UK coronavirus live: Matt Hancock launches track and tracing app test on Isle of Wight; death toll reaches 28,734
UK death toll rises by 288 but full figures may be delayed by weekend reporting; daily testing again falls below 100,000 target; Nightingale hospital in London put ‘on standby’ after running out of patients
- London NHS Nightingale hospital placed on standby
- Cost of public transport should be raised as lockdown ends – IFS
- Plan for returning to work puts employees at risk, says TUC
- Global Covid-19 updates – live
- See all our coronavirus coverage
Summary of the news
Thanks everyone. I will be closing the live feed today. Below is a summary of the latest developments. Please do get in touch to share any news tips and insights.
- The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said just over 85,000 coronavirus tests took place yesterday. That’s a second day where the headline total has fallen below 100,000, the target for the end of April.
- The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has been updating MPs on her department’s work in tackling the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. She said the “hidden heroes” in her department had processed an extraordinary 1.8m new claims for universal credit (UC) since mid-March – as well as 250,000 claims for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), and 20,000 for employment support allowance (ESA).
- Councils could restrict access to rubbish tips by only allowing cars with particular number plates to visit on a given day, the local government secretary has said.
- Last week MPs on the Commons culture committee had a frustrating time at a hearing when they tried to get answers from representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter about what they were doing to halt the spread of disinformation about coronavirus. Now Julian Knight, the committee chair, has written to the three companies with a series of follow-up questions. In a statement he accused them of being “deeply unhelpful”.
Updated at 19:12 BST18:39 BST
Law centres and the not-for-profit legal advice sector have been given more than £5m in emergency government funding to help those dealing with housing, debt, discrimination and employment problems during the coronavirus crisis.
The Ministry of Justice says it is witnessing an increase in people seeking advice for social welfare cases in the pandemic and numbers are expected to increase demand on the legal support sector.
The Access to Justice Foundation and the Law Centres Network will administer the funding and be overseen by the Community Justice Fund. The extra money will help provide vital legal advice throughout the crisis, increase capacity and deliver services remotely.
The justice minister Alex Chalk said: “Law centres and charities in the advice sector play a vital role in helping people access justice and resolve their legal problems. That is why they should be supported to continue to operate safely and effectively during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This additional £5.4m support fund will help do just that – giving providers the support they need to boost remote capability and help as many people as possible during these challenging times.”
Ruth Daniel, chief executive of the Access to Justice Foundation, said:“We are delighted with this support for specialist social welfare legal advice agencies who are providing essential help to people and communities at this difficult time.”
The Law Centres Network chair, Helen Rogers, said: “The pandemic’s uneven impact is a grim reminder of the deep inequality in our society that affects every aspect of life. This support recognises the key role of legal assistance in reducing inequality and bringing justice for all.”Updated at 19:08 BST18:39 BST
Matt Hancock’s press conference – Summary
For what felt like the first time in weeks, the government press conference was not dominated by questions about personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing. Here are the main points.
- Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that from tonight contact tracing will go live in the Isle of Wight. A new government app that will alert people if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus is being piloted on the island, and Hancock urged islanders to dowload it. He said:
Last week we put in place the testing capability on the island, from tonight the contact tracing capability will go live and from tomorrow NHS staff on the island will be able to download the app. From Thursday, each one of the 80,000 households on the island will get a letter from the chief nurse with comprehensive information about the trial. Islanders will then be able to install the app.
Addressing islanders directly, he said:
By downloading the app you are protecting your own health, you are protecting the health of your loved ones and the health of your community.
- Hancock said he would hire more than the 18,000 contact tracers already being recruited if necessary. That was just the initial number being trained this month to operate contact tracing on a national basis, he said. He went on:
There is no magic around the 18,000 figure, that is the initial scale that we think is necessary.
If it needs to be bigger, when we find out from the ONS survey that is in the field at the moment what the prevalence of the disease is – the number of new cases per day actually out there rather than that we find through positive tests – then we will adjust that figure.
- He said, although the contact tracing scheme would help the government to suppress the coronavirus, the national system did not have to be in place before lockdown measures could be eased. He said:
We haven’t said we can’t make changes [to lockdown] before [contact tracing] is up and running. It is just that the test, track and trace system will help us get R [the reproduction number] down and the lower the number of new cases, the more effective it will be.
- He said that 85,186 coronavirus tests were carried out in the 24 hours to 9am this morning. That means, for the second day in a row, the government has failed to hit the target of 100,000 tests a day set for the end of April.
- Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that it would take some time before scientists find out whether people who have had coronavirus develop immunity. But “the overwhelming majority” of people who have had it have antibodies, a precursor for immunity, he said. Hancock revealed that, as someone who has had the illness himself, he is taking part in trials to check his antibody levels. But he said he would not feel confident going into a crowded room because he could not assume he was immune. And he could not make policy yet on the basis that people with the antibody are immune, he said. (See 5.45pm and 5.47pm.)
- Van-Tam said the number of new cases of coronavirus was still too high. “We have to get the cases lower,” he said. (See 5.19pm.)
Updated at 19:19 BST18:37 BST
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in prisons across England and Wales continues to rise, a daily update from the Ministry of Justice shows.
As at 5pm on Sunday, 357 prisoners have tested positive for the virus across 73 prisons, a 3% rise in the three days since the last update, while the number of infected prison staff rose by 6% to 395 workers across 67 prisons in the same period. A total of 13 prisoner and custody services have tested positive. The figures include those who have recovered.
A total of 19 prisoners and six prison staff are known to have contracted Covid-19 and died. There are 80,100 prisoners in England and Wales and around 33,000 staff in public-sector prisons.Updated at 19:08 BST18:20 BST
Senior Tory urges ministers to lift lockdown ‘as quickly as possible’
In the Commons MPs have been debating the lockdown restrictions, aka the Health Protections (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. Despite their extremely draconian nature, the regulations are secondary legislation, and they were introduced under a procedure that meant they became law before MPs had voted on them.
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, used his speech to urge ministers to lift the current lockdown measures “as quickly as possible”. He said:
I hope that as ministers approach the second 21-day review they will do so always with a view to removing restrictions and removing these arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom as quickly as possible.
It will become even more important that we rely on common sense and voluntary cooperation rather than arbitrary rules.
Referring specifically to the rules affecting the over-70s (see 9.43am), he went on:
We have today the most healthiest, active elderly generation of all time and it would be tragic if government threatened this by trying to extend a so-called lockdown for those judged to be most at risk based on age. Why don’t we just give them the best information and advice and let them limit their risk themselves?
Updated at 19:17 BST18:19 BST
People involved in a study to track coronavirus in the general population have been reporting issues with testing, saying they have been booking appointments that no one turns up to.
Some 20,000 households in England have been contacted to take part in a study which aims to improve understanding of infection levels and how many people may have immunity to the virus.
All participants have to provide a nose and throat swab to test for whether or not they currently have the virus, while adults in some 1,000 of the households will provide a blood sample to find out what proportion of the population has developed antibodies to Covid-19.
One of those selected, Will Murray, said: “We were meant to have appointments booked last week but no one turned up. We had to contact IQVIA again who assured us someone would turn up to take our blood and swabs the next day. Again, they didn’t.”
Bernie Spratt said: “We replied to the invitation on 23 April and were given a home visit date of 27 April when an IQVIA nurse would arrive and test us both. Nobody arrived so we phoned the study contact line and rebooked for Thursday the 30th. Once again nobody arrived so we re-booked for Saturday 2 May. Saturday came and went and so I rang the study contact line again this morning and was told that the reason for the ‘no shows’ was that there were no test kits available in our area (Shipston on Stour).”
The study involves the University of Oxford, data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes. IQVIA have been fielding responses today on social media from people in a similar situation.
The Office for National Statistics, which alongside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is leading the study, said: “We were aware of this issue via the social media activity and have been getting it sorted out this afternoon.”
It added that it already had some initial findings which had been shared with the government.Updated at 19:11 BST18:10 BST
Michael Gove has acknowledged that a new international effort to find a coronavirus vaccine, led by the EU, was not a Boris Johnson initiative, despite front-page reports today. The Daily Express was one of a number of national newspapers to carry the prime minister’s call for the world to work together to find a cure for Covid-19 on their front pages, with its headline reading: “Boris leads £6bn global race for vaccine.”
Responding to a question from Labour’s Paul Blomfield, Gove told parliament: “We will cooperate not just with our European neighbours but with other countries in the fight against Covid-19. He’s right to say the prime minister is joining the call today in order to ensure that we can support the effort to secure a vaccine. The effort to secure a vaccine is necessarily an international one.”
Blomfield asked Gove if, given the UK’s involvement with the EU’s initiative, the government would be joining the bloc’s early warning and response system (EWRS) for pandemics, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The Guardian reported this weekend that the British government was quietly seeking to access the EWRS, despite early reluctance to cooperate on health after Brexit.
Gove dodged the question about the EWRS, but said: “We will of course look pragmatically at how we can co-operate with our European friends and partners. But participation in the EMA would involve, certainly at the moment, the acceptance of the ECJ (European court of justice) oversight and that’s not something that the British people voted to do.”
Commenting on Gove’s response, Blomfield said. “Michael Gove was right to recognise this international partnership to find a coronavirus vaccine as an EU initiative and not a Boris Johnson project as claimed by some of the Conservative press. But he should also pledge to join the EU’s pandemic early warning system, as the NHS wants, and think again about leaving the European Medicines Agency.”Updated at 19:16 BST17:57 BST
Q: Given the lockdown still applies on the Isle of Wight, will it generate enough data for the app?
Hancock says he thinks it will. There is a busy hospital on the island. And new cases are occurring, he says.
He says test, track and trace will be more effective when there are fewer cases.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
I’ll post a summary soon.Updated at 17:57 BST17:55 BST
Q: Can you assure people from the Isle of Wight that there data will be safe?
Yes, says Hancock.
He says the app has been designed with privacy in mind. It has been signed off by the national cyber security centre. The data is stored on your phone, until it needs to contact other people. The highest level of privacy is built in, he says.
Newton says the app itself does not hold personal information. He goes on:
It is a very safe use of data and people should feel reassured by all the precautions that have been taken.
Updated at 17:55 BST17:53 BST
Q: Last year you said there was a strong argument for making vaccines compulsory for children going to school. Would that apply to a coronavirus vaccine?
Hancock says the public reaction to the lockdown suggests there would be “very, very high” levels of take-up without compulsion.
He does not rule anything out, he says. But he is proceeding on the basis that compulsion would not be necessary.
Van-Tam says it is “more likely than not” that the first vaccines will be licensed for adults. He says it is the elderly, not children, who are mot at risk of death.
Q: So what is your message to anti-vaxxers?
Hancock says coronavirus shows how essential vaccines can be. Vaccines will only be licensed if they are safe.
Q: What do you make of research suggesting a link between air pollution and susceptibility to coronavirus?
Van-Tam says there is already extensive evidence that air pollution contributes to other illnesses. He has not looked at the link with coronavirus, but he finds the link entirely plausible.Updated at 17:53 BST17:47 BST
Q: You probably have antibodies. Would you feel happy going into a crowded room?
Not yet, says Hancock.
He says he hopes that people with antibodies will have a low rise of transmitting the disease, and a low risk of getting it. That is normally the case with coronaviruses.
But he does not know yet. So he cannot base policy on that, he says.Updated at 17:47 BST17:45 BST
Q: How has your understanding of immunity developed?
Hancock says there are surveys taking place looking at how many people have antibodies.
The test shows if antibodies are there. The next phase will be to know what impact those have on someone not getting the illness again. The science on that is getting clearer, he says.
Van-Tam says they need to find out if people to get antibodies after having the illness. Some research is underway. The “overwhelming majority” of people who have had Covid have antibodies in their bloodstream.
Do those antibodies protect you from further infections? Van-Tam says we just don’t know yet. But he says he hopes the answer will be yes.
The next question is, how long do those antibodies last? With other coronaviruses, antibodies do not persist for years and years and years. He says we do not know yet if that is the case with Covid-19. But a “massive” piece of work is underway to find out. He says they cannot make the science go any faster. They just have to be patient.
But, when they do have the answers, antibody testing could be an essential part of the strategy.
Hancock says he is in one of these trials. He had coronavirus. And his blood is regularly tested to see if he is developing antibodies.
Q: How low do you have to get transmission rates?
Hancock says he cannot put a figure on that.Updated at 17:45 BST17:38 BST
Q: Some Isle of Wight Radio listeners are worried social distancing will be lifted early on the island because of the pilot.
Hancock says there are no plans to lift the social distancing measures early on the island. The plan is to ease the restrictions at the same pace everywhere, he says.Updated at 17:38 BST17:36 BST
Q: [From Isle of Wight radio] We ran a poll today showing 80% of listeners said they would install the app. But the island has an elderly population. Why was the island chosen?
Hancock welcomes the 80% poll result. The more people download the app, the better, he says.
But he accepts that not everyone has a smartphone on the Isle of Wight.
But that is another reason for choosing the island, he says. If you tested it somewhere were everyone had a smartphone, that might be too easy, he says.
Newton says the island is very suitable. Travel on and off the island is relatively restricted, he says.
And he says some elderly people are tech-savvy.
He also says people do not need the app to benefit.
The people most likely to be mobile will be the people most likely to have a smartphone, he says.Updated at 17:36 BST17:32 BST
Q: The most successful contact tracing systems rely on people, as well as technology. Are you putting too much faith in an app?
Hancock says he accepts that the part played by people, the contact tracers and members of the public, is vital.
Prof John Newton from Public Health England agrees. He says “shoe leather epidemiology”, having people on the streets, is essential too.
He says he hopes the Isle of Wight pilot will provide useful lessons.
Q: Isn’t it hard to pilot this when people are social distancing?
Hancock does not accept that. There are still new cases, he says. So contact tracing can have an impact.Updated at 17:32 BST17:27 BST
Q: How will businesses be able to get PPE if the NHS also needs those supplies?
Hancock says the government will make sure the NHS take priority.
He says this factor will be taken into account as the government considers the way forward.Updated at 17:27 BST
1 of 8