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22 April 2020

Daily briefing with Dominic Raab, Chris Whitty, Nicholas Carter – social distancing measures likely for rest of the year


Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab's speech includes these key points. He describes the physical, economic and mental strain of the crisis saying, 'We’re making progress through the peak of this virus, but we’re not out of the woods yet as SAGE advised last week.' Raab reiterates that easing up social distancing too soon would risk a second spike, with 'all the threats to life that would bring' and then the risk of a second lockdown which would 'prolong the economic pain'. He pays tribute to the Armed Forces – part of the team as they announce two new deployments to the NHS Nightingale facilities in Harrogate and Bristol today. 'People used to joke in this country that you could never build a hospital that quickly', but with the help of the military 'we built seven'. He goes on to discuss past and current challenges including around personal protective equipment (PPE), saying that the first of several new deliveries landed from Turkey that morning. He closes by discussing Foreign Office support to return stranded British nationals.

Sir Nicholas Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, mainly gives an update on how the Armed Forces are involved in the crisis response. They have supported through local regional fora – Defence Secretary Ben Wallace delegated authorities to this level early in the crisis, which has proved to be 'extraordinarily successful'. He also emphasises their support for health and social care, 'I think in all of my more than 40 years of service, this is the single greatest logistical challenge that I've come across.' He outlines the scale of the challenge and involvement of Armed Forces.

When asked about care home deaths in the Q&A, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty says the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has not yet published its report, but when we look back he expects to see a high mortality rate for care homes because this is a vulnerable group. He reiterates the need to look at all-cause seasonally adjusted mortality over time to get a true picture (because of direct and indirect deaths). On personal protective equipment (PPE), Whitty says he is 'not an international procurement expert' but the NHS has been 'tight' for different items at different times, not 'under water' on anything at a national level that he is aware of, but 'there may be local issues'. They do not yet have an antibody test that is as good as they want. Whitty says 'we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally, this is a global problem, for the foreseeable future'. He says that 'if people are hoping that it’s suddenly going to move from where we are now in lockdown suddenly into everything is gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation. We are going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time'. He later says the long run exit is going to be one of two things: a highly effective vaccine or drugs. There is an 'incredibly small' probability of having those any time in the next calendar year. Until then, we have to rely on social measures. Whitty clarifies that he is very hopeful of having vaccines with proof of concept much earlier than a year. He also says that the NHS is going to be under pressure from COVID-19 for a long time. Dominic Raab says we are coming through the peak – 'there is light at the end of the tunnel' – but we are not there yet. Two factors will help as we transition into the next phase: getting the transmission level down and testing with contact tracing. Whitty says there will be a lot more population testing so they can find out at the earliest point if the R value (reproduction number) is beginning to go up in any part of the country.


Gov.uk speech

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