The lockdown has eased
Schools returned, in a limited capacity, for the first time today in 10 weeks. From 15 June secondary pupils will start to return, in Years 10 and 12, and there are plans for all primary years to go back for the last month of term. Groups of up to six people from different households can meet in parks and private gardens, as long as they remain two metres apart. Those who are clinically vulnerable and have been shielding are also allowed outdoors with a family member to meet one other friend.
However, not all parents and schools are comfortable with the re-opening. A survey from the National Foundation for Educational Research, based on the views of 1,200 school leaders found that:
- 46% of parents will keep children at home
- 50% of parents in schools in disadvantaged areas will keep children at home
- 25% of teachers are likely to be absent because of health issues for themselves or their families.
However, at the Number 10 daily press briefing the Prime Minister’s spokesman suggested that the government is backing away from its plan for all primary school pupils in England to spend at least a month in school before the start of the summer holidays. In its coronavirus recovery plan, published on 11th May, the government said it wanted “all primary school children [in England] to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible”. Asked if that was still the plan, the spokesman said this proposal remained “under review”.
This comes as the Government has faced criticism from The Association of Directors of Public Health, which represents council health figures. They have warned that the latest easing of the lockdown was “not supported by the science”. However, the Prime Minister’s spokesman has insisted it is "unlikely" that today’s easing of the lockdown will push the reproduction rate for the virus — the so-called R number — above one.
Summary of the Press Conference
The Health Secretary led the Daily Press Conference. He was joined by Professor John Newton, Head of Track and Trace and Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England.
We have summarised what they both said below. Questions from journalists have been put in brackets.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
- It is incredibly important that if anyone has symptoms of Coronavirus that you get a test. By getting a test we can identify who has the virus, ensuring you get the best possible treatment and then we can trace and control the virus. This is the most important message.
- 128,437 tests were carried out yesterday, over 4.8 million tests have been carried out. Testing capacity stands at 206,444 – there is extra capacity for more tests, and they are available right now.
- 1,570 cases confirmed as of 1st June, the lowest level of new cases since late March.
- 479 people are in hospital in England, down from 595 on 23rd May.
- 9% of people on ventilators have Covid-19.
- Across the country we are seeing the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 decrease to the lowest level since late March.
- 111 daily covid-19 deaths today, lowest figure since lockdown began on 23rd March.
- On the substance we are making significant progress, but there is still more to be done.
- Do not step too far, the disease is not done yet – we must not throw away the progress which has been made. If the NHS tells you to isolate, you must do so.
- [What is the Government planning to do to address the economic impact for school leavers and young people?] The amount of economic support we have put into place is unprecedented. It is also true that the economy is going to have to change, you will be hearing more on that from the PM and Chancellor in the weeks and months to come.
- [Why are people who are shielding now allowed to go outside?] We know how important it for people to shield, but people have had to stay home for 10 weeks, so when the clinical advice said it was safe, we wanted to make that positive change. I am glad that we were able to make that change. One of the reasons that we could make that change is because the rate of incidents of disease is down.
- [Contract tracers have very little work, what is happening?] The system is up and running, those who have been asked to isolate are expressing the willingness to do so. As the rate of incidents of new cases comes down, there are fewer people to track. The level of incidents of disease has come down so we have more capacity than we need, which is good.
- I would rather have too many people trained and ready to go. We have less cases than we were expecting which means people are socially distancing.
- The vast majority of new cases have been traced.
- [Asked whether the Government would reintroduce a blanket lockdown if it is needed] The truth is we are attempting to move the system from national blanket measures to more targeted local responses.
- [how would a local lockdown work?] taking local action to respond to a local flare up is incredibly important, for instance we could shut new A&E admissions, the joint biosecurity body would feed information to Chief Medical Officers who would advise Ministers. The toolkit that is available is as broad as the legal toolkit that we have nationally.
John Newton, Head of Track and Trace
- On shielding – the main consideration is the rate of infection in the community, which has gone down. However, it is important to note that there are different rates in different parts of the country.
- Test and Track is working well, the contacts are being identified. However, we do have a lot of capacity. One of the challenges of this is to build a system that can respond to future incidents, which is trickier.
- The figures on how many people who have been contacted will be available soon, it is operating pretty much as we hoped. Not all of the new cases have to go into the contact tracing process e.g. if it is in care homes.
- Outbreak control in local areas is likely to be used. It is really a whole system support; each area has their own local resilient forum which would contribute.
- The Department for Education have updated the guidance on critical workers who can access schools or educational settings.
- Parliament is set to return from recess tomorrow with the Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg finalising plans on how MPs will vote today. Currently MPs can vote through an online portal. However, Mr Rees-Mogg has allowed the online voting rules to expire meaning that MPs must now vote in person. This has caused controversy within Parliament with some MPs, especially those who are more vulnerable expressing dismay. MPs will be voting on this tomorrow and there is speculation that the Government could face a large rebellion.