All essential workers can be tested if needed

COVID-19 UPDATE: Thursday 23 April

Today’s media briefing was opened by health secretary, Matt Hancock. The scientific experts were Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser and Professor John Newton, coordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme.

  • All essential workers will be able to book a coronavirus test
  • 18,000 will be recruited to infections tracking team
  • Testing is on track to reach the 100,000 a day target

We must retain our resolve

Matt Hancock started by reminding people to follow social distancing rules. He said that it is “absolutely phenomenal” how the public have responded to the measures, and said that they are working.

He said: "To lift the measures too soon and to risk a second peak will be a mistake and undo all the hard work that has been done." This would not be good for either the nation’s health, or the economy.

On today, the first day of Ramadan, Matt Hancock thanked British Muslims for staying at home and for their service and sacrifice.

Patrick Vallance later showed a decrease in transmission rates and to demonstrate that social distancing measures are having a "very big" effect.

He said that the decline of people in hospital is "very clear" in London, with the UK overall "coming through the peak" and heading "in the right direction".

Nevertheless, the number of deaths is "not coming down fast". He added that this trend will probably continue for the next fortnight, after which he hopes to see a decline.

Essential workers will get tests

Matt Hancock announced that from today, employers of essential workers will be able to refer members of their staff and their family to have a coronavirus test. "From tomorrow,” he said, “any essential workers who need a test will be able to book an appointment on gov.uk themselves.

18,000 people to be recruited to trace infections

Matt Hancock said that he will hire 18,000 people to trace Covid infections.

He later added that government is "putting the infrastructure in place now so we can roll out contact tracing on a large scale". Individuals will be able to use an app to communicate with the NHS, which will alert other uses.

Test, track and trace will be "vital" in the battle against the virus, he said.

“Biggest antibody studies we have ever seen”

The Office for National Statistics and Oxford University will launch a wide-reaching study this week, said Matt Hancock. In the first phase, 25,000 people will take part, and the study will be expanded over the next year.

“If you get a letter [inviting you to take part], please respond as soon as you can," he said, and added that the response has been enthusiastic so far.

UK 'on track' to reach testing target

Matt Hancock said that testing capacity has increased ahead of schedule to 51,000 a day and John Newton later added that testing capacity has increased "exponentially".

The UK is "on track” to reach its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.

There will be 48 drive-through testing centres (an increase of 17). These will be supported by another 48 military-run mobile testing facilities which will travel to wherever “they are needed most”.

How transparent is the government?

Following the Scottish government’s announcement about its lockdown exit strategy today, Matt Hancock was challenged what will come next in England.

He responded by saying although he understands the "thirst for knowledge", the five tests developed for the whole of the UK government are “critical”.

He said the "message remains the same – that people need to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives".