Health Minister Matt Hancock challenged on care home strategy

COVID-19 UPDATE: Tuesday 28 April

At yesterday’s Downing Street media conference, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, made the opening presentation. He later answered questions, supported by Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser to the ministry of defence, and Professor John Newton, the UK coronavirus testing coordinator.

  • Coronavirus testing will be expanded to all care home residents and staff
  • Fatalities in care homes will be published daily from today
  • A third of all virus deaths in England and Wales are now in care homes
  • An existing drug is entering an early clinical trial

Honouring “fallen heroes”

Matt Hancock opened the briefing by recalling yesterday's minute’s silence held to honour key workers from the NHS and social care who have sadly died in the fight against coronavirus.

Care home deaths to be published daily

Matt Hancock said that 4,343 deaths in care homes have been recorded since Easter.

He added that, from today, daily figures of deaths in care homes and the community will be published by the government. This has not been possible until now.

The health secretary faced several questions about how the outbreak in care homes has been handled:

Why were care home visits not banned earlier?

The government was following scientific advice. This took the positive effect of interaction with family and friends into account.

Will care homes now be a priority?

They have been "a top priority from the start". The government has been working with care homes since February ... we have strengthened rules to improve infection control and making testing available throughout the care sector is incredibly important."

John Newton added that "intensive studies" in care homes showed the presence of symptoms may be misleading – many residents have been asymptomatic.

Would Matt Hancock apologise for the approach taken with care homes?

Matt Hancock stated that this was an "unreasonable question" and defended the government's approach with the care sector.

Testing updates

  • All residents of care homes and the staff taking care of them will be tested for the virus whether or not they are displaying symptoms
  • From today, people over 65 and those who must leave home for work will be able to get a test if they have symptoms
  • The UK is now able to carry out 73,400 tests per day and the government is "on track" to hit the 100,000 daily testing target by the end of April

Track and trace app to be available mid-May

Matt Hancock said that the track and trace app will be ready by mid-May. He will have the necessary personnel in place by then.

He asks people to download the app and use Bluetooth so that the tracking function will be effective. He hopes as many people as possible will use the app to ensure we get the most from this technology.

He added that, once social distancing has got the rate of new cases down, “these things together, along with the testing” will help us keep on top of the virus. "It is the best thing for health and the best thing for the economy,” he concluded.