COVID-19 UPDATE: Monday 27 April
This afternoon’s government press briefing was led by health secretary, Matt Hancock. He was supported by Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer and Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England.
Today’s briefing followed prime minister Boris Johnson’s return to work three weeks after being admitted to hospital with coronavirus. This morning he said the UK is at "maximum risk" just now, and he won't ease social distancing measures too quickly and risk another major outbreak and huge loss of life.
The chancellor also announced a new loan scheme for businesses - with 100% government guarantee: "These are already tough times and there will be more to come".
- Bereaved families of NHS staff will be eligible for compensation
- NHS to begin restoring critical services
- UK hospital deaths reach 21,092, up by 360 in the past 24 hours
New format for Downing Street briefing
Matt Hancock began by announcing that the first question would be independently chosen from one of the 15,000 questions submitted by members of the public. Like the journalists’ questions, they will be presented to the panel in real time.
Life assurance scheme for NHS workers and frontline staff
Matt Hancock said that 82 NHS staff and 16 care workers are among the fatalities caused by coronavirus. These are people who “have dedicated their lives to caring for others, and I have a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for their loved ones," he added.
Bereaved families will receive a £60,000 payment. "Nothing replaces the loss of loved ones” he said, “but we want to do everything we can for their grieving families."
Later, Matt Hancock was asked whether foreign workers and NHS returners would be eligible for the new scheme. Yes, he said, this scheme is for “frontline staff working in the NHS and social care who die and are employees."
He also said that the government is investigating other groups of workers who may benefit from a similar scheme.
NHS to begin restoring other critical services
As coronavirus hospital admissions begin to stabilise, the NHS will be able to start restoring other services. Starting tomorrow, the pace will be dictated according to local circumstances, and will affect services such as cancer care and mental health support.
Matt Hancock reiterated the message that the NHS is open to its patients.
Now that evidence is showing that the peak of coronavirus cases has passed, there is reasonable headroom – over 3,000 NHS intensive care beds are free, while the number of general beds occupied by coronavirus patients has dropped to under 16,000 from its height of over 20,000.
Later, Stephen Powis strongly refuted the suggestion that the announcements on the restoration of NHS services signalled an easing of lockdown mesures. He said it is the “reverse” and a sign of the success of lockdown.
Matt Hancock made the comment that people have always had access to emergency treatment, and that people have always been able to leave their houses to attend medical appointments, etc.
Social distancing measures being ‘honoured’ by public
Chris Whitty looked at transport use. This shows good levels of support for social distancing.
He said there was a five percent increase in vehicle usage on Saturday compared with same time in the previous week.
Numbers of infection plateau or decline
New coronavirus cases have maintained or have fallen over the last week.
Coronavirus patients in hospital have fallen by 16% to 15,712. Chris Whitty pointed out regional variations and said that numbers have fallen most quickly in London.
The data indicate that we are at or beyond the peak. But the slow reduction means we must remain cautious.
When will we be able to hug our grandchildren?
The first question from a member of the public came from a grandmother in Skipton.
She is missing her grandchildren and asked if, when measures are relaxed, will being able to hug them be one of the first changes?
Chris Whitty answered that these interactions are "absolutely essential" but warned that it would depend "on the situation". Older people will still need to be protected and shielding may be necessary.
Matt Hancock said: "We just hope we can get back to that as soon as possible, and the way to get there fastest is to follow the rules on social distancing."
Debate around children and coronavirus
Chris Whitty said, that while most children only suffer minor symptoms from the virus, “it doesn't mean there aren't a small number of cases, including some that are very severe, but relative to adults it is much less," he added.
This has resulted in "quite a debate in science around the world" about the role children play. Unfortunately this is a new virus, and we are still learning, he concluded.