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01 May 2020


Confounding expectations, at today’s press conference, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock announced that the Government had surpassed their goal of testing 100,000 people by the end of April. 122,347 tests were carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on 1st May. This is critical for the next stage of the pandemic, which will support the track and trace operation. In total they have tested over 1 million people.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP said that the country needed to build some “headroom” between the rate of infection (R) and one before the lockdown measures could be eased.

“The R [value] is still below one but we need to build some headroom, there isn’t an exact figure as to where the R is - it’s somewhere, the chief medical officer tells us, between 0.6 and 0.9. We want to bring R down further than it is today and that matters so that the NHS has sufficient capacity, so that when we do start to ease the lockdown, there’s some space, some room, for manoeuvre.”

He added that the government approach was a “cautious easing over time” so that such headroom for the NHS could be maintained and protected.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland has said we can’t be sure that we have passed the peak. Commenting on Twitter she said “There is progress, and light at end of tunnel. My concern about ‘past the peak’ is that it could imply we’re past the point of danger. We’re not - progress is fragile and if we ease up it will be reversed. So we need to encourage maximum compliance with current restrictions.”

A Cambridge University Professor Sir David John Spiegelhalter warned against taking a “Eurovision approach” and making “naive comparisons” between the UK’s and other countries’ Covid-19 deaths. Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, the Cambridge University professor said:

“I think it’s too early to tell our exact place in the league table… It’s just not appropriate to do at all. There are so many variabilities about how people record Covid deaths - even what the correct metric is for measuring the impact of the epidemic - that to start saying we’re going to be worse or whatever is completely inappropriate.”

On the government’s advice, Spiegelhalter said: “It’s much harder to frighten people to stay at home than it is to reassure them they can go out again. Maybe our whole campaign has been, if anything, slightly too successful.”

Ending the lockdown

Robert Peston, Political Editor of ITV news has suggested that we will get a “fairly detailed plan from the PM next week to encourage businesses to start operating again, public transport to increase… and children to return to school.”

  • However, there will be no firm date on when this will happen “only a condition that even such modest returns to normal life must not risk a dangerous resumption of rapid viral spread.”
  • He believes employers may be encouraged “back to work at the end of May, once businesses have redesigned their workplaces to keep staff at a safe difference from each other and to facilitate handwashing and sanitising. Businesses will need a few weeks to reconfigure offices and factories for safer socially distanced work.
  • “Probably teenage children will be encouraged in just a few weeks to go into school once or twice a week to pick up work and projects they can do at home. None of the schools resumption is likely to happen until after the end-of-May half-term holiday…. There may be a push to encourage more outdoor construction to resume [next week].”
  • “And the precept that we should only go to the park or exercise once a day may be scrapped, because it is believed that viral transmission happens much less outdoors than in enclosed spaces.”

Summary of the Press Conference

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

  • At all times the NHS has got capacity to help all people who need it
  • Earlier this week I said we are now able to begin the restoration of NHS services. Today we are restoring fertility services.
  • 177,454 have tested positive for Covid-19, an increase of 6,201 since yesterday, 15,111 people are in hospital, 27,510 have now died across all settings, an increase of 739.
  • At the beginning of last month I set a goal that anyone who needs a test should get one, I knew that it was an audacious goal – we needed it because testing is so important, I can announce that we have met the goal, the number of tests yesterday was 122,347. This unprecedented expansion is an incredible achievement, but it is not mine, it is a national one and it will help every single person in this country. It will help us to unlock the lockdown, so many people have tragically died and the challenge we still face is vast, but we are making real progress.
  • Setting stretching and ambitious goals in a crisis has a galvanising effect, if we hadn’t set such a target I don’t see how we could have achieved this. We have created home testing kits so if you can’t get the test, we can send it to you. We have created three brand new mega-labs.
  • Thank you to those who have taken part.
  • When things went wrong we didn’t ask who we could blame, but how we could fix it.
  • As the PM said a big increase in testing provides a way of unlocking coronavirus, by mid-May we will have a team of 18,000 contract tracers in place. This will help tell us where the virus is spreading and control new infections, people will know if they have been in close contact with people who have been exposed to the disease. Tracking and tracing will allow us to get R down and hold R down, allowing us to unlock the lockdown.
  • We have had to impinge on our historic liberties, but our goal must be freedom. We will not lift measures until it is safe to do, but we care about the restoration of social and economic freedom, for now we are working together to save lives, we are impinging on the freedom of all to save all.
  • The most important thing to do to keep R down is to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.
  • Should soon get the results of the surveys so we know how many people have had the disease across the country. We plan to continue expanding testing capacity, a new lab will come on stream next week. We need to use it in the best way possible, for instance to have a real focus on care homes.
  • Health and care workers will be prioritised for tests going forward.
  • [when asked about parents being fined for not sending children back to school] when it is safe to do so we will make recommendations, but we will only do so when it is safe. This disease thankfully doesn’t appear to give symptoms nearly as bad to children, compared to adults. It is much safer for children, but we will not reopen schools until it is safe to do so. As and when we reopen schools our goal is to get back to the norm. I am confident because we will only do it when it is safe it will be reasonable and normal to send children to school.

Professor Newton, Director of Health Improvement, PHE

  • We need the testing because in March cases were popping up without an obvious reason, the same amount of testing would have still led to lockdown. We need to get the infection right down, testing will help us keep this down once we are out of lockdown. Our level of testing at the beginning “have not kept us in lockdown a day longer”.
  • Yes Germany has had a lot of tests but there was a lot of less virus around in Germany when they went into lockdown and it was circulating in younger people. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other countries.
  • We knew from our calculations that we would need something like this level of testing to be ready for the next stage of the pandemic, we now have a very large and flexible testing capacity in the UK. It will be used for trace and tracking.
  • The new NHS app is also in development and making rapid process, the more people who sign up when it goes up the better we will be able to keep the virus under control.
  • The testing capacity we have built is world leading.
  • We need to move to a more sustainable footing, and provide the results to GPs, all of this is happening which will help us to use this new capacity to its maximum benefit. The really exciting development is the roll out of testing at home, which will be really helpful for contact tracing. We are pleased what we have done so far, but it is only the start.
  • South Korean researchers have said that you cannot get coronavirus twice, is this correct? The science on immunity is still emerging, the general rule is that we wouldn’t make a decision on a single study so we would like to see this reiterated, but it is encouraging.

Professor Powis, National Director of NHS England

  • He reminded us of the five tests, 1. NHS continues to have critical care capacity, 2. Sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths, 3. reliable data to show that the rate of infection is increasing, 4. Operational challenges including testing and PPE are in hand 5. Confident that any adjustments wont risk a second peak which would overwhelm the NHS.
  • Social distancing 84% of adults said they had not left their home or only left for permitted reason, 87% said they have avoided contact with older of vulnerable people. 45% of adults in employment have been working at home, compared to 12% last year.
  • Daily tests in the 24 hours up to 9am on 1st May there were 122,347 tests in the UK
  • New cases it has increased in recent days but this is because we have increased the tests. Overall, the number is relatively stable.
  • People in hospital since the middle of April it has fallen, particularly in London, starting to move down in other regions as well. The trend is downwards.
  • Critical care beds the proportion of people with Covid-19 is falling across the country
  • Deaths they vary, but overall the 7 day rolling out average is showing that the number of deaths is trending downwards.
  • International comparison this is important, but the real comparison is all cause-mortality, excess deaths – that analysis will take some time. it will be several months before we can see the true comparison between countries.
  • This is not over; it is the beginning but we are seeing benefits.

Government Announcements

  • The Treasury has announced that people whose incomes have been affected by Coronavirus and who want to access their Lifetime ISA funds early will temporarily no longer face an additional withdrawal charge.
  • The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government have announced £6.1m funding for Business Improvement Districts to help cover their day to day costs for the next 3 months.
  • The Department for Transport has announced that the Government is to safeguard “vital Great Britain-Northern Ireland air links” through investment which will protect air passenger flights for important routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Parliamentary/Regional Activity

  • The House of Lords Liaison Committee has recommended the forming of a Covid-19 Committee to scrutinise the Governments response to the pandemic. The recommendation will be put to a motion for agreement in the House of Lords. Members will then be appointed to the committee in the coming weeks.
  • Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has told Radio 4’s Today Programme that he does not think certain parts of the UK should come out of lockdown before others. He said “I agree with the prime minister, I am in favour of a four-nation approach. We went into lockdown together on the same terms, on the same day. I’d like to see us come out of lockdown on the same basis. But we will use the powers we have to fine-tune the arrangements to make them right for Wales.”
  • Mark Drakeford has announced that all social care workers in Wales will receive a £500 bonus, costing £32.2m.
  • Jeremy Hunt MP (Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee) told the Today Programme that the coronavirus outbreak has showed the importance of the social care sector and the need for funding. He said “If there is one thing this terrible crisis has brought home to us it is importance of the social care sector … and the crucial work done by those who care for them. They put lives at risk as NHS workers do, and often for low pay. So I will be asking for proper settlement for the social care sector... and the government will want to do that.”