May 4, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 4
British officials gave a coronavirus briefing on May 4. Matt Hancock led the briefing and announced the launch of a pilot testing & tracing program.
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Matt Hancock: (00:00)
Before I do that, I just want to remind you of what we’re trying to achieve. Our plan is to slow the spread and to protect the NHS so that the NHS is always there for you and your family whenever you need it, whether for Coronavirus or anything else. That goal is working. The number of spare critical care beds in the NHS is 3,413. On the latest figures, there have been 1,291,000 tests for Coronavirus including 85,186 tests on Sunday, yesterday.
Matt Hancock: (00:43)
190,584 people have now tested positive for Coronavirus, an increase of 3,985. 13,258 people are in hospital with Coronavirus and 28,734 people have died. That’s across all settings, an increase of 288. That figure is lower than at any point since the end of March. But as with testing, these reported figures tend to be lower over the weekend, so we do expect that number to rise. And remember, this is not just a number, but it is a constant insistent reminder that we must go further and faster in our national effort in dealing with this virus.
Matt Hancock: (01:42)
Over the last month, we’ve built a national testing infrastructure capable of over 100,000 tests a day. Today the capacity stands at 108,000. This means we’re now in a position to start implementing the next part of our plan, track and trace. The aim of test, track and trace is to hunt down and isolate the virus so it’s unable to reproduce. And crucially test, track and trace allows us to take a more targeted approach to lockdown while still safely containing the disease. Creating this system is a huge national undertaking of unprecedented scale and complexity. We’ve already taken Britain’s small but brilliant diagnostics industry and taken it to global scale.
Matt Hancock: (02:32)
We’re building an army of human contact tracers who can man the phones and find the contacts and support people. And of course we’re developing the contact tracing app which can help us deliver test, track and trace on the mass scale that we need across the country. The app, which takes full consideration of privacy and security, has already been tested in closed conditions at an RAF base. And today I can announce the next steps. From tomorrow, we will begin to pilot test, track and trace on the Isle of Wight starting with health professionals and rolling out this week to all citizens.
Matt Hancock: (03:13)
I’m grateful to the huge enthusiasm shown by islanders who know that by participating in this pilot, they’re at the forefront of helping get Britain back on her feet. Where the Isle of Wight goes, Britain follows. The island has a single NHS trust, one local authority with the responsibilities for public health, a relatively low number of COVID cases and because it’s an island, we can run this trial in proper, scientifically controlled conditions comparing the effect with what’s going on on the mainland before we roll it out to the rest of the country.
Matt Hancock: (03:53)
So here’s how it’ll work. Last week we put in place the testing capability on the island. From tonight, the contact tracing capability will go live and then tomorrow NHS staff on the island will be able to download the app. And from Thursday, each one of the 80,000 households on the island will get a letter from the chief nurse with comprehensive information about the trial. Islanders will then be asked to install the app. Once you’ve installed the app, it’ll start logging the distance between your phone and other phones with an app nearby.
Matt Hancock: (04:29)
It’s been designed with a form of Bluetooth that conserves power so the app won’t drain your battery, and this log of proximity information will then be securely stored on your phone. If you become unwell with COVID symptoms, you inform the NHS via the app. All the app users who you’ve had significant contact with in the last few days will then be sent an alert by the NHS along with advice about what to do. A test ordering function will then be built in.
Matt Hancock: (05:04)
If you’re watching this and you live on the Isle of Wight, I have a simple message. Please, download the app to protect the NHS and save lives. By downloading the app, you’re protecting your own health, you’re protecting the health of your loved ones and the health of your community. I know the people of the Isle of Wight will embrace this with enthusiasm because by embarking on this project and by embracing test, track and trace, you will be saving lives.
Matt Hancock: (05:43)
The pilot is important so we can help make sure the app works as well as it possibly can alongside the contact tracing system. And with your help, we’ll learn a lot. We’ll use it to make things better and we want to hear from you. I want to stress, and this is really important, that this trial does not mean the end of social distancing on the Isle of Wight or anywhere else for that matter. We will only change the social distancing rules once our five tests are met. So I’ll end with the instruction that we all know. Please stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Or if you live on the Isle of Wight, stay at home, install the app, protect the NHS and save lives. I’ll now turn to Professor Van-Tam to take us through the day’s charts. Jonathan.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (06:40)
Thank you secretary of state. So let’s begin again with refreshing the five tests that we have in place for deciding if we’re going to adjust the lockdown. The first is around NHS capacity and we’re in a good position on that one. The second one is about a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from Coronavirus and it is now very clear in the data that we are past the peak. The next one is solid information that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels right across the board. This is an indicator that we need to keep a close eye on over the next few days and weeks.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (07:33)
The fourth one is around operational challenges around testing and PPE and being able to meet future demand. There are continuing challenges on PPE. It is an absolute priority to continue pushing on this to get it right in the long-run. But of course on testing as you’ve heard from the secretary of state, we’re in a very good position. And finally we have to be confident that the adjustments we contemplate are not going to risk a second peak of infections. And this is really a matter of deep scientific discussion, very, very close following and absorbing of the evidence and one that we’re keeping under detailed scientific review as the days and weeks go by. Next slide please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (08:28)
Now this slide actually shows search data of people looking at Apple Maps for directions over driving, over walking routes or over using public transport. It tells the same story as slides you have seen before about how since we announced these social distancing measures, the public continue to observe the instructions to work with us to protect the NHS and get case numbers down. And you can see very, very consistent trends over reduced searches for driving instructions, walking instructions and use of public transport. So, we need to keep going. Let’s keep going and continue to drop the curve further. Next slide please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (09:25)
This is a graph showing from the 6th of April through to the 4th of May daily tests completed for Coronavirus. You can see on the right hand side the latest data showing 85,000 tests completed on the 4th of May. Our capacity is 108,000 tests and there is another lab opening next week. This is all very encouraging. Tests are going up, people are using testing services more and we are well within our capacity capability. Next slide please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (10:10)
Now this slide shows new cases of Coronavirus in the UK. From the 21st of March, you can see that obvious peak up to a high level in early April. And then you can see the pattern that has occurred in terms of new cases right up until the 4th of May. On this one, I have to say that new cases need to come down further. We have to continue to track this index and we have to get cases lower.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (10:47)
If you look to the next slide please, here we array the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 from 17th of March through to the 3rd of May. And after peaks in the middle of April, you can see that in almost all areas now there are steady but absolutely consistent declines occurring. Possibly in a small number of areas, the trend is somewhat flat, but overall there are now steady declines in the number of people in hospital. This is good news.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (11:26)
Following on please, the next slide. Critical care beds, ICU beds. Here again across all four nations you can see largely continuing declines and possibly a more important point, if you look at the axis on the left of the slide, the Y axis, you can see where we are in terms of capacity and there is plenty of ICU capacity which is extremely good. Next slide please.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (11:56)
I turn now to deaths in all settings. Here you can see that there is a slow but consistent decline. You will see the weekend effect very clearly, especially if you look at the three steps on the right hand side of the chart. Fewer deaths are actually recorded, reported at the weekends. That’s an artifact of the way people report deaths. But overall if you look at the orange line, the seven-day smoothed out rolling average, there is this slow but consistent decline which is absolutely going in the right direction now.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (12:36)
And then the final slide is one we have shown for some time showing a comparison across countries dating back to the day when 50 cumulative deaths were recorded in each of the countries and we’re now quite a way across the slide to 60 odd days in some of the countries. The message is the same as I’ve said to you before that there are kind of three broad trends on this curve, but I do want to emphasize to you these are numbers, they are not rates.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (13:13)
They do not adjust for the size of the underlying population, and this is a difficulty in interpreting these data. We will in the course of time be able to get all-cause, age-adjusted, excess mortality for many of the countries on this slide. And that will give us a much clearer understanding of what is going on. And hopefully those data will continue for a long period of time so that we can understand the fullness of the picture as we try to beat this virus. I will stop there with the data and hand back to the secretary of state.
Matt Hancock: (13:50)
Thank you very much Jonathan. And we’re now going to take questions. And the first question is from a member of the public. We have a video from Zack Lane from London.
Zack Lane: (14:02)
What is being done to ensure that BAM key workers are not disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and what steps have been taken to provide support to the families of those victims who have sadly passed away?
Matt Hancock: (14:19)
Thank you, Zack Lane, an incredibly important question, two incredibly important questions, both of which we’re working hard to address. And I’m going to ask Jonathan to set out the details, but what I’d say absolutely from the start is that we recognize that there has been a disproportionately high number of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds who have passed away, especially amongst care workers and those in the NHS. And I paid tribute to them before and I will do so again because the NHS is an amazing organization that has been built on the dedication of people from all backgrounds and this including many, many who’ve come to this country to give their lives working in the NHS and disproportionately employs people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and yet we have seen this impact in the data. And I think it’s affected a lot of us working on it to see that, and so we’ve got a lot of work going into fully understand scientifically and make sure that in every single case we learn what we can to protect people better.
Matt Hancock: (15:44)
In terms of support for the families of those who’ve passed away, for those working in the NHS, we now have a program of support that we’ve been able to put in place that is there for everybody who is from a family where somebody has died whilst in service, including across pharmacy, across social care, and so I think that’s a really important thing for us to do, to recognize the sacrifice of those who put themselves at risk by going to work in what can be dangerous conditions where they might be working with those who have COVID-19. John.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (16:31)
Yes. I’m extremely sorry whenever I hear of a healthcare worker death due to coronavirus, whether it’s someone from a black and minority ethnic group or otherwise. It doesn’t change the fact that it takes courage to work in the NHS at a time like this and it’s most difficult.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (16:55)
On the subject of the signal that we have so far on black and minority ethnic groups, I want to say to you that we are taking it incredibly seriously. There is a very big piece of scientific work now ongoing that will report to the Chief Medical Officer and we’ll get to the bottom of this however long it takes us. But I will also say that this is a complicated picture because when you start to study patterns of disease across different ethnic groups, you also have to take into account potential differences in the age structure between groups, also differences in the patterns of underlying medical conditions, which we know do vary by ethnic group and therefore it’s a complicated picture. And also deprivation has to be taken into account where people live. And all of this is complex, it takes time and I’m not going to rush the answer. I think we owe it to minority ethnic groups to get this right and get a clear signal for you.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (18:11)
And you’ll have worked out that I’m from an ethnic minority group and we will get to the bottom of this. It could be that professor Newton has some further epidemiological granularity he’d like to add on this point.
Professor Newton: (18:25)
Thank you, Jonathan. Well, just to say that we are, as you say, looking at the data very carefully, not just on ethnicity but also on age, sex and other factors such as obesity, which we know do have an impact on the effect of coronavirus. But it’s already clear from some of the published data that the impact in BME groups is greater, that there are more people with the infection and those who have the infection have worse outcomes in many cases. So there is already cause for concern, but as Jonathan says, it’s not entirely clear how much of that is due to different levels of underlying conditions or other risk factors. So there is work to be done and we will be publishing this as soon as it’s ready.
Matt Hancock: (19:03)
Thank you very much. Thank you, Zack Lane. The next question is from Conrad from Ashford. And Conrad asks, “Going forward, will the primary aim of test, track and trace be to squash the occurrence of COVID-19 infection to very low levels or simply to flatten the curve enough that the NHS is not overwhelmed?” And that is a really important question, Conrad. The answer is that test, track and trace will help us to get the R down and to get the number of new cases down and to keep it down, but not on its own. It’s primarily the social distancing measures that we’ve taken so far that have flattened the curve and now we can see that the curve is going down from the presentation that professor Van-Tam just gave. The goal is to keep the number of new infections going down and bring in the test, track and trace.
Matt Hancock: (20:01)
We’re at a point, which we will do from tomorrow in the Isle of Wight and then rolling out to the rest of the country, we will get those numbers down, the test, track and trace becomes more effective the lower the number and then we want to keep the number going down by keeping the R below one, the rate of infection. So our goal is not simply to flatten the curve, it is to get the occurrence of COVID-19 infections to very low levels, to be absolutely clear within your question that that is the answer. Thanks very much.
Matt Hancock: (20:41)
We’ll now take questions from the media. Hugh Pym from the BBC.
Hugh Pym: (20:47)
Thank you very much. When will you have recruited your 18,000 contact traces and when will the full test, track and trace network be up and running?
Matt Hancock: (20:59)
The aim is to have the whole thing up and running by the middle of this month. We’re starting already. We’ve already started the recruitment. Of the 18,000 we have thousands already recruited and we are making very rapid progress, not only in the recruitment but also the training that’s necessary, a short piece of training. And we have enough to get going on the Isle of Wight. In fact, they came on stream as of five o’clock this evening so that’s up and running now, and then to roll out across the country. But there’s no magic around the 18,000 figure. That is the initial scale that we think is necessary. If it needs to be bigger, when we find out from the ONS survey that’s in the field at the moment what the prevalence of the disease is, the number of new cases per day actually out there rather than that we find through positive tests, then we’ll adjust that figure. That’s the initial goal, but it’ll be up and running by the middle of the month.
Hugh Pym: (22:08)
Can I ask one more?
Matt Hancock: (22:09)
Hugh Pym: (22:11)
On business, some businesses will be required to have PPE for their staff, where will they procure it and will they be in competition with the NHS?
Matt Hancock: (22:20)
Well, this is a really important important question when we consider changes to the social distancing measures. The wider impact of changes to social distancing measures, including for instance on PPE, on the first call on PPE must go to the NHS and social care and those other essential services who need it to keep the people delivering those services, safe. So that is something that we take into account. It’s in our five tests, but it is something that we’re working very hard on now. Of course, it’s our job in running the health and social care system to ensure that those areas and the other public services have PPE, and there’s a worldwide shortage as you say, so we do need to take that into consideration before making changes. And that’s why it’s one of the five tests. Thanks very much. Tom Clark from ATV.
Tom Clark: (23:27)
Thank you, Secretary of States. The most successful contact tracing efforts around the world, like those of Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, were only partly reliant on mobile phone technology in order to work. They were more aligned on large numbers of volunteers on the community level going out to track down and trace cases at a huge scale. Has the government ensured this capacity is in place in the UK or are we putting too much faith in call centers and in untested digital technologies [crosstalk 00:24:02] may be?
Matt Hancock: (24:04)
It’s a really important point and I agree with the points in the question, which is that it isn’t just about the technology and the people in call centers, it’s also about citizens acting in the right way, acting in the right way to download the app because that protects you and protects your family and protects the NHS, but also acting in the right way to do contact tracing yourself. John?
Professor Newton: (24:29)
Yeah, so it’s a really good point, well made. The app is very exciting and the app adds something extra, it adds an automated response that can be almost immediate. But as you say, the program that we’re putting in place is an integrated program with the app, but also with contact tracing driven by testing. So access to testing partly through the app, but also other routes to the test. And then the test result backed up by contact tracing driven by public health professionals. At one level we’ve got public health England, but also a lot of experience on the ground with directors of public health and local authorities, environmental health officers who are very expert in this exactly as you say, shoe-leather epidemiology out on the streets, finding contacts.
Professor Newton: (25:11)
But even actually as what people call traditional contact tracing isn’t very traditional anymore. It’s quite highly technical. So we’ve developed a web based support, the contact tracing and advisory service, which has been ramped up to support this, and there’s also another line of defense through the telephone call center. So it’s a multi- layered approach. And one of the points of the Isle of Wight test, pilot, is to try and see how those different elements integrate together to support each other. So it’s a very good point, we are learning from the best practice around the world, but we also have something to offer in the UK as well because we’ve been doing this for a long time.
Matt Hancock: (25:48)
Thanks, Tom. I hope that answers your question.
Tom Clark: (25:51)
Yes. I may have a quick follow question. Are we caught in something of a catch 22 with contact tracing? As I understand it, the numbers of cases have to fall quite a bit more before we can reliably roll it out across the country, but if we keep locked [inaudible 00:12:07], which we have to until your fifth test is met, it’s quite hard to pilot contact tracing because most of us are trying to isolate ourselves as much as possible.
Matt Hancock: (26:19)
No is the short answer. And the slightly longer answer is that even with social distancing measures, there still are some new cases that means that the technology can still be effective. And even with the scale of new cases across the country, contact tracing can still have an impact and the app will still be highly effective. It’s just more effective the fewer the number of new cases. So these are all matters of degree rather than absolute. So we’re not caught in a catch 22, but it is absolutely true that the social distancing measures, all the thing that is doing there, having the big impact. And so hence the message remains, stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. Unless you’re in the Isle of Wight. But even in the Isle of Wight, you should still stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. It’s that you should also install the app because that will help this to be yet more effective.
Matt Hancock: (27:35)
One final point on this, which is the Isle of Wight has a slightly lower rate of new COVID infections than some other places in the country and therefore actually is a … That makes it a good place to test this. Not only is it good because it will help the Isle of Wight, but it is also good because it has that slightly lower number of new infections.
Tom Clark: (28:01)
There’s lockdown measures until-
Tom Clark: (28:03)
… contact tracing is up and running across the country?
Matt Hancock: (28:07)
No. The two aren’t necessarily linked like that. We haven’t said that we can’t make changes before it’s up and running. It’s just that the test, track, and trace system will help us to get R down and hold R down. And the lower the number of new cases, the more effective it will be. But we haven’t made a concrete link that your question drew between having this system in place nationally and making changes to the social distancing measures. There isn’t a necessary link between the two. They do work in tandem. The next question is from Oliver Dyer from Isle of Wight Radio.
Oliver Dyer: (28:54)
Evening, all. In a poll that Isle of Wight Radio ran today, 80% of our listeners said they would install this new app. But the Island has a higher than average elderly population who fall into the government’s vulnerable category. How are you expecting those who don’t have a smart phone or can’t use that technology, be it on the Island or across the country, to get behind this. And with that in mind, considering the Island has an elderly population, one of the questions our listeners wants to know is, why the island is being chosen over other U.K. islands or locations?
Matt Hancock: (29:26)
So, look, that’s a great set of questions, Oliver. And I’m really, really pleased to hear that 80% of people said that they would download the app. Because the more people who download the app, the more effective it’s going to be because you need two people having downloaded the app for it to be effective, for one to be able to tell the other that they’ve been in close contact with somebody who’s got symptoms of COVID-19. So, I’m really pleased that the people of the Isle of Wight have responded today in this way. I had a feeling that they would. And I’m really glad that they have.
Matt Hancock: (30:01)
But, partly because of the challenges that you set out, that not everybody has a smartphone, that’s another reason actually to test it in the Isle of White. Because, if we tested it somewhere where it would be easy, we wouldn’t find as many of the challenges, rather than testing it somewhere where you’ve got to have the technology, but you’ve got to have the human contact tracing as well. They go hand in hand. They help each other. And so, that is actually one of the things we thought about before choosing the Isle of Wight as the place to go first. John, do you?
Jonathan Van-Tam: (30:43)
Yeah. Thank you. I mean, I think the Isle of Wight is an ideal place to do this. It’s quite a large population and there is a benefit in the fact that travel on and off the Island is relatively restricted. The ferries are there but they’re running relatively infrequently. So it is an ideal place to look at the epidemiology and see the impact. And it’s also, I used to be the regional director of Public Health for South Central, including the Isle of Wight. I know that the Island is very well equipped to respond to things like this. It’s a very coherent group. We’ve had tremendous support from the local authority, from the NHS, from the local MP. And, like everybody else, I think is going to be a great success as a pilot.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (31:22)
Your point about elderly people, firstly we shouldn’t make assumptions. I mean, quite a lot of elderly people that are extremely tech savvy and quite happy to use smartphones. But we’ve also recognized that there are other ways of doing contact tracing. So, as I mentioned, we’ve built in a number of routes. So, people don’t have to have the app in order to benefit. But, of course, we will all benefit. If the app and the contact tracing drives down the infection rate, it drives down the infection rate for everybody.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (31:48)
And I think the third point to say is that the people who are most mobile and most likely to be out bumping into each other are also the people who are probably most likely to be using smartphones. So, I think, all in all, we think it’s a strong program. And we’re looking forward to see how it works in the Isle of Wight. And that survey is extremely encouraging. So, thank you.
Matt Hancock: (32:07)
Does that answer your questions, Oliver?
Oliver Dyer: (32:09)
It does. Yeah. Am I allowed one more followup?
Matt Hancock: (32:11)
Oliver Dyer: (32:12)
Fantastic. So, obviously, whilst a lot of people, a lot of Isle of Wight Radio listeners in particular have been positive about the app, there are some concerns that the lockdown measures could be lifted here early to form part of that trial. Could lock down on the Isle of Wight be lifted earlier than the rest of the U.K.? And, if so, is it safe to do so?
Matt Hancock: (32:30)
Well, I want to thank Isle of Wight Radio listeners for how much they’ve engaged with this idea today. And I can reassure you that there aren’t any changes to social distancing measures that are proposed as part of this pilot. The pilot is to find out how the app works, how the interaction of people then becomes recognized by the technology and the link from that to the human contact tracing, and to the testing regime, because there’s a new testing center on the Isle of Wight as well. So, there aren’t changes. Our proposals are that changes to the social distancing will only take place when the five tests are met. And that’s nationally rather than the Isle of Wight having any differences in that part to the rest of the country. Thanks very much indeed, Oliver. Joe Murphy from the Evening Standard.
Joe Murphy: (33:38)
Good afternoon. Can I ask the scientists, how has your understanding of immunity developed over the last month or so? Do you know yet whether people will catch it again? And how are the tests developing? How are the testing of the tests going? Do you see antibodies and immunity playing a really significant role in easing out of lockdown or not? And, Secretary of State, if I could just ask a follow to Conrad’s question, who asked how low the numbers would go. You said very low. Can you put a figure on that?
Matt Hancock: (34:14)
The answer to the second question is, no. And the answer to the first question is, I’ll say a little and then I’ll ask both scientists to come in, John on the testing and JVT on the science of immunity.
Matt Hancock: (34:31)
What I’d say is that antibody testing is incredibly important. We have antibody tests in the field at the moment. They’re being used for surveys. They are lab based, rather than the automatic response tests that we looked into in great detail a month or so ago. But then, none of them were effective enough to be used for clinical reasons. But they can still be used for surveys. So, we have surveys in the field, both with the stick tests and also with lab based serology which detects antibodies. So, we will be getting estimates soon of the proportion of the population who have the antibodies. The test tests for whether the antibodies are there. The effect of the antibodies on your risk to catching or transmitting Coronavirus in the future is the next important step in that. And the science on that has been rapidly developing. And I’ll ask JVT to update on that.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (35:38)
Yes. Thank you for the question. So, on antibodies, one of the things we want to know is, when you’ve had a COVID-19 infection, do you get antibodies? Do they protect you against further instances of the same illness? And how long are they going to protect you for? So, that’s kind of three questions really. So, let’s chop this up into three answers.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (36:08)
And the first answer is, the first thing we wanted to know was, once you’ve had confirmed COVID-19 infection, do you get antibodies? And one of the things that we’ve been interested in and want to do is call people back who’ve had COVID-19 for sure and who’ve recovered to ask them if they’ll begin to take part in a program we’re starting to get plasma containing antibodies and use it for treatment in the future in trials to understand if it’s going to work and save lives. And the good news on that is that program has started. And the overwhelming majority of people so far called back who’ve had definite COVID-19 infection have got antibodies in their bloodstream, which is a good news thing. So, those antibodies take different times in different people to develop. But, by and large, the signal is that people get antibodies.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (37:14)
The next question is, do those antibodies protect you from further infections? And we just haven’t had this disease around on the planet in humans for long enough to know the answers to that with any surety. And that’s a piece of science that we will just have to follow a bit longer. I hope the answer is yes. But I think it’s one where we have to be much clearer before we can take that responsibility of giving you a very clear answer on that.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (37:47)
And then, the final piece is, how long will the antibodies last? And we do know that for other normal Coronaviruses, if that’s the right word, the ones that are a couple of viruses that, together with many others, cause what we’d call the common cold, that those antibodies don’t persist necessarily for years, and years, and years. Now, it doesn’t follow that that’s going to be the case with COVID-19. We do not know at this point. We will have to simply follow people who’ve recovered and test them repeatedly until we have an understanding of how long antibodies last and how long they protect for.
Jonathan Van-Tam: (38:33)
But there is an absolutely massive piece of work now underway, multiple studies, to look for antibodies in different populations in the U.K. and, indeed, to follow some people who’ve recovered for long periods of time into the future, at least a couple of years. And we will have much clearer signals over time. But I’m afraid it’s just one of those where we can’t make the science go any faster than how quickly our bodies go in terms of maintaining the antibodies. And, like everybody else in the world, we just have to be patient and cautious until we get those answers. But I do believe, in the long run, once we have those kinds of answers, potentially antibody testing will be a very important part of our future strategy.
Matt Hancock: (39:26)
Thanks. In fact, I’m in one of those trials, because I was tested positive. And now, fairly regularly somebody comes and takes blood to test whether I have antibodies. And then, also to test whether I get it again, because we have surveys in the field right now to test if people with antibodies then catch the disease, which is an absolutely critical fact will then determine policy over what we say people with antibodies who’ve tested positive on an antibody test can do. Which is, at the moment, we don’t yet have the science to make those policy decisions, but it will be absolutely critical. John, did you have anything to add on the testing?
Jonathan Van-Tam: (40:11)
Just briefly on the testing, there’s been really very good progress on the antibody tests. There are at least two large, commercial organizations who have developed good lamp based antibody tests, which we’re currently evaluating. But also, people looking at ways of doing antibody tests close to the person, the patient. And there are a number of options there including a saliva test. And all of these options are looking quite promising and being evaluated. So, I think, in general, we can say, as we thought, that there would be antibody tests available when we needed them. And they will support also our contact tracing program and strategy later on.
Matt Hancock: (40:47)
Fantastic. Follow up?
Joe Murphy: (40:49)
If I may, Secretary of State, and thank you all three for very informative answers there. Secretary of State, life is full of risks. And this is all about balance of risks. You are somebody who has probably got antibodies. Would you feel happy going into a crowded room?
Matt Hancock: (41:04)
Not yet. Not yet. I very much hope that the science shows that the people with antibodies who tested positive for having antibodies have a low risk of transmitting the disease and the low risk of catching it. Both are important because low risk of catching it to protect me, low risk of transmitting it to protect others. I very much hope that that’s where the science comes out. That is true of most Coronaviruses. But we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the science. Because, until we know that’s the case, we can’t be sure of it. We can’t base a policy decision on it. And I can’t be comfortable doing what you mentioned in the question because that might simply trigger a rise in the number of infections if the science turns out to be wrong. And there are so many novel things about this Coronavirus.
Matt Hancock: (42:03)
There are so many things that are different to previous… There’s the six existing coronaviruses, that we do have to test this and not base our assumptions on how other coronaviruses behave, because we don’t want to take the risk of assuming this coronavirus behaves like other coronaviruses before saying and taking a policy decision that people with antibodies are lower risk. But if the science concludes that they are, then we’ll take decisions on that basis. And I would say, this point of John’s, that there’s been big advances in antibody testing, especially the lab-based antibody testing, is very important. Today, Roche, the Swiss global diagnostics company, made a very positive announcement about progress with their antibody test, and we’re in discussions with them about a very large scale rollout of antibody testing, as well as with some others who may be able to bring this forward. But there’s been false hope before in antibody testing, and so we’ll make announcements when we’re absolutely ready. Thanks very much, Joe. Paul Waugh from the Huffington Post.
Paul Waugh: (43:20)
Health Secretary, as you’ve frequently said, the longterm solution to this pandemic is a fully scaled up vaccine for COVID-19.
Matt Hancock: (43:28)
Paul Waugh: (43:28)
But a vaccine relies on as many people as possible actually taking it up. Now you told HuffPost last year, and I quote, “There’s a very strong argument for having compulsory vaccinations for children for when they go to school, because otherwise they’re putting other children at risk.” Would that apply to a COVID vaccine, as well as to MMR and other vaccines? And what are the measures are you looking at to ensure as many adults and children take up the new vaccine when it’s available? And if I can, to Professor Van-Tam, can I ask you what you’ve made of the early academic research done in Harvard, Germany and even Cambridge, that suggests high levels of air pollution may be one of the most important contributors to the clustering of deaths from COVID-19? Is SAGE looking at that, or going to look at that?
Matt Hancock: (44:11)
Thanks, Paul. Two very good questions. On the vaccine, the first and most important thing is that we support the development of the vaccine. And you all have seen the Prime Minister’s excellent announcement today. And then, that we also do the work to ensure that people can get access to the vaccine, starting with those who are most vulnerable. And on the question of whether to make it compulsory, I think that the extent of the public’s reaction to following the lockdown, shows that we will be able to achieve very, very high levels of vaccination without taking that step. And so, our task is to ensure that it is, in the first instance, we support the science as much as possible, because we can’t assume there’ll be a vaccine. There is no coronavirus vaccine yet. And for any of the existing coronaviruses, and this is uncertain science. But whilst I don’t rule anything out, we’re proceeding on the basis that just such a huge proportion of the population are going to take this up, because of the obvious benefits to individuals, and their families, and their communities, and indeed, the whole nation, that there’ll be enormous demand for it, as and when the science is safe to proceed.
Professor Van-Tam: (45:35)
Yes, thank you Secretary of State. So, just to stay on the vaccine question for a little longer, we are following the developments in vaccine research across the world, including in the UK. We remain very hopeful that there will be a breakthrough at some point in the future. I think what I can say to you is that it is more likely than not, that the first vaccines will be licensed in adults in the first instance, and therefore, what has to put some caveats around your question around children. And the other thing to say is that, so far, the epidemiological evidence is not showing us that there is a massive burden of disease or burden of mortality in children. It is actually completely at the other end of the scale. It is in the elderly. And so, from that perspective, again, that’s another caveat I’d add to your question about vaccinating children.
Professor Van-Tam: (46:42)
On the second question about air pollution, and thank you for that, I think we already have very solid data that air pollution contributes to a whole range of mortality, particularly from respiratory illnesses, and respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disease. I have heard it said, about air pollution and COVID-19. I have not personally studied those data and looked at that question in detail, but what you say is entirely plausible, in my view. Professor Newton may have some further observations on air pollution.
Professor Newton: (47:24)
Well, only your general point that we know that air pollution, because it’s so pervasive and affects so many people, has a huge burden. But like Jonathan, I haven’t looked at those papers, but I think there’s something that we-
Matt Hancock: (47:34)
Right. I think we’ll get back to you, Paul. The scientists will get back to you.
Paul Waugh: (47:38)
Yeah, just one brief followup, Secretary of State. Do you have a message for those anti-vaxxers here and abroad, when and if we do get a vaccine for COVID-19?
Matt Hancock: (47:49)
I think there has been no greater demonstration in modern history that vaccines save lives, than the need for a vaccine to save lives and to get the world going again, following the outbreak of COVID-19, and we will only license a vaccine when it is both effective, and safe, and when the independent regulators… If and when the independent regulators license a vaccine in this country, they will do so knowing that it is safe, and everybody should follow that advice. Thanks very much. Finally, we’re going to go to Louise Hill from the Isle of Wight County press.
Louise Hill: (48:42)
Thank you Mr. Secretary. As a local democracy reporter out on the Isle of Wight, I have seen a mixed reaction to the app, but a main concern that keeps occurring is whether you can assure island residents who are wary of using the app and this technology, that their data will be kept fully protected and private throughout this trial and going forward, and the government will be fully transparent with islanders about the way this app works.
Matt Hancock: (49:06)
Yes, absolutely. This is an incredibly important question. I was very glad to hear from Oliver from Isle of Wight Radio, on his initial survey, there was a very high degree of support for the app and for downloading it, but the app has been designed with privacy and security front of mind. It’s been signed off by the National Cyber Security Center, who’ve been involved in its development, and I want to thank them and pay tribute to the work that they’ve done in ensuring that the privacy and cybersecurity is strong. The data is stored on in individual’s phone, not by the NHS, until somebody finds that they’ve got symptoms, and then they need a test, and so they need to connect to the NHS. And then, the NHS needs to contact those who you’ve been in contact with. And so, this has the highest level of privacy built in to make sure that we can both reassure people, in terms of privacy, but also, that it can be effective and save lives. I don’t know if you’ve got anything to add on that.
Professor Newton: (50:20)
Well, no. Exactly right, Secretary, but just to be absolutely clear, the app itself doesn’t hold any personal information. It just has information about the phone, where it was, which other phones it’s been in contact with, but only using anonymized randomly generated numbers. And those are the data that are collated. So, no personal information is contained by the app, or generated by the app. As the Secretary said, the only personal information used is when somebody approaches the NHS to have a test, or to have their contact traced. So, it’s a very safe use of data, and people should feel very reassured by all the precautions that have been taken.
Matt Hancock: (50:59)
Thanks very much indeed. Thank you, from the Isle… Have you got a follow up? You’ve got it… Yes.
Louise Hill: (51:04)
Sorry. Yes, please.
Matt Hancock: (51:04)
Louise Hill: (51:06)
So, as you said earlier, we’re told the lockdown won’t be eased on the island as part of the rollout of this app. That means people are already either at home or making very limited trips. And as the app is predominantly aimed at the islands key workers, will that guarantee enough useful data for the app, going forward?
Matt Hancock: (51:26)
This is a really important question that we thought about when selecting where to try it. Because there’s a busy hospital on the island, and there’s other key workers, including those who work for the counsel, for instance, and in the other services right across the board, there are interactions, and there are new cases on the island, and so we think that it will be effective, and it will be an effective place to pilot. But also, we think that the Test, Track and Trace system, as a whole, will be more effective when there are fewer new cases, because then, when you do find a new case, we can really support that person, find out who they’ve been in contact with, and then contact all of those people, and we can put quite a lot of effort and support into then, trying to stop that case from spreading any further.
Matt Hancock: (52:29)
So actually, the Test, Track and Trace system, as a whole, will be more effective when there’s fewer cases, and currently, there are fewer cases on the island than there are in the rest of the country.
Matt Hancock: (52:41)
Thank you very much indeed. Thanks for all the questions from the public, from the national media, from the Isle of Wight. And I’m very grateful for this opportunity to have sat out these details of our Test, Track and Trace program, and look forward to seeing you again, from here in Downing street very soon. Thanks very much.