Fewer people are listening to Matt Hancock’s Covid-19 advice, a Catholic Tory former minister has warned, as young people were urged to keep away from elderly relatives.
The Health Secretary was pressed to end the “nanny state” approach of “ordering people about” and instead appeal to youngsters to “stay away from grandpa and grandma”.
Further lockdowns will not work and people should be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, Sir Edward Leigh told the House of Commons.
Mr Hancock said he understood the argument but insisted the evidence suggests more deaths will occur without widespread social distancing.
He also warned younger people that the “long-term effects can be terrible” for those who get Covid-19, and pledged to step up the Government’s communications campaign around maintaining social distancing while also increasing enforcement for those who break the rules.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward said: “The problem for the Secretary of State is given the contradictory nature of advice given to people, maybe necessitated by events, is that fewer and fewer people are listening to the Secretary of State – particularly young people. I think we need a different approach.
“The approach of the nanny state ordering people about, particularly in this country, is not going to work.
“You’ve got to appeal to the good sense of young people – stay away from grandpa and grandma, it’s your responsibility.
“These lockdowns aren’t going to work, it’s your responsibility.
“And for us granddads, stay away from your grandchildren because the problem is if you order people more and more about, they stop listening.
“And when they realise the Secretary of State can’t enforce anything, he will become the emperor without clothes and we will go backwards.
“We need an approach based on traditional self-reliance and trust the people.”
Mr Hancock said younger people may pass the virus to their parents, who can in turn give it to their parents.
He added: “The challenge is without widespread social distancing, as opposed to the segregation proposed by (Sir Edward), all the evidence is you end up with more hospitalisations and more deaths.
“I’d rather get ahead of this here, learning the lessons from what we’ve seen first in America then in Spain and now sadly starting to happen in France.
“I absolutely take the point about the need to communicate more, but I believe with my whole heart that we need to communicate that we all have a responsibility – including young people – and we can’t let this rip through any part of the population because it’ll inevitably then get into all.”
For Labour, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said that every reasonable measure should be taken to “utterly suppress” the virus.
He said: “There can be no question that the rise we have seen in recent days in case numbers is deeply worrying.
“I agree with (Mr Hancock) this is no time for complacency, that those who suggested this could be over by Christmas were foolish and that we should be doing everything we can, taking every reasonable measure possible to utterly suppress this virus.
“It is indeed a very dangerous virus and I am pleased that he and his department have recognised the condition of long-Covid, we probably need a better term for it, but have recognised that many people get long-term conditions as a result of this virus.”
Jeremy Hunt, Tory chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, asked if the Government will look to South Korea and Hong Kong as examples of good practice for stemming an increase in cases and avoiding a second lockdown.
Mr Hancock replied: “In some countries, not only in the Far East but also closer to home, they have seen a rise in cases especially among younger people, taken action and that has turned the curve.
“That’s particularly true, for instance, in Belgium which we were very worried about a month ago but the case rate has come right down when they put a curfew in place.”
He added: “We’ll be stepping up the communications, making sure that people are reminded very clearly with clarity of the rules.
“We’ll be taking action to step up enforcement too to make sure that we can keep this virus under control until we can build up both the mass testing capacity and, as I mentioned in my statement, ultimately the vaccine on which the scientists are doing great work, but all vaccine work is uncertain until we get clarity from the regulators that it’s safe and effective to use.”
Picture: Archive screen grab, dated 22nd June 2020, of Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19).