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28 May 2020

Daily briefing with Boris Johnson, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty – lockdown to be eased further from 1 June 2020, including allowing groups of six to meet outdoors

Summary

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech includes the following key points. He updates on the latest data and describes the government's assessment of progress against its five tests for easing lockdown measures. The government's assessment is that the five tests are being met:

  • 'Our first test is to protect the NHS’s ability to cope.' [...] 'The data show that on 26 May 2020, 475 people were admitted to hospital in England with coronavirus – down from a peak of 3,121 on a single day, on 2 April. On 27 May, 11% of mechanical ventilator beds in the UK were occupied by patients with coronavirus, down from a peak of 41% on 10 April. This significant progress means we are meeting the first test.' 
  • 'Our second test is to see a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from COVID-19 so we are confident that we have moved beyond the peak.' [...] 'It is now the case that there has been a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate, and so the second test is being met.'
  • 'Our third test is to receive reliable information, reliable data from SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] showing that the rate of infection – the number of people catching COVID – is decreasing to manageable levels across the board. And in the last 7 days, an average of 2,312 new cases were confirmed with a positive test, that’s down from a peak of 5,066 in the first week of May. Based on the various data available, the government is satisfied that the third test is being met.'
  • 'Our fourth test is that we must be confident that the range of operational challenges, including on testing capacity and personal protective equipment [PPE], are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand.' [...] 'Yesterday we carried out 119,587 tests, compared to around 12,000 at the start of April. Testing capacity has now increased to 161,214 a day. We have now signed over 100 new deals with PPE suppliers around the world.' [...] 'We are therefore satisfied that the fourth test is being met and we can start to rebuild stocks.'
  • 'Our fifth and final test is that we must be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS.' [...] 'I am very grateful to the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer for their assessments of the measures I am about to set out on schools, retail and social contact.' [...] 'This package has been carefully designed so that we can ease the burdens of lockdown while expecting to keep that R below one.' [...] 'It is thanks to the caution we have shown so far that all five tests are being met'. 'So the result is we can move forward with adjusting the lockdown in England on Monday.'

Johnson describes how measures will be eased. From Monday (1 June 2020), some children – those in nurseries and other early years settings and reception, year 1 and year 6 in primary schools – will be able to return to school (and more children will return on 15 June). Some shops (including car showrooms and outdoor markets) will be able to open on Monday. Other non-essential retail will be able to open on 15 June (if they can do so safely and if the five tests are still being met). And, from Monday, the government 'will allow up to six people to meet outside – provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying 2 metres apart'. People who have been asked to shield themselves should still do so. 'These adjustments are most of those we set out to achieve in step 2 of our road map, and we have also been able to have them in place by 1 June as we had hoped.' Johnson says there may be some 'anomalies' or 'apparent inconsistencies' in these rules. 'It is a complex problem and we are asking for everyone’s patience as we work through it together. We will inevitably not get everything right first time.' He says the steps being taken are conditional on the data and scientific advice. 'And I have to warn you, there will be further local outbreaks. So we will monitor carefully, we will put on the brakes as required, and where necessary, we will reimpose measures. It’s important to be clear about that up front.'

Q&A key points include Boris Johnson's response to a question about Dominic Cummings and the example he has set to others about following the government's rules, Boris Johnson says he wants to 'draw a line' under the matter. He says that he wants to 'interpose' himself and 'protect' Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance from answering what he thinks is a 'political question' about Cummings. Responding to a question about how comfortable Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) and Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Advisor) are about Boris Johnson telling them that they can't answer questions about Cummings, Chris Whitty says, 'I can assure you that the desire not to get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the prime minister.' Patrick Vallance says, 'I'm a civil servant, I'm politically neutral, I don't want to get involved in politics at all.' Responding to a question about the new measures on people meeting in groups of six outside, Johnson says that people cannot stay overnight in other people's houses, but people could meet families in their garden and even have a barbecue if they followed social distancing and hygiene measures. Talking about the R rate in different parts of the country, Patrick Vallance says that the R rate is close to one so we need to be 'very cautious', and the number of cases 'remains high' – 'we are at a fragile state'.

Source(s)

Gov.uk speech