Trilateral agreement will protect crucial supply routes

COVID-19 UPDATE – Friday 24 April

Transport secretary, Grant Shapps addressed the media at today’s Downing Street briefing. He was joined by Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical adviser.

  • Trilateral agreement with France and Ireland designed support freight transportation 
  • Wider access to coronavirus tests but website struggles to meet demand
  • The peak “is not over”. Message remains: Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives

“Tentative signs of progress”

Grant Shapps opened by saying because the public has followed social distancing measures, there are “tentative signs we are making progress”.

Trilateral agreement with France and Ireland includes 26 freight routes and support for ferries

Grant Shapps announced a new package of measures for transport which includes essential freight services by air and sea. Many of these routes are crucial as they are used to transport medicines and chemicals used to purify water, he said.

New transport support unit

Grant Shapps said that the government will launch a transport support unit dedicated to fighting the pandemic. This will use the "spare capacity" on the system which is due to a reduction of the transport service. There will be 9,000 vehicles, and volunteers available to help.

Support package for light rail operators

When asked about the feasibility of regional transport systems such as the Manchester Metro Link, Grant Shapps referred to a "multi-million pound package" designed to provide support. "These systems are running well below capacity," he said. "It is a case of finding a route ... that ensures they remain a viable entity."

Drones could be used to deliver medical supplies

A new trial will be brought forward to see whether drones could be used between the south of England and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. Southampton and Portsmouth councils were awarded £28m earlier this year to look at this for the future.

Jenny Harries made the following observations:

  • Numbers of vehicles on the roads have increased slightly, but rail and tube usage is still down 95%
  • Cases of coronavirus are still rising
  • The number of positive coronavirus tests in the last 24 hours is less than 1,000 for the first time in weeks
  • Critical care capacity continues to increase across the NHS

46,000 try to book coronavirus tests

16,000 tests have been booked on the website, and the website shut when all slots had been taken. More slots will be available this evening and tomorrow, said Grant Shapps.

He said that 10.72 million essential worker households can now request a test via the government's website.

He explained that this test shows if patient has the infection, and "there is no point taking the test unless you think you have some symptoms". If you were unwell three weeks ago, you may have "missed the boat" with this test.

When he was asked about progress towards the 100,000 tests target, Grant Shapps said: “What we have been finding is the capacity is rising pretty fast.” He referred to yesterday’s briefing when Professor John Newton said that he thinks the target will be reached by the end of April.

Matt Hancock Tweeted today: “We’ve had a very positive response to the booking system for tests for essential workers with coronavirus symptoms. More capacity will be added as it becomes available.”

Brexit transition deadline “will not be extended”

When asked about a potential extension of the Brexit transition period, Grant Shapps said that there will be no change to the deadline of 31 December 2020.

He added that there has been “very good progress” in “some areas” of negotiation, such as transport.