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Day 37: Key points from today's conference

Posted on April 2020 By Aaron Liffen

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Today's government coronavirus briefing was led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. He was joined by England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, and Professor John Newton, national co-ordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme.

There have been 823 more deaths of people with coronavirus across the UK, according to the latest figures.  The UK Department of Health says 17,337 patients have now died in hospitals after contracting COVID-19.  There were 18,206 tests carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on Tuesday 21 April - far short of the 100,000 a day the government has promised by the end of April.

Key points to take away from today's speech are:

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock says one of his central aims is making sure NHS capacity is always ahead of need - so there will always be enough beds for those who need them. 

  • On Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Hancock says there have been 1 billion items delivered and the government is "working day and night" to get more suppliers to make more products. He thanks companies who have come forward to help replace stocks - there have been 8,331 offers so far - but not each one can deliver "at scale". 

  • 8,331 companies offered to help with PPE

  • Hancock says the work developing a vaccine is an "uncertain science" but that two of the leading vaccine developments - one at Oxford University and one at Imperial College London - are "making rapid progress". 

  • He pledges £22.5m going to Imperial to support their clinical trials - which will assess samples and begin work on a very large phase three trial. £20m is going to Oxford team to fund their clinical trials.

    He declares that vaccine from the Oxford project "will be trialled in people from this Thursday".

  • New cases "numbers remain high" and there is not a downturn at this point. "We remain in a situation of danger." says deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam. London's peak of people in hospital was around 10 April and "since then there has been a decline" - but in other parts of the UK there is a "plateau".

  • UK has joined EU's PPE scheme, Hancock says. He adds that "we did receive an invitation" - it came to the Department of Health, it was put to him "and we joined so we are now members of that scheme". The health secretary adds that not a single item of PPE has been delivered yet through that scheme.

  • Hancock says they can now conduct 39,000 coronavirus tests a day - a capacity which is "higher than our planned trajectory" and that excess capacity means we can "expand who that capacity can be used by". Testing tsar John Newton says the testing capacity will "continue going up a lot quite soon".

  • Asked about how to contain the spread if some people have it don't show any symptoms, Hancock says that that fact is making it "incredibly difficult to deal with" and scientists are "grappling with" this question.

  • ​Van Tam says there's a "basic problem" because it could take someone up to 12 hours to fly to the UK but the incubation period for this virus is up to 14 days. "I will sail through Heathrow with absolutely no symptoms at all - there's nothing to declare," he explains.  When they get home and develop symptoms days later, "clearly the port of entry screening hasn't worked".

  • Pressed on reports that some NHS staff are being threatened with disciplinary action for talking to journalists about PPE shortages, Hancock says "yes of course people should be able to talk about the problems that there are".

To read a brief summary of last night's points and important measures click here.