May 21, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 21 with Matt Hancock
British officials gave a coronavirus press briefing on May 21. Matt Hancock confirmed that only 5% of people in England outside of London have had coronavirus.
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Matt Hancock: (12:19)
Good afternoon. And welcome to the Deni Downing Street Coronavirus briefing. I’m joined by Professor Chris Witty, the chief medical officer, and John Newton. Before I turned to the latest coronavirus data, I wanted to say something this mental health awareness week.
Matt Hancock: (12:37)
I know how difficult the change and the uncertainty generated by this awful virus has been for many people. So many moments of joy have been put on hold, cherished milestones and important events and time with loved ones and things that were in the diary that you might’ve been looking forward to, but can’t any longer take place.
Matt Hancock: (13:02)
So I want to say this to anyone who’s finding it hard. These are tough times. It is okay to be not okay. And it is normal to feel low and anxious and unhappy sometimes. But it is so important that if you think you need it, please seek help. If you want to talk to someone, please go to the NHS. It is there for you. And if you’re a health or care worker, there’s a bespoke series of support. So we can care for you just as you care for the rest of us.
Matt Hancock: (13:41)
Just text Frontline, to 85258. Mental health charities are also offering some brilliant support. Today, I’m providing a further 4.2 million pounds so organizations like the Samaritans and Young Minds and Mental Health UK can keep doing what they do best. Everyone can strengthen their mental health just in the same way that we keep our eye on our physical health, including when we’re healthy. And the PHE’s Every Mind Matters Campaign is something that every single person can engage with and use to strengthen your mental health and wellbeing in good times and in bad. So let’s all come together this mental health awareness week and support each other. Turning to the daily figures, we’ve now completed over 3 million tests for coronavirus. In total, 3,090,566 tests have been carried out in the UK, including 128,340 tests yesterday. 250,908 people have tested positive. That’s an increase of 2,615 cases since yesterday. 9,543 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus. That is a 14% fall from the same time last week.
Matt Hancock: (15:14)
Sadly, of those who tested positive for coronavirus across all settings, 36,042 have now died. And that’s an increase of 338 fatalities since yesterday. This is a deadly virus and it’s brought pain to so many, both here and across the world, but we are making some real progress. And I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone about our plan to defeat coronavirus and get Britain moving once again.
Matt Hancock: (15:47)
Slide one, please. As you may have seen in previous briefings, we’ve now put in place our COVID alert level system. It consists of five levels based on the R value and the number of new cases. This alert level guides the social distancing rules, which have proved to be so effective-
Matt Hancock: (16:03)
… guides the social distancing rules, which have proved to be so effective at getting the virus under control. The higher, the alert level, the stricter the rules. Now through out the lockdown, we’ve been at level four. As you can see, level four means that coronavirus is in general circulation and that transmission is either high or exponentially rising. But thanks to your shared sacrifice, we’ve now brought R down and because of this caution, we’re in a position to start moving to level three. Next slide, please. Here is how we can move forward. We’ve set out three steps that we plan to take carefully to modify the social distancing rules and start to restore freedom in this country. All the while avoiding a disastrous second peak that could overwhelm the NHS. At each step, we will closely monitor the impact on R, on the number of new infections and on all available data.
Matt Hancock: (16:58)
We’re currently at step one, which means that if you work, but you can’t work from home, you should speak to your employer about going back in. You can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like, and you can meet one other person from outside of your household in an outdoor public place, but you should stay two meters apart. We’ll move to step two on the 1st of June, if we are able to do so. Step two involves reopening more things like schools and some retail and using our test and trace system to keep R down. We’ll only move to step two and then in due course to step three, when it is safe to do so. Next slide, please. It’s important that we stay alert and think about what we can all do to control the spread of the virus.
Matt Hancock: (17:56)
This means of course, staying at home as much as is possible and working from home, if you can. It means hygiene, washing your hands and cleaning surfaces remains absolutely crucial. Distance, staying two meters apart, wherever possible. Protection, wearing face coverings on public transport and in shops and self isolating altogether, if you have symptoms. And as we approach a bank holiday weekend, we must all renew our efforts over the course of this pandemic people all across the UK have been making difficult, but vital sacrifices for the greater good. So let’s not go back to square one. We can all play our part in the national effort to get R down and keep R down and control the virus. So we restore more of the things that make life worth living. As we follow our plan, our testing regime will be our guiding star. It’s the information that helps us to search out and defeat this virus.
Matt Hancock: (18:58)
Over the past few months, we’ve built a critical national infrastructure for testing on a massive scale. We’ve already put in place the building blocks. We develop the test. We built the test centers and the lab capacity. We created the home testing kits that all this gives us clarity and certainty. We hit the 100,000 tests on time, when we said we would. But we’re always striving to go further to expand our testing capacity and to improve our understanding of this virus. There are two developments that I wanted to share with you today. The first is around swab tests. These are the tests that tell you if you currently have coronavirus. As I announced on Monday, anybody over five who has symptoms is now eligible for a test and getting a test is important, but getting a quick result is important too.
Matt Hancock: (19:53)
We’re working hard on innovative developments and I wanted to bring you up to speed with this. Now it’s really important to be clear about this. Working with innovative science always has its risks, like all R and D lots of projects don’t come off. And just like for instance, vaccines, where we don’t know if we’ll ever get one. But I’m prepared to back innovative developments, even if they might never happen. I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth it, especially in these circumstances to back things before, you know for sure if they’re going to work and I make no apologies for that. We’re working with many top names to help us deliver testing with a rapid turnaround names like Oxford Nanopore and Chronomics and DNANudge. For example, one innovative company OptiGene has produced an early test, which is by being trialed from today.
Matt Hancock: (20:50)
It is interesting to us because it is so fast. It doesn’t need to be sent to a lab to be processed. So you get the result on the spot, typically, within around 20 minutes. It’s already proven effective in early trials and we want to find out if it will be effective on a larger scale. We want to support companies like OptiGene and others to develop these sorts of innovative projects. We’ll monitor its effectiveness very closely and if it works, we’ll roll it out as soon as we can. Now, this is just one of a number of innovative testing technologies that we’re pushing forward as fast as the science allows. I will leave no stone unturned and I want to thank everybody involved for their dedication. The second development I wanted to share today is around antibody tests. These tell you if you have had the virus and have developed antibodies in response that might help you to fight the virus in future. COVID-19 is a new virus, and we’re learning more about it every single day.
Matt Hancock: (21:54)
I want to be Frank with you about what we don’t know as well as what we do know. We’re not yet in a position to say that those who test positive in these antibody tests are immune from coronavirus. But as our understanding of the disease improves, the insight these antibody tests provide will be crucial. They can help us to understand how our bodies react to coronavirus and how it’s spread across the country. We’re backing efforts to develop our own homegrown antibody tests through our UK rapid test consortium and that work is showing some early promise. And as you know, we’ve been looking at a whole series of commercial antibody tests. Now, many of these early tests were not reliable enough for clinical use, but we have made some available at small scale. We now have the results of our antibody surveillance study. This has told us that around 17% of people in London and around 5% or higher in the rest of the country have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
Matt Hancock: (23:09)
This was based on a sample, but for the public at large, to know whether or not they’ve had coronavirus, we need antibody tests at larger scale. Two lab based products produced by Roche Diagnostics and Abbott Labs have been given a positive evaluation by PHG and approved by the MHRA. Three further tests are being assessed right now. I can announce today that we have signed contracts to supply in the coming months, over 10 million tests from Roche and Abbott. From next week, we’ll begin rolling these out in a phased way. At first to health and care staff, patients and residents. The UK government has arranged supplies of these tests on behalf of the devolved administrations and each devolved nation is deciding how to use its test allocation and how testing will be prioritized and managed locally. This is an important milestone and it represents further progress in our national testing program.
Matt Hancock: (24:12)
It’s not just about the clinical advances that these tasks can bring, although obviously that’s important. It’s that knowing that you have these antibodies will help us to understand more in the future. If you are at lower risk of catching Coronavirus, of dying from coronavirus, and of transmitting coronavirus. We’re developing this critical science to know the impact of a positive antibody test and to develop the systems of certification, to ensure people who have positive antibodies can be given assurance about what they can safely do. History has shown that understanding an enemy is fundamental to defeating it. And in this latest fight, our ingenuity and our brilliant scientists and our scientific curiosity are what will keep us one step ahead of this virus. We all have something to bring though in this fight against our common foe. One action that each and every one of us can take is to follow the rules on hygiene, on social distancing, not just for you, but for your loved ones and for your community. So please stay alert, control the virus, and save lives. I’m now going to pass to Chris Whitty to take us through the data charts.
Chris Whitty: (25:35)
Oh, thank you very much sec of state. So this is the first slide to show you is a new slide with new data that came out today from the Office for National Statistics, ONS and other partners. They’ve been doing a random swabbing system around the country to estimate how many people have got infection. And over time, this also allow us to work out how many people are newly getting infections. Now these are central estimates, and I want to be clear that there are a wide confidence intervals around them. But based on these data, they estimate that about 137,000 people in England have COVID at this point in time. This point in time being between the 4th of May and the 17th May so is slightly old data. That this is around about a quarter of 1% of the general population.
Chris Whitty: (26:34)
They also estimate again with wide constant intervals that every week at that stage, around 60,000 people were newly being infected with the virus, so around about 10,000 a day. As the R is still below one, we expect these numbers to go down and to continue to go down. Next slide, please. Starting off with what all of us are doing. There’s clear evidence, firstly, that almost everybody is sticking to the social distancing guidelines and staying at home and traveling much less than they normally would. But there is some increase in activity in terms of the people driving and heavy goods vehicles and light goods vehicles, which are compatible with people, making a very cautious return to work where that is considered to be safe.
Chris Whitty: (27:29)
But as you can see on the lower graph here, line of the graphs that the national rail transport for London and buses really have remained where we were, very few people using them except for absolutely essential purposes. Next slide, please. The secretary of state has already talked about testing. Here’s a graph showing on the top of the row of this, the testing rates, this is a combination of tests done and sent out. And then below that the number of confirmed cases remember, of course that the number of tests has gone up. So the denominator is changing over time, but they are very gradually drifting down.
Chris Whitty: (28:13)
Next slide please. But important data, I think here from hospitals. Now the key thing here is not the absolute numbers, but the fact is the trend lines, which are measured the same way over time. And what you can see is overall, you can see the estimated new daily admissions with COVID-19 peaked in early April and has been steadily decreasing ever since. The same is true for those who are unfortunate enough to have severe disease and have to have mechanical ventilation and the proportion of the mechanically ventilated beds. These are beds where people are having to be supported in intensive or critical care units in all of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are steadily decreasing over time.
Chris Whitty: (29:05)
Next slide please. And looking at people with COVID who were in hospital, as you can see, the pattern varies slightly around the country and the four nations, but in all of them, the trend is downwards. Next slide, please. If you look now, this is a slide which has been shown for some time. There was a slight variation, we showed it again. The key thing is not the absolute numbers. The key thing is the shape. The secretary of state has laid out the numbers on the left, but as you can see the trend line for people who have sadly died with confirmed tests for COVID in hospitals and social care settings is steadily decreasing and this trend continues.
Chris Whitty: (29:55)
Now I’ve added on two extra slides at the end, both of these from ONS, the Office for National Statistics. I’ve said several times in some of these briefings that the most important metric for mortality is all cause mortality, which is if all the people who’ve died of whatever cause. The reason for that is that it captures not only people who are diagnosed with COVID, but also potentially people who might have indirectly died as a result of this epidemic. And here what you have is the whole of the year. And as you can see, there was a very significant… The dotted line shows the average number of deaths for this time of year over the last five years. And what you can see is there was a significant peak of this, which coincided with the peak in COVID deaths. But the all cause mortality has come down at the same time as the COVID deaths have come down and is now at roughly the rate it is at in an average winter. So we essentially are having a winter in health terms in terms of mortality, but in late spring and early summer. This is likely to have a gradual tail off over time. We’re not expecting this suddenly to return to the baseline. Finally, I want just to show the shape of the number of excess deaths. Again, these are all causes of death. These are the number of deaths in excess of what you’d expect at this time of year compared to previous years. On the left, what we have is hospitals, acute and community hospitals. And as you can see, there was a significant peak in excess all cause mortality in early April. And that has come right down now till it’s very close to baseline in the last week it was looked at. It was a bank holiday week so we need to be a little bit careful of over-interpreting that for the very last week. And if you look at care homes, the other thing which people are rightly very concerned about…
Chris Whitty: (32:03)
… the other thing, which people are rightly very concerned about. Again, the care home deaths have peaked and have come down a long way. But that peak was slightly later, it was one to two weeks after the peak in hospitals. Thank you very much.
Matt Hancock: (32:17)
Thanks very much indeed, Chris. We’re going to first go to questions from the public and then from the media. So if we go to Moish in Coventry, who’s coming to us on video.
With the coronavirus death rate being relatively high, will you be advising the Muslim community to stay at home or stay alert during the upcoming three-day celebration of Eid? If not, what is your advice for them? As a member, I am concerned that some people may be finding ways to flaunt the rules, like having garden parties or gatherings.
Matt Hancock: (32:53)
Well, thank you, Moish. I want to firstly, say how much we appreciate all those who through Ramadan have followed the social distancing rules. The clear evidence is that the Muslim community in the UK and indeed across the world have done so much in order to respect what’s needed with the social distancing role. So I want to say, thank you. I know that Eid is coming up and I appreciate that many people won’t be able to celebrate in the normal way, because of social distancing. And it’s normally a time when people come together. So I hope that people can enjoy Eid celebrations, but I know that there’ll be different from usual. So Moish, I want to say Eid Mubarak, and I want to pass over to professor Whitty to give you the clinical advice, very specifically, that you asked for.
Chris Whitty: (33:52)
So the clear answer for all faiths is people will have to adapt the celebrations, the joyful celebrations around the current social distancing rules. And everybody knows what those rules are, and they remain the same for every community. And the reason we must all do that is this is to protect the whole community, all communities. And all of us must find ways around this, of whatever faith. But I know that all Muslim colleagues and friends of mine are adapting, as every other faith has adapted over this period, their celebrations. To make sure they can maintain both the celebration, but also maintain the social distancing, which is absolutely critical to keeping the R below one and the transmission rates going down across the whole of the UK.
Matt Hancock: (34:46)
Thanks very much. The next question is from Finley. Finley asks, “If a vaccine is developed, will it be mandatory? And if not, how will you bridge the difference of opinion between those who believe it necessary and those who do not?” Well Finley, the first point to make is that we’re doing everything we can to get a vaccine. And we will only recommend a vaccine if it is safe. And that means that if we get a vaccine, and I very much hope that we will, and we’re working incredibly hard for that, and people are asked to vaccinate, to take that vaccine, then they absolutely should because we’ll only do it on the basis of clinical advice that it’s safe.
Matt Hancock: (35:31)
The question of whether it’s mandatory is not one that we’ve addressed yet. We’re still some time off of a vaccine being available. But I would hope given the scale of this crisis and given the overwhelming need for us to get through this and to get the country back on its feet, and the very positive impact that a vaccine would have, that everybody would have the vaccine.
Chris Whitty: (35:59)
Can I add an additional point on that? Which is essentially a technical point. If you think about vaccines, there are a lot of different sorts of vaccines, but you can broadly use them in two ways. The first way, which everybody thinks about, is as an epidemic modifying vaccine. This is you give it to the whole community, rather like MMR. And that protects everybody from getting these infections. But the other way you can use a vaccine is that you can use it as a disease modifying vaccine. You give the vaccine to those people who are most at risk. And you might do this because there isn’t enough vaccine. So you’d want to protect the people who are most vulnerable, or you might do it because there’s a partially effective vaccine that can stop people dying, but it’s not enough to stop the transmission of the virus.
Chris Whitty: (36:45)
And in that case, you would give it to a much smaller number of people. Now, clearly in that second group, you are absolutely doing it only to protect the person who is being vaccinated. And if they choose not to have that protection, it doesn’t affect anybody else. That is simply their choice. But then they obviously are denying themselves the protection that this kind of vaccine could provide.
Matt Hancock: (37:08)
Thanks very much, Chris, John.
John Newton: (37:10)
Well, Secretary of State, just a more general observation about vaccine programs. The most successful vaccine programs tend to be by consent. So what really matters is clear explanation of the benefits and risks, any risks that are associated with the vaccine, and a really good system to make the vaccine available to everybody who needs it. So although some countries have adopted mandatory programs, the most successful programs tend to be done on the basis of consent, good information and good delivery mechanisms. But, clearly mandation is there. Can be used in some instances.
Matt Hancock: (37:41)
Thanks very much, professor Newton. We’ll now go to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC. Laura.
Laura Kuenssberg: (37:47)
Thank you very much, Secretary of State. Did the Prime Minister change his mind on making health and care workers from overseas paid towards the NHS or was he just worried about losing a vote? And can I ask you also on social care, can you confirm that you were planning to introduce a cap on care costs in England? And do you accept this crisis has shown that reform of the system cannot be put off again?
Matt Hancock: (38:09)
Thanks, Laura. The Prime Minister has asked the Home Secretary and I to work on how we can remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible. And I’m very pleased to be able to do that. I’ve already spoken to the Home Secretary and we’ll be saying more on how we do this in the next few days. The Prime Minister has clearly, himself, been a beneficiary of carers from abroad. And we’ve talked many times during this crisis about the enormous contribution that people from overseas make to the NHS and to social care. So the purpose of the immigration health surcharge within the NHS is a fair one. And the purpose is to ensure that everybody contributes to the NHS. But also those who work within the NHS and within the social care, are themselves making that contribution directly. So the Prime Minister has made that decision and he’s asked us to make it happen.
Matt Hancock: (39:17)
On social care more broadly, as you know, we put in the manifesto on which we were elected, the need to reform social care. I would say that the crisis has demonstrated the need to bring health and social care closer together. Colleagues in social care, worked so closely, and are working so closely with the NHS. Much more closely in this crisis than I’ve ever seen before. Yet, there are organizational and bureaucratic boundaries that hold them apart. And so I can confirm that we’re working as we set out in the manifesto on making sure that social care is as strong and sustainable as it possibly can be in the future, so that we have a sustainable system that gives people the dignity that they crave as they grow old and for adults of working age.
Laura Kuenssberg: (40:16)
Can I come back on that?
Matt Hancock: (40:16)
Yes, of course.
Laura Kuenssberg: (40:18)
Can you tell us when that plan will emerge? And can you confirm that that would include a cap on care costs for individuals sometimes who end up having to sell their homes in order to pay?
Matt Hancock: (40:27)
Well, we have been clear on that second point. Absolutely, that people shouldn’t have to sell their homes to pay for their care. That principle’s very clearly set out in the manifesto. And it’s something that I think is very important. And I’ve seen the injustice of… It’s impossible to know in advance whether, especially in older age, whether you’re going to need care or not. And there is no system of insurance for people to be able to do anything about those costs. So I’ve seen the injustice of that. We’ve set out that we will address that as part of the reforms in the manifesto. And I’d love to give you an update on timing, but we have got all the urgent work on coronavirus to deal with at the same time. And so I’m not able to give you any firm commitments on timing I’m afraid.
Laura Kuenssberg: (41:16)
Matt Hancock: (41:16)
Thanks very much. Dan Hewitt from ITV. Dan.
Dan Hewitt: (41:22)
Good afternoon, Health Secretary. Research from the Food Foundation shared with us, showed the number of households struggling to get access to enough food, or skipping, or rationing meals, has doubled since the start of this crisis. That includes 1.7 million children. Given we don’t know when this crisis will end, does the government have a longterm plan beyond what it’s already done to help millions of struggling families? And secondly, if I may. Yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted it was the right thing to do to charge migrant health workers who used the NHS. Now he says, it’s the wrong thing to do? What exactly happened in the last 24 hours to make him change his mind?
Matt Hancock: (41:58)
Well, the Prime Minister yesterday gave an answer about the immigration health surcharge as a whole. And has asked the Home Secretary and I to work on making sure that NHS and care workers don’t have to pay it. So, that’s the explanation to the second part of your question. On the first part, you’re absolutely right to ask about this. It’s incredibly important. It’s something that we worry about. Making sure that people get access to the basics, no matter what their circumstance is. We’ve introduced the program for those who are being shielded, because they’re clinically vulnerable. 2.2 million people who have the offer of support. And we’ve delivered over a million food parcels to those who need them. Who, when they’re contacted by the NHS are asked, all of those 2.2 million are asked, “Do you need help, for instance, with food?” And we’ve been able to give them that support. And also connected them to supermarkets.
Matt Hancock: (42:58)
And I want to pay tribute to the supermarkets, who’ve done incredible work for the shielded. But there’s also a group of non-shielded people who are vulnerable. And in some circumstances, they might not be clinically more vulnerable, but they are vulnerable. And this is one of the many impacts. One of the many bad things about this virus is it can be harder for some vulnerable people to deal with the consequences of the virus, like all the social distancing. And so we have a program in place to support them as well. And we’ve put significant amounts of money into the shielding program and local support, coordinated locally by councils. And it’s an incredibly important part of the support. And I think you’re absolutely rise to raise it, Dan. Thanks very much. Beth Rigby from Sky.
Beth Rigby: (43:53)
Thank you. Secretary of State, the government’s own COVID-19 recovery strategy states in black and white that an app system needs to be built and successfully integrated for the track and trace system to work. But now the government’s saying the system can function effectively without it. Was your strategy document wrong, or have you moved the goalposts? And if I may to professor Newton, Oxford scientists who are advising the government on the contact tracing app, say test results need to come back within 24 hours to stop the spread of the virus. I know you’ve just announced this new swab trial, but how long do tests take at the moment?
Matt Hancock: (44:38)
Thanks, Beth. So on the first one of those, we’re absolutely clear that the test and trace system needs to be in place, and that is on track for delivery by the 1st of June. And as you know, we’ve been hiring the contact tracers, and we’ve hit the deadlines for those. And they are in place. 24,000, as of yesterday. And we have got the testing capacity. And the technology is an important part, but it is not the only part. And in fact, one of the lessons from the Isle of Wight is that getting the human contact tracing in, so that people understand the consequences of if you have been in close contact with somebody who tests positive, and somebody calls you and asks you to… Therefore, says that you have to self isolate.
Matt Hancock: (45:35)
It is important that that is done properly. The app is, as you know, working in the Isle of Wight. We want to make sure that this whole system lands well and supports the ability safely to make changes to social distancing rules. And the system will, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have high confidence that the system will be in place by the 1st of June. And then it will grow stronger and stronger. John.
John Newton: (46:03)
Thank you, Secretary of State. Yes, it’s a good question. It’s important to understand that the test and trace program has more than one component. And core to this is the public health contract tracing, which is used internationally. It’s recommended by WHO. It’s public health good practice. We used it in the containment phase. So somebody who tests positive is contacted and asked firstly to self isolate themselves and for their household to self isolate. And then there’ll be asked about their contacts, their close contacts. And those contacts are then contacted, and informed and given advice. That’s a process which is completely independent of the proximity app. Although, it is in fact… It’s augmented with an online information system, which is web based. And this will all become a little bit clearer when we introduce it. But all that work is now in place. And we are ready to go with that system.
John Newton: (47:02)
And in fact, it was used, as I say, in the containment phase. And we’ve had a very successful trial of it in the Isle of Wight. In addition to that process, for people in the general public, the app is an additional component, which tells you if your phone has been close to another phone with the app in such a way that you might have been in contact with somebody who have the risk of passing on coronavirus. So that can be led on top of the more personal contact tracing, which is driven by the public health process and the telephone process.
John Newton: (47:37)
So they are distinct, but complimentary. And it’s perfectly okay, in fact, possibly advantageous to introduce the one before the other. Thank you.
Matt Hancock: (47:46)
John Newton: (47:46)
And in terms of the, I’m sorry. In terms of the timing of the test. You’re absolutely right that the sooner the tests come back, the sooner people can be alerted about their risk and the more effective the process is. So we’re working very hard to get these turnaround times down. At the moment, 90% of tests come back-
John Newton: (48:03)
… down. At the moment, 90% of tests come back, the results come back within 48 hours of the test being done. And almost half of those are back within 24 hours. So many people will get the result the same day, but we’re introducing various ways of reducing that time to the absolute minimum.
Can I just ask that you accept that you do need to get the test back within 24 hours for the system to work because, obviously, a lot’s riding on this in terms of public confidence?
John Newton: (48:31)
Yes, indeed. There’s no specific cutoff. The sooner you can get the test back the better. But we’ve been in discussion with the modelers at Sage and models have been built based on 80% of the tests coming back within 48 hours. So we know that the effectiveness would be there with pretty much the level of performance we have now, but we would like to get it better. We would like to get the test back even more quickly because we know that it will be more effective if we can do the testing more quickly.
Thank you very much.
Matt Hancock: (49:01)
Thanks so much, Beth. Laura Hughes from the FT.
Laura Hughes: (49:05)
Afternoon. Can I ask if we never needed this app to launch a track and trace system, why is it still taken till the 1st of June to launch this army of human traces? Could we not have got them in place earlier while we were ramping up testing capacity? And also ask, how many daily tests do you estimate your new test and trace system is going to need for it to work?
Matt Hancock: (49:30)
Yeah. Well, two very good questions. I’ll ask John Newton to come in on it. The point about the app is the app is working in the Isle of Wight. But rolling an app out, especially one of such significance because if you download the app and you’ve been in close contact with someone, it tells you that you are at higher risk of having caught coronavirus, we want to make sure that rolls out in exactly the right way. And one of the things we’ve learned from the Isle of Wight is making sure the importance of getting that order. And so we’ve chosen to do it in this order. And the reason that for the timings is that it interacts with the changes and move to step two of the lockdown, which is scheduled to happen no earlier than the 1st of June. Whilst we’re all in lockdown, the implications of being told that you yourself need to go into lockdown are smaller as those social restrictions ease. And so that’s the interaction with step two.
Matt Hancock: (50:37)
And the critical point is that, of course, when the number of new cases was much higher, then the ability to do the contact tracing is much more difficult and less effective. But as Professor Whitty has just demonstrated with the new statistics published this morning from the Office of National Statistics, with around 61,000 new cases per week, that is the sort of scale that the contact tracing that we are bringing into place will be able to grapple with. And we’ve always said that the test and trace system will be more effective the lower the number of new cases. And social distancing is bringing down that number of new cases to a point where the test and trace system will be able to hold down. John, I don’t know if you want to add anything.
John Newton: (51:38)
Well, Secretary, you put it very well. The time for the test and trace program is a little bit later on as social distancing starts to relax. And of course we haven’t stopped doing contact tracing, the Public Health England still does contact tracing to investigate outbreaks, for example, at the moment. So it’s a question of increasing the scope and the scale at which we do contact tracing in a progressive way. And hiring the staff, the core public health staff who do the more complex contact tracing, are already in place and have been in place throughout, but we’re recruiting additional staff as they’re needed. It clearly wouldn’t have been sensible to recruit 20,000 people and have them not doing anything. At the moment, they’re going through training and making sure that everyone’s ready for when we do need to introduce the new program. So I think it’s all being introduced and in a very measured and effective way. In terms of the numbers, as Professor Whitty pointed out, the ONS estimates there may be something like 10,000 new cases a day. At the moment, we’re seeing around 2,000 positive tests a day. So these are very manageable numbers, and the trajectory is for those to decline at the moment. So those are very manageable numbers for the test and trace program to take on. Thank you.
Matt Hancock: (53:03)
Thanks very much.
Laura Hughes: (53:03)
If I could just-
Matt Hancock: (53:04)
Yeah, of course.
Laura Hughes: (53:05)
I could just followup very quickly.
Matt Hancock: (53:06)
Laura Hughes: (53:07)
[inaudible 00:53:07] risk, though, that as you introduced this new system, you’re also loosening lockdown measures, so people will be going back to school, for example. And you’re not concerned that the number of day infections could start to go up. Is there a point where we see the levels so high that the system stops working because we don’t have the capacity to deal with it anymore? Do you have a figure for that and a threshold under which you might have to roll back this system because it won’t be able to work anymore?
Matt Hancock: (53:34)
Well, we now have I have, through the surveillance testing, a much greater clarity on what the level of R is and a clear goal that R shouldn’t go above one. And that is in place to mitigate against exactly the scenario that you set out. And the goal is to keep the number of new cases coming down whilst lifting measures, the social listening measures as much as is safely possible but with the emphasis on safety. And of course, with a test and trace system in place, that will allow us to do more on the social distancing release safely. So the two need to be seen hand in hand, and it’s all about how do we manage this epidemic down using a more targeted focus on people who are higher risk because they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive rather than the blanket measures that we’ve got in place at the moment. Thanks very much. We now go to Robbie Savage. Robbie.
Robbie Savage: (54:49)
Thank you. Thanks for allowing me to ask this question as a Daily Mirror columnist and a grassroots football coach. It is mental health awareness week, and we all know how important all sport is as a contributor to achieving healthy minds and bodies. Why, therefore, is it on published guidelines by governing bodies that junior tennis players, golfers and athletes are able to receive one-on-one coaching sessions but young people who play the working class game of football are currently not allowed to?
Matt Hancock: (55:20)
Thanks, Robbie. Well, it’s good to have you, and thanks for taking part in the press conference. Look, I absolutely get the impact of this virus on people’s lives and their mental health impact. And for many people being able to play football is a huge release and really a positive thing. And the rules are there. Of course, they can go out and exercise, but I know that exercising just with members of your own household or on your own is nothing like being able to play football. So I get it. I understand why it’s a problem. Unfortunately, these rules have to be in place amongst the population as a whole, because we’ve got to get a grip of this virus. And it’s only by following it, the more people follow the rules, the faster we’ll get the number of new cases down and the more we’re going to be able to release social distancing rules. But you don’t just want to have me.
Robbie Savage: (56:22)
Can I just…?
Matt Hancock: (56:23)
Yeah, of course. Yeah. And then I’ll ask Chris Whitty to come in. Yeah.
Robbie Savage: (56:26)
So why are some government bodies allowing one-on-one coaching with under 18s whereas the governing body, the FA, aren’t allowing the under 18 game coach one-on-one? Why is it different?
Matt Hancock: (56:41)
Chris Whitty: (56:43)
So fully understand the reason for the question. And to absolutely reinforce your point, exercise of all sorts is good for physical health, good for mental health. And that’s one of the reasons we were very keen in the first very tentative easing of some of the lockdown to make it easier for people to do things outdoors. And if it’s within their own family, then a kind of kick around in football… If it were, rather, within the same household, a kick around of football is fine. So a difference, and this is, this is one of the [inaudible 00:57:14] that we need to think about a balance. And I think with all of the things we’re trying to do, it’s about trying to release where we can but not take the risk that we actually start having the transmission again. And we were very confident that it is much safer to do the same thing outdoors than indoors. So that’s the first thing, and that’s part of the reason we were able to do things. But as you know, the rules are, except within your own household, it’s one other person at two meters.
Chris Whitty: (57:45)
Now it’s quite different. And that is a small increment from where we are. Now it is possible to play the kind of sports you’re talking about at two meters with one other person or within your own household. Clearly, to have a kind of league football game, which is a contact sport and does involve a larger number, the risks are greater. Accepting that outdoors is safer that indoors but that a group of 22 people, many of them coming into contact with one another linking their households, is a much bigger risk than to people who are at a two meter distance. At what stage do we think that the rate is low enough for that to be a safe thing to do? That’s the logic for this very, very gradual move because we are very keen, both to try and make it possible, particularly for people to do sport and exercise outdoors for all the reasons you give, but also not in the process of that to link households again and start the process of the R going back up again. So that’s a long answer, but that’s because it’s a very serious question.
Robbie Savage: (58:50)
So can I have one more question, please, Secretary of State?
Matt Hancock: (58:51)
Yes, you can.
Robbie Savage: (58:52)
So [inaudible 00:58:53] can you or your scientific colleagues give an indication of the pathway for grassroots football being allowed to restart? Do you think we will have to wait for the vaccine?
Matt Hancock: (59:03)
Well, I very much hope that we won’t have to wait for a vaccine. The first thing I’d say is that some of the projects we’re putting in place, like this test and tracing that we’ve been talking about, are there to try to hold the number of new cases down whilst allowing more social distancing measures to be lifted. And this is one that we can look at and we have a discussion about last time around. And Chris is better placed than me to advise how much of an impact upwards it would have on R and how much further we can go.
Chris Whitty: (59:38)
Well, in my expectation and Sir Patrick Vallance’s expectation, this is one of his areas of trade, [inaudible 00:59:45] adviser, is that a vaccine before next year on a widespread basis is very unlikely. So I definitely hope that football will be available possibly with some degree of change of how it’s played. There may have to be some ways you have to think it through in advance of the vaccine. But I think what we’re trying to do is go very, very cautiously along that path that the Secretary of State talked about. But my very strong hope, and I’m sure this is a strong hope of everybody, is football is well before we get right out to the right-hand end of that path because outdoors is safer than indoors. No doubt about it. But mixing large numbers of people in a contact sport is, unfortunately, a higher risk of transmitting this virus inevitably than something which can be played in two or maybe four people at a distance.
Matt Hancock: (01:00:32)
We want grassroots football back as soon as we safely can. Thanks, Robbie. Great to have you on.
Robbie Savage: (01:00:39)
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Matt Hancock: (01:00:40)
Last question is from Ian Swanson from the Edinburgh Evening News. Ian.
Ian Swanson: (01:00:45)
Thank you. And I wanted to ask a couple of points about the hospitality and tourism sector, which is a crucial part of Edinburgh’s economy and potentially one of the last to reopen? From August employers will have to contribute to the cost of furlough. Many bars and restaurants say if they’re still closed, that will be impossible. And even when they can open, social distancing might mean that it’s just not viable. So will the government continue pool funding of furlough for this sector, or is there some new support that it could offer? And secondly, many hospitality businesses fail to qualify for the retail hospitality and leisure [inaudible 00:13:26], often just because their city center location pushes them over the threshold of 51,000 rateable value. And is not something that you would also consider reviewing?
Matt Hancock: (01:01:40)
Well, thank you. The furlough rules have been set in place as one of the most generous schemes in the world. And I’m very pleased that the Chancellor was able to extend them from the deadline this side of summer up to October. Clearly, the details of how it operates is for him and for the Treasury. And I’ll take your comments back. I do understand the importance of it, especially in Edinburgh, which especially during August, traditionally, has always relied on such an enormous influx of visitors for the biggest festival, certainly in the country, if not in the world, with Edinburgh Festival. So I understand the specific concern, and I’ll take that away and talk to the Chancellor about it. That concludes our daily briefing. Thank you very much, indeed, for all of the questions, and hope to see you again soon.