Health and Social Care Secretary’s statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 21 April 2020

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Good afternoon and welcome to the Downing Street coronavirus daily briefing. I’m joined by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Van Tam, and by Professor John Newton.

At the heart of our plan is ensuring that NHS capacity is always ahead of need. This means that if you or someone you love needs hospital care with COVID-19 then you will get that care.

And if, God forbid, you needed to go into an intensive care unit, then you will have the bed and the life-saving equipment and team you need.

The latest figures show another record high of 2,963 spare critical care beds available across the NHS.

We said at the start of this that our primary goal in our battle plan was to slow the spread and protect the NHS, by flattening the curve and by increasing capacity.

That plan is working.

At no point in this crisis has anyone who could benefit from critical care been denied that care because there weren’t enough staff or beds or ventilators to treat them.

But there is much further to go.

On the most recent figures, 535,342 tests have now been carried out in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland. Of these, 129,044 people have tested positive. The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 symptoms is now down to 17,681. 17,366 people have now, sadly, died in hospital, which is an increase of 852. This number is another salutary lesson and it tells us of the deadly nature of this virus.

We owe it to them – and to ourselves – not to throw away the progress we’ve made so far.

We have been clear that we will not risk lives by relaxing the social distancing rules before our 5 tests have been met:

  • first, that the NHS can continue to cope
  • second, that the operational challenges have been met
  • third, that the daily death rate falls sustainably and consistently
  • fourth, that the rate of infection is decreasing
  • and, most importantly, that there is no risk of a second peak

I want to update you on 2 specific areas of huge importance.

First, PPE.

PPE delivery is an operation of unprecedented scale and complexity.

Since the start of this crisis, we have now delivered over a billion items of PPE.

We are constantly working to improve that delivery system, buying PPE from around the world, and working to make more at home.

We have a diverse range of suppliers and are working day and night to expand that supply base.

We are in direct talks with the factories that produce PPE and the fabric that it’s made of. This has proved one of the most fruitful avenues and I want to especially thank my Foreign Office and DIT colleagues, especially in China, for their incredible work making these connections.

I also want to thank the enormous response we’ve had from our appeal for companies to come forward to help replenish the stocks.

As of yesterday, we have had 8,331 offers of PPE equipment and we are investigating each and every one of those many leads.

Of course, some of these leads have led to very large-scale purchases of many millions of items. But, the reality is that not everyone who approaches us can deliver on their offers in scale.

I’m very grateful to all those who have come forward.

We are actively engaged with over 1,000 companies, and I can announce that we are working with 159 potential UK manufacturers, which are starting to come on stream.

I have said many times how determined I am to get people the PPE they need. This is a 24/7 operation. It’s one of the biggest cross-government operations I’ve ever seen.

I’m grateful to colleagues from the NHS, from Public Health England, the Crown Commercial Service, Cabinet Office, the Communities Department, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, the devolved administrations and territorial offices, the Business Department, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade for their enormous hard work on this.

And I’m very grateful to Lord Deighton, who delivered the Olympics, for stepping forward to lead this national effort, and deliver once again for his country.

The second area is vaccines.

In the long run, the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine. After all, this is a new disease, this is uncertain science, but I am certain that we will throw everything we’ve got at developing a vaccine.

The UK is at the forefront of the global effort. We have put more money than any other country into the global search.

For all the efforts around the world, 2 of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home at Oxford and Imperial. Both these promising projects are making rapid progress, and I’ve told the scientists leading them that we will do everything in our power to support.

First, I am today making £22.5 million available to the Imperial team project to support their phase 2 clinical trials, which will assess a sample of several thousand, and for them to begin the work on a subsequently very large-scale phase 3 trial.

Second, I am today making available £20 million to the Oxford team to fund their clinical trials.

The team have accelerated the trials process, working with the regulator the MHRA, who have been absolutely brilliant, and as a result I can announce that the vaccine from the Oxford trial will be trialled in people from this Thursday.

In normal times, reaching this stage would take years and I’m very proud of the work taken so far.

At the same time, we will invest in manufacturing capability so that, if either of these vaccines safely work, then we can make it available for the British people as soon as humanly possible.

Nothing about this process is certain.

Vaccine development is a process of trial and error and trial again. That’s the nature of how vaccines are developed.

But I’ve told Sarah Gilbert and Robin Shattock, 2 of our most inspiring scientists, that we are going to back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need to get the best possible chance of success, as soon as possible.

After all, the upside benefit of being the first country to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it.

Coronavirus is a powerful enemy, but I believe the power of human ingenuity is stronger. Every day the science gets better and we gather more information, we understand more about how to defeat this virus.

But, in the meantime, the most important thing everyone watching this can do is to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

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