As we head towards the official end of the lockdown on Monday, speaking at today’s press conference the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (who is still deputising as the Prime Minister) has said “we are not done yet, we must keep going”. He said the Government’s scientific committee will meet next week to discuss the latest evidence and will keep the guidelines under review. He does not expect to say any more on this until next week but said the measures will have to stay in place until we know we have hit the peak.
However, Dominic Raab emphasised that the Government are “following the science”. The American Enterprise Institute have published a report into how the United States could move from a lockdown to easing the restrictions. Echoing arguments we have heard in the UK, in order to safely move from a lockdown to a relaxation they argue that the following criteria must be met:
- A sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days
- Hospitals in the states are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalisation without resorting to crisis standards of care
- The state is able to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, and
- The state is able to conduct active monitoring of confirmed cases and their contacts.
The report states that once the criteria above have been achieved, schools and businesses could reopen with some physical distancing measures and limitations on gatherings still in place (they suggest no more than 50). Older and more vulnerable adults would need to “continue limiting time in the community”. Testing should become more widespread and routine. There is also a possibility that these measures could be implemented at different times, in different regions – depending on where they are on the curve.
These restrictions can be lifted entirely once effective tools for mitigating risk of Covid-19 are available, “including broad surveillance, therapeutics that can rescue patients with significant disease or prevent serious illness in those most at risk, or a safe and effective vaccine.”
Updating the public on Boris Johnson's health, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson has said: “Boris Johnson had a good night and continues to improve in intensive care at St Thomas’ hospital. He is in good spirits. He continues to receive standard oxygen treatment." The Prime Minister is not working and so will not be part of the lockdown review decision-making at the moment.
Summary of the Press Conference
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP
- The PM is continuing to make positive steps forward. However, Mr Raab has still not spoken to him since Saturday.
- The number of people admitted to hospital is 16,784, sadly 7,978 have died.
- Thanked the NHS for looking after people, will never forget the sacrifice and devotion of the nurses and doctors who have died.
- Thanked carers “you are the lifeline in our communities”, public servants and cleaners - “you have made us think long and hard about who the key workers are”.
- “Massive thank you to every person who has stayed home, you have helped protect the NHS and helped to save lives.”
- As we look forward to the Easter bank holiday, people will be wondering if we can ease up. “We are not done yet, we must keep going.”
- SAGE will meet next week to discuss the latest evidence and we will keep the guidelines under review. We do not expect to say any more on this until next week.
- The measures will have to stay in place until we know we have hit the peak.
- Knows that lots of people would be planning a family get together, unfortunately right now we can’t do those sort of things “I am really sorry about that”.
- We have made progress already, it’s been almost three weeks… but the deaths are still rising and we haven’t met the peak. It is too early to lift the measures. Must continue to be guided by the science.
- Most important thing right now it for people to continue following the Government’s guidance.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Officer
- Social distancing is working and we need to keep doing that. The reason we have to do that is because it stops the transmission of the virus in the community.
- The numbers of people contracting the disease has not gone sky high “and in some cases it might be flattening”.
- We are not finding that the health system has been overrun, if anything “we are beginning to see the first signs of this levelling off, too early to know for sure, too early to know if its going down” but we haven’t seen a steep upswing.
- We are seeing a steady increase in ICU admissions, but the NHS can currently cope.
- Deaths will continue to rise in the coming weeks but we should start seeing it come down.
- The social distancing is breaking transmission, we are beginning to see hospital admission flattening off, it is preventing more people going into ICU, it will prevent deaths “it is incredibly important we continue doing what we are doing”.
Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer
- Transmission rate, when he first spoke about this weeks’ ago we were doubling the infection rate every three days, it is now six or more days in almost everywhere in the country. That has only happened because of what everyone is doing by staying at home.
- When asked about easing the restrictions, he said it is important to remember that there are the direct threats of people dying from Coronavirus, but indirect effects as well. There is still room in the NHS for other health issues but things also have to be delayed to free up NHS space. We also have to think about the long-term health effects of the economic measures.
HM Treasury and the Bank of England has announced a temporary extension of the Ways and Means facility.
The Financial Times reports that “The UK has become the first country to embrace the monetary financing of government to fund the immediate cost of fighting coronavirus, with the Bank of England to directly finance the state’s spending needs on a temporary basis”… In a statement to financial markets on Thursday, the government announced it would extend the size of the government’s bank account at the central bank, known historically as the “Ways and Means Facility”, which normally stands at just £370m. This will rise to an effectively unlimited amount, allowing ministers to spend more in the short term without having to tap the gilts market. In 2008, a similar move saw the facility rise briefly to £20bn”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Bank of England will temporarily extend use of the government’s longstanding ways and means facility to help government cash flows and provide a temporary short-term source of additional funding.” Pressed if the government was running out of money, he said: “The government will be raising the finance through the debt markets and continues to use the markets as a source of financing. For example, there have been four debt auctions this week and they all have been successful.”
- The Department for Education has published guidance by Rt. Hon Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education) to Sally Collier, Chief Regulator of Ofqual, about awarding results for qualifications being assessed in summer 2020.
- The Home Office has announced that in order to make sure medical equipment reaches the NHS frontline quicker, Border Force will be prioritising checks on their shipments.
- The new Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has tweeted “I’m calling on the Government to publish its exit strategy. I’m not calling for precise timings, but the strategy. This is incredibly difficult on people and we need to know that plans are in place, and what they are".
- Sir Keir Starmer has completed his reshuffle, the full list of new Shadow Cabinet can be found here.
- The Conservative MP Jack Lopresti has faced criticism after he called for churches to reopen for Easter. The MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Rt. Hon Robert Jenrick MP asking the government to consider opening churches for “private prayer”. No 10 rejected Jack Lopresti's call saying: “Work is under way on an exit strategy but the public wants us to be focused on stopping the spread of the disease while building up the NHS and saving lives. Whitehall is working extensively on this but peak is not reached and the government needs to focus in its public messaging on staying at home to save lives.”
- Another 765 patients have died in England after contracting coronavirus – bringing the total to 7,248. Of the 765 new hospital deaths announced today by NHS England, 140 occurred on April 8 while 568 took place between April 1 and April 7. The remaining 57 deaths occurred in March, including two on March 19 and one on March 16.
- In Scotland, the number of people with coronavirus who have died rose by 81 taking the total to 447
- Wales has reported another 41 deaths, taking the total there to 286.
- Northern Ireland hospitals have reported 4 new deaths today, taking their total to 82
- Figures from NHS England show a big increase in the volume of calls to the NHS 111 service last month, with less than a third being answered within one minute. An average of 95,600 calls a day were made in March 2020, more than double the average of 46,700 a day in March 2019.
- A doctor who warned the Prime Minister that health workers urgently needed more PPE has died after being diagnosed with Covid-19. Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, 53, passed away after 15 days in hospital.
- The Home Office deputy chief scientific adviser has said 80% of the population would get coronavirus and “you can’t hide away from it forever”. In response, the Prime Ministers spokesperson said “The government’s view is on stopping the spread of the disease to save lives. I think you’ve heard on a daily basis from (the chief scientific and medical advisers) - they have been very very clear on the need for people to stay at home and save lives.”