Health and Social Care Secretary's statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 22 June 2020

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock gave the 22 June 2020 daily press briefing on the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Good afternoon, and welcome back to the coronavirus press conference.

I’m joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries.

Dr Harries is going to set out our next steps for the 2.2 million people who have been shielding for the last 3 months. Just before we do, I’d like to take you through the latest data.

This slide shows the number of tests that have been carried out, now over 8 million tests in total. And it also shows that for the first time since the peak, the number of positive cases confirmed is under a thousand, at 958. Next slide.

The second slide shows the number of people in hospital, the top of the two shows the number of people admitted with COVID-19, which is 380. That’s down from 432 a week ago. The bottom chart shows the number of ventilated patients. That’s the number of patients on a mechanical ventilator, and that number is 330, down from 395 a week earlier. Clearly the number of people going into hospital and the number of people in the most serious condition in hospital in ventilated beds, both coming down. Next slide please.

The regional picture is broadly the same across the country and for the first time since the peak there are fewer than 5,000 people in hospital with coronavirus. And if we go to the final slide, thank you.

Thankfully the number of people who have died from coronavirus each day is also coming down. The latest data show that yesterday 15 more deaths were reported. This is the lowest figure since mid-March, the 15 March. Each of these deaths is someone who is loved and someone we mourn. And each death his one death too many. Nevertheless, the fact that we have a figure of reported deaths that is 15, much lower than any previous figure since the peak, is good news. However, it’s a weekend figure and we do see the number of deaths reported tend to rise after a weekend.

Nevertheless having set out all those statistics, if you take into account the number of people in hospitals, the number of people going into hospital, the number of people testing positive and the number who sadly have died, all of those figures are coming down and are pointing in the right direction.

It shows that, while there is still much to do, we are clearly making progress. We are working through our plan and our plan is working.

We protected the NHS and thanks to the patience and sacrifice of everyone watching, infections are falling, the NHS is restoring and the virus is in retreat.

A month ago, around 1 in 400 people had the virus. Now it’s around 1 in 1,700.

This means that tomorrow the Prime Minister will be able to set out the next steps in our plan for more local action, and to ease the national lockdown.

And there’s one group who have been more patient and given up more than almost any other, and that’s the 2.2 million people who have been shielding in England.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own shielding programmes, so what we say today is about England only.

Since the start, the clinical advice has been to protect those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to this disease.

Our shielding programme – that has delivered medicine, support and more than a million food boxes – has been integral to that plan.

I want to now speak directly to those of you who’ve been shielding.

Like so many, I have friends and I have family who’ve been shielding. I know what a burden this has been.

Shielding has involved not leaving your house for months, not seeing people you love, not being able to wander to the park for some fresh air, or even pop to the shops for something you need.

This sacrifice has been for a purpose, and I want to thank every single one of you.

We knew it was a difficult ask, but these measures have been vital in saving lives.

Right from the start we’ve been clear that we didn’t want the shielding advice to be in place any longer than was clinically necessary.

I’m very, very grateful to the clinicians who have led this work and kept the clinical advice under review.

Dr Harries will now set out the next steps in that clinical advice and then I’ll set out the practical support that we’ll be maintaining.

Dr Harries

I thought it might be helpful to say a few words on the clinical basis for the shielding programme: what we’re advising now and what we might see in the future. Particularly to the adults but also to the children who’ve been shielding.

This is a new virus, we’re continuing to learn about its transmission and that knowledge will continue to grow over the coming years.

At the start of the epidemic in the UK, using the information we had available, and our best understanding gained from other respiratory viruses, such as flu and SARS, we recognised that some people would likely be more vulnerable of severe outcomes from disease than others. This included older people and those with underlying medical conditions. Those are normally the people who would have a flu vaccination each year.

This clinically vulnerable group we advised to be particularly stringent in following social distancing guidance. That recommendation continues.

Senior clinicians recognise that for a small sub-set of the population there may be an even greater risk. So, for example, this would be those who may be on particularly high combinations of immunosuppressant treatments or where their disease was particularly poorly controlled.

This group, the clinically extremely vulnerable, were those advised to shield.

Shielding doesn’t alter the risk of illness if they become infected. It reduces the likelihood of meeting the virus in their daily lives. Now we’re out of the peak of the epidemic in the UK and estimated levels of community transmission and infection are back to those before shielding commenced, we are in a position to start relaxing the shielding advice over the next few weeks. We may well actually have some summer weather a little in our favour too.

Therefore the advice to those shielding is to start taking steps now to start coming back to a more normal lifestyle.

This has been a very difficult and sometimes frightening period for those shielding. To give people time to prepare we’re setting out the advice in a stepped approach. So first, from July 6, which is a time period when other measures have been eased to make sure we are monitoring the epidemiology continuously, we’re advising that people who are shielding may want to start meeting in groups of up to 6 outdoors, including those from outside their household.

If you live alone or are a lone parent you can form a support bubble with another household. Those in that support bubble can then spend time in each others homes, including overnight.

Secondly from August 1 we will pause shielding. We will still be advising people to stay at home as much as possible and to minimise contact with others outside their household. From August 1 our advice would be that people can go out to more places, see more people. This might include going to the shops, for example, or visiting a place of worship.

If you do leave your home you should continue to keep a safe distance from people at all time, regularly washing your hands for 20 seconds is still one of the most effective ways that you can protect yourself. If you’re unable to work from home from August 1, you’re able to return to work, as long as the business is COVID-safe.

When this programme started we used a precautionary principle. New evidence is telling us that the risks for individuals are often more clearly due to a combination of factors in that individual such as age, ethnicity, obesity levels for example, as well as the medical conditions that they have.

The Chief Medical Officer has commissioned work to ensure that, should we need to step up the shielding programme again, we would have available a much more individualised way for you and your doctor to understand your risk and receive more tailored advice.

The new risk assessment research methodology is being published today by academic colleagues led by Oxford University. In the future, therefore, those who we advise to take action may be slightly different group to those who shielded through this new disease peak.

Where this is particularly relevant is for children. As evidence has evolved, we’ve seen that admission to hospital for all children under 18 for COVID-19 is very low indeed. Only 36 children in the UK have been admitted to intensive care. Shielding guidance to date has covered a broad range of conditions and clinical vulnerabilities. We know that many parents have been worried about how they can protect their children, and they often carry the burden themselves.

Now we have new guidance developed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and this will help families understand who does and does not need to shield. Now we have more evidence we can be much more specific about risk and it’s very likely in the future very few children will need to shield.

The evidence the clinical experts have brought together strongly recommends children and young people who are cared for just in primary care are very unlikely to need to continue to shield in the future. There is a group of children who exist that, due to their underlying condition, may need to continue to shield. Over the summer parents can look forward to discussions through routine paediatric appointments. In the interim we will be talking with your doctors and the royal colleges to ensure everyone has the right information. For now there is no need for parents to speak to their doctor immediately. We will sort that information out in due course.

For anybody with underlying clinical conditions, whether adult or child, looking forward and after shielding advice has paused we will still advise you to be careful. Keep your overall social interactions down, as low as feels comfortable initially, whether at home or in work, keep practising good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

Finally I would like to say special thank you to clinical colleagues, particularly in primary care, and specialists in hospitals and all of their staff who have been working hard to support those shielding over the last 3 months

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I’ll just set out the practical consequences of all this. I’m sure the whole nation is grateful, Jenny, that your wisdom is guiding this work and grateful for setting out the clinical advice so clearly.

Over the next few weeks we’ll all have time for these changes.

First, In the coming days, as I promised I will write to everyone on the shielded patient list with further details about what this means for you and what to expect, and we will update our online guidance in line with these changes.

I know that after 3 months of shielding it might take time to adjust to the new guidelines.

We are working closely with the NHS, councils and charities to make sure this updated advice is as clear as possible.

If you are receiving centrally provided food boxes or medicine deliveries, this will continue until the end of July. And I can announce that 7 supermarkets have confirmed ongoing access to priority supermarket delivery slots, for as long as they are needed.

Support from NHS Volunteer Responders will continue, and so too will the support from NHS mental health services for those struggling with their mental health.

And for anyone facing financial hardship, we’ve made money available to councils to help those struggling to buy food and other essentials.

And my message to employers is crystal clear. Please work with us to ease the transition back to a more normal way of life for shielding employees. We expect you to do the right thing.

Nothing matters more than keeping people safe, and we will keep the evidence about the risks to people under constant review.

The NHS will maintain the shielded patient list and we stand ready to support people to shield again if that’s what’s clinically required, including through an enhanced digital platform.

The support for the shielded has been a huge effort of community spirit, with practical and emotional support alongside the brilliant work of Public Health England and the NHS, supported by my department, the communities department and under the leadership of Chris Townsend in government.

So I want to say a huge thank you to those who shielded, to all those who looked after them, and to each and every one of you who’ve played your part in the national effort to bring this virus under control.

Together, let’s keep going.

Stay alert, control the virus, and save lives.

Published 30 June 2020