Jun 22, 2020

United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript June 22: Matt Hancock Says Shielding to End 6 July

UK Coronavirus Briefing Transcript June 22
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsUnited Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript June 22: Matt Hancock Says Shielding to End 6 July

British officials held a coronavirus press conference on June 22. Matt Hancock said coronavirus “shielding” (at risk people being required to stay home) in England to end 6 July. Full Downing Street news briefing speech here.

 

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Matt Hancock: (00:00)
Just before we do that, I’d like to take you through the latest data. If we could have the first slide, please. This slide shows the number of tests that have been taken carried out, now over eight million tests in total. And it also shows that, for the first time since the peak, the number of cases confirmed, positive cases, is under a thousand at 958. Next slide, please.

Matt Hancock: (00:28)
The second slide shows the number of people in hospital. The top of the two shows the number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19, which is 380. That’s down from 432 a week ago. And the bottom slide, the bottom chart, sorry, shows the number of ventilated patients, that is patients on a mechanical ventilator. And that number is 330, down from 395 a week earlier. So, clearly the number of people going into hospital and the number of people in the most serious condition in hospital and ventilated beds both coming down. Next slide, please.

Matt Hancock: (01:15)
The regional picture is broadly the same across the country. And, for the first time since the peak, there are fewer than 5,000 people in hospital with Coronavirus. And, if we go to the final slide, thank you, thankfully, the number of people who have died from Coronavirus each day is also coming down. The latest data show that yesterday 15 more deaths were reported. This is the lowest figure since mid March, since the 15th of March. And each of these deaths is someone who is loved and someone who we mourn. And each death is one death too many. Nevertheless, the fact that we have a figure of reported deaths that is 15, much lower than any previous figure since the peak, is good news. However, it’s a weekend figure. And we do see the number of deaths reported tend to rise after a weekend.

Matt Hancock: (02:23)
Nevertheless, having set out all of those statistics, if you take into account the number of people in hospital, the number of people going into hospital, the number of people testing positive, and the number who, sadly, have died, all of those figures are coming down and pointing in the right direction. It shows that, whilst there’s still much to do, we are clearly making progress. We’re working through our plan. And this data shows that that plan is working. We protected the NHS. And, thanks to the patients and the sacrifice of everyone watching, infections are falling, the NHS is restoring, and the virus is in retreat. A month ago, around one in 400 people had the virus. Now, it’s around one in 1,700. And this means that tomorrow the prime minister will be able to set out the next steps in our plan to ease the national lockdown.

Matt Hancock: (03:23)
But there’s one group who’ve been more patient and given up more than almost any other. And that’s the 2.2 million people who’ve been shielding in England. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have their own shielding programs. So, what we say today is about England only. And, since the start, the clinical advice has been to protect those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. Our shielding program has delivered medicine, support, and more than three million food boxes. And it’s been integral to that plan.

Matt Hancock: (03:59)
So, just before turning to Dr. Harries, I want to speak directly to those of you who have been shielding. Like so many, I have friends, I have family who’ve been shielding. And I know what a burden it has been. Shielding has involved not leaving your house for months, not seeing people who you love, not being able to go to the park for some fresh air, or even pop to the shops for something that you need. The sacrifice, though, has been for a purpose. And I want to thank every single one of you. We knew it was a difficult ask, but these measures have been vital in saving lives. Right from the start, we’ve been clear that we didn’t want the shielding advice to be in place any longer than is clinically necessary. I’m very, very grateful to the clinicians who’ve led this work and kept the clinical advice under review.

Matt Hancock: (05:01)
So, Dr. Harries will now set out the next steps in that clinical advice. And then, I’ll set out the practical support that we’ll be maintaining. Thank you.

Dr. Harries: (05:11)
Thank you, Secretary of State. I thought it might be helpful to say a few words on the clinical basis for the current shielding program, what we’re advising now and what we might see in the future. And that is particularly to the adults, but specifically, also the children who’ve been shielding. This is a new virus. We’re continuing to learn about its transmission. And that knowledge will continue to grow over the coming years. At the start of the epidemic in the U.K., using the information we had available, and our best understanding gained from other respiratory viruses, such as flu and SARS, we recognize that some people were likely to be more vulnerable to severe outcomes from disease than others. This included older people and those with underlying medical conditions. And those are normally the people who would have a flu vaccination each year. This clinically vulnerable group we advise to be particularly stringent in following social distancing guidance. And that recommendation continues.

Dr. Harries: (06:16)
But senior clinicians recognize that, for a small subset of the population, there may be an even greater risk. So, for example, this would be those who may be on particularly high combinations of immunosuppressive treatments or where their disease was particularly poorly controlled. And this group, the clinically extremely vulnerable, were those that we advised to shield.

Dr. Harries: (06:38)
Shielding doesn’t alter the risk to an individual of illness if they become infected, but it does reduce the likelihood of meeting the virus in their daily lives. Now, we’re out of the peak of the epidemic in the U.K. and estimated levels of community transmission and infection are back to those before shielding commenced, we’re in a position to start relaxing the shielding advice over the next few weeks. We may well actually have some summer weather, a little in our favor too. And therefore, our advice to those shielding is, just take some steps now to start coming back to a more normal lifestyle. This has been a very difficult and sometimes frightening period for people who’ve been shielding. And therefore, to give people time to prepare, we’re setting out the advice in a stepped approach.

Dr. Harries: (07:27)
So, first, from July the 6th, which is a time period from when other lockdown measures have been eased, so we can ensure we’re monitoring the epidemiology continuously, we’re advising that people who are shielding may want to start meeting in groups of up to six people outdoors, including those outside their household. If you live alone or you’re a lone parent, you can think of forming a support bubble with another household. Those in a support people can then spend time in each other’s homes, including overnight. And then, secondly, from August the first, we will pause shielding. We’ll still be advising people to stay at home as much as possible and to minimize contact with others outside their household. But, from August the first, our advice would be that people can go out to more places, see more people. This might include going to the shops, for example, or visiting a place of worship.

Dr. Harries: (08:22)
If you do leave your home, you should continue to keep a safe distance from other people at all times. Regularly washing your hands for 20 seconds is still one of the most effective ways that you can protect yourself. If you’re unable to work from home, from August the first, you can return to work, as long as the business is COVID safe.

Dr. Harries: (08:43)
When this program started, we used a precautionary principle. New evidence is telling us that the risks for individuals are often more clearly due to a combination of factors in that individual, such as age, ethnicity, obesity levels, for example, as well as the medical conditions that they have. The chief medical officer has commissioned work to ensure that, should we need to step up the shielding program again, we would have available a much more individualized way for you and your doctor to be able to understand your risk and to receive more tailored advice. The new risk assessment research methodology is being published today by academic colleagues led by Oxford University. In the future, therefore, those we advise to take action may be a slightly different group to those who shielded through this new disease peak.

Dr. Harries: (09:37)
One group where this is particularly relevant is for children. As evidence has evolved, we’ve seen that admission to hospital for all children under 18 years old with COVID-19 is very low indeed. Only 36 children in the U.K. have been admitted to intensive care. Shielding guidance to date has covered a broad range of conditions and clinical vulnerabilities. We know that many parents have been worried about how they can protect their children. And they often carry a considerable burden themselves. Now, we have new guidance developed by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health. And this will help families understand who does and does not need to shield.

Dr. Harries: (10:16)
Now, we have more evidence, we can be much more specific about risk. And it’s very likely that, in the future, very few children will need to shield. The evidence the children’s clinical experts have brought together strongly recommends that children and young people who are cared for just in primary care are very unlikely to need to continue to shield in the future.

Dr. Harries: (10:40)
There is a group of children that exists who, due to their underlying conditions, may need to continue to shield. But, over the summer, parents can look forward to discussions through routine pediatric appointments. And, in the interim, we will be talking with your doctors and the Royal Colleges to ensure everyone has the right information. So, for now, there is no need for parents to speak to their doctor immediately. And we will sort that information out in due course. For anybody with underlying clinical conditions, whether adult or child, looking forward and after shielding advice is paused, we would still continue to advise you to be careful. Keep your overall social interactions down as low as feels comfortable initially, whether at home or at work. And keep practicing good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

Dr. Harries: (11:29)
And finally, I would just like to say a special thank you to clinical colleagues, particularly in primary care, and specialists in hospitals, and all of their staff who have been working hard to support those shielding over the last three months.

Matt Hancock: (11:43)
Thank you very much indeed. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’ll take one more minute just to set out the practical consequences of all this. And I’m sure that the whole nation is grateful, Jenny, that your wisdom is guiding this work. And we’re very grateful for you setting out the clinical advice so clearly. Over the next few weeks-

Matt Hancock: (12:03)
…clinical advice so clearly. Over the next few weeks, we’ll all have time to prepare for these changes. First in the coming days, as I promised, I’ll write to everybody on the shielding list with further details about what this means for you and what to expect, and we’ll update our online guidance in line with these changes. I know that after three months of shielding, it might take a bit of time to adjust to the new guidelines. So we’re working closely with the NHS, with councils and charities to make sure this updated advice is as clear as possible. If you’re receiving centrally provided food boxes or medicine deliveries, this will continue until the end of July. And I’m glad to say that seven supermarket companies have confirmed ongoing access to priority supermarket delivery slots for as long as they are needed.

Matt Hancock: (12:56)
Support from NHS volunteer responders will continue and so too will the support from NHS mental health services for those struggling with their mental health. And for anybody facing financial hardship, we’ve made money available to councils to help those struggling to buy food and other essentials. And my message to employers is crystal clear, please work with us to ease the transition back to a more normal way of life for shielding employees, we expect you to do the right thing. Nothing matters more than keeping people safe, and we will keep the evidence about the risks to people under constant review. The NHS will maintain the shielded patient list and we stand ready to support people to shield again if that’s what’s clinically required, including through an enhanced digital platform. The support for the shielded has been a huge effort of community spirit with practical and emotional support alongside the brilliant work of Public Health England, and the NHS supported by my department, the community’s department and under the leadership of Chris Townsend in government.

Matt Hancock: (14:18)
So I want, finally, to say a huge thank you to those who’ve shielded, to all those who’ve looked after them and to each and every one of you who’ve played your part in the national effort to bring this virus under control. So let’s keep going and stay alert, control the virus and save lives. We’ll now turn to questions. In the first instance questions from the public. The first question is from Alan, from Romsey by video.

Alan: (14:51)
Good afternoon. The government is borrowing unprecedented sums to fund the current pandemic. What infrastructure projects in the short to medium term and the support of the individual will need to be reviewed as a consequence of this level of borrowing? Thanks You.

Matt Hancock: (15:09)
Well, thank you, Alan. It’s an important question because there clearly has been as well as the huge health consequences that we’ve been talking about today, this huge economic consequences from this pandemic. And I’m glad to say that our view on infrastructure projects is that we need to accelerate them rather than slow them down in order to provide for a bounce back in the economy that I’m sure everybody wants to see. So that is very much lead on by my colleague, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I think has been doing an absolutely brilliant job. But our overall approach is yes, unfortunately borrowing is obviously going up, but this is a one off, hopefully, once in a century event and we therefore want to keep investing in our infrastructure and if anything accelerate our investment in our infrastructure so that we can get the economy going as soon as we can, as we can bring the virus under control.

Matt Hancock: (16:12)
The next question has been sent in written form from Mandy, from Salisbury. Mandy asks, with Ryanair and EasyJet commencing flights or getting ready to commence flights on the 1st of July, can you clarify what work is being done to establish and formalize travel corridors? Well, thank you, Mandy. Thanks for that question. You’re right that a lot of work is being done on travel corridors. I’ve been working on it over the weekend and we have a formal review date of the quarantine policy, the end of this month on the 29th of June. And we’ll make sure that in good time for that we publish what we plan to do next in terms of where we think on, again, based on the epidemiological advice where we think we’re able to formalize travel corridors. I know that people are really looking forward to getting this information, but we’ve got to make sure that we get it right, and that work is going on right now. So I’m sorry I haven’t been able to directly to answer your question other than to assure you that we’re working on it very intensively.

Matt Hancock: (17:22)
The next question is from Hugh Pym of the BBC who joins us live here. Hugh.

Hugh Pym: (17:33)
Thank you very much Secretary of State. Some people have told us that even after shielding ends, they will be concerned about leaving home and going back to work. What reassurances can you give them that will be understood and they will get full support?

Matt Hancock: (17:48)
Thanks Hugh. I think this is a really important question and it’s so important that employers work with us and crucially work with their employees to support them to get back to work in a COVID secure environment. And it’s critical that work is provided in a COVID secure way for people who are shielding. But I’d also say that we’ve taken this step based on the clinical evidence and the clinical advice. Jenny.

Dr. Harries: (18:20)
Yes. So I think a couple of points there. Firstly, to absolutely acknowledge that people who’ve been shielding, many of them are quite frightened and anxious. Understandably, many have not been taking many steps outside and I know that from speaking to GP colleagues, for example. The important thing here is that the shielding program is not so much about the individual interaction with the disease, it’s actually a population based exercise. So we know, and we’ve seen from the slides today that the infection in the community, those rates have come right down, so we can never be 100% sure. We all have a small residual risk, but I think firstly, the epidemiology is right.

Dr. Harries: (19:02)
Secondly, although we don’t really understand the seasonal effect, it does look a little bit as though that may be helping disease at the moment. And I think thirdly, which might be the most important bit for those who are shielding, is that in fact, all of the guidance for businesses in terms of mitigating risks, making sure that businesses are COVID safe actually comes through, much of it over, my desk individually and with Public Health England colleagues. And we scrutinize that to make sure that the steps that the businesses have to put in place are the ones which will maximize the safety of all their employees but I think particularly important for those shielding.

Matt Hancock: (19:38)
Thanks Hugh.

Hugh Pym: (19:40)
Can I add one more? You aren’t going to end statutory sick pay for the shielded? Isn’t that another source of potential worry if they really feel they can’t go back to work?

Matt Hancock: (19:52)
Well again Hugh, we’ve taken this decision based on clinical advice of the safety of being able to go back to work when the shielding program is paused. We’ve extended it until the end of July and then it will be paused. And I use the word paused very deliberately because the list will continue and should the clinical advice be that we need to bring it back in, then that’s what we’ll do. And of course we want to support people to get their lives back to as close as normal as possible, especially for those who’ve been shielding for whom the advice has had such a very big impact on their lives. Thanks very much, indeed. Next question is from Emily Morgan from ITV. Hi Emily. You’re silent still.

Emily Morgan: (20:55)
Hello?

Matt Hancock: (20:56)
Hello.

Emily Morgan: (20:57)
Hi. I’m just picking up on what Hugh Pym was asking. It appears that you are going to be relying on the goodwill of employers to help support shielders, but what measures are you actually going to put in place to legally protect those who don’t feel safe going back to work and whose employers perhaps can’t keep them on or who simply aren’t supportive of those shelters?

Matt Hancock: (21:18)
Well, of course the legal framework for people at work continues and exists and has been in place all the way through this crisis. And we wouldn’t take this step to say that after the extension, that it is safe to pause the shielding advice unless that was what the clinicians advice. So Dr. Harries has been leading on that advice and taking all of the risks into account. Jenny.

Dr. Harries: (21:50)
Yes. I probably just wanted to add something just from a… it won’t apply to everybody, but I think there is quite a difficult balance here because for many people who have been out of normal societal circulation, if you like, actually having a job, going to work and doing something purposeful is really important for your ongoing health and your economic and mental health as well. And so what we’ve done with the program is put a very extended period in. From the epidemiology today, it would really be possible to say, actually, let’s advise everybody to jump back into work today, but we absolutely recognize that, that’s not what’s going to help people pick up the confidence, I think, to go back.

Dr. Harries: (22:31)
So I think it’s a combination, both of having employers who are prepared to have those individual conversations, share the changes that they’ve made in their environments and to reassure them that they are COVID safe and equally time for individuals to be able to get used to the idea, if you like, of getting back and not going straight back into work this week or next, but actually over a time period. So I think there’s a benefit on both sides and it may actually… although people will be fearful, they perhaps sometimes do need to push a little bit in order to get the benefit back themselves.

Matt Hancock: (23:08)
Thanks very much. The next question is from Sam Coates at Sky. Sam.

Sam Coates: (23:14)
Secretary of State, today the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey told Sky News that in March he stepped in with a massive money printing effort when it looked like the government might not be able to borrow enough through normal means. Looking ahead, does the Bank of England’s safety net give you comfort that you can continue to do whatever it takes, economically, as you work to prevent a second spike or a spike in unemployment in the coming months? And Dr Jenny Harries, two things. Do you think that children shielding will be able to go to school in September? And also the Director General of the World Health Organization has said that globally, yesterday, there were 193,000 new cases of coronavirus, which he said is easily the most cases in a single day. Does that give you any pause for thoughts?

Matt Hancock: (23:57)
Well, thanks Sam. The governor of the Bank of England and the-

Matt Hancock: (24:02)
The governor of the Bank of England and the chancellor and the prime minister have been working very closely together on the economic response along with the rest of government and it’s so important that the institutions that govern our economic policy have worked together in the way that they have. The Bank of England, independent of course, but nevertheless able to support the economy in these extraordinary times, and I think that the way that the Bank of England has handled this has been absolutely exemplary and they have done a terrific job naturally managing the economic fallout of a pandemic that’s had the consequences that it has had economically is an incredibly difficult job but I think that the Bank have very much played their part and obviously looking forward, it’s very important that we manage the economy as best we possibly can to bring it back as much as we can subject obviously to the safety of keeping the virus low because if we ended up with a second spike that overwhelmed the NHS, then obviously that would have huge negative economic implications. So there isn’t a trade-off there, but it’s something that we all work on together. I’m also going to have a go at your third question, because it ties in with what [Mandy 00:25:41] from Salisbury asked as well which is that of course we look with the clinical advisors, we look at what’s happening around the world and this shows why it is important that we have a quarantine process in place because there are some parts of the world where unfortunately this virus is really shooting up. Jenny.

Dr. Harries: (25:59)
Thank you. Yes, so perhaps just adding onto that, of course as you look across these countries which have not experienced this so far, which are largely contributing to that massive climb, so the Americas, Latin America, and I think we are concerned looking forward about global cases, particularly focused in Africa as well. Your view is we’ll have seen the epidemic peak that’s happened in the U.K. in many other countries and they haven’t peaked yet in those countries so we can anticipate there will be a lot more cases sadly.

Dr. Harries: (26:32)
On the point about children, absolutely. I think the good news in many ways about the new research, and I would direct your viewers and worried parents to the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, we’ll put a link on our guide notes but if they just google RCPCH or other network chains are available, but if they look on that, they will see some quite detailed information that will allow them really to get a sense of where their child fits in to that risk picture. What we know is that there are almost certainly a large number, very large number of children who are not going to school at the moment who could go because parents are concerned that they should be shielding.

Dr. Harries: (27:14)
A typical example but not the only one will be a child who has some asthma but it’s very well-controlled, they don’t normally see a specialist or they may have seen them once or twice. They see their GP occasionally who checks on them. They may well be growing out of it, they perhaps get it when they run around a bit and do some exercise. Those children are at very, very low risk from COVID. They are probably at very, very significant risk of getting left behind in their education and in terms of their longterm health outcomes that would be far worse, so absolutely. We anticipate that sort of by September, clearly there’s a time for this to work through to make sure everybody, particularly our doctors have good advice to be talking with parents, so not immediately, not tomorrow, this week, but over the coming weeks, so that by the time we’re back into September when we anticipate schools would be fully open with all children attending, there should be a much fewer number of children who are on the shielding list who would need to be away from school.

Matt Hancock: (28:16)
Thanks very much Sam. The next question is from Oliver [Milne 00:28:19] from The Daily Mirror. Oliver.

Oliver Milne: (28:23)
Hi. Secretary of State, you’ve said you’re going to rely on the goodwill of employers but the reality is employment law exists because bad bosses don’t listen to appeals to their compassion. Are you willing to consider as trade unionists and campaigners have demanded changes to the law to give legal protection to those who are most vulnerable at this time as they return to work? Dr. Harries, you spoke about the complexity and range of the underlying conditions that people who have been shielding have experienced, but this advice is being lifted all at once for all of them. Now there will be people, and we know because they belong to a certain socioeconomic group, [inaudible 00:29:07] or suffer from poverty, or because they have very serious underlying health conditions, who may be more at risk than others even within this shielding group. What advice do you have for them and if they’re concerned should they speak to their GP?

Matt Hancock: (29:21)
Thanks very much Oliver. Precisely to the point in your question, there are those legal protections in law absolutely, and we’ve been advising people to shield, but because the clinical advice is that it is safe to change that advice from the 1st of August, having extended it for a month, for this month coming, then we’re bringing forward the changes because the clinical advise is that it’s now safe for people to go back to work and of course employers need to follow COVID secure guidelines as has been set out in government guidance. On the second question, I’ll hand it over to Jenny.

Dr. Harries: (30:08)
Yes, thank you. So the first important question is do not all go off to your GPs tomorrow morning because that probably won’t help the GPs or you, but in fact it shouldn’t be necessary. Firstly, as we’ve said earlier, the guidance is being stepped ahead if you like, so people have plenty of time to think through. We can discuss, which we have done already, but have continued discussions with colleagues in Royal College of General Practice for example and in Pediatrics and Child Health, and that their members can then have those very solid discussions with people who are shielding, but it goes back a little bit to why the shielding program came in, so it is not … We recognize a group of people with risk and they will have slightly different risks, but actually, it is the epidemiology which is driving the program. It’s whether you are likely to meet if you like the virus when you head out and we can never say absolutely 100% none of us will meet this virus at the moment, that’s not possible, but we can say the levels are now so low.

Dr. Harries: (31:11)
So as the Secretary of State said, the data last week, week before last was on average, in our communities, you would have to meet 1,700 people before you came across a case of infection. So it’s trying I think I get that perspective and proportionality into people’s understanding, and so the issue here is the epidemiology changes so it’s whether you meet the disease or not. For individuals, they will have a different risk if they meet it, but it’s not actually … I think everybody quite reasonably is seeing it from their own disease perspective, where what we’re saying is the epidemiology has changed.

Dr. Harries: (31:51)
I think the bit that will help people going forward, we’re coming we hope to a sustained period of very low infection. I’m actually more concerned I think about if we get to the winter and we have cold weather and everybody hasn’t continued to socially distance and keep on top of this, but what we will have which will help employment discussions then is hopefully this new assessment and new tool if you like to support discussions and what that will do is give that very individualized discussion with your GP or with your specialist which will account both for the underlying conditions and some of the other attributes. If for example you are from a Southeast Asian background and a young footballer for example, your risk would be very, very low indeed, but if you are elderly, if you have other conditions, obesity, diabetes or what have you, age is actually one of the biggest variables but all of these things need to be factored together for your own individual assessment.

Dr. Harries: (32:53)
I think now is as safe as it’s likely to be for a while. When it gets back to the winter, I think we’re going to have a different tool and that will help both individual and the employees

Matt Hancock: (33:03)
Thanks very much Oliver.

Oliver Milne: (33:05)
Just one other quick one if it’s possible.

Matt Hancock: (33:07)
Sure, go ahead.

Oliver Milne: (33:09)
You mentioned about the retooling essentially the shielding lift. Does that mean that you’re developing the capabilities to instigate regional shielding lockdowns for example if epidemiological outbreaks were to break out, if contagion was more likely in a town in the northeast for example? Could shielding be issued there on a localized level using this new tool set that you’re developing?

Matt Hancock: (33:33)
We will have the ability to do that and we consider that as part of a local lockdown I that was what was clear and clear advice. Thanks very much. The next question is from Andy Woodcock of The Independent. Andy.

Andy Woodcock: (33:49)
Hello Health Secretary. You’ve announced some changes to the lockdown with restrictions today and tomorrow we’re expecting further changes in lockdown restrictions, there’s been a lot of hints that we’re going to see the two meter social distancing rule drop to one, we’re going to have hospitality reopening at the start of July and yet the Independent SAGE Group led by the prime minister’s former chief scientific advisor David King says that it’s much too soon to do this and the rate of infection is still far too high. If there is a division like that between the scientists and the politicians which is playing out in public, wouldn’t the public be right to suspect that these decisions, relaxations being made for social and economic reasons rather than to protect the public health, wouldn’t they be right to be very concerned about that?

Andy Woodcock: (34:35)
Dr. Harries, we’ve seen in Germany recently they relaxed the lockdown before us and over the weekend, their R rates of re-infection seems to have shot up from just over one to getting onto three in the space of a few days. Our own R rates according to what we can see is only just below one. How concerned are you that we’re going to follow Germany down that route and what sort of consensus do you think there is amongst the scientific and medical community that now is the time for this sort of relaxation within SAGE? Is it consensus or is it half and half or just a bare majority?

Matt Hancock: (35:15)
Well thanks Andy. As you know, we’ve been guided by the science throughout this and taking the advice of the scientists has been a critical part of working on the next SAGEs in the plan, but as you can see from the chart, I don’t know if you were with us at the start of the press conference but at the start of the press conference, we could see that the number of new cases is coming down, the number of hospitalizations is coming right down, and based on that data and on the clinical advice, that’s what’s been feeding into the decisions that the prime minister will be announcing tomorrow. Science always has competing voices, but we try to listen to all of the different scientific advice

Matt Hancock: (36:03)
But we try to listen to all of the different scientific advice rather than just one individual. Jenny.

Dr. Harries: (36:07)
Yeah. So pick up the German issue first, I think that’s an important, salient point to make to viewers and for all of us that even where a lockdown measures are being eased, we do all still need to follow social distancing rules. To keep washing our hands, keep [inaudible 00:36:26] it for respiratory hygiene. So all of those things still apply. So I think there is a critical point here that says just because life is feeling a bit more back to normal, don’t suddenly jump to where you were, for example, this time last year. We need to learn to go forward with restrictions in our lives in order to get the maximum benefit from some of this easing.

Dr. Harries: (36:50)
I think with, with Germany, what that shows is anything is possible. But I think we have built in to the system in the U.K. to be able now through the joint Biosecurity Center and the data flows to be very clear where we may see hotspots, whether it be from an organizational or in a community. For example, and through the test and trace, working with directors of public health in local authorities, that means it’s possible to identify them very early and not allow that to come through. But going onto your scientific point, I think, well, there’s a very scientific technical point about the R value because actually as numbers go down, it becomes a less reliable mechanism for counting that’s to do with low numbers of cases.

Dr. Harries: (37:37)
So that is one issue. But I think we will be looking at both the growth rate of the virus in the U.K. of the disease and the R rate. The SAGE that gives advice to government and it is advice and it’s the politicians who decide on the measures that they wish to take on a balance. So the advice that is given is already coming from a consensus of scientists, they give the advice and the politicians act on that advice. It is the consensus around us and consensus as of last week, was that our R remains between 0.7 and North 0.9.

Matt Hancock: (38:13)
Thanks very much. The final question is from Chris Lloyd from the Northern Echo, Chris.

Chris: (38:19)
Hello, thank you for having me. The Northeast still has some of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases. ONS statistics from May show three of the 10 constituencies with the most deaths per hundred thousand were up here. Blyth Valley, we should Balkan and Northwest Durham. All three incidentally being seats which elected conservative MP’s for the first time in December. So what explains this higher rate? Is it lower economic levels? Is it care home policy? Is it something else? What has been going on in the regions. Then secondly, I think people caught up here or people up here are caught, and they want to do their bit as you ease lockdown and shielding, they want to get out, but they’re fearful because the statistics show that there are hotspots on their doorsteps. Are they right to be worried? How do you allay their fears?

Chris: (39:08)
And then finally the conservatives won those seats, partly because of the promise of leveling up the northeastern economy. Has the pandemic changed your approach? Is it all about physical infrastructure spend? Is it about social infrastructure spend? Is it about job creation or moving departments out of London? How are you going to level up?

Matt Hancock: (39:27)
Yeah, thanks Chris. It’s great to have you on. My absolute number one thing I want to say in response to your three questions is that the leveling up agenda is even more important with this pandemic. We’ve seen, including some of the statistics that you show, the importance of making sure there is a more even distribution of opportunity of health and of wealth across this country. And that’s what the leveling up agenda is all about. So we’re going to redouble our work on leveling up as we come out of the coronavirus crisis. And it’s going to be a very big feature of the years to come.

Matt Hancock: (40:14)
I’ll pass to Jenny on the scientific questions. But the final point I’d make is that the people of the northeast have made sacrifices in an unbelievable way to ensure that we get this virus is under control. The virus is under control in the northeast, as well as across the rest of the country. R is below one. The number of cases is falling. The NHS in the Northeast has done an amazing job, right from having the very first case back in February when it feels like an age ago, all the way through. And social care providers have done their part to, of course, we need to look into why there was a difference in the numbers of cases and the number of deaths in different parts of the country. But all I can say is that I know that the people in the northeast have played that part. Jenny.

Dr. Harries: (41:10)
Yes, thank you. So it reflects in many ways a sad truth I think about infectious disease, not just in the U.K. But right across the world where less affluent populations will be worst hit. And you’ve already alluded to that and the opportunities there for the Levelling Up program. I think to say whether people should be anxious, I would rather, they were careful and concerned. It won’t help if people are too frightened to go out, but actually if they are practicing all the social distancing measures themselves and still continuing to have social interactions, but limit the ones to just the ones that make them feel comfortable. So not exceeding that, not heading off to parties, not doing those ones which are more dangerous. Keep to the social distancing guidelines that we have now. They are there to keep people safe and to keep areas safe as well. So I think be careful and be cautious but don’t be too anxious.

Matt Hancock: (42:11)
Thanks very much and thanks everybody for the questions. That ends today’s coronavirus press briefing. Thank you. (silence)