A Health Minister Has Blamed ‘Extremely Lax’ Parents For The Covid Spike

Lord Bethell says the rule of six restrictions were required because of families flouting social distancing at children’s parties.
Dido Harding and Lord Bethell
Dido Harding and Lord Bethell
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

A health minister has blamed coronavirus spikes on families who were “extremely lax” in social distancing at children’s parties in the summer.

Lord Bethell – who is responsible for NHS Test and Trace – said the new “rule of six” restrictions were prompted in part by parents who used social events to “flout the rules” and then created “a huge amount of infection”.

Speaking in the House of Lords during a debate on the new regulations, Bethell was attempting to defend why children under 12 were not exempt from the rules.

Challenged by former chancellor Lord Lamont as to why England was not following Scotland and Wales, the minister said he understood there was a “huge amount of frustration” but defended the government.

“As a father of four children – three under 12 – I completely hear the point on children and there are many parents and grandparents here who feel it very harshly.

“But the research from the front line was crystal clear. That people were using children’s birthdays, drop-offs, congregations around children to flout the rules and create events where infection was happening.

“And clarity and preventing those nodes of transmission became a priority and that is why we pursued the route we have.”

He added: “The story that was being told in mid-September is that the public had miscued, that they had during the summer massively relaxed the way in which they were behaving.

“And the key form of transmission, the trigger to a huge amount of infection, were families taking an extremely lax interpretation of what kind of social mixing they could do.

“And the insight that came from the ground – not from the top but from the ground – is we need a much clearer, easily understood and enforceable… instruction to the public that they could easily understand in order to put separation between people.”

Bethell has already gained a reputation for his candid remarks, admitting at the weekend at a Tory conference fringe event that the return of schools “did catch us on the hop” because of the surge in demand for testing for Covid.

He is the key minister in the Department of Health and Social Care with responsibility for NHS Test and Trace, which is run by Tory peer Dido Harding.

Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “The British people have missed births, anniversaries and funerals in their efforts to beat the virus.

“It’s sad once again to see a Government criticise them when it’s the Government themselves who’ve lost control of the virus due to the failure of their Test and Trace system.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson added: “If anything has been lax, it has been this Government’s attitude to fixing the shambolic test and trace system. It is outrageous for a Minister to try and blame parents, just days after nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases in England went unreported.

“However, the problems with the test and tracing system are not new - for months now there has been one blunder after the next. If we are to truly stop this second spike getting any worse, Conservative Ministers must spend less time pointing fingers and more time ensuring they can effectively isolate the virus.”

Labour had demanded an apology from Bethell on Sunday after he compared the UK government’s response to Covid-19 to the staging of the Olympics and said it could be “extremely proud” of how it had done.

“I think there have been some outstanding pieces of delivery that have not been fully appreciated,” he told a fringe hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies.

“And I think it will be like the Olympics, that’s when it’s all over and we look back and reflect, we will actually be extremely proud of ourselves.”


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