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31 Mar 2020


The focus of today’s press conference was on the statistics around hospital admissions, death rates and the level of infections. It was led by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. He was accompanied by Dr Jenny Harries (Deputy Chief Medical Officer) and Stephen Powis (Director of NHS England).

In a similar presentation to yesterday’s, Stephen Powis suggested that there were some “green shoots” which showed that some of the restrictions were working. However, he emphasised that we are “still in the woods”. Michael Gove added to this saying there are signs that the NHS would cope but “now is absolutely not the time that the restrictions can be slackened. Peoples sacrifices are worth it, but they must not let up”.

As the press conference was getting underway, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved a new Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device that delivers oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator, which was created through a collaboration between UCL and Mercedes. The device can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care.

Government Press Conference key points

Michael Gove

  • The NHS has 8,000 ventilators in hospitals, but we need more. The Government are buying them from abroad including from EU nations. The first thousand will roll off the production line this weekend and be in use by next week.
  • The UK is conducting rapid clinical drug trials of pre-existing drugs such as anti-malaria drugs that may decrease the impact of Covid-19 on those affected.
  • The Government is delivering food and prescription drugs to 1.5 million people, but they want to support not just the 1.5 million but all those who need the help during this crisis. Michael Gove announced that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for DEFRA, Victoria Prentis, will be supporting “our neighbours in need” by working with retailers and food suppliers.
  • The RAF are working to transport supplies, staff and patients across the UK.
  • There are some ‘green shoots’ but the “last thing we want is for people to take their foot off the pedal”.
  • The Government wants to increase the number of tests, but the supply of the chemicals has made this harder. They have been working with the private sector and academics to help NHS staff get tested.
  • When asked about non-essential workers still working, he said “I appreciate that when people are considering going to work, people want to know if they are doing the right thing. We have stressed that where possible we want people to work at home… but some people are contributing to ensure that the wellbeing of the nation is maintained. If people feel that their workplace is not complying with PHE guidelines, please get in touch with me”.

Stephen Powis

  • All the interventions and instructions that the UK Government has given are designed to reduce social contact. By doing that, the spread of the virus is reduced: “I am pleased to say that the Great British public are paying attention to that message”. He showed this through the reduction in transport use: transport in London has “decreased dramatically”.
  • He said that the UK has had a rise in the new cases. However, recently there has been a plateau  but “don’t read too much into this… we are not out of the woods, but the number of infections is not rising as dramatically”.
  • A third of hospital admissions are in London.
  • It is crucial that NHS staff get tested, whether they are in isolation or because if they have had the virus it is likely that when they get over the infection they will be immune.
  • They have written to NHS staff to produce lists of people who are most key so they can be tested first.
  • The NHS has still not reached its critical care limit, including in London. The pressure is building on London, but we still have surge capacity.

Dr Jenny Harries

  • On testing she said we are heading towards 25,000 but we are currently on 12,700 a day. If you are an ill member of staff you don’t want to be going into the hospital to be tested, the important thing is to get our postal testing system operational.
  • She explained that we have enough PPE, but the issue is ensuring it gets to where it needs to go.
  • When asked about testing and ending the lockdown, Dr Harries explained that the “have you had it test” is the answer. “If we know how many people who have had it, we know how many people will still get it – this gives us a clue to how many people we need to immunise. If we need to loosen the loc down we can model how many people could still get it. So, this is the clue on managing the end of the lockdown.”

Government Activity

  • Nearly 3,000 migrant doctors, nurses and paramedics plus their family members have had their visas extended automatically for a year to assist the fight against coronavirus. Home Secretary, Priti Patel said "I don't want them distracted by the visa process. That is why I have automatically extended their visas - free of charge - for a further year". 
  • Families with children eligible for free school meals in England will be able to claim weekly shopping vouchers - £15 per child - while schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma’s has written to the construction sector, thanking them for their tireless work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Parliamentary and Regional Activity

  • Fifty MPs from across the House of Commons have asked for a compensation scheme for frontline workers during the coronavirus crisis. A letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls on the government to help the families of those "who die as a result of contracting Covid-19 while performing front-line duties". "Just like members of the Armed Forces, they should know that if the worst happens, the state will help their families," the letter reads. The scheme they are calling for would include a lump sum up front, a guaranteed income for the worker’s family and child payments to eligible children under 18. Layla Moran MP (Lib Dem) has asked people to sign a petition.
  • Damian Green MP (a former First Secretary of State, Chair of the One Nation Caucus), has said it is “undeniable” the coronavirus outbreak was caused by “unhygienic practices in Chinese markets”. Writing on ConservativeHome Green called for international relations with China to be reexamined over the country’s failure to alert global leaders to the extent of the pandemic.
  • The shadow culture secretary, Tracy Brabin, has written to Rishi Sunak asking him to reconsider some of the restrictions on help for self-employed workers and freelancers. In a letter to the chancellor shared on Twitter, Brabin writes that “thousands of self-employed workers have expressed fears and frustrations that the support they are due to receive is not representative of the income they will lose to the Covid-19 pandemic”. Among those to lose out, she said, would be those who became self-employed after April 2019, people who are part-employed and part self-employed, those on maternity leave or with caring responsibilities, people on reduced hours and workers with ongoing expenses.

Health Updates

  • The total number of UK deaths in hospitals is 1,789 up by 381 from yesterday from 1,408.
  • Two behavioural scientists have written to Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, to warn about the potential unintended consequences of mass public testing for coronavirus infection. Professor Madelynne Arden at Sheffield Hallam University and Professor Christopher Armitage at the University of Manchester have told Whitty they felt compelled to share their concerns about the likely impact of mass testing on the public’s adherence to the lockdown and social distancing measures. The scientists believe that people who have had the virus will return to normal life, since they will likely have some immunity, but warn this could encourage everyone else to follow suit. Another concern is that people who are fed up with isolation will be out and about and simply claim to have had the infection.