May 28, 2020
United Kingdom Boris Johnson Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 28
British officials held a coronavirus press conference on May 28. Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined reopening guidelines for Great Britain. Full news conference speech here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Boris Johnson: (00:39)
Before I set out our next steps in the fight against the coronavirus, let me update you on the latest data. 3,918,079 tests for coronavirus have now been carried out in the UK, including 119,587 tests carried out yesterday. 269,127 people have tested positive, and that’s an increase of 1,887 cases since yesterday. 8,560 people are in hospital with coronavirus, down 11% from 9,607 this time last week. Sadly, of those tested positive for coronavirus across all settings, 37,837 have now died. That’s an increase of 377 fatalities since yesterday, and we are with their friends and family in mourning.
Boris Johnson: (01:48)
As you know, we’ve set five tests, which must be met, before adjusting the lockdown I set out on the first slide. It’s vital that these tests are met before any changes are made because we must not risk all the hard work and sacrifice of the British people. At all times, we’re informed by the data and evidence about the spread of the virus and the impact of the measures taken so far. I will now take you through our latest assessment of progress against each of the five tests. Can we have the next slide, please?
Boris Johnson: (02:29)
Our first test is to protect the NHS’s ability to cope so that we’re confident that we’re able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK. At the start of the outbreak, there was significant concern that the NHS would not be able to cope. That turned out not to be the case, thanks to the heroic efforts of everyone who works for the NHS and the heroic efforts of the British people to contain this virus. The data show that on the 26th of May, 475 people were admitted to hospital in England with coronavirus. That’s down from a peak of 3,121 on a single day on the 2nd of April. On the 27th of May, 11% of mechanical ventilator beds in the UK were occupied by patients with coronavirus. That’s down from a peak of 41% on the 10th of April. This significant progress means that we are meeting the first test. Can I have the next slide, please?
Boris Johnson: (03:39)
Our second test is to see a sustained and consistent fall in the daily deaths from COVID-19 so we are confident that we’ve moved beyond the peak. As measured by a seven-day rolling average, the UK daily death rate now stands at 256, down from a peak of 943 on the 14th of April. While every death is one too many, it is now the case that there has been a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate, and so the second test is being met. Next slide, please.
Boris Johnson: (04:21)
Our third test is to receive reliable information, reliable data from SAGE showing that the rate of infection, the number of people catching COVID is decreasing to manageable levels across the board. In the last seven days, an average of 2,312 new cases were confirmed with a positive test. That’s done from a peak of 5,066 in the first week of May. Based on the various data available, the government is satisfied that the third test is being met. In a moment, Sir Patrick will tell us more about other methods of measuring infections, including the R number. Can I have the next slide, please?
Boris Johnson: (05:15)
Our fourth test is that we must be confident that the range of operational challenges, including in testing capacity and personal protective equipment, are in hand with supply able to meet future demand. I fully acknowledge the difficulties on testing and PPE that we have faced since the start of the outbreak. It’s been immensely frustrating, but we are now making progress. Yesterday, we carried out 119,587 tests compared to around 12,000 at the start of April.
Boris Johnson: (05:56)
Testing capacity has now increased to 161,214 a day. We have now signed over a hundred new deals with PPE suppliers around the world. Here in the UK, thanks to the efforts of Lord Deighton and his team and the brilliance of domestic manufacturers, we’ve signed contracts for over 2 billion items of PPE, including face masks, visors, gowns, and aprons where that all satisfied that the fourth test is being met, and we can start to rebuild stocks, although we recognize there may be some settings that require urgent restocking on occasion. Can I have the next slide, please?
Boris Johnson: (06:45)
Our fifth and final test is that we must be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS. I’m very grateful to the chief scientific advisor and the chief medical officer for their assessments of the measures I’m about to set out on schools, retail, and social contact. Although all parts of the UK are moving in the same direction, it is important to note that health is devolved and different parts of the UK are quite properly moving at different speeds.
Boris Johnson: (07:26)
This package has been carefully designed so that we can ease the burdens of the lockdown while expecting to keep that R below one. I cannot and will not throw away all the gains we have made together, and so the changes we are making are limited and cautious. It’s thanks to the cautionary has shown so far that all five tests are being met. That’s not my achievement or the government’s achievement. It is your achievement. It’s only possible thanks to your resolve and dedication to our national purpose to overcome this virus.
Boris Johnson: (08:14)
The result is we can move forward with adjusting the lockdown in England on Monday. First, as I set out, on Sunday, we will now reopen schools to more children. Closing schools has deprived children of their education, and as so often, it is the most disadvantaged peoples who risk being hardest hit. On Monday, we will start to put this right in a safe way by reopening nurseries and other early-year settings and reception year one and year six in primary schools. A fortnight later on the 15th of June, secondary schools will begin to provide some face-to-face contact time for years 10 and 12.
Boris Johnson: (09:02)
Second, we will also start to reopen shops as we restart our economy, and we’ll begin on Monday with outdoor retail and car showrooms where social distancing is generally easier. A fortnight later on the 15th of June, we intend to reopen other non-essential retail, but only provided the five tests are still being met and shops have been made COVID-secure.
Boris Johnson: (09:35)
Lastly, I know the toll the lockdown has taken on families and friends who’ve been unable to see each other. From Monday, we will allow up to six people to meet outside, provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying two meters apart. At the moment, as you know, people can meet in parks, but not in private gardens, and this was a cautious first step, but we know that there is no difference in the health risk, so we will now allow people to meet in gardens and other private outdoor spaces.
Boris Johnson: (10:22)
These changes mean that friends and family can start to meet their loved ones, perhaps seeing both parents at once or both grandparents at once. I know that for many people, this will be a long awaited and joyful moment, but I must stress that to control the virus, everyone needs to stay alert at responsibly strictly observe social distancing rules and stay two meters apart from those you do not live with. Minimizing contact with others is still the best way to prevent transmission. You should also try to avoid seeing people from too many households in quick succession so that we can avoid the risk of quick transmission from lots of different families and continue to control the virus. It remains the case that people should not be inside the homes of their friends and families, not inside the homes of your friends and families unless it is to access the garden, to get to the garden.
Boris Johnson: (11:32)
I should add that at this stage, I am afraid that those who have been asked to shield themselves should continue to do so. I want to say to those extremely clinically vulnerable people who are now being shielded that I do understand how this has been for you especially. I want to thank you for all the efforts you have gone to because your actions have helped the NHS to cope. We’re looking carefully at how we can make your life easier and how we can better support you, and we want to say more on that soon.
Boris Johnson: (12:12)
I want to reassure everyone that we can make all of the changes I have outlined in a safe way. We know that children, and particularly young children, are much less likely to be seriously affected by the virus. We know that if shops enforce social distancing as required by our COVID-secure guidelines, then the virus is less likely to spread, and crucially, we know that transmission of the virus is far lower outdoors, so we can confidently allow more interaction outside. I understand that people will have questions as how to do as to all of this safely, and we will publish guidance on these changes to help people-
Boris Johnson: (13:03)
We will publish guidance on these changes to help people, to help you make the most of them. Now, I know inevitably that there may be some anomalies or apparent inconsistencies in these rules. And clearly, what we’re proposing is still just a fraction of the social interaction each of us would normally enjoy. I know many of you will find this frustrating and I’m sorry about that, but I’m afraid that is unavoidable given the nature of the invisible enemy that we are fighting. It’s a complex problem and we’re asking for everyone’s patience as we work through it together. We will inevitably not get everything right first time, but I must ask everyone to remember that it’s the same patience, the same hard work and sacrifices of the British people in lockdown that have got us so far and allowed us to make the progress that we have. By protecting the NHS, getting us through the peak, and getting this virus under control, we are able to deliver all of the adjustments and easing of restrictions I have set out today.
Boris Johnson: (14:24)
These adjustments are most of those we set out to achieve in step two of our roadmap. And we’ve also been able to have them in place by June the first, as we had hoped. There’s no doubt that we’re making progress and I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks, we may be able to do more. Because obviously, while protecting the health and safety of the public is and must always be our number one priority, we must also work to restart our economy and society so as many people as possible can begin returning to their way of life. But I want to reaffirm that fundamental commitment to the British people that all the steps we have taken and will take are conditional. They are conditional on all the data and all the scientific advice. And it is that scientific advice which will help us to judge what we’re doing is safe. And I have to warn you, in all frankness, as we go forward, that there will be further local outbreaks. So we will monitor what is going on very carefully. We will put on the brakes as required. And where necessary, we will reimpose measures. And it’s very important to be clear about that up front. And as before, we will see how these new changes are working, and we’ll look at the R value and the number of new infections before taking any further steps so we can ensure that anything we do does not risk a second peak that could overwhelm the NHS.
Boris Johnson: (16:17)
And yesterday, as I hope you will know, we took a huge step forward that will enable us to keep making progress in returning our lives to as close to normal as possible while continuing to control the virus and isolate any new outbreaks. And that is through our new NHS Test and Trace program. In England, the Scottish government has established Test and Protect. And Welsh and Northern Irish schemes will follow next week. And I’ll now show you a short video that explains how NHS Test and Trace works in England and what we all need to do to play our part.
Speaker 4: (17:04)
The government is doing all it can to find and develop a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus. But how do we return to normal life for as many people as possible while the search goes on? The answer is the new NHS Test and Trace service. Here’s how it works. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you must sell isolate immediately and get a test. Then you’ll know for sure if you and your household must continue to self isolate. If you test positive for COVID-19, you’ll be asked either online or on the phone about your recent close contacts, someone you’ve been within two meters of for 15 minutes, and places you’ve visited. The people you’ve been in contact with will then be told to self isolate for 14 days. Test and Trace works because it allows localized patterns of infection to be detected and contained so the vast majority of people can return to a more normal life. But we need everyone to play their part. If you have symptoms, self isolate, get tested, and also self isolate if you are told to buy an NHS contact tracer.
Boris Johnson: (18:31)
Thanks for it. I’ll hand over now to Patrick.
Thank you. May I have the first slide, please? Just to update you on where we are in terms of the R, the current value is somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9. So it remains close to one. It may be very close to one in some areas. And just to remind you of what that means, if the R at one, it means that the epidemic stays at the same level it is now, the same numbers. Above one, it’s growing. Below one, it’s shrinking. Numbers are coming down at the moment, but they’re not coming down fast and the R stays close to one. Next slide, please.
To put that into context of numbers, these are the numbers from the most recent Office of National Statistics survey, which is a household survey taking samples from now over 8,000 households and 17,000 or so people, nearly, I think, 18,000 people now. Looking at the number of infections, so the proportion of people over the past couple of weeks with COVID infection is 0.24% of the population as estimated from this survey. That means that somewhere in the order of 130,000 people have COVID infection. The second important number is the number of new infections, the so called incidents. The number of new infections is estimated to be roughly one in a 1000 per week. It means that 54,000 new cases are occurring every week. So somewhere around eight or so thousand per day. That is not a low number. So it’s worth remembering that we still have a significant burden of infection, we are still seeing new infections every day at quite a significant rate. And the R is close to one. That means there is not a lot of room to do things, and things need to be done cautiously, step by step, and monitored. And the Test and Trace system needs to be effective in order to manage that. So that’s where we are as of today. And there’s one last figure on this slide, which is an estimate of the number of people across the country who might’ve had the infection as measured by an antibody presence. And that’s something in the order of 6%. So it’s still the case that the vast majority of us have not had the infection. And this is a virus for which all of us are susceptible. So this set of figures urges caution in terms of the measures we take, how we take them, and how we monitor them. Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (21:37)
Thanks very much, Patrick. Can we go now to our questions from the public first and then from the media? From the public, we’re going to Jay in Horsham.
I’m a 33 year old, full time working mum who is currently in the shielded community. And I feel as if we have been forgotten. I’m currently shielding with my 10-year-old son and I’ve had to stop him from staying at his dad’s. I would like to get visibility on how you are going to approach loosening the lockdown for the clinically extremely vulnerable and how you are going to aid us in this transition.
Boris Johnson: (22:09)
Well, let me first of all say, Jay, that I feel very, very sympathetic to all those more than a million people who are in your position in this country, the clinically extremely vulnerable. I know how tough it has been. I’m sure that most of us can think of friends or relatives who are in the same position. Jay, we want to release you from your captivity, your lockdown, as fast as we possibly can. And that’s why we continue to be extremely vigilant in our approach. And what we’re announcing today is very, very cautious. We are taking some tentative steps forward, both with education and with the economy and a little bit with family and friends. But we need to get that all done, we need to get that infection rate down so that Jay, everybody who’s being shielded now, can be released. But I assure you we’re working as hard and as fast as we can. I wonder, though, Chris, is there anything you want to add that we can say to people are in Jay’s position?
Well, I mean, Jay’s question, which of course is important to very many people, is exactly right. As the rates of infection come down, and it’s not the R for this, it’s the number of infections in the community, the risk to people who are at higher risk, so the shielded, but also people who are in other vulnerable groups, is decreasing.
And we will get to a stage, we hope relatively soon, where the absolute risk of people has got down to low enough level it would be possible in stages for people to leave shielding. But fully appreciate the very considerable constraints it’s put on people and the very big burden of loneliness and other problems, which have gone with it, which is the reason why now that the peak has passed, we need to plot a path, I think hopefully in the very near future, for people so that they can, Jay, like you and others, come out from the shielding, but still remain very cautious. Because as Patrick was pointing out, as the Prime Minister was pointing out in his remarks, the number of infections remains high and the risk has not gone away. It has decreased substantially, and we hope for it will continue to decrease, but there is still a risk and people are going to have to do this in stages.
Boris Johnson: (24:39)
Thanks very much, Chris. Anything to add, Patrick, on that?
No, I don’t think.
Boris Johnson: (24:43)
Thank you. Let’s go to Carol in Sunderland. Carol asks if localized lockdowns are due to local outbreaks, what measures will the government be putting into place for those unable to go to work and therefore who would be potentially temporary, who potentially lose their income? Will there be a compensation scheme implemented? And Carol, what I can certainly tell you is that we will do everything we can to support those who, obviously the furlough schemes remain in place, all the loans that we’re giving to business, the bounce back loans, the support for the self employed, you’ll be hearing more about. But those who face temporarily losing their income as a result of this will be helped. I just remind you of what we’ve done to increase universal credit and other benefits. But clearly, what we want to avoid is too many local outbreaks, too many people having to go into quarantine and-
Boris Johnson: (26:02)
To get into quarantine. And that is why it’s so vital that we all observe these measures and drive those numbers done. Is there any… But we will look at where we have to crack down and where we have to implement local measures to stop an outbreak. We will make sure that we look after local people. Remember the basic mantra that I’ve tried to use. Nobody should be penalized in this epidemic for doing the right thing. If you’re doing the right thing, if you’re being forced to stay at home, you should not be penalized. Can we go to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC?
Boris Johnson: (26:48)
Laura Kuenssberg: (26:50)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Durham police have said this afternoon, they would have sent Dominic Cummings home if they’d found him in Barnard Castle. If one of your most senior team wasn’t paying proper attention to the rules, why should anyone else? And to the doctors, if I may, is that the kind of example that you want people to follow?
Boris Johnson: (27:10)
Well, Laura, first of all, can I say I’ve said quite a lot on this matter already. What I also noticed that the Durham police said was that they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed. And I intend to draw a line under the matter as I said, I think yesterday, to the parliamentary Liaison Committee. They’re not taking any action and I intend to draw a line under it. And all I can say, and I know that you’ve asked Chris and Patrick, but I’m going to interpose myself if I may and protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask a political question. It’s very, very important that our medical officers and scientific advisors do not get dragged into what I think most people will recognize is fundamentally a political argument. And if that’s all right, Laura… And could we go now to Robert Peston of ITV?
Robert Peston: (28:14)
Hello. Just to be clear, I don’t think this is a wholly political question, Prime Minister. I mean, a number of scientific advisors to the SAGE Committee have said that the behavior of your chief advisor in not going into quarantine at home risked more people not complying with the social distancing rules. And I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty whether they fear that compliance with these rules will be reduced as a result of this. And second quick question. Yesterday, Prime Minister, you said you would ask Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty to review whether the appropriate social distance is two meters, rather than one meter. Most businesses would much rather have one meter distance, pubs and restaurants, many of them will be bust at two meters. Is this something that Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty are looking at? When will we know the answer whether it’s safe to go to one meter?
Boris Johnson: (29:18)
Robert, thanks a lot. I’m just going to repeat the point I’ve made just now. It is very important that our advisors are protected from being dragged into a political controversy. Just to repeat the thing I’ve been saying in the last few days, we want to get some very clear and simple messages across to the British public. What they want to hear is what we’re doing to tackle coronavirus or what the plan is. We’ve announced a huge amount today. I think people need to focus on those messages and if I may, respectfully sir, I think that the rest of it is… You yourself argue that it’s a distraction in so far as that is true. Let’s crack on with our program and getting our messages across. And on your point about the social distancing distance and whether it should be two meters or less, I’ll really hand straight over to Patrick and Chris.
Patrick Vallance: (30:21)
Well, I’m happy to answer that. The evidence that we got and that will be published, some of it’s out and some of it’s coming out very shortly, is looking at the distance that droplets and exhaled droplets and aerosol might travel. And two meters is a distance beyond which things are very safe, that you can see it dropping off quite quickly. But of course it’s not an absolute two meters is safe and slightly less is not safe. There’s a graduation across that. And so roughly at a meter, it’s somewhere between 10 and 30 times more risky than at two meters. What we’ve done in the paper is lay out clearly what the sorts of things are that you could do to mitigate against those risks. So we’ve not said it’s two meters or nothing. We’ve said, “This is the scientific evidence that explains why two meters is a distance beyond which things are safer.”
Patrick Vallance: (31:23)
And we’ve also laid out what the sort of things are that reduce those risks. So for example, being back to back or side to side, and in some cases wearing face coverings, and in some cases looking at ventilation. There are many other measures you can look at. So this is not a policy because we don’t make policy. We give science advice and we’ve laid out what the science advice is. From that policy decisions can be made. And we’ve laid out a series of considerations that might allow people to think about what those policies should and could be.
Boris Johnson: (31:56)
Thanks. Sorry, Chris.
Chris Whitty: (31:57)
Could I add additional point on that? Which is if we want to really reinforce the point that if people are meeting in these new, slightly relaxed, slightly relaxed, social distancing guidelines, in terms of meeting outdoors, it is essential that people maintain two meters and that is really important. This risk has not gone away. And if people are outdoors and stay at two meters, very, very, small, not absolutely zero under any circumstances, but keeping that distance for people in different households is essential. And the second point I’d want to make on this is about the test and trace, the NHS test and trace system. If you do maintain two meters distance and the contacts you’ve had turn out subsequently have coronavirus, you will not be counted as a contact and you will not have to self isolate. If on the other hand you don’t then actually, if they get coronavirus A, you might get it, and B, because you might’ve got it it is likely that you will have to self isolate. So the two meters distancing helps individuals both protect their own risk and also means that they will not be contacts of people who actually have had a coronavirus episode.
Boris Johnson: (33:14)
Thanks very much, Chris. Can we go to Sam Coates of Sky News, please?
Sam Coates: (33:18)
First a question to Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty. Are you entirely comfortable with the Prime Minister telling you that you can’t answer questions about Dominic Cummings? And if you can’t give a verbal answer, a nod or a shake of the head will suffice. And is there anything else the Prime Minister has told you not to answer on? And Prime Minister, today the launch of track and trace could mean that at any point you might get a call from someone on behalf of the government telling you to quarantine for 14 days. Can you tell the nation, is this a no ifs, no buts instruction that you must follow, whatever your childcare arrangements, however important you think your job is?
Boris Johnson: (33:59)
It’s very important. Well, let me… Do you want to answer the first question by semaphore or otherwise?
Chris Whitty: (34:06)
Well, I can assure you that the desire not to get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson: (34:14)
That’s for sure.
Chris Whitty: (34:15)
Boris Johnson: (34:16)
Patrick Vallance: (34:17)
Nothing to add. I mean, I’m a civil servant. I’m politically neutral. I don’t want to get involved in politics at all.
Boris Johnson: (34:22)
Good. Well, unfortunately I have no choice. But let me just say on the track and trace thing, Sam, what we’re saying to the country is if you get contacted and you’re told that you’ve been within two meters of someone for 15 minutes and that you’re a contact of coronavirus a patient, someone who’s tested positive, then yes, you must self isolate. And I know that that is going to be hard and it is going to be a difficult for people, but do not forget that this is the way to beat it. We really will crack it with this test and trace system. And as it develops, as it progresses, I think that it will be indispensable to our success against the virus. And people should think of it as the price that a small minority, hopefully a small minority, are going to have to pay for the eventual liberation of the whole of the country, 66 million people, and enabling us to begin our lives again, and to see each other again in the way that that we all want to do. So that’s the nature of the instruction.
Chris Whitty: (35:38)
Could I just add a question? Can I add a point onto what the Prime Minister just said? I think it’s important for people to understand why we’re asking people to do this as well as what we’re asking them to do. Both are obviously very important. And the why is that this virus unfortunately is infectious for two, possibly three days before people get symptoms and maximally infectious just around the time they get symptoms. And so therefore picking out the people who actually might have infections or much higher than average rate of infection because they’d been close to someone who has actually got the infection, we know they’ve got the infection, those are the group who are the biggest risk of unwittingly having an infection without symptoms and then spreading it for two or three days. And then finding their first symptoms in a place when they’re surrounded by colleagues and friends and things.
Chris Whitty: (36:29)
So it is really essential we do this if we wish to limit the chains of transmission. And this is a key tool that will allow us, once it’s fully operational, gradually to reduce some of the other onerous things for the whole country. But these people have to do this for all of us. It’s for all of our benefits. They’re doing it to protect their neighbors, their friends, and their colleagues.
Boris Johnson: (36:54)
Isn’t it also right to say, Chris, that you can have the virus and not have symptoms, but also continue to test negative for the virus?
Chris Whitty: (37:07)
So it is this case that you can have the virus in the incubation period. This is the period between catching it and first displaying symptoms. And indeed first having the virus, there’s a period of time, and if you do a test in that period of time, it will be negative, correct negative, and you’ll then go on to become infectious and go on to infect other people. So that’s a very key point about the testing.
Boris Johnson: (37:33)
Thanks very much, Sam. Can we go to Jonathan Reilly from the Sun, please?
Jonathan Reilly: (37:38)
Good afternoon, Prime Minister. Now that households can travel across the country to meet members of their family, how long can they stay there? And can we say stay over our parents’ house if we say camped in the garden? And are we able to say nip inside to use the loo? And when will we be able to hug our close family again? And secondly, to the scientists, Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick, would you advise motorists to go on a 60 mile round trip to test their eyesight?
Boris Johnson: (38:10)
Right. Jonathan, look, first of all, we’re not there yet. And it’s very, very important that people understand the really limited nature of what we’re saying. We do want people to be able to see their friends and family. We do want people to be able to see two grandparents at once, but it’s got to be socially distant. There’s got to be a maximum of six people. And no we don’t want people to stay overnight. And we don’t want people to go to other households and stay there. I’m just afraid we’re not at that stage. What you certainly can imagine is that there could be meetings of families in a garden, or you could even have a barbecue provided you did in a socially distanced way, provided everybody washes their hands, provided everybody exercises common sense, but-
Boris Johnson: (39:03)
… that’s provided everybody exercises common sense, but I’m grateful to you, Jonathan, for asking the question, because this is a limited step forward. We hope that people will take advantage of it and enjoy the opportunity to see friends and family a bit more, but we’re not saying that people should now be allowed to move freely across the country and stay in other people’s houses. That is not where we are yet. Chris, do you want to [crosstalk 00:39:32]?
Just to reinforce the point, which I think everybody knows, but it’s worth reinforcing. The two ways you get infections are droplets from someone coughing or speaking around you, it and that’s why you need to keep the two meters. And the second is through your hands. And that’s why, just to take the example that you raised and the example the prime minister raised, if someone was to go into the loo because they had to do that, to the toilet, they had to do that, absolutely critical that they wipe everything down, wash their hands all the way through.
And secondly, if you were to do something like a barbecue, remember that passing things from one person to another, if you haven’t washed your hands, you can transmit the virus that way. So it is the hands, as well as the distance are absolutely critical to this.
Boris Johnson: (40:18)
Patrick, anything to add on …
Boris Johnson: (40:19)
… barbecues or anything else? If you’re going to do things like that, it’s got to be incredibly scrupulous and careful. Otherwise, really, we risk just transmitting that disease again. And we don’t want that. Adam Vaughn from the New Scientist, please.
Adam Vaughn: (40:38)
Hi. The U.K. likely has more than 9,000 new cases a day, according to the Symptom Tracker app, that’s being run by Kings College, London, which is obviously much higher than the official 2,300 a day. 25,000 contact tracers sounds like a lot, but given they’re part time, I wonder, do they really have the capacity to trace all the contacts of those people? And the question for the CSA and the CMO, considering possible contacts will be asked to look out for symptoms, wanted to ask, why is the U.K. still only listing three? The Symptoms Tracker has 17, and in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control has 11. So it strikes me we might be missing quite a lot of potential spread by not listing more.
Boris Johnson: (41:20)
I thought we were lifting more, but anyway. I’m sorry. Well, mind, there are 25,000 trackers, as far as I know, not 2,500, but Patrick, do you want to …
Well, I’ll comment on the numbers. As I said in my presentation, actually, if you look at the ONS survey, I think the numbers of new cases is closer to 8,000 or so, or as the King’s app said, 9,000 per day. And it’s always been the case, and I’ve been very clear when I’ve presented the slides of the numbers testing positive on the test, that’s clearly not the whole number. I mean, there are people that you’re not picking up and that’s what that discrepancy tells you.
So the big challenge is to make sure that that gap closes and you end up picking up more and more and more of the cases that are out there and quickly isolate the contacts of those cases so that we have an effective system. And making sure that that system is effective and that it does identify the cases quickly, and the contacts go into isolation quickly, and that means ideally within 48 hours.
That’s the way in which we start to get an effective system. And you’re quite right that the system is under much more pressure the higher the numbers. So it’s much easier to run that system when you have very low incidents in a country, than when you have higher numbers. So it’s going to be more difficult at the beginning. And as numbers come down, it becomes easier.
So I add on the other one, which is the list of symptoms. So I think the thing to understand with this is that the point of having these symptoms that people can remember, the key thing is the fever, the new cough, and the loss or change of smell or taste, those ones that we really want to emphasize to the general public is there are many other symptoms that you can get with coronavirus.
It is a virus that can affect very many parts of the body, but if, for example, all the people who have one of the other symptoms always also have fever, there is no advantage to adding that to the list of things we’re talking about. And what we did, very able colleagues of mine, clinical public health and science colleagues did, is they looked at all the early cases of this virus in the U.K., also looked at the international literature, and looked at all the symptoms were there and asked the question, Are there people who they have none of, initially the two symptoms, fever and cough, and subsequently none of the other symptoms?
And what we found is all the other symptoms tended to have one of, or more than one of, those three symptoms. So therefore, the sensitivity of this is good. The specificity is reasonable, which is why you then need to do a test. So the reason for this is you look at a symptom cluster that predicts, with a high degree of sensitivity, but a low degree of specificity, what they are. You accept that.
For a doctor asking a history, there’s a much longer list of symptoms to talk about, but for the key, for the great, great majority, over, probably over 95%, of people who have got coronavirus with symptoms will have one or one of those three, and it’s or or not and. You can have any one of them and then you get tested.
Boris Johnson: (44:44)
Thanks very much, Adam. Can we get lastly to Sam McBride from Belfast Newsletter?
Sam McBride: (44:51)
Can I ask Sir Patrick and Professor Whittey, first of all, we’ve been told today here in Northern Ireland that the R number has been increasing and it’s barely beneath one night. Should people be necessarily alarmed by that? Or could that be due to an increase in testing or some other change to the methodology in how that figure is being calculated?
Sam McBride: (45:10)
To the prime minister, we knew that you’re not going to sack Dominic Cummings, and we knew that he is not going to take what many of your party colleagues believe would be the honorable course of resigning, but given that lives are at stake, if the public health advice here becomes basically bastardized by the actions of Mr. Cummings, can you bring yourself to even utter any words of criticism of how he has acted, given the gravity of the implications of what has happened here?
Boris Johnson: (45:37)
Does anybody want to begin with the R in Northern? As far I know, it’s sort of …
I mean, the R remains below one everywhere, but you’re quite right. It’s very close to one in some places, and there may be both in terms of nations, but also in terms of places within those nations, there may be areas where the R is very close to one. And that’s why, as I laid out, we’ve got to be very cautious. This is not a time to say everything’s okay, we’re releasing measures, everything’s going to be rosy.
It’s a time to go very cautiously with changes as they take place, monitored very carefully, being prepared that there will be local outbreaks, because there will be, and being prepared that therefore recommendations would come to reimpose measures. And I think that’s the world we’re in. And, as I’ve just described, the numbers of cases remains high. It’s not a low number.
So if the R is one, those numbers stay at that high level. Whereas of course, what we’ve got to do is get them down. So we need to keep concentrating on our below one. That means making sure that the measures that are in place are adhered to, and that we all stick with them to make sure that the right thing is done, and that the numbers come down, and that we end up in a position where we can get the numbers down and the R down a bit, but we’re at a fragile state.
Boris Johnson: (47:11)
Sam, I want to echo that point entirely and just say that the crucial message that I want to give to you is the British people have made heroic sacrifices. Everybody has taken steps to make sure that we get this all done, drive down the number of infections, and no, Sam, I don’t think that people will respond differently. I think people will listen very carefully to what the messages are. I think you’ve heard very clearly tonight from Sir Patrick, from Chris, about the way forward that we’re taking.
Boris Johnson: (47:46)
Everybody can see that we’re taking some small tentative steps forward in education, in business, and a little bit to allow people to meet their families and their friends again. But all of that is conditional progress, and it’s conditional on our continued determination to work to stay alert, to control the virus, and to save lives. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
Speaker 7: (48:22)
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