May 14, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 14 with Grant Shapps
British officials gave a coronavirus press briefing on May 14. It was led by British politician Grant Shapps. Read the full speech transcript here.
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Grant Shapps: (16:03)
Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s Downing Street Press Conference. I’m pleased to be joined today by Professor Jonathan Bantam. Let me start by updating you on the latest information from the Government’s Cobra data file.
Grant Shapps: (16:13)
Through our monitoring and testing program, as of today, 2,219,281 tests for Coronavirus have now being carried out in the UK. Including a new record of 126,064 tests carried out yesterday. 233,151 people have tested positive, that’s an increase of 3,446 cases since yesterday. 11,041 people are in hospital with COVID-19, that’s down 14% from a week ago. And sadly, of those tested positive for Coronavirus 33,614 have now died. That’s an increase of 428 fatalities since yesterday. This new figure does include all deaths in all settings, not just in hospitals. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends as this Nation battles to defeat the disease.
Grant Shapps: (17:21)
Today, I’m going to set out how, whilst the country has been a virtual standstill, this downtime has been used to fix and upgrade the Nation’s road and rail infrastructure along with plans to help our economy bounce back.
Grant Shapps: (17:36)
But before I set out today’s transport announcements, let me briefly remind you of the Government’s Roadmap out of this crisis.
Grant Shapps: (17:44)
Can I have the first slide, please? As you know, we’ve established a new COVID alert system with five levels based primarily on the R value and the number of cases. Throughout the lockdown, we’ve been at Level 4. Thanks to the British people, we’ve brought the R down and we can now begin moving carefully to Level 3.
Grant Shapps: (18:09)
Can I have slide two? From this week, we’re at Step 1, that slide. Meaning that those who cannot work from home should now speak to their employer about going back to work. You can now spend time outdoors and exercise as much as you like. You can meet one person who’s not part of your household outside provided you do stay two meters apart.
Grant Shapps: (18:33)
Step 2. From June the 1st at the earliest, and as long as it’s safe, we aim to allow primary schools to reopen for some pupils in smaller class sizes, non-essential retail to start to reopen, and cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors and without crowds.
Grant Shapps: (18:53)
And then, on Step 3, no earlier than July the fourth. And again, only if the data says it’s safe to do so, we aim to allow more businesses to open, including-
Grant Shapps: (19:03)
… we aim to allow more businesses to open, including those offering personal care, those in the leisure sector, together with places of worship.
Grant Shapps: (19:10)
Next slide, please.
Grant Shapps: (19:12)
We can control this virus if we stay alert. But what does staying alert actually mean? Staying alert for the vast majority of people still means staying at home as much as possible, and working from home if you can.
Grant Shapps: (19:27)
But it also means limiting contact with other people, keeping your distance if you go out. Washing your hands regularly, wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces where it’s difficult to be socially distant; for example, on public transport. And if you or anyone in your household has symptoms, you all need to self isolate.
Grant Shapps: (19:51)
Today, I want to update you on the measures we’re taking to speed up our economic recovery while keeping people safe. For two months, we’ve remained locked down, traveling as little as possible. In doing so, the whole country has protected the NHS, and helped reduce the number of COVID infections.
Grant Shapps: (20:12)
But as we begin making tentative steps towards restarting our economy, and people in some sectors who can’t work from home are beginning to return to workplaces, it is clear that transport has a critical role to play.
Grant Shapps: (20:29)
Last Saturday, I explained why it’s our civic duty to avoid public transport if at all possible. Because even when we have 100% of the services up and running, there may only be socially distant space available for one in 10 passengers.
Grant Shapps: (20:46)
Therefore, in order to help reduce crowding, we set out a £2 billion program to put cycling and walking at the heart of transport, with £250 million of that emergency money spending already underway.
Grant Shapps: (21:02)
Over the past week, we followed this up by publishing three pieces of detailed guidance. First, for local authorities in England, explaining how they should prepare for significantly increased numbers of both cyclists and pedestrians.
Grant Shapps: (21:18)
Next, for the transport sector, to ensure that they provide safer services for those traveling, and safer workplaces for their staff.
Grant Shapps: (21:27)
Third, and most importantly, for passengers: We’re asking the public to help ensure that the transport system does not become significantly overwhelmed by returning commuters. The guidance makes it clear that if you can’t walk or cycle, but you do have access to a car, please use it rather than traveling by bus, train, or tram, especially where the public transport is liable to be overcrowded.
Grant Shapps: (21:55)
For those people who absolutely need to use public transport, it also explains how you can best protect yourself and those around you.
Grant Shapps: (22:05)
In the coming weeks, as we carefully and cautiously restart sectors of our economy, and people begin to travel once again, they should notice that whilst the country has been in downtime with the roads and railways quite quiet, that we have been busy getting on with essential work, fixing the nation’s infrastructure. So we can recover faster when the time comes. This upgrade program, the kind of work that at any other time, would cause inevitable disruption and service delays whilst costing the taxpayer more, has instead carried out in previously unimaginable circumstances of a largely unused transport network.
Grant Shapps: (22:48)
For example, we’ve completed 419 separate network rail projects over Easter, with a further 1,000 upgrades being carried out throughout the May bank holiday. Meanwhile, Highways England has been busy accelerating maintenance projects on the nation’s roads.
Grant Shapps: (23:07)
Last week, for example, we opened the vital A14 upgrade seven months ahead of schedule. This is a route normally used by 85,000 drivers daily, which will dramatically improve access to the UK’s largest container port of Felixstowe, and permanently boost the distribution of goods around the UK. As Northern Powerhouse minister. I can report that in the North we’ve delivered £96 million of rail infrastructure improvements during April. And throughout the country, we’ve accelerated maintenance projects on road and rail whilst always sticking to Public Health England safety guidelines.
Grant Shapps: (23:49)
So that altogether, Highways England has delivered over £200 million of upgrades. Network Rail has delivered £550 million worth during April alone. I’d like to thank the army of transport and construction workers who’ve been grafting very hard throughout this lockdown.
Grant Shapps: (24:10)
But to make sure that Britain is ready to bounce back from coronavirus, today I can announce nearly £2 billion to upgrade our roads and our railways, to put our transport infrastructure in the best possible shape, and to get our economy growing once again.
Grant Shapps: (24:28)
This package includes £1.7 billion for local roads, making journeys smoother and safer for drivers, hauliers, cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and others. By filling millions of dangerous potholes, we can make our roads safer and encourage more people to cycle, or even take part in the upcoming e-scooter trials, helping more people play our part in relieving public pressure on public transport. This investment will help fix damage caused by the winter flooding, repair roads and bridges, and fund numerous road improvement schemes.
Grant Shapps: (25:06)
As more people become mobile again, we’ll also be building a network of rapid charging stations for electric cars, including a big expansion of rapid charging facilities, motorway service stations, helping the country to lock in the dramatic air quality improvements we’ve experienced during the coronavirus lockdown. Amid all the sad news and the tragedy of loved ones we’ve lost, we somehow managed to do things in weeks that would normally take years: building new hospitals, moving public services online, making instant reforms and fast-track new laws. Extraordinary changes in the way that employers and employees work, effectively taking swaths of the economy online almost overnight.
Grant Shapps: (25:55)
Now, we want to ensure that we can maintain this momentum. If building a new hospital takes just two weeks, why should building a new road still take as long as 20 years? If GP surgeries can move online, why are most rail passengers still traveling on cardboard tickets? We must exploit our newfound capacity to respond at pace and apply it to rapidly improving our infrastructure.
Grant Shapps: (26:24)
And we must examine why it is that bureaucratic bindweed makes British infrastructure some of the costliest and slowest in Europe to build? Because whilst many will continue to work from home after this crisis, both the long-term transport trend, and the pressing need the communities to level up across the country to take that infrastructure, will be even more important in stimulating our recovery and securing supporting new jobs.
Grant Shapps: (26:54)
By combining fast home internet access with vastly upgraded transport connections, we can help revive many of our small– and medium-sized towns, which over the decades have been left behind.
Grant Shapps: (27:09)
This has been a devastating start to the year. Not just for Britain, but for the world. And we are only at phase one of that recovery plan. But we all know that it is our reaction to adversity that will ultimately define how we recover.
Grant Shapps: (27:27)
We must harness our approach to tackling the pandemic and apply it to rebuilding our own infrastructure with the same swift action, innovation, and collective determination that has characterized us over the past few weeks. And in doing so, we can emerge stronger.
Grant Shapps: (27:45)
I’d like to turn now to Jonathan Van-Tam for the base figures.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (27:50)
Thank you, Secretary of State.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (27:53)
Good afternoon to you all. I’m going to go through today’s slides, beginning with some new data. These are social distancing data. They’ve been collected by the Office for National Statistics, and they represent the period from the 24th of April to the 3rd of May this year.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (28:15)
What they show to you quite clearly is that 80% of adults in Great Britain only left their homes for the permitted reasons, if at all. 91% of adults avoided contact with vulnerable people. And compared with 12% last year, 44% of employed adults worked from home in that period.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (28:40)
You can see that there have been very dramatic and very important changes that the British people have made, that have contributed to where we are now in terms of being able to begin easing the social distancing restrictions that we’ve been under for so many weeks.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (28:59)
Next slide, please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (29:03)
Now, this slide shows you in a bit more detail testing and new cases across the UK from the period 6th of April on the left of the graphs, through to the 14th of May on the right.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (29:17)
The top array in pink is testing. Please bear in mind that some people, a very small proportion, will have been tested more than once. But nevertheless, on the 14th of May, 126, 000 tests were performed. This is a new record. It goes on the back of 2.2 million tests delivered in total.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (29:48)
In terms of confirmed cases: On the 14th of May, there were 3,446 confirmed cases against a total of 233, 151. If you look carefully at the bottom graph, the green graph, you can now see a gradual downward trend in the number of confirmed cases.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (30:14)
Next slide, please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (30:17)
These are new data. Again, recently published by the Office for National Statistics, based upon a survey of households that will eventually get to a total size of 10,000 households surveyed. What it shows you are data from the 27th of April through to the 10th of May. These are estimates based upon the sample, but these are estimates for all of England.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (30:46)
The estimate is that in that time period, 148,000 people were infected with COVID-19. That is 0.27% of the English population, which is just under three people infected in every 1,000. That is really now quite a low level of infection in the community that is being picked up through this survey.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (31:17)
This survey will be repeated regularly over time. It’s going to be able to show us regional trends and regional data, and the data will feed into the Joint Biosecurity Center to help us keep a very close eye on COVID-19 as we move forwards.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (31:36)
Next slide, please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (31:39)
I’m turning now to the data from hospitals. The upper curve shows new daily admissions from the 24th of March through to the 12th of May. The bottom curve shows the percentage of critical care beds occupied by COVID- 19 patients. There are four traces they’re covering the five traces … I beg your pardon, covering four traces covering the four nations of the UK.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (32:14)
What you can see on both of those slides are now long, steady declines in admissions and the proportion of critical care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. This is clearly extremely good news, and shows that the pressure on hospitals is now beginning to ease.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (32:37)
Over the page, please. Thank you.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (32:40)
This further data shows the total number of people in hospital with COVID-19 across the UK. The general pattern across the UK, you can see now, is clearly downwards. There’s been a 14% drop in the total number of people in hospital since last week. Again, this is moving in the right direction.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (33:04)
Next slide, please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (33:08)
This slide sadly shows deaths due to COVID-19, confirmed with a positive test right across the UK, beginning at the 14th of March on the left of the slide, and moving to the 14th of May. There have been 428 deaths with a confirmed test reported on the 14th of May.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (33:32)
But as importantly now, if you look at the slide itself and look at the yellow curve, picking out the seven-day rolling average, this decline is now continuing. And it is sustained, which again is a very positive sign indeed. Thank you, sir.
Grant Shapps: (33:52)
Thank you very much, Jonathan. We turn now to questions first from the members of the public. Helen from Cheshire.
My son is due to start the final year of his engineering degree at Durham in October, which cannot be done purely online. He has to start paying rent on his student house in July, and take out the student loan of £9,250 in August. If lectures move online, he will be thousands of pounds worse off, and will also miss out on the student experience.
There was no mention of students or universities in the government’s plan to rebuild on Monday. What is the government’s plan for students and universities this autumn? Thank you.
Grant Shapps: (34:34)
Well Helen, thank you very much. We certainly share an interest. I also have a son at university, wondering about exactly the same issues. That, of course, comes down to what happens with the pace from the charts that the professor was just showing us of the decline in this disease. Of course, it will be the case that if we can get those numbers down, then different parts of the economy will start to be able to reopen.
Grant Shapps: (34:59)
I think it’s too early to say, but the education secretary will be returning to the subject, and will be providing us all with further guidance. Like you, Helen, I’m very interested to hear it when it comes.
Grant Shapps: (35:14)
There is something we can all do in the meantime, which is when we say “Stay alert,” ensure that we do have that social distancing in place, particularly as some of the tentative first baby steps in unlock start to happen.
Grant Shapps: (35:28)
I think it is a wait and see, but we’re absolutely aware of the concerns. And we want to make sure that we beat this virus in a way that can allow parts of society, including education, higher and further education, to get going again.
Grant Shapps: (35:42)
Can I turn to a nanny from Farmbrook? This is going to be a written question. “Millions of people have had their operations and other hospital procedures postponed indefinitely. Can the government say when elective surgery and other delayed treatments will recommence?”
Grant Shapps: (35:57)
Well, yes, Nanny, it’s definitely the case that we want the NHS, which as Jonathan was just demonstrating, has capacity increasingly coming back into it; because the number of people in hospital for COVID has been coming down; to be able to take up routine operations, many of which haven’t stopped. But some of which I know that the health secretary has referred to specifically. He’ll be saying more about that soon.
Grant Shapps: (36:24)
I don’t know, Jonathan, is there anything that you wanted to add from a medical point of view?
Jonathan Van-Tam: (36:28)
Only really to say that we absolutely understand that the National Health Service is not a COVID treatment service. It has had to focus on that in the last few months, but we’re very conscious. Everybody in Health is conscious of the fact that as soon as is physically and humanly possible, services must be restored to normal. But that takes time, and it has to be done at a paced, measured, safe way.
Grant Shapps: (36:56)
[inaudible 00:36:56] it is worth noting that at no time has the NHS become overwhelmed. We’ve got the Nightingale hospitals; we’ve managed to increase the capacity, and the NHS has done a phenomenal job of that.
Grant Shapps: (37:09)
As Jonathan rightly says, we want to make sure that it is there for everything. We also encourage people to continue contacting their GP or dialing 111 to make sure that they’re getting the support that they require from the NHS.
Grant Shapps: (37:23)
Can we turn now to questions from the media? Alison Holt at the BBC.
Alison Holt: (37:28)
Secretary of State, there’s growing anger amongst people within the care sector about what they see as the ongoing slowness of the government’s response to their needs, their problems.
Alison Holt: (37:40)
They are still waiting for instance, for details of the infection control plan that was announced yesterday; it’s two months into the pandemic. What would you say to reassure them that this is going to change?
Alison Holt: (37:52)
Also a question from my sports colleagues for Professor Van-Tam. You’ve been involved in talks with Premier League players. How likely is it to be safe enough to return to …
How likely is it to be safe enough to return to competitive football by June the 12th?
Grant Shapps: (38:08)
Allison, thank you very much, indeed. Look, with care homes they are actually specialists in infection control. That’s something that care homes, I understand, often routinely are the frontline of handling, often more so than hospitals, and many of them, well, all of them, will be knowing exactly what to do.
Grant Shapps: (38:28)
And Testament to that is that in the majority, the vast majority, of care homes, COVID-19 hasn’t been reported at all. However, it certainly is the case, and we’ve seen these figures from the WHO, who say that in Europe, as a whole, over 50% of deaths have taken place in care homes, not so in English care homes, the figures being about 25% overall, but it is absolutely essential that they are provided with every provision.
Grant Shapps: (38:59)
I just want to give you an example of that. Care homes often privately owned, are actually always buying their own PPE. That’s how it’s always worked. The government stepped in very quickly to, although as you know, well covered, massive global shortage, help to provide PPE to care home with millions of pieces delivered.
Grant Shapps: (39:20)
So there’s been a big national effort to assist them, and I know that the Health Secretary will be saying more about that soon. But I don’t want to underestimate the extraordinary work that’s gone in to care homes to make sure that most of them have indeed remained COVID free in the meantime as well. I’ll go to Jonathan now, if you’d like to comment on football.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (39:45)
Yes, on football. As you now, the overall approach with easing social distancing has been one that has been tentative, measured, slow, and stepwise. And that is exactly the plan that is underway for all of the elite sport, not just football. That there will be small, carefully measured stepwise approaches to seeing what can be achieved safely.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (40:16)
The first of those is really to return to safe training, still observing social distancing. And measures are taking place, plans are taking place, at quite some depth to be ready to do that. And that will be a stepwise thing. We will have to see how that goes before it is time to move on, or even think about moving on, to the return of competitive football matches, as you have outlined in your question. So I think we have to be slow. We have to be measured.
Grant Shapps: (40:56)
Allison, I’m just going to give you the opportunity to come back on either those.
Yes, if I could, one more question on care homes and the care sector. In Scotland, care home residents that have tested COVID positive will now have to have two negative tests before they can return to that care home. Is that something that’s going to be introduced in England?
Grant Shapps: (41:16)
It’s probably more a question for the medical experts and Public Health England than me.; I did just want to mention in regard to testing though, that it’s important to know that everybody in a care home, that doesn’t matter whether that is a care home worker or resident, and doesn’t matter whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, can now be tested. And there are different routes to testing. One of which is there are now 116, is the latest figure, 116 mobile testing units, which can actually physically as required, or if required, go to a care home as well, which is helpful to know. But I think on the detail what the medical advice would be, again, I’ll turn to the professor.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (41:58)
Yeah. So I’ll just say there’s an absolutely enormous effort now to increase the amount of daily tests performed in care homes. And testing is part of the discharge process before patients are discharged from NHS facilities to care homes.
Grant Shapps: (42:17)
Jonathan, thank you very much, indeed. I’ll turn now to Tom Clark at ITV. Tom.
Tom Clark: (42:22)
Thank you, Secretary of State. My question relates to antibody tests that have been in the headlines today. The Prime Minister described antibody tests as game changing. is that still the government’s position? And if so, when can we expect to see the game changing potential actually deployed in this epidemic? And how are you going to prioritize those? Will they go straight to care homes or frontline healthcare and care workers first?
Grant Shapps: (42:48)
Thanks Tom. Look, I think, first of all, I’ll hand over to Jonathan for the medical side of this, but I think it’s very exciting that there’s a very reliable, possibly even a 100% reliable, antibody test. That’s the test, of course, that shows whether or not you’ve actually had coronavirus in the past rather than currently, and have therefore developed the antibodies. It’s very good news, particularly if it transpires that this makes you immune, at least for a period, from getting coronavirus again. And I think therein is the question mark within your question. I’ll come back to you after this, but I’m going to ask Professor Jonathan Van-Tam just to address that point.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (43:30)
So thank you for the question. You’re absolutely right. We have been waiting for a really good antibody test to be ready. There are now at least two available. One of those has received its CE mark on the 28th of April, the Rosch Test. It has been validated by Public Health England on the 7th of May. And I anticipate that it will be rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come, as soon as it is practical to do so.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (44:02)
I also anticipate that the focus will be on the National Health Service and on carers in the first instance. And it has taken time. What we required was a test that was highly specific. And to explain to people what that means, it means that the chances of a false positive are extremely low with this test. And I’m sure you can understand that if we had used a test where it was possible of giving a false positive result and therefore saying to people, you have antibodies to COVID-19 when in fact you don’t, that would have been very undesirable indeed.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (44:46)
So absolutely this is a good test that will stand us in good stead moving forwards, and I think it will be incredibly important as the days, weeks and months go by. Now, there are some science pieces that need to go along with that, and please remember that this is a virus that emerged in December. So the totality of human learning on this virus has been in the last five months. That’s not long to get to know all the ins and outs of a virus. And one of the things that we’ve needed to know is after infection and recovery, whether there is an antibody response. And it’s clear that in most cases there is, but you can’t just apply this test. You have to wait at least 14 days, preferably 28 days, after the infection in order to be sure to pick up the antibodies if they are there.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (45:50)
The next thing to say is, it’s going to take us time to understand whether the antibodies in all cases protect against infection and you can’t speed up the answer to that. You have to carefully study people who have recovered, people who you know have got antibodies, and follow them, and track them, and see if they become reinfected. And over time, hopefully, you get the answer that they’re not, but that is data that has to be gathered over time.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (46:23)
And then finally, if you understand that antibodies do protect you against re-infection from this disease, the final science question is how long into the future do the antibodies last for? It is not automatic that by any means that these are going to be lifelong. We just don’t know. We’ll have to take people with antibodies and measure them over time to understand how long the antibodies stay in the body. And that is something that I’m afraid scientists all around the world have to be patient about and have to wait for the answers.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (47:04)
Now, those answers may come from other parts of the world. They may come from the UK, where there’s enormous efforts being put into what we call long term serology surveys to understand all of this. But it isn’t something that you can compress through time in a science sense, no matter how hard you try, we just have to learn as we go along. But the good news is we do now have antibody tests that we absolutely can rely on.
Grant Shapps: (47:34)
Thank you very much, Jonathan. So, Tom, I think to answer your question, if all of those things end up being, yes, and it actually provides that immunity, then for sure it would be game changing because it would enable us to do things in terms of releasing lockdowns That wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Grant Shapps: (47:50)
I think your second part of your question was about quantity. I don’t know the exact answer to that. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions will be the answer, I’m sure, but it’s a very positive development and we’re delighted that it’s happened. Did you want to come back at all, Tom?
Tom Clark: (48:06)
May I be committed to just one follow up? Yes. Just as I understand it, there are other tests, and Professor Van-Tam just eluded to that, not just Roche. I believe Abbott Laboratories have an effective antibody test as well. I’m getting the impression the government is doing a deal with Rosch. Are we having an exclusive relationship here, or are we going to try and spread our bets, given the uncertainties that still remain in terms of this [inaudible 00:48:30]?
Tom Clark: (48:30)
And secondly, have these tests been validated against people with very low levels antibodies, these asymptomatic cases, because that’s the game changing element, is how many people out there have actually had COVID-19 and we won’t know that. We can’t spot people with asymptomatic [crosstalk 00:10:47].
Grant Shapps: (48:45)
So on that second point, I know the tests were carried out at Porton Down by PHE. Jonathan may know more about it. On the first point, of course we’ll want to get as many tests as possible. We’ve never restricted ourselves with that regard. And we’ve looked at other antibody tests before this, which actually just didn’t stack up once we tested them, including some very early on. Unless you have that 100% accuracy, they’re not helpful in individual cases. Though, I think it is true to say that you can have less than 100% accuracy and come up with a useful survey of a wider percentage and come up with statistically useful information. It’s not the same as having what appears to be there now. And so I think these questions we’ll have to wait and see the answer. I don’t know if you wanted to add anything on the testing side of things.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (49:39)
Well, so, on the contracting point, doctors aren’t told that kind of thing and I’m sure I couldn’t talk about it anyway, because it’s undoubtedly commercially sensitive. I’m an epidemiologist, not a laboratory scientist, so I think the question you’re asking is, is there a threshold below which the tests cannot pick up a very faint signal? And I don’t know the answer to that. I think the Secretary of State is right, that does not change their value in understanding what is going on in the British population, and how many of us have now been exposed to this disease, been infected, even if we may not have known it at the time, and now have antibodies. And that’s going to be a critical piece of understanding as we go forward, because we’re going to have to live with this virus for quite some time, certainly until a vaccine comes along.
Grant Shapps: (50:32)
Tom, thanks very much. It’s a fascinating and extremely important, and actually quite hopeful area, given the news on that antibody today. I’d like to turn now to Charlotte Ivers of talkRADIO.
Charlotte Ivers: (50:45)
Thank you, Secretary of State. NHS England were due to publish some data today on the number of urgent operations canceled in March 2020. That data release has itself been canceled and I’m quoting from the gov.uk website here, it says “These statistics will not be collected and published for the period due to the coronavirus illness and due to release capacity across the NHS.” So can we be absolutely clear here? Does the government know how many urgent operations were canceled in March 2020?
Grant Shapps: (51:25)
Thanks very much, Charlotte. Simple answer, I don’t know the answer to that. It is the case that in all these situations, we’re trying to get data out as much as possible, both as a government. We found that to be a useful process, to just put data out there so people can analyze it. But also of course, people like the Office of National Statistics, who look after the nation’s statistics, and the NHS, who have a very big statistics function.
Grant Shapps: (51:53)
I guess from your description, it’s the first I’ve heard about it, but I guess from your description, it is just a prioritization issue. And actually, with your permission, I’ll ask the Health Secretary when I speak to him and make sure we specifically get you an answer to your question. Unless Jonathan knows anything off the top of his head.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (52:13)
I don’t have the answer.
Grant Shapps: (52:14)
I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the way that the statistics are delivered within the NHS to answer the question. I’ll just give you a chance to come back to Charlotte, in case you’ve got to follow up on that.
Charlotte Ivers: (52:24)
Absolutely. I think yes, from what’s on the gov.uk website, it does seem to be a case of prioritization, but obviously these are urgent operations and therefore I’m surprised to see the government hasn’t taken it as a priority to assess how many have actually been canceled.
Grant Shapps: (52:42)
And so Charlotte, what I can certainly take tell you is I will check in with the Health Secretary immediately after this, and we’ll find out what we know about it. It will, as you rightly say, possibly be a question of prioritization, or, as in other cases during coronavirus, the NHS having to put its resources elsewhere in order to get things going. That said, I’d be surprised if we haven’t got a pretty firm knowledge on the number of operations. I do see statistics mentioned mostly by the media on this all the time. Let’s find out the answer for you and you can rebroadcast it. Thank you very much, indeed. Thank you for the question. Can O turn to Jim Picard of the FT. Jim.
Jim Picard: (53:24)
Secretary of State, back in March, you bailed out almost the insider railway industry. The transport for London is running out of money fast, and Sadiq Khan, the mayor, has said that they’re basically hours away from some major cash crunch. I understand you’re close to some rescue deal for them, but they’re saying that they need money, not just for the spring, the summer, the autumn, but they need money possibly for several years. If social distancing is to remain on the tube and on London buses, is that something that you can commit to?
Jim Picard: (53:54)
And my second question for Professor Van-Tam, the government has drawn up plans to introduce quarantine for people coming to the UK from anywhere in the world to two weeks, but under one proposal, France would be excluded, as a scientist, do you think there’s any scientific rationale for that idea of excluding the French?
Grant Shapps: (54:16)
Jim, thanks very much. Look on TFL, and actually this applies wider across our entire network. As you point out, right at the beginning of this crisis, we had a rescue package for all of the railways. We subsequently also helped the bus companies, trams, ferries, and many others, to work through this crisis. Not least to ensure that critical workers were able to get to places like the NHS and social care, and all the other important work that’s been going on.
Grant Shapps: (54:44)
We are now in a situation where I am optimistic of having a solution with TFL and the mayor of London. We don’t know the answer to the second part of your question there, which is, well, what would happen if this lasted for very much longer, and it went on for more than a few months? Of course, we’re all working to make sure that we get rid of the virus, or get rid of it as much as possible, which is why I think the data that Professor Jonathan Van-Tam was just showing was so good to see, that the number of infections seemed to be coming down.
Grant Shapps: (55:25)
But we don’t know what the longterm will be. However, I am confident in the short term, TFL, London underground, and the buses, and indeed the trains and buses throughout the rest of the country, will continue to run. And I’m encouraging the mayor to make sure we get that back to 100% very quickly, as people are starting to travel more. It’s very important, as I was saying in my comments earlier, that we do not have overcrowding. And then I think there’s a question on the epidemiology of 14 days isolation. [crosstalk 00:17:53].
Jonathan Van-Tam: (55:53)
So thank you for the question about quarantine. As I understand it, discussions are still ongoing about what the final shape of measures at the UK borders will look like. And that’s not for me to comment while those discussions are still going on. But you asked a question about the science and about quarantine making sense. Given that the incubation period of this illness is up to 14 days, then asking people who cross the UK border to stay at home for 14 days to self isolate, means that they can’t develop symptoms or become infectious just before the development of symptoms and be out there at large in our community. So that’s scientifically very important.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (56:43)
And where quarantine and when quarantine makes most sense, scientifically, is when the incidence, the level of disease, the level of new cases, in the receiving country, in this case, the UK, is low and it makes most sense in terms…
Jonathan Van-Tam: (57:03)
… is low, and it makes most sense in terms of travelers coming from areas where the incidence is high.
Grant Shapps: (57:09)
Jim, do you want to come back on either of those points?
Just on that on the TFL point, are you expecting the mayor to introduce higher fares as part of the rescue package? And do I understand it, Professor Van-Tam, that you’re saying that because we have a higher infection rate than France, then that’s not really a problem? In which case, why wouldn’t we apply the same rule to other countries with a lower infection rate?
Grant Shapps: (57:33)
On the first point, and I can actually comment on the second one if you like as well. On higher fares, look, it’s very important I think in providing a rescue package for TFL that the London mayor can work with that we don’t end up in a situation where people from outside the capital are unfairly carrying the burden. By which, I mean, sadly, I have to stand up and do them each year, fares do end up having to rise with inflation. Otherwise, everyone knows there’s less money going into the system. If you have consistent fair freezes, it means that more money isn’t going into the system, and you can’t then have an unfair settlement where other British taxpayers are effectively bailing out the system, albeit that the system in this case is in trouble because clearly of coronavirus. So there is the right balance to be made to answer your question head on.
Grant Shapps: (58:28)
In terms of the 14 days and what happens at our borders, to pick up on your last point, which is probably better aimed at me, but we’re working on the detail of this. Let’s wait til we’ve seen it. As a principal though, it seems fair and right that if we’re asking the British people to stay at home and make such huge sacrifices in their own lives, then we would expect anybody coming back to the country to do the same thing or visiting the country to do the same thing with some limited exceptions. For the reasons that Jonathan was explaining, it makes sense to do that as our own level of infections come under control, not to effectively reimport it. Of course now, we have things like the testing and tracking capacity to do that.
Grant Shapps: (59:13)
It’s worth mentioning actually that in terms of the testing and tracking app, I know that the health secretary will say more about it shortly, but there are now over half the residents of the Isle of Wight where this is being tested out, who have downloaded the tracking app for the first time. In total rather, the actual number is 72,300, which means that over half of Isle of Wight have downloaded that. One of the things we’ll be asking people to do at the border when they come in is to download the app and provide us with contact details so that we know where people are. I think this a very sensible, proportionate approach to making sure we don’t reimport a problem once we’ve got these numbers under control, particularly now we have that test and tracking capability, which wouldn’t have existed some time ago. Jim, thank you very much, indeed. I’m going to turn to John Stevens of the Daily Mail. John?
John Stevens: (01:00:05)
Thank you, transport secretary. You’re asking people to use cars instead of public transport. Aside from road upgrades that are likely to take some time, what are you going to do to help motorists now? Could local councils be asked to scrap parking charges or get rid of parking restrictions? Could people get help to buy a car?
Grant Shapps: (01:00:25)
Thanks, John. First of all, it is an unusual situation for a transport secretary to be in to actively ask people to avoid, particularly busy times or actually at busy times, public transport. It’s very, very important that we get this right, otherwise that would become a major way to spread the disease if people can’t maintain social distancing. So, yes, the car, if you can’t use other active forms of transport like cycling or walking, then the car is certainly the option that comes about. One of the things, as I mentioned in my opening comments, that we’ve enjoyed during, one of the few things that’s been better during the lockdown has been the air quality, which has gone up dramatically. We want to maintain some of that, so incentives for people to over time switch to electric vehicles, the money that I announced both on Saturday when I spoke from here but also today for upgrading electric charging, is really important, because it helps people feel comfortable and not experience range anxiety if they get an electric car, which helps. But also in terms of cars, the pothole work has been going on throughout, but there will be an expansion of that to fix our roads to make it better for drivers. Of course, fuel charges have come down. The cost of petrol has come down quite a lot during this crisis. You’re right about the balance of parking charges and different zones, because there are times now where we’re literally encouraging people to drive perhaps close to but maybe not right into perhaps a town or city that they work in and find a place to park. We’re working not just with local authorities on this, John, but also with some large entertainment venues who have car parks, which aren’t being used at the moment, and looking at all those possibilities, so it’s a very good point. I’ll just come back to you, John.
John Stevens: (01:02:17)
Yeah. I just wanted to ask you a quick question about holidays. When the hospitality industry is allowed to start opening up again, do you think holidays outside such as camping or caravaning could be seen as carrying less risk than staying in hotels, and could they be allowed to open sooner?
Grant Shapps: (01:02:34)
Well, I’ll certainly ask Jonathan to answer part of that, but on the broader point, just so we’re clear where we are today and where we hope we’re heading. Today, although you can now travel any distance, for example, to go and exercise, you must still stay in your own home at night, so you can’t, at the moment, book holiday accommodation or bed and breakfast or stay over anywhere. But over a period of time, and I set out in that slide earlier phases one, two and three, we are saying that we will look to unlock if the data says it’s possible. If not, we’ll have to stop, I’m afraid. But if we can, we’ll unlock, and at that point, my impression is that outdoors actually, as things stand at the moment, is a lesser risk than indoors, but right now I’m going to stop and defer to an expert professor.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (01:03:22)
Yes, thank you. The two epidemiological concepts that are important in keeping the infection rate down is staying within household groups and minimizing the contact between households. That’s one point. It is absolutely an area of biological truism that outdoor environments are much less risk than indoor environments, but, of course, that will need some careful thinking about, because sharing a tent is a small enclosed space or can be a small enclosed space with generally poor conditions of ventilation, and I guess it depends who you’re sharing it with. Same for a caravan. So it’s not as straightforward as it might sound, indoors, outdoors, hotels, campsites. It’s a little more complex than that, and it will take some careful thought. Now you’ve mentioned it, I’ll begin to give that a bit of careful thought.
Grant Shapps: (01:04:25)
Thank you very much, Jonathan, and thank you, John, and actually also your readers for their tremendous work on PPE and the campaign that you’ve been running, which has been greatly appreciated. Can I turn to William Telford from Plymouth Life? William.
William Telford: (01:04:41)
Good afternoon. I’d like to ask her the secretary of state a couple of questions specific to Plymouth and following up on the last question on the hospitality industry. I don’t know how much you know about Plymouth, but 2020 was set to be a very big year for us with the Mayflower 400 celebrations. Those have all now being postponed. The city has suffered a 71 million pound loss in tourism in just the time of the pandemic. It’s lost 20 million pounds from loss of student revenue, and the city council is saying it is now set to lose 50 million pounds from lost income and increased costs. This puts our economy of this city somewhat a state of jeopardy.
William Telford: (01:05:29)
It’s a city that already has some of the worst deprivation areas in the southwest if not the whole country and a history of underfunding, so I wonder if the secretary of state can tell us, is there anything you can do or are planning to do to specifically help cities such as Plymouth that have unique problems? Secondly, in light of what the French prime minister said today about restarting domestic holidays in from July and August and bearing in mind the problems we’ve got with the hospitality sector here, could we expect a similarly clear announcement before July the 4th, and will there be any sort of support package expressly for hospitality?
Grant Shapps: (01:06:13)
Thank you very much, indeed, for those questions, William. I think Plymouth is actually, like many areas, experiencing the worst of the coronavirus. It’s clearly decimated things like planned celebrations, and I was aware of the one that was planned for this year. I did check before seeing you were coming on, and I know that the government’s business support package in Plymouth has allocated 47 million pounds to Plymouth, and has also paid over 3,200 grants totalling over 39 million pounds to organizations there. Also, you will recall from other ministers saying it, we’re allocating 3.2 billion pounds of additional funding to local governments, and I make that point to address your wider issue of towns and places like Plymouth, cities like Plymouth to respond to the coronavirus, of which Plymouth has received 15.7 million pounds of that money to date.
Grant Shapps: (01:07:15)
On your second point, look, France, as I was talking to my opposite at number last night, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, and we were having this discussion. France is probably two or three weeks ahead of where the UK was … I’ll check this with Jonathan … into this virus, into the crisis, so they’ve been making decisions at every stage a little bit ahead of us. It’s unknown, because we will want to get through those phases that I described on the slide before. We know that these things can’t come before. We’ve said not before July the 4th, phase three, which opens a much wider potential, but we do need to make sure that the R rate and the number of cases in the community and in society, it is a level where we can unlock before we can do that. Just because it’s an epidemiological question, I’ll also throw it over to Johnathan.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (01:08:14)
I don’t think I’ve really much to add other than that the landmass in France is clearly larger for a fairly similar population size, and population density is going to be much less in France as a whole outside of the cities, and that undoubtedly is the kind of difference that will need to be thought about very carefully before making too many international comparisons.
Grant Shapps: (01:08:36)
John, thank you. William. Thank you very much, indeed. That brings us to the end of our questions. I was just going to wrap up by saying it is clearly important, if we want to, as so many of those questions request, to get to the next phases and unlock other parts of the economy, that we all continue to stay alert. Staying alert means remembering to go back to all the things that we were being told about at the beginning, like washing your hands, carrying hand sanitizer, and making sure that you stay two meters apart, and if you or anybody else in your household is ill, please remember to stay isolated and at home for 14 days. Thank you very much. Thank you too, Jonathan. Thanks for today. (silence).