Sep 9, 2020
Boris Johnson COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript September 9
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference on September 9 to provide coronavirus updates. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Boris Johnson: (04:44)
Good afternoon. And welcome back to Downing Street for an update on coronavirus as we enter autumn and approach winter. I’m first going to hand over to Chris to take us through the latest data, and then we will set out how we’re going to respond.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Can I have the first slide, please?
I think it’s important to set out what the prime minister is going to say in context. So we’re just going to run through some of the recent data from the UK and from England. We’re starting off with the overall rates in terms of confirmed cases. Going back to April, when obviously we had very high numbers, the numbers came right down, but as you can see on this graph, the numbers are now going up and going up really much more rapidly over the last few days. Next slide, please.
It’s important to think about this also in terms of the ages where this is happening. There’s some very good news in this and that’s the bottom of this graph. What that shows is that in older people and in the younger children, the rates remain really quite flat. But in some age groups, the rates are now going up really quite sharply. At the top of this graph, we have the rates in people aged 20 to 29 in the light green, and then 30 to 39 in the yellow numbers. But what you can also see is some rapid upticks elsewhere. And in particular, the light blue, which is quite a broad age band of 10 to 19. I’ll come back to that number later. Next slide, please. Looking at the test positivity rates. So this is the proportion of tests done that turn out to be positive. These are following exactly the same pattern. That’s important because that makes clear, this is not just because of increased testing, but this is actually a real phenomenon where the numbers of cases are going up. Next slide, please.
In this slide, we have split out the various ages from 11 to 21 years old. And in the bottom two lines, what you have is people in dark blue, 11 to 14 and in the orange, 15 to 16. In those groups, as you can see, the rates of increase have been very small indeed. But if you look at the group who are 17 to 18 in the olive color and 19 to 21 in the magenta color, both of those have gone up really quite steeply since the middle of August. Next slide, please.
And again, exactly the same pattern is seen if you see the test positivity. So this is not an effect of greater testing in these groups. Next slide, please.
Importantly, we also need to look at what happens if we do nothing in this situation, or if we intervene effectively. What we have here, and this is a slightly complicated slide, but it is important to understand the need for action. Is we have three other major countries in Europe and what we’ve done is we moved the timelines, so that for example, France, which is in red and the UK which is in blue, we’ve moved the timelines so that the UK’s graph is brought four weeks forward, so that overlies the French graph. What you can see is we’re following a pattern extremely similar to what France followed, and as you can see in France, that rate has continued to go up.
The same is true in Spain. But, also you can see, and this is an example from Belgium, in Belgium, the same sort of graph was happening. Initially, a rate went up quite sharply in the way that it has here in the UK, but then they took decisive action. At that point, the rates stabilized, and in fact, then subsequently began to come gradually down. So this is a clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively, when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable chance or a good chance of bringing the rates back down under control. Next slide, please. So we’re now moving on to an animation. This is a graphic to show how the spread occurred through the UK over the period in which we’ve had coronavirus. So if you could start the graphic. What this has is lots of hexagons, each one of them being numbers of cases. The lighter the number, the smaller the number, and then they get darker. These are the data for England, there would be something very similar for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As you can see, through March and through April, the graphs just get darker and darker across the whole country. Then as people respond to the request for social distancing, as the lockdown happens, they get lighter again across the whole country and things are improving all the way through July and into the beginning of August.
Then you start to see the numbers begin to creep up again, and this is the situation we now find ourselves in. Where the darker colors again are increased numbers. Initially, relatively concentrated, but now we can see this spreading across the whole country. So this is not just in a very small number of places, this is across the country, and that is the reason why we need to go on to act.
If we could to end the animation at that stage, please. Thank you very much.
Boris Johnson: (10:56)
Right. Well, thank you very much, Chris. It’s clear from that very powerful graphic, that powerful slides that we must act. The most important thing for all of us is to remember the basics.
Boris Johnson: (11:10)
First, wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds. Don’t get back into the old habits. Second, wear a face covering over your mouth and nose, if you’re in an enclosed space and in close contact with people you don’t normally meet. I know wearing a face covering feels odd to some people. I understand that. But face coverings do make it harder for the virus to spread, so please wear one to protect others. Third, make space. Always stay two meters away from people you don’t live with, or one meter with extra precautions like extra ventilation screens or face coverings. Fourthly, if you have COVID symptoms, get a test and self isolate. We’re now processing 1.2 million tests per week. To date, we’ve carried out 15.4 million antigen tests. That’s more than any other country in Europe and more per head than other European countries like Germany and Spain.
Boris Johnson: (12:10)
We’re increasing our testing capacity further to meet rising demand. You can help by only booking a test if you have a fever, a new continuous cough, or you’ve lost your sense of taste or smell. If you don’t have those symptoms and you haven’t been asked to book a test, please don’t. So those are the basics, hands, face, space, and get a test if you have COVID symptoms.
Boris Johnson: (12:43)
Since the pandemic began, we’ve asked you to reduce your social contact and limit your interactions with friends and family. I know that over time the rules have become quite complicated and confusing. We’ve spoken to police officers about what they need for the effective enforcement regime, and of course, we’ve listened to feedback from you, from the public.
Boris Johnson: (13:11)
So what we’re responding and we are simplifying and strengthening the rules, making them easier for everyone to understand, and for the police to enforce. I should stress, that if we are to beat the virus, then everyone at all times should limit social contact as much as possible and minimize interactions with other households. It’s safer to meet outdoors and you should keep your distance from anyone you don’t live with, even if they’re close friends or family.
Boris Johnson: (13:46)
So, in England, from Monday, we’re introducing the rule of six. You must not meet socially in groups of more than six. And if you do, you will be breaking the law. This will apply in any setting, indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub. The ban will set out in law and be set out in law, and it will be enforced by the police and anyone breaking the rules, risks being dispersed, fined, and possibly arrested.
Boris Johnson: (14:24)
This single measure, replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors. Now, you only need to remember the rule of six. There will be some limited exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than six, then obviously they can still gather. COVID secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants, hospitality, venues can still hold more than six in total. Within those venues, however, there must not be individual groups larger than six and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups.
Boris Johnson: (15:15)
Education and work settings are unaffected. COVID secure weddings and funerals can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people, and organized sport will still be able to proceed. As we found on previous occasions, this rule of six will of course throw up difficult cases. For example, two whole households will no longer be able to meet if they were together exceed the limit of six people. I’m sorry about that. I wish that we did not have to take this step. But as your prime minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. And of course-
Boris Johnson: (16:03)
The virus and to save lives, and of course we will keep the rule of six under constant review and only keep it in place as long as it’s necessary.
Boris Johnson: (16:13)
I also want to see and the public wants to see stronger enforcement of the rules which are already in place. So I’ve tasked the cabinet with increasing enforcement and I would like to thank the police as always and other authorities for the work they’re doing to keep us all safe. In future, premises and venues where people meet socially will be legally required to request the contact details of a member of every party, record and retain these details for 21 days, and provide them to NHS Test and Trace without delay when required. We will support local authorities to make further and faster use of their powers to close venues that are breaking the rules and pose a risk to public health. Fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises remain COVID secure.
Boris Johnson: (17:14)
We will boost the enforcement capacity of local authorities by introducing COVID secure marshalls to help ensure social distancing in town and city centers and by setting up a registrar of environmental health offices that local authorities can draw upon for support. We will simplify the passenger locator form needed for traveling to the U.K. and take measures to ensure these are completed and checked before departure. Border Force will step up enforcement efforts at the border to ensure arrivals are complying with the quarantine rules. We will also restrict the opening hours of premises initially in some local areas.
Boris Johnson: (18:04)
At the present time we must also I’m afraid revise plans to pilot larger audiences in venues later this month and review our intention to return audiences to stadiums and conference centers from the first of October. That doesn’t mean we’re going to scrap the program entirely, we just have to review it and abridge it and the culture secretary will say more about that shortly. I want to be absolutely clear, this is not, these measures are not another national lockdown. The whole point of them is to avoid a second national lockdown.
Boris Johnson: (18:45)
By bearing down on social contact and improving enforcement, we can keep schools and businesses open in the knowledge that they are COVID-secure. I’ve always said schools and colleges should only ever be shut again as a very, very last resort. As the chief medical officer, chief scientific advisor have said, the longterm risks to children’s life chances of not going to school are very significant and far greater than the health risks now of going back to school. Far, far greater. Indeed it’s been fantastic to see so many children back in school this term and I want once again to thank all our teachers and to reassure parents, pupils, that schools are safe.
Boris Johnson: (19:41)
University terms will also begin soon. Now opening universities is critical, again, for students’ life chances and again, the health risks to individuals are low. Of course many students, many university students, are in the age bracket where we’ve seen the infection rates rise recently as Chris was just explaining. My message to students is simple. Please, for the sake of your education, for your parents and your grandparents’ health, wash your hands, cover your face, make space, and don’t socially gather in groups of more than six now and when term starts.
Boris Johnson: (20:29)
Today, the Department for Education is publishing updated guidance for universities on how they can operate in a COVID-secure way including a clear request not to send students home in the event of an outbreak so as to avoid spreading the virus across the country and I’m very grateful to universities for their continued cooperation and planning for the return of students.
Boris Johnson: (20:59)
The measures I’ve set out today will help us control the virus but won’t on their own be enough to allow a more significant return to normality. Patrick is going to set out in a moment where we are on vaccines and treatments, but we’re not there yet and of course there are no guarantees. So over the summer, we’ve therefore been working up an alternative plan which could allow life to return to closer to normality and that plan is based on mass testing.
Boris Johnson: (21:42)
Up to now if you think about it, we’ve been using testing primarily to identify people who are positive so that we can isolate them from the community and protect high risk groups and that will continue to be our priority. We’re working hard to increase our testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October, but in future, in the near future, we hope, we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative, who don’t have coronavirus, who are not infectious, so we can allow them to behave in a more normal way in the knowledge that they can’t infect anyone else with the virus and we think, we hope, we believe, that new types of tests which are simple, quick and scalable will become available and they use swabs or saliva and can turn around results in 90 or even 20 minutes.
Boris Johnson: (22:48)
Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved. Literally millions of tests being processed every single day, and that level of tests would allow people to lead more normal lives without the need for social distancing. Theaters and sports venues could test an audience, all audience members one day, and let in all those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious. Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative in the morning to behave in a way that was exactly as in the world before COVID and those isolating because they are a contact or quarantining after traveling abroad could after a period be tested and released.
Boris Johnson: (23:46)
Now that’s an ambitious agenda but we’re going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues and then we hope to go nationwide. There are a number of challenges. We need the technology to work, we need to source the necessary materials to manufacture so many tests, we need to put in place an efficient distribution network and we need to work through the numerous logistical challenges and as I say we’re not there yet and I should repeat that as we manage this period of high demand, it is especially important, I repeat this, that if individuals don’t have symptoms and have not been specifically advised to take a test, they should not be coming forward before a test because they could be taking a test away from someone who really needs it.
Boris Johnson: (24:47)
Our plan, this moon shot that I’m describing, will require a giant collaborative effort from government, from business, from public health professional scientists, logistics experts and many, many more. Work is underway now and we will get on at pace until we get there, round the clock. We’re hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring, and if everything comes together, it may be possible even for some of the most difficult sectors like the theaters to have life much closer to normal before Christmas.
Boris Johnson: (25:27)
As I’ve said before, all this progress is contingent on continued scientific advances and that we’re hopeful, I cannot 100% guarantee that those advances will be made and that is why it’s so important that we take these tough measures now. I believe that we will continue to drive this virus down and that we will beat this virus before too long. So let’s work together, let’s follow the rules, meet in groups of no more than six, wash your hands, cover your face, make space. Thank you, now I’ll hand over to Patrick who will set out the latest on vaccines and treatments and then we’ll go to questions from the public and from the media.
Thank you Prime Minister. Good afternoon. Vaccines and drug treatments are going to be a very important part of how we eventually get on top of this virus and I want to just update you on where things are. So there are something like 200 vaccine projects across the world, eight of those are in Phase III clinical trials. That means they’re in the last stage of clinical trials and I’ll say a word more about that in just a minute. Some of those clinical trials will read out this year, many next year, so we start to get some indication, hopefully before the end of the year, of vaccines that do work and have the right safety profile.
What we do know already is that many of these vaccines are showing the right immune response, so people who’ve been vaccinated, volunteers who have been vaccinated, are generating an immune response against the virus. We don’t know how long that lasts for yet but the immune response looks good in many cases and it’s seen in the elderly as well as others. That’s a very important step along the way of making a vaccine. In the U.K., the Vaccines Taskforce has made sure that of the vaccines that are more advanced, six of those will be available. There are options put on getting hold of any one of those six, and they’re in four different classes of vaccine. So the Vaccines Taskforce has made sure that we’ve covered different types of vaccine and that there are ways to get the supply and that the manufacturing base in the U.K. can be bolstered to make sure that we can also make some of it or do some of the process here if necessary.
Just a word about the Oxford vaccine which has been in the news today. The Oxford vaccine in many ways is right at the front because it’s been into more people than anyone else and the trials as you’ve seen reported have been paused at the moment because of an investigation into a potential unwanted effect. That is not an unusual thing in a Phase III program. That’s precisely why Phase III clinical trials happen. We need to make sure with these vaccines that they work, they work well enough, and they are safe, and therefore a pause obviously is not good. You’d rather not see any side effects but inevitably you do see some and it’s sensible to look at that very seriously and understand what’s going on. So I think you should expect in some of the other trials that you will see situations where things are paused and then restarted and of course we need to find out whether these vaccines are safe. That is the critical importance of doing these studies and why it’s wrong as many of the manufacturers have said just this week, it’s wrong to just jump over those stages and approve a vaccine on hope. You have to do it on evidence.
So vaccines are progressing. Some will read out this year in terms of efficacy and safety and I think there’s a reasonable chance that therefore we can think about the possibility of vaccination next year some time at larger levels and that is pretty much what we thought at the beginning and that remains the case. So some optimism on vaccines.
On therapeutics, there are over 500 different medicines being looked at across the world. It’s worth saying that the recovery trial which is the trial that was run in the U.K. remains the largest trial of COVID in the world with over 12,000 people. It was very, very important during the first wave of this epidemic to show what didn’t work and it showed that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work in hospitalized patients and it showed that the combination of HIV treatments which people thought might work didn’t work in the hospitalized patients.
What it also showed which is an incredibly important part of improving the care of patients with COVID who end up in hospital is that dexamethasone, a steroid, very easily available, inexpensive, widely available across the world, works very effectively for patients in hospital who require oxygen and cause something like a 25% reduction in death. So we know that steroids work, the WHO has endorsed the use of steroids now in those patients, and doctors across the world and in the U.K. of course are working out better ways of treating patients in hospital.
There will be other such drugs coming along that impact the disease, whether that’s to modify hospitalized care or whether it’s to prevent infection with antivirals which are now being denied and specific anti-coronavirus drugs are now being developed, and there are produced antibodies, so not ones made in the body but ones made actually in the laboratory which can then be given back into patients that are now being trialed as well that may have an effect to prevent the virus. So there’s good progress on the drug front [inaudible 00:31:20] with steroids, something that is applicable right the way across the world and something which is already having an impact on the improved care that’s possible of the disease now.
So both vaccines and therapeutics, positive news but a long way to go. It’s very important that as we go into winter and we get more infections and I think that’s inevitable, we will see more infections, that we run clinical trials in the U.K. to get answers to questions. We shouldn’t just guess what works, we need to test and therefore all of us, any of us that is unfortunate enough to catch it, it’s important that we volunteer to be in clinical trials so we get the answer to these questions as soon as –
Sir Patrick Vallance: (32:03)
… volunteered to be in clinical trial, so we get the answer to these questions as soon as we can. Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (32:05)
Brilliant. Thanks very much, Patrick. Let’s go to questions from members of the public. Jamie from Ayrshire.
Are you working at these things for people who have learning disabilities? My work place cannot be the opened up at the present time. Will the furlough scheme be extended for those of us who cannot return to work due to the nature of our jobs?
Boris Johnson: (32:29)
Well, thank you very much, Jamie. I think what I can certainly say to you is that we are going to continue to do everything we possibly can to support those who can’t work in the way that they want to. I think one of the difficulties with the furlough scheme, if we extend it more widely, is that you’re just keeping people in suspended animation, when really we want people to get back to work if they possibly can, in a Covid secure way, but jobs such as yours should certainly be supported and protected. I will look at the issue of daycare centers and why exactly it is that you can’t return to work in the way that you want to and ensure that you get the support that you need. Can we go to Michael from Birmingham? Michael from Birmingham asks, “I understand education is important, also that children are least at risk of serious illness, but what provisions are in place or are being put in place for children in school with vulnerable parents and the fast rising cases around the UK?”
Boris Johnson: (33:37)
Well, Michael, you’re asking and I think I’ll ask Chris and Patrick also to say something about it, but this is the crucial thing because at the moment, yes, it is true that we are seeing transmission amongst this particular group of young people, mainly 17 to 21 year olds. What we don’t want to see is transmission to their parents and to their grandparents. At the moment, as you would have seen from the graphs we saw earlier, thankfully, we’re not seeing that much transmission in schools. I think I’m right in saying, but clearly where there are particularly vulnerable parents, whether there are parents who are at risk because of their own circumstances, they should take special precautions, whether through shielding or otherwise and steps should be taken to ensure that if there is an outbreak in the school concerned, if there is a threat from kids to those parents, then action should be taken immediately in that school. Chris, do you want to comment on what’s going on in schools and-
Well, the only thing I’d add, prime minister, is that at the moment the rates are still very low, if there were to be a change of that, whether to be a much broader increase in rates, including school aged children, I think that the current policies would have to be looked at again, as in many other areas, but at this point, the rates in schools are very low. There will be some school outbreaks, but that’s the current situation.
Boris Johnson: (35:14)
Thank you very much. Thanks, Michael and Jamie. Let’s go to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC.
Laura Kuenssberg: (35:19)
Thank you very much prime minister. You’ve admitted today the advice has been confusing. Why should the public listen to you today? For the last few weeks, you’ve been telling people to go back to work, to go and eat out and suddenly you’re putting limits on people’s lives again. If I could ask Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick, how long do you think these new restrictions will need to be in place?
Boris Johnson: (35:40)
Well, thanks very much, Laura. Well, first of all, we’re dealing with a pandemic that has evolved over many months and in that period we’ve been responding to the disease in its various phases and it still remains true by the way that we want people to be able, be confident to go back to work in a Covid secure way and of course we want pupils to be back in school. That’s a priority. As I said earlier on, we want university students to feel secure to go back to the Covid secure university. The whole objective of what we’re doing is to allow that to continue and that’s why, what we’re doing today and I make no bones about it, is to clarify, to simplify, to intensify the message and for everybody to understand the rule of six, everybody’s heard of the figure of six before, six people outdoors, but we now want to intensify that message. Don’t gather in social groups of more than six indoors or outdoors and this will be legally enforced. The reason that we’re doing this, as I said earlier on, is to prevent another wholesale national lockdown of the kind that we had in March. That’s the objective. Yes, please, go on.
Everybody, I think in the country, will know and it’s been widely reported, that the period over autumn and winter, which is the period when all respiratory viruses have an advantage, because people crowded together, more things are done in indoors amongst other reasons, is going to be difficult. The period between now and spring is going to be difficult because this is a respiratory virus. I think in terms of the existing restrictions, people should see this as the next block of time. That may not last for many months, but it’s very unlikely to be just over in two or three weeks. I think that there’s a block of time and at that point we will collectively, as a nation, have to look again where things are and work out what are the right things to do. People shouldn’t just see this as a very short term thing. They should see it over the next period, but I think putting an exact time on it, I think is very difficult.
Boris Johnson: (38:08)
Thanks, Laura. Robert Peston ITV. Unmute Robert.
Robert Peston: (38:17)
Prime minister, on the 17th of July you were hopeful that things would be getting back to normal at Christmas. We’ve today announced very significant restrictions on our ability to socialize because what you’ve just said, these are going to go on, certainly not for weeks, probably months. Is Christmas now effectively canceled? Separately, prime minister, John Major, your predecessor as prime minister, Sir John Major who has just said that for generations Britain’s word has been accepted by friend and doe and he says, you’re raising the possibility of breaching international law by changing the terms of the withdrawal treaty, would mean that we’ve lost something beyond price that may never be regained. What would you say to Sir John Major?
Boris Johnson: (39:10)
Well, thanks Robert. First of all, on whether we’re going to get things back to normal at all by Christmas, I’m still hopeful, as I’ve said before, that in many ways we could be able, we could be able, to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas. I talked just now about how you could do that through that moonshot of daily testing. Everybody gets a pregnancy style test, a rapid turnaround test in the morning. 15 minutes later you know whether you’re infectious or not. You may not know whether you’re infected or not, but you know whether you’re infectious or not. That gives you a kind of passport. A laissez-passer, a freedom to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible. You might be able to do that in the theaters, in cinemas, at sporting venues and so on, in places of work. That’s the opportunity. We’re aiming for that, Robert. We’re driving for that.
Boris Johnson: (40:27)
As I’ve said just now, we cannot be 100% sure that we can deliver that in its entirety, but what I do think we can do, if we can follow whatever happens, if we can follow the guidance strictly, if we follow the rule of six, then what we can certainly do is get on with controlling this virus. I think we’ve got a very good chance of controlling the current upturn in the numbers of infections and continue with the most important thing, which is the openings up of the economy that we’ve seen since June the first, since July the fourth. Openings continue with school pupils, with students being back at their places of education, which is so vital for their future. Continue with the movement forward, the forward movement of our economy. That’s what this measure is all about. It’s a stitch in time to save nine, if you like. That’s the purpose and that’s why it’s important that everybody is so vigilant with the rule of six.
Boris Johnson: (41:39)
On your second point, I have to say, of course, I see it very differently. I see the risk that certainly, I think extreme interpretations of the treaty might place to the peace process in Northern Ireland, to the good Friday agreement. Nobody wants to see a barrier down the Irish sea. What we’re doing, which I think would be very, very injurious, so what we’re doing is putting a safety net beneath which things cannot go wrong to protect peace and protect the settlement in our United Kingdom. That is the purpose of what we’re doing. I’m going to go next to Beth Rigby of Sky News.
Beth Rigby: (42:27)
Thank you, prime minister. Just to follow up on Robert’s question. On July the 17th, your exact words were, “That you should be able to review outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality, from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas.” Can I just be clear? Are you now saying that without that mass testing regime coming off between then and now, people watching this should accept that they’re going to have smaller gatherings of family at Christmas and they’re not going to be able to have a big party, that perhaps they would have been hoping for? Professor Whitty, just to ask you, when I asked you a while back about your biggest regret at the beginning of this pandemic, you talked about the importance of mass testing. Now the director of testing, Sarah J. Marsh, has apologized to people unable to get a test because of lab processing issues being, at her words, “A critical pinch point.” How worried are you that the testing system is already under strain before we’ve even hit the winter?
Boris Johnson: (43:33)
Okay. I’ll hand over to Pat in a second, but Beth look, thanks for that. I think the honest answer to your question, it is just too early to say. We’ve got two big projects that we’re backing. The first is the change in public behavior that we hope to see through the announcements that we’re making today through the rule of six, for the plan to drive down the current increase by changing our behavior back again, by adhering to the rule of six very strictly, that we hope will work. We’re also hoping, as I said, that the moonshot approach will work and that we’ll be able to deliver a mass testing of, lateral flow type mass testing, that will give people the freedom pass, the laissez-passer, the knowledge that they are not infectious and can hang out with other people who are not infectious in a pre-Covid way.
Boris Johnson: (44:33)
That’s a very ambitious plan, but we’re working on it very, very hard and very fast, as you can imagine. We’re backing both those horses and we’re backing them flat out, but the thing we need now, the thing we need now, is for everybody to work together to enforce the rule of six and get the current spike down. Obviously we’ll keep the public informed about all the progress we’re making. Sorry. Forgive me. Chris.
When we started off the first wave of this in the UK, we had low thousands of tests a day and that really constrained what we could do and that made it very difficult for us to do proper planning. I think what you saw at the beginning of this presentation, depressing though in many ways it is, is we are now in a much better place. We do actually now have a much greater understanding in considerable detail as to what is going on and we’re able to provide testing across the system. That’s the glass half full. Glass half empty is clearly at any point, there are more things we could do if we had more testing.
Now, the biggest gains are near the beginning because you’re moving into being able to test people who’ve got symptoms, healthcare workers, where there are outbreaks and so on, but there are still constraints and that’s one of the reasons it’s important, as with very, very many other things in the NHS, it is no different, that it’s critical that those who do need to be tested, in particular people with symptoms or situations where people have been told to for a variety of reasons, social care working for example, get tested, but it is also important that people who really don’t have a clear clinical indication, currently don’t because we do still have constraints and I think that’s what this is demonstrating.
If we get more testing, every significant uplift of testing we get, we can do more things. One of the things that I hear quite often when I hear debates in the public, is people will say, well, can’t you test for this and can’t you test for that and the answer is, well, let’s get the testing capacity first and then work out what we’re going to do with it. At any given level of capacity, you can do more things that actually open up more parts of the system. The prime minister gave an idea about what you could do if you had a really large, in a sense, huge change in testing, if the technology was there to do that. We have to be honest with ourselves that we’re in a much better place than we were, but there are still constraints and those constraints are not just magically going to disappear and the demand on testing has increased, outpacing at certain points, our increase in testing. That may happen for a little while, I think.
Boris Johnson: (47:19)
Thanks very much, Chris and thanks a lot, Beth. Gordon Rayner of the Daily Telegraph.
Gordon Rayner: (47:25)
Thank you prime minister. Can I ask you, do you feel comfortable making it illegal for grandparents in large families to meet their grandchildren, potentially for months, when they might argue that those motions should be targeted at young people, the ones we’ve just heard are primarily responsible for the increase in infections? Can I just ask the scientific advisors, have you decided the exact criteria for lifting the restrictions and allowing families to meet again?
Boris Johnson: (47:51)
Well, Gordon look. Of course the answer is, of course I don’t feel comfortable about it. It breaks my heart to have to insist on these restrictions upon individuals, upon…
Boris Johnson: (48:03)
Restrictions upon individuals, upon families, grandparents, nobody wants to do this. Nobody in government conceivably wants to, this is not something that we, see, the trouble is that the people who think that they can take responsibility for their own health and take their own risk, are I’m afraid, misunderstanding the situation and perhaps I’ll ask Chris and Patrick to comment on this. It’s not just the risk to yourself, alas, but at any age, you can be a vehicle, a vector for the disease. And so young people, as you rightly say, Gordon, are overwhelmingly now getting it as the graphs just showed, but they are more than capable of transmitting it to the much more vulnerable, older generation.
Boris Johnson: (48:55)
And I would love to be able to show you evidence now, Gordon, that the disease has somehow become less dangerous. Yes, it’s true we’ve got better treatments, but I’m afraid if you look at what’s happening in some other countries, if you see what’s happening around the world, once you get a high levels of infection, I’m afraid the deaths eventually start to take place as well. And that’s what we must avoid. We’ve got to protect our healthcare system, but we’ve got to save lives and that’s what we’re going to do. And so that’s why we’re instituting this very tough enforcement of the rule of six. But I want to stress Gordon, something that I know that you, and all sensible people campaign for, the reason we’re doing this is precisely because we want to prevent a wider lockdown, a wider damage to the economy. And indeed, I think the more decisive the action we can take now, the greater the chance and the nearer will be the day when we’re able to allow grandparents and others to meet each other in a way that they would want to. But we have to take decisive action now.
Can I maybe respond to some of the other points? I mean, young people have a very, very low risk of death in this. I mean, really very low indeed, but it doesn’t mean that young people can’t get ill. And we increasingly recognize that some of those may be ill for a prolonged period.
The second point, which the Prime Minister’s made, is that if you look at other countries, the spread amongst the young soon changes to spread amongst older people. And therefore, when you look at the curves, you see an increase in positivity amongst young people, you then get the spread to older people. You then start to see hospitalizations go up and you then start to see the deaths go up. And that’s really what we need to make sure it doesn’t happen. So the containment of that is really very important. And in terms of how you then reverse this, I think the data which Chris showed tells you that you need to monitor this continuously, and we need to see the R coming back below one. We need to see cases going down and you need to respond to what’s happening, not to judge what can happen in the absence of evidence. You need to monitor this very carefully.
Boris Johnson: (51:27)
Thanks very much, Patrick. And thank you, Gordon. Macer Hall, Daily Express.
Macer Hall: (51:33)
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. If I could ask the scientists, you’ve talked in the past about the limited public capacity for putting up with social distancing and the dangers of fatigue. Do you think we’re now reaching that point where people can’t or some sections of the community can’t endure it anymore. And we are going to have to become more draconian.
Macer Hall: (51:51)
And Prime Minister, a lot of people are going to conclude that we’re going backwards from what you’ve said today. Are you worried that what you said is going to cause more anxiety about return to work and that will have an impact on the economy?
Boris Johnson: (52:07)
Well, can I just answer Macer, before I hand to Chris and Patrick, just to say that the whole objective of this step is to allow us to keep going forwards. If you look at what we’re doing, we’re concentrating on trying to limit people’s behavior in a way that I think, alas, has been causing transmission from household to household. With the best will in the world, people have not, I’m afraid, been totally following the guidelines. I think observationally, people will attest to that. I don’t certainly want to blame people, but now is the time for us to focus, to concentrate and to enforce the rule of six, precisely Macer, so that we can keep going forward with the economic openings up that we’ve been able to do, and with getting kids back into school.
Boris Johnson: (53:01)
And actually, you mention confidence. I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened in the last couple of weeks is that parents, teachers, pupils have really risen to it. And the numbers I’m seeing, 99.9% of schools are open now. I mean, we can build on that. And I think something like 89% of pupils are back in school, perhaps more in some places. That’s confidence in action and very happy to see it.
Overwhelmingly, I think the response of the British public has been absolutely magnificent over this. And people have taken great hardships, economic and social, and we all have to be really aware that the things that have to be done to keep this virus under control until we have the technologies, the drugs, the vaccines, the tests that the Prime Minister and Patrick were talking about are damaging. They are socially damaging in the ways that people talked about. For example, meeting up with grandparents, they’re clearly economically damaging and they’re damaging to other areas of health, other bits of the NHS, which is something I obviously care about very deeply.
But we have to do them because the alternative is worse. The alternative is an overwhelmed system and all the things that go with it, that I think people were clear about early on. And what we as a society, all of us are trying to do, is do the minimum that has to be done so that we minimize the damage, but enough that things don’t go out of control. And what was clear in the last little while is things had started to go out of control and therefore we need to do more. But I don’t see any evidence that the British people cannot endure. What the British people want to understand is why this is happening, and that we are trying to make sure that we’re doing the minimum necessary and not going further than we have to. But at this point, the graphs are going up, but you can’t argue with those numbers.
Boris Johnson: (55:03)
Yeah. And I think it’s thanks to the resolve and the collective action of the British people that we’ve been able to achieve what we have, and get the virus down, and the numbers of deaths down in the way that we did over the last few months. And all we’re saying now is, let’s focus. Let’s look at the rule of six and enforce it and turn this curve done as well. Thanks, Macer. Hugo Guy of The i.
Hugo Guy: (55:35)
Prime Minister, your new curbs on a social gathering are another blow for the travel industry. With that in mind, are you hoping to use your moonshot testing plan to change, reduce, or remove the quarantine requirements at the border? And on the moonshot plans, can I just ask Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick, is the technology behind that reliable? Has it been tested somewhere else? Are we confident that this is a plan that can work sometime in the relatively near future?
Boris Johnson: (56:10)
Look Hugo, the measures we’re announcing today are certainly not intended to cause any extra burdens for the travel industry. And I really appreciate the difficulties that industry’s been going through. The aviation sector is of colossal importance to our country. I think we have the third biggest aviation sector anywhere in the world. We want to get people flying as fast and efficiently as we can. And yes, of course Hugo, we’re going to look at all the ways we possibly can, with new technology, with better testing, to liberate people to fly in the way that they want to. That’s an absolute priority for the government.
So do you want me to do it, Patrick?
I’m happy to go, and then you come in, Chris. I mean, on the testing, some of the increase in testing, you can do with established technologies, so that’s a scaling problem. Some of them, we don’t yet know that they work. So things like lateral flow tests are not yet being used widely, they’re not being validated. There are prototypes, which look as though they have some effect, but they’ve got to be tested properly. And so there are, as always with technologies, unknowns, and we would be completely wrong to assume that this is a slam dunk that can definitely happen. I think this needs to be tested carefully.
Yeah. And just to add to that, the underlying technology is used for other diseases in terms of diagnosis. So it’s not a complete wild guess. This is something that’s building on very established principles.
But my own view is that I think it’s likely we will have tests of this sort at some point in the not too distant future, but that not too distant future covers quite a wide time range. And I think it’s important that what we don’t do is pin ourselves to a date and say, “By this time this will be achieved,” because that is not the way science moves. We do have to, as Patrick says, be absolutely sure that these tests work and that they work at scale. And that’s what we all need to be trying to develop over the next period.
Boris Johnson: (58:12)
Thanks very much, Chris. Well, look, I mean, a very important dose of realism and common sense, but we remain extremely ambitious about the whole program. And I do think that a lot of progress can be made in a short time. And you’ve seen the progress that has already been made in the therapies and the whole testing operation. Thank you all very much for watching or listening. I hope everybody gets the message. It’s very simple. It remains hands, face, make space, get a test if you have symptoms, but enforce now, enforce now, observe and enforce that rule of six. Socialize in gatherings of no more than six outside or inside. And that’s the way I think I we’ll beat the current outbreak. Thank you very much. Thank you.