Jul 9, 2020

United Kingdom COVID-19 Briefing Transcript July 9

UK Coronavirus Briefing July 9
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsUnited Kingdom COVID-19 Briefing Transcript July 9

British officials held a coronavirus press conference on July 9. Oliver Dowden led the briefing and said gyms and swimming pools will open in full July 25. Full Downing Street news briefing speech here.

 

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Oliver Dowden: (00:00)
Hello, good afternoon, and welcome to the Downing Street’s press conference. For months now, our lives have been on hold. When the call came in March, we pressed pause on many of the things that brighten our lives. Meals with friends, trips to the cinema or theater, we had to close out gyms and swimming pools, cancel our holidays, and postpone some of our favorite events. But as we’ve made huge progress against this disease, we’ve gradually seen the things we love return. Today I’m very pleased to announce that we can go a little bit further.

Oliver Dowden: (00:36)
As of this weekend, our artists, musicians, and dancers can start performing live outside to outdoor audiences. We’ll also have the resumption of recreational sport followed later by the reopening of our gyms, swimming pools, and leisure centers. Normal life is slowly returning. This is an important milestone for our performing artists who have been waiting patiently in the wings since March. Of course, we won’t see crowds flooding into their venues, but from the 11th of July, our theaters, operas, dance and music shows can start putting on outdoor performances to socially distance audiences. That means theater goers can experience a live play for the first time in months and in places like the stunning Minack Theater in Cornwall, and music lovers can attend Glyndebourne this summer. We are taking various measures to make these places safe as they reopen. Venue capacity will be reduced and organizations encouraged to move to electronic ticketing to help test and trace. But our performing artists deserve an audience and now they will be getting one. While those outdoor performances get underway, we’ll be working with public health experts to carefully pilot a number of indoor performances from the London Symphony Orchestra at St. Luke’s to Butlins to work out how we can confidently usher socially distanced audiences indoors as soon as possible.

Oliver Dowden: (02:06)
At the same time, we’re funding scientific studies to help us understand and mitigate some specific public health risks like the impact of singing, wind and brass instruments on transmission. The more we know about the coronavirus in every setting, the safer we will be. We’re also taking steps through the planning system to protect theaters and venues from demolition or change of use. Of course, all of this comes on top of the unprecedented 1.57 billion pound package of emergency support to help arts, heritage, and cultural institutions weather the COVID storm.

Oliver Dowden: (02:45)
But of course, we want to see all of our venues open as soon as it’s safe to do so. Today’s announcement brings us a further step closer towards that reality. Now, having allowed hairdressers to reopen, beauticians, tattooists, spas, tanning salons, and other close contact services can now do the same, I’m pleased to say, from Monday. Of course, that will be subject to some restrictions on particularly high risk services.

Oliver Dowden: (03:14)
As I’ve seen for myself at the Royal Academy this morning, the National Gallery, and as we’ll see shortly from the National Museums Liverpool, our cultural institutions are beginning also to welcome back visitors. As these places begin to reopen their doors, I’m really urging people to get out there and to play their part. Buy the tickets for outdoor plays and music recitals, get to your local gallery, and support your local businesses. We’ve seen in recent weeks how our landlords, waiters and shop assistants have welcomed customers back with open arms whilst doing so much to keep their community safe.

Oliver Dowden: (03:50)
It’s time to give other businesses those same opportunities, and the chancellor this week set out a bumper package of tourism and hospitality tax breaks to get these industries firing on all cylinders once more and protect the millions of people who work for them. That means a VAT cut on everything from tickets to shows, theaters, amusement, parks, museums, and zoos, lower costs for hotels, inns, caravans and campsites, and vouchers for food and non alcoholic drinks. I’m urging British people to make the most of this summer safely. We need them to support the places that we all love.

Oliver Dowden: (04:31)
Today there is good news for our nation’s fitness. As we all know, exercise is incredibly important for both physical and mental health. Even at the height of the lockdown, it was considered an essential activity with countless people hitting their park, their daily run, or transforming their living rooms into temporary gyms. From this weekend onwards, millions of people will be able to rejoin their local sports teams as soon as their organizations publish approved guidance. Recreational cricket is back on this weekend. Five aside football, basketball, hockey, and countless other sports will follow shortly after. From this Saturday, they’ll also be able to enjoy outdoor pools and water parks. From Saturday the 25th, people will no longer have to work out in their park or on their living room floor. They’ll be able to get back into their gyms, their indoor swimming pools, their leisure centers, and jump on that spin bike or treadmill for the first time in months. Now, we’ve made a number of positive visits to gyms in recent weeks. Of course we’d hoped to do this sooner, but we really do have to phase this properly. We will be giving gyms the certainty, clarity, and time they need to reopen safely so that the maximum number can open their doors in just a two weeks time. Again, we’ve worked intensively with both professional bodies and the experts to get us to this point, and facilities will have to take a number of measures to protect their communities. That includes, for example, using time booking systems to limit the number of people using the facility at any one time, reduce class sizes, equipment will be spaced out, and there will be enhanced cleaning throughout.

Oliver Dowden: (06:16)
As always, the public will need to do their bit and follow the guidance sensibly and safely. All of these measures we are taking are conditional and they are reversible, and we will not hesitate to impose lockdowns where there are local spikes, as we saw in Leicester, where things remained closed, and of course in any other place when that is necessary.

Oliver Dowden: (06:40)
But the return of gyms and recreational sport is a vital part of our battle against coronavirus. We need to get the nation match fit to defeat this disease. Our fight began with a collective effort, and I really hope it will end with one. At the beginning, we all stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives. Now, the British public has a new part to play. It’s time to eat out to help out, to enjoy the arts to help out, and to work out to help out. It’s over to all of you to help the country recover safely. Thank you.

Oliver Dowden: (07:17)
With that, I will now turn to the questions. So first of all, we have two questions from the public, starting with Stephanie from Birmingham who’s on video. Stephanie?

Stephanie: (07:28)
What is going to be done to support the retail sector during this trying time? Redundancies are being made en mass across retail stores, and all help so far, such as the reduction in VAT, seems to be aimed at the leisure and hospitality sector. The high streets is struggling and many jobs are at risk. What is the government going to do to try and turn this around?

Oliver Dowden: (07:49)
Well, Stephanie, thank you very much for your question. You’re absolutely right to highlight the importance of supporting our retail sector. The chancellor announced a large number of measures that will benefit the retail sector in his-

Oliver Dowden: (08:03)
… Which number of measures that will benefit the retail sector in his statement just yesterday. So for example, we’ve been encouraging people to get back to work by having the 1000 pound bonus for businesses that unfurlough their staff. We’re also investing in traineeships and apprenticeships, and all of this is about getting the economy moving. And of course, when you think of a measure like the chancellor announced yesterday, the Eat Out to Help Out. We very much hope that when people go to their local pub or their restaurant to eat out at those offerings in the center of towns, hopefully that will encourage the footfall to those areas. So we get more people going to our shops as well.

Oliver Dowden: (08:41)
And in addition to that, if you look at the stamp duty cut that he introduced, it’s usually the case that as you move home and we hope lots more people will move home because of this stamp duty cut, you’ll have more people going to the shops to refurbish their homes, whether that is buying a new sofa or whether it’s buying some new wallpaper paint. All those sort of things will help kickstart the economy and generate more jobs, which is exactly what we’re about. So thank you for that question, Stephanie.

Oliver Dowden: (09:09)
And now over to Victoria from Iver Heath, who’s written her question. She’s asking, “With all children being expected back into school in September 2020, what precautions are going to be taken with social distancing? As you say, children only experience mild symptoms, but as a parent in a household of five children, this is a very worrying time. Are tests available to the entire family if one child has symptoms?”

Oliver Dowden: (09:36)
Well, look, Victoria, you’re absolutely right to have concerns. Of course, we all have concerns. I have two young children myself, one of whom is back at school. The other will be back in September. And we all care about our children, who we love so much. We want to do the best for them. That’s why I’m absolutely confident that the education secretary and the health secretary and the prime minister would not have permitted this to happen were it not safe to do so. That’s why we’ve got very rigorous regimes in schools.

Oliver Dowden: (10:09)
So for example, in relation to cleaning, in relation to keeping a year group self-contained in order to minimize those risks. On your point about testing, we have said that anyone who has symptoms, they should immediately call Test and Trace and they’ll get to that test straightaway. So that is available to everyone. Thank you for that question, Victoria. Now we’re going to questions from the media and we’re starting with Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC. Laura, are you there?

Laura Kuenssberg: (10:40)
I am. Hopefully you can hear me. Thank you very much, Secretary of State. You’re announcing a lot of reopenings today, but will there be sanctions for a business or consumers who flout the rules you’ve put in place to allow people to open safely again?

Laura Kuenssberg: (10:53)
And if I may ask you as culture secretary, how do you respond to the BBC’s decision to scrap the fee, license fee for most over 75, given that it was the conservative government’s decision to put this cost onto the organization in the first place?

Oliver Dowden: (11:07)
Well, thanks for those questions, Laura. In terms of flouting the rules, I’ve been tremendously heartened by how the British people have behaved during this crisis. Good British decent common sense has prevailed throughout. And of course there’ve been pictures of occasional breaches, but if you look up and down the country, countless pubs, restaurants, other venues, people are observing those rules and they’re observing those rules because they know it’s the right thing to do in order to protect us from this virus.

Oliver Dowden: (11:33)
Of course, if the virus starts to spike again localized, we’ll have to take a necessary measure. And I think the British people realize the risk of that and we’ll be confident not to do so. In respect of the BBC, look, I very much regret the decision that the BBC has taken. We gave the settlement to the BBC back in 2015. They said that it was a good settlement and I regret that they couldn’t find efficiency savings in order to avoid having to impose the license fee on the over 75 in the way that they have set out. Any followups there, Laura?

Laura Kuenssberg: (12:10)
Can I just come back on your first point? You said you hope people will have common sense to obey the rules, but if either businesses or consumers don’t, will there be any sanction for people who ignore the rules and potentially put other people in danger?

Oliver Dowden: (12:23)
Well, as I said, in response to the first answer, our experience so far has been that that has not been necessarily because the people have followed those rules. But of course, in respect of individuals, if there’s clear flouting of the rules, for example, in large groups and so on. We have seen that the police have powers to disperse. And in respective businesses, we have the health and safety executive and others who will uphold relevant standards. Now over to Sam Coates from Sky News.

Sam Coates: (12:54)
Thank you, Secretary of State. To go back to gyms and nail bars, people need confidence. Now, Jeremy Hunt and William Hague both today said that “There needed to be proper mass testing.” And this is the crucial bit, “Including people without symptoms to keep the virus in check.” Now, is that even a government goal at the moment and how long will that take?

Sam Coates: (13:13)
And one of the things that Sky News Investigation today revealed that during April, test data was being collected on handwritten bits of paper with ministers calling round looking at Excel spreadsheets themselves. Did you prioritize hitting an artificial deadline over doing things properly and safely?

Oliver Dowden: (13:31)
Well, first of all, in respect of tests, we continue to massively ramp up the number of tests available. I think the latest figures show it’s about 300,000 tests are available. We’ve already introduced the ability to call this a phone line in order to get a test. Throughout all of this, we’ve ramped up the numbers, we’ve ramped up the testing and tracing capacity. That’s why we’ve introduced test and traces. We’ve got over 27,000 of those, and they are identifying contacts of people who have tested positive and they are requiring them to isolate.

Oliver Dowden: (14:08)
So that’s tens of thousands of people who have been in contact with people who’ve tested positive and they are self-isolating and stopping the spread of the disease. We think at this stage, that is the appropriate way to proceed. In respect of your comments on handwritten notes, scrambling around. I really don’t recognize any of that. Throughout this crisis, we have taken on challenge after challenge and we have dealt with it.

Oliver Dowden: (14:35)
So for example, we created the Nightingale Hospital at record speed. We set up the track and trace system. We’ve rolled out massive amounts of protective equipment over two billion pieces and far high numbers on order as well. So that’s the basis on which we’ve proceeded. But any other followups, Sam?

Sam Coates: (14:56)
So just to be crystal clear on the answer to the first question, you’re saying, no, there is no plan to move to a system of mass asymptomatic testing. We’re not going to proceed with that. You say the other measures are enough at the moment.

Oliver Dowden: (15:08)
Well, of course these are matters for the prime minister and the health secretary. But the point I’ve made in respective of all of them is that we have an effective regime and we’ve had an effective regime for a number of reasons. First of all, we have massively ramped up the testing capacity. Off the back of that testing, we are ramping up the amount of tracing. Off the back of that tracing, we are ramping up massive numbers of people who are self-isolating, reducing the transmission risk.

Oliver Dowden: (15:36)
And the result of all of that you see day in, day out on a rolling average basis, we are continuing to keep this disease under control. And in areas where there is a local spike for example in Leicester, we have imposed lockdowns. This is a process that is working to control the disease and I think it’s the right way to proceed Thanks for those questions, Sam. Over to Dan Hewitt at ITV.

Daniel Hewitt: (16:03)
Good afternoon-

Oliver Dowden: (16:03)
… Hewitt at ICP.

Speaker 1: (16:03)
Good afternoon, Secretary of State. You’ve always said as a government, you are led by the science. So can you tell us how the decisions you’ve come to today are still based on the science rather than just the very pressing needs of the economy. And a second, if I may, what data have you seen since Saturday, since the reopening of pubs and hairdressers and restaurants, et cetera, to inform you, to suggest that it’s safe to open up gyms, et cetera, in the coming weeks.

Oliver Dowden: (16:32)
Well, thanks for both of those questions. Yes, of course we continue to be informed by the science. And this afternoon, I had further extensive conversations with Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty. In terms of how that has then affected the measures we’ve taken, and you’ll see this in the guidelines that we publish in respect of gyms, but that has, for example, led us to advise to reduce class sizes. There’s a particular transmission risks around the equipment. So making sure that equipment is cleaned properly.

Oliver Dowden: (17:05)
We need to ensure social distancing and we need to take steps to improve ventilation. All of that has been guided by the science. In terms of the timings of this, clearly we have a rolling program of reopening and as that reopening continues, we continue to analyze the evidence and the data from it. And of course, that is one of the reasons why we are waiting a little bit longer in respect of the steps in respect of gyms, because we want this path to continue downwards. Because the lower the instance in the community at large, essentially the more risks you can take, the more you can start to open up because the lower the numbers are in the community at large. And all of that is informed by the science. Any further?

Speaker 1: (17:53)
Yeah, on the data, are you confident that the data you’ve seen so far suggests that this is safe to do what you’re doing today? How much data could you have seen because speaking to a couple of scientists today, someone on stage suggested actually it might take a couple of weeks at least to see the data from last weekend to suggest you can make a new raft of changes.

Oliver Dowden: (18:12)
Yes, of course. All the data is continuing to move in the right direction. So prior to the 4th of July, we announced a number of easements. We haven’t seen as a result of those easements that the number is increasing. In fact, it continues to decline and of course we will continue to monitor the situation to ensure it continues to decline. But we are confident enough that as we continue on this trajectory, that by the 25th of July, we’ll be in a situation where we can reopen gyms and other facilities in that way. We’ve always proceeded in a careful and cautious way. And of course, through all of this, if there is any evidence of measures of incidents, increasing things, going in the wrong direction, we won’t hesitate to take steps. And the health secretary has set out a sort of escalation path for that, the end point of which is local lockdowns, if necessary. So thanks very much for those questions. Now, I think we’re on to Mesa Hall for the Express. Mesa?

Mesa: (19:27)
Good afternoon, Secretary of State. Thank you very much. As people go back to the pools and religious centers and the gyms, they’re going to find there are a lot more rules and regulations to worry about. For example, in swimming pools, there’s no butterfly stroke, there’s no overtaking. People are supposed to put on their trunks before they go to the pool. How are you going to persuade the doubters that sports and leisure isn’t about to be a lot more hassle and a lot less fun than it used to be? And if I could just press you as well on the issue of TV licenses for the over 75, this is really punishing a part of the community that faced that isolation and loneliness through shielding during this crisis. As culture secretary, can’t you force the BBC to cough up with its benefits, as the prime ministers repeatedly said. And if they won’t, isn’t there perhaps time to get rid of the BBC license fee?

Oliver Dowden: (20:16)
Lots of questions there to cover. I think in respect to the experience of swimming pools or indeed all of the rest of the areas we’ve opened. I’d love us to be in a situation where pubs were we know and love them, where you can crowd around the bars and people can shout and all those other things. The judgment we’ve taken with this and with swimming pools and elsewhere is that it’s better to reopen with those restrictions than not reopen at all. Of course, it’s going to take a while for people’s confidence to build. It’s rarely the case that you pull up the shutter and everyone comes rushing in, but equally the experience in the UK and elsewhere is that over time, people have gained confidence and have started to engage more. But that’s one of the reasons why the chancellor announced this whole suite of measures to stimulate people to go out, whether it’s their eat out to restart the economy or whether it’s in relation to the VAT cuts.

Oliver Dowden: (21:14)
In relation to the over 75s, the government has been clear all along that this was a good settlement. The BBC themselves described it to as a good settlement. And we very much regret the fact that they have not kept over 75 licenses free. In terms of further measures that we’re taking, we’re already consulting on decriminalizing the license fee. And of course, decisions like this will have an impact on that. And we’ll be announcing the outcome of that consultation over the course of the summer. In respect of the license fee model as a whole, the charter set it out to 2027. But of course, all these factors will be considered as part of looking at the way forward. I think for the BBC, there are lots of challenges. I’ve already said the challenge of ensuring impartiality, challenge of respecting all parts of the United Kingdom, and the challenge of how the BBC adapt what is essentially a linear model to all this sort of on demand services that… Any followup, Mesa?

Mesa: (22:20)
Well, just on the license fee. Your party’s election manifesto last year’s trumpeted the value of the free license fee for people aged over 75. Aren’t people going to feel let down that it’s been got rid of so quickly after the election?

Oliver Dowden: (22:34)
Well, I feel let down that the BBC haven’t funded this. I’m sure people up and down the country will feel let down that they haven’t funded it. Our manifest has said that we thought that they should fund it. I’ve made that position clear to the BBC and I’ve not changed my mind on that. So thanks for those questions, Mesa. Over to Charlie Cooper at Politico.

Charlie Cooper: (22:59)
Hello, thanks for having me. A lot of people are going to be really pleased to hear that gyms and leisure centers and other places are now reopening as well. Government advice is that face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces where you’re likely to come into contact with people that you don’t know. Does that mean gyms? And are you wearing a face covering when you go to the shops for instance?

Oliver Dowden: (23:26)
Well, actually on the face coverings, I actually went to the Royal Academy this morning, and I wore a face covering for that in line with the guidance that they’ve issued. In respect of gyms, we’ve announced a whole series of mitigation measures that we would expect gyms to take. I’ve outlined some of those. There’s a lot more extensive measures set out in the notice that we’ll issue. We have not taken the decision to require the wearing of face masks in respect of gyms. Any followups there?

Charlie Cooper: (24:03)
Yeah.

Oliver Dowden: (24:03)
Any followups there?

Charlie Cooper: (24:03)
Yeah. You said you spoke to Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, today. Do you get a sense from speaking to him that at some point the UK is going to have to make it mandatory to wear a face covering in those enclosed spaces that I mentioned, like shops and potentially gyms going forward? Do you think it’s a good thing for ministers like yourself to set an example by wearing them in public like you say you have? Should the Prime Minister be seen wearing his face covering?

Oliver Dowden: (24:30)
Well, I think the approach we’ve taken to face coverings, which is endorsed by our scientific advisors, is it’s context specific. So for example, when I was wearing it, the institution had decided to require people to wear them, and I abided by those rules. And I’m sure anyone visiting would abide by those rules. The similar rules apply on public transport. And I think that’s the right way to do it, to have a proportionate approach whereby wearing masks is one way of mitigating risk, but it sits alongside a whole suite of other things, the most important of which are wash your hands, socially distance as appropriate, so that’s two meters or a meter with appropriate mitigation measures, and, of course, if you’re symptomatic in any way immediately to call the relevant hotline. And I think that’s the approach we’re taking. So thanks for those questions. Finally, we’re on to Daniel Bins from The Metro. Daniel.

Daniel Bins: (25:39)
Hi, there.

Oliver Dowden: (25:40)
Hi.

Daniel Bins: (25:40)
The government is still advising people to avoid using public transport unless their journey is essential, and lots of other lockdown measures are being eased. Why hasn’t the advice changed, and how does the government expect people who do not have cars to get about? If the government believes it’s safe for people to go to the pub, gyms and swimming pools, isn’t it also safe to get on a train?

Oliver Dowden: (25:59)
Thanks for those questions. But this is one of the reasons why we’ve had such an intense drive on things like cycling, walking, other forms of exercise where people can do it. But we have said all the way through that if there isn’t another alternative, then you should use public transport wearing a mask and taking the other mitigating measures as necessary. And I think that’s the right way to go. But it is also worth bearing in mind that, of course, in London, lots of people use public transport. As you get outside of London and the big cities, the vast majority of people use cars and continue to do so. And any followups?

Daniel Bins: (26:42)
Well, train companies insist they’ve introduced social distancing measures, various hygiene measures. So why are they any different from pubs or other places that are having the lockdown relaxed?

Oliver Dowden: (26:52)
Well, the position in respect of pubs and indeed in respect of public transport trains is that you should socially distance in respect to them. So they’re both subject to that. In all of this, and this is important point to get across with all that, throughout the reopening we are seeking to minimize risk, do so in a safe way and open up as much as we possibly can. So we are saying to people it’s better to walk or to cycle. Indeed, it’s very good for your public health, and now you can go to the gym as well. But if you’re not able to do those things, you’re not able to use private transport cars, then you can use public transport. That’s just essentially a way of minimizing risks of transmission. It’s what we’re doing across different sectors. Of course, as the numbers continue to fall, we keep all of these things under review. And I’ve just announced a whole suite of further measures that we are taking. And we will take further measures if it is safe to do so.

Oliver Dowden: (27:59)
Throughout all of this, the clear objective of the government, my clear objective in respect of sectors of which I’m responsible as Secretary of the State is to get us back to opening up as soon as possible, to get back to as close to normal life as soon as possible, but only if it is safe to do so. And that’s what we have in these announcements today. So thank you for those questions. And with that, we conclude this afternoon’s press conference. Thank you very much.