Following the latest advice from SAGE, the Prime Minister led today’s Press Conference stating that the five tests are currently being met. He set out what lockdown restrictions will be eased from 1 June, including further plans for schools and shops. In addition, from Monday, 6 people can also meet together outside and in gardens but must remain 2 metres apart if they are from different households.
Test and Trace
The UK Government’s new test and trace scheme is now up and running, with thousands of contact tracers making their first phone calls to track down people from today. Despite this, there were numerous reports from contact-tracers this morning saying that the website is crashing.
The 25,000 tracers working for England's NHS Test and Trace team will start by contacting the 2,013 people who tested positive for the virus on Wednesday. The Government have indicated that the scheme will be key to moving away from the current lockdown restrictions and moving towards more localised, targeted measures.
Labour have stated that the new scheme could be a “huge burden” for some people. Speaking to the Today Programme, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jon Ashworth, said "There will be people whose work conditions and employment conditions make that difficult for them, so they need that security, they need enhanced sick pay where necessary to make sure they stay at home.”
Meanwhile, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has stated that he is confident that the "vast majority of people" would participate in the system. Speaking to the BBC, he also gave an update on the NHS contact tracing app, which was initially trialled on the Isle of Wight. The Health Secretary confirmed that the app will be “ready in the coming weeks” and will “compliment” the system that has been launched today. The UK Government had previously planned to launch the app nationwide in mid-May.
Scotland also launched its own Test and Protect Scheme today. The focus is moving to the strategy of "test, trace, isolate, support" which in Scotland will now be known as "test and protect". The First Minister, Nichola Sturgeon, stated that the changes to the scheme would focus on people's ability to interact with friends and family. From Friday, people will be able to meet with members of one other household at a time. The First Minister also announced that she would proceed with phase one of the Scottish government’s four-stage plan for moving out of lockdown. From tomorrow, for business, this means:
- the construction industry can start site preparation in the first phase of its restart plan
- from tomorrow garden centres and plant nurseries can reopen some services
- some drive-through food takeaway services can also restart
- household recycling centres can open from Monday
Northern Ireland has already started a contact tracing programme involving all confirmed positive cases of Covid-19. Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride previously said he estimated 300 to 600 staff would be needed as part of the contact-tracing scheme.
In Wales, contacts of people who receive a positive coronavirus test result will be traced from 1 June.
The Prime Minister continues to stick by Dominic Cummings. Following a statement by Durham Police saying that there may have been a “minor breach” of lockdown arrangements, a Number 10 Spokesperson said the following "The police have made clear they are taking no action against Mr Cummings over his self-isolation and that going to Durham did not breach the regulations. The prime minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and legally given all the circumstances, and he regards this issue as closed."
Reacting to the findings from Durham Police, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was worried the public may decide not to stick to lockdown rules following the row and that “The Prime Minister has shown himself to be weak.” Meanwhile, the Chair of the Health Select Committee, Jeremy Hunt, has said the government should “do whatever it takes” to ensure the new test-and-trace system works and that it was time to “move on” from the Cummings affair.
Summary of the Press Conference
The Prime Minister led today’s press conference and was joined by the government’s chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, and its chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister stated:
- Overall, there have been 3,918,079 tests carried out, of which 119,587 were yesterday.
- 269,127 have tested positive for COVID-19. Up 1,877 cases from yesterday.
- 8,560 in hospital – down 11% this time last week.
- 37,837 have now died in all settings. This is an increase of 377 fatalities since yesterday.
As you know we have set out 5 tests before easing lockdown. It is vital these tests are met before any changes can be made.
The first test is protecting the NHS’s ability to cope. We are meeting the first step. There were an estimated 475 hospital admissions on 26 May. This is down from a peak of 3,121 on 2 April. This first test is being met.
The Second test is a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths. The daily death rates now stands at 256 down from a peak of 943 on 14 April. This test is also being met.
Our third test is to receive reliable data from SAGE showing the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels. An average of 2,312 cases in the last 7 days, down from 5,066 in the first week in May. We are satisfied that the third test is being met.
Our fourth test is that we must be confident that the range of operational challenges including capacity and PPE are in hand with supply able to meet future demands. Over 2 billion items of PPE are to be manufactured in the UK. Testing capacity has now increased to over 160,000 per day. We have over 100 new deals with suppliers around the world. We are therefore satisfied that the fourth test is being met and we can start to rebuild stocks.
Our 5th test is that we must be confident that any adjustments to the measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS. These changes are underpinned by the launch of NHS Test and Trace.
All 5 tests are currently being met. I cannot and will not throw away the gains we have made together. The changes we are making are limited and cautious.
We can move forward with adjusting lockdown in England on Monday. We will now reopen schools to more children. It is often the most disadvantaged that are the hardest hit. Nurseries and early year setting as well as reception, year 1 and year 6. A fortnight later, secondary schools will begin contact time for years 10 and 12.
On Monday outdoor retail and car showrooms will be open. From 15 June, other non-essential retail can be opened but only if the five tests are still being met and shops that adhere to the social distancing measures.
From Monday we will allow upto 6 people to meet from outside as long as those from other households continue to follow social distancing measures by keeping 6m apart. We will now allow people to meet in gardens and other private outdoor spaces.
You should avoid trying to see too many people from other households in quick succession. It remains the case that people should not be inside the homes of friends and families, unless it is to access the garden. Those who have been asked to shield should continue to do so.
There will be further local outbreaks so we will monitor and if necessary, re-impose measures. We will see how these changes are working and look at the R value and number of new infections before taking any further steps to avoid a second peak of the NHS.
He then showed a short video on how NHS Test and Trace will work in England.
Sir Patrick Vallance
Sir Patrick added the following:
- The current R value is between 0,7 and 0.9. Numbers are coming down, but they are not coming down fast.
- We still have a significant amount of infection. The estimated proportion of the community with COVID-19 is 0.24%. There are an estimated 54,000 new COVID019 infections per week in the community. The tracing system needs to be effective in order to manage that.
- An estimated 6.78% of individuals have had COVID-19 at some point.
Responding to a question from Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC on why people should follow the rules if Dominic Cummings has not, the Prime Minister re-iterated that he has drawn the line under the case and shielded Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty from answering any questions related to this. When asked why this was the case by Sam Coates of Sky News, Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty stated that they had no intention of being drawn into politics.
When Robert Peston of ITV asked a similar question on Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister stated “We want to get some clear and simple messages across to the public. They want to know what the plan is. We have announced a huge amount today. Let’s crack on with our programme.”
When Robert Peston followed up by asking a question on why it is 2 metres rather than a 1 metre, Sir Patrick said that often 1 metre is upto ten times riskier than 2 metres. These are a series of considerations from which policy decisions can then be made. Sir Chris Whitty then said if people are meeting outdoors, it is essential that people keep to the 2 metre rules, especially when meeting people from different households. On the track and trace, if you are more than 2 metres away you will not be forced to self-isolate if you potentially come into contact with someone with COVID-19.
- The Government has announced that the UK has become the first country outside the US to join the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing consortium set up in response to the pandemic. The consortium will allow UK researchers to bid for access to some of the world’s fastest supercomputers.
- The Government has updated its guidance for households who may have a possible coronavirus infection.
- According to a Home Office report, the number of passengers arriving in the UK by air in April was down 99% on the same month last year. Just 112,300 people arrived in the UK via air in April, provisional advance passenger information (API) data showed. The numbers have fallen from around 7.1 million passengers in January to 3.8 million in March.
- NHS England has announced 185 new deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 26,234.
- Ministry of Justice figures show that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 within the prison estate continues to rise, As at 5pm on Wednesday, 452 prisoners across were confirmed to have the coronavirus across 77 prisons, a 1% increase in 24 hours, while there were 897 infected prison staff across 105 prisons, an increase of nearly 2% in the same period.
- Data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed that an average of 133,000 people in private households in England had Covid-19 at any given time between 11 and 24 May.
- According to a new Poll by the Royal College of Nursing, Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) nurses are more likely to have problems accessing protective equipment.