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02 Apr 2020


“Mass testing is how we unlock the coronavirus puzzle”

Following mounting pressure on the Government to increase testing capacity amongst frontline health workers, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, outlined a five-pillared plan today to tackle coronavirus:

  1. Accelerate swab testing in scientific labs and NHS hospitals to see who has the virus currently. The Government is committing to reaching 25,000 of these tests per day by the end of April. Hancock stated that “every patient who needs a test is going to have one”.
  2. The creation of a new swab testing capacity through working with commercial partners like Amazon and Boots to build commercial testing sites across the country. This will be used for NHS staff and their family to begin with. Over 5,000 NHS workers have already been tested across such sites.
  3. The Government is working with nine companies to deliver anti-body tests to allow people to return to work if they are immune to the virus. Tests are now being evaluated before a rollout.
  4. Deploy an accurate anti-body test to survey what proportion of the population has had the virus. 3,000 such tests are to be delivered each week. This sample information will then be scaled up to inform the Government on nation-wide social distancing measures.
  5. Working with the pharmaceutical industry to build an at “at-scale” diagnostics industry. The Government has now set a new target of delivering a total of 100,000 of the various tests per day by the end of April. 

Coronavirus Press Conference

Matt Hancock announced that he was “delighted to be back” to lead on today’s coronavirus press conference after making his first public appearance since self-isolating with coronavirus.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary:

  • £13.4bn of NHS debt is being written off to ensure strong foundation for the future.
  • The NHS Nightingale has now been constructed, housing 4,000 beds. More temporary hospitals are to come in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.
  • Paid tribute to the 750,000 NHS volunteers, stating that “this is Britain at its best”. Also paid tribute to the health staff who have passed away after succumbing to the virus.
  • The rate of infection has been doubling every 3-4 days. 12,949 people have been admitted to hospital so far with coronavirus. 2,921 people have died to date.
  • Yesterday 45m pieces of PPE were delivered to health staff. PHE have today announced upgraded guidance on the appropriate level of PPE – such standards are amongst the highest in the world. There is a hotline available for health care organisations to get access to PPE.
  • Unveiled £300m funding for community pharmacies.
  • The UK lacked the size of diagnostic industry that other countries have prior to the outbreak.
  • There is a challenge around prioritisation of testing. The first priority for tests is patients of whom the test could be life-saving for.
  • Several tests evaluated recently have fallen short of approval. The Government will not approve a test that does not work.

Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director at NHS England:

  • There is continuing to be a large reduction in the use of public transport.
  • There is still an increase in daily infections. It is important to look at the trend of coronavirus cases over time, however.
  • London hospital admissions are ahead of the country, with the Midlands also being under pressure.
  • There will still be a high number of deaths for weeks before the Government’s measures have an impact.

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England:

  • The Professor now has the responsibility of coordinating the new national effort for testing in order to achieve the Government’s new target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month.

 Government Activity

  • Sky News has reported that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will make an announcement tomorrow on making it easier for SMEs to access the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
  • Health Minister, Nadine Dorries, has claimed that testing is “not a cure” for the virus outbreak. She stated that “no amount of tests” could alter the fact that there was currently “no treatment, no cure, no vaccine”. Despite these assertions, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson insisted that testing was “so important” to the Government’s strategy.
  • During today’s Number 10 lobby briefing, the Government refused to confirm whether it used mobile phone data on people’s movements when it took the decision to order to the lockdown. 

 Parliamentary and Regional Activity

  • The Treasury Committee has published a summary of the evidence provided after calling for individuals to write in about the economic impact of Covid-19. Some of the areas touched upon include guidance for the self-employed, a relaxation of tax rules and debt management. A full summary can be found online here.
  • Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, shadow attorney general, Lady Chakrabarti, said Labour wants the Government to show clarity in its testing strategy and how it will protect Britons on health and economic matters. She said “we’re asking the government to be transparent and to be clear…about what its plans are to deliver the kind of scale of testing that we need, both to get the NHS workforce tested but also to return as quickly as possible to community-based testing.”
  • In a letter to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said he agreed with hundreds of MPs who say the House should return after Easter for debates via videolink. Hoyle said: “once the House returns, if we are still in the grip of the crisis where the physical presence of members, or too many members, in the palace is not appropriate, I am keen that they should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually – for example, oral questions, urgent questions, statements.” Rees-Mogg has suggested that the plan will go ahead when Parliament returns on 21 April.
  • Last night, MSPs back the Scottish Emergency Coronavirus Bill which aims to support the economy and protect essential public services during the Covid-19 outbreak. Most of the emergency measures will expire automatically six months after they came into force, although these may be extended for two further periods of six month, giving the measures in the Bill a maximum duration of 18 months.
  • In an interview to Sky News, outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stated that the lack of testing of frontline NHS staff is “ludicrous” and that “we have to get on top of testing”.

  NHS Update

  • Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive of the Francis Crick Institute in London, has said its research laboratory had been repurposed so it could carry out Covid-19 tests at a rate of 500 a day by next week – rising to 2,000 a day in future. He said their tests can be turned around in under 24 hours, which could help get NHS staff back on the front line.
  • Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of Public Health England, said on Good Morning Britain that while testing is ‘critically important’, social distancing is too. He said that ‘social distancing is absolutely the way that we will reduce the spread of this infection and ultimately will get on top of it’. He added that social distancing measures will need to stay in place until the spread of the disease becomes ‘minimal’.