Grayling UK Covid-19 Monitoring – Political Overview – 14th June
15th June 2021, 1:25 pm
Downing Street Press Conference
Comments by the Prime Minister, Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty and Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Valance
- The PM said that the roadmap was always meant to be cautious, but irreversible. He said that the vaccine rollout had produced one of the most open economies in Europe, but that unfortunately this opening up had seen more infections and hospitalisations.
- The PM said that the Delta variant has seen a 50% increase week on week in hospitalisations and a doubling in week to week infections. He said that while the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths has weakened, rising numbers mean a choice must be made.
- The PM outlined the risk of thousands of deaths, and that it was now important to give the NHS crucial time to vaccinate people.
- The new date for Step 4 in the roadmap is Monday 19th July, when two-third of adults, all over 50s, all vulnerable people, all frontline workers, and all over 40s who had their first jab in May will have had a second dose. The new target will also see all over 18s receive a first jab.
- The PM said that another assessment will be conducted in 2 weeks.
- The PM said that the exceptions to this are weddings and wakes, which will be able to host more than 30 people should social distancing be in place.
- The PM said that Euro 2020 and some theatrical performances will act as tests for further unlocking.
- The PM closed his opening remarks by saying he is confident that there will not be a delay beyond July 19th, as the scale of the vaccine rollout will provide adequate protection.
- Chris Witty presented several slides on the latest coronavirus data and how it shaped up against the four tests the government had put in place to determine whether a delay would be necessary:
- The first test is the deployment of vaccines. Whitty said that the current rollout had met this test.
- The second test is evidence of vaccines reducing hospitalisation and deaths. Whitty said that new Public Health England data had shown this to be true for all variants, including Delta. For symptomatic disease, two doses are needed to provide a 76-84% reduction. For severe disease, there is now an 85-98% reduction after two doses, compared to 57-85% with one dose. This means that the NHS needs time to deliver second vaccinations.
- The third test covers risk of hospitalisations. Whitty said that rates are currently low but that a 64% increase across England since last week warns of exponential growth and the need for caution. The rates of increase are occurring across the whole country. Per 100,000 people, there has been a 61% increase in the North-West and 50% increase across England; Whitty said that both will accelerate.
- The fourth test is on whether new variants have changed the risk assessment. Whitty said that while the Alpha variant has decreased significantly, the Delta variant is increasing exponentially, with over 10,000 cases by 31st May. The importance now is to get more people vaccinated, and the next four weeks will reduce the change of a significant peak.
- A member of the public asked what plans are in place to vaccinate university students before term starts. The PM said that 23–24-year-olds will be offered a vaccine from tomorrow. He said it will take time for students to get a second dose but that he will look at what can be done to accelerate this, with surge vaccinations in places of outbreaks. Chris Whitty said that the system has prioritised risk, hence the age order of the rollout, and that he would expect all over 18s to have received one jab by the end of next month.
- A member of the public asked why vaccine status could not be used to open weddings. The PM said that weddings can go ahead with more than 30 people from June 21st, providing social distancing is observed.
- Responding to a question from the BBC, the PM said that we will have to learn to live with the virus, and that at the end of the delay immunity will have been built up. He reiterated his confidence on a full opening after July 19th but did not rule out the possibility of a new variant affecting the road map. He said after this it would be up to the public to decide whether they want to maintain mask wearing and social distancing. Chris Whitty said that vaccines would not be offered to children until safety is guaranteed, and that the JCVI will bring forward advice on this soon.
- Responding to a question from ITV News, the PM said there would be no reversal, so businesses that are currently open can continue to be so. He said that the support measures are designed to last until September, and that local authorities have been given an extra £1 billion to cover businesses rates for business in need. He said that July 19th will be a “terminus date”. Chris Whitty said that even the delay will not remove risk entirely, and that a reasonable balance will need to be found between removing restrictions and deaths. Sir Patrick Vallance said that the virus will be with us forever, and that if we did not have the vaccine, we would be looking at another lockdown. He said that currently, a four-week delay will reduce any predicted peak by 30-50%.
- Responding to a question from GB News, the PM that a vaccine booster programme plan for the winter will be published “very soon”, with the Health Secretary laying out the timetable in the coming months. Sir Patrick Vallance said that the JVCI will be assessing the risk of offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to under 40s.
- Responding to a question from the Daily Mail, the PM said he would work with the entertainment sector to support it and is currently in talks with Andrew Lloyd Webber to allow his production in next 4 weeks. The PM could not give a guarantee that July 19th would be the final date, but said the current data is optimistic on this.
- Responding to a question from the FT, the PM said that for travel abroad people should follow the traffic light system. He also said there is unlikely to be an extension of the furlough scheme and other support packages beyond September for any industry, including the travel and airline sectors which have been impacted by limited travel.
- Responding to a question from the Evening Standard, Sir Patrick Valance said that the vaccines are very effective, but not a 100% guarantee. As such, awareness of large peaks in hospitalisation will be key, but the current vaccine rollout should ease these fears. Chris Whitty said that London is currently behind the rest of the country in terms of vaccination rates by around 10%. He said this is due to the population density of the city and wants a focus on areas where vaccination rates are lower. The PM recognised that many businesses will still be affected, including in hospitality, by the delay so is determined to allow a full removal of restrictions on July 19th. He said that the removal of restrictions must be irreversible.
Invitation to a webinar for community and voluntary sector groups in enhanced support package areas