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LACA view

21 May 2020


At today’s press conference the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock focussed on a deal that the Government have signed with Roche and Abbott to supply anti-body tests to NHS and Care workers. He said this will help us in understanding the disease and who has had it. The latest data from the ONS published today suggests that in London 17% of people may have had Coronavirus, in the rest of the country this is just above 5%. However, Mr Hancock said a wider study is needed to know more details.

NHS Surcharge

Following pressure from Labour and some Conservative MPs, the Government have u-turned on the NHS surcharge. This afternoon Number 10 announced that “The PM has asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible.” This will cover “all NHS workers, ranging from medical health staff including vital porters and cleaners”. It also includes independent health workers and social care workers. For other migrants the NHS surcharge will remain in place, and the planned increase, from £400 to £624, will go ahead in October.

Test, Track and Trace

On this morning’s media broadcast round, Security Minister James Brokenshire said he was confident that test, track and trace would be in operation by June 1st. He told Sky News that the app “will be introduced in the coming weeks in parallel” with the system employing track and trace staff.

He added: “But obviously, the priority being to get these track and tracers trained, in place, that is what the prime minister is very confident about. We’re confident the system will be there, able to track and trace around 10,000 people on 1 June.”

This follows pressure from Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS providers – which represents hospital trusts – who said the health service risks being “overwhelmed” in a second peak of Covid-19 unless ministers quickly set out a clear strategy for its test, track and trace programme.

Matt Hancock said during the press conference that they have high confidence that the system will be in place on 1st June. He explained that they have focussed on personal contact tracers first, instead of the app after learning lessons from the roll out in Isle of Wight. He also said that the test, track and trace approach will allow them to ease social distancing safely.

Separately, the Government has confirmed that they will publish the scientific advice tomorrow on the safety of schools opening.

Summary of the Press Conference

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock

  • Recognises that people have had to put things on hold during lockdown. He discussed people’s mental health, saying: “these are tough times, it is ok to be not ok, it is normal to feel low and anxious sometimes. It is so important that if you think you need help you should seek it”.
  • Completed over 3 million tests for Coronavirus, 128,340 tests yesterday.
  • People in hospital down 14% since last week.
  • 36,042 have died, an increase of 338 since yesterday.
  • We are making some real progress, we have now put into place a Covid alert system
  • Throughout the lockdown we have been in level 4, but thanks to your share sacrifice we have now brought R down and we are starting to move to level 3.
  • People should be staying at home as much as possible, washing your hands and cleaning surfaces remains absolutely crucial.
  • As is wearing face coverings on public transport and shops, and self-isolating if you have symptoms.
  • Over the course of the pandemic people have been making sacrifices so let’s not go back now.
  • As we follow our plan the testing regime will be the guiding star, it is the information which allows us to defeat the virus.
  • We have built the testing capability, but to extend it further we have:
    • Swab tests – currently have it, as I announced on Monday anyone over 5 is eligible for a test, but getting a quick result is important. Working with innovative science always has its risks, lots of projects don’t come off (we don’t know if we will ever get vaccines). I am prepared to back innovative science even if am not sure it will work. For example we are working with one company that gives a result in 20 minutes, it has proved effective in small trials and we want to see if it works on a larger scale. If it works we will roll it out as soon as we can, this is just one of the initiatives we are taking.
    • Anti-body tests – Not yet in a position to say that those who test positive are immune, but as our understanding improves the insight that these tests provide will be crucial. We are backing efforts to grow home-grown tests.
  • We now have the results of our anti-body tests which suggests that 17% of people in London have had the disease and 5% or higher in the rest of country. This study was conducted at a small scale, but we need something larger – Roche have been given approval.
  • We have signed contracts to supply over 10m tests, we will begin rolling these out. First to NHS and care workers. Each devolved nation will decide how to use theirs. This is an important milestone.
  • We are developing this science to know the impact of a positive anti-body test, which can give people assurances about what they can safely do.
  • Understanding the enemy is fundamental in defeating it.
  • [questions] When asked about the number of children who are not getting sufficient amounts of food, Matt Hancock said it is incredibly important and it is something that we worry about, we have introduced the shielded programme we have delivered over a million food parcels. Also, we have connected them to supermarkets, I want to pay tribute to them. There is also a group of non-shielded who are vulnerable, this is one of the many impacts of this virus – it can be harder for some people to deal with the consequences of social distancing. We have put significant amounts of money into local support, coordinated by councils.
  • The app is working in the Isle of Wight, but we need to make sure we roll out it in the right way. We have chosen to focus on personal contact tracers first before the app. As the social restrictions ease it will be harder for people to go into self-isolation.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer

  • 137,000 people in England have Covid at this point of time, every week around 61,000 people are being infected – about 10,000 a day.
  • As the R is below 1 we expect this to go down.
  • Almost everybody is sticking to the social distancing guidelines and staying at home. There is an increase in road use.
  • Public transport has remained very low.
  • The number of confirmed cases is very gradually drifting down.
  • Hospital admissions for Covid-19 is going down, the same is true for those who are on ventilators.
  • Excess mortality is now at the same level as winter-time (when flu season occurs). They expect this to decrease.

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement:

  • [on how long it needs to take to get a test result to be useful] People who test positive are then asked about their close contacts, this is independent to the proximity app but it is augmented by an online information system, all that work is now in place and we are ready to go. It was used at the containment phase we have had a successful trial in the Isle of Wight. The app is an additional component if you phone has been closed to another phone with the app. That can be layered on top of the more personal contact tracing.
  • In terms of timing, the sooner the tests come back the better we are working very hard to get the turnaround times down. At the moment, 90% are back within 48 hours and half will get their results on the same day.
  • The ONS numbers announced today are very manageable for test and trace.

Government Announcements

  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has introduced a new Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill. The Bill will introduce temporary easements on filing requirements and Annual General Meetings (AGMs), introduce new corporate restructuring tools to the insolvency regime to give companies the time they need to maximise their chance of survival and, temporarily suspend parts of insolvency law to support directors during this difficult time.
  • The Department for Education have published guidance on “Actions for HE Providers During the Coronavirus Outbreak”

Regional Activity

  • Scotland. In contrast to England and Wales, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has today published a four-stage plan for easing the lockdown. It includes all schools opening on 11th August with pupils receiving a “blended model of part time in-school and part time at home learning”. The Scottish Government will also publish guidance for the extremely clinically vulnerable, which will be out on 18th June. The first phase of their easing will take place on 18th May, this includes allowing more outside activity and “you will be able to meet people from one other household, though initially in the small numbers, while you are outside”. The construction industry will be able to restart. However, they must work with trade unions to ensure it is conducted safely.
  • Wales. The Welsh government has been reported to the Equality and Human Rights Commission over its handling of coronavirus testing in care homes. The country’s older people’s commissioner, Helena Herklots, told BBC Wales she believed the human rights and right to life of care home residents had been breached due to delays in expanding testing in the sector. Wales’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, defended his government’s actions by saying that the advice and evidence was that there “wasn’t a value” in testing people who were not symptomatic. The Welsh government has now expanded its testing programme so that every care home in Wales will have access to testing and be able to order online testing kits for residents and staff.
  • Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland's minister of health has said he will not encourage people to download the UK's contact-tracing app when it is made available in the region. Instead, Northern Ireland was instead working on "a Northern Ireland version" of the contact-tracing app, the first devolved administration to do so. This is necessary to ensure it works with the one being developed in the Republic of Ireland.
  • London. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, told the London assembly this morning that he is considering banning passengers from buses and tube trains in the capital if they are not wearing a face covering. He said that he was hoping to persuade the UK government, which is currently just advising people to wear face coverings on public transport, to toughen its stance.

ONS Data

The Office of National Statistics has published new research today, with the key findings as follows:

  • 0.25% of people in England have had Coronavirus between 4-17th May.
  • 61,000 people are being infected per week, which means around 10,000 new cases a day.
  • The number of people with coronavirus in England has remained stable since the end of April. 137,000 people – 0.25% of the population – had coronavirus at any given time during the two weeks from 4th-17th May.
  • At least until the end of last week, people were continuing to observe the stay-at-home rules - although there was a fall in the number of people self-isolating.
  • Around 78% of people working in accommodation and food services were furloughed between 20 April and 3 May, the survey suggests. This is the highest proportion for any section of the economy.
  • Some 20% of businesses temporarily closed or paused trading during this period, the survey suggests.
  • Some 6% of businesses said they had resumed trading in the last two weeks.
  • London is more open for business than the rest of the country, with 84 per cent of respondents reporting to be open between April 20 and May 3. The proportion drops to below 80 per cent for Northern Ireland and Wales.