May 20, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 20
British officials gave a coronavirus press briefing on May 20. Oliver Dowden announced development of a task force to get sports up and running.
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Oliver Dowden: (00:00)
Welcome to today’s briefing. I’m pleased to be joined by professor Steve Powis, the National Medical Director at NHS England. First of all, I would like to update you on the latest data in respect of the coronavirus response. So, first of all, 2,962,227 tests for coronavirus have now been carried out in the United Kingdom. And that includes 177,216 tests, which were carried out yesterday. 248,293 people have tested positive, that’s an increase of 2,472 cases since yesterday. 9,953 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus that is down 13% from 11,443 this time, last week. And sadly of those who have tested positive for coronavirus across all settings, 35,704 have now sadly died. That is an increase of 363 fatalities since yesterday. And of course my thoughts are with every one of the families of those people who’ve been affected by this. And before we begin questions from the public and from the media, I just want to remind people of the details of the next phase of our fight against coronavirus.
Oliver Dowden: (01:26)
So slide one, please. So as you’ll see from slide one first in order to monitor our progress, we are establishing a new covert alert level system with five levels. Each relating to the level of threat posed by the virus. The alarm system 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. And throughout the period of lockdown, which started on March the 23rd, we’ve been at level four, but thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the British people in this lockdown, we’ve helped to bring the R level down and we’re now in a position to begin moving to level three in careful steps, may we have slide two, please.
Oliver Dowden: (02:18)
So as you’ll see from this slide, 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 normal way of life. But crucially avoiding what would be a disastrous second peak, which overwhelms the NHS. And after each step, we will closely monitor the impact of that step on R 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. So step one, as the prime minister announced this week, those who cannot work from should now speak to their employer about going back to work, you can spend time outdoors and exercises often as you like, and you can meet one person outside your household in an outdoor public place provided that you stay two meters apart.
Oliver Dowden: (03:14)
Slide three, please. So as you’ll see from slide three, having taken the first step in carefully adjusting some of the measures and our advice on what people can do, we’ve also updated what we are asking people to do, which is to stay alert, control the virus and save lives. Yes, staying alert for the vast majority of people still mean staying at home as much as possible, but there are a range of other actions that we’re advising people to take.
Oliver Dowden: (03:44)
So people should stay alert by working from home if you can, limiting contact with other people, keeping distance if you go out two meters apart where possible and washing your hands regularly, wearing face covering when you’re in enclosed spaces where it’s difficult to be socially distant. So for example, in some shops and on public transport and if you or anyone in your household has symptoms, you all need to self isolate because if everyone stays alert and follows the rules, we can control coronavirus by keeping the R down and reducing the number of infections. This is how we can continue to save lives and livelihoods as we begin as a nation to recover from coronavirus. Now over the past months, we’ve all naturally been focused on the huge life or death health implications of this pandemic. But I’d now like to provide an update on some of the crucial work taking place behind the scenes to support and protect the things that give our lives added, meaning such as sport, art, tourism, and our charities, music and theaters. And when we look back on the coronavirus, one of the things we’ll remember is the incredible contribution made by so many people. And there’s a way of showing our national gratitude to these everyday covert heroes. We’re announcing today that we’re delaying her majesty, the Queen’s birthday honors list until the autumn so that they can be recognized and celebrated.
Oliver Dowden: (05:15)
And that’s the prime minister said today, I’m delighted that her majesty, the queen has approved a knighthood for captain Tom Moore in recognition of his outstanding achievements in raising nearly 33 million pounds for NHS charities. And captain Tom sat a marker of generosity and the public have matched it. Incredibly now looks as if British people and businesses have now contributed over 800 million pounds and that’s just through national fundraising campaigns alone. And a great deal more has obviously been raised at local levels. And as the British people have generously given their time and their money, the government has sought to back them every step of the way. So we promised to match every penny raised by the BBC’s big night in campaign. And after a fantastic public response, I’m delighted to announce today that over 70 million pounds is now being distributed by Comic Relief, Children in Need and the National Emergencies Trust to charities on the front line.
Oliver Dowden: (06:15)
Now this comes on top of the hundreds of millions of pounds we’ve already announced. The charity is doing vital work to support those suffering from poor mental health, to help the victims of domestic abuse and to make sure hospices can continue to care for families in these most difficult circumstances. And today I’m pleased to confirm the government’s dedicated support scheme for small and medium sized charities, the coronavirus community support fund will open for applications this week. Initially there’ll be a 200 million pound trunch of government funding, and this will be administered by the national lottery community fund. And this will focus on those charities we may not know nationally, but who are lifeline to communities at a local level. And on top of that, I can also announce today that we’re releasing 150 million pounds from dormant accounts to help social enterprises get affordable credit to people who are financially vulnerable and to support charities tackling youth unemployment.
Oliver Dowden: (07:15)
So our charities both large and small have really been at the forefront of this national effort to defeat the coronavirus and together all of this amounts to a multibillion pound boost for Britain’s charities. And I know that people are also eager for news of the return of light sports and the arts. And I know that the last few months it felt rather odd without them and now our calendars have been strangely bare. Finding creative crowd free ways to navigate coronavirus is the biggest challenge for our recreation and leisure sectors right now. So this week I’m setting up a renewal task force, which will help them bounce back. It will be made up of the brightest and the best from creative tech and sporting worlds. These are experts in their field and they’ll be advising me on how they find new and different ways to get industries back up and running.
Oliver Dowden: (08:05)
And just to give a few examples, it includes Alex Scott, a former lioness and olympian and now in an award winning broadcaster. And she will help us think through how we can get support back safely in a way that works for both clubs, players and supporters alike. Similarly, lord Grade, former chairman of both the BBC and ITV, will provide an insight as to how we get our creative media industries back up and flourishing again. And Tamara Rojo the English National Ballet artistic director will give us ideas for how we start to get our art scene back up and running. And Martha Lane Fox a well known as founder of lastminute.com will advise on how tech can power all of this recovery across all these sectors, but particularly in tourism as part of the much wider role it will play in driving our economy forward as it has done already.
Oliver Dowden: (08:57)
Meanwhile bit by bit, we are developing guidance that’s helping some of the lighter bits of our economy return to this new normal. So we had supported the safe return of TV production, meaning our broadcasters are able to keep some of our favorite shows back on the TV screens, whether that’s [inaudible 00:09:15], we’ve helped to reopen the country’s tennis and basketball courts and guided athletes back into training safely. And that in turn will pave the way for the return of live sports behind closed doors in the near future. Normal life as we’ve known it is still clearly a long way off and the path to get there is a narrow one. But these things will return when it’s safe for them to do so and thanks to the same drive and creativity that makes a great performance or a great piece of art. And I really think that when they do and when we’ve overcome this crisis together, we’ll appreciate them that much more. And with that, I’ll hand over to professor Steve Powis.
Stephen Powis: (09:57)
Thank you very much secretary of state and good afternoon. If I could go through the data slides for today, with which I’m sure you have become familiar. So the first slide shows information on social distancing and how the British public have responded to the requests that we all socially distance in order to reduce the rate at which the virus, the coronavirus is transmitted through our communities. And as I’ve said before, it’s only by doing that, that we will keep this under control, that we will reduce the number of deaths that we have unfortunately seen and the number of admissions to the NHS and the pressure on the NHS.
Stephen Powis: (10:33)
So this slide shows a number of graphs data from both vehicle mobility, so transporting cars and like vehicles and heavy goods vehicles and you can see there has been a slow increase in vehicle movements, probably recently reflecting the desire for people who can return to work, who can’t work from home returning. But on public transport, national rail transport for London and bus outside of London, you can see that the levels of usage are still very low and very much down on what they were before social distancing measures were introduced. So again, evidence that the British public has responded to and complied with the instructions that we’ve all been given.
Stephen Powis: (11:21)
On the next slide, we start to look at testing and the number of new cases that are test positive. And as you’ve heard from the secretary of state, there has been an increase in recent weeks, both in the capacity of testing and in the number of people who are being tested. And you can see that at the graph at the start. We’re now nearly up to 3 million tests that have been performed in total. In the lower graph, you can see the number of daily confirmed cases. And again, as I’ve said recently, that although the testing capacity has increased and the number of tests has increased, the number of daily confirmed cases has not increased. And in fact, it’s stable or perhaps even falling. And I think that shows that the amount of transmission, the amount of virus in the community is falling and with an hour rate, less than one, that is exactly what we would expect.
Stephen Powis: (12:12)
In the next slide, we’ll see how that translates into the usage of hospitals. Now, once again, for the vast majority of people, this is a mild illness that does not require hospital care, but for minority of people unfortunately, hospital admission is required. And for the sickest, of course, that might require a period on our intensive care units. So this shows the new daily admissions with COVID-19 from March through to now and you can see that, that is on a decline. So we are seeing fewer and fewer daily admissions, again, showing the benefits of social distancing. And then in the bottom graph, you can see that group of individuals who unfortunately our sickest and require ventilation. So they need to be put on a ventilator and mechanically ventilated. Those obviously occurs in our intensive care units and those areas that we are using as part of our expanded capacity to do this.
Stephen Powis: (13:09)
And you can see again, that that number is falling across all parts of the UK again, reflecting the benefits of social distancing. Next slide shows more data in hospital. And I would highlight that the number of people in hospital is now below 10,000. So I think that’s the first time since March that we have seen a fall that has come down below 10,000 in terms of the people who are actively in hospital with a tests positive for COVID-19. You can see in the individual charts showing various parts of the UK, that the fall, the decline has been steepest in London that had the highest peak, but also you will see declines in other areas of the country at different rates, but all heading surely in the right direction. So a fall in the number of people in hospital.
Stephen Powis: (14:03)
And then in the next slide, finally, we show the number of deaths and you have heard the numbers for today. Clearly, it’s with great sadness that we report these deaths, but you see on a daily basis that looking at the key figure, the seven day rolling average, which takes out the variation between days and particularly the reporting variation of weekends, you can see that the trend is now consistently downwards.
Stephen Powis: (14:26)
And that will continue to fall as long as we all comply with the instructions that we’ve been given around social distancing. So this is not the time to, as I said before, to become complacent about this. Yes, if you can’t work at home, then talk to your employer about getting to work. But we need to remain vigilant, we need to stay alert and we need to make sure that we keep that important zero, but our number below one, so that the rate of transmission is continually declining in the population. Thank you.
Oliver Dowden: (14:59)
Thank you, and thank you very much for that very clear presentation. We now turn to questions. First of all, we’re going to go to Thomas from the Northwest and he’s joining us by video.
Good afternoon, please can you give an update on what the UK is doing to help the poorer nations through this pandemic? Thank you.
Oliver Dowden: (15:23)
Well, thank you very much for that question, Thomas. And it’s a really important question. The first thing that we’ve done to help poorer nations is we’re standing by our commitment to the poorest nations by devoting north .7% of our entire national income to going to aid.
Oliver Dowden: (15:38)
And that despite all the challenges we have faced during the coronavirus and all the pressures on public spending, we are maintaining that commitment. And I know there’s a lot of concern about where the poorer nations are going to be able to access vaccines. That’s why through the [inaudible 00:15:53] program, we were also ensure that we get those vaccines at an affordable level, working with our aid budget, to those poorest nations, fulfilling I think what we’ve always done as a nation. We’ve always stood by the poorest nations in time of need. And I think that’s part of the moral responsibility we show as a nation.
Oliver Dowden: (16:12)
I think now we have question number two, and that is from Heather in Devon. So just to read that out, Heather asks, I like many others have had medical reviews delayed as nurses who conducted them were redeployed to the frontline and they’re currently still working in hospitals. How long will it be before those NHS staff can go back to their normal jobs?
Oliver Dowden: (16:34)
Well, first of all, I’d like to pay tribute, Heather, to all of the nurses and other frontline staff in the NHS who’ve done so much during this crisis to help us tackle it. And through that crisis and thanks to their hard work, we have avoided the NHS being overwhelmed, but clearly in moving that capacity to the frontline to deal with coronavirus, it has had [inaudible 00:16:59] consequences elsewhere. As we now move out of the peak and we’re working with cost to ensure that we don’t have a second peak where the NHS is overwhelmed, there is more capacity again, so we can start delivering more capacity to deal with these sorts of challenges, but Professor Powis?
Stephen Powis: (17:14)
Yes. So thank you, Heather and I too would like to pay tribute to all my colleagues in the NHS who’ve worked so magnificently over the last few months to deal with the surge in patients that we’ve seen with COVID-19. And it is the case that some of those staff have had to be redeployed. They’ve had to work in different areas, and sometimes they’ve had to work with a set of skills that they have, but they haven’t had to use in recent years. And I think it’s been truly inspiring the way people have stood up and taken that task and delivered for the public in this country.
Stephen Powis: (17:49)
As I’ve said many times before, in the NHS, we have kept our emergency services going throughout this. And so if you have symptoms that you’re worried about, maybe symptoms of you’re worried about heart attack or a stroke. If you’ve got a child with severe asthma, then don’t be afraid to use the NHS as you always used it. It is still there for you. Yes, we are managing and have been managing an increased number of people with COVID-19, but the NHS is there for emergency conditions. And it’s really important you don’t delay getting in touch with us through 111, through calling your GP. Or in extreme circumstances, dialing 999.
Stephen Powis: (18:27)
We’ve also kept services such as cancer going throughout this. There has been some disruption and some patients I know have been advised by their clinicians not to have treatment immediately, because for instance, if their immune system is being treated as part of their cancer treatment is being depressed, then there may be a reason not to do that at a time when a virus is circulating.
Stephen Powis: (18:54)
But now that we’ve come over the peak, we are in a position as the Secretary of State said to start to build up those NHS services where we’ve had to redeploy staff and perhaps that we have had to delay. So you will see over the next weeks and months standing up of all those NHS services so that the routine reviews can start to be done again. But I’m sure everybody understands that at a time of public emergency, where we saw that surge in the virus over April, it was the right thing to do to make sure that our staff were focused on the response to that.
Stephen Powis: (19:31)
But now we can start to get back towards normal, although a new normal, because we will have to do that in the context of still having some underlying COVID-19 in the community.
Oliver Dowden: (19:43)
Thank you. And now I think we come to the next question and that’s from Nick [inaudible 00:19:47] for the BBC, Nikki there.
Thank you. I have a question for you, Secretary of State and a question for Professor Powis. So Oliver Dowden, in his televised addressed earlier this month, the prime minister talked about the awful epidemic in care homes. And this morning, your cabinet colleague Robert Buckland acknowledged that care homes were given less priority for testing than the NHS at the start of this crisis.
And then he said, sadly, there were far too many cases of infection and deaths in care homes, and yet at Prime Minister’s questions today, Boris Johnson appeared to brush aside concerns and questions about the level of testing in the early stages of this public emergency. So what is it? Gloss over possible mistakes in the past or face up to the fact as Robert Buckland said that maybe things could have been done differently.
And for Professor Powis, can I ask you your scientific colleague dame Angela McLean said yesterday in answer to a question if all the schools can open on the 1st of June, she said that you need to have a highly effective track, trace, and isolation system in place. Today, the prime minister said that there will be a test, track, and trace system. It will be in place he said by the 1st of June.
Now, given that they have been moving about on the dates about when this might happen from ministers, are you confident Professor Powis that the McLean conditions will be met given that there are concerns over the app? And whilst there will be 25,000 trackers who will be able to track 10,000 cases a day. And yes, that is four times the number of confirmed cases, that is probably well below the number of actual cases in the UK.
Oliver Dowden: (21:40)
Well, thank you for that question, Nick. Perhaps I deal with the first one about glossing over and then handover to you, Professor Powis. It is categorically not the case that we have glossed over this.
Oliver Dowden: (21:50)
The prime minister has been very clear about the challenges that we face in care homes. And of course, every death in the care home is one to many, but that is precisely why we’ve introduced this care home action plan. That means there’s more money going into care homes. For example, an extra 600 million pounds was announced very recently. That’s why we’re ramping up the testing in care homes. That’s why we’re ramping up the protective equipment for care homes. Why, for example, we’ve introduced a dedicated hotline so that they can get that protective equipment into care homes. And actually as a result of those measures, whilst the numbers remain too high, the indicators suggest that we are moving in the right direction, where that is reducing number of deaths or reducing number of new infections. [inaudible 00:22:35] Powis?
Stephen Powis: (22:35)
Yes. So maybe going back to the first principle about the overall strategy. What’s important is to keep the R number below one, as I said a little bit earlier, because it’s only by keeping the R below one that the rate of transmission falls in the community.
Stephen Powis: (22:54)
In other words, the amount that is being passed on from person to person is less than one on average. And therefore the infection rate is going down and you achieve that in a variety of ways and track and trace is one component of the measures that will need to be kept in place, at least in the foreseeable future to ensure that R is below one.
Stephen Powis: (23:14)
So the first point I’d make is, as Angela said yesterday, a track and trace and an effective track and trace strategy in place is a very important component of keeping the infection under control, but it’s not the only thing. It needs to be seen combined with other social distancing measures. But over time, as the strategy towards virus in the community evolves may be relaxed, but track and trace is not the only thing that needs to be in place.
Stephen Powis: (23:46)
And I think as the government has said, clearly timing is an issue for government. We can advise, but it’s a question for governments. I know the government would want to see, and I think they’ve said that they need to have the context that there will not be a rise of R above one in order to move in the subsequent steps of any release of lockdown measures. So track and trace. Yes, very important. But it’s just one of the measures that we will need to keep in place going forward to ensure that transmission rates stay below one.
Oliver Dowden: (24:20)
Nick, would you like to ask any followups?
Yes. Could I just come back to you, Oliver Dowden? You’re saying that you’re not glossing over anything, but there was a very different tone from Robert Buckland today when he was saying maybe things could have been done differently. And it’s well known that mistakes, honest mistakes may well have been made, particularly in the beginning phase of this public emergency. And wouldn’t it do this government some good, wouldn’t it do the government scientists some goods, if you follow the example of Emmanuel Macron and acknowledged, admitted, open about those. There’s going to be a public inquiry. You’re going to be called up before that public inquiry. So why not begin that conversation now?
Oliver Dowden: (25:02)
Well, of course in any public health crisis, like this, there’ll be a time for lessons to be learned afterwards, but I think the public rightly want us now to be focusing on dealing with this. That is why we have introduced the NHS care homes action plan, having the consequences I described. And on some of the points you raised, for example, in relation to people who have been discharged from hospitals into care homes, actually the number’s discharged in March, April were 40% lower than those in January. And it has been the case that testing has been available to care homes, right from the very beginning. And it has been the case that we have issued guidance, right from the very, very beginning. Of course, there are always lessons to be learned, but I think it is worth reflecting on those things. Thank you for that question. Now over to Robert Peston.
Robert Peston: (25:50)
Good afternoon. Remarkable data out of public health England today. The last 24 hours or the latest 24 hour period, there were zero cases of coronavirus or new cases in London. So presumably there will be a return to school in the capital, at least for the youngest children and more stores opening, at least in the capital.
Robert Peston: (26:13)
And a separate one for Professor Powis, the prime minister today said in the House of Commons that no older people will return to care homes without the approval of a clinician, which seems to many as though the prime minister is in a sense passing the blame for seeding COVID-19 in care homes to doctors or nurses. What do you think of that, Professor Powis?
Oliver Dowden: (26:39)
Well, perhaps, should I start with your first question, Robert, about the opening up process and you referenced some of the promising figures. It is worth reflecting again on those tests numbers, where we’re now up to 177,216 tests. So it’s not just the numbers that are moving in the right direction, of course we have to be highly cautious about it, but also the government response continues to ramp up.
Oliver Dowden: (27:03)
Now the prime minister set out the path that we will go down in terms of easing the lockdown. He set out this three stage process. The next stage, and we’ve said from the earliest will be from the beginning of June, we will look at some of the measures that you discussed around, for example, opening up non-essential retail.
Oliver Dowden: (27:24)
In respect to the question about schools. I really think we should try and open schools if we possibly can. And a lot of work. I know my friend the education secretary has put a lot of work, as indeed has the health secretary about thinking about how we can do that safely, whether that is staggering entry times, whether it is keeping children together in groups of 15. And the reason for doing all of that is because I think there’s very strong evidence that particularly for the most disadvantaged children in those early years, it’s not cost-free for them not going to school. There is a cost. So if we can get them back in a way that we safely can do so, we should do so, but it will only be guided by the evidence that is moving in-
Oliver Dowden: (28:03)
… the right direction at the moment, but we’ll be very cautious about that. Stephen, is there anything you want to?
Stephen Powis: (28:08)
Thank you, Robert. So I was a front line doctor for many, many years, and I wouldn’t discharge a patient from a hospital into whatever setting, home or care home, unless I was absolutely confident that their medical treatment was complete and they no longer required hospital treatment. And indeed, I think it’s always worth making the point that particularly for our elderly population, remaining in hospital when your medical hospital treatment is complete, can be harmful to individuals. So I’m absolutely sure that my medical colleagues would not be discharging patients under any circumstances, unless they were sure that their medical treatment in hospital was complete, they were fit for discharge and it was safe to discharge them.
Oliver Dowden: (28:51)
Robert, any follow ups you want to ask?
Robert Peston: (28:53)
Well yes, just on the return of children to schools and non essential stores, are you allowing the possibility that this could happen on a region by region basis? Because as I say, if there are literally no new cases in London, there’s a very strong argument that even if other parts of the country are not ready for children to go back and the rest, London is ready.
Oliver Dowden: (29:14)
Well look, we want to proceed as fast as we safely can do so. Because clearly there are benefits in the way I described for children and there are clearly benefits for the wider economy and people’s public utility, really of being able to access those non-essential retail. I think it is best though, and the government has said this repeatedly, that we move as a whole nation and that would include of course the whole of England in doing so. It may be the case that because of the track and trace, clearly within track and trace, if we identify specific very micro hotspots, then we would have different measures in respective of that. But the clear intention is that we move as a whole country. Thank you for your question. Now over to Ben Kentish from LBC.
Ben Kentish: (30:02)
Thank you Secretary of State, good afternoon. Three weeks ago on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister talked to the need for the maximum possible transparency and promised that the government would share all it’s working and thinking with the British people. And yet now you’re asking parents to send their children back to school without having published the scientific advice on whether it is safe for them to do so. In effect, asking them to simply take someone else’s word for it. If you were a parent without the benefit of being a government minister, would you want to see that advice? And when will the government fulfill the Prime Minister’s transparency pledge by publishing it?
Ben Kentish: (30:38)
And just a quick second one, if I may, under the government’s bereavement scheme, the families of frontline doctors and nurses who lose their life fighting coronavirus will be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, but it was confirmed last night that the families of porters, carers and cleaners who died in similar circumstances will not. Does the government think the lives of carers, porters and cleaners are worth less than those of doctors and nurses, or is there another reason for that discrepancy? Thank you.
Oliver Dowden: (31:08)
Okay. Thank you for your questions. There’s two questions wrapped up in there. So I might resist going back for a further one. In terms of the point about parents sending their children back to school, I’m a dad of two primary school aged children. And I do of course, genuinely understand parents’ concerns around this and they will want to be sure that if they send their children back to school, they do so in a safe environment. But that is why the Education Secretary has been working so hard to ensure that we do develop that safe environment, whether that is staggered entry, whether it’s washing hands, whether it is having children kept within groups so that they don’t mix with others. All of those are driven by the evidence about how to do this in the most safe way possible. We won’t proceed unless we can be sure of children’s safety. Of course, that goes without saying. In relation to your point about the publication of the evidence, SAGE advice is being published routinely, and there was some further advice published on Friday, and that will continue to be the case.
Oliver Dowden: (32:14)
In respect of the points you rightly raised about support for care workers and others. First of all, just to restate what I said earlier in this press conference that all of us, owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone working in the NHS. We all go out and clap at eight o’clock on Thursday evenings to show that appreciation. One of the measures we’ve taken to show that appreciation is the bereavement support, which is available to everyone, of course, including porters and others who make such a huge contribution. In respect to your point about the indefinite leave to remain. We do keep that policy under review and we will look further into that case. Now I think we’ll go over to Jason Groves.
Ben Kentish: (33:00)
Can I just follow up on that?
Oliver Dowden: (33:00)
Yes, go on quickly.
Ben Kentish: (33:01)
Thank you. I wondered if Professor Powis had a view on whether the bereavement scheme should be extended to all NHS workers and just on the schools point, Secretary of State, just want to follow up on Nick’s point really, will the contact tracing system be in place together with the app by the start of June, as Angela McLean suggested yesterday was necessary. Thank you.
Oliver Dowden: (33:22)
Okay. So I’ll try to remember those further points. So in respect of the contact tracing, the Prime Minister announced fantastic progress at lunchtime today. We’ve now recruited 25,000 contact tracers that will enable us to undertake 10,000 traces. Now, given that we are currently at the stage where there’s 2,400 cases, that is huge progress and that would be by the beginning of June. So that is really important progress.
Oliver Dowden: (33:55)
In respective the indefinite leave to remain. I know that we owe hospitals and others that huge debt of gratitude and that’s why I said what I said about keeping the policy under review. But is there anything else you want to?
Stephen Powis: (34:08)
Well, I think that’s a matter for government in terms of keeping the policy under review, but all I can say is, again, as a doctor, who’s worked on the front line for many years, how much I value the entire multidisciplinary team. So everybody from porter, to manager, to administrator, to nurse, who absolutely work together as a team in managing this sort of crisis, but also in the day to day care that the NHS provides. So it’s often the doctors and nurses who are at the front and get the praise. But believe me, there are a huge number of people working behind the scenes. I was at the Royal Free when we managed Ebola. And I will always remember the photograph in the Evening Standard that showed the huge team of people, the engineers who kept the plant open being some of the ones that I remember the most, who kept the show on the road and allowed those patients to be treated successfully and that is the case now. There are many, many heroes within the NHS, not just doctors and nurses.
Oliver Dowden: (35:11)
Thank you. Now we go on to Jason Groves from the Daily Mail.
Jason Groves: (35:16)
Thanks. Mr. Dowden, the TV has been a lifeline for lots of older people through this lockdown. I wonder if you’re happy to see the over 75s lose their free TV license in August and whether you might intervene or whether that’s a job for the BBC. And Professor Powis, I wonder if I could ask you about the two meter rule. We heard from Robert Dingwall, who’s a government advisor earlier, that the actual scientific evidence for keeping us two meters apart rather than one is very fragile. Has he got a point, you’re on SAGE, given the importance of that to sectors like education and hospitality, could you look at it again?
Oliver Dowden: (35:59)
Well, shall I deal with the BBC and TV license first? Look, we were clear and we’ve been clear all along that we didn’t want the BBC to take away the free TV license from the over 75s. I think the BBC made absolutely the right decision in saying that in the middle of this coronavirus crisis, when particularly older people are being asked to self isolate and who are feeling lonely, often the TV is a lifeline for them. It wouldn’t have been acceptable to take away that TV license, which is why they rightly extended the proposal for moving it to the beginning of August. I very much hope that if we are in the similar situation come the beginning of August, the BBC will show similar flexibility again.
Stephen Powis: (36:45)
So on the two meter rule. So I can absolutely assure you that SAGE does keep things under review, not least because the science is constantly evolving. And as we learn more about this virus and it’s quite right that as scientists, we consider new evidence and keep things under review. The current advice is two meters. I’m sure that along with a whole host of other things that will constantly be kept under review as new evidence emerges.
Oliver Dowden: (37:13)
Okay. Jason, any follow ups to that?
Jason Groves: (37:16)
Yeah. Well, we don’t get you very often, Secretary of State.
Oliver Dowden: (37:18)
It’s meant to be a follow up, not a new question, but go on.
Jason Groves: (37:21)
I’m going to ask you a new question anyway, about tourism. Is there any chance of us getting a holiday in Britain this summer, and if we can, would you encourage people to take a stay cation?
Oliver Dowden: (37:29)
Yeah, look, I love to get the tourism sector up as quickly as we possibly can. We’ve set this very ambitious plan to try and get it up and running by the beginning of July. We’re working hard to be able to deliver on that, that is partly why I’ve set up this task force I announced at the beginning of this press conference. Bringing together experts, not just the people that I named at the beginning, when you see the full list, there’s other people from the tourism sector who will help advise on that. Clearly we can only do it if it’s safe to do so, because I think the worst thing for our tourism sector would be to start, then see the R rate rise out of control, see a second peak that overwhelms the NHS that we then have to slam on the brakes again. But believe me, we get to the point when we can have British tourism back, apart perhaps from the Prime Minister, you won’t find a bigger champion of the Great British Break than me. Thank you, over to Jane Kirby for PA.
Jane Kirby: (38:27)
Thank you and good afternoon. Many football fans are hoping that the Premier League will return next month. Will the government be asking that these matches are available on free to air terrestrial television, or is it acceptable for existing rights holders, such as Sky and BT, just to stream the matches on their YouTube platforms? And isn’t it vital that these matches are shown on terrestrial to encourage people to adhere to the lockdown. And a question for Professor Powis please on antibody testing, antibody tests are becoming much more widely available on commercial websites. Should people be buying these tests to use at home, or is the intention that they will get one via the NHS for free at some point? And if so, when might that be?
Oliver Dowden: (39:06)
Shall I take the Premier League first? So, as I said several times before, I’m really keen that if we can get the Premier League back behind closed doors, we should do that. The process for doing this is really threefold. So first of all, we’ve already issued the guidance for carrying out training behind closed doors. That’s non-contact training, those guidelines have already been published earlier this week. I hope, subject to the sign off by Public Health England and others, we will then, later this week, very shortly, get the guidance about how we can have training in a contact environment. This is for elite sports, so they can start to build up. The final stage would then be the guidelines as to whether they can resume behind closed doors. In doing that, we’ve been guided by the health advice. I can update you again today, for the fourth time there were meetings between elite sports and Public Health England to find out how we can do it safely. If we can do it safely, I’d like us to be able to get it up and running towards mid June if that’s possible.
Oliver Dowden: (40:16)
In respect of broadcasting rights, we have to respect the existing rights that the broadcasters have. But I do think we’ve actually got some flexibility because if you look at, on Saturday afternoons, it has been the case that Premier League matches can’t be broadcast on broadcasters. The idea was that people be able to watch them in the stadium, so they didn’t want to compete. Clearly that won’t be possible if we compete behind closed doors. I think that creates an opportunity for us to be able to get some sport, some Premier League free to air. Those discussions are ongoing. I’m having productive discussions, couple of weeks ago. Now I had the latest one with Premier League, the EFL and with the FA. I hope we can sort this out and I also hope then we can get some more money going into the sport of football. I think we could find ourselves in a win-win situation. Stephen?
Stephen Powis: (41:13)
Thank you for the question on antibody testing. So Public Health England have been evaluating the new antibody tests, the commercial tests that are becoming available. And I would have most confidence in that evaluation process because I think that gives it the stamp that we need in order to roll these tests out throughout the NHS. So as those tests are evaluated and they become available, they will be rolled out through health and social care settings. Initially their use will be in those settings and also for surveillance within the community so that we get some information on how many people in the population may have been infected by the virus. So that is where we will start from. I would caution against using any tests that might be made available without…
Stephen Powis: (42:03)
Using any tests that might be made available without knowing quite how good those tests are. So public health thing that as I say is evaluating them for the NHS. I would caution people against being tempted to have those tests.
Stephen Powis: (42:15)
I think one other point to make about the antibody test, the antibody test shows you that you have had the virus. Once you have the virus, the body’s immune system develops antibodies against this and its those antibodies that are detected typically a number of weeks after you’ve had the virus. So it tells you, you’ve had it.
Stephen Powis: (42:33)
What we don’t absolutely know at the moment is whether having antibodies and having the antibodies that are tested in those tests means that you won’t get the virus again. We will only know that over time through the science of understanding the type of antibody that’s being produced, but also by following people over time to see that when you develop an antibody and you test positive for an antibody, whether you get the virus again. What I wouldn’t want people to think is just because you test positive for the antibody, that it necessarily means that you can do something different in terms of social distancing or the way you behave, because until we are absolutely sure about the relationship between the positive antibody test and immunity, I think we as scientists would say, “We need to tread cautiously going further forward.” That information will become available over time, but it will take some time to get there.
Oliver Dowden: (43:29)
Thank you, Jane, do you have any followup?
Jane Kirby: (43:31)
Yeah. If I could just ask a Professor Powis, does he mean by that, that we can hope that everybody in the country will get access to an antibody test by the NHS for free and are other donor discussions going on at the moment for a timeline for that? Would it be end of this year, next year or so on?
Stephen Powis: (43:50)
So what I will say is is exactly what I said is that we’re at an early phase of these tests and where we will use them first is in health and probably social care settings for patients, obviously, but also for staff in those settings where it is most important that we understand about the infection.
Oliver Dowden: (44:08)
Thank you, Jane. And finally to Mike Brown from Teesside Gazette.
Mike Brown: (44:13)
Thank you. Good afternoon.
Oliver Dowden: (44:14)
Mike Brown: (44:16)
Middlesbrough has currently, the fourth highest infection rates for coronavirus in the country by population. It has the highest mortality rate in the Northeast and council leaders believe that its current R rate is around 0.85. People in Middlesbrough can’t sit on a park bench in their local park because our mayor believes that the risk from coronavirus is still too high.
Mike Brown: (44:37)
I have two questions. Firstly, for the secretary of staff, previously, local micro lockdowns have been discussed to tackle areas where there’s a significant spike in new cases. Can you tell me what specific work the government has done to prepare vulnerable and hard hit areas like Middlesbrough for a future significant spike in cases once lockdown measures are eased and how do you expect local authorities and public health teams to be able to enforce those?
Mike Brown: (45:08)
Secondly, for Professor Powis, one council on Teesside has already said it will not reopen schools on June the first due to our higher than average rate of infection in the Northeast. Does the UK’s one-size-fits-all policy for reopening schools on June the first, will that work in places like Middlesbrough and the rest of the Teesside and how confident is the government that our already high R rate won’t go back over one once schools are reopened?
Oliver Dowden: (45:42)
Well, thank you and thank you for your question as the Secretary of State responsible for media. It’s great to hear the Teesside Gazette asking a question at the press conference.
Oliver Dowden: (45:51)
First of all, you asked about how we would protect the most vulnerable. I’m under no illusions and the government is under no illusions about the challenges for the economy of the necessary measures we’ve had to take to protect the NHS and save lives in terms of the measures that we have taken. They’ve been very tough on the economy, social distancing, and so on. That’s why the Chancellor has announced an unprecedented package of measures to support people through these hard times.
Oliver Dowden: (46:24)
For example, the job retention scheme, meaning that literally millions of people who would otherwise have been made redundant have been able to keep their jobs. That’s millions of families that still have earners in their households. We are working hard through all of that.
Oliver Dowden: (46:40)
On the point about local authorities and enforcing and the point about schools, I really hope that as we go through this, we can do so in a constructive spirit whereby we can move together as a whole country and get children back to school for the reasons that I set out. I do genuinely understand. I really understand the concerns of teachers. I understand the concerns of parents about whether this is safe to do so. That is why we’re working so closely with them. But I think the way to do this is to do so in a constructive spirit of engagement.
Oliver Dowden: (47:17)
I think on your final point about or maybe your second one in individual outbreaks, that is why we are working so hard on the track and trace. The fact that we’ve made this progress already means that we will be able to, if there’s outbreaks, it’s important to understand what this track and trace means. It means that if we find someone’s been infected by tracing, we can find out who else they have been in contact with and get those people to self-isolate. In that way, control the spread of the virus. I think that’s a very important measure, but Stephen?
Stephen Powis: (47:48)
Yeah, so thank you for the question. I think the first point is of course on the R number. As long as it is below one, it means that the amount of infection in the community is reducing. It’s simply that the lower it is, the faster that it is reducing and the nearer it is to one, the slower it is reducing, but it is still reducing. As long as it is below one over time, we will see reductions in the number of infection in the community. I think that’s a really important point to make.
Stephen Powis: (48:17)
Secondly, as I’ve said before, it’s usual in infections in an epidemic to see variation by geography. So for instance, in the flu season that we have every winter, we see an increase in the number of flu cases. It’s very typical to see that flu picks up and falls in different parts of the country at different times during the winter. That is a very sort of natural pattern to an infectious disease.
Stephen Powis: (48:42)
Clearly, it’s important that we have national measures in terms of our lockdown measures and social distancing. I think that is the best way overall to approach this. But as we get to a point where we are talking about individual outbreaks, then there will be a need for interventions around those outbreaks.
Stephen Powis: (49:04)
In fact, that’s no different from the public health response that occurs for any outbreak of an infectious disease. A set of measures will be taken by public health colleagues, either in local councils or with public health England to ensure that a particular outbreak in a particular area is taken under control. I think that is a well tried and tested public health policy. Contact tracing is part of that well, tried and tested public health policy. I think as we move forward in the months ahead, that is the approach around outbreaks, specific outbreaks in defined communities that my public health colleagues will increasingly be using.
Oliver Dowden: (49:46)
Thank you, Mike, any follow ups?
Mike Brown: (49:48)
Yeah, please. Secretary of State, you’ve mentioned the package that has been brought forward already to support local authorities through the pandemic. Once we’re through the other side of this, does the government need to make towns like Middlesbrough and other disadvantaged areas in the Northeast a priority so that we’re not as hard hit as we have been in the last 10 years of public spending cut? A link between deprivation and our mortality rates in coronavirus has already been established by the ONS.
Oliver Dowden: (50:27)
Yes, it’s a good question. I know that the Prime Minister is passionate about this. This is why we are committing a record investment, whether that is leveling up the funding for schools so that areas of the country have in past been less well-funded for their schools compared to say, London. We’re increasing their funding. That’s why we’re investing in transport infrastructure, the road and the rails.
Oliver Dowden: (50:49)
Indeed in my own area, I’m passionate about making sure that outside of London and the Southeast, people get the same opportunity for cultural experiences and we invest in cultural experiences in a way that perhaps in the past, we’ve focused too much on London. That’s very much an important part of the work we’re doing. Thank you for your question.
Oliver Dowden: (51:08)
Thank you for everyone that now concludes the press conference.
Speaker 1: (51:13)
Indeed that is the end of today’s daily Downing Street press briefing from the government led today by the culture secretary Oliver Dowden.
Speaker 1: (51:21)
Let’s take a look now at the key developments. He began by saying that over 177,000 coronavirus tests were carried out in the UK in the past 24 hours. That is the biggest daily total to date. This doesn’t, however, correspond to the number of people actually tested as some individuals are tested more than once.
Speaker 1: (51:40)
Mr. Dowden also announced the latest death toll of 35,704. That’s a rise of 363 on yesterday. The culture secretary also pledged 150 million pounds from dormant bank accounts to help charities respond to the pandemic and the new task force to help sport and the creativities prepare to get back on their feet will be announced. Among those who will be involved, include the former footballer, Alex Scott, the former ITV boss, Michael Grade, and the English National Ballet’s Tamara Rojo.
Speaker 1: (52:13)
Well with me now-
Speaker 2: (52:23)
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