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29 Apr 2020


The Prime Minister’s fiancée Carrie Symonds has given birth to a baby boy. Meanwhile, pressure continues to build for some early indication of when the lockdown will end and how, but the Government is sticking to its 7th May date for providing an update.

The UK Government has confirmed that the PM’s political aide Dominic Cummings attended the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meetings as an observer. Bloomberg reports that two people involved have confirmed that Mr Cummings urged the panel to recommend a lockdown at a meeting on 18 March. Michael Gove has told MPs that people will be advised to not visit British holiday destinations “for some time to come.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice has dampened speculation that the 5th of the Government’s five lockdown tests has been watered down, he stated “It has always been the case that we want to avoid that second peak because we want to avoid our NHS being overwhelmed.” The Education Secretary confirmed schools will return in a phased way but did not outline a timetable and said they will learn from international examples.

At the daily press conference Dominic Raab provided the update. He was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, and Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE director of health protection. He stated that 818,539 tests for the coronavirus across the UK have been conducted so far. Mr Raab warned of the risk of easing the lockdown too soon and causing a second spike.

Daily Press Conference

Below is our summary of the comments made by Mr Raab at the daily press conference.

It was confirmed that 26,097 Coronavirus deaths have occurred in hospitals, care homes and the community between March 2 and April 28, this includes 765 deaths reported in the 24 hours to 5pm on Tuesday. This  represents 3,811 additional deaths now non-hospital settings have been added to the statistics. It includes only those that have died that tested positive for the virus. There are thought to be more people that have had the virus but not been tested.

Mr Raab stated we continue to see evidence of a flattening of the curve, this has been achieved through increasing NHS capacity and introducing social distancing measures.

Five tests remain key. Need to boost NHS capacity. Need sustained and consistent fall in deaths. Need reliable data that shows the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board. Must be confident the NHS can cope with future demands. The most critical is that they need to be confident that any adjustments wont lead to a second spike that overwhelms the NHS.

The Government does not know how many of their 5 tests for ending the lockdown are currently being met. This is because this decision will be based on evidence that will be provided by SAGE in early May i.e. the evidence is not available yet.

A second spike would lead to a second lockdown. Germany has seen a rise in transmission of the virus following easing the restrictions. A second spike is not a ‘theoretical risk.’ Must not gamble away the sacrifices. Must follow the scientific evidence. This is a delicate and dangerous moment.

The Government are working with all the options for the second stage. They will await the SAGE Review of data in early May and ramp up testing. They have expanded eligibility for testing to anyone who can’t work remotely and has symptoms. They will also ramp up tracing capacity in the next stage.

The Government are sourcing PPE from abroad and seeking to increase domestic production. The Government have had flights from China and Turkey delivering PPE and acquired 5 million masks from China.

The UK international effort is not confined to procurement. The Government have returned British nationals – 1.3 million British nationals have been helped to return. They have charted flights where commercial options were not possible. On 17th March when changed cruise ship advice – 6 weeks later they now have all 19,000 of these people home. Mr Raab paid tribute to the staff in high commissions and consulates around the world who made this possible.

The efforts for a vaccine also have an international component, the UK Government will provide 330 million per year to Gavi, over the next 5 years to develop a Covid 19 vaccine. Gavi is a vaccine alliance, a public–private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

Mr Raab faced a grilling over the support provided to care homes. He stated that one of the biggest challenges the Government face on care homes is asymptomatic people coming in and out of care homes. With regarding to testing and equipment there is learning in a crisis like this.

Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director and Director of Health Protection, Public Health England

  • Use of motor vehicles is the highest use since the 23rd March 2020. This is worrying and urged people to stay home.
  • Cases have remained broadly stable over the last few weeks. Numbers in hospital have reduced from 18,000 to 15,000. London had an early peak but it is now declining in all regions. We are passing through the peak but not through it yet.
  • Critical care beds – 40% of the beds are being used so there is extra capacity .
  • Cumulative daily Covid deaths total is based on confirmed tests in all settings, there is a divergence but getting a comprehensive picture which is needed to help control the virus.
  • Hospital deaths total are declining now but still coming through the peak. Deaths in all settings show variation with weekends but the trend is quite flat.
  • International comparisons may not be directly applicable as for example with Spain not sure if their figure includes all care home deaths. UK is tracking along much more with European neighbours, US lower on per capita basis.
  • Testing has always occurred during outbreaks but the scale and the speed of the epidemic mean this is complicated, 16,000 homes.
  • Evidence is that checking people on entry in to the UK and making them all quarantine won’t make a big difference to the transmission rate.
  • Looking at whether to move people from care homes to the Nightingdale hospitals because they have spare capacity but need to make sure it would be done safely so still looking at it.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England

  • Ventilation is key to reducing transmission. SAGE is keeping evidence on outdoor settings under review and this feeding through in to advice to Ministers. It is complex and we need to be careful we don’t make the wrong move to relax measures.
  • This virus will absolutely come back, this is with us for some time, potentially until we get a vaccine, none of this should be rushed.
  • Won’t specify when schools will come back or how social distancing would work in them as this is being developed.

Scrutiny of the Government response

Three prominent Cabinet Members, Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove appeared before Select Committees and Prime Minister’s Questions occurred. Separately, the Prime Minister had a 1.30pm private call with Labour leader Keir Starmer to discuss the Government response to the coronavirus crisis.

  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson appeared before the Education Select Committee. He confirmed that he expected to reopen schools in a phased manner.
    • He stated that a sub-group of SAGE was locking at how this would work in practice.
    • The Government are looking at international examples such as Germany to see what works for them. Schools will not be run during the summer.
    • Mr Williamson stated that Universities are central to our battle against coronavirus.
    • Stated that 81% of people are continuing their apprenticeships
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee. The Labour Party called for the report produced for the Cabinet Office regarding the bullying claims against her to be made public. This is separate to the ongoing employment tribunal claim lodged by ex-Home Office chief Sir Philip Rutnam.
  • Yvette Cooper suggested that up to 130 countries have more restrictions on incoming travellers than the UK and asked why the Home Secretary was not asking visitors to self-isolate for a period.
  • The Home Secretary said the Government did not have a figure for how many people entering the UK had coronavirus. She said the rules on people entering the UK were under discussion. The current position was based on the advice from SAGE.
  • She confirmed that automatic visa extensions would be provided for midwives and social workers and the social care sector is under review.
  • On ending the lockdown she stated “The fact is we will not go back to how we were in early March - there will be new norms that will inevitably come off the way in which social distancing is dominating our lives.”
  • She indicated “We would expect social distancing in every single work area, whether it’s an office or a construction site, and on public transport going forward.”
  • The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee questioned Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove about the work of the Cabinet Office in developing civil contingency plans and the Government’s Coronavirus response
  • Mr Gove said the government were prepared for a flu pandemic and for a SARS style outbreak but not for a disease like Covid-19.
  • He said that he thinks that the UK should take one-UK move out of lock down and that there should not be national or regional variation in moving out of lock-down, with the potential exception of some island communities.
  • Dominic Raab deputised for the PM at PMQs as the PM continues to recover from the virus and has recently become a father again. Labour leader Keir Starmer led on the lack of PPE and the latest UK death count which he said was truly ‘dreadful.’
  • Mr Raab said that the 100,000 tests target was just the first stage before moving to the second stage. The target for the next stage will be 250,000 daily tests.
  • Mr Starmer said he did not ask for the lockdown to be lifted or for a timeframe, but he wanted the Government to be open with the public about the next stages and they needed to publish an exit strategy.
  • Mr Raab stated that if Mr Starmer wanted to identify issues to be on the table, he could but the advice from SAGE was to wait for their review of evidence.
  • SNP leader Ian Blackford requested a Brexit transition period extension.
  • Multiple MPs asked about nurseries and garden centres and when they could be reopened.

Testing target

The deadline for the Government to reach its target of 100,000 tests a day is the end of April. The Government may reach the capacity to have 100,000 tests a day by this date. However, fewer tests will likely be conducted in practice. Media attention is focused on whether the target of 100,000 daily tests conducted will be missed. We will not know for a few days after 30 April due to lags in reporting of home testing kits.

Testing has been expanded to all care home residents and staff and all people aged 65+ with symptoms and their households. Home testing kits for essential workers in England ran out in just over an hour this morning, they were available from 8am.

Government and Quango Announcements