Daily press briefing
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was joined by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty and the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Professor Dame Angela McLean.
Key points include:
- Number of deaths across the UK has now reached 5,373; the number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms now stands at 17,911.
- The Prime Minister was admitted to hospital last night as a precautionary step, as he continues to have persistent COVID-19 symptoms ten days after testing positive for the virus.
- While the Prime Minister remains in hospital, he continues to lead the government.
- The government has brought home 20,000 people from Spain, 13,000 from Egypt and 8,000 from Indonesia - along with another 2,000 people from seven other countries.
- The Chancellor will set out further details on the government's support for businesses "as soon as practical".
- Prof Chris Whitty stated it was too early to have a "serious discussion" about exit strategy and this would only be possible once the peak of the virus has been reached.
- On antibody testing, Prof Whitty stated that tests are more effectively used in the "later stage of the epidemic" and it’s "not particularly surprising" that the initial results have not provided a viable test given that the virus is new. In addition, Prof Whitty added it will "take a while" before the tests reach their "optimal performance".
- When asked about reports that there may not be as high a demand as expected for ICU beds in London, Prof Whitty stated that “having some room to spare" and having extra beds would be a success".
- Prof Dame Angela McLean presented evidence to suggest that transport use, and in particular national rail use (below 20 per cent), continues to fall and have fallen significantly since 23 March.
- The growth in the number of new cases “is not as bad as it would have been had we not made efforts to self-isolate”. But the question remains if the growth has been curtailed to make the number of hospital admissions stabilise or even fall.
- Hospital admissions increased steadily until 1 April but are now showing “more complicated behaviour which we hope will lead to a slowdown”.
- When asked about an exit strategy, stated they need a "good long time series of data on all stages of infection to tell the impact of the measures", adding “it is too early to tell yet. We need people to carry on following those instructions so we can work out three weeks later what happens in hospital”.
Professor Sir John Bell of Oxford University has published an article on the troubles of testing. Professor Bell has been advising the government on life sciences and highlights the issues that other countries were having in identifying commercial tests that worked at home. Notably, he adds that scaling up antibody testing for the British public will take at least a month. Professor Bell points out:
- “None of the tests we have validated would meet the criteria for a good test as agreed with the MHRA. This is not a good result for test suppliers or for us.”
- States that this is not just a UK problem and both Spain and Germany have experienced similar issues - “The Spanish apparently returned test kits that were not working, and the Germans who are developing their own sensitive kits believe they are three months away from getting these available and validated. No test has been acclaimed by health authorities as having the necessary characteristics for screening people accurately for protective immunity.”
- Expects it will take at least a month to find a mass test that meets the standards required.
While Jon Ashworth kept his role as Shadow Secretary of State for Health, the big news from new Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s reshuffle for health is the loss of Barbara Keeley as the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care.
In her resignation letter, Barbara noted that it has been “important to give an extra focus to mental health and social care over the last three years and I have been glad to play my part in that”. She also adds “I hope that you (Keir Starmer) and Jon Ashworth can continue to give that recognition to the needs of the social care sector and to the Mental Health services which are so vital in meeting the challenge of this pandemic”.
Further details on the new Shadow Mental Health Minister can be found below:
- Dr Rosena Allin-Khan unsuccessfully stood to be Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, losing last week to Angela Rayner. She has also been prominent in the media regarding the government’s COVID-19 response.
- On mental health, she has raised early access to mental health services and a real-term fall in spending on low-level mental health services in the past
- She was a junior accident and emergency doctor at the time of her selection in May 2016 and described the Tooting by-election as a referendum on the “failures” of the Conservative government and its record on the NHS.
- Notably, she worked to provide cover during the BMA strike held against the new junior doctors’ contract in January 2016.
- She has outlined the reinstatement of affordable housing, apprenticeships, investment in affordable childcare and addressing health inequalities as key priorities whilst serving as an MP
- In the past, she also highlighted young people struggling with homelessness, drinking problems and mental health.
The Committee will seek to question Cabinet Office Ministers on the effectiveness of the Act and its implementation.