Coronavirus: Priti Patel claims government has been ‘consistently ahead of the curve’ in pandemic

Sage professor says tougher restrictions likely across country

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 22 December 2020 17:41
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Priti Patel claims government has been "consistently ahead of the curve" in its response to coronavirus

Priti Patel claimed that the government has been “consistently ahead of the curve” in its response to coronavirus.

The home secretary’s comment came days after the hurried cancellation of Christmas mixing rules and introduction of “stay at home” orders in the southeast, and during frantic negotiations with France to try to reopen Channel ports.

Ms Patel acknowledged that the stringent tier 4 rules may have to be extended to other parts of the country as a new variant of Covid-19 spreads.

Meanwhile, a member of the prime minister’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) confirmed that the new coronavirus variant was likely to mean tighter controls in all parts of the country after Christmas.

Prof John Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It does look like the virus is probably across the country already and so I do think that we might unfortunately have to impose tougher restrictions across the country.”

Ms Patel denied that the government was acting in a “last minute” way.

“The government has consistently, throughout this year, been ahead of the curve in terms of proactive measures,” the home secretary told Today.

“There's nothing last-minute in terms of the work that was undertaken by government in terms of planning and preparing for tier 4.

“These are big decisions that are taken collectively across government based on scientific advisors – Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty, many, many other individuals as well from the scientific and medical community.”

Ms Patel insisted it was important to maintain “perspective” on the disruption at Channel ports caused by France’s closure of crossings to freight traffic, saying that it only affected 20 per cent of imported goods.

“There is plenty of food in the supermarkets,” she said. “We have fresh produce coming through other routes as well, through air freight and not just through the Short Straits.”

She confirmed that around 1,500 trucks were currently stuck on Kent motorways or at Manston airfield, rather than the 170 figure quoted on Monday evening by Boris Johnson, but stressed that the number was constantly fluctuating as “lorries are not static”.

Ms Patel said it was “inevitable” that tougher coronavirus restrictions would be imposed in areas currently outside the tier 4 region in London and the southeast because of the increased infectiousness of the new variant of Covid.

She told Sky News: “It is inevitable as people travel – and of course we are urging people not to travel for the sake of everybody’s health – that we have to take strong measures.

“We are doing that. We are constantly reviewing these measures.

“Of course if the virus continues to spread then we will take stronger measures, because at the end of the day our objective is to save lives and to keep people safe. But right now, it’s not for me to pre-empt any change because there’ll be a natural review mechanism in two weeks’ time.”

Ms Patel said she was “confident” that all schools in England will reopen in a staggered way as planned by 11 January, but was unable to say whether all children will be back in classrooms.

She said that mass testing will be used to protect the health of pupils and teachers.

“I am confident schools will be returning in January, no doubt about that,” Ms Patel told LBC radio.

“I can’t tell you about all pupils because, obviously, schools operate differently across the country with local education authorities.

“But the fact of the matter is the government wants to keep schools open and of course we will put measures in place, such as the testing of our pupils. Our priority is obviously to keep children and school teachers and staff safe and to create the right kind of safe environment in our schools.”

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