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Day 39: Key points from today's conference

Posted on April 2020 By Aaron Liffen

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Today's coronavirus update was led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, alongside Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, and Prof John Newton, coordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme.

There have been a further 616 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals, the Department of Health has said. It takes the total number of Covid-19 patients to have died in UK hospitals to 18,738. That is the lowest weekday increase in the last three weeks - since 2 April.

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

  • Test capacity has increased from 40,000 to 51,000 - meaning the group of people who are eligible will be widened, the health secretary explains. 

  • Any essential worker who needs a test will get a test - their employers will be able to go on to get a test for any of their staff who need one. From tomorrow, any essential workers who need a test will be able to book a test on themselves directly. This applies for people in essential workers' households too.

  • Those included as essential workers will be based on the same list as schools and education - and the whole process will be free.

  • Hancock announces that the biggest ever virus infection and antibody study will soon be launched - it is a joint project with the Office for National Statistics and the University of Oxford.

  • Muslims thanked for adjusting Ramadan practices. Hancock addresses Muslims who are celebrating Ramadan starting from tonight - saying "thank you for staying at home". He says he knows how important the daily iftar is [the first meal after sunset] and the gathering for communal daily prayers at night, so "thank you for making major changes to these vital parts of your practice".

  • Sir Patrick has taken over now to talk us through the slides released at these daily news conferences. There are a few more than usual today.  He confirms the UK is "still at that period coming through the peak" but the country is "heading very much in the right direction".

  • Professor Newton, coordinator of the national testing effort, says 31 new drive-through test centres have been opened so far, with a further 48 planned. He confirms that in the next few weeks and months testing will be needed to keep the virus under control - and intense testing in hospitals and care homes, including of people without symptoms.

    "We are on target to have capacity for 100,000 tests a day," he says - although remember Downing Street has insisted its target is for 100,000 tests to be completed by the end of the month.

  • Sir Patrick is asked about his previous suggestion the government was aiming to keep deaths under 20,000. He says it is "difficult to speculate" what that number could be now, now that it is reaching 20,000 - and that's just in hospitals. 

  • ​Matt Hancock says he understands the "thirst for knowledge", but the five tests the UK government has set out are “critical”. He says the "message remains the same – that people need to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives". "It is succeeding… but we are not through that yet and there is still a lot of work to be done."

  • ​Hancock is asked whether the UK could be behind many other countries on face masks - if the government starts advising people to wear them - meaning they have managed to buy up supplies before British people are able to? The health secretary says "I don't accept" the UK's been too slow on any reaction to coronavirus "because we followed the science throughout this". He confirms the official position that people do not need to wear face masks is "unchanged" but being "reviewed".

  • If London is further ahead on the curve by weeks, could it come out of lockdown earlier than other regions? And should all people dying with COVID-19 symptoms be tested so we know for sure, rather than doctors leaving off a cause of death?

    Hancock says "we've already expanded" testing in care homes - including to people without symptoms. 

    Sir Patrick confirms London isn't just two weeks ahead of everywhere - there are similarities between it and other urban areas across the UK.

    Prof Newton admits "we will be missing a few" deaths where doctors do not record COVID-19 as the cause of death.

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