Boris is back. The Prime Minister chaired Cabinet and led the daily coronavirus briefing for the first time since he was admitted to hospital last month. He confirmed to the public that we have “passed the peak of this disease and we are on the downward slope.” He also said that the Government will set out a comprehensive plan next week on how we can get the economy moving, children back to school and how we can commute to work and make workplaces safer.
In the lunchtime lobby briefing, journalists were informed that the Cabinet had received updates from Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, on the response to coronavirus so far and the progress made in slowing its spread. When asked by journalists if the lockdown measures in the UK could last until the end of June, a Number 10 Spokesperson said that they would not "pre-empt" any decisions, but quoted Chris Whitty, saying: "We have to be realistic, we're going to have to do a lot of things for a long period of time."
The Government is under continued pressure that it will not meet the 100,000 tests a day target by the end of April. For the first time, on the early morning media rounds, the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland admitted to the BBC that the UK may not reach this target. However, he went on to say that drive-in test centres, mobile units and home testing would "get us to the position we need to be in" but there was "much more work to be done."
Furthermore, in an interview with ITV News, The Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer stated that he believes an inquiry into the UK’s response to the pandemic is “inevitable”. He went on to say that the government were “slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment, and may now be slow on our exit strategy.”
In addition, according to a poll by Ipsos Mori, the number of people who believe the government did not act quickly enough in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak is increasing. 66% of adults think ministers brought in strict measures to deal with the emergency too late, a rise from 57% two weeks ago.
Daily Press Conference
Below is our summary of the Prime Minister’s remarks at today’s Daily Press Conference:
- I would like to thank everyone who has done such a good job in my absence and the NHS for getting me back here.
- 901,905 tests have now been carried out, with 81,611 tests taking place yesterday.
- 15,043 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus, down from 15,359 yesterday.
- Of those tested positive 26,711 have now died - this is an increase of 674 from yesterday. This figure includes all deaths recorded outside hospitals.
- We are strengthened in our resolve to defeat this crisis.
- I will not minimise the logistical challenges we have faced or the frustrations in expanding the numbers of tests. We are throwing everything at it to get it right.
- We are rising to a challenge never seen before in our lifetimes. My message to everyone is that your effort and sacrifice is working. The number of Covid hospital admissions is falling. We have so far succeeded in the first and most important task we set as a nation – at no stage has our NHS been overwhelmed.
- The reasonable worst case scenario was 500,000 deaths. I can confirm today that for the first time we are past the peak of this disease and we are on the downward slope.
- The UK is leading the international efforts to find a vaccine. Until this day comes, and we cannot say exactly when, we will have to beat the disease by ingenuity.
- I will set out a comprehensive plan next week on how we can get economy moving, children back to school and how we can travel to work and make life in workplace simpler. This will include a roadmap and a menu of the options, but the dates and times will be dependent on the data the Government gets through. The term austerity will never be part of our approach.
- We need to suppress the disease and at the same time re-start the economy. We will be guided by the science and will try to build the maximum political consensus. There will be five key tests we must satisfy before putting the plan in action:
- Protecting the NHS.
- A sustained fall in deaths.
- The infection rate is falling.
- We have overcome operations and logistical challenges on testing and PPE.
- We must ensure that the measures we take do not risk a second spike that would overwhelm the NHS.
- We have come under what could have been a vast peak, we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us. It is vital that we do not lose control and run into a second mountain. Nothing should lift the reproductive rate back above 1.
He concluded by saying “In stage 1, we have come together. We can do the same in Stage 2.” He went on to show a video that demonstrated to the public what R is and why it is important it stays below 1.
When questioned by Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC he said, “It is absolutely vital that we don’t have a second bad spike because that will have really bad lasting economic damage. We need to gradually open the economy and find new ways of supressing the disease and that is what the Government are working on now.” He also told journalists that masks would be useful in giving people confidence to go back to work.
Professor Chris Whitty
- On new cases: R rate is below 1 and between 0.6 and 0.9 across the country. We know that the total number of cases is on its way down.
- On hospital admissions: There has been a steady fall in the number of new hospital admissions for COVID-19. Over the last week the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals has fallen from 17,817 to 15,044 – a decrease of 16%.
- The number of patients in critical care is on its way down.
- All these measures combined has led to a gradual fall in the 7-day rolling average in deaths.
- The NHS must have the R rate below 1 in order to have the headroom to allow it to do other important things like cancer care.
- The Justice Minister, Chris Philp, confirmed that new video technology is being introduced to enable criminal trials in Crown and Magistrates courts to be conducted securely over remote video links during the pandemic. The first phase of the new video platform will be rolled out to more than 100 courts in England and Wales.
- The Government has, for the time being, abandoned plans to implement a new Fair Funding formula to allocate annual grant funding for English councils. David Williams, Chair of the County Council’s Network, has said that a continuation of lockdown trends of soaring service costs and shrinking incomes will leave English councils with a shortfall of at least £5bn for the year, and there are likely to be fresh calls for extra government cash.
- The Government has announced that Police ranks across England and Wales have been bolstered with an additional 3,005 officers since it launched a major recruitment drive.
- In addition to Aldi, McColl’s have been added to the list of supermarkets taking part in the national school food voucher scheme.
- Seven more charter flights to repatriate 2,000 British travellers from India have been announced by the Government. The additional flights will operate daily from Amritsar to Heathrow Airport between 5th and 11th May.
- Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has called on the Government to publish the equalities assessment of the Coronavirus Act, the emergency legislation passed giving the Government powers to deal with the crisis. In a letter to the Women and Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, she stated “Surely, in a fair and democratic society, it is only right that we are able to have an open conversation about the equality assessment; to allow committees such as ours, individuals and other groups to scrutinise the government’s work and contribute to mitigating any negative consequences.”
- The Chief Executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, Andrew Goodacre, told the BEIS Select Committee, that a fifth of high street stores plan to stay closed permanently after the coronavirus lockdown ends. He went on to say that it has been the “worst time ever for retail” after the pandemic hit the UK. Earlier Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, told the committee that 69% of non-food retailers have been “significantly” impacted by the virus.
- Mel Stride, Chair of the Treasury Select Committee and Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Ducky of Lancaster were panellists on a webinar hosted by the Resolution Foundation Think Tank which assessed the design and delivery of Britain's COVID-19 response:
- Mel Stride said that the deficit is likely to be significantly raised following the crisis and a ‘V shaped’ recovery is unlikely. In order to address the unemployment issues, he called on the Government to “create the most pro-business environment that we can create” otherwise measures would need to be taken to tackle unemployment on a scale similar to those implemented by Franklin Roosevelt.
- In response, Rachel Reeves stated “We want to ensure a ‘V shaped’ recovery but this will be a real challenge. To grow the economy, we need to take risks and innovate. The appetite for that following this crisis will be massively reduced and we must create an environment which is conducive to business and enterprise.”