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16 Jun 2020


The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that a new treatment has been successfully trialled in the UK for Covid-19 by Oxford University. The already widely available steroid drug ‘dexamethasone’, which is used as an anti-inflammatory in the treatment of other conditions, has been shown to cut the risk of death by 35% for patients on ventilators and by 20% for patients on oxygen. England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, described the development as “the most important trial result for Covid-19 so far”.

The Government has been stockpiling the low cost drug since March and there are now 200,000 courses of the treatment available for use in the NHS from this afternoon; the NHS standard treatment for Covid-19 will now include the drug. It is the only treatment in the world that has been shown to reduce mortality, in this case “significantly”, in the words of the co-lead investigator Peter Horby. It has been estimated that up to 5,000 lives in the UK could have been saved if the drug were used at the start of the pandemic.

This major breakthrough was described as a “remarkable British scientific achievement that will bring benefits around the world” by the Prime Minister in today’s daily press conference. The Prime Minister was also joined by the co-lead investigator from the clinical trial, Peter Horby, who provided information on the trial and nature of the treatment.

Daily Press Conference

Boris Johnson – Prime Minister

  • A breakthrough in coronavirus treatment has been made possible by a “fantastic” team of scientists in the UK.
  • The drug ‘dexamethasone’ is now available across the NHS. There are enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.
  • Update on the latest coronavirus data:
    • 113,107 coronavirus tests were carried out or posted yesterday. 6,981,493 tests have now been carried out in the UK in total.
    • 298,136 people have tested positive thus far, an increase of 1,279 on yesterday.
    • 410 people were admitted to hospital on 13 June, down from 438 on 6 June (England, Wales, Northern Ireland).
    • 385 mechanical ventilator beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients on 15 June, down from 513 on 8 June.
    • 5,254 people are in hospital with Covid-19, down from 6,282 this time last week.
    • 233 people are confirmed to have died yesterday from Covid-19. The confirmed total death toll is 41,969.
    • This progress has only been possible due to the patience of the British people. We must now hold our nerve and not throw away progress.
  • The retail sector has done a “fantastic job” becoming Covid-19 secure. It was great to see people out shopping and socially distancing.
  • It has also been great to see more pupils coming back to school. It is safe for children to return to school and there is no need for children to not attend at this time.
  • On the 2-metre rule: Everything will be done to get back to normal as soon as possible, but we must proceed carefully. The rule is being kept under constant review but we must continue to make progress.

Professor Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases, University of Oxford

  • We have been supported by a fantastic team in Oxford and also the NHS.
  • The trial was conducted across all of the UK and across 175 hospitals.
  • This has been the biggest clinical trial in the world and has tested six different drugs.
  • Dexamethasone is a widely available, cheap drug that has been around for 60 years.
  • In ventilator treatments, the drug reduces the risk of death by 35%.
  • In patients receiving oxygen, the drug reduces the risk of death by 20%.
  • There has been no benefit seen in patients without breathing difficulties.
  • Treating 8 patients with the drug only costs £40.
  • The trial is continuing because there are also other drugs in the trial.

Sir Patrick Vallance – Chief Scientific Adviser

  • The clinical trial for dexamethasone was conducted “excellently”.
  • Dexamethasone is the first medicine that has been shown to reduce mortality rates. This is the start of something important since it shows this can be done, hopefully future drugs can further reduce these rates.

Key Government Activity

  • Covid Summer Food Fund. Free school meals will now be provided to vulnerable children over the summer holidays, following a campaign backed by footballer Marcus Rashford. The ask of Government to extend free school meal provision over the summer holidays was also supported by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck and 51 other Opposition MPs in a letter to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson last week. The ‘U-turn’ now means that the 1.3m children in England who are eligible for free school meals in term time will benefit from £15 worth of food vouchers per week for a six-week period over summer at a cost of £120m to the Treasury. The Prime Minister praised Marcus Rashford for his “contribution to the debate around poverty”.
  • Unemployment. The number of workers on payrolls in the UK has fallen by 600,000 between March and May according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In the same period, the number of people claiming work-related benefits, including the unemployed, rose by 126% to 2.8m. Jonathan Athow, Deputy National Statistician at the ONS, stated that “the slowdown in the economy is now visibly hitting the labour market, especially in terms of hours worked”.
  • The latest figures put pressure on the Government to reduce the 2-metre social distancing rule to facilitate further reopening of the economy and limit further job losses. Former Conservative Leader William Hague has urged Boris Johnson to reduce the rule as is the case in other countries.
  • The Labour Party has called for an urgent “Back to Work Budget” to protect UK jobs at a crucial phase of the coronavirus recovery. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has warned that “the country cannot afford for the Government to make the same mistakes on the economy as during the coronavirus health crisis”.

Department Merge

In a Parliamentary statement today, the Prime Minister announced that the Government department responsible for overseas aid, the Department for International Development (DfID), is to merge with the Foreign Office. The move is designed to “unite our aid with our diplomacy”, which is “artificial and outdated”, to ensure “maximum value for taxpayers”. The new merged department, to be named the “Foreign, Commonwealth and Developments Office”, will “maximise the UK’s influence internationally” and is planned to be set up by September. Under the new setup, the National Security Council will oversee single strategies, comprised of both aid and diplomacy, for each country so that the coherence of foreign policy is not “undermined”. The Prime Minister reiterated that the UK would maintain its commitment to spend 0.7% of its economic output on overseas aid following the merger.

Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, criticised the planned merge as a distraction tactic from the negative economic figures and the Covid-19 death toll. He stated that the abolishment of DfID would “diminish Britain’s place in the world”. Former Prime Minister David Cameron also criticised the move which would mean “less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas