Apr 12, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript April 12
British officials gave an Easter coronavirus briefing transcript April 12. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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Matt Hancock: (00:01)
Thanks Jess. Good afternoon and welcome back to Downing Street for today’s daily Coronavirus briefing. I’m joined today by Dr. Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England and before I outline the latest on Coronavirus and the work that we’re doing as a government to tackle it, I wanted briefly to update you about the prime minister’s condition. It’s great news that the prime minister has been discharged from hospital and is now continuing his recovery at Chequers. I hope everyone has seen his message of love and thanks to all those who’ve supported his recovery and to the NHS colleagues who’ve cared for him so brilliantly at St. Thomas’ Hospital. I know that they have cared for him as they would care for anybody in this country and it’s one of the things that makes me so proud that the NHS is there for us all and can give its very best to every single person and has been able to throughout this crisis.
Matt Hancock: (01:11)
I know that all of his thoughts are with those affected by this illness and of course the government is working constantly through our Coronavirus Action Plan and the aim is to protect life and to protect the NHS both by slowing the spread of the virus to flatten the curve and by ensuring that the NHS is always there for you and always has more than enough capacity to meet the demands that are placed on it. Today marks a somber day in the impact of this disease as we join the list of countries who have seen more than 10,000 deaths related to Coronavirus. The fact that over 10,000 people have now lost their lives to this invisible killer demonstrates just how serious Coronavirus is and why the national effort that everyone is engaged in is so important. According to the most recent figures, 282,374 people have now been tested for Coronavirus, 84,279 have tested positive.
Matt Hancock: (02:26)
Across Great Britain, the number of people admitted to hospital with Coronavirus symptoms is now 19,945 and of those who’ve contracted the virus, 10,612 have tragically died. Our sincere condolences are with all of them, with their families, their friends, their grief is our grief and their stories will not be forgotten. On Friday, I said that staying at this Easter weekend would be a major test of the nation’s resolve and I’m pleased to say that the nation is rising to this challenge. I know that for some people this has been extra tough. If you’re at home with the children, if you can’t visit relatives because they’re shielding, if you’re unable to go to church on this most important day for Christians, your steadfast commitment to following the social distancing rules is making a difference. Thank you for the part that you are playing in helping to protect lives at this critical time in our nation’s history.
Matt Hancock: (03:46)
But we cannot be complacent, not when there’s so much at stake. So please keep going. Stay home, protect the NHS and save lives. Today, I want to provide an update on the work we’re doing to slow the spread of the virus and to build capacity. The latest figures show that in Great Britain we have 2,295 spare critical-care beds up 150 from yesterday. So, throughout this crisis, with all the challenges that we’ve been dealing with, all the operational difficulties and all of the logistics, we have always been able to provide the very best of care to everybody who needs it through the NHS. At the start of this crisis, people said that the NHS would be overwhelmed and we’ve seen that and we’ve seen the risk of that elsewhere, but not here. And that is because of the action that a huge number of people have taken, the incredible work of so many. There is more spare capacity now for critical care than there was when Coronavirus first hit our shores. And this is before the Nightingale Hospitals come on stream, London’s opened and we’re already in the process of building six more around England.
Matt Hancock: (05:09)
This critical expansion is partly because we have a record number of ventilators, 9,775 and partly because we have record numbers of returners coming back and rejoining the NHS. Over 5,000 former staff are now back on the NHS front line and over 36,000 have come forward to enlist. And this bolstered capacity has been backed by substantial financial support. As the chancellor has said, whatever our NHS and vital public services need during this time, they will have. But of course there’s always more that must be done. So we’re increasing the amount of PPE and I’m glad to say that there are now record amounts in the system and we need the right amounts of medicine too. And I can assure everyone that we’re working very closely with the pharmaceutical supply chain and hospital pharmacies so that the right medicines are there to treat people. And I’m glad to see the reassurances that have been provided today that everybody can have the medicines they need in order to get the care that they need.
Matt Hancock: (06:25)
And when we debate the operational challenges we face, I want to be transparent about every single one. Let us not forget that the core measure of NHS capacity, which is what matters to you when you or one of your loved ones needs it, is whether you can get the best care if you catch Coronavirus. On that we are succeeding and in fact succeeding more with each passing day. I also wanted to provide a brief update on this work on personal protective equipment, which is so important for NHS social care staff. I pay tribute to our health and care staff who this weekend, just like every weekend or giving the very best possible care. On Thursday on streets, front doors and balconies up and down the country, we’ve seen the esteem with which the whole nation holds our carers, the people who make the NHS and social care what it is and we owe it to them to get them the equipment that they need.
Matt Hancock: (07:21)
On Friday we published a comprehensive PPE plan, which is based on everyone using the right PPE according to the agreed guidelines and daily we’re delivering millions of items to the front line. Now I know that there’ve been questions also about gowns. In the last two days, 121,000 gowns have been delivered around the country and more are going out today and in the week to come. So we’re working very hard to resolve all of these individual logistical challenges. It’s worth saying that the average time for dealing with PPE queries has gone down from six days in March to an average of two and a half days over the past week. And since we published the plan last week, I’m delighted that the sheer number of businesses that have come forward to help with our PPE effort even over the bank holiday weekend.
Matt Hancock: (08:11)
Thank you to all of you and to all those who are involved in this enormous herculean effort on PPE and I know that we’ll see many more businesses coming forward and I look forward to it. Testing of course has a huge role in our response and we have discussed repeatedly testing at these press conferences. I’m pleased to say that 42,812 NHS and social care staff and their families have now been tested. And as we ramp up our ability to test in large numbers, we also need to make sure we have the ability to trace contacts just as effectively. And so today I wanted to outline the next step, a new NHS app for contact tracing. If you become unwell with the symptoms of Coronavirus, you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then-
Matt Hancock: (09:03)
New NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days even before you had symptoms, so that they know and can act accordingly. All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards and would only be used for NHS care and research and we won’t hold it any longer than it’s needed. And as part of our commitment to transparency, we’ll be publishing the source code too. We’re already testing this app and as we do this, we’re working closely with the world’s leading tech companies and renowned experts in clinical safety and digital ethics so that we can get this right. I want to thank all of these world-leading experts who’ve been involved. The more people who get involved, then the better informed our response to Coronavirus will be and the better we can protect the NHS. Her Majesty The Queen spoke for all of us as she so often does when she said that Easter is not canceled and that we need it now more than ever. This is an uncertain Easter for so many people. At a time when we normally come physically together, we must stay apart. It runs counter to every human instinct and every intuition that we possess but we must persevere. Because if we follow the rules and slow the spread of the virus, then each new day will bring us closer to normal life. And we can enjoy Easters to come, safe in the knowledge that when it mattered, we did our bit and rose to the challenge. And we put our loved ones, we put our NHS staff, and we put our local communities first. So please, this Easter, stay home, protect the NHS and save lives. I’m now going to hand over to Yvonne to take us through the charts and the information.
Yvonne Doyle: (11:07)
Thank you, Secretary of State. We have four charts to show today. And the first one is on the use of transport. And on this slide you can see that all forms of transport have reduced greatly, particularly rail and tube, but also motor vehicles have declined recently as well. Thank you. Could I have the next slide? This slide tells us about the new UK cases and we can see here on the 12th of April that we have had four and a half thousand cases done through our NHS and public health England offer of testing.
Yvonne Doyle: (11:49)
And now coming on stream increasingly is the drive-through testing of key workers and the NHS stuff. And that is bringing us in now at 838 yesterday, and today, at 838, so an increasing enhancement of the testing capacity. And then on the next slide we can see the slide about people in hospital beds with COVID-19 and here we can see the trend has been increasing for London, but now we’re beginning to see London stabilizing, dipping, rising, dipping again, so probably a more stable pattern for London.
Yvonne Doyle: (12:34)
But on the other hand, for Great Britain, we do see other regions now beginning to increase, particularly the Northwest and the Yorkshire area as well and the Northeast. So it is very important that the message about staying at home and social distancing is adhered to because we are certainly not past this virus damage yet. And then finally on the final slide we have the global death comparisons and here we can see where the UK is. It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s tracking France. It’s looking close to the Italian trend at the moment. But this is still early days, we would stress, in understanding deaths and we can see where other countries have higher increases in their deaths at the moment. So those are our four slides. Thank you very much.
Matt Hancock: (13:29)
Thanks very much indeed, Yvonne. And if we go to the BBC, we’ve got David Shukman.
David Shukman: (13:36)
Health Secretary, thank you very much indeed. If I may ask about on this day that we passed this very somber milestone, as you put it, of 10,000 deaths, what is your reaction to the comments of one of your own advisors, Sir Jeremy Ferrar, a renowned international expert on infectious diseases, that the UK may be on course for the worst outcome in terms of death toll in Europe.
Matt Hancock: (14:03)
Well, I think that that sort of comment merely reinforces the importance of the central message, which is that people should stay at home because that protects the NHS and saves lives. We get advice from all sorts of experts and we take it all very seriously and we assess it throughout. Now the future of this virus is unknowable as yet because it depends on the behavior of millions of people and the Great British public.
Matt Hancock: (14:40)
The good news is that so far we have managed to start to see a flattening of the curve because people are following the social distancing measures by and large. And also that the core goal of making sure that NHS capacity is always above the demand for NHS services has been achieved. So I think especially at moments like this, when we have reached this terrible marker, we are thankfully in a position where we are able to support everybody who needs it in the NHS. And we’re able to see the curve starting to come down. Yvonne, I don’t know. On the international comparisons, of course different countries are different size so you need to make sure you get the statistics right in that.
Yvonne Doyle: (15:35)
Absolutely. And could I say, every one of these 10,000 and more deaths is an absolute tragedy from a virus we didn’t know about some time ago. But when you get down to the statistics, it does depend on how people measure this. There are time lags in the deaths. And I would stress particularly it is early days because patterns that we saw perhaps in countries earlier in this may change and we’re beginning to see that internationally.
Matt Hancock: (16:04)
Thanks very much, David, unless you want to follow up.
David Shukman: (16:07)
Yes, if I could ask you about PPE. At the briefing given yesterday with your colleague, the Home Secretary, I asked whether it was possible for her on behalf of the government to give a commitment to a date by when deliveries of PPE would match what’s needed on the front line. Because every day we get messages from health care workers and others saying they simply don’t have what’s needed.
Matt Hancock: (16:33)
The answer is that it’s impossible because the quest is to get the right PPE to the right people on the front line at the right time, across many millions of people across the NHS and social care. And I’m glad to say that that effort is moving in the right direction. We now have records amounts of PPE that’s been put out into the system, but until everybody gets the PPE that they need, then we won’t rest. We have thousands of people working 24/7 on this, including over this bank holiday weekend because the need and the demand for PPE doesn’t stop either.
Matt Hancock: (17:19)
So it’s an enormous effort and I want to actually go out of my way to thank the procurement experts that we’ve got in the system. They don’t often get thanks, the procurement experts, because they’re not on the front line, but by God do we need them to make sure that we can get all that PPE. And as I mentioned with gowns, which is currently the item that’s most in need, that we’ve been making some progress over the weekend with more to come next week. Thanks, David. I’ve got Martha Farley from ITV.
Martha Farley: (17:55)
Thank you, Health Secretary. A question to you if I may. The Royal College of Nursing has issued new guidance to its members, telling them that if they haven’t been given.
Martha Farley: (18:03)
… to its members, telling them that if they haven’t been given the appropriate PPE and that there’s no other way of treating a patient without reducing risk, then they should refuse to work rather than compromising their own safety. Will you apologize to the nurses and indeed the other medical and health care workers who are being put in that impossible position of having to make a decision between whether to offer treatment to a patient or to protect their own personal safety?
Matt Hancock: (18:29)
Well, Martha, as I said in the previous answer, we’re working night and day to make sure that we get the right PPE. And actually, the thing I want to do is pay tribute to the unbelievable efforts of a huge number of people to get to the position where we are in now, which as I said in my opening remarks, is improving, but we won’t rest until we get there. So I work closely with the Royal College of Nursing on these matters and on other things. In fact, I was in contact with them only earlier today because it’s so important that we get this right. Nick Martin from Sky.
Nick Martin: (19:12)
Very good afternoon. A question first to the Secretary of State and then Yvonne Doyle, if I may. Secretary of State, you paint a relatively positive picture of where we are at the moment, but there is a very different picture being painted within our care and nursing homes.
Nick Martin: (19:33)
I spent a full day in a nursing home the other day, which a full floor had been devoted to elderly patients suffering from coronavirus, and I witnessed flimsy PPE, overstretched staff, a lot of illness, and unfortunately some death of some of the residents.
Nick Martin: (19:54)
And what’s been coming back from what I witnessed from the care sector is that they are crying out for tests. Homeowners have been telling me that they’re not getting regular tests for staff and residents, but crucially for those being transferred from hospitals, to the care sector and that they are operating in the dark.
Nick Martin: (20:16)
And I’ll tell you if my inbox is anything to go by today, the care sector is watching this right now and is desperate for you to tell them that they will get regular tests so they can end this lottery. Can you give that guarantee to them?
Matt Hancock: (20:30)
Yes I can, Nick. That is coming. And last week we were able to open up testing to staff in care homes, and throughout this there’s been the availability of testing on a clinical basis within care homes, as you mentioned. And this is an area of incredibly high importance because, precisely as you’ve seen, some of the most vulnerable people live in care homes and especially in nursing homes.
Matt Hancock: (20:59)
And therefore, getting this right is just, is so important. So I think one of the things that we’ve succeeded in doing as a country during this crisis is recognizing that our care staff are on the front line just as much as our NHS staff are, and making sure that we expand that testing capability both to staff and to residents, including this very difficult issue of patients leaving hospital. We are addressing that and I think that the issues that you raise are incredibly important. Thank you. And John Stevens from The Mail.
Nick Martin: (21:38)
Can I just follow that question up?
Matt Hancock: (21:39)
Yes, of course. John, if you don’t mind, we’ll go back to Nick.
Nick Martin: (21:42)
The care operators are telling me that they need this now or tomorrow. What’s the timescale that you can arrange for regular widespread tests to get into care homes? How long will they have to wait for these tests?
Matt Hancock: (21:58)
Yes, so for the staff, as I said, we have made that change already at the end of last week, and I announced it on Friday. And therefore, we’re rolling that out right now. And for the residents, the testing’s been available throughout, but we also, we always constantly keep under review the protocols for the transfer of people between hospitals and social care, which is a very nuanced and complicated area, where the most important thing is that the interests of the patient are put first. Yvonne, did you want to add anything on that?
I think Nick might have had a question. Nick?
Nick Martin: (22:42)
… speak now. Are you satisfied that care homes have enough support?
Matt Hancock: (22:47)
Well, I’m constantly trying to get more support to them is the honest truth, and of course making sure, for instance, that the testing is available. I was very glad that we were able to roll that out to testing staff and you’ll have seen the sharp increase in the number of tests that are available.
Happy to add to that, I think. I think you might’ve had a question, but let me say this is very much on our radar as well. We’re very aware through our local health protection teams and our connections with our local directors of public health and through the local resilience [fora 00:23:17] about the care homes.
We profile them now in a way that perhaps was never done before and this is very valuable for us going forward as a country that we have a truly integrated approach to care and yes, testing does occur in the nursing homes, but we have more to do, nursing and care homes. We understand there is much more to do here to get to every last quarter where there is anxiety, where the most vulnerable are, and our guidance has taken account of this to simplify what people actually need at the front line in that sector.
Matt Hancock: (23:52)
Anything more, Nick?
Nick Martin: (23:54)
No. Thank you very much.
Matt Hancock: (23:56)
John Stevens at The Mail.
John Stevens: (23:59)
Thank you, House Secretary. Do you have updated figures on the number of NHS workers who have died after getting coronavirus and what are you doing to establish the reasons why?
Matt Hancock: (24:09)
Yes. This is a really important question, and I don’t have an update on the figure of 19 NHS staff who’ve died that I gave yesterday, but what I can tell you is that we are looking into each circumstance to understand as much as is possible how they caught the virus, whether that was at work, outside of work, and the clinical setting that they were working in, and making sure that we learn as much as we possibly can and therefore of course protect our health workers as much as possible. Yvonne.
Thank you, Secretary of State. This is of great importance scientifically as well, that we understand why infections occur in hospitals across healthcare staff and what the avoidable factors in that might be. And that is something that is under investigation at the moment.
Matt Hancock: (25:07)
I mean, I would say, John, that the people who go into the NHS, as the prime minister so movingly said in his words in the video that he recorded this morning that I hope you’ve seen, the admiration for those who put themselves in harm’s way is incredibly high. They’re unbelievable. And therefore, it’s of course, incumbent on us to make sure that we get to the bottom of each and individual case and learn everything we can so that we can better protect people in the future, and so that we can give a full account to the family and loved ones of each member of the NHS family who’s died.
John Stevens: (25:56)
Can I just ask a quick follow up?
Matt Hancock: (25:56)
Yes, of course, yeah.
John Stevens: (25:58)
I wanted to ask on the prime minister, if you know if he’s been given advice and how long he should rest for before he returns to work?
Matt Hancock: (26:05)
He is resting. He’s at Checkers, and I’m delighted that he’s out of hospital and has recovered, but there isn’t any advice on how long. That’ll be a clinical decision for his doctors to take with him. The government is operating perfectly efficiently within the strategy that he set out. Nicola Bartlett from The Mirror.
Nicola Bartlett: (26:33)
Secretary of State, you’ve talked about a reduction in the time that it’s taken to get PPE to those places that need it down to two and a half days. I wanted to ask you if that is an acceptable time during which the NHS staff that you’ve just praised will be putting themselves in harm’s way while treating patients?
Matt Hancock: (26:54)
Thanks for the question. Just to be clear, the two and a half days is the time taken to fulfill a …
Matt Hancock: (27:03)
It is the time taken to fulfill a query. So we have a 24/7 hotline for all of the 58,000 locations that we now need to get PPE to, and that they can call when they’ve got a need. And the two and a half days is not necessarily, or particularly a time to wait for PPE without any, because many of the times that people call that hotline, they call saying, “We’ll run out by the end of the week,” for instance. The more urgent cases where the shortage is more acute, we act on immediately, so the two and a half days is an average and so it shouldn’t be interpreted that people are waiting for two and a half days, that’s not the measure.
Matt Hancock: (27:48)
The reason the measure is important is because it’s the way of tracking how quickly we’re able to go from somebody raising an alarm on that phone number, which is there so that anybody in the system, in an organization that receives protective equipment from us can then get the protective equipment, and it’s a measure of how fast the system can respond. And the challenge of getting protective equipment to every single person is very complicated and so you have to have measures of how we’re progressing against that. Because my ultimate goal, making sure everybody has it at every moment that they need, is one that we are driving hard at, but we’ve got to be able to measure the progress on the way.
Speaker 3: (28:38)
And just on that point, Mr. Hancock, we’ve known about the dangers of this virus for many months now and that it was likely that the UK would have to respond to this challenge. Were we too late in putting in the orders and putting some of these measures in place to get that vital equipment to people? Because other countries have managed to protect their staff in a way that we don’t seem to have been able to do.
Matt Hancock: (29:02)
Well. I think that’s … I don’t quite agree with that. Firstly, when I talk to my colleagues across the world, we share this challenge. And the reason is that we have the stockpiles, we went into this with the stockpiles and the challenge is a logistical one of having previously had an organization that serves just over 200 NHS organizations. The demand for PH and the need for it has gone up enormously, and there’s now 58,000 organizations that this huge logistical operation services. And so it’s been a challenge of logistics as much as one of supply, and that’s what the PPE plan that I set out on Friday goes into detail of, to explain the challenges in that distribution. But also we, at the same time, of course, have got to replenish the stockpiles that we went into this with. So we did actually go in with some quite significant stockpiles, but of course, given the sheer quantities that we’re distributing across the system, we’re using those stockpiles up and we need to replenish them as well.
Matt Hancock: (30:18)
Arj Singh from the HuffPost.
Arj Singh: (30:22)
Good afternoon. The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, was happy to go on record last month to say the 20,000 deaths or fewer would be in his words, “A good outcome for the UK.” Given that we’ve now hit 10,000, can we still achieve that good outcome?
Matt Hancock: (30:39)
Well that’s … The best way, I’m going to ask Yvonne to come in on this, but I think the thing that I’d say the best way to respond to the question is to say that the future path of this pandemic in this country is determined by how people act. And that’s why it’s so important that people follow the social distancing guidelines. And I know that we sometimes repeat this message, but we repeat it for a reason because it’s so important.
Matt Hancock: (31:09)
The twin goals of having the social distancing guidelines followed so that we reduce the spread of the virus and at the same time making sure that the NHS capacity is always there to treat people, these are the most important measures that we’ve got. And for discussion about PPE is important and discussion about gowns and medicine shortages, all of these things are important, but the capacity of the NHS to treat every single person and the behavior of everyone in this country to do their bit to flatten the curve are the most important things that we can possibly be doing. And so predictions are not possible, precisely because they depend on the behavior of the British people and I’m really glad that at the moment the British people this weekend are doing their bit. Yvonne?
Yvonne Doyle: (32:06)
Thank you, Secretary of State. And I would absolutely agree with this, because just as we’re learning about the virus and its behavior, we’re learning about deaths and why deaths are occurring in the way that they are, and can we actually do anything more than we’re doing? And at the moment, at this stage of this epidemic, by far the most important thing to do is exactly what we’re doing, which is social distancing, breaking the chain of transmission and shielding the most vulnerable, which is an absolutely crucial element of this. And we are watching that day by day, sometimes many times a day including what is happening with deaths. So that’s what we need to do for some time to come.
Matt Hancock: (32:54)
Thanks very much, Arj. Jill Lawless from the AP.
Jill Lawless: (32:54)
Thank you very much, Mr. Hancock. You and the Prime Minister, today have both been paying tribute to people who work in the NHS and you both highlighted in particular, those who come from overseas. I mean, do you think that when this crisis is over, the government should be asking itself whether it has the right policies, both in terms of funding and organizing the NHS and also in terms of immigration? Because we’ve seen an awful lot of people that work in health care and social care and do vital jobs, have been classed as low skilled workers and told they’re not a priority.
Matt Hancock: (33:25)
Well, I’m not sure about that. Firstly, we brought in the NHS Visa precisely to be able to attract people from around the world to work in the NHS. Now, I’m incredibly proud of the people who’ve come to this country to work in the NHS. And you’re right, yesterday I highlighted the fact that, tragically, a disproportionate number of those in the NHS who’ve died are people who came to make their lives here and to work in the NHS and have given their lives working in the NHS, and I pay tribute to them and I want to acknowledge that. But I would say that in terms of immigration policy, the NHS Visa is precisely a reflection of our respect for, and an admiration of those who’ve come from overseas to work in the NHS. And on the support for unfunding of the NHS, I’m also delighted that we went into this crisis with record numbers of people and record funding in the NHS.
Matt Hancock: (34:29)
But there’s no doubt that afterwards, of course, everybody’s going to ask all sorts of questions and will reflect on that. But I think that it’s fair to say that my admiration for those who work in the NHS, whether they come from overseas or whether they were born here, it doesn’t matter, my admiration for them is unparalleled. And I think that at this moment, the fact that it’s so obvious to them that the nation really values their work, from the Prime Minister down, if you saw his message. I think that is the most important message we can give them as they take the brave steps as they do each day of going into work to tackle the virus.
Matt Hancock: (35:19)
Thanks very much indeed, that concludes today’s Downing Street briefing and we’ll no doubt see you all again tomorrow.
Speaker 4: (35:35)
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