Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: Work times may be staggered, says Transport Secretary

Sunday shows round-up: Work times may be staggered, says Transport Secretary
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Picture credit; Sky
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Grant Shapps - Raw mortality figures don't tell the whole story

Sophy Ridge's first guest this morning was the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. There have been over 28,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19, now that the government is including figures from care homes and the wider community. Ridge confronted Shapps with comparisons of known mortality figures in other countries, pointing out that the UK was poised to become second only to the United States in the total number of deaths. Shapps argued that there is not enough data available at this stage to say whether the UK is faring objectively worse than other countries:

SR: The objective of this government is to save lives... Haven't you failed?

GS: I don't agree with that... We need to be very, very careful at the way we assess this information... Simply looking at the raw data doesn't tell you the whole story... You have to look at the whole picture, and that information simply isn't available as yet.

Work times may be staggered to ease transport peaks

Turning to Shapps' departmental responsibilities, Ridge asked what steps would be taken to increase safety on public transport, when the lockdown period ends and more people start to return to work. Shapps outlined some of the measures under consideration:

GS: I've spoken before about things like staggering work times... to avoid those morning peaks... We can [try having] hand sanitiser, one-way systems, spacing on platforms and at bus stops clearly marked out.

Covid tracking app needs more than 50 per cent uptake

Shapps told Ridge that a new app, currently under development, was the best way to help the NHS over the coming months. The app, which will be available to download on smartphones, will form part of the strategy of contact tracing, and should – in theory – alert people if they have been in close contact with someone displaying Covid-19 symptoms. However, Shapps said that the app, which will be trialled from next week, would need significant uptake in order to be worth it:

GS: We will encourage as many people to take this up as possible... We need, for this to work, 50-60 per cent of people to be using this app... It will be completely confidential... This is a fantastic way to make sure that we are really able to keep a lid on this going forward and we don't get that second wave.

Nick Thomas-Symonds - Labour seeking 'consensus' on lockdown exit

Ridge also spoke to the new Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. Labour has so far sought a more collegiate approach than usual during the coronavirus crisis, although it has repeatedly called for the government to publish its lockdown exit strategy. Thomas-Symonds resisted the chance to offer Labour's vision for such a strategy, and said that his party was seeking to follow the government's lead:

NTS: [It] wouldn't be appropriate... to set up some sort of rival plan. We will work with the government. We went into lockdown with a political consensus... I think it's important to try to come out of lockdown with a consensus too.

Ros Altmann - Keeping over 70s indoors would be 'age discrimination'

The former Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann told Ridge that the possibility of the government easing lockdown restrictions for younger age groups, while continuing to apply them to everyone aged over 70, amounted to discrimination. The idea had arisen because all over 70s are considered 'clinically vulnerable' to Covid-19, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock has denied reports that any such plans exist:

RA: Of course it's age discrimination, there's no other way to look at it. A healthy 70-year-old is probably less risk to society than an unhealthy 40-year-old in terms of vulnerability to this illness... Most older people would be sensible enough to know when they need to stay at home.

Amanda Spielman - Current harm to children 'largely invisible'

Ofsted's Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has spoken of the 'invisible harm', which she argues is being suffered by children across the country due to lockdown. She argued that the effects would hurt poorer children the hardest:

AS: The harm to many children is largely invisible. Some children are living in really difficult circumstances where they're not looked after well... And of course there is the longer-term invisible harm of the progressive loss of education, which we know is going to be contributing to widening gaps. The longer children stay out of school, the harder it is going to be to pull that together.

Grant Shapps - Care homes hopefully won't be 'epicentre' of new crisis

The Transport Secretary was later interviewed by Andrew Marr, who pressed him on reports that Covid-19 patients have been discharged from hospitals and released back into care homes, where they may still have been infectious. Marr put a quote to Shapps from NHS England's Covid-19 Director Keith Willett, who has stated that care homes 'will be the epicentres' of renewed transmissions of the disease. Shapps pointed to increased testing capabilities as insurance against this, but acknowledged that it remained a risk:

GS: I hope that won't be the case... Infections in care homes are now falling rather than rising, and everybody in a care home, whether that's a patient or a member of staff can be tested, and they can be tested whether they are symptomatic or even asymptomatic.

Quarantine being considered for air travellers

The question of whether to implement mandatory quarantines for all passengers travelling into the UK has been in the air for some time now. A number of countries across the world have already done so, but the UK has resisted. However, Shapps said that such a policy was now under consideration:

GS: I am actively looking at these issues right now, so that when we have infection rates within the country under control, we're not importing coronavirus.

Mark Drakeford - Abandoning Welsh test target wasn't a mistake

And finally, Marr asked the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, why the Welsh government had abandoned its target of 5,000 Covid-19 tests per day:

MD: Carrying out tests without a purpose or a point is not a good use of the limited resources that we have... [We are] focused on making sure that the tests we have are done in the right place, for the right people in the right way. That's how our policy on testing has developed and I think it's been the right one.