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18 May 2020


The Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom have announced that “from today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia. Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.”

A number 10 spokesperson said that the decision to add loss of smell to the official list of coronavirus symptoms was expected to increase the number of cases by 2%. When asked why it took so long for the UK to list this as a symptom at today’s press conference, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Van-Tam said that it is very rare for a loss of smell to develop without other symptoms.

Notably, during the press conference the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam reiterated comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Officer) that we may never get a vaccine and therefore we will have to learn to live with the virus, possibly for years. He said that until we get a vaccine life will not able to return to normal.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has announced that everyone aged five and over with symptoms is now eligible for a Coronavirus test. He also announced that 21,000 contact tracers have been hired, the target was 18,000.

However, a number 10 spokesperson has admitted that the Governments coronavirus tracing app, which is undergoing trials in the Isle of Wight and had been due to be used across the country in "mid-May", may not be ready for weeks. He also refused to rule out the possibility that Britain could move to an alternative app being developed by Google and Apple.

However, the Government is ready to proceed to a new "test and trace" system without the new technology being available nationally. The Spokesperson suggested it would be possible to further lift coronavirus restrictions in "step two" of the government's plan - due to take effect from June 1 at the earliest - without the app being in place. He said that other factors such as the prevalence of the disease and the transmission rate - the so-called R number - were crucial factors.

He said that the government kept "all options under review to make sure the app is as effective as possible".

Quarantine and Travel

Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has criticised the Government for their 14-day quarantine plan. He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “It’s laughable that this government can come up with any plans for a quarantine that will be strict and fully enforced when already they are exempting the Irish, the French. It is idiotic and it’s unimplementable. You don’t have enough police in the UK to implement a two-week lockdown.”

Grant Shapps, The Transport Secretary has told MPs that the government will publish details of its proposed quarantine scheme for new arrivals to the UK soon and that it will come into force “early next month”. He said that initially it would be a “blanket” scheme (although the government has already said Ireland will be excluded, because of the longstanding common travel area arrangement). But Mr Shapps said that the government would later consider the case for excluding other countries, where there were low incidents of coronavirus.

During today’s Lobby Briefing a Downing Street a Number 10 Spokesperson said “There was never an exemption for France. All the statement ever said was that there would be no quarantine in relation to France at this time. It was never correct to suggest that there was going to be an exemption for France only.” The spokesman claimed the original statement had been misreported by the media.

Return of Schools

The argument between the Government and Unions over the return of schools has continued today. The Daily Telegraph has focussed on an Australian study which suggests that the risk of coronavirus spreading in schools is extremely low. The scientists found that across 15 schools in New South Wales, 10 secondary and five primary, 18 people – nine teachers and nine students – had confirmed coronavirus. Of the 735 students and 128 staff who were in close contact with the virus carriers, only one secondary school pupil caught it from another student and one primary school pupil caught it from a teacher.

However, on the Today programme this morning Prof Kristine Macartney, director of Australia’s National Centre for Immunisation, Research and Surveillance, argued that this study should not be seen as the final word on the matter. It was just a preliminary report and more research was needed, she said.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT union, which represents head teachers, told the Today programme this morning that teachers wanted more clarification on whether schools were centres of transmission. He said:

“Specifically around the transmission from children to adults, we’ve been told over the weekend - it’s been asserted by the government publicly over the weekend - that there isn’t the level of risk that we fear. However, we haven’t yet seen the scientific underpinning of that.”

Speaking at the daily Lobby Press briefing a number 10 spokesman said the government would publish its scientific advice about the safety of children being in school “as soon as possible”.

When asked about schools returning during the daily press conference, Professor Van-Tam said we are aware of a small number of children who are getting a disease from Covid-19 that looks like toxic shock syndrome, but this is a very small amount of children who do experience a much milder disease. The emerging data from around the world suggests that the rate of infection is about the same as adults, possibly a little lower for younger children but they get a much milder disease. In terms of transmitting to adults, we are working with a new virus and the data is sparse. Unlike flu where children drive transmission to adults it really doesn’t seem that way for Coronavirus. When we decide it is safe to go back to school, we look at whether we could control the R rate.

Summary of the press conference

Dominic Raab, The Foreign Secretary

  • 100,678 tested yesterday, 9,409 are in hospital down 13% since last week
  • 34,796 have died an increase of 160 deaths from yesterday
  • Want to work with everyone so that people have reassurance for the next steps of the easing of the lockdown.
  • The alert level that has been implemented helps us decide on the level of restrictions, since the lockdown began at the beginning of March we have been at level 4, thanks to the progress we have made we are in process of moving to level 3.
  • Last week the Prime Minister set out the first of three steps to carefully modify the steps that have been put in place, the choices we make are designed to avoid the very real risk of a second peak which would inflict permanent damage on the economy.
  • It is only by collecting and monitoring the data which will allow us to take the next steps.
  • In reality you have to look at the package of measures of the whole, which take into consideration the economic and health issues combined. The overriding need is to avoid the overwhelming of the NHS.
  • Any changes come with their own risk, but permanently staying at home isn’t sustainable for people’s health or the economy.
  • For the vast majority of people, we still want you to stay at home as much as possible, if you can’t work at home we would like you to return to work in a safe way.
  • We in Government will keep ramping up our effort to get the UK back to a normal way of living, with that in mind anyone can now get a test by applying online. We have also hired 21,000 contact tracers.
  • A member of the public asked about the economic recovery and when plans will be announced – Dominic Raab said they have published a 50-page roadmap. We will only take the decisions based on the medical advice when it is safe to do so.
  • Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England
  • There has been a gradual increase in people searching for directions on apple maps for walking and driving. However, this has remained flat on public transport which is in line with Government advice.
  • 44% of people are now working at home, compared to 12% at the same time last year. 80% people of adults have said they have left home for permitted reasons or not at all since the start of lockdown.
  • You can now see a definite and continued decline in new cases which is encouraging.
  • 678 admissions to hospital recorded today in England.
  • 9,409 people are in hospital with Covid-19 across the UK, down from 10,762 this time last week. This is very good news.
  • On 18th May 160 people died, at total of 34,796 – what you can see is the overall long-time trend is showing a consistent and solid decline as the days and weeks roll by.
  • We are being so careful about easing the measures because we do not want a second peak, but it is right and proper that we prepare for any eventuality. The reality is that certainly until we get a vaccine we will not be out of this. We may have to learn to live with virus for the long-term, certainly for many months to come but possibly for a few years. We may not get a vaccine. We also do not understand whether this virus is affected by the seasons.
  • We have studied other coronavirus and there may be some seasonality, the winter months may make it easier for the virus to do its work again, so we need to prepare for this.

Government Announcements

Parliamentary Updates

  • Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has said that there have now been more than 2m claims for the self-employed income support scheme, for sums worth a total of £6bn. He said money would arrive in bank accounts in six days.
  • The Immigration Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons today, Labour did not support the Bill. Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shadow Home Secretary said the government’s proposals were “not fair” and “not in the national interest because they are deeming people who are low skilled to be unwelcome in this country”.
  • During this morning’s radio broadcasts, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden defended the proposals in the immigration bill -  “This means that finally we determine exactly who comes into this country and we can attract the brightest and the best from around the world - not just from confining it to within Europe.”
  • Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has given a statement to the House of Commons on the financial package for Transport for London.

Regional Updates

  • Northern Ireland. Garden centres and recycling facilities are opening today. Angling is also allowed again. Marriage ceremonies involving someone with a terminal illness are also permitted.
  • Wales. Opposition politicians have said the original decision not to test all residents and staff in care homes should be the subject of a future inquiry. Responding The Welsh first minister has denied his government has been slow to offer Covid-19 tests to everyone in care homes in Wales. He said: “Governments act on advice. Ministers don’t pluck policies out of the air. They rely on the advice we are given… But eight out of 10 care home homes in Wales have had no confirmed case of coronavirus. Now… we want to put more attention on stopping coronavirus from getting into those eight out of 10 care homes where there has been no case.”
  • Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland has said she will publish a route map presenting plans to gradually lift the coronavirus lockdown in the country on Thursday, she added that the measures would be eased from 28th May. From today, Scotland is widening the number of people who can be tested for Covid-19. Anyone over the age of five who has any of the recorded symptoms for the virus will be able to book in for a test.