Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab led this evening’s daily press conference and was joined by one other adviser, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser Angela McLean. He confirmed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be updating the nation later this week on the measures the government will take to safeguard the NHS and the economy, while avoiding a second peak.
Mr Raab stressed that while the second phase will be different, we will need to adjust to a “new normal” in every aspect of how we live our lives. The government’s next steps will need to be “sure-footed and sustainable” so that the second phase prevents lasting damage to jobs and livelihoods. This careful balancing of following scientific advice and preventing a second peak overwhelming the NHS – while finding ways to get the country back to work and the economy functioning again – is what the government will be wrestling with this week ahead of the publication of the government’s ‘roadmap’ in lifting the lockdown, which is still expected to be published on Sunday. A legal review of the lockdown measures must nevertheless take place on Thursday.
Dominic Raab also outlined the steps the government is taking with relevant security agencies, both in the UK and internationally, to combat cyber criminals who are seeking to exploit the coronavirus crisis for their own gain. Notably, in his response to a question by the member of the public about the effect of coronavirus at a community level, he said that this is a “reminder of how important the levelling up agenda is”, demonstrating that the government has not lost sight of its original plan to level up the regions following the general election.
Today Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out her own government’s options for lifting the lockdown. While strict social distancing restrictions are set to be reviewed on Thursday, significant changes to the lockdown are unlikely north of the border. It is likely that the UK government will follow a similar path, with a Downing Street spokesman saying that while some measures may be eased, others may need to be tightened.
Today’s ONS figures, showing that the UK now has the highest death toll from coronavirus in Europe, make for sombre reading, and following the rapid increase in daily testing the government is now focusing heavily on contact-tracing in order to more safely ease the lockdown.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has continued to press the government on its policy for relaxing the lockdown, calling for the government to adopt his “seven principles”, outlined below. This came as heavily redacted papers from Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, were published. Notes from meetings that took place between early February and mid-April have shown advisers’ concerns about the impact of a working antibody test, which could lead employers to discriminate in favour of immune candidates and encourage some people to get infected deliberately in order to work.
Summary of the press conference
Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary
- There have been 1,383,842 tests for coronavirus across the UK, with 84,806 taking place yesterday.
- 194,990 people have tested positive for coronavirus, a rise of 1,406 since yesterday. Sadly, a total of 29,427 people in the UK have died from coronavirus – a total of 693 more since yesterday.
- There is evidence of the peak flattening, but as figures show, this is not over yet.
- Sage will continue to update ministers with scientific advice, the government will continue to be guided by their advice in the decisions on next steps. Our 5 tests (see slides below) remain absolutely key.
- The prime minister will update us later this week on the measures we will take to safeguard the NHS and the economy while avoiding a second peak.
- As we consider these decisions to protect life – and our way of life – the second phase will be different. We will need to adjust to a new normal in order to go about our daily lives in the way we live, work and interact with each other.
- We have never experienced anything like this first phase in terms of the number of lives lost and the lockdown that has been required. We want to make sure the next phase is more comfortable and sustainable, and prevents lasting damage to jobs and livelihoods.
- But the next stage won’t be easy. We must continue to be guided by the scientific advice. Our next steps must be sure-footed and sustainable.
- We can now provide an update on one challenge that coronavirus has thrown up in the UK and across the world:
- There will always be some people who seek to exploit a crisis for their own criminal and hostile ends. We know that cyber criminals are deploying Covid-related scams and phishing emails. There are sophisticated networks of hackers who try to breach computer systems. We have clear evidence that these criminal gangs are targeting national and international organisations that are responding to the pandemic – they are dangerous and venal at this time.
- We are therefore working with potential targets of this activity, and with others, to make sure they are aware of the cyber threat and that they can protect themselves and mitigate any harm brought against them.
- The UK’s national cybersecurity centre and the US cybersecurity agency have offered advice on these criminal groups. Our teams have identified campaigns that are targeting health bodies, pharmaceutical companies, campaign groups and different arms of local government, with various objectives from fraud to espionage. These campaigns tend to be designed to steal personal data and intellectual property and they are often linked with other actors and hostile states.
- We expect this to evolve over the months ahead, and we are taking a range of measures to tackle the threat to help people better protect themselves.
- Preventative action is the best way to prevent these attacks. We are helping in ways from the use of online passwords to guidance on trusted sources of online information related to Covid-19, such as gov.uk and Public Health England.
- The UK will continue to counter those who conduct these attacks, working closely with international partners to respond to threats and deter the criminal gangs and arms of state that lie behind them. We are determined to defeat coronavirus and those who try to exploit it to their own ends.
- When questioned by a member of public, Dominic Raab reiterated how the effect of coronavirus on communities is a “reminder of how important the levelling up agenda is.”
- When asked about the UK’s new contact-tracing app and whether there should be an international standard, Dominic Raab said that we want it to be focused on the UK so we can deal with the specific challenges we have in this country – and that not all countries have the same technology or privacy standards as the UK.
- When questioned on masks, Dominic Raab said that the government is considering advice from Sage, which has been nuanced. He said that the evidence is finely balanced but the government will make sure it is considered carefully. He said they don’t want to give people inaccurate advice or false comfort in masks. There is also a difference between clinical and self-made masks and the government is keen not to detract from the supplies of clinical masks being delivered to the NHS and care workers. The government will consider this advice and aim to say more about masks “shortly.”
Angela McLean, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser
Presented the following slides, which can be accessed in full here.
- The government’s five tests for adjusting the lockdown
- Transport use – there is a very marked and persistent fall in public transport. There is a weekday pattern that looks like commuting in motor vehicles, and we worry about it creeping up. It does trouble me that the dark blue line is creeping up again.
- Daily tests – a very dramatic rise happened during April and there is now lots of tests available.
- New cases – most of these in dark blue are either patients or NHS staff, while those in orange are other key workers. This is interesting data but they are susceptible to the number of tests increasing and the changing of who is having them.
- Hospital admissions – this is more informative. These are new inpatients in hospitals in England with Covid-19. These people were always the top priority to get a test. This number rose and peaked on 2 April which is when we would have expected it to peak, a full ten days after lockdown. From 2 April it falls away pretty rapidly. This is the inflow into hospital system of those who are positive.
- People in hospital – there is a much slower fall as this includes all those currently in hospital with Covid-19, and there is an overlap between those going out and coming in. The fall in London has been faster than anywhere else. The number of people in hospital with coronavirus in the North West now exceeds that of London.
- Critical care beds – this also has fallen since the early April peak, it is now down to less than a third of critical care beds occupied by coronavirus patients. This is coming down to more manageable levels.
- Daily recorded deaths – this reflects a regular pattern that the weekend numbers are lower than subsequent days. The 7-day rolling average (the orange line) is falling steadily and has been since mid-April.
- ONS registered deaths by place of occurrence – the most recent week is the week of 24 April. Deaths in care homes are still rising; it shows us there is a real issue to get to grips with in care homes.
- Global death comparison – deaths in the UK are still climbing and are higher than we would wish.
- In this lunchtime’s Downing Street lobby briefing, the prime minister’s spokesman said that the government is looking at a range of possible ways of easing the lockdown – as well as some tightening of rules – ahead of the expected publication on Sunday of the government’s “roadmap” for easing the lockdown. The spokesman said:
“We are looking at a range of possible easements to the social distancing measures. We are also looking at areas that need to be toughened. Once we have the scientific evidence and we have completed the review process, we will be able to set out what those are.”
In addition, the spokesman said the following:
- The government will be considering the reduced likelihood of transmission of coronavirus outdoors, compared to indoors, as part of measures it takes in the lockdown review
- The government accepts it would have been better to have done more testing earlier, but it did not have the capacity at the time.
- Boris Johnson may not have seen a Sage paper from 3rd March that advised against shaking hands – the prime minister was still shaking hands beyond that point.
- The coronavirus-related absentee rate in the NHS is now 3.2% for doctors and 6.8% for nurses, down from 6.6% and 9.5% respectively.
The spokesman did not deny, or comment on, a report which said HM Treasury could scale back the Jobs Retention Scheme after June. He repeated Rishi Sunak’s observation yesterday that he is working to find out the most effective way of winding down the scheme and ease people back to work in a measured way.
- The government have released heavily redacted papers from Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) which includes a range of notes about meetings that took place from 4th February – 14th April, and background papers considered by the group. An extract from a note dated 1 April advises that the lockdown restrictions should be lifted “very gradually” while Sage is worried that a working antibody test would lead employers to discriminate by only hiring the immune – while people would deliberately get infected to be able to work. The papers also show plans to lock down London only, which were, of course, rejected. All the papers can be accessed here.
- The Scottish government have provided further information on its framework document setting out plans for leaving lockdown. The document of further information underlines the need for continuing caution, stating it is “almost certain” that lockdown will be extended on Thursday, while setting out some examples about how changes could be made. The Scottish government is particularly cautious about schools, with the document stating “we do not consider it likely that schools will reopen fully in the foreseeable future. Indeed, we are not yet certain that they can re-open at all in the near future.”
- Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for a “national consensus” on easing the lockdown restrictions. He has called for a “national safety standard” for businesses, schools and public services, with clear guidelines on social distancing. Starmer has also set out seven principles that he says should govern policy on relaxing the lockdown. These are:
- Keeping people safe – by enforcing a national safety standard for businesses, schools and other public services.
- Mass expansion of community testing and tracing – by stating when the government will hit its daily testing target of 250,000 and recruiting 50,000 people as contact tracers.
- Protect key and essential workers – by publishing a national plan to ensure supply chains are developed that guarantee PPE and facial covering to those who need it.
- Support people’s livelihoods, jobs and businesses – by introducing bespoke support for people and industries facing significant challenges, such as the hospitality sector, self-employed and unemployed.
- Structured approach to easing and tightening restrictions – any easing should have advance warning to allow planning to be done in conjunction with nations, regions, councils and elected mayors. The government should be clear that it would rapidly reintroduce targeted restrictions where necessary, should R increase towards one, and spell out how it would do it.
- National vaccines plan – setting out how the government intends to ensure the manufacture and distribution of any resulting vaccine.
- Preparations for winter flu – ministers must urgently publish a national plan for the winter flu season.
- House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said it is “a matter of regret” that the prime minister is reported to announce plans to relax the lockdown this Sunday. He said that major announcements of government policy should be made in the Commons first.