Mar 17, 2020
Boris Johnson Coronavirus Speech Transcript: UK PM Tells UK to Avoid Non-Essential Travel & Contact
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech on COVID-19 on March 16, encouraging Britons to stop all non-essential travel and contact. He encouraged everyone to avoid pubs, restaurants, and the office if possible. Read the full transcript here.
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Boris Johnson: (00:00)
As we said last week, our objective is to delay and flatten the peak of the epidemic by bringing forward the right measures at the right time so that we minimize suffering and save life, and everything we do is based scrupulously on the best scientific advice.
Boris Johnson: (00:22)
Last week we asked everyone to stay at home if you had one of two key symptoms: a high temperature or a new and continuous cough. Today we need to go further because, according to SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Emergencies, it looks as though we’re now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve. And without drastic action, cases could double every five or six days. So, first, we need to ask you to ensure that if you or anyone in your household has one of those two symptoms, then you should stay at home for 14 days. That means that, if possible, you should not go out even to buy food or essentials other than for exercise, and in that case, at a safe distance from others. If necessary, you should ask for help from others for your daily necessities. And if that is not possible, then you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.
Boris Johnson: (01:45)
And even if you don’t have symptoms and if no one in your household has symptoms, there is more that we need you to do now. So, second, now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theaters, and other such social venues. It goes to that saying, repeat the message, we should all only use the NHS when we really need to, and please go online rather than ringing NHS 111.
Boris Johnson: (02:36)
Now, this advice about avoiding all unnecessary social contact is particularly important for people over 70, for pregnant women, and for those with some health conditions. And if you ask, “Well, why are we doing this now? Why now? Why not earlier or later? Why bring in this very draconian measure,” the answer is that we are asking people to do something that is difficult and disruptive of their lives. And the right moment, as we’ve always said, is to do it when it is most effective, when we think it can make the biggest difference to slowing the spread of the disease, reducing the number of victims, reducing the number of fatalities. And as we take these steps, we should be focusing on the most vulnerable. So, third, in a few days time, by this coming weekend, it will be necessary to go further and to ensure that those with the most serious health conditions are largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks. And again, the reason for doing this in the next few days rather than earlier or later is that this is going to be very disruptive for people who have such conditions, difficult for them, but I believe it’s now necessary.
Boris Johnson: (04:10)
And we want to ensure that this period of shielding, this period of maximum protection coincides with the peak of the disease. And it’s now clear that the peak of the epidemic is coming faster in some parts of the country than in others, and it looks as though London is now a few weeks ahead. So to relieve the pressure on the London health system and to slow the spread in London, it’s important that Londoners now pay special attention to what we’re saying about avoiding non-essential contact and to take particularly seriously the advice about working from home and avoiding confined spaces such as pubs and restaurants. Lastly, it remains true, as we said in the last few weeks, that risks of transmission of the disease at mass gatherings, such as sporting events, are relatively low. But obviously, logically, as we advise against unnecessary social contact of all kinds, it’s right that we should extend that advice to mass gatherings as well.
Boris Johnson: (05:26)
And so we’ve also got to ensure that we have the critical workers we need that might otherwise be deployed at those gatherings to deal with this emergency. So, from tomorrow we will no longer be supporting mass gatherings with emergency workers in the way that we normally do. So mass gatherings, we are now moving emphatically away from.
Boris Johnson: (05:53)
And I know that many people, including millions of fit and active people over 70, may feel, listening to what I’ve just said, that there is something excessive about these measures. But I have to say I believe they are overwhelmingly worth it to slow the spread of the disease, to reduce the peak, to save life, minimize suffering, and to give our NHS the chance to cope.
Boris Johnson: (06:29)
Over the last few days, I’ve been comparing notes and talking to leaders around the world, and I can tell you that the UK is now leading a growing global campaign amongst all our friends and allies, whether in the G7, the G20, the UN, the IMF, all those bodies in which we play a significant role. We’re leading a campaign to fight back against this disease, to keep the economy growing, to make sure that humanity has access to the drugs and the treatments that we all need. And the UK is also at the front of the effort to back our business, to back our economy, to make sure that we get through it.
Boris Johnson: (07:14)
I know that we are today asking a lot of everybody. This is far more now than just washing your hands, though clearly, washing your hands remains important. But I can tell you that across this country, people and businesses, in my experience, are responding with amazing energy and creativity to the challenge that we face. And I want to thank everybody for the part that you are playing and that you’re going to play.
Boris Johnson: (07:45)
Our chief scientific advisor will now update us on where we are. Over to you, Patrick.
Patrick Vallance: (07:50)
Thank you. We’ve looked all along SAGE at measures that can save lives and protect people. The objectives, as I laid out last time, are to really suppress the curve in order to keep it below NHS capacity so that the NHS can cope, and to shield the vulnerable and those most likely to get severe disease so that we protect them across this period. Most people, it’s worth reminding us, have a mild disease, but some do not.
Patrick Vallance: (08:29)
This is a very fast-moving situation. The latest numbers that we reviewed at SAGE suggest that we’re entering a fast-growth period or on the cusp of doing so, and London is ahead of other parts of the country. We at the outset laid out a plan and advised that we would implement it, the measures, at the right stage and in the right combination, the right combination to ensure that we get the biggest impact. Unfortunately, that time is now for many of these measures.
Patrick Vallance: (09:06)
What we’re doing is implementing them actually at a stage of the epidemic which is a little bit earlier than has been done in some other countries given where we are in terms of the epidemic now. The measures have two objectives. One is to delay the transmission of this virus across the community, and the second is to keep people safe.
Patrick Vallance: (09:32)
The measures, as the Prime Minister has outlined, include whole household isolation. So if one person gets the symptoms of new, persistent cough or fever, the whole household stays isolated for 14 days. The reason it’s 14 days is the seven days for the person who’s got the infection, the incubation period that others may catch it, and the seven days after that.
Patrick Vallance: (10:03)
We’re also recommending increased social distancing, that’s the phrase that you hear, which means trying to reduce contact between people. Again, to try to delay this transmission. That means where businesses can do it and where individuals can do it, homeworking is recommended. Unnecessary travel should be reduced and stopped. Avoiding gatherings and crowded places is important. And those gatherings, big or small, are important so that you get the whole thing together. It’s not just the size of a gathering, it’s actually all gatherings which become important. And reducing social contacts.
Patrick Vallance: (10:46)
There are specific measures for the vulnerable groups, the people who are most likely to get serious illness with this infection, and Chris Whitty will say more about that. Those measures would need to go on for 12 weeks or so across this period, maybe a little longer.
Patrick Vallance: (11:08)
These measures, like case isolation that we talked about last week, staying at home if you’ve got the symptoms, these new measures have a big effect. This is not a series of small interventions. You would anticipate that this could have a dramatic effect to reduce the peak and to reduce death rate. They are not easy, but they are important, and they will have the effect if we all do it. This is a matter for us to take accountability, to make sure we help each other, protect ourselves and protect the NHS.
Patrick Vallance: (11:49)
It is also possible, as laid out in the plan, that other measures may be necessary, including at some point, as we’ve said, it may be necessary to think about things like school closures, but those things, again, need to be done at the right time, in the right way, at the right stage of the outbreak. I’ll hand over to Chris.
Chris Whitty: (12:12)
Thank you. I’m just going to add a few comments additionally from a medical point of view, but I’m not going to repeat points that have already been made. And the first thing is to make an obvious point that this is now a very global disease, and the way you deal with global pandemics is different in public health terms than the way you would deal with a localized outbreak where you’re the first country or a very significant region that has got it.
Chris Whitty: (12:40)
And the second point is the obvious point again, that in this country, this disease is now accelerating up the curve, but it is still at a low level, but it will accelerate up now really quite rapidly.
Chris Whitty: (12:54)
Now, we obviously need to do things that are both effective, and all the measures that are here have been gone over by several large numbers of scientists in different ways, looking at mathematical models, behavioral sciences, many other forms of science to find the things which are the most effective. But they also have to be sustainable because this is going to go on for some time. And I think we should not be under any illusions that if we just do this for a couple of weeks, that is sufficient. This is going to have to be prolonged period.
Chris Whitty: (13:27)
Let me start off with the most cheery point about this. For any individual person, the chances of dying from coronavirus are actually very low. Some people will not get the infection, and many of the measures we’re doing at the moment will help with that. Some people will get it and will have no symptoms at all. They won’t even realize they’ve had it. Of those who do have symptoms, the majority will have either a mild disease or a moderate disease, meaning they can easily manage it at home without having to go to the NHS directly or indirectly in any other way.
Chris Whitty: (14:09)
But obviously, a small minority, but a significant one, get significant disease requiring hospital care. A small proportion of those will go on to need intensive care. And sadly, some people will go on to die. And as we’ve discussed before, the overall mortality rate looks as if it’s a bit less than 1% on current data, but that’s without knowing how many people get the disease asymptomatically, but we know some people get it.
Chris Whitty: (14:39)
Now, we also know that older people are at greater risk, and that is widely known. But it is important, I think, to stress that being old does not necessarily mean you’ll get it worse. And actually, there was a rather nice article by my minister, Nadine Dorries, who actually explained when she had coronavirus, her mother, who caught it from her, had it more mildly. So it’s not a necessary fact that older people will necessarily have it worse.
Chris Whitty: (15:04)
So you might say, “Why, with a disease where we have such small numbers at the moment and which the great majority of people are going to recover from, and most of them will have a mild or non-noticeable disease, would we want to do anything at all?” And the reason is this acceleration. And our overall aim and our single aim is to reduce death rates and the numbers of people who might die as a result of this.
Chris Whitty: (15:31)
But I think it’s important to recognize, and the reason I’m explaining this is so people understand the logic of what we’re doing, that there are broadly three groups of deaths and other impacts on health we need to consider. There are the direct deaths, which are caused by the coronavirus disease itself. With good medical care, tragically, a few people, the great majority of them are in less good health but not necessarily all, will pass away.
Chris Whitty: (16:02)
There are, however, and this is really important, a significant number of other deaths which, if the NHS became overwhelmed in any of the four nations, if the intensive care units got to the point when they were overwhelmed, then people would die from indirect deaths because they did not have the ability to get medical care. And a lot of what we are trying to do is trying to reduce the chance that those indirect deaths might occur.
Chris Whitty: (16:32)
And then the third possibility, and it is an important one for us to consider, is that some of the measures we are doing will undoubtedly or could have negative impacts on people’s health themselves. So there are negative effects of what we do to try and combat the coronavirus. One of the reasons we are very keen not to go in advance of need was because of those negative facts, and I’ll come onto one of them later on.
Chris Whitty: (16:58)
Now, just to explain where the different things fall into this. The very profound changes in terms of social distancing that the Prime Minister laid out, which are going to be very difficult for people to maintain over a long period of time and will have very significant social effects, do have the capacity significantly to pull down the peak of this infection wave and, therefore, make it easier for the NHS and particularly the ventilation support to be able to cope with the wave that is heading its way. So that is really critical. People who do this, who restrict their social gathering, are doing things to protect the NHS, to allow the NHS to treat both people with coronavirus and people who have other things as well. It has overall effect on the NHS.
Chris Whitty: (17:48)
The second group of things which the Prime Minister has laid out are those things that we want the quite large group of people who either are over 70, possibly quite healthy or very healthy over 70, but over 70, or who are younger than 70 but have a significant health condition, and this is mainly in adults, we want them to take even greater care because this is in addition to making sure that they don’t end up helping fuel the epidemic themselves. It means that they do not have to go to hospital, which is good for the NHS. But most importantly, it reduces the risk that they will catch the virus, particularly at a time when the NHS is under strain. This is absolutely critical.
Chris Whitty: (18:31)
And the group of people who we would want to take this advice particularly seriously are older people above 70, people who in adult life would normally be advised to have the flu vaccination, so these are people with chronic diseases such as chronic heart disease or chronic kidney disease, and also as a precautionary measure, because we are early in our understanding of this virus and we want to be sure, women who are pregnant. And those three groups …
Chris Whitty: (19:03)
Sure, women who are pregnant, and those three groups are the groups we want to take particular care to minimize their social contact, which will of course will have very significant risks for them. And later on, we will be giving a, I think, very shortly a much more specific list of an even smaller group of people who have very profound health problems. They all know they’ve got very profound health problems. For example, people who might have advanced myeloma or leukemia, things that significantly affects their immune system.
Chris Whitty: (19:35)
The final bit that is being talked about today is, in addition to what we’ve previously talked about, is the 14-day stay at home. If one person in the household has symptoms, the whole household stays at home. Now, there has to be some common sense around this. If there’s a very vulnerable person in the household, for example, we’ll need, people will need to take that into account. We’ll need to think, people need to think through the practicalities of their own position, but the reason for this is, because they are helping to stop it be transmitted onto the rest of the community.
Chris Whitty: (20:12)
And these people, the trouble is, if you actually are in a household with someone who’s got coronavirus, there is a reasonably high chance you will be infected, and will go on to get this. So this, is in a sense, some things people are doing to help protect the rest of society.
Chris Whitty: (20:29)
We do want to stress that the great majority of these people will have mild or moderate disease. They don’t need to contact the NHS. They can get, they can use the NHS online service, there’s very sensitive information there. We really would encourage them, not if they have mild or moderate disease, to phone 111, because the service we need to protect, for those who are in greatest need.
Chris Whitty: (20:54)
But, really important distress, if anybody’s health starts to deteriorate significantly, then they should phone 111, or contact the health services, in the way they usually would. So this is if people deteriorate, we’d want to make it clear they should then do so.
Chris Whitty: (21:12)
Finally, I just want to make a point on behalf of my other CMOs, for all four nations. We are enormously proud of what our colleagues in the NHS and public health have done so far to delay this, and to do so in a safe way. An enormous amount of work has gone on to do that.
Chris Whitty: (21:33)
The next few weeks and months are going to be extraordinarily difficult for the NHS in all four nations. We know that our colleagues will rise to this challenge, but we know it is going to be very hard, indeed, but we have enormous faith in them. Thank you very much.
Boris Johnson: (21:49)
Well, thank you very much Chris. So I want to thank both Chris and Patrick immensely for all the work that they’d been doing over the last, a few weeks and months. And I know it’s a big imposition, but we’re going to walk, we’re going to be making sure that we give daily updates to you.
Boris Johnson: (22:05)
I do think that would be valuable, so that we can have, as as I said from the beginning, as much transparency as possible, and really try and show our working and our thinking as clearly as possible to the British public. Questions. Now please, Vicki Young, BBC.
Vicki Young: (22:26)
Prime minister, looking at these measures. Can I ask you about enforcement? Are you closing theaters, pubs, restaurants down, as of today? And a particular question which we’ve heard at the BBC, lots of questions about care homes. Are you going to stop visitors going into care homes? Lots of people are very concerned about that.
Vicki Young: (22:44)
And then, on a more scientific question about testing, the Director General of the World Health Organization has just said, “A clear message to countries, to test, test, test. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. Test every suspected case.” Lots of people wondering how you can track the pandemic in this country, if you don’t know who’s got it.
Boris Johnson: (23:05)
Yeah, so thanks, Vicki. Well, absolutely, what we’re doing is giving very strong advice that public venues, such as theaters, should no longer be visited. The proprietors of those venues that are taking the logical steps that you’d imagine. You’re seeing the change happen already.
Boris Johnson: (23:28)
As for enforcement, we have the powers, if necessary, but I don’t believe that it will be necessary to use those powers. When it comes to care homes and visitors to care homes, you can take it from what we’ve just said, about avoiding all unnecessary contact for those particular groups.
Boris Johnson: (23:48)
You know, a really strong advice that we’re giving out to people, to avoid unnecessary contact with the over seventies, those with particular health conditions, absolutely. We don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes.
Chris Whitty: (24:04)
Actually, as to the testing?
Boris Johnson: (24:04)
Yes, and on the testing. Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Whitty: (24:06)
Oh, of course, we completely agree with the Secretary General that testing is absolutely critical, and within the UK, we have three levels of testing at the moment. We have testing in intensive care systems, which is across the whole system, as it is a complete surveillance system. We have testing in hospitals for people who got pneumonia, for people who got milder disease, and we have the GP network which is testing in the community. The one thing which we did stop doing was testing based on geography, which was early on, because at this stage geography is much less important in a disease. Now, we do intend to continue to scale up testing, but I think it’s important to realize the scale of UK testing, which has been substantial, and just to give, just some numbers on that, over 44,000 tests conducted, of which 40, over 42,000 were negative.
Chris Whitty: (24:55)
And we will continue to up the testing every single week, from here on in, moving out into the wider community. The test we have at the moment only tests for people who currently got disease. The thing which would be transformational would be a test to reliably tell us if someone has previously had disease, so we can pick up and find out, what proportion of people get this infection without any symptoms. Currently, such a test is not reliable, but it’s being developed very rapidly by public health England.
Boris Johnson: (25:27)
Thanks. Beth Ruby’s going to do something on that.
Beth Ruby: (25:31)
Thank you, Prime Minister. This is quite a big step change from where we were even four days ago, but in other Western European countries, in the US, they’re going further still. There’s states of emergency, cities in forced lockdown, families been asked to stay at home, even if they are not ill, schools closed.
Beth Ruby: (25:52)
Are these are sorts of measures you think the public should expect in the next few days? And if I may, Sir Patrick, a question for you, you just talked about London, when do you think London will hit the peak? What’s the timeframe?
Beth Ruby: (26:06)
And in terms of cases of coronavirus across the country now, last week, you said up to 10,000 people last Thursday, how many people now do you think are carrying the virus? Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (26:19)
Well Beth, just on, on where we are in relation to to others, don’t forget that other countries are at different stages in their movement up the curve. And we’ve always made it very clear that the crucial thing is timeliness. Our interventions should be timely to have the maximum effect. And we think this is the right package for this particular moment, as we start to move up the curve in the way that we’ve said, and as we foreshadowed over the last, over the last couple of weeks.
Boris Johnson: (26:52)
But when you come to more extreme measures, like curfews, and so on and so forth, you’ll see in some of the other countries, we’re keeping all measures under review. And particularly, obviously, people will be thinking about school closures. There is an argument device about school closures.
Boris Johnson: (27:10)
We think, at the moment, on balance, it’s much better if we can keep schools open, for all sorts of reasons. But I appreciate this is again something that we need to keep under review.
Patrick Vallance: (27:24)
In answer to the question about, where is London on the peak? The important thing is that London is ahead, in terms of reaching that inflection point of actually going into a faster growth phase. Clearly, the measures that have been talked about, are aimed to completely suppress that. And therefore, the peak goes much further out. So this is a sort of slower thing, with a reduced number. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.
Patrick Vallance: (27:48)
Numbers? Well, the epidemic you’d expect to double every five days or so. So you can work out, there are many more, as from last week, and you can do calculations as to how many you think you may have.
Patrick Vallance: (28:02)
The absolutely key thing, to reiterate what Chris Whitty has said, is testing, and ramping up our ability to test. And in that, this ability to test who has had the disease, rather than who has just got it now.
Patrick Vallance: (28:16)
Both of those things are really important, to get a proper handle on this, especially this question of how many people have had it, and been asymptomatic. That is the biggest unknown worldwide, that would completely change all sorts of things, if we can get a handle on that number.
Boris Johnson: (28:34)
Thanks. Robert Peston, ITV.
Robert Peston: (28:39)
Couple of questions. First, your restrictions on freedom of movement, your urge to families and households to isolate, these are voluntary. They obviously can’t carry great force because they’re coming from the government. Now, in some countries, they have introduced criminal sanctions, if individuals refuse to obey what is effectively a curfew. How likely is it?
Robert Peston: (29:08)
How prepared are you to introduce criminal sanctions, if necessary? And on this issue of testing. One issue that I hear repeatedly from people in the Health Service, is they are deeply uncomfortable about being forced home if they’ve got a cough, because they’d like to continue to work. Will you, at least for Health Service workers, move fast to allow Health Service Workers to be tested, so that they at least know whether they are a risk to their patients?
Boris Johnson: (29:46)
I’ll ask Chris to deal with that, with testing. But on powers, actually, Robert, you may be amazed to know that this country already, has government already has tremendous powers in this field.
Boris Johnson: (29:56)
Under an act of 1984, I think it’s open to the Secretary of State for Health to ban handshaking, if he wants to. [crosstalk 00:30:04] But I think most people would accept that we are a mature and grown up and liberal democracy, where people understand, very clearly, the advice that is being given to them.
Boris Johnson: (30:19)
And I think they also understand that what we’re saying obviously helps the NHS and helps them. It helps us all as individuals, but it helps the whole community as well. I think the British public do understand that.
Chris Whitty: (30:37)
In answer to the question on testing, the next level out, once we have the capacity to do this, which is where we’re really going for very fast, is exactly as you say, that healthcare and indeed other critical workers, that you can actually test them very early on in their illness, if they end up having actually the right symptoms, but in a sense, the wrong disease, or a good disease, and not coronavirus, then they will be able to go back to work, which is good for the NHS, good for society.
Chris Whitty: (31:08)
If they have got it, at least you know they’ve got it, and they’re not going to get it again. And so that, for a positive or a negative, are therefore useful for the service. So there’s a very strong incentive to get this out as fast as we can practically manage it.
Boris Johnson: (31:22)
Jason Gross, Daily Mail.
Jason Gross: (31:25)
Obviously, Jason Gross from The Daily Mail. I mean, you’ve just announced the most extraordinary measures, saying people shouldn’t go to the pub. They shouldn’t go to cinemas, they shouldn’t go to theaters. What are you going to do to support those businesses, which are looking at the next three months and thinking, “We’re going to collapse if this happens?”
Jason Gross: (31:42)
And Sir Patrick, you’ve told us in this room on Thursday, I think, we were about four weeks behind Italy, we seem to be moving through the gaze extremely rapidly now. Are we? Were you wrong about where we were on that curve last week? Are we further up it, than the scientists thought we were?
Boris Johnson: (31:59)
Well, first of all, Jason, you’re absolutely right. This is going to be a very considerable challenge for businesses, big and small, and we’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to give them the liquidity that they need, make sure that they have the time to pay, but also, make sure in our whole fiscal policy, the way we look at our whole tax and spend system, that we give business the space in which they can come back from this, in which, and I’ve moved out at all, that we’ll be working closely with this. As I said, I don’t, we’ll be working closely with all our partners around the world, to coordinate our response.
Patrick Vallance: (32:44)
In response to the question, where are we? At the early stages in outbreak, the numbers are quite small. So actually, the precision with which you can predict exactly where you are is low. And I said that I thought we were perhaps four weeks behind where Italy was. I think the new numbers suggest were maybe more like, three weeks, in terms of that.
Patrick Vallance: (33:05)
And that’s really why we, and importantly, it looks like we’re on the sort of fast upswing, or just about to get there. And that’s the reason to want to come in quite quickly with these measures.
Boris Johnson: (33:17)
Thanks. George Parker, Financial Times.
George Parker: (33:23)
Yeah so, George Parker from the FT. You’re speaking to some of your G7 colleagues, Prime Minister, and you just mentioned the tax and spend issue. Do you think there’s a case for a general global fiscal stimulus, leaving aside specific measures to help struggling businesses? The second question, about the ventilators. How many ventilators do you think you can get into hospitals very quickly, if manufacturers help you, and don’t you regret not having started this process before?
Boris Johnson: (33:48)
First of all, on the fiscal stimulus, I think there’s a widespread agreement amongst colleagues in the G7 that we are going to need to make sure everybody has access to liquidity, and that, if we do things jointly, then I think that the global markets will understand that we’re all already operating in the same sort of fiscal framework, and I think we’ll be much more successful that way. So there’s a lot of work going on that, George.
Boris Johnson: (34:17)
And on the issue of all types of medical equipment, perhaps more like, what I can say is, we’ve talked a lot in these discussions about what we’re doing to flatten the curve, to squash the sombrero, to depress the graph of the growth of the cases. And of course, that’s going on. That’s what we’re doing today.
Boris Johnson: (34:41)
But there’s a parallel, a body of work which is equally energetic, which is devoted to making sure that the NHS has all the equipment that it needs. And I can tell you that huge, huge strides are being made right now on delivering ventilators, testing kits, oxygen, everything that we think we’ll need in the weeks ahead. Gordon? Gordon Rayner, please, also.
Gordon Rayner: (35:08)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Gordon Rayner from The Telegraph.
Gordon Rayner: (35:13)
Prime Minister and Sir Patrick, last week, Sir Patrick, in particular, was talking about herd immunity. We’ve heard today of a case in Japan, where somebody has reportedly tested positive twice. Having had it once, they’ve now got it again. Does that mean that herd immunity is now completely out of the window?
Gordon Rayner: (35:33)
And Chris Witty was saying just now, I think, that if you test people and they have had the disease, that means they can’t get it again, and they can go back to work. Are you absolutely sure about that, in the light of what we’ve heard today from Japan?
Patrick Vallance: (35:47)
Boris Johnson: (35:47)
Patrick Vallance: (35:48)
I’ll answer the second. So, the first thing, just to reiterate, the objectives, and they’ve always been the objectives, is to make absolutely sure we flatten this curve, keep it below NHS capacity limits. That’s the primary aim, and of course, to make sure that we save lives and protect the vulnerable. That’s what we need to focus on.
Patrick Vallance: (36:05)
In any infectious disease, there are cases where people can catch something again. They’re rare. There’s nothing to suggest that this is a common occurrence in this disease, but we are learning as we go along. But at the moment there is nothing particularly to suggest that, and we already know, that there are some people who’ve had what are called neutralizing antibodies that have actually stopped it, so that it looks like a normal response to an infection. And there will be occasions, very rare, where somebody might get it more than once, as in any disease, any infectious disease.
Chris Whitty: (36:42)
So, just to add to that, [inaudible 00:36:43], even in diseases which do not have long lasting immunity, there’s usually a short period of immunity, and that’s enough for a season and it’s an epidemic in the initial phases. So I think it’s important to differentiate between that and long lived immunity. Of course, if people don’t induce very long lived immunity, that makes the idea of a vaccine less certain. So I think we need to be aware of that, and we’ll be watching this very carefully.
Chris Whitty: (37:10)
I think the final thing is, I haven’t seen the details of this report. If people have got immunosuppression or various other things, they can make this more likely, but it’s an involved area.
Boris Johnson: (37:21)
And it’s always worth stressing what, I think we’ve said continuously, which is our objective, our overriding objective, in all cases, is to reduce suffering to minimize the incidence of this disease, and to save life. That’s the the absolute priority.
Patrick Vallance: (37:38)
Can I just make-
Boris Johnson: (37:38)
Patrick Vallance: (37:39)
One other point? Which is, right away from the beginning, we described four things, one of which was research. And research is unbelievably important in this, and the UK is outstanding at clinical science and the biological sciences that underpin this. And so, the research in the UK is going to be an important part of tackling this, and part of an important international effort, to make sure that we get on top of this…
Patrick Vallance: (38:03)
Part of an important international effort to make sure that we get on top of this.
Boris Johnson: (38:05)
Thanks. Tom [inaudible 00:38:06] .
Thank you, Prime Minister. First of all, can you give the nation any form of indication how long this ban on social contact will last, to prepare them? Should they prepare for a couple of weeks, couple of months, the whole year? Secondly, in terms of effect to the economy, obviously no blame intended, but clearly this has gone far further than the Chancellor might have thought last week, even when he was delivering his budget, which was predestined on 1.1% growth this year. Do you accept now the economy’s not going to grow by 1.1% and the chancellor is going to have to spend an awful lot more public money propping up businesses?
Boris Johnson: (38:47)
Yeah. Just on the timing, I think I might defer to the experts on either side of me. Just on the, on where we are with the economy, it’s perfectly obvious. The G7 conversation I was having today, everybody sees that this is going to be potentially a severe blow for the economy. Everybody can see the risks that this situation poses: the risk to demand, the risk to supply. If we get it right, and if we get the right response, and if we work together, then we can ensure that it is a short term problem because the fundamentals of the UK economy are very strong. This is unlike 2008. There isn’t a systemic problem within the economy. If we can get the disease under control in the way that we’re describing, if we can flatten that peak and it starts eventually to a decline and tells off at the crosswalk, then there’s absolutely no reason why economies worldwide should not come roaring back. It’s a very, very different category of difficulty from 2008. I think people understand that, but on the on timing, Chris?
Chris Whitty: (40:13)
We stressed right from the beginning this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I stressed at the beginning of the points I made that sustainability is absolutely critical here. This is not a situation where a couple of weeks and this virus is on the way. Absolutely not. People should be thinking of a minimum of weeks to months and depending how it goes, it may be longer. I think this, it is really important people realize they’re in for the long haul on this, but this is really important. If we’re to defend the ability of the NHS to treat people, if we’re to actually minimize the mortality, we’ve got to see this as a long game.
Boris Johnson: (40:49)
Victoria Donald, channel four.
Victoria Donald: (40:54)
Can I ask? Just a little while ago, we were told, last week indeed, that it was seven days isolation. Was it that the science moved so much, or that you made a mistake on that? Also, could you tell me about the advice on pregnant women because there have been reports, of course, of babies at the weekend being born and then testing positive, but there have been no reports of in utero transmission?
Chris Whitty: (41:23)
Shall I take the second one and Patrick take the first? In terms of pregnancy, there are reports of, well actually in the global literature at this point in time, one person who became severely ill. We’re very very early in what we know on this, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is the professional body, review the evidence. It’s on their website and it was before this case was reported and it makes clear that in the very small number of pregnant women who delivered at or shortly around the time they had this, there were absolutely no complications. T.
Chris Whitty: (42:03)
There are two buts to this. For many infectious diseases, there is a small but appreciable additional risk and we will not know that until a lot more women have had children. We do not know for sure. We can say reliably this is safe or there is some additional risk. Of course, this is a very new virus, so the information we have is relevant to people in the third trimester of pregnancy but not in the earliest stages of pregnancy. I’m maybe giving a long answer because this is something people get very concerned about. There is no evidence from other coronaviruses that makes us feel this is particularly dangerous in the way that for example, the Zika virus was particularly dangerous to pregnant women.
Chris Whitty: (42:46)
Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we’ve taken the very precautionary measure, whilst we try and find out more, to include pregnant women in the group alongside older women and people who’ve got pre-existing significant health conditions. We may in retrospect find that was overkill, but we’d rather be more cautionary now rather than the other way.
Boris Johnson: (43:10)
Patrick Vallance: (43:11)
Shall I answer the other part?
Boris Johnson: (43:11)
Sorry. Yes, forgive me. Forgive me. The seven days.
Patrick Vallance: (43:11)
First thing, to really reiterate what Chris has just said. This is a brand new disease. We need to learn as we go along and that will be part of what we do. The seven days actually isn’t a change. It’s a little bit complicated and I just want to explain it. If you are ill with the symptoms of either new persistent cough or fever, you isolate yourself for seven days. If you lived on your own, that’s what you would do. That’s the advice we gave last week.
Patrick Vallance: (43:41)
Now we’re saying if anybody in the family gets it or anybody in the household gets it, entire household stays together isolated for 14 days. The reason for that is the other people may pick it up over the seven days or five days period and then they’ve got seven days to have it and get better or to be asymptomatic but have it for seven days. It’s two different periods, but the principle is the same. When you’ve got symptoms, you’re seven days.
Boris Johnson: (44:10)
Have you got that? It’s a difference between individual isolation and household isolation. Heather Stewart?
Heather Stewart: (44:22)
Heather Stewart from the Guardian. You talked there, Prime Minister, about giving businesses the space to deal with this crisis. I wonder whether you think you might need to take more action to give low paid households the space to deal with it. You may now have a situation where couples are both having to take 14 days off work. The budget measures relied on statutory sick paper that’s less than a hundred pounds a week. Do you think you’ll have to do more?
Boris Johnson: (44:42)
Well, Heather, we’re doing … We certainly will be bringing forward all the measures that we can. We’re lifting the living wage by a huge amount as you know, and we’re making sure that statute [inaudible 00:44:54] pay and benefits are payable as soon as, as soon as possible. The general principle that’s guiding us, because you’re totally right, we’re going to have to look after people and help them for a considerable period, is it nobody should be penalized for doing the right thing. We hope very much that people listening to this will feel that they can take the measures that we’ve outlined in the knowledge that they will be protected. Sir?
Dennis Staunton: (45:25)
Dennis Staunton from the Irish Times. I think Prime Minister, the Irish government has introduced more aggressive measures on social distancing, including the closure of schools, but the executive in Northern Ireland is following the same pace as the government in the rest of United Kingdom. Are you confident that the people in Northern Ireland are being protected from this virus as effectively as their neighbors in the South?
Boris Johnson: (45:49)
I absolutely am and we had a good discussion just now with Arlene and Michelle. Actually, if you look at what’s happening overall, the UK and Ireland are on very much the same path. Perhaps Patrick and Chris, anything you want to say about the schools issue? Any more that needs to be said?
Patrick Vallance: (46:09)
No, I think, I think we’ve covered the schools issue and I think the key thing is the social distancing actions that we’re taking around bars and restaurants and theaters and so on, which is a really important part of this, which is probably more extreme in terms of in terms of the action then.
Chris Whitty: (46:23)
The one thing I think it is worth just adding to that, it’s just to reiterate the point that there that thankfully this virus seems to spare children relative to other ages.
Boris Johnson: (46:34)
Dennis, we are in daily contact with our counterparts and with the teacher’s office and so on to make sure that we’re coordinating things as much as we reasonably can. Yes, sir?
Thank you. Prime Minister. Michael [inaudible 00:46:54] from the Herald. It’s really important that you take the public with you in whatever you do, but do you think the UK government needs to try harder to be in lockstep with the Scottish government because any perceived divergence in approach will not reassure the public that there’s a unified approach? I think it was Sir Patrick who said that London was ahead in the outbreak. Do you think, Prime Minister, that Westminster can stay up until July?
Boris Johnson: (47:25)
Well, Michael, look. A very, very good point about what’s going on with all four nations. Actually, if you’d been at the Cobra just now, it was very, very good discussion between us and all the other involved administrations. Everybody’s on the same page. Everybody can see the importance of the measures that we’ve outlined today. On your point about Westminster, we will obviously be wanting to make sure that as I say, the democracy carries on, that we protect our parliamentary institutions, but clearly those who are vulnerable and lots of members of parliament of both houses may come into that category, should receive the protections that they need.
Chris Whitty: (48:17)
Prime Minister, I should just add that, just to reassure people. I speak to my counterpart Chief Medical Officers in all four nations very regularly, often several times a day. They listen in on these sage discussions and contribute under Sir Patrick, and at a technical level there’s really, really strong determination to make sure we have a unified view and understand the technical [inaudible 00:48:39] together
Boris Johnson: (48:41)
Just on the parliamentary situation, there may be more to come on this. The Speaker and all parties and the leader of the House of Commons are working together to find a way forward that that achieves that is those objectives: protecting our democracy, ensuring that our parliament stays open, but obviously also protecting the groups we need to protect. Paul?
Paul from HuffPost. Prime Minister, just to follow up on that last point you made, are you suggesting that all parliamentarians, MPS and peers who are over 70 should adhere to today’s announcements? I take it you are, or are they some sort of special category? More importantly, can we be a bit more precise? We’ve had a lot of vague announcements today. You said for example, people in care homes should not be visited, should not be unnecessarily visited. What does “unnecessarily” mean? Secondly, the Chief Medical Officer said that it may be weeks to months that this blanket ban on unnecessary travel and nonessential contact lasts. What do we mean by weeks to months and when we know when it’s over? Will there be an announcement by Public Health England which says, “You can all get back to work,” or what?
Boris Johnson: (50:01)
I’m going to … In terms of your first question, Paul, about parliamentarians, you can take this as a universal announcement intended for everybody. There are no exceptions. Chris, on the precision of the advice for instance, to people visiting care homes?
Chris Whitty: (50:20)
In terms of precise advice, we’ll be putting on the website a lot of precise advice. I’m not going to go through every single one, because we could spend the rest of the evening just going through one line by line. It is a really difficult area. Let me be clear that how to protect people in care homes and nursing homes is going to be one of the most challenging things for every nation on this this question because, of course, they are vulnerable and they do have to move in and out of health services from time to time and this is not going to be an easy issue anywhere.
Chris Whitty: (50:51)
In terms of the precision of the timing, this will really depend on how the epidemic curve plays out over time, but we’re very confident that the minimum amount of time is going to be quite a number of weeks and it’ll then depend on how it plays out. We’ll obviously be coming back to be much more precise with people about how we feel this is going as time goes by. There’s no point to us, in a sense, putting a crystal ball in front of us and saying for sure to this number of weeks. I just wanted people to feel that this is not a two weeks and we’re done. This is a significant period of time.
Boris Johnson: (51:28)
Harriet Line: (51:35)
Harriet Line from the Press Association. What are the kinds of underlying health conditions that those people who died after contracting coronavirus had?
Boris Johnson: (51:45)
Chris Whitty: (51:47)
Well, in every country, they’ve tended to be in a sense, what you’d expect as common significant health conditions: significant cardiovascular disease, significant respiratory disease, sometimes people who’ve had significant neurological problems. There are now quite large studies which lay this out in quite granular detail: obviously, the first experience from China where the situation is slightly different from the UK in terms of health services and risks, increasingly sadly, information from Italy. Our own experience here looking at those who sadly have died in this country completely conforms with the international experience.
Boris Johnson: (52:29)
I’m going to wrap it up here. If I may. I know, I’m sorry to those of you haven’t been able to get your questions in, but as I’ve explained, there will be plenty more opportunities in the course of the next few days. Clearly, what we’re announcing today is a very substantial change in the way that we want people to live their lives, and I can’t remember anything like it in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s really been anything like it in peace time. We have to accept that it’s a very considerable psychological behavioral change that we’re asking you, we’re asking the public, the nation to do. I’ve absolutely no doubt that we can do it, that we can do it together. Everybody understands the need to do it. As I said earlier on, that our economy will eventually bounce back because the fundamentals are strong and we will, by doing the measures that we’re doing, by taking the steps that we’re taking, we will ensure that we give our NHS the space it needs and we depress the peak, as I say, in the way that our experts have described.
Boris Johnson: (53:37)
I have absolutely no doubt that we will also be able in the time that we create, to move a lot further and faster in developing the treatments, the remedies, perhaps even hopefully the vaccines that will enable us to deal with this new coronavirus. Thank you all very much for your patience. I hope everybody has felt that they understood what we’re saying and I’ll see you all tomorrow. Thank you.