Mar 18, 2020
Transcript: Boris Johnson Says UK Schools Will Close Indefinitely Due to Coronavirus
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech today, informing the British people that United Kingdom schools would close indefinitely. Read the full transcript of his full update on COVID-19.
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Boris Johnson: (00:00)
I want to tell you where we got to in our national fight back against the coronavirus. Today, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies met to discuss the latest evidence on the spread of the virus and the effects of the measures we have already taken to slow its spread. And Patrick is going to update us in a second about that. I want to repeat that everyone, everyone must follow the advice to protect themselves and their families, but also more importantly to protect the wider public. So stay at home for seven days if you think you have the symptoms. Remember, the two key symptoms are high temperature, a continuous new cough. Whole household to stay at home for 14 days if one member of that household thinks that he, she has the symptoms. Avoid all unnecessary gatherings, pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, theaters and so on.
Boris Johnson: (01:04)
Work from home if you can. Wash your hands. And we’ve already announced in the last few days, we will massively scale up our testing capacity in the weeks ahead so that we hit 25,000 tests a day. Huge public information campaign is being rolled out so people get all the information they need, we need to protect ourselves and others. We’re asking retired healthcare professionals to come back and help us cope, help the NHS to cope with this unprecedented challenge. And we will continue, as we have from the beginning, to do the right thing at the right time and to follow the best scientific advice. And we come today to the key issue of schools, where we’ve been consistently advised that there is an important trade off. And so far the judgment of our advisors has been that closing schools is actually of limited value in slowing the spread of the epidemic.
Boris Johnson: (02:05)
And that’s partly because counterintuitively, schools are actually very safe environments and in this disease and this epidemic, children and young people are much less vulnerable. And hitherto, the advice has been that we should keep schools open if possible in order to reduce the pressure on the NHS and on normal other public services. But I think you’ll agree that I’ve always been very clear that this is a balanced judgment and one that we’ve kept under constant review. So looking at the curve of the disease, and looking at why we are now, we think now that we must apply downward pressure, further downward pressure on that upward curve by closing the school. So I can announce today, and Gavin Williamson is making a statement now in the House of Commons that after schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils, so the vast majority of pupils, until further notice.
Boris Johnson: (03:15)
And I’ll come to … and I’ll explain what I mean by the vast majority of pupils. The objective is to slow the spread of the virus. And as I say, we judge that this is the right moment to do that. But of course, as I’ve always said, we also need to keep the NHS going and to treat the rising number of cases. So we need health workers who are also parents to continue to go to work and we need other critical workers with children to keep doing their jobs too, from police officers who are keeping us safe to the supermarket delivery drivers, social care workers who look after the elderly and who are so vital. We’ll be sending out more details shortly about who we mean in these groups.
Boris Johnson: (04:03)
So we therefore need schools to make provision for the children of these key workers who would otherwise be forced to stay home. And they will also need to look after the most vulnerable children. This will mean that there’ll be of course far fewer children in the schools and that will help us to slow the spread of the disease. And these measures are crucial to make sure that the … as I say, the critical parts of the economy keep functioning and public services keep functioning.
Boris Johnson: (04:38)
So we’re simultaneously asking nurseries and private schools to do the same. And we’re providing financial support where it’s needed. We’re making provisions to supply meals and vouchers for children eligible for free school meals. And while some schools are already doing this, I want to make it clear that we will reimburse the cost. And of course, this does mean that exams will not take places planned in May and June, though we will make sure that peoples get the qualifications they need and deserve for their academic career.
Boris Johnson: (05:20)
Now I know that the steps will not be easy for parents or for teachers, and for many parents this will be frustrating and it will make it harder for them to go out to work. And of course that’s one of the reasons that we haven’t wanted to go ahead. And that’s why we are now working on further measures to ensure that we support not just businesses but also individuals and their families to keep our economy going as Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, outlined yesterday.
Boris Johnson: (05:54)
I also need to remind parents, as we’ve already advised, that children should not be left with older grandparents or older relatives who may be particularly vulnerable and fall into some of the vulnerable groups. And I want to … I know that’s going to be difficult too, and I want to thank families for their sacrifice at this difficult time. And I want to thank the whole country for the efforts that people are making to comply with these measures.
Boris Johnson: (06:20)
I particularly want to thank teachers, head teachers, all the support staff who keep schools going who are going to be able to make these exceptional arrangements work for the benefit of us all. By looking after the children of key workers, they will be a critical part of our fight back against coronavirus. And as I’ve said, we will take the right steps at the right time guided by the signs. We believe that the steps we’ve already taken, together with those I’m announcing today, are already slowing the spread of the disease, but we will not hesitate to go further and faster in the days and weeks ahead and we will do whatever it takes so that we beat it together. And I’m now going to pass I think to Patrick to give an update from SAGE’s point of view. Thank you.
Patrick Vallance: (07:19)
Overriding consideration, as always, save lives, protect the most vulnerable people from this illness. The vast majority of people have a mild illness but some get a very severe illness. The measures that were announced a couple of days ago, we already know are taking effect in terms of behavior, so we can see that already, that people are actually taking that very seriously and it made a difference and that’s really important to carry on with that. But the thing we must protect in order to achieve those aims of saving lives and protecting people is to make sure that the NHS intensive care capacity and the ventilator capacity is not breached. That’s what we need to keep looking at and making sure we do not get to a position where that’s breached.
Patrick Vallance: (08:06)
As this moves fast, and I alluded to this on Monday, more measures will be needed to make sure that happens. And right from the beginning, we said schools are one of the things you can do, but they’re less important than some of the others that have been taken. But we now think we’re at a stage where this extra bit is an important measure to make sure we stay under that critical protecting NHS, ICU, and ventilator capacity. So that’s the reason for now saying that this should go ahead at this time.
Patrick Vallance: (08:38)
It’s important to stress, and this is really critical, it’s not because schools are dangerous places for children. They’re not. Children have a very mild or asymptomatic version of this disease in many cases. So they are the least at risk. It’s also not a dangerous place for teachers. The reason for this is because of the effect it can have just to knock down further the transmission … put some delay into the system, put some breaks into the system of the transmission of this disease to bring it down to protect those people who might get the much more serious version and end up in intensive care or on a ventilator.
Patrick Vallance: (09:22)
So that’s the reason. Now is the important time to do it. It’s not instead of, and it can’t supplement the other measures. The other measures are crucially important and we all have our part to play to make sure that we make those measures as effective as possible to try to drive this right down and make sure we stay below that critical threshold. Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (09:44)
Thanks so much, Patrick. Jenney, from your point of view.
Jenney Harries: (09:47)
So I think nothing very much further to add to those points. So exactly as Patrick explained, this is not a change in the scientific position, which we’ve always taken forward. It is very much a practical response at a critical time as both the Prime Minister and Sir Patrick has indicated, but very happy to …
Jenney Harries: (10:03)
… as both the Prime Minister and Sir Patrick has indicated, but very happy to answer any clinical questions that come up.
Boris Johnson: (10:06)
Okay, excellent. Well, thank you very much, Jenney. Let’s go straight to to you for your questions on this. Beth Rigby, Sky News.
Beth Rigby: (10:17)
Thank you. Prime Minister, just in terms of further measures, a third of the deaths are now in the capital of London. Buses are still full, the tubes are full, bars are full. London is not listening to your advice. You’ve shot the schools today. When will we see wider enforcement to shut down London properly? And if I may, just on the antibodies test. After quite difficult days and frightening news, something a bit more encouraging today, you talked about getting closer to an antibodies test to tell us whether people have had the virus. When will it be ready, and what sort of impact could it have? Could it be a game changer in helping us manage this disease and keeping our emergency services running? Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (11:05)
Yeah. Well Beth, thank you very much. And look, we’ve always said that we’re going to do the right measures at the right time. That’s what we’ve done and actually I think a lot of people are making a real heroic effort to comply with the advice that we’ve given. But as I said tonight and in past few days, we keep everything under continuous review and we will not hesitate to bring forward further and faster measures where we think that is necessary. But on the antibodies…
Patrick Vallance: (11:38)
So two types of tests are important. The test that say have you got the active virus and that’s being rapidly scaled up by Public Health England and that’s [inaudible 00:01:47] actively got it at the moment. The second one as you allude to is the antibody test, which tells you whether you’ve had it and whether you’ve now got antibodies against it and that’s progressing very fast. Public Health England are looking at this today and they’ve got a test which they’ve got in house that they’re going and we’re looking at ways to get a much more widespread version of that out. It is a game changer and the reason it’s a game changer is that it allows you to understand the proportion of the asymptomatic population. Who’s had this disease but hasn’t had symptoms that are in any way significant? And we don’t have that number accurately for anywhere in the world at the moment. So if we can get that number, it starts to really help. In going forward, it’s going to be critically important to be able to monitor this disease well because only by being able to monitor it can we start relaxing measures again, start understanding what the effect of taking things off again at some point is. So this is all part of a critical ability to manage this as an agile way going forward.
Boris Johnson: (12:53)
Jenney, I think you had a little on that as well.
Jenney Harries: (12:56)
Well, just to say that I think exactly as Sir Patrick has said ,it is actually not just our health workforce, it’s our care workforce as well. And the other measures that we’ve introduced particularly to protect the vulnerable when we have a matched workforce, if you like, where we’re clearly aware of their antibody status, whether they have had the disease and are therefore safe to work with our vulnerable group, that increases our opportunities around our interventions.
Boris Johnson: (13:19)
And everybody can see the immense advantages. The thing about this disease, it’s an invisible enemy and we don’t know who’s transmitting it, but the great thing about having a test to see whether you’ve had it or not is suddenly a green light goes on above your head. You can go back to work safe and confident in the knowledge that you’re most unlikely to get it again. So from an economic point of view, from a social point of view, as Sir Patrick says, it really could be a game changer. It’s important not to get ahead of ourselves. We’re not there. We’re not there yet. But you really can see the potential of that advance, which is, as I say, coming down the track. Let’s go to Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC.
Laura Kuenssberg: (14:02)
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. You were very eager to avoid closing schools if you possibly could, but now you have taken that decision. Families will wonder maybe more than anything else tonight how long these closures might last. Can you give us any indication? The Scottish government has suggested maybe six months until the summer holidays. And to the medics, if I may, you have touched on this, Sir Patrick, but in the simplest clearest of terms, if schools are to be closed to slow the spread, why are they safe places for any child or any member of staff?
Boris Johnson: (14:36)
Well, on the duration, Laura, obviously we’re going to try to keep it to an absolute minimum as you can imagine, to keep it [inaudible 00:14:44] and get things going as fast as we can. But our judgment right now is that this is the moment to provide further downward pressure, as I say, on the upwards trajectory of the virus by taking that step for epidemiological reasons alone whilst doing what we can, as I said, to protect our ability to keep the NHS going by delivering care and education for key workers. We think this is the right moment to do it. I wish I could give you the answer about how long it will be, Laura, but we’ve got to do it right now.
Patrick Vallance: (15:22)
So two sets of measures, one are about making sure all of us are protected, which is about reducing transmission. Second is about protecting those people most at risk. This falls into the category of the first. It’s about making sure that we stop transmission, reduce transmission, and children are not getting a serious form of this illness. They are very mild, often asymptomatic, and therefore don’t have a big risk around each other. They also may not spread it as much. We don’t know that yet. We don’t know the exact spread of this. It’s not like influenza. That seems to be clearer, but we don’t know exactly how that works, so this is about a measure to protect all of us. It’s not a measure because there’s some specific risk to children.
Boris Johnson: (16:10)
Thanks. Jenney, anything you want to add on?
Jenney Harries: (16:12)
Just to say that obviously the whole approach is to reduce the social contact throughout society and we have taken the measures which maximize the impact to health and our safety whilst minimizing those to the way that we live. This measure moves that on a small amount as we’ve said, but is, as Sir Patrick said, this not to do with the the safety of the children. It’s simply about a background level of the numbers of social contacts that we have.
Boris Johnson: (16:41)
Thanks. Shehab Khan, ITV.
Shehab Khan: (16:43)
Prime Minister, you mentioned that exams will now be canceled. There will be plenty of students who are about and preparing to take their GCSEs and A-levels. Their college, six form places, their university places and job offers will be contingent on those exams. What measures are you taking on that? Also, if I may, you mentioned you want to increase the number of tests to 25,000 a day. Will people still need to go to hospital to take those tests especially if they’re not showing symptoms? What do you advise people to do?
Boris Johnson: (17:14)
Okay. Well, Shehab, thank you very much. First of all, on exams and on the ambitions, the hopes of students, pupils in our schools, I totally understand people’s frustrations, the frustrations of parents who are going to feel now that they have to to stay at home. And as I said earlier, we’re going to make sure that we look after workers of all kinds. But when it comes to kids and their exam qualifications, we will make sure that they are not impeded, their progress is not impeded as a result of the decisions we’re having to take now about their schools. So we will make sure that in time they get the qualifications they need. I don’t want to go in detail about when and how those qualifications will be administered, but it will be done fairly and in order to protect their interests.
Patrick Vallance: (18:03)
Boris Johnson: (18:04)
Patrick Vallance: (18:04)
Boris Johnson: (18:05)
I think that’s a very good question about where … Shehab asked about where the testing would take place and I mean I think there’s a lot of progress we’re going to be making on that.
Patrick Vallance: (18:16)
There’s a lot of … I mean, at the moment the testing is about people in hospital with respiratory illness, people in intensive care units. It’s about outbreaks in an area and it’s about making sure that we can test those who are most vulnerable or need particular protection. Now as you get more tests, of course you can roll out more people under those categories. And it’s important that we don’t end up with everyone coming to a hospital to be tested for all the reasons we’ve talked about before. So as the increase in capacity comes on line, there will be ways of testing which don’t require people to go to hospital. I don’t know, Jenney, if you want to say anything more about that.
Jenney Harries: (18:54)
Yeah, so obviously that reflects I think the position that we’re in at the moment. We’ve steeped up our current testing capacity moving towards 25,000 today. And another group in that is very much as we start putting on the question that Beth raised earlier is about actually acknowledging that we need to retain and know that we are using safe clinical staff so that’s another group … Excuse me. But as we go forward we will be very much have an ambition to have some sort of home-based test for the very reason which has been described here, which is we don’t want potentially infectious people arriving in hospitals, but we recognize that the public and particularly our key workers want to understand their health status so that they can get back to normal activities. So a lot of work on that ongoing and I think huge progress made in the last few weeks.
Boris Johnson: (19:45)
Thanks. I got a Jim Picard down here. Is Jim Picard here? Thank you. Jim.
Jim Picard: (19:50)
Prime Minister, you’ve got the emergency legislation coming out tomorrow and it’s reported that there’s a plan to lift the current cap on how much money you can invest in struggling industries, currently at 12 billion pounds. Is that the case? And does that signal-
Jim Picard: (20:03)
… near 12 billion pounds. Is that the case and does that signal that there’s going to be another multi billion pound investment in industries such as airlines?
Boris Johnson: (20:09)
Well, Jim, thanks very much. As the chancellor said yesterday, we’re going to, he outlined a big package of 330 billion pounds by which the government will stand behind companies as they go through this tough time, stand behind their lenders, make sure that we keep their lenders going, and there is always a big package, as you know, about 20 billion to support business directly, in cash terms, 25 thousand grants for SMEs, 10 thousand for the smallest businesses, but your point is a good one and we will continue to look at the steps that may be necessary to support good companies that are now facing difficulties through no fault of their own, and we certainly will be doing whatever it takes to help those companies through tough times, because I’m absolutely convinced that the UK economy will come back, will come back very strongly, and when it does we want those companies to be in the best possible position to take advantage.
Boris Johnson: (21:28)
Heather Stewart, The Guardian.
Heather Stewart: (21:30)
Hello, Heather Stewart from The Guardian.
Heather Stewart: (21:34)
There will be thousands of workers who will have been laid off within hours and days of your Monday announcement who worked in the pubs in the gyms and the theaters that you’ve told people to stay away from. Many of those will be in rented accommodation and they will probably have been listening to the package yesterday from which [inaudible 00:21:51] to hear if there might be some help? I’m wondering what on Earth to say to their landlords about the fact that they might not be able to make this months or next months rent. Can you do something more for them?
Boris Johnson: (21:59)
Absolutely. Thanks, Heather, and as I said in the House this morning, we will be bringing forward legislation which will help renters, prevent them from suffering no fault eviction, that kind of thing. We will want to protect people who face difficulties, as I said, through no fault of their own. We can not penalize people for doing the right thing, nor can we penalize people when you have an economic upset that is the direct result of the governments actions, the government’s advice, which are intended to protect the public. Everybody who experiences that kind of dislocation, that kind of disruption is entitled, as I said yesterday, to protection and support, and that’s what we will provide.
Boris Johnson: (22:51)
Wow, you’ve got a lot of questions here. Okay, Tom?
Tom [inaudible 00:00:22:55]. Thank you, Prime Minister. On the closing of the schools, can you say is this a mandatory thing you are doing? Are they-
Boris Johnson: (23:02)
Will they be required by law to do this, and what about the schools that have already closed, will they be required to reopen if, to teach the key workers you just [crosstalk 00:23:11]?
Boris Johnson: (23:10)
Yes, [crosstalk 00:23:13].
I’m very sorry, a very, very quick secondary one. The Brexit transition period, the country clearly wants you to focus on dealing with the credit crisis, what you are doing, will you rule out extending the transition period here now or might that be something you want to consider in the future?
Boris Johnson: (23:27)
Tom, first of all on schools, clearly the government is, will be closing the schools, and we have the power to do that. When it comes to private schools, we have, I believe we have the same powers. Obviously, we will work to ensure that [inaudible 00:23:48] and so forth are properly compensated. And as for the provision for … And nurseries are properly compensated. As for the provision for the vulnerable and for the key workers in the schools that have already closed, we will work to ensure that they, where necessary, they provide those facilities as well as other schools.
Boris Johnson: (24:12)
I think what you possible need to imagine is that as we go down the track, since there will only be a minority, a small minority of pupils going forward in the future who are being continuously looked after by schools, there may be an overall reduction in the number of schools who are providing any type of service at all, if you see what I’m saying? There may be some rationalization so that not every school is providing the service for key workers and for the vulnerable, if you see what, but that’s, on Monday what we want, if possible, is for all children in those sectors still to go to their schools. If you’re in those groups, to, still to go to their schools, if you see what I’m saying. So on Monday, just to clarify that, it’s important that children of key workers, pupils of key worker parents, and we’ll be identifying those groups, we’ll be sending out more in, very, very shortly, those pupils should turn up to their school, and vulnerable kids, vulnerable pupils as well. I hope that’s clear.
Boris Johnson: (25:28)
And you had another question, what was it about?
Boris Johnson: (25:31)
It was another subject, what was it? It was a subject that’s been banished, it’s been done.
Boris Johnson: (25:37)
It’s been, it’s been … I feel, it’s not a subject that’s being regularly discussed, I can tell you in Downey Street at the moment, and we’re getting on with, there are, legislation, there’s legislation in place that I have no intention of changing.
Boris Johnson: (25:56)
Hugo Guy from inews.
Hugo Guy: (26:00)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Following on from Beth’s question, is there any intention to bring in legal restrictions on when, where or how people can travel around, whether that’s specifically in London or more broadly?
Boris Johnson: (26:16)
Well, thanks Hugo. We live in a land of liberty, as you know, and it’s one of the great features of our lives that we don’t tend to impose those sorts of restrictions on people in this country, but I have to tell you we will rule nothing out, and we will certainly wish to consider bringing forward further and faster measures where that is necessary to suppress the peak of the epidemic, to protect our NHS, to minimize casualties and to minimize suffering. That is our objective.
Boris Johnson: (26:54)
Anyone? I don’t know. Okay, thank you. Okay, this is the last question I’m afraid for this round, folks, but there are going to be more of these sessions, as you know. So the last question goes to Charlotte Ivers of Talk Radio.
Charlotte Ivers: (27:08)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Sir Patrick, it appears people are quite reluctant to follow this advice, as Beth mentioned earlier. Can I ask if you’re modeling of the results takes that into account? And secondly, Prime Minister, how would you describe the people who aren’t taking the advice on social distancing? Are they being immoral?
Boris Johnson: (27:28)
No. Well, I’ll ask Patrick to answer first, but, go.
Patrick Vallance: (27:32)
So the modeling does take into account that not everyone’s going to follow it, but a very high proportion need to, and that means we all need to really focus on this, because the moment we say “Well, it’s not for me, it’s for somebody else” and the compliance of this goes down, the less effective it’s going to be, and the reason this is important, I can’t stress this enough, is to make sure that the NHS ICU capacity is kept in a way that we don’t breach it and the ventilators are available to do this. So when we don’t adhere to this, we’re actually putting lots of people at risk. We’re putting those sickest patients at risk, and so it’s crucial that this isn’t taken as soft advice, but is taken as a really clear instruction to do this if we’re going to make sure that we protect the lives of others.
Boris Johnson: (28:27)
Anything you want to say on that?
Boris Johnson: (28:28)
Well look, I just want, I want to wrap up by answering your question, because it’s a very profound and important question, Charlotte, and of course people must take their own decisions, and I’m a believer, as I said, in freedom, but there’s been absolutely no doubt that these are very, very important choices that we’re now making in our daily lives, and the more closely and the more strictly, the more ruthlessly we can enforce upon ourselves and our families the advice that we’re getting about avoiding unnecessary gatherings, about staying at home when we have symptoms, all that advice, which is good advice, then the better we will be able to protect our NHS, the fewer deaths we will have, and the less suffering there will be in the UK population, and the faster we will get through this and the better we will bounce back eventually. So it is a very, very clear choice for people. This is strong, strong advice, and I say, and to get back to Beth’s initial question, absolutely, we do not rule out, because it would be quite wrong to do so, we do not rule out taking further and faster measures in due course.
Boris Johnson: (29:49)
Thank you all very much for coming along this evening. Thank you.