-Covid outcome. Obviously, this will require a vast amount of power to be transferred to governments for the foreseeable future.

Many people are “vaccine hesitant”, especially on behalf of their own children, so compulsion will be required to get the job done. Digital IDs, databases and other measures will be developed to enable a robust nudging operation and to ensure the smooth cross governmental working of complex systems.

The Health Secretary and Chief Medical Officer have already set out the right way to judge our performance in dealing with the pandemic. Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty have said that a key turning point will be achieved when the link between the transmission of the disease and death or hospitalisation has been severed. This will then begin to enable Covid-19 to be treated in a similar way to influenza.

I believe that the link has been severed so, while I would like the unwinding of lockdown to be quicker, I will accept waiting till June 21 but with no delay and no turning back.

Instead of a realistic understanding of our progress, the narrative for domestic vaccine passes, compulsory vaccination and even the vaccination of children is being developed and is getting stronger.

I am not too concerned with vaccination passports, in general, but I do worry that they are a Trojan Horse for a domestic pass. Initially, the domestic pass would be used for a small range of settings but could easily be expanded once established. My yellow fever vaccination came with a paper certificate that had all the necessary details but none of the civil liberty problems.

The decision on the domestic pass or Covid Status Certification is going to be made in early June. I rather hope that the Prime Minister would be as inclined to eat up this digital ID card as eagerly as he promised to eat a physical version. If he does, he will have ended the most likely enabler for compulsory vaccination.

If the CSC project goes ahead, and the narrative behind “zero Covid” grows ever louder propelled by the ever-present fear that the next variant will be so much more deadly, then the threat of compulsory vaccination looms larger.

The range of vaccines that we have are all considerably more effective than a typical influenza jab and they have maintained that high level of effectiveness from when they were first developed through a multitude of new variants that are either getting passed our leaky borders or are emerging domestically.

If fear drives the agenda the belief will take hold that we all must be vaccinated. The Covid Status Certification could rapidly evolve from just restricting access to large events controlling access to work, education and public transport.

Children rarely suffer from the disease but they are targeted by some as the living incubators of an ever-mutating pathogen. Children are not the problem and adults all have the option of a vaccination to assuage their fears.

We have had compulsory vaccination for children in the UK but that was to protect them from the dreadful smallpox rather than the vaccination of children to protect adults. Other countries do have systems of compulsory vaccination programmes and the Health Secretary has considered it in the past. He said, in reference to measles, “I think there’s a very strong argument for the movement to compulsory vaccination and I think the public would back us.”

Andy Burnham, the Mayor for Greater Manchester, has been calling for vaccinations for children as young as sixteen and trails are being run to approve vaccines for those as young as twelve.

Vaccines do carry health risks and it is possible for rare but extreme conditions to only emerge once many have already had the treatment. Is it moral to do this when the Covid-19 threat to children is known to be tiny?

Anyone looking at the Coronavirus dashboard should be reassured by the low level of deaths and number of Covid patients in hospital. The vaccines are working as they should but, with a hospital waiting list of 5,000,000, the NHS is not. Government priorities need to shift because we have a hard recovery ahead of us and we need to start as soon as possible.

This is no time for a permanent power grab by the State because a less free society is a less healthy society.

Chris Green: We are following a failing Covid strategy and its costs are too high. That’s why I quit the Government.

16 Oct

Chris Green is MP for Bolton West and Atherton.

Resigning from a position of Parliamentary Private Secretary is, in practice, like taking a small step down from the lowest rung of the Parliamentary career ladder. It is not momentous, but is still enormously difficult and you better have a good reason for it. I think I did.

The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has been a shock to the political system as much as it has for the country. The ambitions of the Prime Minister, following his stunning election victory, have been made more difficult. They are perhaps even more pressing today than they were in December. The greatest focus is in tackling Covid-19, which is an event we had not prepared for and barely understood – at the beginning.

We now know so much more and, especially over the summer when the virus had been suppressed, we had the opportunity to pivot to a different approach from that of the first six months, or to set out why the price of carrying on in the same way outweighed the cost.

The national circuit breaker which lasted three months should have been enough to control the disease and enable a focused and highly able track, trace and isolate system to work. It has clearly failed – otherwise we would not now be speculating on what the patchwork of the new tiering system will look like. I am anticipating a comprehensive series of regional circuit breakers that may have the characteristics of a national lockdown in all but name.

Greater Manchester has had a ten week ‘local lockdown’ and Bolton has had three weeks of a more extreme economic lockdown on top. The latter has meant the closure of bowling alleys and close contact beauticians, whilst pubs, restaurants and cafes can only sell takeaways, which has effectively shut most of them down too. This lockdown was far tougher than the top tier of the new lockdown regime.

From the beginning to end of this period, reported positive test results have rocketed up as though the virus had no care for the rules. The lockdown has failed in its own terms, but has had wider impacts that we have yet to realise the extent of.

There have been 20,000 fewer GP referrals to hospital in Bolton when compared to the last year. We can only imagine what the national figure is. The Department for Health should do a comprehensive assessment of which treatments have not been carried out. Health Ministers should explain to the Commons the impact that this has had for each medical category.

We know the extraordinary financial cost of Covid but when will we know the full health cost of missed medical treatment? We are beginning to find out, but many will be suffering for years to come. By sharing data, the Government will have the opportunity to win people to their course of action. The experience of my constituents in Bolton made me realise that we are following a failing strategy and that its costs are too high.

Is there an alternative? Yes, I think there is and, when I could not make any headway with it privately, I resigned. dThe principal points are:

  • The understanding of the disease and how to treat it has advanced since the pandemic first hit us. Existing safe drugs and medical techniques are now being used to treat people in hospital effectively, which means that the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed has diminished.
  • Some of the data being used is not as clear as it should be. For example, we are now doing twenty or more times as many daily tests than during the peak of the pandemic and, had we done this number of tests then, we would expect to see 100,000 positive outcomes. The official graphical presentation does not reflect the massive increase in testing.
  • Society has changed – people accept ‘low density socialising’, the use of hand sanitiser, social distancing and the wearing of masks. These measures dramatically reduce the rate of transmission.
  • We are now in a better position to judge the threat from Covid-19, and a far better place to understand the threat to our health and wealth from the lockdown. We had to make difficult decisions in a certain ignorance at the beginning, but we can now reflect on our own experience and that of other countries.
  • Conservatives believe in a free society. We are better placed to assess our own risks, and this is now true with Covid-19. Is it morally right to keep a man or woman isolated from their children and grandchildren for months or years? To have them waste away in misery during their final years as we wait for a vaccine to come to the rescue. A vaccine that cannot be given to babies, is likely to be relatively ineffective for the elderly and may not be that good anyway. Some vulnerable people will want to shield, and we should do all we can to support them but let others enjoy their lives with their friends and family.

We need to start trusting the people or the people will lose trust in the politicians and their advisors. There is another way, and it is not about letting the virus rip.