May 19, 2020

United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 19 with George Eustice

Great Britain Press Briefing May 19
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsUnited Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 19 with George Eustice

British officials gave a coronavirus press briefing on May 19. George Eustice called on furloughed workers to lend a hand with recent harvests. Read the full speech transcript here.


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George Eustice: (00:03)
Good afternoon and welcome to today’s briefing, where I’m joined by Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific advisor.

George Eustice: (00:11)
I want to begin by updating you on the latest data relating to the coronavirus outbreak. 2772552 tests for coronavirus have now been carried out in the UK, including 89784 tests carried out yesterday. 248818 people have tested positive, and that’s an increase of 2412 cases since yesterday. 10025 people are currently in hospital with the coronavirus. That’s down 17% from the 11716 this time last week. And sadly, of those who’ve tested positive for coronavirus across all settings, 35341 have now died. That’s an increase of 545 fatalities since yesterday. And of course, our thoughts are with the families of all of those who lost their lives to this virus.

George Eustice: (01:15)
Before I turn to some of the work that DEFRA is doing to ensure that we are able to harvest this year’s farm harvest, I want to remind people of the details of the next phase of our fight against the coronavirus. Firstly, on slide one, as you can see, in order to monitor our progress, we are establishing a new COVID alert system with five levels, each relating to the level of threat posed by the virus.

George Eustice: (01:45)
The alert level will be based primarily on the R value and the number of coronavirus cases. And in turn, that alert level will determine the level of social distancing measures in place. The lower the level, the fewer the measures; the higher the level, the stricter the measures. Throughout the period of lockdown, which started on March 23rd, we were at level four. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the British people in this lockdown, we have helped to bring the R level down, and we are now in a position to begin moving to level three in careful steps.

George Eustice: (02:23)
Turning now to slide two, we have set out the first of three steps we will take to carefully modify the measures, gradually ease the lockdown and begin to allow people to return to their way of life. But crucially, do this while avoiding what would be a second peak that overwhelms the NHS. After each step, we will closely monitor the impact of that step on the R value and the number of infections, and all the available data. And we will only take the next step when we are satisfied that it is safe to do so.

George Eustice: (03:01)
So, in step one, as the prime minister announced last week, those who cannot work from home should now speak to their employer about going to work, and people can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as they like. Finally, turning to slide three, having taken the first step in carefully adjusting some of the measures and our advice to people on what to do, our clear advice is to stay alert, control the virus and save lives. And staying alert means staying at home as much as possible and working from home if this is possible, limiting contact with other people, and where contact is made with other people, keeping your distance, washing your hands regularly, and also staying at home and self isolating if you or a household member show symptoms of the virus.

George Eustice: (03:57)
My final point today relates to the availability of labor this year for the farming harvest. Every year, large numbers of people come from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria to take part in the harvest, harvesting crops such as strawberries and salads and vegetables. We estimate that probably only about a third of the people that would normally come are already here, and small numbers may continue to travel. But one thing is clear, and that is that this year we will need to rely on British workers to lend a hand, to help bring that harvest home.

George Eustice: (04:33)
Over the last couple of months, we have been working with industry on a plan to support and help people taking second jobs, particularly those who are furloughed. And we have launched a new Pick for Britain website that enables people to go online, check what job issues there are, what job availability there is, and to marry up job opportunities from growers and employers with those people seeking a second job, particularly those that are furloughed.

George Eustice: (05:04)
And we believe that those who are furloughed may be getting to the point that they want to lend a hand and play their part. They may be wanting to get out and they may be wanting to supplement their income with an additional job. And if they do feel that way, I would urge them to visit that website and to look at the opportunities that are there.

George Eustice: (05:25)
I will now turn to Angela McLean who will give you further updates on the coronavirus.

Angela McLean: (05:30)
Thank you. Pocket up the next slide, please. This slide shows the way people are moving around using their own cars, light goods vehicles, or heavy goods vehicles, or in public transport in the three graphs on the bottom. The data runs from the 16th of March to the 17th of May. And what we see is that, although there is some increase in the use of private cars and also in light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles that the reduction in the use of public transport, whether that be national rail, tube and buses in London, or buses elsewhere, fell very low and has stayed very low. That is very good news for all of us, because it means that people are continuing to respect the fact that, if we can, we must stay at home in order to prevent the transmission of this virus. Next slide please. So, this next slide in the top there in red shows the number of tests being done each day. And what you see is that it’s been very much higher, really, for the second half of that graph. So the graph runs from the 6th of April to the 19th of May. On the 19th of May, there were 89784 tests, and what that translates into is daily confirmed cases. So each day, how many people across all sorts of different settings had a positive test.

Angela McLean: (07:09)
It’s quite difficult to interpret that green graph because it’s in the context of lots of different people being allowed to be tested. And indeed, of course, lots and lots of extra testing become becoming available. And when I want to know what’s happening every day with coronavirus infections, if I go to the next slide, please, I turn to data from hospitals and the estimates of the number of new daily admissions into hospitals each day.

Angela McLean: (07:41)
So, we have this time series best for England, so we tend to look at the English data. And what you see there, that’s really the flow of infected people into hospitals, and it’s a therefore much more sensitive way of keeping track of what’s happening across the country. So, what you see is a graph that rose sharply from the beginning of March, thought it was already risen before then, and peaked on April the second. And that’s actually exactly the date that we would have expected it to peak, given the lockdown that we all took on board on the 23rd of March, and the fact that it would take about 10 days for that sudden drop in the number of new infections to turn into the sudden drop you see there in the number of people arriving in hospital with COVID.

Angela McLean: (08:29)
And then what you see is that has fallen fairly steadily since then. It’s not falling quite as fast as it was right at the very beginning. And that is a cause for debate about why is that. And a different way of keeping track of how much infection is there in hospital is to look at the numbers of people who are really ill.

Angela McLean: (08:54)
So the bottom graph there is to do with people who need mechanical ventilation, so those are the people who are really most ill. And what it shows is, of all the facilities that we have, of all the beds in hospital where there is a mechanical ventilator, how many of them are being used by a patient who is infected with COVID?

Angela McLean: (09:16)
And what you see is that peaks, not surprisingly, a little bit later than the peak in new admissions, because of course you can only be a new admission once, but of course you can be in a hospital bed for lots and lots of days. And so you see that with a later peak, a flatter peak and a slower decline, but nevertheless, a sustained decline across all four of our nations. Next slide, please.

Angela McLean: (09:48)
This breaks out the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 right across the UK. So we have it for the four nations of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, but England is then broken up into different regions. And you can see that there is a fair bit of variability across the different nations and the different regions.

Angela McLean: (10:12)
What you see is that, for some regions, the number of people in hospital has fallen rapidly and is still falling quite rapidly. And for others, the number of people in hospital, whilst it’s still falling, is not falling as fast as in other places. Next slide, please.

Angela McLean: (10:37)
Here we see people who have sadly died from COVID, with a confirmed positive test, here across the UK. This is the graph that we’re familiar with and we know that the numbers are always very low on Saturdays and Sundays. And for that reason, because this is very pronounced weekly pattern in the cases, we look instead of at the raw numbers, the blue bars, we look at the gold line and that’s a seven day rolling average. So we use that on purpose-

Angela McLean: (11:03)
… because we want to average out the weekend effect. And what you see with that rolling average, is that there is a steady decline in the number of confirmed COVID deaths here. Next slide, please.

Angela McLean: (11:24)
There are several different ways of counting how many people have died because of this pandemic here in the UK. And here are a couple of different ones. So the first, the top graph there, went from the 14th of March to the 19th of May. And what it compares is ONS data on weekly deaths with COVID-19 confirmed or suspected, so that’s the higher purple line. Or weekly deaths with COVID confirmed with a positive test. So you can imagine that not everybody who is suspected of dying of COVID has actually had a positive test, that’s why the blue line lies underneath the purple line.

Angela McLean: (12:07)
And then the bar graph below it breaks those deaths out into deaths that occurred in hospital, deaths that occurred in care homes, at home, or in other places. And what we see is that every one of those different colored bars is now falling. Deaths in hospital is falling, deaths in care homes is also falling, and as are deaths at home and other deaths. So whilst we remain very sad, and really our hearts go out to the families of all those people, we do look at these falling deaths with some sense of relief that these numbers are consistently falling across sectors now. Thank you very much.

George Eustice: (12:53)
Thank you very much, Angela. Turning now to the first of our questions from the public. I think we have a video question from Kuljit.

Kuljit: (13:07)
I’d like to understand what the UK government are doing in terms of gathering data and information from other countries across the world and Europe that have eased lockdown restrictions, in terms of taking lessons learned from their approach and using those on our own journey to easing the restrictions. Thank you.

George Eustice: (13:26)
Thank you very much, Kuljit, And I think that is a very important question. We’ve known from the beginning of this epidemic that we’ve been roughly two to three weeks behind Italy and France. We’ve seen the trajectory of the epidemic in those countries, seen how they responded. Many of the approaches that we’ve taken have obviously been very similar to those countries. And of course, in many other areas that we are considering now, including potentially having a quarantine at the border for arrivals, we’re also seeking to learn lessons from the approach taken from some of those other countries. I may ask whether Angela has any particular points she wants to add from an epidemiological point of view.

Angela McLean: (14:10)
I think that those points are very good, and that it’s obviously really, really important and a very good point, that we need to look to our near neighbors and also countries further away, to learn what works and how long it takes to see if something is working or not working. The two I would draw particular lessons from would be South Korea, where I feel they’ve made inspiring use of all kinds of different contact tracing, in order to control infection, to an extent that they are now down to handfuls of new cases every day. And when they say new cases, they mean people they’ve found in the community, because of their contact tracing efforts. And I think that is an experience that we are aiming to emulate. The other country I would look to is Germany, where the importance of testing has always been so clear. And that is a place from where we have learned that we need to grow our testing facility, and have grown our testing facility. Thank you, Kuljit.

George Eustice: (15:19)
Thank you very much. And the next question we have, I think is a written one, which is from Nick from Gatwick. And his question is: “For those of us that work in sectors of which we cannot return to work, aviation, hospitality, et cetera. Will we see the government increasing the length of payment holidays for both mortgages and loans, to ensure we can financially weather this storm too?” And Nick, I think the point that I would make on this is that Rishi Sunak the chancellor, has announced an unprecedented and very comprehensive package to support both businesses during this time of crisis, but also employees that are affected. So businesses are able to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan. And there have also been a number of other grants to help small businesses, and business rates have been set aside.

George Eustice: (16:13)
And in the case of employees in those businesses, we’ve obviously had the furlough scheme, the job retention scheme. It’s now the case that around 8 million people are furloughed under that scheme. And I know that the chancellor is thinking very carefully about how that can evolve as we go through these various stages. Because it is the case, as you point out in your question, that there will be sectors in areas such as hospitality, or in the restaurant trade, or in aviation and others, where it’s very difficult for business to get back to anything close to normal for some time. And I know that the treasurer will be thinking very carefully about how the job retention scheme that we have can evolve to help support those businesses as they tentatively try to return to business in July. I will move on now to some of the questions from the journalists, starting with Sophie Hutchinson from the BBC.

Sophie: (17:10)
Good afternoon. You were just saying how inspired you are by South Korea and Germany, the contact tracing and testing that’s been going on there. Do you regret the decision that the government made in March to abandon that sort of tracing in the community?

George Eustice: (17:29)
Well, I think the point that I would make on the testing and tracing is we’ve been expanding, ramping up that testing capacity over the last couple of months. We got it to 100,000 capacity by the end of April, we’re continuing to build that this week. Matt Hancock has made clear that anybody over the age of five with symptoms can get a test. And it’s also the case that we’ve now recruited over 20,000 people to assist with contact tracing, so that we can help track down infections on hotspots for this virus as we try to emerge from lockdown. I think it’s the case that early on in this epidemic, clearly there was a priority to make sure that people showing symptoms who worked in the NHS, because of their close proximity with patients, had those tests. So there was priority given to those, but we are now in the position where we’re able to offer testing to anybody over the age of five with symptoms. And that’s going to be quite crucial to developing our track and trace capabilities in the months ahead.

Angela McLean: (18:39)
I think I would agree that at the time, with the testing we had, the right thing to do was to focus it on people who were really sick in hospital, so we knew who in hospital had COVID. So it was the right thing to do at the time.

George Eustice: (18:52)
Sophie, is there anything else you’d like to…

Sophie: (18:56)
Yes. Just to ask, so you would agree therefore, that your strategy has been based on capacity rather than the science?

George Eustice: (19:06)
Well, it’s undoubtedly the case that early on we were wanting to build that capacity, and we’ve pointed out before there were countries like Germany that naturally had more capacity existing in their economy. We were building it very rapidly from a very early stage, and we have now got to the point, as Matt Hancock pointed out this week, that we can offer test to anybody over the age of five with symptoms. And that’s going to be pretty critical in terms of developing that track and trace capability. Next we have John Ray, from ITV.

John Ray: (19:42)
Hi there, good afternoon. A question to each of you please, about the return to school. I wonder if you both accept the deep, profound, and very sincere fears of teachers and parents about heading back to school at the beginning of June. And for you, Minister, this question: When so much has quite obviously gone wrong with the government’s leadership of this crisis, track and tracing, PPE, care homes, you can’t really blame teachers for not believing you when it comes to returning to school. And for the scientist, please: Frankly, isn’t it just too early to conclude that the science says that it’s safe to return to schools?

George Eustice: (20:35)
Well John, it won’t surprise you to know that I don’t share your caricature of the government’s approach in this. Of course there have been challenges along the way in these extraordinary times we’re in, on a number of fronts. Other countries have experienced similar challenges. The government has grappled with what’s been a very difficult situation, and made timely decisions, and taken action to ensure that we had the capacity we needed to deal with this epidemic. And so for instance we constructed very quickly all of those Nightingale hospitals, that gave us that additional capacity should that have been needed, and the steps we took meant that we were able to flatten the curve of this virus, better than some had expected us to be able to.

George Eustice: (21:19)
But on the specific issue of schools, we’re working very closely with the teaching unions and with school leaders on our approach to this. We do believe that it’s important that initially, we get the year ones and year sixes back into a school environment, to help prepare them for the move up to secondary school in the case of the latter, but also to help settle in the younger children in the former. And we do believe that other countries like Denmark have demonstrated how it’s possible, in fact, to bring schools back into opening, albeit in a socially distanced way, albeit with fewer pupils initially, and staggering-

George Eustice: (22:03)
… the times that year groups arrive and so on. So other countries have demonstrated ways that this can be done and linking to the question that was raised by [inaudible 00:22:15] at the beginning of this question session, I think it is important that we learn from those other countries and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. My final point is, we should bear in mind that throughout all of this crisis, I completely understand that there is apprehension and anxiety of those who are being asked to return to work, but there are some sectors like the NHS, like police, like the food sector, who have continued to work. And in the case of the food industry, have continued to work and done so successfully by putting in place social distancing measures.

George Eustice: (22:49)
So we don’t underestimate that there are challenges and there is a job to do to reassure people, but we do believe it’s right to embark on this as other countries have. Angela, do you want to add anything?

Angela McLean: (23:01)
Yes. Thank you, John. Our scientist have been very clear on our advice that changes to lock down as we modeled them need a highly effective track, trace and isolate system to be in place. And we’re also very clear that any change to the social distancing measures should be based upon observed levels of incidents in places that those are going to be changed, not on a fixed state.

George Eustice: (23:26)
Okay. John, is there anything else you wanted to…

John Ray: (23:29)
[inaudible 00:23:29] to each of you, to the scientists, as I understand it, the track and trace will not be fully in place by the 1st of June. So does that affect the scientific advice you’re giving? Will it be safe to reopen schools? And to you, minister, you seem to be accepting that the decision to send children back to school is not a scientific one, but a political calculation, even if that means that there is an aspect of risk for the children.

Angela McLean: (24:02)
So we’re getting a full update on Thursday of exactly what’s going to be in place and when, so perhaps you seem to be party to knowledge that I’m not party to. So I’m going to wait to see what I get told on Thursday about what’s going to be in place by when.

George Eustice: (24:20)
And John, look, it’s absolutely the case. As we evolve our policy from lockdown to something more nuanced with easements being progressively rolled out in several stages over the course of this summer, of course, absolutely, we are following the science on this. And just as other countries like Denmark, who’ve also embarked on a similar journey are also following the science. So I don’t accept that it’s putting the science to one side, but it is absolutely the case that all of us are going to have to live alongside this virus for some time to come. And we do need to try live our lives and identify ways of returning to work as far as possible, and to put in place those social distancing measures. And that’s what’s happened from day one in supermarkets, as people would have seen, it’s what’s happened in day one in the NHS.

George Eustice: (25:15)
We’ve obviously been dealing with people affected by the virus and it’s the case that as other walks of life get back to something closer to normality, we do have to identify ways of doing that while observing the social distancing. The next question is Andy Bell from Channel 5.

Andy Bell: (25:36)
Thank you very much. Today, the Chief Executive of Care England has told the parliamentary committee that people were discharged from hospital back into care homes when they were either symptomatic or simply didn’t have any COVID-19 status, they hadn’t been tested. Secretary of State, how was that allowed to happen as a policy. And Dame Angela, was there any scientific advice given at the time about doing that?

George Eustice: (26:04)
Well, look, we don’t accept the caricature that we took an approach that was wrong. Very early on in this epidemic, we had protocols in place for care homes. There was guidance as to how they should approach things as the situation developed. Then more stringent policies were introduced by way of policy around discharge. And we got to the point that everybody was tested before discharge, but in those early weeks, there will have been some instances where people may have been discharged who were asymptomatic. And there may have been a small number of instances where there may have been showing symptoms, but would have been isolated, and that was the guidance at the time that was in place.

George Eustice: (26:51)
But we have strengthened that very much ever since then, we now have testing and a very rigorous discharge policy that’s in place, and that is getting stronger all the time. And while it’s obviously a tragedy to see the number of deaths that we’ve had through this epidemic, it is reassuring, as Angela said earlier, that we’ve passed the peak epidemic that was taking place in care homes and the number of deaths and number of infections is now declining. Angela, would you like to add…

Angela McLean: (27:21)
I can’t answer that question without going back to the exact list of what advice was given when, and I don’t want to give you an answer that’s not correct. So if you’ll forgive me, could we take notice of that question? Is that okay? We can get back to you.

Andy Bell: (27:33)
Well, yes, obviously, if you can get back, that would be very good. I mean, it leads on to another question I have, which is that, the chair of the Science and Technology Committee today has said that the advice given by scientists is too secretive in this whole process, that more should be published. I mean, do both of you think that would be a good idea? Do you think that would lead to better decision making?

George Eustice: (27:53)
Well, I don’t really accept, Andy, that it secretive. We have been having these briefings on a daily basis for weeks and weeks now, and this is my fourth time doing this daily press conference. And at every one of those occasions, I’ve either had somebody from the Chief Scientific Adviser’s department or from Public Health England, or the NHS alongside me. And I think we’ve been very candid in sharing with people at every step of the way, exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it, and what the evidence shows, complete with graphs that show the trajectory and the trends and the epidemiology behind this outbreak.

George Eustice: (28:36)
So I don’t really accept that criticism at all. I think we’ve been very candid throughout this in terms of sharing knowledge with people and sharing our approach with people.

Angela McLean: (28:52)
We have been really very, very focused on trying to give really high quality advice, completely rooted in evidence. I can assure you that at every conversation, we are always challenging each other to say, what is the evidence for that? Our job is to give science advice here and make sure everything we say is rooted in good quality science. I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time worrying about how secretive or not secretive it is. I can see that is going to be a big issue when we have a big look back. I’d be more inclined to address that then. I realize that’s not what you want me to say, I know, but I don’t think that’s the most interesting conversation, I would say. I say the most interesting conversation is, are we able to give good advice?

George Eustice: (29:42)
Thank you so much. Next, we have Jane Merrick from The i.

Jane Merrick: (29:45)
Thank you. I want to follow up on Sophie’s question, first of all, to Dame Angela. In February, a WHO China report said that community testing and contact tracing was the best way to tackle coronavirus. So was the decision then on the 12th of March to scale back on community testing and contact tracing in the UK, was that based on sound scientific advice? And to the Secretary of State, who takes ultimate responsibility for these decisions and for that decision on the 12th of March? Is it the ministers or the scientists offering the advice?

Angela McLean: (30:25)
The advice that we gave certainly took account of what testing was available. It was what was the best thing to do with the test that we had. We could not have people in hospital with COVID symptoms, not knowing whether or not they had COVID.

George Eustice: (30:42)
And as I explained earlier, Jane, we have been expanding dramatically our testing capacity over recent weeks and months, simply because it is going to be a very important feature of that track and trace approach that we’re developing, and we’ve recruited now over 20 traces to work on that. And as we evolve this policy and emerge from full lockdown to something where we try to support people getting back to work normally, having that track and trace approach is going to be increasingly important and that’s why we are increasing that capacity. As I pointed out earlier, at the beginning of this, when there was an issue of capacity on tests, then of course you needed to prioritize where those tests were most needed, and that was in our NHS.

George Eustice: (31:34)
You couldn’t have a situation where people working in the NHS did not know whether they had the coronavirus or not. So it was right to initially prioritize the tests for that particular outcome.

Jane Merrick: (31:50)
If I could follow up, just to go back to Dame Angela, I mean, your colleague, Sir Patrick Vallance, told the science committee on the 25th of March that he wished that there was more capacity available. So are you saying then that even given sort of the international expertise on coronavirus, it was just what was available at the time, the capacity that was available at the time, that was the best advice that you could give in the context of that capacity?

Angela McLean: (32:17)
I think that’s what I just said, yes.

George Eustice: (32:21)
Okay. Right. Thank you very much, Jane. And next we have Stephan from City A.M.

Stefan: (32:28)
Thank you, Secretary of State. David Frost and the UK Brexit negotiating team have said on multiple occasions that one of the key contentions areas, sorry, of negotiations has been fishing policy. And that if there isn’t any movement on these talks by June, that the deal will be unlikely to go through. This would mean that the city of London is locked out of lucrative EU markets. With this in mind, can you tell me what the government is prioritizing higher? The city of London and financial services firms, which contribute 7% of GDP to the economy or the fishing industry, which contributes-

Stefan: (33:03)
… 0.1%. And to Dame Angela, is there any chance of the lockdown being lifted entirely in remote islands or isolated communities in the UK who haven’t had any recorded cases of COVID-19?

George Eustice: (33:18)
Thank you very much, Stefan. The short answer is that we, in this negotiation, are prioritizing becoming an independent self-governing country again. We want to make our own decisions, make our own laws, control our own waters. Yes, set our own fishing policy, have a seat at the table where fishing opportunities are negotiated each year, not only with our EU members, but also with countries such as Norway and the [inaudible 00:00:49]. And we believe that the interests of our economy are best served by us taking back control and making our own laws again. And that is the approach we’re taking.

George Eustice: (33:59)
And so, as David Frost has pointed out, there are a couple of sticking points so far in these negotiations. One is that the European Union seemed to be insisting that we continue to abide by their laws even after we’ve left. And the second is that the European Union seemed to be saying that uniquely among every other country in the world, the UK should give unlimited access to its waters for EU countries even though we’re not any longer part of the Common Fisheries Policy. And both of those, as a point of principle, are wrong. And that is why we’ve adopted the stance that we have.

Angela McLean: (34:39)
Well, as you know, you can’t ask me what policy might be, but you can ask me what kind of question are scientists looking at? And I can tell you for sure, location is a huge focus of ours at the moment. Of course, I mean, islands are a very special case, which is, of course, particularly interesting. But there are also other parts of the country that have the spread of infection across the country is really quite diverse, quite heterogeneous. And that does, of course, raise interesting questions, particularly as we get incidents right right down about what should we do about that.

George Eustice: (35:11)
Stefan, did you want to come back again?

Stefan: (35:14)
Thank you. I just want to come back to you, Secretary of State. I do understand the rationale for the fishing policy and negotiations that are going by, but can you say today definitively if they will not be softened for the sake of financial services firms, which contribute so much to the UK economy getting access to a market, which is so important for them?

George Eustice: (35:33)
Well, look, I just think in this approach, it’s very important that you’re clear about your priorities. And one of ours is to become an independent coastal state in control of our own waters again, and managing and controlling access to our waters. That’s been our position from the very beginning and it will not change. And I think it’s not something to get into to be saying you have to sacrifice one industry in order to give a leg up to another. That’s not the way to approach this negotiation. The way to approach it is to stand up for our interest as an independent country. And that’s the approach that we are taking. Now next we have Ben Fishwick from Portsmouth News.

Ben Fishwick: (36:21)
Thank you, Secretary of State. And even with extra government funding, councils are struggling to cover their increased costs during this crisis. Can you commit to matching pound for pound their expenditure and cover any budget shortfalls caused by loss of income? And then separately on testing, we have a testing center in Portsmouth, but several of our readers who were tested on the 1st of May waited for two weeks for a result despite being told it would be arriving in 48 to 72 hours later. 14 days after their test, several of them were told their results were unclear. Is there the capability to ensure a proper turnaround of testing?

George Eustice: (37:00)
Well, Ben, on your latter point, we do recognize that there have been a few reports of people not getting the results to their tests as quickly as they would expect. And it’s also the case that there are instances where a test result comes back as inconclusive and sometimes second tests have to take place. And I might ask Angela in a moment to say a bit more on that.

George Eustice: (37:24)
On your former point about local authorities, of course the government recognizes that this coronavirus outbreak has put pressure on local authorities. We’ve recognized that, and we’ve given them an additional 3.2 billion pounds to help them cope with the new burdens that have been in place. We’ve also made available 600 million pounds to support care homes and help them respond to this crisis. So yes, we recognize that there are new burdens on local authorities as a result of this. And we’ve put in place some additional funding to recognize that. And I completely appreciate that local authorities will always say that they need further funding. And in situations like this, they will have funds set aside for events of this sort. And we think that the approach that we’ve taken with that 3.2 billion pound injection is the appropriate intervention from government to support them in the really important work that they’re doing. Angela, did you want to add anything on the …

Angela McLean: (38:34)
I think really running a rapid and reliable testing system is an entirely operational issue. And so the science advice would be you need to have a rapid and reliable testing system.

George Eustice: (38:50)
Okay. Ben, is there any final thing you want to know?

Ben Fishwick: (38:54)
Are you confident we do have a rapid and reliable testing system?

Angela McLean: (38:57)
I think it’s getting better. And one of the things we’ve actually looked at a lot today is evidence from other countries. And it clearly is possible to set up testing systems with a 48 hour turnaround.

George Eustice: (39:13)
Okay. Thank you very much, Ben. And thank you to everyone for those questions. I think we’ve covered a large amount of ground today, but thank you very much.

Speaker 2: (39:25)
So that’s the end of today’s Downing Street briefing on coronavirus. Let’s just take you through some of the main points that were covered there in that Downing Street briefing led by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, who announced that there had been a further 545 COVID-19 deaths confirmed with a positive test in the last day. Now that means the official number of people across the UK who are known to have died with the virus is 35,341. In terms of tests, 89,784 tests were provided in the last day. Now you remember the government has promised to carry out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April and 200,000 by the end of May as well. And the Environment Secretary said that farmers will need more help from British workers this year to bring in the harvest. He said he hopes British workers will be able to find jobs on farms via a new online recruitment hub called Pick for Britain. He urged furloughed and unemployed workers to sign up to help get the harvest in.

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