Government updates


We will be updating this area after each of the Downing Street briefings, which are currently happening three times a week. You can access our work in this area, and further national guidance, in our
COVID-19 member hub.

Scroll down for the latest updates, or seeing older updates below. 

Latest

Wednesday 4 August

Today's COVID-19 press conference was held with Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, Professor Wei Shen Lim, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) COVID-19 chair and Dr June Raine, Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency chief executive, regarding 16 and 17 year olds receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

Dr June Raine - MHRA

  • Substantial experience on Pfizer has been gathered.
  • Data on safety 12-15 year olds; no new adverse events were identified. Safety profile showed mild to moderate reactions, as would be expected.
  • It was approved for use in children 12-15.

 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI

  • JCVI recommendations to government: initial advice last month 12-17 years old. Today updating the advice.
  • Balance of potential benefits and harms. Vaccination f young people can bring benefits to others but the benefit to young people themselves is key.
  • A range of factors were considered including frequency and severity of reactions following the jabs; impact of delivering covid vaccines on other school based vaccination programmes; frequency of severe covid in children and young people; occurrence of post covid syndrome and the mental health and educational impact of covid.
  • Age is a factor – older adults more likely to suffer with COVID than younger; this is the same for children – 16/17 year olds more at risk than e.g. 13 year olds.
  • Healthy 16 and 17 year olds should get their first vaccine dose as soon as it is possible with the aim of the second dose to be offered later, when there is more data.


Questions from media

Q: This data must have been around before, why did you change your mind? Will parental consent be needed? When will it start?

A: Last looked at data at the end of June. There were emerging reports of inflammation of the heart muscle following inoculation from the Pfizer vaccine. As the weeks go by more and more are vaccinated - it's not new data, it's a greater certainty of the data. 16 years and above can consent for themselves.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said regarding timings – children are starting to go back in September – no time to waste getting on with this. Likely to be in a short number of weeks.

Children are going to start going back to sixth forms from September. it will be earlier in some cases. no time to waste in getting on with this.

 

Q: why not start including younger people before the autumn term?

A: 12-15 with underlying condition should have the vaccine – otherwise we are waiting for more data.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that he would definitely allow his children to be vaccinated.

 

Q: Risks and benefits? Numbers on this?

A: We want to be as sure as possible, so we will wait before recommending to 12-15 year olds.

 

Q: How long will it take to roll this out?

A: Not entirely sure, but currently takes around a term to immunise 2 year groups with a nasal spray.

 

 

Monday 19 July

The prime minister held a press conference today with Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific advisor, and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer. 

 

Boris Johnson:

  • Realises lots of people are having to self-isolate, wanted to use this opportunity to say why they think it's the right step to take now.
  • If we don't open up in summer, when? We know that this pandemic is far from over, deaths and hospitalisations are rising.
  • Isolation is key - people identified as contacts of cases are 5x more likely to be infected than others.
  • We will be moving to a system of testing for those who are double vaccinated from August 16.
  • Need more young adults to take up offer of vaccination.
  • Government are concerned by the continuing risk posed by nightclubs. Clubs need to do the socially responsible thing and make use of NHS COVID pass. Goverment reserves the right to mandate certification at any point.
  • By the end of September, when all over 18s have had their chance to get jabbed, full vaccination in clubs and big venues. Proof of a negative test won't be enough.

 

Sir Patrick Vallance presented the slides. He said that there are risks to opening up. These are:

  • hospitalisations and deaths
  • Risk of long term complications
  • high levels of infection as the virus replicates
  • isolation effecting the workforce
  • testing process becomes stretched

 

Questions from the public

 

I have been vaccinated in EU, I can't get the covid pass - what are people going to do to help me?

JVT: awareness about this issue and there is a lot of work to sort this out, needs to be done rationally and carefully.

 

What is the number of number of covid cases for those who have had their jabs?

Vallance: in terms of those being hospitalised, around 60% have not been vaccinated. They aren't 100% effective and now a higher proportion of the population are double vaccinated.

 

Questions from the media

 

BBC: Are you giving people and ultimatum - get vaccinated, otherwise e you can't go places; super spreader events - re you worried?

Johnson:  young people have put up with a lot, more people to get vaccinated will help. Get the vaccine.

Scientists: Indoor areas are more likely to have potential for super spreading

 

ITV: cautious but irreversible? can you keep this promise?

Johnson: we "hope" the roadmap is irreversible. If there are new variants we might need to respond to them...we need to continue to be cautious.

 

Times radio: what’s the next crucial date? schools going back? Why give 10 weeks until you stop mass spreading?

Scientists: Timing of the peak is uncertain. We want to see some decrease in the trajectory. Want to see this coming down by September as return to schools would see a pressure.

Reason why modellers tell us that there is uncertainty, human behaviours, it is in everybody's hands. Don’t tear the pants out of it.

 

The Sun: JVT: what's your response to images of packed beaches, and parks and nightclubs etc, are we already tearing the pants out of it? PM why did you believe you were above the rules? Vaccine passports - will you need to show them to get a pint in the pub? NI or income tax? Does your manifesto pledge still stand not to raise either?

JVT: some areas are under pressure, people are worried. it’s important to go slowly.

Johnson: I didn't think I am above the rules. On pubs, don't want to get a situation where people have to produce papers to go anywhere.

But govt reserves a right to do what's necessary to protect public

NI and income tax - on social care. We waited three decades, you need to wait a bit longer, wont be long now.

 

FT: do we have enough lateral flow and PCR tests? Will nightclubs need to close?

Scientists: Testing system will come under strain with larger numbers.

On night clubs JVT said that young people like socialising, and partying, they have also made sacrifices this year to lockdown etc. Sympathy with this. but on the science side,. if you pack my shed full of people and they are not vaccinated, risk is far greater.

 

Huff Po: Whitty said they numbers could get pretty scary; what would be the restriction you would apply if they got scary?

JVT: hospitalisations, we are in a situation where the NHS is not under the pressure it was in Jan. But today is when society opens up. Knock on affect won't be known for a few weeks. Close contact is the riskiest thing.

 

 

Monday 12 July

The prime minister held a press conference today with Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific advisor on the easing of restrictions on 19 July. Yesterday in a statement to the House of Common's the secretary of state for health and social care announced new guidance to support the move to step four of the roadmap.

  • PM started by condemning the racism following yesterday’s match
  • Step four of the roadmap – no obvious or easy date to unlock; we will see more cases, hospitalisations and deaths. But if we delayed opening up then we’d be doing it in the autumn when schools go back and weather is worse etc. This is a natural firebreak.
  • Vital that we proceed with caution - pandemic is not over. Can't revert to life as it was before covid on the 19th but we will lift restrictions and social distancing. We recommend people wear face coverings in crowded places. Removing govt instruction to say work for home, but don't expect everyone to go back straight away. Make use of the NHS COVID pass for nightclubs.
  • Govt are updating guidance for clinical extremely vulnerable.

 

Chris Whitty talked through the government's four tests and explained how they had been met.

  • Delta is the dominant variant now, other variants are low at the moment.
  • The four week delay to unlocking has helped get 7m more people jabbed and will have helped cut cases/deaths.
  • Vaccination is vital

 

Questions from the public:

 

As restrictions are lifted, what criteria will be used to decide if restrictions should return in future?

Johnson:  we will keep data under review. If we see exceptional circumstances then we must rule nothing out.

 

Does having two doses mean that you are less likely to pass it on?

Vallance: For delta – no absolute figures. If you look at figures for alpha, roughly speaking the vaccinations are decreasing the chance of someone catching the virus by around 50%,

 

BBC - given pressure on hospitals, will you end requirement for NHS of NHS staff to stop isolating? if they are double jabbed? What about double jabbed public?

Johnson:  want to get NHS back to working in a pre-covid way - you need to wait a bit for the health secretary to set this out.

Vallance: we are in third wave of infection, they are rising rapidly. Risk of hospitalisation is fourfold lower, but it does still exist.

If behaviour goes back to pre-pandemic ways then it will be a big rise.

Whitty: exit wave will happen anyway. On the NHS staff side, this is being discussed. We are trying to balance two things. Potential danger to patients; but also dangerous not to have enough staff.

 

ITV: used to say that these steps are irreversible?

Johnson: we will proceed on Mon 19th but it's not over.

Do you have an idea of what level of admissions would be unsustainable?

Whitty: there isn't a single number on this. Things go in stages.

 

LBC: expecting people to wear masks? For other things we have proper rules, why not this? Backlog - are you concerned?

Johnson: on the issue of masks, we are following the same principle. We are moving towards personal responsibility. That applies to social distancing.

Whitty - NHS has been trying to reduce backlogs. There is some significant degree of overhang from last year. There is pressure from covid and that is likely to increase.

 

The Times: going slowly is essential. what does that mean?

Johnson: what we want to do is get people to think carefully.

Whitty: avoid crowded areas when you can, get vaccinated etc. Hand face space etc.

Vallance: fact that we can move from wfh doesn’t meant that we should rush it etc. Please self isolate if you test positive. Ventilation is a priority.

 

Daily Mirror: peak of third wave 100-200 deaths a day - is that acceptable price to play? Should people take the knee?

Johnson: There is not an optimal time. The reality is that both deaths and hospitalisations are going to rise whenever you go for unlocking, there will be an exit wave

On taking the knee: people should feel free to show their respect and I condemn the behaviour seen yesterday.

Whitty:

 

POLITCO: cautious? How should people go about unlocking? World cup bid - how can we go ahead with this after scenes that we saw yesterday?

Johnson: important thing is to take up vaccines. World cup - we have a good case together with Ireland, shame that a small minority tried to spoil things.

 

Monday 5 July

The prime minister held a press conference today with Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific advisor on the easing of restrictions on 19 July. The government has published COVID-19 Response: Summer 2021 setting out details of the final roadmap step.

 

Prime minister:

  • final decision on step 4 of the roadmap will be taken on 12 July
  • there could 50,000 cases per day by 19 July
  • there are rising numbers of hospital admissions and must reconcile ourselves with more deaths
  • expectation that every adult will have been offered their first dose and two-thirds will have had their second dose by 19 July
  • clear that vaccines are successful with majority of hospital admissions are of the unvaccinated
  • must balance risk of the disease and risk of restrictions that affect people’s lives and livelihoods
  • the alternative to opening up in the summer is to open up in the winter when the virus will have the advantage or not at all this year
  • five point plan for living with COVID-19:
    1. Reinforce vaccine wall be reducing time between jabs from 12 weeks to 8 weeks
    2. Move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own decisions, step four will lift limits on numbers gathering and social distancing rules, legal obligation to wear face coverings but guidance will remain for crowded places etc., no longer necessary to work from home, no COVID certificate required for domestic use but businesses may choose to do so
    3. Test, trace and isolate – will have to isolate if tested positive or if told by NHS Test and Trace
    4. Maintain tough border controls but working to remove need for isolation for the fully vaccinated returning from amber list countries
    5. Monitor the data and retain contingency measures to manage the virus.

 

Patrick Vallance presented the slides:

  • seven-day average of cases is 25,447
  • doubling time is roughly nine days – mainly among younger people but spreading up the age groups
  • ONS estimates 1 in 210 people are infected, currently roughly quarter of a million people
  • 1,905 people in hospital with COVID-19 – hospitalisations are rising and rising quite steeply in some places
  • vaccines have weakened link between cases and hospitalisations – not a broken link
  • deaths are at low levels but are increasing with a  current seven-day average of 18 deaths
  • 45.4m of people have had their first dose and 33.7m have had their second dose.

 

Questions

Public: How effective are the vaccines in preventing long-COVID?
CW: Data are not clear but confident that vaccines prevent people getting COVID. Data will come out over the next few months.
PV: Some part of long-COVID is linked to people who have had severe disease and vaccines reduce risk of severe disease.

 

Public: COVID-19 vaccine for children?
PM: JCVI looking at vaccinating children.
CW: Working out relative protection for children. Children have much lower rate of severe outcomes from COVID and therefore need even greater confidence of the safety as the risk-benefit may be more marginal.

 

BBC: How bad do you expect it to get after lifting restrictions? Confident that hospitals can cope? Will you continue to wear a mask?
PM: Be cautious and will look at data. Always did say there would be a third wave. If not going ahead now then when? Risk of opening up at a difficult time in the winter or next year. No final decision until 12 July. Wearing a mask will depend on the circumstances – moving from government diktat to personal responsibility but remember the value of face coverings.
CW: NHS is an emergency service – on one level, it will cope with anything. But depends on doubling time for hospital admissions. Would continue to wear a mask as the epidemic is rising when indoors and close to other people. Masks protect other people. Would wear mask if required by an authority and if someone was uncomfortable as a common courtesy.
PV: Masks are most effective at protecting somebody else from catching COVID from you. Mask wearing has a particular advantage to use indoors.

 

ITV: Why not finish vaccinating all adults before unlocking? Why are you ignoring scientific advice on mask wearing?
CW: Decisions are made by ministers. Scientific consensus that some social distancing will be needed to maintained. At some point only delaying number of deaths not averting them. View that going in the summer has advantages to opening in the autumn/winter period when NHS is under more pressure.

 

Sky: Cautious but irreversible easing of restrictions. Not cautious but reckless? No commitment to irreversibility? May be necessary to introduce some more restrictions over the winter? Will unlocking mean more restrictions in the winter be more or less likely?
PM: Striking the right balance, moving to personal responsibility. Pandemic is far from over. Do not want people to get mob happy – very far from the end of dealing with this virus. If another variant does not respond to the vaccine, then clearly will have to take steps to protect the public.
CW: Winter is inevitably tricky, NHS will have to deal with COVID and resurgence of other respiratory viruses suppressed by the lockdown.

 

The I: En masse school closures and vaccinating children?
PM: Doing everything possible to minimise damage to children, moving away from sending bubbles home in school.
PV: Awaiting JCVI decision.

 

The Express: Possibility of restrictions in winter to protect NHS from flu cases? Working from home and economy at end of roadmap?
CW: No view to take restrictions for seasonal flu. If flu pandemic (e.g. 1918) is a different situation.
PM: No longer government recommendation to WFH but up to employers. Expect a strong recovery.

 

Bloomberg: Message to football fans before 19 July? How many excess deaths will these relaxations cause according to estimates.
PM: Message is to support England enthusiastically but responsibly.

PV: Risk of spreading is greatest indoors – not the big outdoor events. Modelling is made public and due more next week in the run up to the decision on 12 July.

 

 

Monday 28 June


Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP delivered his first statement to the House of Commons as secretary of state for health and social care: 

  • making progress with vaccination programme – open to every adult in country
  • 84% first and 62% have had two doses of vaccine
  • paid tribute to Matt Hancock
  • big task ahead – restore freedoms
  • task is to help "return to economic and cultural life" while also "protecting life and our NHS"
  • task been made more difficult by the delta variant - making up 95% of new cases – spreads more easily and higher risk of those not vaccinated needing hospital treatment, compared to Alpha variant
  • praises the vaccination programme and says this will be our way out of the pandemic
  • roadmap update: Aim is that 2/3 of adults will have had both doses by 19 July.
  • bringing forward targets for first and second doses
  • vaccine uptake remains high – more than half adults under 30 have taken up vaccine
  • Public Health England data shows vaccine have prevented 7 million people from getting COVID-19
  • two doses of vaccine are as effective at preventing hospitalisations
  • cases are ticking up but number of deaths remains low
  • new data released today shows that mixing jabs, such as having AstraZeneca first and then Pfizer, could give the vaccine booster programme more flexibility, and produce better results.
  • continue to see rise in hospitalisations, doubled since start of May, keeping close watch
  • no reason not to go beyond 19 July - no date we chose comes with zero risk – have to learn to live with it
  • people and businesses need certainty so want every step to be irreversible
  • July 19 remains target date. "19 July is not only end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country".

 

Jon Ashworth:

  • hope he will make arrangements for fair pay rise for health and social care staff
  • today has seen highest case rates since January, we know that even after two doses you can catch and transmit the virus - what will he do to bring cases down?
  • can he confirm by irreversible he means there will be no restrictions this winter
  • promised to give the NHS – hospital discharge and funding
  • when will the NHS again guarantee 18 week referral? When will NHS meet cancer targets
  • primary care
  • plan to meet social care.

 

Javid responded:

  • looking at the data it is clear we are heading in the right direction and very confident about 19 July
  • right to raise backlog – that will be a priority. £92bn of extra funding has already been put into the health system. Much of this will be spent addressing the backlog, heard new ideas for tackling this on visit to Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust today
  • social care remains an absolute priority for this government
  • on the Bill - we are committed to that and he should sit down with me and I can convince him of the virtues of the bill. Hopefully he can come to support the bill.

 

Jeremy Hunt:

  • as we with final stage of pandemic, will he think about how he will prepare for future pandemics?
  • will you be putting more resilience into social care, not just a cap but making sure local authorities have the funding?

 

Javid responded:

  • the past year he was looking at future pandemics  as a fellow at Harvard Kennedy centre - lots of work going on this
  • on social care: we worked together in the past on this. Social care remains a huge priority and look forward to working with him.

 

Wednesday 23 June 

At today’s No.10 Downing Street press conference, Nadhim Zahawi, minister for COVID-19 vaccine deployment, was joined by Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation, Public Health England and Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care, NHS England.

 

Nadhim Zahawi:

  • first dose to 82% of all adults in the UK
  • three in five adults have had their second dose
  • any adult can now book their first dose
  • given first doses to almost half of 25-29 year olds and one third of 18-24 year olds
  • saved over 14,000 lives and prevented 44,500 hospitalisations in England
  • over 65s now make up less than a third of hospitalisations
  • fewer than 1 in 10 people hospitalised with the Delta variant had two doses
  • vaccine hesitancy has halved among Asian and Black communities
  • uptake of first doses in London is slightly lower than other areas – increasing efforts.

 

Dr Mary Ramsay:

  • data shows clearly that the vaccine protects from the Delta variant, with over 90% protection with two doses
  • reminder to get other vaccines e.g. MMR etc.
  • COVID-19 cases have been increasing since early June – around 10-11,000 per day
  • hospitalisations are rising but at a much slower rate
  • most recent seven-day average number of deaths is 14

 

Dr Nikki Kanani:

  • must remember we are not quite tackling all hesitancy
  • Evergreen offer to vaccinate

 

Questions

Public: Will those refusing to be vaccinated hold back the freedoms of others?
NZ: Confident that will have 66% fully vaccinated by 19 July.
NK: There will be people who are hesitant, must work to build confidence.

 

Public: Why are COVID-19 vaccine centres closing?
NZ: Built vaccine deployment infrastructure. Moving vaccines around the system which may mean closing down centres in favour of walk-in sites or mobile sites etc.
NK: Staff may be busy vaccinating in other sites.

 

BBC: Data shows you’re less likely to have had a vaccine if you are black. Is it time to take a new approach? Delta variant symptoms?
NZ: Evident that lower uptake in black and Afro-Caribbean communities. Ensuring sharing data locally and giving resources for community champions.
MR: Key message is people being testing without testing. No evidence missing more cases of this variant than others.

 

ITV: At what point accept that there will be some people who do not want the vaccine?
NZ: About sharing data and conversations. Incumbent on all of us to keep going.

 

Channel 4: Introduce vaccine passports to help the economy and boost uptake?
NZ: Looking at all options to open up economy and work with other countries to facilitate travel.

 

UK24: Misleading vaccine information in ethnic minorities communities. Why steps are being taken to stop these messages?
NZ: Working to take down disinformation. Important is to share real information. As part of G7 presidency, undertaking global campaign on vaccine information.

 

Monday 14 June


In today's Downing Street briefing, prime minister Boris Johnson was joined by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. 

Johnson:

  • We have wanted to make cautious and irreversible progress
  • We have one of the most open societies and economies in the world thanks to progress. Opening up over the last three steps has been accompanied by more infection and hospitalisation.
  • Everyday that goes by we are better able to live with the disease
  • 2 doses of the vaccine- very high degree of protection
  • There are millions of younger adults haven't had the jabs and some old people might still succumb
  • Delta variant spreading faster than we expected.
  • Average number of people admitted to hospital has increased 50% week on week.
  • Move forward on the 21st with the possibility that thousands more deaths would happen or we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks - it is sensible to wait a little longer. By Monday 19th July we will aim to double jab 2/3 of the population.
  • We will accelerate the second jabs for those under 40 so they get maximum protection as fast as possible - weddings can still go ahead with more than 30 guests, pilot events will still go ahead (eg matches and performances)
  • Then we will monitor the situation every day for two weeks – could unlock quicker but confident that it will be done in four weeks.
  • Professor Chris Whitty presented slides setting out which of the roadmap tests had been met. He explained that Infection rates are low but if they start doubling, things ramp up quickly. Increase in the new variant across the whole country. Variants of concern - delta variant going up exponentially. That is the reason why assessment of risk has shifted. Next four weeks will reduce what could become a very high peak

 

Questions from member of the public:

Do you have plans to prioritise university students so that they are fully vaccinated by September:
23/24 year olds will be able to come forward from tomorrow., we are going as fast as we can. By July 19th 2/3 of adults will have had two doses.
We will look at what we can do accelerate second doses.

 

Why can’t testing and vaccination status be used to open up for weddings
What we are saying - wedding can go ahead with more than 30 people. that is being lifted from June 21st. Hope that works for you.

 

Questions from the media

BBC: after this 4 week delay do you think that life will return to what looks like normal - going to office, taking off masks etc; will you extend this delay; when will all adults get their jabs? and then will kids get it?
Johnson: we are going to have to live with the virus and manage it as best we can. By July 19th we will have bult up wall of immunity. Based on the evidence i have now that we will be able to go forward with step four. That doesn't mean that there is a possibility of e.g. new variants that is far more dangerous - stuff we can't foresee.
Vallance: on the vaccines, take the w/c 19th all over 18s will have been offered a first vaccine. Key thing is safety. we know that the risks in term of physical disease in kids are much much lower than for adults. Don't want to do it unless it is safe. Reasons for vaccinating kids (but with caution) Those groups that are at high risk of getting covid; wider question is around the effect on kids education -multiple disruptions that might happen, long term risk of physical and mental ill health, priority now is getting through all adults down to 18.

 

ITV: support that you have in place starts to reduce. what’s the worst that can happen to the NHS?
Johnson: we aren't going backwards - businesses that are open can continue trading. We are giving all the support measures needed. Those businesses waiting for four more weeks I am confident that we will get there.
Whitty: whatever rate of increase we are seeing now would be significantly increased if we took the next step; across the whole system, no one thinks that the risk is gone after the next four weeks. Matter of balance. what is reasonable to do to avoid overwhelming of hospitals over the short term.
Vallance: this will be with us forever. If we didn’t have vaccine we would need to consider if we need more lockdowns but now we are in race with the virus and vaccines. That is what we need to do. The four week delay should reduce the peak by between 30 and 50%. It's not obvious that we get more gain if we go on longer than that. More doses, double dosing and school hols that should reduce the peak. There will be an increase but that's what happens

 

Tom Harwood GB news: We know that in the winter and late autumn these can spring up again; health sec has spoken about plan for booster jabs, when will we see the plan?
Johnson: irreversibility; of course we are seeing a surge now and we need to be realistic. We will have a booster programme for vaccins and we will set that out soon.
Astra for under 40s? balance is always the risk benefit. These are decisions for JCVI.

 

Daily Mail: are you confident that 19 July will be end of the matter (to scientists)
Johnson: on the basis of what we can see, confident that 19 July will be a terminal date. But that is on the basis of current evidence.

 

Financial Times: one areas of confusion is about summer holidays etc. Contradictory advice?
Johnson: follow the guidance.

 

Evening standard: vaccines are spectacularly good. lots of people argue that we need to let infections rise as long as people aren't dying/going to hospital. Also what’s happening in London?
Vallance: vaccines are effective, but if infections are huge, then people end up in hospital - if there was a large wave there would be a large number in hospital.
Whitty: London - great enthusiasm for vaccines, but they are behind by around 10% than other parts of the country, they are high but should be higher. Some of it is mechanistic. We need to concentrate on areas with lower rates.
Johnson: opening up everything on 19 July -I am aware of how difficult this is.

 

Thursday 27 May

The secretary of state for health, Matt Hancock was joined by Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

 

Matt Hancock:

  • latest data shows COVID-19 cases rising, yesterday we saw 3,542 cases - the highest since 12 April
  • the latest estimates are that more than half of new cases are the variant first identified in India, and it could be up to three quarters
  • surge testing and vaccines are taking place in hotspots
  • the latest ONS data shows that three out of our people have anti-COVID antibodies, and for the over-50s it is over 90%
  • he says it is estimated that the vaccination programme has now prevented 13,200 deaths and 39,700 hospitalisations
  • 500,000 people have signed up for the vaccine research registry - which means they are willing to take part in vaccine trials
  • the government has funded the expansion of an Oxford study Announced funding the first study to see if different vaccines can be mixed for different doses.

Slides:

  • decline in cases from a peak of 60,000 in May, but a suggestion of upward rise in cases over the last seven days
  • number of people in hospital with covid-19 has dropped rapidly and at this stage doesn’t appear to be rising
  • latest evidence shows that second dose of vaccine is really helping against variant first identified in India.

 

Questions:

Public:  With each new variant the effectiveness of new vaccines becomes less and less. So why is lockdown relaxation continuing when most of those who spread the virus have not yet had a single vaccination?
MH:  working as fast as they can to get people vaccinated. Monitoring new variants carefully. The effectiveness of the vaccine after two jabs is effectively the same against the Indian variant as it is against the Kent variant.
JH: vaccines are working against new variants - with studies showing the Pfizer jab to be only slightly less effective against the Kent variant than previous strains. AstraZeneca jab might be slightly less effective than that - but that having a second dose is key.
BBC: Can you still say it’s true you protected care homes from the start, did you tell Downing St people would be tested before being discharged?
MH: worked as hard as we could to protect people in care homes. Committed to building testing capacity to allow all patients being discharged into care homes, but takes time to build. Could only test everyone once we had testing capacity.
JH: Guidance is about ensuring infection control, need to be able to ensure patient doesn’t transmit after the day they are tested, so isolation and infection control is key. Evidence shows that transmission occurred with care workers traveling in and out of care homes as community transmission rose.

 

ITV: Did you tell Downing Street that everyone would be tested before discharging into care homes?
MH: committed to putting the policy in place, but it took time. They did not start with a testing system in place.

 

Sky: is it your biggest regret that people were sent back into care homes untested?
MH: My recollection is committed to delivering testing of people going into care homes from hospitals, then built capacity to test and delivered on the commitment.

 

Mirror: Why if there wasn’t the sufficient testing capacity did you sign off the discharge plan?
MH: worked to do everything we possibly could at the start of the pandemic including working to increase testing capacity. Took clinical advice on what to do. And they had to build testing capacity. That is what they did.
JH: One of the reasons for setting up SAGE sub group was to look at deaths in care homes. The evidence we have found is that discharge from hospitals resulted in tiny number of cases. Regular testing of staff has helped stop rise in cases in second wave.

 

The Times: Has SofS spoken to the PM about Dominic Cummings's accusations that he is a serial liar?
MH: Speak to the PM "all the time" and working "incredibly hard on getting this vaccine rollout as broad as possible". On the roadmap, he says as cases are starting to rise that is what we are focusing on.
JH: the roadmap works on four principles to go forward, it is on cases, hospitalisations, the effectiveness of the vaccine programme and then new variants. The data out today "looks quite worrying" in terms of cases and that infections are expected to rise further. @on the cusp’ as to whether step 4 can go ahead.

 

Manchester evening news: Testing of patients before discharge started in Manchester in March 2020 - a month before it became national policy. Why did it take so long to for the rest of the country to follow the NW? Can surge vaccination and other measures implemented in Bolton be extended to other parts of Manchester and the country if they see a rise in the India variant?
MH: Didn’t have testing capacity to put policy in place across the whole country. Had to build it and then put policy in place. Early signs in Bolton that cases are starting to fall. the measures introduced in Bolton could be a framework for how to deal with outbreaks, instead of lockdowns.
JH: There are still "focal points" of outbreaks are appearing - meaning that it is key for local areas to understand how the virus is spreading.

 

Other topics:

When will UK allow travel with vaccine passport and no PCR tests?

 

 

Wednesday 19 May

At today’s press conference, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England and Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive, UK Health Security Agency.

 

Matt Hancock:

  • hospitalisation and deaths remain low but must proceed with vigilance
  • early evidence suggests that the Indian variant passes on more easily than the Kent variant but increasingly confident that vaccines are effective against it
  • even more important that people get vaccinated
  • weekly case rate in Bolton is now 283 per 100,000 – doubled in the last week
  • 25 people in Bolton hospital with COVID – the majority of which are not vaccinated
  • nearly 90% have not yet had two vaccines – shows the importance of getting vaccinated twice
  • now able to use mobility data (shows travel patterns) to see where virus is at risk of spreading and use waste water to spot the virus and identify communities where there is spread
  • 7/10 adults have no had their first dose, almost 4/10 have had their second dose
  • estimates that decision have 12 weeks between doses has saved 12,000
  • new clinical trial to look at use of current COVID vaccines as booster vaccines – first clinical study in the world to look at booster jabs
  • donated over half a billion pounds to COVAX, 400m AZ vaccine doses donated to 160 countries.

 

Jonathan Van-Tam presented the slides:

  • seven-day average of 2,270 cases per day
  • 939 people in hospital with COVID-19 – drop of 17.17% in the last week
  • seven day average of 8 deaths per day
  • almost 37m people have received first dose and around 20m having received second dose
  • need to now close the gap and increase second doses to 37 million.

 

Health related questions:

 

Public: How long will vaccination protection last and when will we need a booster?
JVT: Don’t yet know. Data shows antibodies existing for at least 6 months (antibodies not the totally of protection). Will watch vigilantly.

 

Public: Why aren’t pregnant people prioritised over others for the vaccine?
JH: JCVI have looked at the evidence and appropriate for pregnant people with no underlying conditions to be called in by age group.

 

BBC: Roadmap? Current assessment of how fast Indian variant is spreading?
MH: Step 4 of the roadmap will not take place earlier than 21 June and decision will be made on 14 June.
JVT: Scientists are sure variant from India is more transmissible. Data will begin to firm up some time next week.

 

ITV: Variant still spreading despite surge testing – lead to more hospitalisations and deaths?
MH: Not necessarily, surge testing worked in reducing spread of South African variant in S London. ‘We are masters of our fate’
JVT: Vaccines on their own will need support from people being cautious and test, trace and isolate. Remember it takes 21 days for protection from first dose.

 

The Sun: What counts as an ‘extreme reason’ to visit an amber list country? Government been unclear on travel advice? Is rate of increase in hospitalisation in Bolton of concern?
MH: Have been clear – you should not go to an amber or red list country for a holiday, only visit in exceptional circumstances e.g. visiting very ill family member. Government has been consistent in messaging – visiting amber list countries in exceptional circumstances needs three tests and quarantine.
JH: Change in numbers is small, no sharp rises but will keep monitoring.

 

The Guardian: Prudent to wait to remove shield of restrictions (masks and social distancing) until all adults are protected with the vaccine?
MH: Will set out decision on 14 June. Vast majority of cases are amongst younger groups, unvaccinated people.
JVT: Advise people in areas such as Bolton to be cautious.

 

Independent: Why aren’t people who have been fully vaccinated exempted from the traffic light system?
MH: Higher incidences in mainland Europe.
JVT: Vaccine protection varies e.g. by age, by immune systems e.g. chronic illnesses.
JH: Still a lot to learn on variants.

Other topics:

  • International aid

 

Friday 14 May

In today’s press conference, the prime minister was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer England

 

Prime Minister (transcript): 

  • Indian variant is more transmissible – if significantly more so, we will have to make tough choices
  • no evidence that this variant means vaccines are less effective against illness or hospitalisation
  • will be accelerating remaining second doses to over 50s and people clinically vulnerable – they will now get it eight weeks after first dose – NHS will be in touch
  • at this stage there is no evidence of increased cases putting more pressure on the NHS – even in Bolton
  • hospitalisations nationally remain at lowest levels since last summer
  • will proceed with plan to move to step 3 on Monday
  • could pose a disruption to progress and make it more difficult to move to step 4 in June
  • urge everyone to exercise caution
  • target action in Bolton and Blackburn to accelerate vaccine take up
    • army on sight handing out tests
    • longer opening hours at vaccination sites
  • get a vaccine if eligible
  • clear we will have to live with this new variant.

 

Chris Whitty presented the slides:

  • number of people testing positive - the most recent seven-day average is 2,255 cases.
  • steady decrease in the numbers of COVID patients in hospital
  • number of deaths steadily decreasing
  • the weekly number of sequenced cases of the Indian variant in England is on a steady upward curve
  • confidence the Indian variant is more transmissible than the UK variant.
  • cases in Bolton going up significantly over the past few weeks, especially in the over 60s
  • Greater Manchester area, at this stage isn’t a significant uptick in people being admitted to hospital, but it is early days – need to see what happens over next two-three weeks.

 

Questions:

Public: If variants result in hospitalisations, how soon would you reintroduce restrictions?
PM: As soon as we saw there was a risk of hospitalisations risking overwhelming the NHS we would reintroduce restrictions immediately.

 

BBC: How likely is it that final unlocking will go ahead on 21 June? Should all those over 18 in hotspots have access to vaccine?
PM: At this stage can’t say for certain.
Whitty: If we took vaccine away from groups in late 30s and gave to 18 plus, this could lead to net disadvantage – continue to prioritise those most at risk

 

Sky: Are you meeting your own tests? (test 4 on variants of concern) Should you lock down regionally?  Should we have closed borders earlier?
PM: we are concerned about this variant that's the purpose, we're serving notice, it may cause disruption to our attempts to continue down the roadmap. But they don't change the assessment of step three... the overall numbers across the country remain low and quite flat. What we're saying is that the public need to be aware of this variant.
Whitty: We expect over time this variant will overtake and come to dominate in the UK, in the way that BII7 took over.

 

Other topics:

  • Should people travel between areas on Monday
  • Should Brits travel abroad and risk importing new variants

 

Monday 10 May

In today’s press conference, the prime Minister was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer England and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific advisor. The government has updated guidance on (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do along with guidance on Meeting friends and family (COVID-19).

 

Prime minister:

  • More than two-thirds of adults have received their first dose, and more than one-third (18m) having received their second dose.
  • Have met the four tests for further easing of lockdown in England with deaths and hospitalisations at the lowest levels since July.
  • Moving to step 3 of the roadmap from 17 May:
    • rule of six indoors
    • limit of 30 people outdoors
    • everyone will be able to travel within Britain and stay overnight (including school trips).
    • no longer require face masks in class rooms.
    • increasing number of named visitors for care home residents from two to five.
  • Remain on track for step 4 on 21 June.
  • Looking at what role, if any, for COVID-19 certification.
  • Updating guidance on close contact for friends and family – but cannot throw caution to the wind
  • Urge you to think about vulnerability of loved ones.
  • Outdoors is always safer than indoors.
  • Keep getting tested regularly, even without symptoms.
  • Continue to follow social distancing when no with friends and families including work places, pubs, restaurants etc.
  • No evidence yet that new strains are vaccine resistant but must remain vigilant.
  • Mental Health Awareness Week – check in on friends and family or seek support
  • Protect gains by exercising caution and common sense.

 

Chris Whitty presented the slides:

  • Vaccine deployment has been successful.
  • Evidence continues to show that vaccines are effective in reducing deaths and hospitalisation, with estimates that one dose results in:
    • 55-70% reduction in symptomatic disease
    • 75-85% reduction in hospitalisation
    • 75-80% reduction in deaths
  • Risk of significant spread in unvaccinated younger age groups
  • Infection rates do not risk surge in hospitalisations
  • Concerns for the variant from India

 

Questions:

Public: What proportion of cases are from variants of concern (other than the Kent variant)?
CW: Less than 5% - most relatively stable, but variant from India appears to be increasing.

 

BBC: Possible to bring forward next stage?
PM: Must proceed cautiously but hopefully irreversibly. Guided by the data and given time to see effect of each step.

 

ITV: Expect people to be extremely cautious on who they hug? Scrap social distancing after June 21?
PM: Basic common sense. Looks as though we may be able to dispense with the 1m+ rule – not yet decided.
PV: Still will be behaviours that people will demonstrate. Pre pandemic, adults had 11 contacts on average, now down to 4.

 

Times Radio: How long will working from home guidance last?
PM: More guidance later this month, optimistic that we will be closer back to normality but people will have to exercise own judgement.

 

Daily Mail: Could this potentially be the last lockdown barring any new variant?
PV: Balance between opening up and enough people being vaccinated. Things are pointing in the right direction.

 

Other topics:

  • Teachers
  • Scottish independence
  • Voter ID

Wednesday 28 April

At today’s press conference Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, and Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England.

 

Matt Hancock:

  • outlined support the UK is providing to India to battle the COVID-19 crisis
  • first concrete data showing how much vaccine reduces transmission – up to 50% less likely to pass on the disease to someone in the household
  • vaccines reduce catching COVID-19 by two-thirds, hospitalisation by four-fifths, and dying by 85%
  • overall effectiveness of the programme comes from how effective the vaccine is and how many people get the jab
  • uptake of the vaccine in the over 50s is over 95%
  • anyone 42 or older can get the jab
  • have been working on a programme of booster shots - secured an additional 60m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for booster shots.

 

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam presented the slides:

  • currently low number of cases when compared to September last year
  • 1,634 people are in hospital with COVID-19
  • seven-day average is 22 deaths per day
  • most of the steady decline in cases have been down to the lockdown – the vaccine has helped in the later stages and has reduced deaths in the elderly
  • HOSTED study shows a reduction in household transmission after one dose of a vaccine:
    • AZ vaccine 21-52% less likely to pass on COVID-19
    • Pfizer 38-58% less likely to pass on COVID-19
    • Estimates are likely conservative.

 

Dr Nikki Kanani:

  • 3.3m people have had their first or second dose in the last week
  • 28.5m have had their first dose and 11.4m have had second dose – nearly two-thirds of the adult population in England
  • must still follow social distancing guidance.

 

Health related questions:

Public: Taking relatives outside care homes?
MH: Working on this to ensure people can safely leave a care home and return without bringing the virus back.
JVT: Need further data to understand whether vaccines work as well in the extremely frail elderly and in patients who are clinically vulnerable.

 

Public: Ensuring UK remains a powerhouse for research, innovation and development?
JVT: Thanks to frontline clinicians running trials while dealing with an appalling workload.

 

Channel 4: Reconsidering a Britain first approach to vaccines and provide vaccines to India?
MH: Supporting India in any way we can, no excess doses in the UK at the moment. Providing AZ vaccine at cost.

 

LBC: What does data show on vaccines on variants? How close are we to herd immunity?
JVT: Will be good and bad pressures on R in the next few weeks. Easing of lockdown will likely increase R. Expect vaccine rollout will put downward pressure on R. Current data has largely been measured against the dominant Kent variant in the UK. Test vaccines against variants either by wide circulation of the variant or neutralisation studies – do see that the level of neutralisation fall against other variants but uncertain. Why we may need to revaccinate in the future, possibly with variant vaccines.

 

The Times: Will new Pfizer vaccines be tweaked against new variants? If not, given that we have enough vaccines for three times our population, why are we not giving them to India? Any legal limits on social restrictions after the date they’re expected to be lifted?
MH: India’s vaccination programme reliant on AZ vaccine. No longer look at cases as an inevitable precursor to hospitalisations and deaths, will need to live with COVID like we do the flu.
JVT: Study called COVBOOST will be looking at receiving a different vaccine from the first and second dose for the booster. Anticipating bumpiness in autumn and winter, but impossible to say.

 

Mirror: Public inquiry? What should it look at?
MH: Will be time for an inquiry which should cover everything. Important that policy makers are constantly learning.
JVT: Public inquiry is important but please not now. We are far too busy. Hope the inquiry will focus on the amazing success of the vaccine procurement and delivery and the unsung heroes at the local level.

 

PA: Why can’t we relax social distancing for those who have had both doses of the vaccine (like in the US)?
MH: Taken the decision to move together. In the autumn, moved at different rates in different areas which had advantages and disadvantages.
JVT: People can meet soon but not quite now.
NK: Vaccine programme has always talked about not leaving people behind. None of us are protected until all of us are protected.

 

Other topics:

  • Life sciences
  • Ministerial code/PM flat refurbishment funding/Electoral College
  • Funerals
  • International travel

 

 

Wednesday 21 April

Boris Johnson was joined by Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Prime minister:

  • 1 in 5 adults have had a second dose of the vaccine
  • 33m people have received their first dose
  • With record numbers around the world, cannot delude ourselves that COVID has gone away
  • Nothing currently suggests need to deviate from the roadmap
  • Scientific view is that there will be another wave this year – must learn to live with COVID
  • New antivirals taskforce to search for the most promising new medicines – possibility of a tablet to stop the virus in a person who has tested positive
  • Hands, face, space

 

Dr Nikki Kanani (slides are here):

  • 10.4m people are ‘fully protected’ from the virus with a second dose
  • Thanks to all staff and volunteers in delivering vaccination programme
  • Not too late to change your mind to come forward for a vaccination – it is safe
  • Significant progress in boosting uptake amongst ethnic minority communities

 

Health related questions from the media:

Public: Data on hospitalisations and deaths of people who have received the vaccine?
PM: Data not yet available

ITV: Two specific antivirals in mind already or just hugely ambitious?
NK: NHS has been working internationally to identify effective treatment and over 1m people have participated in trials. 22,000 lives have been saved with dexamethasone. Currently looking at other treatments.

Channel 5: COVID passports?
PM: Looking at ways to use people’s evidence of COVID status to open up more difficult things. Not focusing exclusively on vaccines. It may very well be useful but no need to think about for 17 May.

Guardian: Update on Jansen vaccines?
NK: Would wait for MHRA approval.

 

Monday 19 April

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock gave a statement on COVID-19 to the House this afternoon.

 

Matt Hancock:

  • Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are back to the level they were at in September. There are now 2,186 people in hospital with COVID-19. The average number of daily deaths is 25.
  • The NHS is turning to tackle the COVID-19 backlog.
  • On track to offer vaccine to all adults by the end of July.
  • Uptake of the vaccine is 94% for over 50s, 98% of people aged between 70 and 84 have COVID-19 antibodies.
  • Public Health England estimate that vaccination programme has prevented up to 10,000 deaths from COVID-19.
  • Second doses give to over 10 million people.
  • Vaccination rate among care home staff is currently below 80% in over half of all LA areas. Launched a consultation into whether only vaccinated workers should be deployed to care for older adults unless they have a medical exemption.
  • Ramping up plans for booster shots with enough doses to begin later this year to protect against new variants.
  • Two new variants: 557 cases of South African variant, 103 cases of Indian variant – majority have links to international travel and have been picked up at the border. Adding India to the red list from 4am on Friday.
  • Over 10 billionn items of PPE have been distributed since Feb 2020 to health and care workers.
  • Prof Lucy Chappell appointed as chief scientific adviser to Department Health and Social Care.
  • Must hold our nerve, follow the rules while vaccinators do their vital work.

 

Jonathan Ashworth:

  • Uptake levels of vaccines are too low in some minority ethnic communities. Will the the secretary of state provide extra resources to encourage take up?
  • Mandating vaccines has proved counterproductive. Why will this be any different for social care workers?
  • How do we avoid SAGE’s modelled third wave this summer?
  • Will he fix sick pay?
  • Vaccine passports?
  • NHS payday financing scheme? Links to Topwood?

 

Matt Hancock:

  • Local NHS employers are best placed to decide whether to take up pay flexibilities.
  • Surgeons need Hep B vaccines, vaccinations tied to work has a long standing precedence.

 

Jeremy Hunt: NHS waiting lists have risen to nearly 5m people – have had capacity problems for some time. Does he agree with the health think tanks letter calling for independent workforce projections, strongly supported by the select committee and Academy of Royal Colleges?

Matt Hancock: Record number of doctors and nurses. Need to make sure we drive this project of 50,000 more nurses.

 

Wednesday 7 April

Today's JCVI/MHRA press conference was led by It was led by Jonathan Van Tam who was joined by Professor June Raine (MHRA), Sir Munir Pirmohamed (Commission on human medicines) and Professor Wei Shen Lim (JCVI).

 

JVT opening remarks: This is a course correction to the UK programme, keep this in context

Prof Raine: Over 20m have been given vaccine, best way to protect people, no effective medicine without risk
These vaccines are complex – they do clinical trials but then they need data when it rolls out. Public safety is at the forefront and rigorous scientific review is being done.

  • Benefits outweigh the risks – by 31 March only 79 cases reported, 19 have died, 3 of those were under 30. 51 women and 28 men.
  • Risks are more finely balanced for younger people.
  • Info will be communicated to healthcare professionals etc on how to how to minimise risks. There will be info for the public, to look out for and prompt medical advice.
  • Pregnant women should continue to discuss whether the benefits outweigh the risks
  • For those with certain blood disorders – discuss whether benefits outweigh risks
  • Anyone who experiences cerebral or other major blood clots should not have the 2nd dose
  • COVID-19 itself causes clotting and lowered platelets. Risk of clots is higher with COVID-19 than the vaccine
  • Link between vaccine and blood clots occurring together with lower platelets is getting firmer but absolute proof needs extensive scientific work
  • Those who have received their first dose of AZ should continue to be offered it for their second dose.  
  • Those 18-30 should be offered an alternative.
  • Supplies – JVT suggested that this change in policy should not affect the roll of the vaccine in the UK. Colleagues in the NHS are assured that because of our supply situation in relation to alternative vaccines, any impact should be negligible
  • JVT – this is a course correction. It’s normal, it’s business as usual - if you sail a massive liner across the Atlantic, then it's not reasonable that you will; need to make a alteration during that crossing. The NHS is all over this and knows what it’s doing.

 

Questions from the media:

BBC: worried that change of course might damage vaccine confidence in the young especially? be specific on the risks?
JVT: we don't want this to result in a loss of confidence and remain important that people come back for their second dose - all adults need to come forward when they are offered it. Benefit of vaccination is v high in older people, but there is still a benefit in younger people of them being vaccinated - where we have an alternative vaccine it would be preferable to offer an alternative just on the side of safety.

 

ITV:  what would you say to a 31 year old?
Vaccine system needs to be fair and transparent - we have set out clearly what the risks are. For someone who is 32/32 they need to make their own decision, but the balance is in favour of them being vaccinated

 

Sky: some countries say not under 55 or 60 - are they being over cautious?
Every country needs to make their own decision about their population - size of waves, risk of further waves, amount of vaccine, how well it is being delivered etc.

 

Sun: Link is firming up? Does the data suggest that there is a link? Expecting the Jansen jab to arrive in summer - is there potentially a good news story for young people?
Alternative right now in deployment is Pfizer, and Moderna from mid-April in England. Common knowledge that the UK has placed orders with Jansen - don’t have certainty on the timing yet could be summer - must be part of in the mix for solutions for vaccine requirements going forwards

 

The Times: theory of how this reaction might be triggered?
Not sure - scientific work needs to happen to know.

 

Express: biological reasons for women being at more risk than men? why? yellow card - other risks that have been picked up?
We don't know yet if there is a gender predilection. Yellow card - we publish this every week; encourage everyone to report to us etc.

 

Monday 5 April

At today’s press conference, Boris Johnson was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser. The prime minister announced the next steps to easing lockdown restrictions. The government has updated guidance on Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do.

 

Prime minister:

  • More than 31m people vaccinated
  • From Monday 12 April, we will move to step 2 of the roadmaps, reopening:
    • Shops
    • Gyms
    • Outdoor hospitality
    • Zoos
    • Personal care services, inc. hairdressers
    • Holiday campsites
  • Increasing number of visitors to care homes to 2
  • Changes are fully justified by the data and are meeting the four tests for easing lockdown
  • We cannot be complacent
  • Still do not know how strong the vaccine shield will be when cases begin to rise – as they will
  • Please get the second dose when your turn comes and use the NHS test even if you do not feel ill (one in three people with the virus do no show any symptoms)
  • Publishing the early thinking on the four reviews on major events, social distancing, covid certificates and international travel
  • Nothing in present data suggests we need to deviate from the road map
  • Twice weekly rapid testing available to everyone in England

 

Chris Whitty presented the slides:

  • Vaccines are being rolled out at a remarkable rate and continue to do so with 31m having had their first dose and over 5.4m have had their second dose.
  • Significant reduction in people with symptomatic disease and hospitalisation from the first dose – vaccines are highly effective but not completely effective.
  • Number of people in hospital with COVID-19 have been falling steadily, with number of deaths averaging 47 deaths a day (down from a peak of 1,300).
  • Expect variants of concern which may escape the vaccine but high degree of confidence in ability to test for variants.

 

Questions:

Public: When will care home residents be able to visit family?
PM: Must do everything possible to protect them, a review is currently being undertaken.

 

Public: Could COVID-19 mutate and affect children? Are scientists looking at vaccines for children?
PV: No evidence that the virus will mutate to effect children, expect virus to mutate over time and therefore may be necessary to update the vaccine every year or so. Looking at vaccines for children.
CW: Children are relatively unaffected therefore would want to be confident vaccines are safe for them.

 

BBC: Can you guarantee a vote on vaccine passports? When do you think people can book a foreign holiday?
PM: On ‘COVID status certification’, no question for producing this for going to the shops or pub garden on Monday. Not planning this for step 3. Three ways for possible COVID certification: antibodies, vaccine status, negative test. Must be careful in handling this in not starting a system that is discriminatory. Pilot events in the next few weeks.  On international travel, hopeful for 17 May but do not what to give hostages to fortune and underestimate difficulties. Global Travel Taskforce will report later this week.

 

ITV: Low adherence to Test, Trace and Isolate?
PM: Testing has been a massive advantage to this country.
PV: Lateral flow tests area are useful in picking up people who would not otherwise be picked up.

 

Sky: Does ‘freedom’ include twice weekly testing and COVID certificates? Can we learn from Chile which has high vaccination rates but has recently closed borders?
PM: A great deal depends on vaccine roll out and satisfying the four tests.
CW: Chile and Israel provide important examples. Do not yet know reasons for different outcomes. Assumption that you vaccinate lots of people and the problem goes away – Chile provides a good corrective to this.

 

The I: Did you envision that we would still be the pandemic today one year ago?
PM: Amazed that science has produced so many vaccines.
CW: Said at the time that the virus would be with us for the foreseeable future, but science will de-risk it over time.
PV: Remarkable scientific triumph of vaccines.

 

The Express: When will vaccinated people be able to hug friends and family? Is COVID certificates ‘un-British’?
PV: Roadmap lays out steps. Will not know impact of easing restrictions yet.
PM: Principle of requiring COVID certificates can be a sensible but we are some way off.

 

Other topics:

  • Aviation sector
  • Economic support for London

Monday 29 March

In today’s press conference, Boris Johnson was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser.

 

Prime minister (full statement here):

  • Must proceed with caution
  • Yesterday recorded lowest number of new infections for six months
  • But wave is still raising across the Channel
  • Inevitable as we advance on this roadmap that there will be more infections, and unavoidably more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths
  • Vaccinated more than 30m adults In the UK
  • April will be 'second dose month'
  • Remember that outdoors is generally much safer than indoors

 

Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance presented the slides:  

  • No. of people with COVID-19 in hospital is continuing to fall
  • No. of people having their vaccine is increasing
  • Majority of transmissions are among the unvaccinated young people
  • Inevitable that cases will rise as we unlock
  • Opening up schools has seen a flattening or slight uptick in cases in people of school age while there has been a decrease in cases among older age groups
  • Vaccines are very effective in reducing hospitalisations but they are not 100% effective – need to be cautious

 

Health related questions:

Public: exemptions on international travel to see family?
PM: subject to the same rules, will be reporting on Global Travel Taskforce recommendations on 5 April

 

Public: will second doses of vaccine be impacted by supply?
PM: at the moment, no foreseen issues. April will be second dose month.

 

BBC: contradiction of easing restrictions but needing to be cautious? Concerns about wave in Europe?
PM: will be saying more ahead of each step.
PV: five week gap allows data to be assessed in the fourth week (the earliest possible), everything seems to be moving in the right direction but will need to for a formal analysis next week.
CW: always concerned about any areas with high cases, bigger risk is variants of concern where vaccine might be less effective.

 

ITV: concerns that public will take easing of restrictions too far? Concerns that today’s relaxations will cause another uptick? How well are we protected by the vaccine?
PM: do not yet how robust our defences against another wave are – important people maintain discipline.
CW: high likelihood of an uptick but was anticipated, risk of transmission is massively lower if they stay outside.

 

Sky: concerns that people will stop listening? Are we really at risk of third wave?
PM: people understand the need for caution.
CW: wall against COVID will be stronger with a second dose of the vaccine but it is not a complete wall. Always people who choose not be vaccinated. This is a slow unlocking.

 

Daily Mail: why should people who have had the vaccine not hug their grandchildren? Why can we not unlock now when we did last year with the same rates?
CW: increasing levels of protection with two doses, keep rates down will provide more protection. No complete protection.

 

Evening Standard: Can you rule out another full lockdown? Concerns about low uptake of the vaccine in care home staff?
PM: Yes, if everyone continues to obeys the guidance and if the vaccine roll out continues and is proven effective. Hopeful – nothing in the data currently suggests need to deviate from path.
CW: Important to stress that vaccine will protect you and your family, misinformation about vaccine – key to go to reliable sources (compared to the risk from COVID, the risk from vaccines is much smaller), people who are looking after vulnerable people have a professional responsibility to protect them.

 

Other topics:

  • Policing restriction breaches
  • Travel red list

 

 

Tuesday 23 March

The prime minister delivered the Downing Street coronavirus briefing on the one year anniversary of the first national lockdown. He was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser.

The prime minister started by committing to build a memorial to all those who have died. He says we are on track to meet the target of vaccinating all adults by July noting that 30 million doses of the vaccine have been administered and finishes saying that we "will meet our targets" and that lockdown will be eased "irreversibly".


Professor Chris Whitty:

Took us through the slides:

  • Numbers of people testing positive continuing to fall, but levelling off
  • Number of people in hospital with COVID has come right down and is continuing to fall
  • Number of deaths registered weekly in the UK continues to fall
  • The vaccine programme continues to be very important for making sure that as new surges happen, the amount of vaccinated people will help to significantly reduce the ratio of those who catch the disease to the number of people who die from it.

 

Questions:

Public: How will  the UK deal with the third wave in Europe?
PM: UK has very tough measures at our borders already, including tests, passenger locator forms, £2,000 fines, quarantines etc." Won’t rule out further measures, "we keep all these measures under review."

 

Public: How long do antibodies last for? Does it mean that vulnerable groups vaccinated first will need to be prioritised for a second vaccination cycle before young people have even had their first jab.
Sir Patrick: in general antibody levels are ‘holding up’ but we don't know exactly how long because obviously people haven't been vaccinated for a very long period. So you may see some slight decline. There will be a need to think about booster jabs in the autumn.


BBC:
If there’s one thing you wish you’d done differently, what would it be?
PM: There are probably many things we wished we'd known and done differently in retrospect. We were fighting an unknown disease. The single biggest false assumption was about asymptomatic transmission.
Sir Patrick: I wish we knew then what we know now. We've learned so much. The one thing that would have been really important early on was to have better data. That would have required testing to be up and running early on. We simply didn't have it then.
Professor Whitty: It wasn't until people got into hospital and were dying that we had a grip on how fast things were moving. "We had a lack of understanding of how widespread the virus was in Europe.

 

ITV: Should we have locked down sooner?
PM: No good outcomes either way, as I think all our viewers understand, all these consequences are very, very tough for people. And all I can say is we took all the decisions with the interests of the British people.

 

Sky: What the main challenges will be and whether COVID’s legacy will last a lifetime?
PM: This is something we will remember and be dealing with in different ways for as long as I live.
Professor Whitty: COVID will be with us for the foreseeable future. Will be able to bring it down to manageable levels, but it isn’t going away. there will be a "delayed" negative impact on other parts of the NHS and that it has highlighted deprivation. Encourages people to take up screening appointments.

 

Telegraph: Should the UK government’s policy objective be to eradicate COVID or bring down to lowest possible levels
PM: eradication doesn’t make sense in a globalised economy, but should be aiming to bring cases right down.
Professor Whitty: Have only achieved eradication of one disease (smallpox) over hundreds of years. Have very good vaccines, and good tests, would strongly encourage people to get tested.
Sir Patrick: There will be recurrances, particularly over winter. Chances of zero covid very low.

 

Politico:  Is there a plan to share AZ vaccine supplies with the EU?
PM: Vaccines are produced by international cooperation. The UK will continue to work with international partners on the rollout. The UK does not believe in blockades. It would never engage in them. He is "encouraged" by some of the things he has heard from Europe on this topic.
Professor Whitty: It is essential that scientists collaborate. This should be seen as an international issue. There is no point in one country being immunised on its own. We need the whole planet to be inoculated. We need an international approach.

 

Thursday 18 March

The prime minister was  joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Dr June Raine of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in today’s press conference which focused on the disproved link between the AZ vaccine and blood clots and also on vaccine supply.  

 

Prime minister:

  • MHRA confirm benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any risks. People should continue to get the vaccine.
  • European Medicines Agency has said the AZ vaccine is safe and effective vaccine.
  • PHE has said a single either vaccine gives 60% protection against getting covid, 80% protection from hospitalisation and reduces death by 85%.
  • PM is getting the Oxford AZ vaccine tomorrow.
  • In the short term getting less vaccines than planned – less in April than in March but more than in Feb. Current supply will still allow targets to be met. Second doses within the 12 week window will be available. Every adult will be offered a first dose by end of July.
  • No change to the next steps of the roadmap.

 

Dr June Raine:

  • The MHRA has carried out robust safety vigilance alongside the rollout of the vaccines.
  • Have done a rigorous scientific review of the large amounts of data – no difference in risk of blood clots with or without the vaccine.
  • Continue to investigate cases as a precaution.
  • Advise anyone with a headache more than 4 days after receiving the vaccine or bruising beyond the injection site to seek medical advice.
  • Benefits firmly remain to outweigh the risks.
  • Everyone should report any side effects of the coronavirus virus through the Yellow Card scheme.

 

Health related questions:

Public: Is the UK able to provide data to alleviate concerns about blood clots and AZ?
JR: Yes. Report will communicate all the data and stats around blood clots.
CW: All medicines have risks, like aspirin. Still in a situation where the ONS think 1 in 270 people have got COVID. Still a common and dangerous disease.

 

Public: Threat of EU blocking export of vaccines?
PM: People should be under no misapprehensions and second doses will be available. These vaccines are a multinational effort, produced as a result of an multinational cooperation. We do not have export bans on exporting vaccines.

 

BBC: Is there a danger that unfounded concerns of the AZ vaccine would put people off? How important is it that the under 50s get immunised as soon as possible.
PM: Medical professionals view this as safe and has been confirmed by the EMA.
CW: Overwhelming professional view is that these vaccines are highly effective and very safe relative to the risk of infection. Clear that the British public have understood this with high uptake. 99% of people who died were over 50 or with pre-existing health conditions and therefore were a vaccine priority. The higher the proportion of the population is vaccinated, the lower the risk to everybody.

 

ITV: No change to the roadmap. Does this vaccine supply issue mean we will fail the first test set out for easing the roadmap?
PM: No, will be able to meet the targets.

 

Times Radio: Are surplus vaccines banned from being administered to under 50s at vaccination sites? Is India not showing vaccine nationalism in stopping exports?
CW: NHS has been clear that the nine groups should be prioritised. Must prioritise not leaving anyone behind. The key priority is to find all the people not yet given the opportunity to be vaccinated in the high risk groups.
PM: India has not banned export. There is a delay caused by technical reasons.

 

The Times: How confident that we can ease lockdown on 12 April?
CW: Expecting that schools going back will put some pressure on R. Roadmap was planned with that possibility in mind. Not yet at the point where we can see the full impact of schools being open. Will need to look at data when it comes in. Important to stick to the ‘data, not dates’ approach.

 

The Express: Any evidence that the suspension of the AZ vaccine has had any impact here on uptake?
CW: Anecdotal reports of people not turning up after news on AZ in Europe. Hope they will be reassured by the EMA, WHO, and health professionals. Numbers were very small. Record numbers have been going through.

 

Other topics:

  • Asylum seekers
  • Nicola Sturgeon
  • Cross border travel to Scotland


Wednesday 17 March

Matt Hancock was joined by Professor Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, and Dr Mary Ramsey, head of immunisation at Public Health England (PHE).

Key points from the briefing came in the questions, with Hancock assuring people that the UK was still on track to vaccinate all adults by July, when asked about the letter from NHS England about vaccine supply. When asked about the improving data picture JVT urged people to ‘hold the line’ and not assume that once they have been vaccinated it is safe to meet others.

Slides and datasets.

 

Hancock’s update:

  • Delivered more than half a million (529,119) vaccinations yesterday and 25million people have had the first dose
  • He highlighted the increase in number of people who have COVID antibodies over time
  • Deaths down by over 1/3 in the last week
  • Protection against hospitalisation is around 80%
  • Vaccine offers protection to you and those around you
  • If you live with someone who has been vaccinated have a 30% less chance of catching coronavirus yourself
  • Extending the offer to all people aged 50 and above – NHS will contact you
  • focus will be on getting first doses to all those in priority groups one to nine - over 50s and those with underlying conditions between 16 and 64 - by 15 April.

 

Dr Mary Ramsey:

  • PHE is publishing an update to its analysis of the impact vaccinations.
  • 60% reduction in your chance of catching COVID-19 if you are over 70 and have been vaccinated.
  • If you get COVID-19, the chance of going to hospital is reduced by a further 40% once vaccinated
  • combining the figures, that means the vaccination programme is protecting 80% of the people in that age group.
  • the new figures also show that people who have been vaccinated are less likely to pass on the infection. So it is reducing transmission

 

Jonathan Van-Tam:

  • Recent concerns in Europe about the AstraZeneca vaccine causing blood clots – there is a lot of work going on to address these concerns, and there is a lot of evidence emerging now that there is no increased risk.
  • He says he expects the UK and EU regulators to come to the same conclusion.

 

Questions

BBC: A NHS letter which warns of a "significant" reduction in vaccine supply and to stop taking appointments in April. She asks if Mr Hancock can explain this? And what does he make of comments from EU on possibly stopping vaccine exports?
Hancock: over-50s have been invited for jabs and then we are going to really focus on getting the vaccine those who are really vulnerable. Vaccine supply is always lumpy and regularly send letters to those delivering vaccines with updates on supply. UK is on track to offer vaccines to everyone in priority groups 1-9 by April 15.

Supply from EU – work with European colleagues all the time. Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine was funded by UK government. Helped set up supply chain in EU. Vaccine is provided at cost around the world and legally signed a contract of delivery of first 100million doses in the UK.

 

ITV: Dominic Cummings seems to think your department is to blame for the biggest failure and not for the success of the vaccine roll out.
Hancock: The vaccine rollout has been a huge team effort. It's taken an awful amount of people to make it happen. “Obviously my department, the vaccines taskforce, the NHS, who has led the way in terms of delivery.”

 

Daily Mail: When will the over 50s get their jabs?
Hancock: The letter is a normal operational note. *Laura Keunssberg is now reporting that the issue is that fewer Astra Zeneca vaccines are available than expected and that this letter is not just a standard one like others than have been written in course of vaccine programme*. There is enough supply and have NHS across the UK ready to deliver to all over-50s by mid-April. Committed to all adults getting the vaccine by end of July and on track to deliver on that commitment.

 

The Guardian: Should we have a lessons learned public inquiry now?
Hancock: lessons are being learnt all the time.
JVT: Timing is for politicians. For me personally it would be an unwelcome distraction at this stage. I’m sure lessons will be learnt in due course.

 

Bloomberg: Is there any scope to bring forward dates in roadmap?
People need to remember that it takes 21 days or more for vaccine to be effective. Vaccine effectiveness continues to increase after 21 days. Not protected moment you’ve had the first dose.

 

Monday 8 March

The prime minister, Boris Johnson was joined by Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer.

The PM started by thanking teachers and parents and commits to a programme for national recovery to help children catch up with lost learning. He says it is the first step on "the road to freedom" and that "today's return to schools will of course have an impact on the spread of the virus" and repeats that the timing of next steps will be decided by the data.

 

Dr Jenny Harries took us through the slides and datasets

  • Number of people testing positive – 7 day average 5,889
  • Not falling uniformly across the country
  • Rate now back where it was at the end of September – but possible another wave of infection could take off – now is not the time to relax
  • Number of people in hospital is falling but is still high
  • 7 day average deaths down to 206 deaths a day

 

Questions

Mostly focused on schools and whether there would be a surge in infections which could mean schools have to close again. There were also a number of questions about Megan and Harry’s interview with Oprah.

 

BBC: Now schools have reopened do you accept infection rates will rise?
PM: Think we can do it now because of vaccinating groups 1-4. Will continue to be driven by data.
JH: Do expect there to be an impact on R, but education is of cricial public health importance

 

ITV: Will you consider speeding up the roadmap?
PM: Have to be driven by data and look at rates of infection – will continue to take a cautious approach.
JH: There are two-week lags between infection and hospitalisation and hospitalisation and death so the five week gap between each stage is crucial to judge the impact of each measure.

 

LBC: Financial support for self-isolation
PM: Extra money is going to councils - £170m – that’s what he was alluding to when he said previously there was more to come from the chancellor.

 

Metro: Is the pay increase sufficinet reward for nurses steering the country out of COVID-19?  
PM: What nurses say they want is more nurses. The government is hiring 10,000 more boosting the recruitment drive will be key and the extra investment going into the NHS will help.

 

Friday 5 March

Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care was joined by Dr Susan Hopkins.

The press conference covered: new evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine, an update on cases of Brazilian variant, and extra funding to support mental health in schools.

The secretary of state started by outlining the latest data. Slides and datasets here.

COVID-19 data:

  • number of cases is still falling
  • average daily case is 6685
  • in England 1 in 220 people have coronavirus, a fall from 1 in 145 last week
  • number of admissions to hospital with COVID-19 in the UK – 12,100 in the hospital average new admissions is 900, fallen 29% in the past week
  • number of deaths declining steeply – falling by 41% in the last week.

 

Vaccines:

  • 2/5ths of UK adult population has been vaccinated (40%).

 

Testing:

  • now testing 2.8m people a week
  • the opening up of schools and care homes will come with testing - rapid regular testing a critical part of response
  • he announced the mental health support for young people - an extra £79m - support teams in schools and expanded access in the community.

 

New variants:

  • the sixth case of the Brazil variant has now been identified in the UK
  • the "best evidence" is that the person stayed at home and there's no sign there has been any onward transmission - as a precaution, testing will be increased in their local area of Croydon
  • Dr Susan Hopkins outlined the steps the incident team took to identify the missing person.

 

Questions

Public: What will the government be doing around mental health wellbeing, especially for young children and schools?
SofS: three parts to the mental health response. Firstly to support those who are currently working to deliver mental health services, secondly to expand the number of people who can get access to mental health services. This includes the use of talking therapies and online services, which has been expanded "massively". Thirdly the government is putting extra money into mental health services in schools.

 

BBC: Is a 1% rise fair?
SofS: One the challenges has been the financial consequences of the pandemic. There is a pay freeze for other public sector workers. 1% rise for NHS staff is what the government considers to be "affordable".

Vaccine hesitancy – is there a case for mandatory vaccination of NHS staff?
SofS: Urge everyone in NHS to get vaccine, have seen uptake increase. not bringing in mandatory vaccination across the board. There is a review being led by Michael Gove which will look into this issue.

 

ITV: NHS staff pay and how effective is the AstraZeneca vaccine against the Brazillian variant.
SH: there still isn't enough clinical data to say, but based on data from how it works against the South African variant they do hope it will have some impact on reducing hospitalisations and deaths. 

 

The i: When will the socal care reform plans be produced?
SofS: Solving social care has been a long standing issue, will publish details of how we plan to do that this year. More challenging to deliver this in difficult economic times. Integration between health and social care was set out in the White Paper published last month.

 Was consideration given to a one-off bonus for NHS staff as is happening Scotland?
SofS: not the approach central government has taken. Have set out what is affordable.

 

Politics Home: comments from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross that test and trace did not work as well as it should have done earlier in the pandemic.
SofS: Test and Trace didn’t exist at the beginning of the pandemic. there has been a "programme of constant improvement" and he adds it is "testament" to that improvement that tests are turnaround in 24 hours for the vast majority of tests. contact-tracing reaches more than 90% of cases and more than 90% of their contacts at "rapid speeds".

 

Nursing Times: How do you expect to stabilise the NHS and complete vaccination programme without nurses?
SofS: Clear manifesto commitment to 50,000 nurses in the NHS. 10,000 more nurses have joined NHS over last months. The challenge is that the nation's finances are tight. And whilst everybody else in the public sector is having a pay freeze, we are able to pose a pay rise for nurses of 1%. 

 

 

Monday 1 March


Matt Hancock
, health and social care secretary, held today’s press conference and was joined by Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England and Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England.

Matt Hancock (slides are here):

  • Reached milestone of vaccinating 20m people across the UK – pay tribute to all the teams involved.
  • 94% of those eligible have said they have had a jab or will get a jab when asked to come forward.
  • Still a long way to go.
  • Today showing data on the effectiveness on the vaccine in a Public Health England paper.
    • Number of new cases is falling but the rate of decline has slowed – all need to stick to the rules.
    • Number of hospitalisations is falling faster – decline is faster older age groups which have been vaccinated.
    • Deaths falling faster than in the first peak – falling faster in the over 80s than in the under 80s.
    • Difference in data shows a vaccine gap.
    • The protection from catching COVID 35 days after getting a jab is slightly better in the AZ vaccine than the Pfizer vaccine – but both are effective.
    • Now inviting the over 60s to be vaccinated.
  • Further funding for vaccine development against variants.
  • Six cases of Brazilian strain – five have quarantined at home. Surge testing in South Gloucestershire as a precaution. Asking anyone who took a test on the 12 or 13 February but has not received a result back to please contact 119 in England, Wales or N. Ireland or 0300 303 371 in Scotland.

 

Dr Susan Hopkins:

  • Six cases of the P1 variant first identified in Manaus Brazil.
  • Current vaccines have not been studied against this variant – awaiting data.
  • Important to track cases to limit spread.
  • One of six cases did not provide contact tracing details – tracking down this individual.

 

Jonathan Van-Tam:

  • Both vaccines see vaccine effectiveness against illness after the first dose is approximately 60% - Pfizer is sustained for after 35 days, AZ vaccine effectiveness seems to continue to increase after 35 days to 70%.
  • Reduces hospitalisations by 80%

 

Questions:

Public: Why is there such disparity in accessing the vaccine across the country?
MH: Working hard to get vaccines out and to deliver according to the JCVI order in a way that minimises wastage. Running around half a million per day over the last week.

 

Public: Are there specific numbers of cases/deaths needed in order to lift restrictions.
MH: No, four tests: hospitalisations, deaths, variants, vaccine.

 

BBC: What impact will the vaccine data have on the real world?
JVT: Still 15m who need first dose on the priority groups. Will still take time before being able to apply results. The ratio of mild cases to severe cases should increase in favour of milder cases as time goes by. T

 

ITV: How likely that there are more than six cases of the Brazil variant? How likely are current vaccines effective?
MH: High degree of confidence that people followed quarantine. Trying to track down sixth case – no signs of further community spread.

 

Sky: Any prospect of a foreign holiday this summer?
JVT: Still in a zone of great uncertainty. Many European vaccine programmes are running behind ours. Whether we can go on holiday also depends on what foreign countries say and do.

 

Guardian: European AZ vaccine scepticism?
JVT: Today’s data has vindicated us. Not one to criticise other countries but they will be very interested.

 

Express: Double masking?
SH: Ideally three layers in a mask. Think one mask with two layers is currently effective for vast majority. In active conversations.

 

AP: EU’s plan for vaccine passports?
MH: Working with international partners for vaccine certification. This already exists – you need a test in order to travel to the UK. EU looking at certification of a recent test for those who cannot get a vaccine.

 

Other topics 

  • Quarantine hotels
  • Border controls
  • Schools

 

 

Friday 26 February

In today’s press conference, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, was joined by Prof Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer and Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England.

Matt Hancock:

  • Number of cases is now down to 1 in every 145 people and the rate of decline is continuing but slowing.
  • The rate of hospital admissions shows a fall by 40% over the past fortnight but there are still 15,485 people in hospital – far too high.
  • Number of deaths has halved over the past fortnight.
  • Level 4 alert level still means there is significant pressure on the NHS.
  • 1 in 5 local authority areas has seen a rise in the number of cases.
  • Must all remain vigilant.
  • 19m people have had the vaccine – 35% of all adults across the UK, including half a million doses given yesterday.
  • Today’s ONS data show 94% of adults show they have received the jab or they intend to do so – good news that there is so much enthusiasm.
  • After vaccinating the top nine priority groups, will take an aged based approach in three further stages: those aged 40-49, 30-39, and then18-29.
  • This is on all of us – everyone needs to stick to the rules.

 

Prof Jonathan Van Tam (slides are here):

  • Rates of disease is generally good news but its better news in some places than in others – not a battle we have won.
  • Some parts of the UK have seen changing case rates in the wrong direction – not a good sign.
  • Approximately 40m doses still to be given – still a long way to go.
  • We are not yet collectively in the right place – the answer is no to those who want to know if they can meet family and friends having had the first dose of vaccine.
  • Key message is: it is going very well but there is some worrying signs that some people are taking their foot of the break. Do not wreck this now. It is too early to relax. We are so close.

 

Questions:

Public: Why was guidance on couples meeting removed?
MH: Wanted to do all that we could to stop spread. Looking at support bubbles.

 

BBC: Priority of the vaccine for teachers?
MH: Moral thing to do is to save the most lives. JCVI looked at the evidence and the clinical guidance is clear that we should continue by age rage. Data shows teachers are no more likely to catch COVID than anybody else going to work.
JVT: Death rates by occupation are higher in other sectors. More important to be in the queue, worry less about where you are in the queue but be assured it is moving fast.

 

Channel 4: Is the return of local lockdowns going to happen? What’s behind the regional differences?
MH: Regional disparities is local than in the autumn. Don’t rule out local lockdowns but want to come out of this altogether.
SH: Some of the regional differences are due to occupations. Important people come forward for testing. Taking local action right now.

 

Huffington Post: 3.5m sick days in the NHS due to mental health. But NHS staff are reported not to be receiving a pay rise in the budget?  
MH: Measures in place to ensure NHS staff get the R&R that they need. Employment is down to the individual NHS trust. Support for staff to deal with traumatic experiences.

 

Northern Echo: GP clinics reporting lack of vaccine supply? Why are people in the North still having travel more than 14 miles to get their dose – has the vaccine strategy been designed for the South.
MH: Vaccine programme has been equal and fair UK wide. There has been a lower amount of supply across the whole UK in the past week or so – but picked up in the past 48hrs. Lumpy with a bumper March.

 

Other topics:

  • Universities
  • Vaccine passports
  • Masks in classrooms
  • Eat out to help out
  • Lockdown fines

 

 

Monday 22 February

Tonight Boris Johnson held a press conference with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance. 

Johnson:

  • Vaccines have helped us to create a shield around the population. No vaccine against every disease has been 100% effective; we need to be realistic and move with care - advancing in four steps (minimum of five weeks apart)
  • Step 1 - Mon 8 March:  schools and colleges will reopen. 29 March - meet more friends and family - two households or rule of six
  • Step 2 - no earlier than 12 April: shops, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants outside
  • Step 3 - no earlier than May 17: all hospitality indoors; concert halls, sports stadia etc
  • Step 4 - no earlier than 21 June most remaining restrictions will go - big conferences, weddings etc.

 

Chris Whitty presented slides:

  • number testing positive is falling and is continuing to fall but cases are high still
  • number of people in hospital - significant fall that is continuing but they are high, they are only slightly below height of first peak last year
  • number of deaths - falling, most recent 7 day average over 400 deaths a day, but falling
  • Great majority (over 90%) of those who died of COVID are in the groups 1-9 (JCVI groups)
  • There are people that get severe disease under the age of 50 - they must not be left behind when it comes to vaccines
  • lots of people are still unvaccinated, we have some way to go but making fast progress
  • He gave an update on the studies on vaccine efficacy out today

 

Questions from public:

What about the second dose? will first dose need to be scaled back?
Johnson: got supplies in place to keep up the rhythm.

 

Equitable vaccine roll out - will UK make sure this happens?
Yes, important that the UK will support vaccine roll out across the whole world

 

Questions from the media:

BBC: There has been progress on numbers but have you warned people of what to prepare for in future? And what about uptake? Full uptake? what do you expect it to be?
CW: On the numbers - thinking about it in relative terms, you get lots dying from flu etc 9,000 a year, sometime more etc – COVID is around for the foreseeable future and will be added to the list. Uptake - 66% -  no children included. Also uptake from almost every part of society is high

 

ITV: no reference to R in the 4 tests - what rate of infection should cause concern? Vaccines and testing certificates? Are they the way? Are you persuaded?
CW: Until this point in time, before we had the vaccine we knew that R growing translated into hospital admissions etc. There will be subsequent surge at some point and R is going to creep closer to 1. The vaccine takes a lot of the heavy liftin on this
PM: Vaccine passport: for international travel - other countries might insist (e.g.  yellow fever jab) likely to important in travel. Vaccine certificate for eg concerts: clearly complex issues, ethical issues etc., Going to have a review of the whole issue

 

Sky: resignation if you have to lockdown again?
PM: Can’t guarantee that it will be irreversible; but that’s what we want

 

Daily Mail – big bang opening, Whitty unhappy? Have you become a gloomster PM – why so slow?
CW: Schools should reopen, important, priority is for schooling, we have a natural firebreak at easter holidays. Insurances are built in and things we are doing this time round that will take the risk even further down than before.
PM: Not going to be reckless etc. Need to do it slowly and not risk people’s lives.

 

Mirror:

Back to the office or hug/kiss loved ones. Can we look forward to an end to social distancing this summer? Tough on hospitality sector -what are you doing?
PM: The chancellor will be setting out measures; young people have the Kick start programme. Best thing for all sectors is to get them open in a COVID secure way

 

 

The prime minister gave a statement to the House on COVID-19 laying out the roadmap out of lockdown in England. The full statement is here and the government has also published its guidance COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021.

 

Boris Johnson 

  • Working closely with devolved nations to set out a similar plan 
  • Hospitalisations only just beginning to fall beneath the peak in April 
  • Data suggests both vaccines are effective against both dominant strains of COVID 
  • No credible route to a zero-COVID Britain or world 
  • This roadmap should be cautious but irreversible – a one-way road to freedom 
  • Offering first dose to every adult by the end of July 
  • Level of infections is broadly similar across England and therefore will ease restrictions at the same time 
  • The four tests for lifting lockdown: 
    • Vaccine deployment is successful 
    • Evidence that vaccines are effective 
    • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations 
    • Assessment of risks is not fundamentally changed by variants of concerns 
  • Takes at least four weeks to reflect the impact of relaxation of restrictions therefore there will be at least five weeks between each step  
  • Free test kits for businesses until end of June 
  • Publishing an updated plan to address local outbreaks next month – cannot rule out imposing local or regional restrictions  

 

Roadmap 

  • Step 1: 8 March 
    • Pupils in all schools to return to face to face teaching, testing twice weekly for secondary school
    • Family and childcare bubbles recommended to be tested regularly  
    • People can meet with one person from outside their household 
    • Every care home resident can nominate a named visitor for regular visits 
  • Step 1.1: 29 March (Easter holidays) 
    • Rule of six will return for outdoors including private gardens or two households  
    • Outdoor sports can reopen  
    • No longer legally required to stay at home but many restrictions will remain including minimising travel and working from home if you can 
  • Step 2: 12 April (earliest) 
    • Announcement at least 7 days in advance 
    • Non-essential retail to reopen as well as personal care (hairdressers, nail salons) 
    • Indoor leisure including gyms 
    • Holiday lets to reopen but only if used by individual households 
    • Pubs and restaurants to reopen outdoors – no curfew and no requirement for a substantial meal with alcohol  
    • Zoos, theme parks, cinemas, public libraries etc. to reopen 
  • Step 3: 17 May (earliest) 
    • Most outdoor restrictions lifted but limited to 30 people
    • Can meet family and friends indoors subject to the rule of six or two households 
    • Reopening restaurants for indoor dining 
    • Pilot larger events subject to testing 
  • Step 4: 21 June (earliest) 
    • Reopen everything including nightclubs  

 

  • Will be conducting four reviews:
    • How long needed for social distancing and face masks 
    • Resuming international travel (reporting 12 April – allowing people to plan for summer holidays) 
    • Considering COVID status certification  
    • Safe return of major events 

 

Keir Starmer 

  • Can the prime minister confirm that the chief medical officer and the chief scientific advisor approve of plans to reopen all schools? 
  • Update on extra capacity, including Nightingales  
  • Starmer also raised questions on economic support for business etc.  

Boris Johnson 

  • Plan for schools returning is supported by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific advisor

 

 

Monday 15 February

Today’s press conference was led by Boris Johnson, prime minister, Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive, NHS England.

 

Prime minister:

  • more than 15m people vaccinated across the UK
  • still not enough data on the exact effectiveness of the vaccines in reducing transmission
  • level of infection remains very high:
    • more people in hospital today than in the peak in last April
    • admissions to hospitals running at 1600 per day
  • hope to offer a vaccine to everyone in the first nine priority groups by the end of April
  • next week setting out a roadmap to say as much as possible about returning to normality
  • want this lockdown to be the last – lifting lockdown must be cautious and irreversible.

 

Chris Whitty (full slides here):

  • rate of hospitalisation of COVID-19 patients falling but still high
  • deaths remain high but continue to fall, most recent 7-day average is 657 deaths
  • steady improvement in people being vaccinated.

 

Simon Stevens:

  • 15m vaccinations during a surge of winter coronavirus, during intense pressure for the NHS, has been an extraordinary national team effort
  • thanks to GPs, nurses, pharmacists, volunteers, local authorities, local business, armed forces, and many others
  • mission not yet accomplished: finishing line of the first sprint, second sprint between now and the 30 April to vaccinate all priority groups, followed by a marathon to vaccinate everyone
  • steps for the second sprint:
    1. Anyone not yet taken up the offer of a vaccine can still do so
    2. Making sure people can get their booster doses before 30 April – reserving vaccines needed for that. You will return to the same place as the first dose for that
    3. Extending offer to more people – vaccinating a larger number of people in the second sprint than in the first
  • inviting people aged 65-69 – in first instance invited to go to large vaccination centres to allow GPs to focus on people with underlying health conditions
  • offering vaccinations to younger adults in care homes.
  • wait for the NHS to get in touch with you, invites will be on a rolling basis
  • colleagues across the NHS are saying "give us the tools, the vaccines and we will finish the job".

 

Questions:

Public: How will the NHS cope with the ongoing pressure to vaccine millions of people on a never ending cycle and resume a normal health service provision?
PM: NHS runs mass vaccination programmes every year.
CW: Do not yet know how long needed between vaccinations. Will likely not need to be on the same scale as this year continuously.
SS: Thousands of volunteers have come back to help. Can expand people helping over and above the usual NHS workforce. Would expect high street pharmacists can help with vaccinations as they do with flu vaccines.

 

Public: Will the government commit to a mental health spokesperson at the next briefing to set out to the public how to access mental health support?
PM: More money into NHS for mental health services – important people make use of these services if they need them. Also important they reach out to mental health charities.
CW: One of the next priority groups is those with severe mental health conditions.

 

BBC: Can you give the guarantee that this will be the last lockdown? Will it be a very gradual easing of restrictions?
PM: Cannot give that guarantee. Battling with nature. Increasing optimistic about the possibilities of opening up with the vaccinations. Want to set out a realistic and cautious timetable.

 

ITV: How cautious do you intend to be? Will you wait to see the effect of reopening schools? Are we seeing an effect of the vaccines on the death rate?
PM: Do not yet have sufficient clarity on the data to be sure today exactly what we can say on 22 February. Data becomes clearer every day that passes. Advise those reading speculation about what we will do to take them with a pinch of salt.
CW: Too early to put a number of effect on deaths. Would expect evidence in the next few weeks.

 

Sky: What do you mean by no vaccination programme is 100% effective? What are the implications for protecting public health – will some social distancing measures become permanent?
PM: There will be some people who will not benefit from the vaccination programme as much as others. We think both vaccines are effective in offering a high degree of protection against serious disease or death. Cannot yet quantify what that means for driving down incidence.
CW: Effect of the vaccine will build. Risk will gradually go down.

 

FT: No NHS data on how many people have turned down the vaccine. Will the government be open to publishing more data on vaccine uptake and what steps are being taken to encourage uptake in minority ethnic groups? Vaccine passports?
SS: Real concern of vaccine hesitancy in black and south Asian communities. Huge effort in community and faith leaders. Now seeing meaning progress in uptake in these communities. Facing dual pandemic: COVID and disinformation. Uptake data is shared with local public health directors while protecting confidentiality.
CW: Many people may not take up the vaccine immediately, but are likely to do so later.
PM: Some countries will insist people coming in have evidence of vaccination, as some do with yellow fever and other diseases. Still early days, lots of discussions.

 

Metro: UK vaccinating average 435,000 people per day – at this rate should be able to achieve next groups by end of March, why is the target end of April?
SS: If supply increases, can go faster.

 

Reuters: How can you tell whether fall in cases is due to lockdown or due to vaccines?
CW: Hope to see order of rates of death to follow the order of people vaccinated.

 

Other topics:

  • hotel quarantine
  • WHO factfinding mission in Wuhan.

 

 

Wednesday 10 February

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, was joined by Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser:

  • the prime Minister announced that just over 13 million people have been vaccinated, 25% of adults in England and 90% of those over 75
  • there are nearly 2 million people they are still hoping to reach – urges those among over 70s and health and social care workers who have not yet had a vaccine yet
  • he said they hope to reach everyone in cohorts 1-9 by end of April.

 

Sir Patrick Vallance talked through the latest data slides:

  • first slide shows that the January Peak is coming down – number today was 13,00
  • third slide shows the numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19  - it is still above first peak numbers but it is clearly coming down
  • fourth slide shows the number of deaths of people who had a positive test for COVID-19 – seven-day average is coming down
  • numbers are trending in right direction, because of the effects of the lockdown, but still a long way to go.

 

Questions

Covered: booking holidays, using testing to allow larger events, such as weddings to go ahead, travel app.

 

Public: Is there evidence of reduced infection rates in the top two priority groups?
PM: reductions in deaths and cases can be seen in the data, but it seems pretty hard to me to see impact of the vaccination programme on those numbers yet.
PV: it takes two to three weeks after a vaccine for immunity to "kick in", but data from Israel, which is further ahead in its vaccine roll-out than the UK, suggests "quite a significant effect" from vaccinations.

 

BBC: How worried are you about the Bristol variant?
PV:  We’re seeing the same variants in other parts across the world, that’s what you’d expect – variants that give the virus an advantage – increased transmissibility, variability or immune response. The Kent variant in the UK does transmit more easily, and might be more severe, but does not change the effectiveness of vaccines.  The Bristol variant has got one change the South African variant has got and does make it look slightly different to the immune system. The key thing is to get the number of cases down – the lower the numbers the lower the chance of more mutations.

 

ITV: Are you encouraged by how well the vaccine appears to be working?
PM: The numbers are coming down, but they can’t be attributed to the vaccine yet.


Given the great progress we're making on vaccination and encouraging results, are you becoming concerned that the politicians you advise might be tempted to maybe resist your advice to be very measured and slow in how we lift lockdown restrictions?
PV: it's important we are cautious in opening up in order to be able to measure the effects. One of the things that's really crucial in this is to get enough information to know the trajectory we're on and not jump ahead of it because we're very high levels and that can take off very quickly…caution is important as we go into opening things up and measuring is important and data is what's going to be important. The virus isn't going to be particularly interested in dates"

 

Mirror: Did the government do everything it could when it became aware of new variants – Scientists advice could have avoided this situation.
PM: as soon as we became aware of the of the new variant on the 18 December, which substantially changed the position, we acted decisively in the way that in the way that we did. “But there have been people, scientists who have called for a complete lockdown throughout, they're brutally difficult decisions. And we have done our best as I've as I said before."

 

Daily Express:  What is the latest evidence on the effect of vaccines on those who have already had COVID?
PV: If you've had coronavirus, most people get antibodies and some protection, but it's very important people still get the vaccine. Having had COVID before is not a reason not to get a vaccine.


Possibility of vaccine boosters to combat new variants
PM: There is currently "no evidence" that vaccines are not beneficial against all variants. But as new variants appear, it will be more useful than ever to have vaccines that combat all variants. "I certainly think we need to be getting ready for a world in which we do have booster jabs against new variants in the autumn” like the annual flu jab

 

Monday 8 February

Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, was joined by Nikki Kanani, medical director for primary care, NHS England and Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England.

 

Matt Hancock

  • 29,326 COVID-19 patients in hospitals – more than April and November peaks
  • 841 deaths daily average over the past week
  • Vaccination programme:
    • 2 months since the first person received the vaccine
    • 12.2 million vaccinated, almost 1 in 4 of all adults
    • Expected 75% take up but have seen 91% of over 80s, 95% of 75-79 year olds, almost 75% of 70-74 year olds, and 93% of care home residents
    • On track to reach offer vaccine to groups 1 to 4 by 15 February
  • Message to every aged 70 and above: "If you live in England and are 70 and over and have not yet got an appointment to be vaccinated, please contact the NHS”
    • Contact through national booking service online
    • Call 119 or local GP practice
  • Average of 4.5m tests every week
    • 97% of in person tests returned next day
    • 97% of contacts reached, 98% of which are reached within 24 hours
    • Joining forces with a UK company to deliver more regular testing
    • More employers are signing up to workplace testing
    • Today expanding regular workplace testing to all open businesses with over 50 employees
  • Must not allow new variants to undo all the work of the vaccine programme
    • Existing vaccines have some effect against new variants, particularly against severe disease and mortality
    • Working with existing vaccine suppliers on potential booster jabs targeting new variants
    • Building UK capacity to rapidly develop and deploy vaccines against future new variants
  • Numbers in hospital and deaths are far too high but falling – turning a corner

 

Nikki Kanani

  • Over 1500 vaccination sites across the country
  • Vaccinating almost 28,000 people every hour over the weekend
  • Those who have not take up the offer of the vaccine should come forward now

 

Jonathan Van-Tam

  • South African variant has been detected in small numbers in the UK
  • Dominant virus in the UK is a variant is B117 first identified in Kent
  • Several vaccine manufacturers have released preliminary data on their vaccines and the SA variant – confidence that current vaccines have substantial effect on reducing serious illness

 

Questions

Public: When will police officers be vaccinated?
MH: Following JCVI cohorts and then will consider next steps. No decision has yet been made.

 

Public: Adjust second dose of vaccine against variants or booster in Autumn?
JVT: Likely a booster will be required next Autumn. Not true that current vaccines will not work against the virus we have.

 

BBC: Possible to keep South African variant suppressed?
JVT: Small numbers of SA variant. Early modelling does not suggest a transmissibility advantage for this virus. Unlikely to overtake B117 variant.

 

ITV: If we cannot stop transmission through vaccination, what is the plan? Elimination or live with the virus for years to come? Surge testing for variants?
MH: High degree of confidence that the vaccine will work to make people safe. Plan for what to do if we need to update the vaccines. Plan to keep new variants under control. 147 cases of South African variant and no new cases in the last 2 days. Working hard to suppress.
JVT: Manage seasonal flu through vaccination. Key with coronavirus is again through vaccination and ensure the illness is manageable in the community instead of causing enormous pressure on hospitals.

 

Channel 4: Wise to be making contact tracers redundant?
MH: T&T took time to build up but performing extremely well with 98% of contacts reached within 24 hours.

 

The Sun: Hope for the return of the rule of 6?
MH: Not getting into this. Too early to say and speculate. PM will publish a roadmap on 22 February.

 

Guardian: Border controls? Summer holidays?
MH: Need to protect country from new variants hence toughening measures at the border. Proportion of cases coming from abroad is very low.

 

My London and Yorkshire Live: Will small businesses get help to test staff? Will they have to pay? Has surge testing successfully contained the new variants?
MH: Have not found any further extension of the SA variant. Testing for businesses is free for now.

 

 

Wednesday 3 February

The prime minister Boris Johnson, was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer.

He starts by paying tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore and the NHS, thanking them for the role in the vaccination programme. He said that 10million people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and every eligible person in a care home has been offered the vaccine. He urges caution, saying that deaths are still alarmingly hight and people should stay at home.

Chris Whitty talked through the slides:

  • Number of people testing positive going down steadily
  • Number of people in hospital with COIVD-19 has gone down from it’s peak, but still more than in the first wave last year
  • Number of deaths is beginning to come down, but numbers are still high
  • 54% of people who go into hosptial are over 70. Once we have vaccinated priority groups 1-4 will reduce number of deaths but not hospitalisations
  • The final slide depicts the outcome of hospital patients with COVID-19, 28 days after they were admitted, - with deaths decreasing the younger the person being admitted it. It shows that the number of children under the age of 18 who go into hospital is very small

 

The slides and datasets are also available, along with the prime minister's statement.

 

Questions

Focused around schools reopening and letting those who have received vaccines see families.


Public:
Vaccine passports
CW: If you’ve just been vaccinated, there is a period of time (2-3 weeks) to achieve protection. Clear advice is to stick to social distancing irrespective of whether you’ve had the vaccine. Vaccines will protect in three ways: You as an individual, they will reduce the risk to people who interact with those vaccinated, although at this point they don’t know fully the impact on transmission, vaccines also reduce the amount of virus circulating in the whole population. But we are “nowhere near” that, the rate of virus in the community is “incredibly high”.

 

BBC: When will hotel quarantine start? And will you give more help to people who have to self-isolate? If not, aren’t there two huge holes in your policy?
PM: The UK has one of the toughest border regimes in the world. Do not want to totally close the borders - food and medicines must come in from abroad. But the government has made it illegal to go on holiday, or to come here from some countries. He says that Matt Hancock, will make a further announcement about the hotel quarantine plans tomorrow. Johnson says overwhelmingly people are isolating. There's £500 available for people who can't work because they have to quarantine, and a £10,000 fine for people who break the isolation rules. (It’s worth remembering that Dido Harding told the Science and Technology committee this morning at least 20% of people who should be isolating aren’t)

 

Sky: Are suggestions every adult might be offered a first dose of vaccine by the end of May and a second by August credible?
CW: This is at the "very optimistic end" and maybe "beyond what is possible". When more people start having second doses, this will "slow things down".

 

Daily Mail: Are we past the peak?
CW: “Most of my colleagues think we are past the peak” but numbers could rise again and future waves remain possible.

 

The Times: Has the approach changed from regional tier to a single national approach? Why aren’t people isolating?
PM: the situation is “pretty uniform” nationwide. It will be best to go down the tiers nationally. The government will set out more in week beginning 15 February. And on 22 February he will set out a timetable for lifting the restrictions, with as much detail as possible. This time the government will be able to start easing the lockdown confident that the most vulnerable people will have had a high degree of protection.
CW: There are two reasons why people don’t self-isolate. First, they don’t realise how important it is. And, second, there are financial incentives

 

Monday 1 February

Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, delivered today’s briefing, joined by Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director at NHS England, and Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England.

Matt Hancock updated on the vaccine programme and on the South African variant:

Vaccine programme

  • 9.2million people vaccinated
  • 931204 vaccinations this weekend, 1 in 60 adults in UK vaccinated in one weekend
  • nine in 10 of all over-80s and Over half of 70s have been vaccinated
  • Have visited all eligible care homes and offered vaccinations to all residents and staff
  • Invested early and at risk
  • Vaccine roll out is a global effort – the Oxford AZ vaccine doesn’t just give strong supply here, but is the only vaccine that is available to whole world at cost.

 

South African variant

  • 11 of the 105 cases of it in the UK do not appear to have links to international travel.
  • There’s no evidence it's more severe but "we need to come down on it hard".
  • The cases have been identified in the following postcodes: W7, N17, CR4, WS2, ME15, EN10, GU21 and PR9 – sending in enhanced testing in these areas.

 

Questions focused around priority groups and when they would receive vaccines and on the South African variant.

On the new variant:

  • Susan Hopkins says there are vaccines that will work against it at a good level of effectiveness and work is ongoing. AstraZeneca is currently conducting trials in South Africa.
  • The cases don’t appear to be linked, and mostly likely to be from someone that was asymptomatic when returning from abroad.
  • Unlikely that people would need to restart the vaccination process again, to protect against the SA variant, more likely it will be a booster shot like with the flu jab.
  • Similar in transmission to the other variants. No evidence that it is causing more severe disease in people.

 

Tuesday 26 January 

Boris Johnson just held a press conference with Chris Whitty and Simon Stevens. The main news was that the UK has passed the grim milestone of 100,000 people lost to COVID-19. There were not any other big announcements in the presser but below is a summary of what they covered and questions from the public and the media:

 

Boris Johnson:

  • deaths recorded has surpassed 100,000 - hard to compute the sorrow in this grim statistic; deepest condolences to everyone
  • 6.8m immunised now
  • we will learn the lessons and reflect and prepare and until that time the best and most important thing to honour memory of those who died to work together with greater resolve.

 

Professor Chris Whitty:

  • number testing positive - still v high; coming down BUT be cautious because ONS data shows a slower decrease
  • number in hospital with COVID - over 35,000 people
  • number of deaths at the moment - has flattened out; most recent day average for deaths is 1,242 deaths
  • we need to be realistic - this will only come down very slowly in the next two weeks.

 

Sir Simon Stevens:

  • thanks to staff across the NHS
  • staff who have been looking after patients - they have experienced it the same as others (e.g. they have families and may have lost relatives just as anyone else)
  • not a year that anyone wants to remember – but one the NHS will never forget.

 

Questions from the public:

When will we be able to travel, to get businesses going etc?

  • PM: we will see where we get to by 15th Feb which is the date when we will have vaccinated the first four groups.
  • Fair to say that the rate of infection is still v high, at a certain stage we will want to get things open but depends on driving infection down and getting vaccine out
  • We will be sending out more detail when and how we want to get things open again in the next few weeks - dependent on getting it under control

What strategy to say that no chid is left behind:

  • Working as hard as we can to get things open -  we wanted to keep schools open but we must do it cautiously. Appreciate the huge efforts parents are making.
  • School is the best place for. We are supporting teachers and have provided 1.3m laptops for pupils.
  • Massive investments in catch up tuition - we will work round the clock to ensure that kids who have suffered from loss of learning get the attention that they need
  • We will make sure that exams are fair and properly adjusted

BBC:  Hope in govt was to contain the numbers to 20,000 what went wrong? What range are we looking at now?

  • PM: I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost - we did everything we could and continue to do so. We will continue to do that just as every government does
  • Whitty: I have always been careful not to make forward projections; we are going to see a lot more deaths over the next few weeks before the effect of vaccines is felt – we need to do everything we can. All of us doing out bit, staying at home. This is the key
  • SS: driver of the death rate is the infection rate; we are seeing improvements in treatments. “In hospital” death rate has fallen from a third to a fifth – we have anti virals in the pipeline
  • 1/8 have had their first vaccination

ITV: Care homes - worried about dosage gaps? close it back down?

  • Whitty: technical answer - limitation is the number of vaccines available; if you give a vaccine twice to someone only half the amount of people can get it over that amount of time
  • Great majority of protection comes from the first dose (same for all vaccines) we are giving a first dose to more people
  • Immunity - will immunity wane - no evidence of that. That side of things we are confident of. Could this give rise to an increased risk of something developing – variant?
  • AZ  data- we may get at least as strong a response for having the longer period of time
  • Lots of reasons why we have thought about this - the balance of risk; reducing the number of deaths in the community is to maximise the number of people

Sky: we did everything we could…. do you not reflect on whether some of those deaths could have been prevented? SAGE circuit breaker? do you wish you could have brought it in earlier?

  • Boris Johnson: Did what we could. Govt will continue to do everything to minimise lives lost - follow that guidance and stay at home
  • Whitty - what we have now is different than  what we had in Sept. New variant has changed things.
  • There has be a balance - what we do when? Balance of risk - political leaders have had to balance this. Problem of the new variant - we were worried that the measures we had two weeks ago were not enough to hold the new variant back – we need to be realistic.
  • SS: on xmas day we had 18,000 corona patients; we have seen that rippling up. Consistent with the new variant of the virus.

Mirror: Do you call people up and speak to the about having lost people? What about extra pay as a gesture of support for NHS? Scotland have done it, LIDL have done it.

  • PM: of course I talk to families and will continue to do so - offer my condolences to everyone who has suffered in the pandemic
  • 3 year pay package for nurses was 12.8%  - will continue to invest record sums
  • 34bn - more than ever in history
  • SS: Respite: demanding and continuous year of pressure; there are reinforcements on the way; staffing pressure will be taken seriously in the years to come. In tackling the pressures here and now only way to do it is to reduce patients coming in

Sun: Parents are desperate for clarity - lower case areas, can they go back first; or primaries first? Or by age/region? Also what re EU sabre rattling – what are you doing to make sure we are getting supplies?

  • PM: schools top priority - what I can say is that we give two weeks’ notice; give people idea of when things might be possible. It depends on infection rates and roll out of the vaccine.
  • Supply of vaccines: total confidence in supplies; we expect that our EU friends will honour contracts; we work with friends and partners in the EU and around the world

Politico: terrible milestone - PM, you spoke about learning lessons. Can you give a concrete example or what you are doing to ensure that we never see this again in the UK? And would you urge the EU against the controls of vaccines that are being looked at?

  • PM:  UK is in a different position now than where we were 12 months ago when it comes to dealing with the pandemic preparedness (PPE, indigenous industry - lateral flow, PPE etc) we have a test and trace system - build from scratch. UK is also out in front re genomic testing of the virus cases - 47% of all the genomic analysis in the world is done in the UK. You have seen what this country has done for viable treatments; dexamethasone etc. We are out in front in the manufacture/creation of vaccines - none of this is any consolation but things are different now
  • Creation of vaccines has been example of multinational cooperation and lessons we have to learn from the pandemic is the need to cooperate and need to do things together
  • Don't want to see restrictions on cross border supplies.
  • Whitty - we are learning lots - we understand the virus in a way we did not - doctors are learning the whole time. Operationally - we can do things that we didn’t know how to do at first. We will continue to learn the lessons from the pandemic.

 

 

Friday 22 January

In today’s press conference, the prime minister was joined by Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser.

 

Prime Minister

  • Some evidence that the new variant may be associated with a higher degree of mortality
  • Largely the impact of this new variant causing pressure on the NHS
  • 40,261 positive cases since yesterday, 38,562 COVID patients in hospital, 1,401 deaths
  • Both vaccines remain effective against new and old variants
  • 5.4m people have received their first dose with 400,000 vaccinations in the past 24 hours
  • Still on track to reach mid February goal
  • Thanks to doctors and nurses, especially those at GP sites who are vaccinating at extraordinary rates

 

Chris Whitty (Full slides are here)

  • Recent data shows number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is falling but 1 in 55 people still have the virus
  • Hospitalisations increasing and at an extraordinary level but signs of flattening out with some reduction in London and South East
  • Number of deaths continues to climb – will probably continue to rise in the next week

 

Patrick Vallance

  • Three major variants of potential concern first identified in UK, South Africa, Brazil
  • UK variant:
    • confident this is spreading 30-70% more easily than the old variant
    • evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of death for those who have the new variant compared to the old virus – however, data is not certain
    • an increase from 10 to 13 or 14 people expected to die per 1000 people who have the virus
  • Evidence suggests vaccines are effective against the variants but concerned that vaccines may be less effective against the South African and Brazilian variants

 

Health related questions

Public: Will the delay for the second vaccine dose reduce its effectiveness?
CW: Everyone needs two vaccinations. Extending the course of the vaccination is to double the number of people who can be vaccinated. Think majority of the protection is given by the first vaccine and the second one tops up and extends that protection. Confident initial protection lasts over a reasonable amount of time.

 

Public: Are those who have had the vaccine allowed to mix together with people who have not?
CW: Even with an effective vaccine, there is a period of time straight after the vaccine when there is no affect – 2 to 3 weeks. Protection will not be complete, not even with two vaccines. Large proportion of people you come into contact with could have the virus (1 in 55 people have the virus, and 1 in 35 in London). Need to vaccinate people at risk and the rest of the population. Over time the answer to this question is yes but for now – no.
PV: Important people who have had the vaccine not to assume their cannot catch the virus and pass it onto someone else.


BBC: Do you expect the daily death toll to rise for longer than expected? What do you think of the Israel reports that the Pfizer vaccine may not be as effective as first thought?
PM: The death numbers will continue to be high.
CW: Deaths driven by rates of increase and decrease.
PV: Death rate is awful and will stay high for a little while. Israeli data is preliminary and the Israeli health ministry has said they are not entirely sure – they’re expecting more information in the next few weeks. Will need to continue to monitor this closely.

 

ITV: How likely is the current lockdown will last longer than the spring into the summer? How much of the South African variant is already here?
PM: Don’t want to change package of measures but want them to be enforce and obeyed. Can’t consider unlocking until confident vaccination programme is working and there are no changes in medical understanding that may affect calculations. Don’t want an unlocking to lead to another big rebound. Must get infection rates down – not just a case of rolling out vaccine. Remains intention to look at where we are on 15 February and make an assessment.  
PV: PHE data suggests 44 people have been detected with SA variant (71 is the upper limit). Need to contain and contact trace. No evidence South African and Brazilian variants have transmission advantages over what is already here. Does not mean these will become the dominant variant. Need to restrict entrance of more variants.

 

Sky: Is it right that there are more people out and about and restrictions are more lax? With infections going down, are we at or past the peak of infections?
PM: Enforcing the law with increasing toughness. Depends on all of us to do the right thing and avoid transmission.
CW: Overall infections are going down but at a high level and precarious. Could take off again. May still be increasing for 20-30 year olds in some parts of the country. NHS is at the top of what it can manage.

 

Telegraph: South African strain could be 50% more resilient – is this correct and will borders be closed to all foreign travellers? One study suggests new strain could be 91% more deadly?
PM: Stopped people coming in from South Africa on 24 December. Do not rule taking further measures.
PV: Range of studies.

 

Guardian: Do you think the public are ready of how long lifting restrictions will take? Do you agree we will need mitigation measures for a long time?
PM: Open question of when we can relax measures. Will look at things continuously.
PV: Virus is not going anywhere – will be here forever but controlled. Have more vaccines that we could have dreamt of last year. New medicines coming along. A different outlook. Key thing is to watch, wait, measure and release and not get hung up on dates.

 

Monday 18 January

Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, delivered the No.10 coronavirus briefing. He was joined by Dr Susan Hopkins, medical advisor to COVID-19 response, Public Health England, and Prof Stephen Powis, medical director, NHS England.  

 

Secretary of state for health and social care

  • 37,535 new positive cases recorded today.
  • 37,475 people in UK hospitals with coronavirus. Highest it has been throughout the pandemic.
  • Someone admitted to hospital every 30 seconds.
  • 599 deaths were recorded.
  • 4 million people have had first jab
  • Vaccinated half of those over 80 and half of elderly care home residents
  • Additional £120m for social care
  • Confirms that from today over-70s are being offered a vaccination.
  • plan to vaccinate all the four most vulnerable by the middle of February - is on track, with 10 new vaccination centres opening today.
  • UK is also aiming to offer all adults the vaccine by September.
  • He urges people to continue following the basics, in terms of washing their hands and observing social distancing

 

Questions:

Public: With the increase in hospital admissions, what are the plans to protect those on frontline (supermarket workers, delivery drivers)?
MH: Working through the most clinically vulnerable – to reduce number of deaths as fast as possible. There are local testing sites that you can walk in to.
SH:  MHRA have approved lateral flow devises to help protect those and allow people to get tested when they are asymptomatic. Additional tool to help get virus under control. More than 37,000 cases have been detected in recent weeks using lateral flow testing
SP: Have seen increasing pressure on the NHS, since Christmas eve around 15,000 have been admitted into hospital with coronavirus. Fewer people going into ICU as treatments are better. Critical to continue with social distancing. Some time before start  see reduction in cases in hospitals.

 

Public: How much would it matter if there is a huge surge in cases in young people if older are vaccinated?
MH: Still don’t know how much vaccine protects from COVID-19 and transmission. Younger people are more likely to end up in hospital.

 

BBC: Regional variations in vaccine, what about local teams who can’t get hold of doses?
MH:  Parts of country have made significant progress. Now making sure we prioritise supply into parts of country that still need to vaccinate over 80s.

 

ITV: Why are some areas doing better than others?
MH: Takes time to set up each of the sites, need to make sure sites are safe. By 4 Feb everyone in top 4 groups will have been offered the vaccine.  

 

Sky: How do  you identify who needs it more urgently – police officers, teachers, etc. How do you respond to the head of the World Health Organisation saying the distribution of vaccines globally is putting the world on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure?
MH: Clinical advice is to go through the top four groups, then over 50s. Then it’s about protecting people as much as possible – that’s why we need a debate. UK is world’s biggest financial supporter to ensure access to vaccines through organisations. Agree o the importance of international roll out.
SH: Look at a range of figures (deaths, ages etc) and transmission – that knowledge will help with targeting.

 

I: Why are fewer vaccinations happening at weekend?
MH: Delivering a full, seven-day service. There are movements in supply and making sure we get vaccines to people is a priority.

 

BMJ: Doctors worried about decisions over which patients to treat. Will government introduce emergency legislation to protect these doctors?
MH: Not in a position where doctors have to make those sort of choices. Advice is that it is not necessary to change law on this matter at this point.  
SP: Have planned for this – have opened more ICU beds, have been able to flex capacity. Hospitals and healthcare settings can work together as one – providing assistance if hospitals are at capacity.

Friday 15 January

At today’s press conference, the prime minister was joined by Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser.


Prime minister:

  • Fatal if progress with vaccines breeds complacency
  • Now more than 37,000 COVID patients in hospital
  • 1280 deaths since yesterday
  • Not the time for the slightest relaxation of our national resolve and individual efforts
  • Disease can be passed on by handling something touched by an infected person, not only by standing in a supermarket queue
  • Reminder that one in three people with COVID are asymptotic
  • Hands, face, space is as important now as ever before
  • All travel corridors are temporarily closed
  • Arrivals to the UK must have a negative COVID test and quarantine for 10 days
  • Vaccinated over 3.2m people, doubling the numbers from last week
  • 45% of over 80s and 40% of care home residents are now vaccinated

 

Chris Whitty:

Full slides are here.

  • Some levelling off of cases
  • Number of people entering and in hospital is rising – well exceeded peak in April – and numbers will continue to rise next week
  • Number of deaths rising steadily and will continue to rise into next week

 

Questions:

Public: What plans are there to contain potential future variants, especially ones that will require changes to the vaccine?
PM: Tougher measures at borders and airports with quarantine.
PV: Comprehensive screening programme to sequence the virus. Evidences suggests current immunity from vaccines/the virus is effective against this variant. Similar problem to the flu.
CW: Must be seen as an international problem. Need to support every nation.

 

Public: What number for the daily death rate is needed for the government to consider lifting restrictions?
PM: Want to get to a stage where we have vaccinated JCVI 1-4 cohorts. Depending on effectiveness of this roll out, will consider steps to lift restrictions but depends on where the disease is. Cannot have a false sense of security.
CW: Indirect effects such as pressure on NHS and cancer services. There could be a significant health problems.

 

Hugh Pym, BBC: Some hospitals in London and SE are so stretched that patients are being moved hundreds of miles. Does this suggest the government did not prepare enough? When will the peak on the NHS be?
PM: Huge amount to prepare the NHS. London NHS has been under huge pressure but coping well. Some tentative early signs that pressure may be slightly easing but too early to be confident.
CW: Expect the peak of the infections to have already happened in some areas (e.g. London and the South). Peak of hospitalisations may be around now and peak of deaths will be later. Peaks are coming in the next week to ten days for most areas.
PV: Not a natural peak, coming down due to measures in place. A lesson to ensure it is cooled down enough before removing restrictions.

 

ITV: Why is it only now that there are proper controls at the border? Acting too late? Is the Brazilian variant here already?
PM: Taking steps now to protect against new variants.
PV: Countries that detected new variants first have good sequencing measures in place – not to assume those are the only places where the variants are. Must keep monitoring.

 

LBC: How many doses are available now and how many will be available in February? Will things be back to more normal by Easter or summer? More outbreaks in workplaces – has SAGE looked at the problem of workplace transmission?
PM: Depend on manufacturing processes and batch testing approvals. Using all supply as possible and get it into people’s arms as fast as possible. Ambition is 15 February to offer 12m people the vaccine.
CW: Likely things will improve in the spring. New variant makes things harder. Current measures can beat the virus. Vaccine will take the heavy lifting.
PV: SAGE has produced papers on workplace safety.
PM: Important people do not get fixated on transmission by proximity. Widely transmitted by handling things touched by someone who is infected. Handwashing is important

 

FT: What happens to the rest of society once the most vulnerable are vaccinated? Will easing restrictions before vaccinating under 50s be safe for the working age population? Why is government education campaign not focusing on risk of poorly ventilated indoor spaces?
PM: Loosing restrictions will be a process. Focus on JCVI 1-4 cohorts will make a huge difference. More work to be done to immunise the rest of the population. Cannot be more specific tonight.
CW: Some sensible decision of GPs about shelf life. Must ensure vaccines are used as efficiently as possible.
PM: Most transmission and biggest risk is indoors. Ventilation has been a recommendation.

 

The Express: Concerns that roll out in some care homes is too slow? Target for over 80s reached sooner? Effect of vaccine on transmission rates?
PM: Working flat out to vaccinate works and residents of care homes. Hope to have completed care homes by end of the month. Some places have 80-90% of over 80s already vaccinated.
PV: Would expect vaccine to have some effect on transmission. Will not be complete suppression of transmission. Being vaccinated does not mean you cannot pass it on but protection from severe disease.

 

Pulse Magazine: Problems with vaccine deliveries to GPs?
PM: Crucial people get down to where vaccine is offered when they get the message. Bumpy days ahead.

 

Monday 11 January 

The secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock MP delivered the No.10 coronavirus briefing, joined by Professor Steven Powis, national medical director, NHS England.

 

Matt Hancock

  • New variant is highly contagious and putting the NHS under significant pressure
  • On Sunday 46,169 positive cases of coronavirus were recorded across the UK
  • 32492 people are in hospital with coronavirus across the UK – an increase of 22% from last week
  • We’re at the worst point in this pandemic
  • The NHS needs everyone to follow the rules
  • Don’t rule out taking further action if needed.
  • Vaccine rollout is proceeding at pace
  • The secretary of state outlined the key points from the UK vaccination delivery plan
    • There are four parts to the plan:
  1. Supply. UK science is well equipped to produce vaccines because of work on MERS and Ebola in previous years. The government has also bought up a lot of vaccines from foreign companies, like Pfizer (in Germany). But the supply is still the rate-limiting step.
  2. The top four priority groups account for 88 per cent of the deaths from COVID-19. Vaccinating those people first by Feb 15 will allow the restrictions to be lifted. Two-fifths of over 80s and almost a quarter of older care home residents have had the vaccine.
  3. Location. 96% of people live within ten miles of a vaccination centre. The government has vaccines in GP practices, mass vaccination centres like a new venue in Epsom, and mobile vaccine vans.
  4. People. The government has recruited and trained 80,000 people to work in vaccination in the last few months. They come from the NHS, flight crews, St John Ambulance and a range of other professions.
  • He updated on the current vaccination figures:
    • The NHS has administered 2.6 million doses of the vaccine to 2.3 million people.
    • "We have protected more people through vaccinations than all the other countries in Europe put together."

 

Professor Steve Powis

  • There are 13,000 more patients in hospital with COVID-19 less than a fortnight into 2021, and the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has already gone up by a third (a rise of around 8000)
  • "We're seeing stubbornly high levels of infection, and unfortunately death to, which is the sadly inevitable consequence of the rapid spread of the virus in recent weeks"
  • "Hospitals throughout the country and are seeing significant and sustained pressure from those rising numbers of Covid-19 patients – even the Southwest has more people in hospital now than the entire country combined it at the end of September."
  • With hospital admissions typically occurring around two weeks after transmission of the virus, we're still to see the full impact of the Christmas
  • Seven mass sites will be joined by vaccination sites in pharmacies later this week, which will give the Government more than 1,200 settings for administering the jab

 

Questions

  • BBC: Is the government's target, to vaccinate 12.5 million people in five weeks "doable"? Hancock says he is confident they can meet this target. There has been a continue increased in the rate of vaccination, in all four countries of the UK. The new mass vaccination centres will expand the government's vaccination capability. On average, 210,000 people are being vaccinated every day. It won’t be easy, but the target can be met. Powis says he is confident the target will be met and the NHS will "steam through those high priority groups".

 

 

Thursday 7 January


Downing Street briefing

The prime minister held a press conference with Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, and Brigadier Phil Prosser this afternoon. 

 

Top lines:

  • two new life saving drugs have been approved for use
  • On Monday the government will publish its Vaccine deployment plan.

 

PM:

  • Want to reach target of 15 Feb for the first four groups outlined by JCVI.
  • All those 70 and over, all frontline NHS and care staff, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. They account for 88% of all those who have lost their lives.
  • Tactics - use capacity of the NHS.
  • By the end of the week there will be 1000 GP led sites, 223 hospital sites, 7 giant vaccination centres, and the first wave of 200 community pharmacies.
  • Limits will be on the supply not the distribution of it – PM said we have enough to vaccinate these four groups by 15 Feb.
  • Army is working hand in glove with vaccine network. We will publish our full vaccine deployment plan on Monday as well as daily updates on the progress that we are making.
  • Nearly 1.5m across the UK have received their 1st dose and within a few weeks they will have a good degree of immunity.
  • We can accelerate the pace of vaccination in care homes thanks to Astra Zeneca vaccine. By end of month, hope to have offered every elderly care home resident a vaccine.
  • New booking service will make it easier to make it book and access appointments.
  • Two new life savings treatments have been approved – they can cut time in intensive care by as much as 10 days - potentially saving thousands of lives with immediate effect.

 

Sir Simon Stevens:

  • More COVID-19 inpatients than back in April. Increase of 10,000 in hospital since Christmas day - equivalent of 20 acute hospitals.
  • This is all happening at what is the busiest time of year for the NHS.
  • Now for every one patient we are looking after three patients with other conditions.
  • That is why the message from the frontline etc vital that we take steps necessary to control the growth in infection.
  • The PM has set this challenging but important goal that we are able to offer to vaccine to everyone aged 70 and above and health and care workers but 15 Feb.
  • We have made a strong start on the vaccination programme; no complacency - we need a huge acceleration if we are going to vaccinate more people than we vaccinate over five months, we have 39 days to do it.
  • There are three essential components:
    • expanding the supply of vaccines
    • more places doing the jabs
    • expanding partnerships
  • SUPPLY: places where they are administered - want to increase this as supply increases day by day or week by week. Bulk of vaccination is through local GP practises - offering services to local patients.
  • We have been expanding these- hospital hubs, vaccinating social care, NHS staff - there are now 206 and will be 223 from end of next week.
  • Larger vaccination centres - seven days a week. We are trying to get the balance right between the efficiencies combined with local convenience.
  • He spoke about Israel having vaccinated a large number quickly – this has been done through mass vaccination sites, but the UK is different and we need a mix of sites due to geography.
  • There are a number of people doing the vaccinating - partners not just the NHS.
  • 80,000 people who are trained on these vaccinations, 18000 are already working. St John’s Ambulance are working with us - we are unashamedly tapping into the armed forces to ensure supply chain and distribution.

 

Brigadier Prosser:

  • We are used to complexity and working in challenging conditions. Aim is to deliver operational excellence - ensuring targets are met et and resources allocated to where they are needed most.
  • We have 21 quick reaction force teams - this operation is unparalleled. In the 30 days this has been in operation we have delivered 1.26m doses of vaccine

 

Questions from the media:

Alex Forsyth: Events in the US - was Trump responsible for inciting the crowd? Can you deliver your promises? How close is the race between vaccine to the virus?
PM: We are going flat out to reach out targets. Purpose of press conference to see a bit more of the working/detail. You will hear more on Monday from Matt Hancock.

 

ITV: Why can't GPs get the vaccines; and how long will it take?
SS: We are rolling it out. There might be some lumpiness and bumpiness to start with. What you don’t hear is all the places where it is working smoothly - we need to have sense of gathering around to get this done rather than poking and prodding

 

C4: Do you regret not locking down earlier? Concern from NHS staff that this is fake news - what message do you have for them?
PM: We went into tier 4 in December. People who say it is a hoax - they need to grow up etc. You've heard what pressure NHS is under, we need to protect it.
SS: It’s a lie re this being a hoax – it’s dangerous to say so and demoralising for staff.

 

The Times: COVID and other conditions - are they going to be able to get normal care over the next few months. Estimates of uptake so far?
Vaccination is voluntary - we can't require that all of those eligible take up the offer - but flu vaccination shows that it is high.
In London and parts of South East, very serious. 800 people every day admitted to hospitals with corona - equivalent of new St. Thomas' hospital every day. 13m can we exceed the target - it is challenging target but it is vital to set challenging targets. It’s a big stretch - huge national effort; we want our working and efforts to be scrutinised and visible.

 

Reuters: people who have the first shot are worried that they won’t get the second shot
SS: yes people will get their second jabs - health service has been asked following JCVI advice etc to put the optimal gap between at 12 weeks. After 12 days you might have 90% of the benefit and it means we can offer it quicker.

 

Evening Standard: London hospitals - less than two weeks from being overwhelmed. Why wasn’t more done? And what are you doing right now?
SS: without further action, there was material action of this being overwhelmed. London hospitals are using independent sector etc, we will open nightingale next week - this will also be a vaccination centre there.
PM: lots of conditionals re the deadline for 15th Feb etc. but if things go the right way (no new variants etc) we might be able to look at relaxing some measures.

 

Health and social care committee session

The health and social care committee held an oral evidence session today as part of its inquiry into Coronavirus: recent developments. Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, and Clara Swinson, director general of global and public health at Department of Health and Social Care, gave evidence.

 

  • Hunt: Why was the decision for a lockdown taken so late? Would it not have reduced the spread of the virus if the decision was taken one day earlier before primary schools returned? By 4 January it became clear that a national lockdown was needed and the four CMOs increased the COVID-19 alert level to 5. The case data in the week before lockdown was less clear.
  • Hunt: Why do we not insist on predeparture PCR tests for borders? A targeted approach to the border.
  • Hunt: Can rules at care homes be changed to allow workers to test themselves at home before arriving at work? MHRA decision – given NHS staff dispensation to do lateral flows themselves, not yet given approval for social care staff.
  • Changing approach to delay second vaccine dose will save more lives. Data shows significant protection after first dose of both Pfizer and Oxford vaccines. WHO were clear in saying they understood this action.
  • Risk to nursery age children is very low – hence allowing nurseries to remain open.
  • Do you expect deaths to fall by four-fifths given priority vaccination of those accounting for four-fifths of COVID deaths? Depends on the case rate and lag between vaccine and immunity. Confident that deaths will fall once vaccine is rolled out to vulnerable groups. Hospitalisation levels are expected to fall but not as quickly as number of deaths.
  • What level of hospitalisation rates will allow relaxation of restrictions? Don’t look at it this way. Numerous factors including COVID variants, falling hospitalisation and death rates etc.
  • Mass testing will remain incredibly important until vaccination of the whole population. Mass testing allows 1) mass surveillance, genomic surveillance and 2) testing for behaviour change.
  • Why were pharmacists not initially considered to deliver the vaccination programme? Storage requirements for Pfizer meant pharmacies were not appropriate. Now involving community pharmacy for Oxford vaccine. Pharmacies are highly engaged with their local communities and will have a big roll to ensure rollout reaches all parts.
  • When will there be a vaccination dashboard for local areas as there was with testing? More information will be put out as the programme grows.
  • What is your assessment of the risk to the NHS? As pressure on NHS grows, it becomes more stretched in delivering services. Sure that the NHS will do everything it can to ensure everybody gets the care that they need. Have built more critical care capacity in London and have the Nightingale on standby. Also need the people.
  • Generally compliance with the rules has been good. When vaccine is rolled out more broadly, hope people are respectful and take personal responsibility to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Need national discussion of acceptable risk.
  • Are there plans to review the shielding guidance for pregnant women given doubling of stillbirths during the pandemic? A clinical decision.
  • How many vaccines are you hoping to deliver – not just offer – by mid-February? Would hope uptake is 100%. People will be offered to have had the vaccine by 15 February but cannot mandate the vaccine.
  • What measures are being undertaken to support the mental health of the nation? More support for mental health services this year compared to last and more to come. Chancellor announced more support for MH in the Spending Review. In medium term, laws should be updated – Mental Health white paper be will brought forward next week.
  • Any spare doses can be used for health and social care staff to minimise wastage – primary care networks can invite social care workers.
  • Assessment of workforce challenges over the next few months? Trying to bring more people in. Removed some overburdensome requirements.
  • What percentage of frontline NHS staff have access to twice weekly lateral flow tests? Told 100%.
  • When will we know whether those vaccinated can transmit COVID-19? Do not yet know the answer. A difficult question to find out but currently studying.
  • Concerns over availability of the vaccines? All want more vaccines available. Capacity constraint is supply of approved vaccine – does not mean there’s been a delay but making vaccines is hard. It’s like “growing your yeast” in baking – a biological process.
  • What is the political process for agreeing priority groups for vaccinations? JCVI prioritisation is clear. The order after the clinical priority is not yet decided and will be debated. Key workers have a good case.
  • King’s College Hospital Trust has cancelled all priority operations – ones that need to be carried out within 28 days. Given NHS capacity issues, will this be repeated across the country? Has happened elsewhere in the second and first peak. An indication of pressure on London hospitals.
  • Will the vaccination programme have an impact on other NHS core services, e.g. GP availability? What are the unintended consequences of the NHS focusing on the vaccination programme? Groups of GP practices are coming together to lend people to create a COVID-19 vaccination to team to allow normal GP services running. Clinical advice taken on the relative importance of vaccination compared to other GP work. Will ultimately be down to individual judgment which GPs are trained to make.
  • What effects is the staff shortages having on services such as cancer services? Is it time to prioritise all NHS staff for vaccination in the coming weeks? Will ensure all NHS staff are offered a vaccine by 15 February. Seen record uptake of flu vaccine amongst flu vaccine.

 

Tuesday 5 January

The prime minister was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, in today’s press conference.

 

Prime minister:

  • more than 2% of the population is now infected – over 1m people
  • today has seen another 60,000 cases
  • number of COVID-19 patients in hospital is currently 40% higher than first peak in April
  • over 1.3m vaccinated in the UK, including 23% of over 80s in England
  • NHS is committed to offering a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups by mid-February
  • almost 1000 vaccination sites will be in place by the end of next week
  • more detail on the vaccination programme will be available from Thursday, followed by daily updates
  • relative increase in the new variant of the virus across the country
  • some early indications of levelling off in areas where tier 4 was introduced
  • deaths are below the first peak – due to better treatment, and higher proportion of young people being infected.


Full slides are available here


Health-related questions:

Public: How are you supporting people with severe mental health issues?
PM: Working with charities to support people. Best thing is to get through this as fast as possible.

 

Vicky Young, BBC: When did you first advise the government in England and do you think the vaccine rollout timetable is realistic?
CW: CMOs met yesterday and advised to move to Level 5. Vaccine timetable is realistic but not easy. Important that vaccine is rolled out according to the order recommended by the JCVI – ordering means it will have maximum impact on the disease. Decision to delay second dose by 12 weeks was taken following advice from numerous bodies.
PV: View from SAGE was that it was likely more measures would be needed to retain transmission of a new variant. More measures will be needed.

 

Robert Peston, ITV: What is the chance we will be out of lockdown by mid-March? Concerns that widening the gap between first and second dose increases risk of virus mutating?
PM: Depends on numerous things – including everyone following the guidance. Think by mid-February when a big proportion of the most vulnerable groups are vaccinated then there is a prospect of relaxing measures – but lots of caveats.
CW: Extending the gap allows more people to be vaccinated. The risk is sufficiently small when measured against the benefits of vaccinating more people.
PV: The more you vaccinate, the more evolutionary pressure on the virus. The virus will mutate and new vaccines will be needed in due course.

 

What changes are needed to reach the goal for vaccination figures? Is there going to be a daily figure of the number of people vaccinated? Is this lockdown enough to defeat the virus?
PM: It will be a huge effort. Need to ensure we can get enough vaccine to where it is needed.
CW: If people stick to the rules strongly and the NHS vaccinates as fast as it can – we hope the lockdown will be enough. This coronavirus is not going away just as the flu is not going away.

 

Wednesday 16 December

Prime minister Boris Johnson was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical advisor.

Boris Johnson started by saying that although the situation is worse than when the Christmas rules were drawn up, the rules are not being changed – it is the guidance that is being revised. He says that the government will not criminalise people who made plans based on the five-day relaxation of restrictions announced in November. We are outliers on this – we are the only European country who is not changing its Christmas plans.

 

Boris Johnson

  • Secretary of state will announce tiering tomorrow (there is a statement in the House of Commons at 10.30am)
  • asking everyone to think hard about whether you can do more to protect yourselves and those around you
  • the overall situation is worse than when the Christmas rules were drawn up
  • smaller, shorter Christmas is safer
  • three households over five days are maximums not targets to aim at
  • in five days beforehand reduce number of people you are in contact with
  • if possible don’t travel from high to low prevalence area
  • don't stay overnight if possible
  • delay seeing elderly relatives until they have had a vaccine
  • think about avoiding crowds in boxing day sales
  • over New Year local restrictions will apply
  • with the vaccine and other measures we do know things will be better by Easter.

 

Professor Whitty

  • Important to see the decisions in the context of having a vaccine rolled out in the next few months
  • Four things to think about:
  1. keep it small
  2. keep it short – shorter period, less risk of transmission
  3. keep it local – people travelling from high to low areas have risk of passing on virus – even if no symptoms
  4. think of the most vulnerable people

 

In response to a question about whether people should still see people – Chris Whitty said that both options for Christmas are bad options. The government has tried to minimise the risk. But people should think what they can do to reduce the risk.

 

Questions:
All the questions are focusing around Christmas.

BBC, Laura Keunsberg: Wouldn’t it be safer, clearer and braver to ditch the rules over Christmas?

PM: Don’t want to criminalise plans and arrangements people have made for some time. Guidance really should be regarded as a maximum. People should think hard about coming in under those limits.

Any modelling of the impact of this period on how the pandemic spreads?

Any period where people come together that would not normally meet will increase spread of virus.

Full statement



Monday 14 December 

Today it was announced that London and some areas in Hertfordshire and Essex would be moved into tier 3 restrictions. Secretary of State Matt Hancock delivered an oral statement in the House of Commons, and the No.10 coronavirus briefing. See below for summaries of each.

 

 

1. No.10 coronavirus briefing

 

Secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock was accompanied by chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty and London regional director for Public Health England Professor Kevin Fenton.

 

Matt Hancock

  • 420 deaths on average reported every day, sharp rises in south wales, Kent, Essex, parts of Hertfordshire and London
  • 8,000 cases on average a day
  • Both figures are higher than last week
  • an increase of 14% in COVID-19 cases in a week
  • He said he is particularly worried about rises in coronavirus cases among over 60s.
  • 00:01 on Wednesday morning these areas will move into tier 3.
  • We do not rule out further action
  • "everyone should minimise their social contact to control the spread"

 

Professor Chris Whitty

Showed two slides:

  • New cases in London, parts of Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire
    • Over last few days rate of increase has accelerated
  • COVID positive occupied beds in London and surrounding areas
    • Uptick in cases will start to feed through to hospitals in next few weeks, against a backdrop of increased bed occupancy

 

Kevin Fenton

  • Numbers and rates of infection are rising exponentially
  • Over past week have been increasing testing availability and strengthening communication
  • Called on people to get tested if showing symptoms and isolating

 

Questions:

Questions focused on whether the government should rethink the relaxation of restrictions over Christmas and for more detail on the new variant of the virus.

Christmas

  • Hancock urged people to think carefully and act responsibly – in the two weeks ahead, minimise the chance of catching the virus and passing it on.
  • Chris Whitty said “it’s no secret... Christmas is a period of greater risk”. But they have tried to strike the balance of doing what is “least damaging” while keeping the virus under control. He urged people to take the tiers seriously before Christmas to reduce the risk as much as possible.

 

New variant of the virus

  • Not yet clear whether it is spreading more quickly because there is more virus in these areas. No evidence that if you catch this variant it is more severe – no. Tests will still pick it up, we think.
  • No evidence the symptoms are any worse that other variants of this coronavirus or that the clinical outcome is any different. No evidence testing has to be difference.
  • “This is just one, albeit significant, variant but there are many others and there will be many more in the future. This is the natural process for evolution of any infectious disease”

 

Full statement from the health and social care secretary  and the accompanying slides.

 

2. Secretary of State for health and social care oral statement to the House of Commons

Full statement here.

 

Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care:

  • Near end of tough year
  • Vaccination has started from GPs and care homes etc today - however, it takes time for benefits to be seen
  • Average daily hospital admissions are up 13%; average daily cases have risen 14% in the last week
  • Sharp rise in South Wales, London and East of England
  • Similar in other EU countries
  • Until we can vaccinate enough vulnerable people we must act to supress this virus
  • Last few days - thanks for genomics - we have identified a new variant which may be associated with the spread in the south east.
  • New variant of COVID - growing faster than the existing variants. 1000 cases with this variant and has been identified in 60 different local authorities
  • Similar variants in other countries
  • WHO have been notified
  • Formal review of tier decision taking pace this Wednesday
  • Over the last week we have seen v sharp exponential rise in London, Kent, Hertfordshire - might be because of the new variant - essential to get hold of this disease
  • This isn’t about rising rates of school age children anymore. More cases lead to more hospitalisations - hospitals across the capital are under pressure and know that the doubling of cases will be mirrored in admissions
  • NHS working hard but if they continue to double – it’s going to be tough, so we have to act ahead of the formal review date
  • London, parts of south and west of Essex, parts of south of Hertfordshire into tier 3 - action is essential to keep people safe. They will come into force midnight tomorrow. (Wednesday morning)

 

 

Jon Ashworth, shadow secretary of state for health and social care:

  • Spreading with ferocity - none of us are surprised - he was warned tier 2 wouldn’t be enough
  • Heading into Christmas easing with diminishing headroom – need to keep people safe at xmas
  • Are we doing enough to protect the NHS in January and will NHS be so overwhelmed that the vaccine programme is impacted.
  • He criticised contact tracing etc
  • Please keep us updated re the new variant
  • People with terminal illness – can they get the vaccine asap?

 

Hancock:

  • Rates are no longer coming down - talk about lessons from Liverpool, when people pull together then you can get this under control
  • Good evidence that tier 3 is working - we need to be vigilant
  • We need to be committed to working to get public health messages out
  • Single best thing is that we speak with one voice
  • Christmas - recommendation, be cautious and careful
  • NHS funding and staffing - strongest funding in history and more nurses than ever before
  • contact tracing - figures show that it reaches over 80% of contacts
  • Terminal cancer - those with terminal cancer -they are clinically vulnerable, we will ensure that those who are clinically vulnerable get it when it's clinically right

 

Jeremy Hunt, chair, health and social care select committee:

  • Incredibly difficult decisions - I support them
  • New strain? How much do we know etc?
  • Can we get clarity - 11 days before Christmas – if you live outside London are you able to go into do shopping? Should people be shopping on line?

Hancock:

  • New variant - is being assessed in Porton Down right now; medical advice is that it is highly unlikely that it will impinge the vaccine
  • New strand is going to be cultured at Porton Down
  • On Christmas - recommended that people minimise travel in tier 3 area - we have taken this action to protect people and slow the spread of the virus

 


Thursday 10 December


Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care was joined by NHS England’s national medical director Professor Steve Powis and chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty.

Matt Hancock updated on the roll out of the vaccine and the latest data.

 

Latest data

  • average new cases each day 16,236 risen over the last week
  • 15,242 Covid patients in hospital – slightly less than last week
  • 516 deaths reported yesterday
  • fall in number of cases has flattened off and is rises in some places – Kent, Essex and London.

 

Next steps in vaccine roll out

  • NHS is vaccinating people in 73 hospitals.
  • 2ill soon expand to 10 more locations in England
  • plan to begin vaccinations in GP sites from next week and
  • as more come on stream will open in conference halls and sports centres
  • NHS will get in touch with you when it is your time to get the jab.

 

Test and Trace


Government to roll out mass testing in schools in the worst affected areas

  • cases are rising fastest among secondary school children, cases amongst adults are largely flat.
  • need to do everything we can to stop spread of secondary school children now and take targeted action now
  • immediate plan is to roll out testing for all secondary school pupils in the worst affected areas (in the seven boroughs in London with the highest COVID-19 rates, as well as in parts of Essex and Kent) – more details will be set out tomorrow.

 

Community testing

  • being deployed now in 100 council areas.
  • NHS test and trace is now reaching 86% of contacts
  • from today people told to self-isolate through the Covid app will be able to get the £500 payment if they qualify.
  • the government has today announced hospital upgrade projects funded by a £600m investment package

 

Questions:


Public:

What is the exit criteria to come out of the tier system?

  • Hancock – will keep looking at the 5 indicators, whilst roll out vaccine will look at the impact on those indicators (cases, hospitalisation, cases in over 60s, testing)
  • Chris Whitty - vaccine will take the risk slowly down, mortality will start to fall, but there will still leave a lot of people ending up in the NHS, in intensive care. To get through all those people it will take some time.  Restrictions will have to apply until the number of cases has been reduced to a level where the government is comfortable with the risk. Will be a gradual process in releasing the restrictions.


Media

BBC, Hugh Pym: How concerned are you in the rise in cases in the SE, how likely is it that London / Essex will be moved into Tier 3.

  • Hancock – will look at most up to date data on 16th, that will be when we make a formal decision.  
  • Whitty – “Of course we’re concerned”. In North and Midlands, people have done a remarkably job to bring rates down. But haven’t been falling in areas with lower restrictions – like in London, Essex and Kent – we need to look seriously at these areas. Ministers will look at these next week. If rates were going up at tail end of lock down then that is quite concerning.
  • Steve Powis – hospitalisations follow infection rates closely. In Liverpool case rates and hospitalisations coming down.

 

ITV: is a third wave inevitable? And if it is, shouldn’t we act now, instead of waiting until next week?

  • Hancock - the government is doing everything it can to keep the case rates down, including rolling out community testing. That is why mobile testing units will work with schools. That can help keep case rates down but only as part of an overall package. Individual behaviours is the biggest impact on keeping case rates down.  Will be using PCR tests in London, and rolling out lateral flow tests.
  • Whitty - a third wave is not inevitable. To prevent it all of us need to come together and follow the rules.  Just because we can do things, doesn’t mean we can. Not just testing, but also how they are used and how people behave. Testing can help as long as people act on the results.

 

Metro: PPE was routinely redated, and sometimes boxes were not fit for purpose.

  • Massive effort to help ensure we could get PPE supplies we needed. Now, we have over 30billion items of PPE and have developed domestic manufacture so we aren’t reliant on getting it in from abroad.

 

City AM: Are there any plans to reopen the Nightingale in the Excel?

  • Hancock – have seen consequences of what happens if you let the virus get out of control.
  • Powis – Nightingales are our insurance policies. Keeping it under review, and looking at different uses for the Nightingales in London. Really important we don't see further rises in London and pressure on the NHS, but the Nightingales will be there as an insurance policy


Wednesday 2 December


Today’s round up includes:

  1. No.10 coronavirus briefing
  2. Joint press conference with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)
  3. PMQs
  4. Secretary of state for health and social care statement to the House of Commons

 

1. No.10 coronavirus briefing

 The prime minister was joined by Professor Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive, NHS England.

The prime minister updated on the announcement that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine  has been approved by the MHRA, and will now be rolled out. He urged caution however, setting out the logistical complications that will mean it will take some months before people in the high priority groups will be vaccinated.  

  • The UK was the first country in the world to pre-order supplies of the Pfizer vaccine
  • Care home residents, care home staff, the elderly and people who are clinically vulnerable will get priority


Full statement
Slides and datasets

 

Simon Stevens

  • Vaccine has been be independently shown to safe and effective
  • JCVI have recommended that the NHS should make sure those at highest risk and the people who look after them are first vaccinated.
  • As more vaccine becomes available we will extend it to more people.
  • We are the first health service in the world to be able to vaccinate. The initial tranche will allow us to start vaccinating in December.
  • The bulk of the vaccinations  of the most at risk will take place in January-March/April.
  • Vaccine that has been approved is logistically complicated – needs to be kept at -70C, is produced in in packs of 975, and hasn’t yet been approved for splitting.
  • Phasing of delivery – next week around 50 hospital hubs will start offering the vaccine to over 80s, care home staff and others considered to be ‘at risk’.
  • GP practices will come together to operate local vaccination centres, eventually there will be 1000 across England – GPs will be in touch with at risk patients.
  • If MHRA give approval to the splitting of these doses, then will be able to start distributing to care homes.
  • Hope to be able to get community pharmacies to start delivering vaccine in late January.
  • NHS will contact you to get vaccinated, patients do not need to do anything.

 

Jonathan Van Tam

  • Have one authorised vaccine, but we need more, we are hopeful that we will get more, but some may ‘fall by the wayside’.
  • Need assured supply – won’t all come at once, will have to manage that as best we can.
  • Need to be realistic about how long the vaccine programme will take – months not weeks.
  • Need people to take the vaccine, will need two doses to have full protection.
  • Don’t yet know if this vaccine will prevent transmission so tiers and other measures such as social distancing will need to stay in place while the vaccinations are rolled out .

 

Questions:

  • ITV: What are you doing right now to address logistical challenge to get vaccine to care homes
    • PM – government wants to get it into care home so it can protect the most vulnerable “as fast as we possibly can”. But each case has 975 vaccines in it. You want to avoid wastage. That is why they need to find a way of splitting the packs of vaccine. If they do not transport the vaccine properly, it won’t work.
    • Simon Stevens – want to be able to vaccinate people in care homes as soon as we have regulatory sign off, we will do that. Do expect it to be in first tranche of vaccinations this month.
    • JVT – as soon as it is technically and legally possible to get into care homes we will do so.
  • Sky: should we all prepare for restrictions to run through to April? 1 in 5 Britons aren’t confident in vaccine, what % of population would need to take vaccine to be able to release restrictions.  
    • PM - way forward is not just the vaccine, but also mass community testing. Will judge the situation on the basis of the data. Tiering will be an important part of our campaign against coronavirus.
    • JVT – vaccine that reduced transmission is always the final big win. Will have to wait and see if that is the case for this vaccine. % of transmission that it will take out, until we know that we won’t be able to give a number of how many will need to be vaccinated. As soon as confident hospital admissions are under control we can start getting back to normally.
  • Express: as vaccine is rolled out, at what stage will you lift the restrictions? Is this our first Brexit bonus? How confident are you that we can get a deal?
    • Simon Stevens – goal is to protect vulnerable individuals, which is why it is a graduated list. Second goal is to prevent people spreading it unknowingly. Until we know about the effect of the vaccine on transmission won’t know when we can lift restrictions.
    • JVT – JCVI priority list, phase one - taken together those groups take out 99% of covid related mortality deaths in the UK.
    • PM – getting it first is down to vaccine taskforce. These vaccines are global efforts. On Brexit negotiations, we remain committed to getting a deal if we can.

 

  • I: Is there a chance tiering could be ended early?
    • PM – for now the vaccine makes no difference to the tiering, but as we go on and are hopefully able to use testing and the vaccine to further drive the virus down there will come a moment we are able to ease the non-pharmaceutical interventions.
  • I: Are you confident the public knows enough about the risk of covid transmission such as ventilation?
    • JVT – three c’s, d and v –  for the risk areas, closed spaces, crowding, close contact, particularly indoors. Think about duration and volume – how loud will it be?
  • The Sun:
    • JVT – think coronavirus will be with us forever, but may get to the point where it becomes a seasonal problem. We will get to a point where the government will no longer need to urge people to keep using safety measures like masks and regular hand-washing. For some people, he thinks these habits will persist.
    • PM – high hopes that vaccine will make a significant difference

 

2. Joint press conference with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)

Dr June Rainie, chief executive, MHRA, Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair, Commission on Human Medicines expert working group and Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair, JCVI, presented information and answered questions.

Slides and the JCVI priority list


Dr Rainie
:

  • announced that the MHRA has this week recommended to the UK Govt that it should agree to the approval for use of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
  • MHRA recommendations have been reached following a thorough and scientific review of safety, effectiveness and quality
  • UK govt has accepted this advice and has made the decision to offer this to adults aged 16 and over
  • Safety of public will always come first
  • MHRA has conducted a rolling review of the vaccine. Rolling reviews are used to complete assessments of medicines and vaccines where time is of the essence
  • But that does not mean that any corners have been cut
  • An expert working group started in the middle of the year to look at safety - preparation and planning has been done with meticulous care
  • She stressed that at all stages this has been carried out carefully, methodically, looking at all the data and that they have benefitted from a further safety step, which was seeking the advice from the Commission on human medicines (independent body)

Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed:

  • Commission on Human Medicines has a working group – it looked at lab data, manufacturing processes and clinical trial data and assessed that there is an overwhelming benefit to this vaccine
  • Effectiveness: data show that this is 95 per cent effective - safety - similar safety to other vaccines, side effects are mild and last a day or so
  • Storage at ultra-low temp; they have been able to advise NHS colleagues and on stability issues which are important for deployment
  • Surveillance will be undertaken when the vaccine rolls out
  • Doesn’t matter if you have had the virus – you can have the vaccine and there is no testing required before the vaccine

Prof Wei Shen Lim:

  • JCVI is an independent committee
  • Types of info that we have been assessing – data on vaccine safety and efficacy
  • We have one of the best immunisation systems in the world
  • First phase of the pandemic - we are suggesting that vaccines are offered to protect those who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19 and to protect health and social care services
  • Age is the single most important factor in terms of risk of COVID-19
  • Who gets it first?
  • Older care home residents and their carers
  • All of those 80 years or older and frontline health and care workers

 

Questions from the media:

Fergus Walsh, BBC: Can you reassure public that they can have confidence in the vaccine given how quickly you have approved it? And can you sum up reasoning behind who gets it first?
Dr Rainie: thorough work, methodologically sound, meticulous work. Has only been approved because strict tests have been done and complied with - no corners have been cut. If you are climbing a mountain, you prepare and prepare. We started in June. In Sept we were at base camp and now we are approaching the last sprint. Offer of vaccination - vaccination priority based on risk of dying from COVID-19 We have prioritised the most vulnerable

Victoria McDonald – Channel 4: Why the MHRA has authorised it faster than the EMA? How long is there a lag between getting it and getting it effective?
MHRA: it is equivalent to all international standards. We have mounted teams and built capability and worked in parallel. Public can be confident that the standards we have worked to are same as others. Vaccine requires 2 doses - they will be immune 7 days after the second dose.  Some protection after day 12 of the fist dose.

Emily Morgan ITV: historic moment - how much of a momentous moment this is for you and science? Priority list: can you confirm that care home residents will still be the first to get this given how hard it is to transport or will NHS staff be the first??
Care homes - important point, there will be some flexibility - vaccinations should be offered to care home residents, but we know that there will need to be flexibility in the system

Daily telegraph: have you identified when the first vaccine will happen- what day – who will be the first person? How will you decide? Will the tier 3 areas be given priority? And have economic decisions been factored in e.g. if you can't work from home, would you be higher up the list??)
DHSC working to make sure that the first vaccine will be delivered as soon as all checks have concluded.  Not within remit of JCVI to impose time limits on delivery. The prioritisation is national – not done by tiers

Independent: Does the fact that we aren't members of the EU made any difference to speeding this up? We don’t have enough Pfizer vaccine – what will happen?
We have been able to authorise this under provisions in EU law - we are under that until end of the transition. Availability - good questions about vaccine supply and availability - we expect during a pandemic that it will be limited in the first instance, so most vulnerable get it first.

Scottish Sun: What’s your message to people who are sceptical about vaccine safety (anti vax misinformation). What is the timescale for other vaccines?
Public can be confident that every rigorous check has been done. The safety of the vaccine has been scrutinised rigorously. Absolute confidence in the safety etc. We have further rolling reviews going on – not possible to predict a timeframe

Business insider: do you see probs with Pfizer vaccine because of needing to keep it cold?
Issues with this, but every vaccine that comes through will have its own characteristics. Pfizer - needs v cold storage. Stability issues of course. This mass vaccination programme is an unprecedented thing - there will be manner of operational flexibilities.

HSJ: which frontline staff will get it? Can you reassure NHS staff? Will NHS staff be able to opt out?
JCVI advised that certain frontline health care workers should have higher priority (exposure, specific conditions etc) and amount of interaction that they have with people that are vulnerable. No suggestions that it should be compulsory and adverse effects are mild - similar to affects after any other vaccine.

 

3. Prime minister’s Questions

Johnson/Starmer exchange

The prime minister begins by acknowledging International Day for Disabled People tomorrow and says a strategy for disabled people will be published next year. He welcomes the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which will begin roll out next week.

Starmer askes who does the PM expect to receive the vaccine next week with enough doses for 400,000 to be vaccinated. PM says the JCVI has recommended: residents in care home for older adults and their carers, people 80 years and older, frontline health and social care workers, people 75 years and older and the clinically extremely vulnerable. PM says it is important to recognise that this unquestionably good news but it is not the end of the struggle against coronavirus. Important that the tiering system is followed across the country.

Starmer says there are more than 400,000 people in these lists. When does he expect the people in the two top groups can be vaccinated? PM says it is important people do not get their hopes up too soon for the speed of rollout. Expecting several million doses before the end of the year. Rolling out as fast as possibly can. Emphasis on tiering system and mass community testing.

Starmer asks what plans have been put in place to get the vaccine into care homes given the practical difficulties? PM says vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees and there are logistical challenges to be overcome. He is working with all devolved administrations to ensure the NHS across the country is able to distribute it as fast as sensibly possible. This is why the AstraZeneca vaccine is important too.

Starmer says we have the highest regulatory safety standards in the world. Will the PM work with us to bring emergency legislation to clamp down on misinformation with financial penalties for companies that fail to act? PM says he is working to tackle all kinds of disinformation and will be publishing a paper shortly on online harms.

Starmer urges the PM to share the communications plan for the vaccine with the House so they may use the messaging to encourage people to take up the vaccine.

The session also covered the collapse of Arcadia Group,

Health related questions

Chris Green MP: Does the PM agree that the vaccine should be taken on a wholly voluntary basis?
PM: The vaccine is not mandatory and encourage everyone to take up the vaccine.

Tom Tugendhat MP: Will the PM welcome the skill of all those in the NHS in making historic donations work of the community.
PM: sale of hospital is a matter for the local CCG.

Richard Thomson MP: Will the PM match the Scottish bonus initiative for NHS workers in England and allow it to be paid tax free?
PM: Scotland has fiscal freedom to allow the bonus to be paid tax free. Proud of increases for health workers and record investment in the NHS.


Other topics:
 

  • Infrastructure Bank
  • Financial support
  • Wales investment
  • Business rates
  • Aviation industry
  • Economy
  • Climate change
  • Universal Credit

 

4. Secretary of state for health and social care statement in the House of Commons

Secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock updated the House of Commons with the news that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine  has been approved by the MHRA.
Full statement is here.


Matt Hancock:

  • 40million doses of the vaccine pre-ordered for delivery  – enough for 20million people (2 jabs are required for each)
  • Next step is to test each batch of vaccine for safety
  • Batch testing First deployment of 800,000 does of the vaccine for the whole UK
  • NHS will start vaccinating early next week
  • Will prioritise groups at greatest risk – includes Care home residents and carers, over 80s, frontline health and social care workers – will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity (because of need to keep vaccine at -70degrees)
  • Bulk of vaccinations will be in the new year.
  • Vaccines will be delivered in three ways - will begin in hospital hubs, then local community services including GPs and later pharmacies, then will stand up vaccination centres in sport venues and conference centres.
  • On care homes – Hancock announced that from today can safely allow visits in care homes for those who test negative for COVID-19.

 

Jon Ashworth, shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social care:

  • Called for a large public information campaign and a pamphlet sent to each household.
  • He asked a number of questions including;
    • How many NHS staff will be vaccinated by January
    • How and when will care home residents receive a vaccine
    • When will PCN start rolling out vaccinations
    • Will the government publish a route map, showing what restrictions can be released as the vaccine programme is rolled out?
    • If someone is vaccinated will they still have to isolate if contacted for test&trace?
    • Will local areas be able to use mass testing as ‘freedom passes’ and ahead of visiting families

 

  • Hancock responded that there will be 50 hospital hubs ready to go from next week. PCNs are also being stood up, and will be coming very soon.
  • He cannot say how many people will be vaccinated by January. The total number of batches to be produced by then is not clear. The manufacturing process is complicated.
  • Before releasing restrictions will have to see the impact of the vaccine on the epidemic. Do not yet know impact of vaccine on reducing transmission, so don’t know how soon will be able to lift restrictions. Will follow the same 5 indicators of spread of disease (cases, hospitalisation, deaths) and will hopefully see cases come down and will be able to lift restrictions.
  • Do hope to be able to use testing to do more things – visit to care homes are an example of that.  If there are other examples that can be approved by a director of public health, and the chief medical officer, the government will be receptive.

 

Jeremy Hunt, chair of the health and social care committee:

  • Called for people with learning difficulties to be able to receive visitors and to roll out testing in those settings. Hancock said it is important to follow the advice of the JCVI on the rollout of the vaccine.

 

 

 

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