UK lockdown to be extended for another three weeks
In this afternoon’s Press Conference, the First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab announced a three-week extension to the Coronavirus lockdown. The Government will work with SAGE to review the lockdown at the end of April but will not lift it until 5 set tests are met which are detailed below.
The Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, announced the extension had been agreed between the Welsh, Scottish and UK Government prior to the Press Conference taking place. Earlier in the day, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon broke new ground by leading a Virtual First Minister’s Questions, taking questions from the opposition leaders within the Scottish Parliament.
Speaking about the lockdown in the Lunchtime Lobby briefing to journalists, a Downing Street Spokesman stated that “we don’t want to undo the good work that has been done by releasing measures too soon.” The briefing also confirmed that the Government now has the capacity to undergo upto 35,000 tests a day.
In the early media rounds, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, stated that the Government had been clear it was "too early to make a change". He went on to say that “whilst we have seen a flattening of the number of cases, and thankfully a flattening of the number of deaths, that hasn't started to come down yet.” He also re-iterated the fact that the Government had increased the capacity for testing and that is on a trajectory to reach its target of 100,000 tests by the end of the month.
There have also been positive polling figures for both the Government and Opposition. According to a new IPSOS Mori Poll, support for Boris Johnson has increased dramatically among UK voters as his Government continues to battle the coronavirus outbreak. The new poll shows that the PM’s favourability has soared by 17 points since the beginning of March to 51%. Furthermore, in early encouraging news for Sir Keir Starmer, the polling indicates that he has boosted the party’s standing in the eyes of the public. The proportion of voters with a favourable view of the party has gone upto 30% in the past month. Sir Keir also starts his time in charge with an overall favourability rating of +5%. From this it would suggest that the Government finally have an opposition in place ready to challenge it.
Summary of the Press Conference
First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab
Step by step our action plan aims to slow the spread of coronavirus so that fewer people need hospital treatment at any one time, following the correct scientific and medical advice.
- At the same time, we are dramatically expanding NHS capacity, so people get the care they need when they need it most.
- Today’s data shows that 13,729 have now sadly died and these are heartbreaking losses for every family effected.
- Earlier today he chaired meetings from Cabinet and COBRA. There are indications that the measures we have put in place are being successful, but the SAGE advice is a mixed picture.
- Overall, we still do not have the infection rate down as low as we need it to be. Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus, undoing the progress and threatening a second peak. Therefore, early relaxation would do more damage to the economy over a longer period.
- Based on this advice the Government have decided that the current measures must lie in place for at least the next three weeks. There are 5 specific tests we need to be satisfied before we can begin lifting these measures:
- That the NHS can continue to cope
- Sustained and consistent fall in deaths and hospital submissions
- The rate of infection decreased to manageable levels
- Testing capacity and PPE availability is at the level required
- That we do not risk a second peak in infections that could put the NHS at risk.
- When we are confident on these five points, we will look to adjust the measures but be guided by the right scientific advice.
- We must not pre-judge the evidence that SAGE will be able to gather over the next few weeks
- We will soon be able to test over 100,000 people everyday.
- He is talking to foreign ministers on a daily basis and will learn from them when necessary.
- We will make the correct decisions, at the right time, for our country.
Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Valance - presented 4 slides
- Transport Use Change – Transport use if down by more than 60% for all transport types since February. The transmission rate is below 1, which is an important change, which means that the virus is shrinking within the community.
- Testing - There has been a flattening in the number of UK cases and may be even decreasing.
- People in hospital beds – Over the last 24 hours, the number of people in hospital with confirmed COVID-19 fell by 3% across Great Britain.
- Global death comparison – The UK is following a similar trajectory to Italy, but the number of deaths are at better levels than France, Spain and the United States.
Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty
- Did not present new data but answered questions from journalists on testing and mortality rates.
- Wanted to encourage people that if they do have other emergencies that are non COVID-19 related, NHS has the capacity and is able to help you.
- It is critical that we find out which groups are most at risk including factors such as age, sex and other diseases. The data around BME groups is less clear and we are asking PHE to look at this in some detail.
- The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, has announced new measures to help ease immediate financial pressures faced by councils in England due to the coronavirus outbreak. Councils will be allowed to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments to central government, and £850 million in social care grants will be paid up front this month in a move aimed at helping to ease immediate pressures on local authority cash flows.
- The Department for Health is due to launch a review into why there is a larger percentage of COVID-19 deaths among ethnic minorities. Dominic Raab confirmed this in the daily press conference saying the “utmost priority of the Government is to save lives for all.”
- Pupils in England will receive their examination results as planned this summer, with A-level grades published on 13 August, and GCSEs a week later on 20 August. The school standards minister, Nick Gibb, said “We know that this is an important milestone for students, parents and teachers and so I hope this news will provide them with some reassurance and clarity.” Further information for schools, parents and tutors can be found here
- The new shadow defence secretary, John Healey, has written to the defence secretary Ben Wallace to call for new measures to protect armed forces personnel from coronavirus. In the letter Healey has called for “support for deployed personnel including full PPE for frontline staff in the UK, withdrawal from non-essential overseas postings to places where it is easier to protect personnel and urgent provision of adequate medical supplies to deal with any coronavirus outbreak.”
- The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, led the first virtual First Minister’s Question time. In questions put to her by the Scottish Conservative Leader, Jackson Carlaw, the First Minister confirmed there had been a further 80 deaths in the country, taking the running total to 779, and 7102 positive tests, an increase of 354. She made it clear that the Cobra decision was unlikely to change the current restrictions, stating that she would “not begin to do so until I am convinced we have done as much as is necessary to suppress the virus”.