May 27, 2021
UK Downing Street Coronavirus Press Conference with Matt Hancock Transcript May 27
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock held a COVID-19 press conference on May 27, 2021. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Matt Hancock: (00:00)
… speed on some new developments in our response and start with the latest data. The latest data show that the number of cases of coronavirus are rising. Yesterday, we saw 3,542 new cases, the highest since the 12th of April. The variant first identified in India, so-called B1617.2 is still spreading. And the latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three quarters of all new cases are now of this variant. As we set out our roadmap, we always expected cases to rise. We must remain vigilant. The aim of course, is to break the link to hospitalizations and deaths, so that cases alone no longer require stringent restrictions on people’s lives. The critical thing to watch is the link from the number of cases to how many people end up in hospital. The increase in cases remains focused in hotspots, and we’re doing all we can to tackle this variant, wherever it flares up. Over the past six months, we now have built a huge testing capacity at our disposal, and we’re using this to surge testing into the eight hotspot areas. And in other places where cases are lower, but rising.
Matt Hancock: (01:43)
In the hotspot areas, we’re surging vaccines to, for those who are eligible. In Bolton, for instance, we’ve done 17,147 vaccinations in the last week. All of the available evidence shows that the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community against this new variant is to get both jabs. Of the 49 people who are in hospital with COVID in Bolton, only five have had both vaccine doses. And earlier today, I spoke to Fiona Noden the chief executive of Bolton Hospital, and her message is very clear. The hospital is functioning well and is open to all those who need it, but people need to be careful and cautious and follow the rules and take personal responsibility to help to slow the spread.
Matt Hancock: (02:43)
She also said that, and I quote, “I dread to think where we’d be without the vaccine.” So please ask people to come forward and get the jab. So when you get the call, get the jab and make sure you come forward for your second dose, so you can get the maximum possible protection. The vaccine is severing the link between cases and hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus. This week’s ONS data showed that three and four adults now have COVID-19 antibodies, including over 90% of people age 50 and above. And this means that the vast majority of those most vulnerable to this virus have of that protection that antibodies provide. But I want to see those rates climb further. Having three and four adults with antibodies is important, but there’s more still to do. And today’s data from Public Health England show why this is important. They have estimated that over the last week, the vaccination program has prevented a further 200 deaths and prevented a further 600 people from going into hospital.
Matt Hancock: (03:54)
Bringing these figures together, it means that in total 13, 200 deaths have been prevented and 39,700 hospitalizations by the vaccination program. So the case for getting the jab has never been stronger and we’re putting jabs into arms as quickly as humanly possible. We’ve given in fact, 4.1 million vaccines over the past week, which is the highest figure since March. And I’m absolutely delighted to see how this is rolling out in different parts of the country. Thanks to the incredible hard work of colleagues across the Midlands, including Andy Street, the mayor of the west Midlands, and NHS colleagues right across the Midlands. And so many others, we have today hit the milestone of 10 million vaccines being delivered across the Midlands.
Matt Hancock: (04:44)
In the Southwest of England, where I was earlier this week, visiting vaccination centers, as far flung as the [inaudible 00:04:51], over 5 million doses have been delivered. Three quarters of adults in the Southwest have now had their first dose and over half have had both doses. This is the highest proportion in the country.
Matt Hancock: (05:05)
All in all, this rapid progress in the rollout of vaccines in this race between the virus and the vaccines. This rapid rollout means that yesterday we were able to open up vaccinations to all those age 30 and above. And I would urge everybody to come forward. Next week, I’ll be hosting G7 health ministers at the Health Minister Summit in Oxford. Oxford has been at the cutting edge of science during this pandemic. They led the recovery trial, that uncovered treatments that have saved millions of lives across the world. And of course, they developed the Oxford vaccine, which is Britain’s gift to the world. That has now been deployed without any profit margin to 450 million doses across the world.
Matt Hancock: (05:57)
Today, I can update you that half a million people here have now signed up to our vaccine research registry. The vaccine research registry is about having a group of people who are prepared to take part in clinical trials. And they’ve signed up to say that they are ready and willing to take part. And this is important because our world-leading position in the discovery of new medicines relies on these clinical trials. And I’m incredibly grateful to the half a million people who are all playing their part. Today, I can announce further that together with SAPI, the global vaccination effort, we’ve funded the expansion of another important Oxford study, which is the first in the world to look at whether different vaccines can safely be used as part of a two dose regime using different vaccines. And if they can be mixed and they can be mixed without reducing effectiveness or indeed mixed and lead to an increase in effectiveness, then this could have a huge impact on speeding up vaccination campaigns all the way across the world and getting more people the protection that’s needed from this deadly virus.
Matt Hancock: (07:09)
It has the potential to transform lives globally. And it is brilliant, frankly, to see that once again, research, which is taking place on our shores and at our universities is leading the way. One of the most promising areas of new research is into antivirals. The thing about antivirals is that you can give them to people in an area of an outbreak, for instance, to reduce their chance of catching COVID if they come into contact with somebody who has got COVID. So for instance, you can use antivirals to help suppress an outbreak. These antivirals are not yet approved. And the prime minister has set a goal of having two available later this year. Antivirals can treat people early, preventing mild disease from turning into something much more serious, and they can be used as a prophylactic, preventing the virus from spreading.
Matt Hancock: (08:04)
I’m absolutely determined that our antivirals taskforce will channel the same positive can do collaborative spirit that worked so successfully for vaccines. And I’m pleased to be able to announce that Eddie Gray has been appointed as chair. Eddie brings a wealth of experience from his time at GSK and at Dynavax. And I know that Eddie will make a huge contribution at this time of national need. Our response to this pandemic is a big team effort and Eddie’s leadership will help make that team stronger still. It’s this team, this collective endeavor, which you’ve been a part of, that’s got us this far, but the pandemic is not yet over. So please keep doing your bit. Remember the basics. Hands, face, space, and fresh air. Get your rapid regular tests. And when you get the call, get both jabs. I’ll now hand over to Dr. Harries to talk through the latest data in a bit more detail.
Dr. Harries: (09:10)
Thank you, secretary of state. Could I have the first slide please? So what we can see on this slide, which we’ve seen before is the number of people, whether this be bilateral flow test or PCR tests testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK. And of course, we can see that there has been a sustained and sharp decline in cases from a peak of over 60,000 in the middle of January on towards May. If I could have the next slide, please.
Dr. Harries: (09:40)
But if we just look at the end of that tail-end of the chart, what you can see here is a suggestion of an upward rise in cases, which the secretary of state just referred to. So these are seven day rolling averages. And the numbers here are up to 2,773 cases on that rolling average, but you can see the latest data at 3,500. Now, the interpretation of this needs careful consideration, because as we’ve described, there is surge testing going out into those areas, which actually have the highest number of cases.
Dr. Harries: (10:14)
And so, we are actively finding many cases, which is a good thing. We can break the chains of transmission, but nevertheless, we do know that in most cases across the UK now, the new variant is taking… The variant, which originated in India, is taking a place of the 117 variant. So something that we need to watch really carefully. But if we go to the next slide, then we can look at how that translates into people turning up in hospital and being admitted with serious illness. And what we can see here is the, again, the hospital bed occupation for patients with COVID-19 has dropped right down very rapidly. Following to a large extent, the end of the lockdown measures, significant lockdown measures. But also of course at the same time-
Dr. Harries: (11:03)
… significant lockdown measures, but also of course, at the same time that the vaccination program has really been pushed out strongly. So on the 25th of May, we can see that there were 915 people in hospital with COVID. Whereas, if we go right back to middle of January at the peak, there were around four and a half thousand admissions every day. And we’re just going to look on the next side at the tail end of that curve.
Dr. Harries: (11:25)
And in contrast currently to the data that we saw on actual numbers of cases, we can see that the patients admitted to hospital has continued to decline or flatten off, but we’re not seeing a sharp increase in cases in hospital admissions. And then if we go on to the next slide, sadly, we can see that curve for the number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive COVID case. And again, back in January at the peak, that was suddenly over 1000 a day. And when you look at the tail end of this graph as well, you can see that the most recent seven-day average is just eight deaths. All of them, very sad, but a significant decrease. And these are predominantly in older people who have not been vaccinated.
Dr. Harries: (12:19)
If you go on to the next slide, please, we can see that sticking along. You can see that as usual, we have a variation in reporting of the deaths. Often they will be low at the weekend and rise in the week, so it’s important to look at the recent average rolling rate, but the seven day average is now eight deaths per day. And then I think on the final slide, if we then just look at our vaccination rates, what we can see here is the blue line, those who’ve had a first dose only, and then catching it very rapidly, or those who’ve had a second dose, and this is now over 60 million individuals. And as the Secretary of State has said, the latest evidence suggests that particularly in relation to the variant first identified from India, that it is that second dose which is really important. So we’re looking to make sure that that orange, yellow bar keeps continuing upward. So everybody go and get your jabs.
Matt Hancock: (13:14)
Thank you very much, Dr. Harries. The first questions we’ll turn to are questions from the public. And the first one is from Janet from Liverpool, by video.
Hi. Given the EU are going to relax the rules for fully vaccinated visitors by allowing us then with a vaccine passport and with no PCR or lateral flow test requirements, when can we expect the UK to do the same for returning UK citizens? Thank you.
Matt Hancock: (13:45)
Thank you, Janet. An important question, and we’ve set out the principles of having international travel, conducted in a safe way through the red, amber, and green list. So of course, right now you can travel to a green list country, whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, in fact. And there’s of course, a testing regime because we are vigilant at the border and want to make sure that we don’t see a big increase in the number of cases coming from any of the green list countries. But at the moment, they’re very low in the green list countries, as they are here. And then obviously we have more stringent rules for the amber and red lists countries where people shouldn’t be traveling for holiday. So that’s the approach that we’re taking.
Matt Hancock: (14:34)
I’ve seen the proposals that the EU have put forward in terms of vaccinations. At the moment, not everybody has been vaccinated, of course, and not all adults have been offered the jab, only everybody age 30 and over. But we do want to make sure that there is a route to safe international travel in the future. That’s what the global travel task force has been working on. Something I’ve worked with the transport secretary, the home secretary and the prime minister on. But at the moment, it is the red, amber, and green approach that guides us. And I think that’s the right approach because it means that when a country is safe, a very, very low number of cases, no signs of significant new variants, then we can have relatively straightforward travel, albeit with those tests, which are incredibly important. But for countries which are more at risk, we can take a more stringent approach. The next question is from Pete, from Darby, also by video
With each new variant, the effectiveness of existing vaccines becomes less and less. So with the Indian variant spreading and now a new variant of concern in Yorkshire, why is the government allowing lockdown relaxation to continue when most of those who spread the virus have not yet even had one vaccination?
Matt Hancock: (16:04)
Thanks, Pete. It’s an important question. I’m going to ask Dr. Harries to set out the clinical view from the health security point of view. But what I’d say, first and foremost, is obviously we are working as fast as we can to get people to have both jabs. It’s very important, and thankfully the uptake is very high. But the second thing is that we monitor these new variants really, really carefully to check the effectiveness of the vaccines against them.
Matt Hancock: (16:39)
Now, thankfully, the effectiveness of the vaccines against the variant first identified in India that you mentioned, after two jabs does appear to be effectively the same as against the old B.1.1.7, or the Kent variant as it was called. And that means that we can have confidence in the strategy that we have and the strategy that has been working. But we’ve, of course, got to be vigilant to the number of cases and critically how the number of cases translates into people that end up in hospital or sadly dying. And so the approach we take is just to be absolutely transparent about all of this data, set it all out, as Dr. Harries just has done the latest data, and answer as many questions as we can about it as fully as we can. And I’m sure Dr. Harries is going to improve on my answer right now.
Dr. Harries: (17:37)
Thank you, Secretary of State. The vaccine effectiveness prior to the 617.2 becoming the predominant one was around 80 to 90% for both vaccines, once you’d had second doses, and about 50% for the first. And the good news from the report, which Public Health England published at the weekend, was that actually we’re seeing very, very strong vaccine effectiveness after the second dose for both the vaccines. Now it’s around 80 to 90% from the Pfizer. It’s a little bit lower perhaps than against the Kent variant. And at the moment, the data suggests that the AstraZeneca one might be a little bit lower than, again, against the Kent variant, around 60%. But it’s really important that those studies, they’re quite early ones with quite wide confidence levels, so high degrees of uncertainty. And as we go forward with more cases and more numbers, they will become clear.
Dr. Harries: (18:31)
And we’re already starting to see a signal that the AstraZeneca effectiveness is rising in the second dose. So there is a really important message here. It says, actually, these are good, but as Peter has pointed out, we do have to be really, really vigilant. And going back to the first answer around travel, it’s why actually the testing for travelers coming to the country is so important and the genomic work that we now do, because we are not only assessing the risk to UK residents and continuously searching for new variants, but we’re actually helping the rest of the world understand where those variants are at the moment.
Matt Hancock: (19:08)
Thank you very much, Dr. Harries. Next question is from Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC.
Laura Kuenssberg: (19:14)
Thank you, Secretary of State. It was common knowledge last year that there were terrible problems in care homes. Can you still stand there today and say it’s true that you protected care homes from the start? And did you, or did you not tell Downing Street that people leaving care homes would be tested before they… sorry, people leaving hospitals would be tested before they went back to care homes?
Matt Hancock: (19:36)
Thanks very much, Laura, we worked as hard as we could to protect people who live in care homes. And of course, those who live in care homes are some of the most vulnerable to this disease because by its nature, it attacks and has more of an impact on older people.
Matt Hancock: (19:55)
Now, when it comes to the testing of people as they left hospital and went into care homes, we committed to building the testing capacity to allow that to happen. Of course, it then takes time to build testing capacity. And in fact, one of the critical things we did was set the hundred thousand target back then to make sure we built that testing capacity, and it was very effective in doing so. And then we were able to introduce the policy of testing everybody before going to care homes. But we could only do that once we have the testing capacity, of which I had to build, because we didn’t have it in this country from the start. We started with a capacity of less than 2000 in March last year and got to a hundred thousand tests a day. And we set all of this out at the time in public documents. It’s all a matter of public record. And I mean, we work closely together on it, Jenny.
Dr. Harries: (20:56)
I think I might just add to that, from a professional perspective. I think the testing is clearly important. And as secretary status has noted, we have built a lot of capacity. This is all readily available now. We do a random million tests a day. But I think actually one of the things that sometimes gets forgotten in some of the conversations about testing is the really important thing is not testing says you have a problem, the intervention is very much about isolation. So when an individual leaves, whether it be a hospital setting, the guidance is very much about ensuring that there is appropriate infection prevention control, both in the care home setting, but actually in separating that individual from others because the test only gives you the result on the day. The really important thing is to be able to be sure that a patient doesn’t become symptomatic and be able to transmit infection for the subsequent incubation period. So from an interventional perspective, that is critical. Testing is really helpful. And I think the only other thing I would say is it’s, the elderly and the vulnerable in residence-
Dr. Harries: (22:03)
… the elderly who are vulnerable in residential settings have been a focus, actually, of a care subgroup in the Sage modeling group. Actually, I chaired that group specifically to try and understand precisely where the risks were predominantly in residents going into care homes and because of the very high infection rates, and there were two pieces of work commissioned around that. Although the data is quite complex to interpret, it was very clear at the end of this work that there are different ways for the virus to come into care homes and it can come from a hospital discharge, but that is definitely not the majority route of entry. It’s coming as community cases rise and care workers are going in and out as they do, because we need them to provide care. It’s coming in with community rates. We see that with schools as well. I think it’s just about really looking at the evidence of where transmission occurs, which is important.
Matt Hancock: (23:00)
Thanks very much. Laura, next question is from Carl Dineen from ITV.
Speaker 1: (23:05)
Carl Dineen: (23:07)
Secretary of State, you’ve explained why you didn’t test everyone going from hospital to care home, but the charge from Dominic Cummings is actually quite specific. I’d like to try again on that. Did you tell the prime minister that everyone going from hospital to care home would be tested or is Dominic Cummings not telling the truth on that?
Matt Hancock: (23:28)
Of course, we committed, and I committed, to getting the policy in place, but it took time to build the testing. We didn’t start with a big testing system in the UK, and then we built that testing system. That’s why the 100,000 target was so important because it really accelerated the availability of testing because when you don’t have much testing, we had to prioritize it according to clinical need. That was the approach that we took. In fact, we set all of this out at the time. But it is important, in terms of looking back on it, that what we had to do was build the testing capacity because there simply wasn’t at the start of the pandemic that testing capacity in place. We had to put it in place, and that’s the action that I took.
Matt Hancock: (24:27)
Thanks very much. The next question is from Beth Rigby at Sky.
Beth Rigby: (24:32)
Thank you, Secretary of State. Just to follow up on that, and specifically Mr. Cummings said yesterday that you categorically said in the cabinet room in March that people were going to be tested before going back into care homes. Mr. Cummings went on to say that he and the prime minister subsequently found out that hadn’t happened. He said far from putting a shield around people, they were sent back to care homes untested. Just to be clear, did you make the statement in March that they would be tested before going back to care homes and that didn’t turn out to be true because you didn’t have the testing system in place? Is that what really happened?
Matt Hancock: (25:13)
No. Look, there’ll be a time when we go back over all this in great detail, but my recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it. I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses including this one and then delivered on the commitment that I made. That’s a kind of normal way of how you get things done in government. You work out what needs to happen. You commit to making it happen. You go away and deliver on that commitment, and then you can put the policy in place.
Matt Hancock: (25:58)
There’ll be a time when we can go through all of this in greater detail. The most important thing right now is that we’ve still got a pandemic to handle and to manage and hence the announcements that we’re making today on vaccination and the work that we’re doing to try to make sure we keep this epidemic under control.
Matt Hancock: (26:17)
Next questions, Pippa Crerar from the Mirror.
Beth Rigby: (26:20)
… people back. Am I still? Sending people back to care homes untested did happen during April, and is that your biggest regret in this pandemic?
Matt Hancock: (26:33)
Well, the thing is, Beth, on that, I mean, I’ve answered this question many, many times. On that, because we didn’t have the testing capacity at the start of the pandemic, it wasn’t possible. What I am very proud of is that we built that testing capacity, but it took time, right? It took me setting this target, which people didn’t think I was going to meet, and because of the team effort, we did meet that target and then we had the testing available to be able to put the policy in place.
Matt Hancock: (27:08)
I think that’s how you get things done, and that’s how we’re still getting things done. For instance, now the big, big drive is on making sure that we get the vaccine roll out done and there our goal is to make sure it’s offered to all adults by the end of July. We’re on track for that target too. Next question, Pippa Crerar. Pippa?
Pippa Crear: (27:35)
Health Secretary, we’ve spoken to families today who lost their loved ones to COVID last spring after patients were discharged back into their care homes without being tested. One said she cried when she heard Dominic Cummings testimony. She said, “I will not be the only one crying because it reminds you of the disaster, particularly when he was talking about not having a plan for care homes.” Another who lost her mom told us, “Nothing he said surprised me at all. It just shows the general chaos and lack of information in government. I feel that my mom is one of the tens of thousands of people who didn’t need to die.” A third lost his dad and he said, “It was absolute chaos. They didn’t know what he was doing. As we all know, the buck stops with our prime minister. He’s got ultimate responsibility, but I do hold Matt Hancock responsible as well.”
Pippa Crear: (28:17)
There’ve been 36,275 deaths involving COVID in UK care homes since the pandemic began, you promised to put a protective ring around them, but you didn’t. Yet today, you dodged questions from MPs about some of the specifics, and now you’re doing it from the media. Why, when there clearly wasn’t sufficient testing capacity to do it safely, did you sign off the discharge plan? Can you give families the answers and finally gives them the peace that they deserve?
Matt Hancock: (28:48)
Well, thank you, Pippa. I’ve been answering questions all morning and all afternoon, and it’s very, very important too. In fact, that’s been our whole approach throughout this pandemic has been to answer questions from the public and from the media and, of course, from MPs. Many, many people have lost loved ones. As you know, that includes my family. The truth in this situation is that because we didn’t have the testing capacity, it wasn’t possible until we built that capacity to put the testing in place. We were dealing with an unprecedented situation, as you know, and that is one of the things that I will always look back on, which is that we worked incredibly hard to put in place what is needed to fight a pandemic.
Matt Hancock: (29:47)
Thankfully now, over the last few months, we’ve really got these things in place, over a million tests a day on a regular basis and, of course, the vaccine, which we’ve been working on since the start. Of course, my heart goes out to all those who’ve lost loved ones, but all I can say is that we worked to do everything we possibly could in what were difficult circumstances.
Matt Hancock: (30:14)
On the details of the policy and why it was in place and crucially what we’ve learned is including, for instance, the asymptomatic transmission of the virus, the fact it passes on through people who don’t have any symptoms. We have developed and improved our policy towards care homes as the testing capacity has grown. Maybe on the clinical side, Dr. Harris will be able to address those parts of the question.
Dr. Harries: (30:48)
Yes. Thank you, Secretary of State. My family as well has lost somebody at the start of a pandemic, so I think we do feel for those families. If I just go back to the evidence, and this is going to sound quite clinical and scientific, but that’s what I’ve been asked to do, actually, one of the reasons that the subgroup, the Sage subgroup was set up was to really try and look at what were the reasons for these very significant rates of infection and death in a residential care settings. It was set up in a way to be able to feed back directly to the adult social care policy plan in order to be able to implement findings as quickly as possible. If you look at the death rates and bearing in mind the evidence we found from the fact that the discharged from hospitals was actually a very, very tiny proportional cause of cases, what has had a huge impact is the regular testing of staff and residents.
Dr. Harries: (31:51)
Now, actually, for staff who do this on a regular basis, it’s quite time-consuming for them, so huge thank you to them because every week they do a PCR test and they do two lateral flow device tests.
Dr. Harries: (32:03)
If you look at the second wave, what you can see is that allows this regular testing means not only do we know if somebody comes in and has a positive test before they start work, they don’t come into care, into the setting, so they are no risk of passing on that infection to others. Equally, of course, we’ve had vaccination programs, but the lateral flow testing has been a really important part of just keeping an eye on that. The PCR testing allows us to run at the same time, is more sensitive, so we’re doing it doubly and checking to see about variant access. We can get on top of these things much more quickly now.
Matt Hancock: (32:38)
Thanks very much. Next question is from Steve Swinford at the Times. Steve?
Pippa Crear: (32:44)
Why, when there clearly wasn’t sufficient testing capacity, did you sign off the discharge plan?
Matt Hancock: (32:52)
I’m terribly sorry. I’m not sure that I got the full question. But I think what you’re saying is that since the challenge was the testing capacity, why did you have the plan? Well-
Matt Hancock: (33:03)
Why did you have the plan? Well, firstly, we took clinical advice on what the appropriate thing to do was. That was the best way to proceed in these circumstances. But critically, you’ve got to build the testing capacity, and that’s what we did. And we published all these plans at the time, and discussed it. In fact, we discussed it at press conferences at the time. What is the best way to approach it? And that’s something on which we took the clinical advice. Thanks. Steve Swinford at The Times.
Pippa Crear: (33:37)
Mr. Hancock, have you spoken to the prime minister about the evidence given by Dominic Cummings yesterday, in which he accused you of being a serial liar? And has Boris Johnson personally given you his reassurance that he has confidence in you as his health secretary? And Dr. Harries, on the roadmap, Professor Neil Ferguson said this morning that the easing of lockdown restrictions on the 21st of June is very much in the balance, given the rate at which the Indian variant is spreading. Do you agree with him on that?
Matt Hancock: (34:04)
Well, the prime minister and I talk all the time, and we’re working incredibly hard on getting this vaccine rollout as broad as possible, making sure people get their second doses, and obviously very vigilant in particular to the areas of the country where cases are starting to rise, as I’ve set out. So that’s what we focus on, because that is what really matters to getting this country out of this pandemic. I mean, this isn’t over yet, and in a way, the rise in case rates in the last couple of days demonstrate that. We’ve all got to be vigilant, and we’ve still all of us got to take personal responsibility for what we can do to help keep this under control as we get the vaccine rolled out. It is a race between the two, and that’s what we’re focused on. Jenny?
Dr. Harries: (34:54)
Yeah. So on the roadmap, I absolutely agree with Professor Neil Ferguson. The roadmap works on four principles to go forward. It’s on the cases, hospitalizations, the effectiveness of the vaccine program, and then new variants. And so in many ways, we’re looking at the first part and the last part. And if you just look at the pure data, which is out today, it looks quite worrying. So we had 3,535 cases of the 617.2 last week, and we have just about double that, 6,959 now. However, what is important, and I mentioned when I was doing the slides, is we are actively going out and finding cases, so we do expect cases to rise. We also expected some cases to rise as we gradually start to socialize. And I think what’s important is when you look at where these patterns of cases are… If, for example, you look at London data recently where there’s been a huge effort, in all of these areas actually, but in surge testing and the fastest speed that we can detect new variants using different techniques in genomic testing, in some areas, they have closed down.
Dr. Harries: (36:06)
So we’ve seen a bit of community transmission, and then it’s closed down again. Now, the biggest area probably is North West, as we know, and I know the Bolton team are working really hard, and also in the Greater Manchester area, to try and maintain these numbers quite low. So I think it is really, really just on the cusp at the moment. If we see cases rise, we’re not clear yet quite whether that is a rise in the variant cases taking off, or whether it’s actually a rise because we are actively, quite rightly, detecting them and then challenging these chains of transmission. So, really important thing. On the good news of course, we’re not seeing that generally translating into increased cases of hospitalization, and definitely not into deaths. And so obviously, the key messages there, even if we can just hold it while the vaccination program gets rolled out, we stand a much better chance of getting through this session. So my simple message, which is where I started, is please go and get your jab, and particularly if you’ve got a second jab due shortly.
Matt Hancock: (37:13)
Thanks very much. I mean, that last point is the absolutely critical one for the country, which is we are in a race between the virus and this vaccine. The vaccine is effective, so we’ve got to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible. And that is the thing that really, really matters. Final question is from Jen Williams, from the Manchester Evening News. Jen.
Thanks. A question to the health secretary, if that’s okay. Manchester and Trafford health and social care systems started testing all care home residents before discharge in the middle of March 2020, because they knew then that there was a risk, and so they found a way to do it. So why did it not become national policy for another month? And do you wish you’d taken more advice from local public health and social care leaders at the start of the pandemic? And one for Dr. Harries. There’s obviously been a lot of national attention on Bolton in the last few weeks, and there were signs that infection rate rises are now slowing thanks to the measures that have been taken, but those in most other Greater Manchester boroughs are now rising very fast. Should these places now be getting similar military surge vaccination support to Bolton? Thanks.
Matt Hancock: (38:15)
Thanks very much. Come back to the earlier point. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the testing capacity to put that policy in place across the whole country. It would have been wonderful if we’d started this pandemic with a very large testing capacity. We didn’t. We had to build one. And then once we built one, we were able to put that policy in place nationwide. When it comes to Bolton, there are some early signs that the increase in rates are maybe starting to cap out. We did see this program of surge testing plus surge vaccinations work in South London, but I’m really watching the Bolton rates very closely. Dr. Harries.
Dr. Harries: (39:03)
Thank you, yes. So I might just do a call out here for the director of public health in Bolton, Helen Lowey, who has been absolutely brilliant in supporting this, and we work very closely with her. I think secretary said the cases actually do look as though they are starting to plateau out, but the spillover in community transmission in local areas is an important one. What we are finding a lot of places though, that it’s not absolutely what we would call generalized transmission, that you can still see focal points of outbreaks, whether it be a community center, whether it be a school or a faith building. And so it’s really important that that local understanding is brought into the picture, so that we can surge the testing and put in support in those areas.
Dr. Harries: (39:47)
I think actually, the way that Test and Trace are now working, swiveling around that services and building from the local system, is a really important one. And we’re doing that generally right across areas, looking out for other parts of Greater Manchester to see how we can support them. But the data at the moment, and those support enablers for local people, are very much focused on the areas where we can see the rate of change, the rate of growth in transmission is the greatest. But we’ll continue to watch out, obviously.
Matt Hancock: (40:18)
Thanks very much. I mean, can I just add one other thing, Jen, which is that people in Bolton have really stepped up and I’m very, very grateful. And you can see it in the queues of people getting vaccinated, the big increase in numbers of vaccinations, the big increase in testing and people coming forward to get tested. I think the council have done a brilliant job, and their leader, David Greenhalgh, is doing a great job, as well as the director of public health. And we will keep supporting Bolton, and we’re also watching very carefully other areas, because if this package of support works effectively against this variant in Bolton, then it’s a model for how we can tackle it without having to resort to a local lockdown, which obviously nobody wants to see. So far so good, but stick at it Bolton, we’ll get there. And that ends this Downing Street press conference. Thanks very much.