Apr 21, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript April 21
British officials gave a coronavirus briefing transcript April 21. UK official Matt Hancock led the briefing, and said a human clinical trial for a vaccine is starting Thursday. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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Matt Hancock: (06:29)
Good afternoon, and welcome to the Downing Street coronavirus daily briefing. I’m joined by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Van-Tam and by Professor John Newton. At the heart of our plan, is ensuring that NHS capacity is always ahead of need. This means that if you or someone you love needs hospital care with COVID-19, then you’ll always get that care. If God forbid you need care in an intensive care unit, then you will have that bed and the life-saving equipment and team that you need. The latest figures show another record high of 2,963 spare critical care beds available across the NHS. We said at the start of this, that our primary goal in our battle plan, was to slow the spread and protect the NHS by flattening the curve and increasing capacity. That plan is working. At no point in this crisis has anyone who could benefit from critical care been denied that care, because there weren’t enough staff or beds or ventilators to treat them. But there is much further to go.
Matt Hancock: (07:51)
On the most recent figures, 535,342 tests have now been carried out in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland. Of these, 129,044 have tested positive. The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 symptoms, is now down to 17,681. 17,366 people, have sadly died in hospital, which is an increase of 852. This number is another salutary lesson, and it tells us of the deadly nature of this virus. We owe it to them and to ourselves not to throw away the progress we’ve made so far. We have been clear that we will not risk lives by relaxing the social distancing rules before our five tests have been met. First, that the NHS can continue to cope. Second, that the operational challenges commitment. Third, that the daily death rate falls sustainably and consistently. Fourth, that the rate of infection is decreasing. And most importantly, that there is no risk of a second peak. I now want to update you on two specific areas of huge importance. First, PPE.
Matt Hancock: (09:26)
Protective equipment delivery, is an operation of unprecedented scale and complexity. Since the start of the crisis, we’ve now delivered over a billion items of PPE. We start… We’re constantly working to improve that delivery system, buying PPE for a brand around the world and working to make more here at home. We have a diverse range of suppliers and we’re working day and night to expand that supply base. We’re in direct talks with the factories that actually produce the PPE and the fabric that it’s made of. This is proved one of the most fruitful avenues, and I want to especially thank my foreign office and DIT colleagues, especially in China, for the incredible work making these connections. I also want to thank the enormous response we’ve had from our appeal for companies to come forward to help replenish stocks. As of yesterday, we’ve had 8,331 offers of PPE equipment, and we’re investigating each and every one of those many leads. Now of course, some of these leads have led to very large scale purchases of many millions of items. But the reality is that, not each of them… Not everyone who approaches us, can deliver on their offers in scale. I’m very grateful to all those who have come forward. And we are now actively engaged with thousands of these companies, and I can announce that we’re working with 159 potential UK manufacturers which are starting to come on stream. I’ve said many times that I am determined to get people the PPE that they need. This is a 24/7 operation. It’s one of the biggest cross government operations I’ve ever seen. And I’m grateful to colleagues from the NHS, from Public Health England, the Crown Commercial Service, Cabinet Office, Communities Department, the Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces, the Devolved Administrations, and the territorial offices, the Business Department, the treasury, the foreign office, and the Department for International Trade, for their enormous hard work on this. And I’m also very grateful to Lord Deighton, who delivered The Olympics, for stepping forward to lead this national effort and deliver once again for his country.
Matt Hancock: (11:47)
The second area I want to talk about, is the vaccines. In the long run, the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine. After all, this is a new disease. This is uncertain science, but I’m certain that we will throw everything we’ve got at developing a vaccine. The UK is at the forefront of the global effort. We’ve put more money than any other country into the global search for a vaccine. And for all the efforts around the world, two of the leading vaccine developments, are taking place here at home at Oxford and Imperial. Both of these promising projects are making rapid progress. And I’ve told the scientists leading them that we’ll do everything in our power to support. First, I’m today making £22.5 million available to the Imperial Project to support their phase two clinical trials, which are going to assess a sample of several thousand and for them to begin the work on subsequently a very large phase three trial.
Matt Hancock: (12:57)
Second, I’m today making available £20 million to the Oxford team to fund their clinical trials. The team have accelerated that trials process, working with the regulator, the MHRA, who have been absolutely brilliant. And as a result, I can announce that the vaccine from the Oxford project will be trialed in people from this Thursday. In normal times, reaching this stage would take years. And I’m very proud of the work taken so far. At the same time, we’ll invest in manufacturing capability. So that if either of these vaccines safely works, then we can make it available for the British people as soon as humanly possible. Nothing about this process is certain. Vaccine development is a process of trial and error and trial again, that’s the nature of how vaccines are developed. But I’ve told Sarah Gilbert and Robin Shattock…
Matt Hancock: (14:03)
But, told Sara Gilbert and Robyn Shattuck, two of our most inspiring scientists that we are going to back then to the hilt and give them every resource that they need to get the best possible chance of success as soon as possible. After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it. Coronavirus is a powerful enemy, but I believe that the power of human ingenuity is stronger. Every day the science gets better. We gather more information, we understand more about how to defeat the virus. But in the meantime there’s one thing that you can do and that is to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives. Thank you very much. I’m now going to ask Professor Van-Tam take us through the daily statistics.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (15:04)
Thank you, Secretary of State. I’ll begin with a slide that you’ve seen many times before. I don’t apologize for showing it again. It is important that we continue to monitor the extent to which the British people are following the social distancing advice and in this case, referring to the slide, not traveling. And you can see a range of indicators there from all private motor vehicles, through buses and tubes in London, through to buses and national rail in the whole of the UK. And you can see a very clear prolongation of these low trends of usage compared to where we were in the middle of March. This is a good sign. It shows that we are continuing to follow the advice given to us by the government, and that in doing so, we will get on top of the current wave of the coronavirus threat and we will begin to turn the curve. Next slide, please.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (16:12)
This next slide, again you have seen before, shows the new cases diagnosed in the UK. The dates along the bottom of the slide … for that individual work completed. And you can see of course that there is some day-to-day variation, but the numbers have remained high and it isn’t clear that there is an enormous downturn at this point, so the numbers are varying day-to-day, but they remain high and we remain in a situation of danger that we must take very seriously indeed. You will see as the slide progresses from left to right, the proportion of orange beginning to show greater and greater. This is a distinction between the NHS and Public Health England, capacity and testing in blue, and the coming on stream of commercial testing to supplement that as time goes by across the slide. Next slide, please.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (17:19)
Now, this is a very important slide. And of course, refers to total number of people in hospital in Great Britain with COVID-19. And you can see a variety of curves here from the top one, referring to London, through the other curves referring to the different regions of England, Scotland, Wales. And what you can see is that there, in terms of the number of people in hospital, there has been a peak in London. It was probably around the 10th of April, that kind of date. And since then there has been a decline. But in the other parts of the graph, that is to say Scotland, Wales, and the other regions in England, I suggest to you that there is rather more of a plateau than anything else at this point in time.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (18:14)
It is not absolutely clear that there have been peaks, nor is it absolutely clear that the number of cases is dropping in the same way that we can illustrate it on the slide for London. So again, this is important. It shows the regional variations in how the virus has been affecting the UK. It shows that we are not out of danger at this point. And that the curve is flat, but not very clearly going down in many parts of the country. I’m sure it will go down in the days and weeks that follow, but we must keep pushing on this and we must bend that curve through our actions. Next slide, please. Now, here you see a slide that arrays data by week, on the 20th of March through to the 10th of April. And it shows you, first of all, deaths in hospital from COVID-19, those are the blue columns on the graph. Those are by date of report in the hospital. And the orange bars show the all weekly registered deaths registered to the Office For National Statistics and those are by date of registration. And please be very careful in comparing these statistics, because as you will know, unfortunately if you’ve lost someone, it takes a while for a death certificate to be issued and for that to be registered with the Office For National Statistics. So there is inevitably some difference between those two bars. And we are not comparing apples with apples. We’re comparing apples with pears on this particular slide. But it does, I hope, help you understand the trends in the mortality data and we need to see that turn.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (20:16)
We’ll have to wait a little longer, but we need to see that turn. Thank you. Finally, I will show you a slide I’ve shown you before about global death comparisons. Again, as I’ve said before, the slide is indexed on time 0.0 when a country declares its first 50 cumulative deaths. Now, for almost all of the countries on this slide, the reporting, as in the UK, has been for hospital deaths. And you can see that there are broadly three patterns. The United States on its own, the European countries, other than Germany, in the middle of the pack, and some outliers who’ve had very low rates of death.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (21:12)
On this slide, if you look carefully, you will see a curve for UK hospitals only and a UK all settings, which has lagged further behind. Which includes all of the deaths reported to the ONS. But, you will see that they are on the same trajectory within the same framing of those middle countries. These are important comparisons, but what will be really important in the future, and we do not yet have those data, are international comparisons of excess deaths, particularly across Europe where a pretty standardized methodology is used for counting excess deaths. But, those data take time to assemble and I don’t have them for you today. Thank you, Secretary.
Matt Hancock: (22:00)
Okay, thanks very much indeed, Jonathan. First question is going to be from Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC.
Laura Kuenssberg: (22:09)
Thank you, Secretary of State. Just on PPE, this was declared a pandemic well over a month ago. Why is the government still having to scramble now to get our health workers the equipment they need and allowing UK firms we’ve been hearing from today who could supply British hospitals and care homes to sell their products abroad?
Matt Hancock: (22:29)
Well as you know, Laura, we’ve been pushing at making sure that we get PPE to the front line, to the people who need it since right at the start of this crisis, and especially since the big increase in demand about a month ago. We’ve now shipped over a billion items and we’re also at the same time replenishing the stocks on a 24/7 basis. And I’ve described something of the operation to do that. And we bought a huge proportion of that from overseas, and that will continue to make sure that alongside making more PPE here, we also buy it from the big producers, especially in China. And that’s where the big numbers are. Making sure that we get that PPE into the country, out to the front line where it’s needed.
Laura Kuenssberg: (23:29)
Can I come back in?
Matt Hancock: (23:34)
Laura Kuenssberg: (23:36)
Day after day we’re hearing from people on the front line that they do not have enough. I mean, how do you explain the gap between what you’re saying about getting everything in place and what people who are working on wards or working in care homes are actually experiencing? And why did ministers suggest there was some kind of mix up about not taking part in the EU scheme to get medical kit, when the most senior civil servant of the foreign office said this afternoon, “It was a political decision,” to use his phrase?
Matt Hancock: (24:04)
Well, I haven’t seen that exchange. But, I have spoken to the foreign secretary. And as far as I’m aware, there was no political decision not to participate in that scheme. When we did receive an invitation in the Department of Health, because it came to the Department of Health. It was put up to me to be asked and we joined. So we are now members of that scheme. However, as far as I know, that scheme hasn’t yet delivered a single item of PPE. So I think the most important thing that we concentrate on is what are the offers that can get us the most PPE to be able to get it into the country, to be able to manufacture it here and to be able to then get it out to the front line. And we’re doing everything we possibly can to make that happen. Robert Peston, ITV.
Matt Hancock: (24:59)
You are muted.
Robert Peston: (25:02)
Okay. Can you hear me now?
Matt Hancock: (25:05)
Robert Peston: (25:06)
Good afternoon. Is it correct that you’re not ready to change your advice on the usefulness of the general public in wearing masks because you don’t want to deprive healthcare workers masks? And secondly, you have dramatically increased the capacity to test. We’re up to the capacity of 40,000 a day, but only 20,000 are actually happening. There seems to be a problem of actually carrying out the tests and then delivering the swabs to the labs. We’ve spoken at ITV to care homes who say they are too far from the test centers and they’re not getting enough help when it comes to testing their residents.
Matt Hancock: (25:48)
Yes. Well look, on both points on the use of face masks, we are advised by the science and we’ve been asked this question many times in this form and we listened to what the scientists say. There was a meeting of Sage that I think addressed this question earlier today. I look forward to hearing from that and then to ministers making decisions based on the science, as always. And on the question of tests, I think it’s terrific. I might bring John Newton in, in a minute, but it’s terrific that we have managed to increase capacity to over 39,000 tests a day, which is higher than our planned trajectory. Of course, having excess capacity means that we can then expand who that capacity can be used by. And also exactly as you say, increase the availability to more people, make it easier to access. So one example is that we have introduced home testing where a test can be sent out and taken, and then returned so that the individual doesn’t need to move. And obviously home testing will be particularly helpful to those living in care homes.
Matt Hancock: (27:11)
For whom, exactly as you say, a trip to a drive through testing center might be a difficult thing to do. John.
John Newton: (27:18)
Thank you, Secretary of State. Yes, capacity has gone up dramatically and in fact it’s going to continue going up a lot quite soon. So we can now say we are meeting the requirement in hospitals. We’re also meeting the requirement to test NHS and care staff with the drive-in centers. We’ve tested over 100,000 staff and many of those have gone back to work. And in fact, NHS sickness absent rates are now falling as a result. So, that’s very good news. We’re now progressively expanding the access. So you’re quite right. The drive-in centers are not necessarily ideal for people working in a distributed system like the care sector. Although, access is available in NHS labs and NHS settings, which is very widely distributed, we’re piloting a number of different ways-
John Newton: (28:03)
… which is very widely distributed. We’re piloting a number of different ways of getting tests out to people, both directly sending swabs to care homes, also Secretary of State mentioned testing at home, and also mobile delivery, so there are a number of ways we can get the swabs to the people rather than expecting the people to come to the swabs.
Matt Hancock: (28:21)
Does that satisfy you, Robert?
If I could just ask, I suppose Jonathan [Van Time 00:28:25] would be best on this. Is the priority when it comes to face masks, frankly, healthcare workers, and although there may be a case for the general public using them at some point, this would just not be the right moment?
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (28:38)
Thank you for the question, Robert. I think I can reply on four points. The first thing to say is I have always said to you that we will keep the evidence under review and we are absolutely doing that. I’ve also said to you that we will change if we feel that the evidence is driving us that way, and we will advise ministers accordingly. SAGE has indeed met today and discussed personal protective equipment, and advice will go to ministers in due course. I’m not going to comment about that any further today, nor would you expect me to.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (29:15)
What I can say is that there is an absolutely engineering principle here that SAGE places great value and prime importance on never jeopardizing the supplies of PPE to our health and social care workers, and that is a line we are not going to cross under any circumstances.
Matt Hancock: (29:38)
Thanks, Robert. Victoria MacDonald, Channel 4.
Victoria MacDonald: (29:42)
Thank you, Secretary of State. Just back on PPE, we have talked to a number of suppliers and distributors who have talked a lot about the obstacles they’ve faced of getting through the procurement system. They will send an email, they will make a telephone call, they don’t hear back, then there’ll be asked questions they’ve already answered. Are you satisfied that you are somehow going to clear away those obstacles so that you can increase the supply. And secondly, we’ve heard a lot of numbers over the past few weeks, and today you’ve just talked about 1 billion items of PPE. Now that sounds a lot, but quite clearly it’s not enough. Do you have any idea about what enough would be?
Matt Hancock: (30:34)
Well, yes. The answer on how much is enough PPE is enough to get what is needed according to the guidelines that have been clearly set up by Public Health England, to everyone who it needs it, and it is in the billions of items per month. The numbers of items that are needed are absolutely vast, and hence the need both to manufacture it at home and also to buy it from abroad. We’re always trying to improve the processes that we have in place to make purchases. I think it’s been very encouraging the number of UK companies that have come forward, but we have had to make sure that we sought out the credible offers from those that are not. We’ve had some offers for instance that have come from companies where upon investigation the company has only just been formed in the previous day or two before coming and asking for a cash deal with the government.
Matt Hancock: (31:40)
So you’ll understand that there has to be a process in there. Nevertheless, we want to engage with all of those companies who can help us in this national effort, and we are accelerating the progress of getting back to all of those companies with a substantive response to their offer. This is a fast-moving market because essentially the problem on PPE is that there is a global shortage. There is more demand across the world than there is supply, and that means that we need to be as nimble as we possibly can and crucially as much as possible get right to the source of the PPE, which is often in factories in Asia, including in China, rather than going through a middleman, which can seem attractive on the surface, but actually if you get directly to the factory owner, then you get a more secure supply.
Matt Hancock: (32:44)
It is a complicated picture. None of this takes away the importance of delivering on this agenda or the resources and the support that we’re throwing at it. Daniel Woodson, Talk Radio.
Daniel Woodson: (32:58)
Good afternoon, Secretary of State. A report by the EU agency, the European External Action Service, to be published this week concludes that the official and state-backed Chinese sources are behind the spread of conspiracy narratives designed to exonerate the Chinese government of the coronavirus. The report will say China has run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic. What is the UK government doing to stop these Chinese disinformation campaigns?
Matt Hancock: (33:37)
Well, I haven’t seen that report, and I haven’t seen any evidence of what you describe, but we have seen more broadly disinformation and disinformation being put about, especially on social media, and tackling that is incredibly important, because what the public wants and what the public should be able to expect, is high quality information, highly factual, even in this uncertain environment, because we’re still learning about the disease, but to be able to be as clear and transparent as possible, and for the government to describe which information we think we have high confidence in and to be able to explain the conclusions we reached from that information. Tackling disinformation is an important part of it, but I’m afraid I can’t comment on the on the specific piece that you refer to. Chris Smith from the Times.
Chris Smith: (34:40)
Thank you, Secretary of State. Can I ask about asymptomatic transmission given the need to isolate cases in any easing of restrictions. How big an issue this is going to be in terms of injuring any attempt to ease lockdown and the risk that whatever we do will we could get a second peak because of this? Related to that, can our contacts actually pick up cases when people are not showing any symptoms with any accuracy? Given concerns about transmission in hospitals at the moment, as well as the huge amounts of unused testing capacity we have right now, should we now be screening asymptomatic health staff for the virus?
Matt Hancock: (35:14)
Well, these are very, very good questions. What I’d say is that the fact that this virus appears to have asymptomatic transmission makes it incredibly difficult to deal with and what is one of the central facts of this pandemic that has made it as difficult and as challenging as it is. I’ll ask JVT to answer on the science of the transmission and the asymptomatic transmission in particular, and then John Newton to answer the question on the testing, but these are exactly the right scientific questions that we are also grappling with.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (35:58)
Thank you, Secretary of State. You’re absolutely right, and really the Secretary of State has answered the medical question for me.
Matt Hancock: (36:09)
Did I get it right?
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (36:11)
You did. When we started this crisis, we did not have enough information to understand the extent to which patients who were presymptomatic and asymptomatic were shedding the virus. We now have a lot more information and it is clear that for at least a proportion of patients, they begin to shed the virus before the onset of symptoms. We, of course, have scientific data now that show that some people are asymptomatic and we can still detect the virus using a PCR test. Where the difficulty in the science comes is understanding just how infectious those other people, presymptomatic or asymptomatic, are compared to those who are symptomatic, and remember, they don’t have the cough, they don’t have the respiratory symptoms, they don’t have the same means of expelling the virus to the same amount.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (37:18)
I think it’s absolutely impossible to rule out that there are some cases where spread occurs from asymptomatic or presymptomatic people, but the vast majority of the force of transmission in the community is still coming from those people with symptoms. That isn’t to say that we’re not picking up the asymptomatic infections. I hope I’ve been very clear on that. We recognize they exist now, but the extent to which they are the primary problem as opposed to the primary problem for transmission being the people who’ve got the cough, got the fever, and are clearly emitting the virus through coughing and sneezing, they are undoubtedly the biggest route of transmission in our communities. The public health advice remains the same, that the moment you have symptoms of Covid 19, you go home and you begin self-isolation. If you live in a household with others, then you take them with you and the family isolates with you for 14 days.
Matt Hancock: (38:32)
Thanks. Professor John Newton.
John Newton: (38:36)
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Chris for the question. The simple answer is yes, the test will detect the presence of the virus in people who are asymptomatic. One of the ways we’re using the current testing capacity is to do scientific studies to show the spread of the virus in representative populations. We’re ramping up that activity quite a lot to give us more of this sort of information. But it’s already obvious from the early studies that in areas, particular settings where social distancing isn’t possible, particularly closed areas such as in hospitals or in care homes or indeed in prisons, there is a need to go in and do intensive testing to try and understand how many people might be asymptomatic and carrying the virus. Those studies are underway and we’re working closely, particularly with the NHS to design an approach to that.
John Newton: (39:24)
Looking to the future, one of the reasons we need a good level of testing capacity is to provide the testing for infection control, so when we do have outbreaks of infection in certain settings, we need to be able to go in and test not just people who are symptomatic, but also people who are asymptomatic. That is what we are doing.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam: (39:46)
Does that satisfy you, Chris?
Chris Smith: (39:48)
Yeah. Can I just pull out, Professor Newton, those early studies you’re … What does that show about the extent of transmission in healthcare settings? Just to clarify the point about screening of NHS staff, can we expect that to make a contribution to meeting the 100,000 target by next week?
John Newton: (40:05)
Well, there’s an international literature which shows, for example, the study from New York in women in maternity setting showing a significant number, a small proportion who were asymptomatic and had positive tests, and we also know from studies that Public Health England has carried out in some care home settings that a number of staff and residents who are asymptomatic have tested positive. So it’s all very consistent internationally. It’s a small proportion. It’s also important to emphasize that the test is not a screen. So the idea that you would use the test to screen the whole population or indeed to screen the whole of the workforce isn’t really how the test could be used. You would test somebody on day one and on day two they might become positive and you wouldn’t know. We use the test to understand the spread of the virus in a population or in a setting in order to be able to put in place the measures required to control that infection. It’s not to be used broadly as a screen. That’s certainly not the current thinking. But as Jonathan has said, it’s very important that we keep an eye on the science, and if the science develops further, then we will need to change our testing strategy, obviously.
Matt Hancock: (41:20)
And to answer your question of will we do testing of asymptomatic staff in hospital as part of meeting the 100,000 target by the end of the month, the answer to that is yes, and we have a plan to be able to do that as we expand access to testing to meet the capacity that as we can see from the figures that capacity is increasingly available on the road to 100,000 tests a day. Thanks Chris. Pippa Greer from the Daily Mirror.
Pippa Greer: (41:55)
Hello. I’ve actually got a question for Professor Newton, but before I do, Secretary of State, if I could just clarify following on from Laura’s question, the top diplomat at the-
Speaker 2: (42:03)
Hi. I’m following up from [Laura’s 00:42:02] question. The top diplomat at the Foreign Office says we’re not in the EUPP’s scheme and that the decision not to take part was a political one. But now you’re saying it wasn’t a political decision and we are a member of the scheme, which I believe is the first time we’ve heard that. You can’t both be right. Who should we be believing?
Matt Hancock: (42:25)
The invitation, when it came in to the Department for Health, and I know there’s been debate about whether it was sent to the wrong email address initially. But the invitation, when it came to the Department for Health to participate in this scheme in an associate way, because we’re not members of the EU, came to me for decision and I said yes. But having said that, as far as I’m aware, this scheme has not yet delivered any PPE. That’s the decision making process that I was involved in. There was a recommendation and I took the decision in the normal way. That’s the long and short of it. But the impact of this on our ability to deliver PPE is zero. There’s no impact at all because the scheme has not yet made anything available. John. The first … Yes.
John Netwon: (43:22)
[crosstalk 00:01:27] asked a question yet.
Speaker 2: (43:31)
I haven’t asked a question yet, Mr. Newton, it’s a different subject actually on airports. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to arrive in the UK each week, airports and ports. And countries like Japan and Italy have introduced temperature checks and other forms of screening weeks ago. And in some cases, have quarantine restrictions in place for new arrivals. Just wondering why we haven’t followed a similar route and whether it’s something that we might yet consider?
John Netwon: (43:52)
It’s a larger question really about how we respond in the future to the pandemic. I think I’m going to pass that one to Jonathan because these are exactly the sort of questions that SAGE are considering.
So with ports of entry screening, there is a basic problem that the length of a flight from a far flung place to the UK is typically no more than 12 hours. I think we’d agree on that. But the problem is that people can be infected before they get on the fight and the incubation period for this virus is up to 14 days, and it’s typically five days. I can fly back from, well, you choose the country, wherever you like on a long flight and I can become infected in that country before I get on the aircraft. And I will sail through Heathrow with absolutely no symptoms at all. I’m not being untruthful. There’s nothing to declare. I won’t have a fever, I won’t be picked out. But when I get back to my home in the north of England, at that point I may develop symptoms a few days later and go, “I don’t feel too well.” And clearly the port of entry screening hasn’t worked. So that’s the basic mathematical problem that goes with it.
Right now though, we are in a situation where you’ve seen from the slides that I showed to you that there is widespread transmission in the UK. We are turning that down, it is clear we are turning it down, but it is still there and it has not gone away. And so the proportion of new cases coming in from abroad, even if flights were operating, would be minuscule compared to the amount of force of infection currently still moving around in our societies in the UK. And that I hope gives you a bit of context for the here and now. We do at some point hope that we turn this curve down and that we then start to think about how and when and how carefully we begin to think about easing some of the restrictions we’re under without letting this virus just chase off again. And that’s a really difficult balancing act and all things will be under consideration, all scientific options will be under consideration at that point. I am sure about that.
Matt Hancock: (46:31)
Thanks very much. Geraldine Scott from the Yorkshire Post.
Geraldine Scott: (46:41)
Thank you. And Yorkshire’s and [inaudible 00:46:41] opened the NHS Nightingale hospital in Harrogate today. Taking the decision during this crisis declares the veteran GFA helpline, which helps many liken. So will you consider opening that again to help others like Captain [inaudible 00:46:54] as the impact worsens. And secondly, some NHS staff are being threatened with referral to their professional or regulatory bodies who are speaking out by the crisis by Brits, PPE or habits effecting them personally and secretary of state. Is it right, the NHS trust to be doing this? And can you guarantee that no NHS or social care worker will be punished for raising legitimate concerns publicly?
Matt Hancock: (47:20)
Well, yes, of course people should be able to talk about the problems that there are and indeed they do. And I’ve seen both fantastic examples of people saying that they’re working hard on celebrating the fact that they’re… Celebrating’s the wrong word… Of going public with the work they’re doing and the conditions that they’re working under. And I’ve also seen some people, for instance, saying that they’re delighted that there’s good PPE and we’ve also seen people saying that there’s a problem in their area. And I think that’s totally normal and standard. And people should feel free to talk about what happens at work. I think that transparency is important and it’s the sort of approach we’ve tried to take as a government including with press conferences like these. In terms of the veterans UK point, I’m afraid I’ll have to take that away and make sure that somebody gets back to you on the details of it. Because it’s an important area but it’s not one that I got a direct answer to today. Thanks.
Matt Hancock: (48:37)
And finally Alastair [Smout 00:48:40] from Reuters.
Speaker 3: (48:43)
Secretary of State, you say the plan is working. Yesterday, they PHE medical director at [Mondo 00:48:49] said stop showed about 10% of total COVID-19 deaths taking place outside of hospitals. The OMS figures published today. So the number could be about 40% higher than the daily hospital figure, and it is clear now that the UK staff total could match or even surpass Italy’s to make it the worst hit country in Europe. So it feels like at least compared to large parts of Europe, the plan isn’t working. Who has ultimate responsibility for that?
Matt Hancock: (49:18)
Well thanks for the question. What I’d say is that on the factual points it’s important to get the analysis of those right. And I’ve seen this 40% figure and I asked the team about it before coming here and that is not an accurate representation of those figures. In fact, Professor Van-Tam took us through the important differences between how we measure deaths in hospitals, which we can get that data daily. And so it’s incredibly important for tracking as soon as possible. What’s happening in terms of the impact of this disease with the OMS data, which is measured in a different way. And if the slides can come up again, we can bring the slide up which shows that gap which is around between 20 and 25% in the latest data. All of these information are important. Of course they are, and we take as much information as we possibly can into account when we make decisions and then on the second point is the international comparison. It’s very important again to look at that and taking into account the size of the country and the different characteristics of the different countries. So looking per population is the right way to look at those information.
Matt Hancock: (50:50)
The final point I’d make is that at the start of this crisis we said that there were two absolutely critical tasks and they were form parts of the battle plan that we published a long time before the lockdown began, when we published the types of measures we might have to take. One is that we got the exponential nature of this infection under control and brought the curve down. And as you can see from the statistics and that curve is now flat and that means that we have achieved that objective.
Matt Hancock: (51:29)
The second thing is that we said that we must do everything we can to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed and lots of people said that would be impossible, but we have achieved that because every single person who has needed treatment has been able to get that treatment, including with the building of the NHS [Nightingale 00:51:48] hospitals. For instance they were referred to in the previous question because the NHS Nightingale hospital in Harrogate has opened today and that will ensure that there’s more NHS capacity for people of Yorkshire and the Northeast. And therefore on those two core measures the plan is working.
Matt Hancock: (52:11)
Now, does that mean that every problem has been addressed? No, of course it doesn’t. I’ve gone through some of the details on PPE today and there are clearly challenges and it doesn’t mean that everything’s done. No, it doesn’t. For instance, the search for a vaccine is absolutely a top priority. I’m delighted that the first vaccines in this country will go into a human clinical trials on Thursday. So there is a huge amount still to do, but on the absolutely central core objectives that we faced as a country, thanks to the work of the NHS, the armed forces, many, many others and the people who have stayed at home, we have managed to both bend down the curve and also ensure that the NHS capacity is there deal with the cases that come through so that everyone can rely on the NHS when they need it.
Speaker 3: (53:17)
If I could just come back, I think a lot of people would say that Germany is a comparably sized country to Britain and obviously is fairing fairly well, by comparison.
Matt Hancock: (53:29)
Yes. So I would absolutely concur with that. Of course. And then there are some countries where on that measure, they’re below us, and there are other countries where they’re above us. And the critical thing when you’re trying to work out, as we do every day, how do we make sure that we do our very best for this country? You absolutely take that into account. You learn from where things are going well. In fact, we learn also from places where things aren’t going so well and we’re constantly looking around the world at those comparisons. And it’s exactly right, but the important thing you’ve got to do is scientifically look at the consequences of what people are doing elsewhere so that we can learn about it as a country. Okay.
Matt Hancock: (54:20)
Thank you very much indeed. That concludes today’s Downing street press conference, and I’m very grateful to Professor Van-Tam and to Professor John Newton for your support. Thanks very much indeed.