Highlights from the UK government’s daily press briefing

23rd May 2020

  • Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced new funding of £283million to get public transport “moving back to a full timetable”.
  • Shapps announced that plans to reverse the Beeching cuts are underway.
  • England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries said that the number of COVID-19-related deaths across the UK is falling.
  • On being asked by the media about Dominic Cummings’ 260-mile trip to Durham, Shapps said that the important thing is that “everyone remains in the same place while they are in lockdown”. However, as the welfare of Cummings’ four-year-old child was the “important thing”, Shapps added that Cummings “went to where the family was” and “didn’t move around”. Dr Harries said that the “key public health message is if you have symptoms, self-isolate immediately and stay in your homes”. She added that it was important those who are unwell “take themselves out of society immediately”.
  • On being asked about the steps taken by the government to protect front line transport workers especially from the BAME communities, Shapps said that he has written to transport operators to ensure they are aware of the correct equipment and procedures required for the next phase of response to COVID-19. Shapps also confirmed that 53 transport workers died due to COVID-19.
  • In the UK, 257, 154 people (2,959 new cases) tested positive for COVID-19, and of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 36,675 died, an increase of 282 fatalities since yesterday.


22nd May 2020

  • Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced that new measures will be introduced at the UK border to guard against a second wave of infections.
  • Patel highlighted that anyone entering the UK, from 8th June, will have to self-isolate for 14 days, stating that with the infection rate in the UK falling, imported cases could pose a “larger threat” going forward.
  • Arrivals from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man will be exempt from the above measures. Medical professionals helping to treat the virus are also excluded.
  • Patel stated that anyone breaching the rules will be liable for a £1,000 fine or face potential prosecution.
  • Public health authorities will conduct random checks to ensure compliance with the rules, with individuals potentially being contacted on a regular basis.
  • Paul Lincoln, director general of the Border Force highlighted his organisations efforts to tackle criminal activity during COVID-19.
  • Lincoln highlighted how Border Force officers have intercepted counterfeit face masks and COVID-19 tests, as well as seizing drug shipments.
  • Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, stated how the R rate is currently between 0.7 and 1. Vallance added that the epidemic is either “flat or declining”.
  • Vallance added that the number of new infections is about 61,000 per week, roughly one in 1,000 people.
  • As of 9 AM on 22nd May, there have been 3,231,921 tests, with 140,497 tests on 21 May. 2,144,626 people have been tested of which 254,195 tested positive. As of 5 PM on 21 May, of those tested positive for coronavirus across all settings, 36,393 have sadly died an increase of 351 new fatalities since yesterday.


21st May 2020

  • Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced additional funding of £4.2 million for mental health charities.
  • Hancock announced two new COVID-19-related tests:
    • Swab tests: New swab tests which inform an individual if they have COVID-19 are being trialled on a smaller scale. Hancock said that the scale of the trial will help “monitor its effectiveness” and if it works, the government will roll it out as soon as they can. This test will give results in as quickly as 20 minutes, rather than 24 to 48 hours.
    • Anti-body tests: The UK Government has signed contracts with Roche and Abbott to procure 10 million tests that will be available gradually starting next week and extending in the coming months. These tests inform an individual if they have had coronavirus. Hancock cautioned that the government is “not yet” in a position to confirm that those who test positive in these tests are “immune from coronavirus”. He added that a sample survey result suggests that around 17% of people in London and 5% or higher across the rest of the country may have had COVID-19.
  • Prof. Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said that an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey monitoring people that have had COVID-19 estimated that around 137,000 people (0.25% of the population) in the community had COVID-19 between 4-17 May. He added that deaths in the UK are “steadily decreasing”.
  • On being asked if, between August and October, the government could consider the extension of fully paying for the furlough scheme as social distancing rules will impact businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry, Hancock said that this scheme was “one of the most generous in the world”, but he understands the concern and would talk to the Chancellor about it.
  • In the UK, 250,908 people (2,615 new cases) tested positive for COVID-19, and of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings,  36,042 died, an increase of 338 fatalities since yesterday.


20th May 2020

  • DCMS Secretary, Oliver Dowden, announced that he is setting up a new taskforce to help sports, arts and tech “bounce back”. He said that television units are safely returning to work. 
  • Dowden said that through the government’s commitment to match the funds raised from the BBC’s Big Night In, £70million would be distributed by Comic Relief, Children in Need and the National Emergencies Trust to front line charities. He added that the applications for financial support for small-and-medium-sized charities would open this week. 
  • He also announced that £150million from dormant bank accounts would be used to support social enterprises affected by the pandemic.
  • Dowden announced that Her Majesty’s birthday honours list would be delayed to autumn to recognise pandemic heroes. He also congratulated Capt. Tom Moore on being awarded a knighthood. 
  • Prof. Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, said that for the “first time since March” fewer than 10,000 people were in hospitals with coronavirus. 
  • Dowden said that the UK is “standing by our commitments” by spending 0.7% of the country’s income on aid to developing countries through the pandemic. 
  • The DCMS Secretary said the BBC’s decision to extend free TV licenses to over-75s until August was the right one. He added that he hopes that the BBC will rethink of extending it further if we were in the same situation post-August. 
  • Prof. Powis said SAGE has always kept the 2-metre social distancing rule under review, and would continue to do so.
  • On being asked if the government will be asking the 3 PM Saturday football matches to be available free-to-air for all channels, Dowden said that the existing rights of broadcasters would have to be respected. He added that there could be “flexibility” as these are not broadcast on Saturday afternoons when people, in normal circumstances, would be watching it in the stadium. So there could be an “opportunity” for some Premier League matches to be “free-to-air”.
  • In the UK, 248,293 people (2,472 new cases) tested positive for COVID-19, and of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 35,704 died, an increase of 363 fatalities since yesterday.


19th May 2020

  • Environment Secretary, George Eustice, announced a new ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign. He encouraged Britons, especially those who have been furloughed, to register their interest in picking jobs via the campaign’s website. He said that only a third of migrant workers could be here for the picking season.
  • Prof Dame Angela McLean, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser, said that the UK would like to emulate South Korea’s use of contract tracing to bring down the numbers and also learn from Germany’s record on testing.
  • On being asked if the government will extend the payment holidays on mortgages and loans for people who lose work, especially from the aviation and hospitality industries, Eustice said that the government has laid out “unprecedented” measures for businesses including grants and the furlough scheme. He added that the Chancellor is “thinking very carefully” about how these schemes could evolve.
  • On being asked if in the Brexit talks, what would the government prioritise higher – the financial sector or the fishing industry – Eustice said that the government’s priority is to become an “independent, self-governing country again with our own laws, control of our waters, setting our own fishing policies” and that best serve the economic interests by “taking back control”. He highlights that the “sticking points” in the negotiations – EU seem to be insisting that the UK abide by its law despite having left the union and that the UK should give the EU unlimited access to its waters – are both wrong. As a result, the UK has had to take its current stance.
  • On being asked if the government will cover the costs for councils due to loss of earnings, Eustice said that the government recognises the “new burdens” on local authorities due to the pandemic and has pledged £3.2billion to help them cope along with £600million specifically to support care homes. He added that councils should have emergency funds set aside for “events of this sort”.
  • In the UK, 248, 818 people (2,412 new cases) tested positive for COVID-19, and of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings,  35,341 died, an increase of 545 fatalities since yesterday.


18th May 2020

  • Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, confirmed that the alert level remains at four and the government wants to push it down to three.
  • On being asked for the government’s timeline to publish a plan to restore the economic “wellbeing” of the country “beyond the pandemic”, Raab said that a “conditional roadmap” has already been published. He added that this “conditional roadmap” includes reopening of schools on 1 June and some shops from 4 July but it will only happen “based on the scientific advice”.
  • Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said that there is a “definite and sustained decline in new confirmed cases”. He added that according to data from Apple Maps direction requests, there had been a “gradual upward trend in searches” for walking and driving directions, but public transport search levels are “flat”.
  • Prof Van-Tam said that health officials thought very carefully about adding anosmia (the loss of smell) to the official list of coronavirus symptoms. He said that it does not often occur early in the illness, and it “very rarely” the sole symptom. Public Health England found that 0.44% of people reported anosmia, on its own, as a symptom. The updated list of coronavirus-related symptoms is here.
  • On being asked if China was being “let off the hook” from the WHO’s review (it does not mention any country specifically) into the International Committee’s response to the pandemic and if the UK, like Australia, wanted an independent inquiry, Raab said that he wants this review to “command the strongest support” and for it to be “credible, impartial and independent”. He added that he wanted this review to get to the “bottom of how the outbreak happened and spread” and to learn lessons for future pandemics.
  • Raab asked people travelling between the four UK nations to be 'very mindful' of different rules.
  • As of 9 AM on 18 May, in the UK, 246, 406 people (2,684 new cases) tested positive for COVID-19. As of 5 PM on 17 May, of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 34, 796 died, an increase of 160 fatalities. The number of people in hospitals has fallen 13% from last week to 9,408.
  • Earlier today in Parliament, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that anyone over the age of five with COVID-19 symptoms is now eligible to be tested.  


17th May 2020

  • 91,206 tests for coronavirus were carried out yesterday. 243,303 have tested positive, an increase of 3,142 since yesterday. 34,636 have died after contracting COVID-19, an increase of 170 fatalities since yesterday. 10,035 people are in hospital with COVID-19, down 15% from 11,817 from this time last week. Due to technical issues today’s numbers do not include Northern Ireland cases.
  • Business Secretary Alok Sharma started the press conference by going through the alert system, as set out by the Prime Minister last Sunday.
  • Sharma provided an update on the vaccine task force that was announced last month, stating that the first clinical trial of the Oxford vaccine is progressing well with all phase one participants receiving their vaccine dose on schedule earlier this week.
  • The government has already invested £47m in the Oxford University and Imperial College London vaccine trials, but today Sharma announced a further £84m of funding to help accelerate their work. This money would be used to mass-produce the Oxford vaccine if the trials are successful so that it can be distributed to the UK population straight away.
  • Sharma added how the £84m of funding will also help Imperial College London to launch phase three of its vaccine trial later in the year.
  • Sharma added that Oxford University has confirmed a global licensing agreement with AstraZeneca, which will make 30 million vaccine doses available to the UK by September if the trials are successful.
  • A further £93m will be invested in the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Harwell in Oxfordshire.
  • Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director for England, stated that the number of daily confirmed cases is stable, showing that the rate of infection is slowing, but this is reliant on people continuing to abide by the social distancing measures.
  • Prof Powis added that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals throughout all parts of the UK continues to fall. The reduction has been the greatest in London, but the fall is also occurring nationwide.


16th May 2020

  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that a lower R (reproduction rate) is a ‘green light’ for some pupils to return to school on 1 June 2020. Though the government will start planning for this return, he added that schools would reopen only when the five tests are met.
  • He added that those in Reception, year 1 and year 6 would be allowed to return with smaller class sizes, along with students in years 10 and 12 on a limited basis.
  • When schools reopen, he added that strict measures, such as reduced class sizes, keeping children in small groups and ensuring that they stay together in them, ensuring highest levels of hygiene, cleaning and handwashing, will be put in place.
  • Williamson said that school staff could already be tested for coronavirus, but from 1 June, testing will be extended to cover school children and their families if any of them develop symptoms. He added that ‘track and trace methods’ would then be used to prevent further spread.
  • Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer said that transport use is “consistently low” though there is a slight rise in care use and light goods vehicles use as people begin to go back to work. She added that there is a “slow and steady” downward trend in hospital admissions with COVID-19 across the UK and that the seven-day rolling average for daily deaths is also coming down.
  • Though the latest estimated R-value has risen from between 0.5 and 0.9 to between 0.7 and 1.0, Dr Harries said that it might not hinder reopening schools as the R is derived across various settings. She added that “we know now that children rarely get as ill as the older population with COVID-19. Evidence is still growing, but there is some to show that there they’re less likely to pass it on”.
  • Williamson said that “a key element” to reopening schools is “minimising contact” – therefore the maximum class size of 15. He cited the success of schools reopening in Denmark. Dr Harries said that the aim is to increase the level of interaction but have it contained. She added that desks could be distanced apart instead of being placed ‘face-to-face’ and that it was unlikely that a child would catch coronavirus off another just by running past them.
  • In the UK, 78, 537 tested positive for COVID-19 and 34, 466 died, an increase of 468 fatalities since yesterday across all settings. 


15th May 2020

  • As of 9 AM on 15th May, there have been 2,353,078 tests, with 133,784 tests on 14 May. 1,663,492 people have been tested, of which 236,711 tested positive. As of 5 PM on 14 May, of those tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, 33,998 have died, an increase of 384.
  • The Health Secretary Matt Hancock began the conference by recapping the government’s new COVID-19 alert system, as set out by the Prime Minister on Sunday.
  • Hancock says there has been a “huge need to protect people in care homes” and that all residents and staff, with and without symptoms, will have been tested in England by early June.
  • Hancock added that £600m has been made available this week to care homes to help control the infection. The Health Secretary added that as a result of the effort on helping care homes, two-thirds of care homes in England now have no outbreak at all.
  • The Health Secretary added that we have now passed the peak of the virus.
  • Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for primary care in England, said that the current R rate is between 0.7 and 1.0. If R is above 1.0 the number of people infected will grow. However, Harries added that a reduction in the number of cases is important adding that “That is our focus, not R”.
  • Harries stated that 10,731 people are in hospital with COVID-19, down from 12,298 this time last week.


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