COVID-19 UPDATE: Tuesday 21 April
The UK government media briefing started with health secretary Matt Hancock giving the opening statement. Professors Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, and John Newton, also presented information and answered questions.
Human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine to start on Thursday with £20m government fund
Matt Hancock said “we will throw everything we've got at developing a vaccine”, and stated that the UK has "put more money than any other country on a vaccine search".
He claimed that trials at Oxford University and Imperial College London are "both promising projects" making "rapid progress".
Today: 823 more coronavirus hospital deaths
New analysis suggests the infection peak in England appears to have been passed on 8 April.
Data had seemed to suggest that the death rate may be declining, but numbers have not been consistent. For example, yesterday’s figure was less than 500, but today’s exceeded 800. Typically, numbers of deaths lag over a weekend, and some people sadly died some time ago. NHS England is now reporting deaths by the actual date.
New infections 'remain high'
Jonathan Van-Tam pointed out day-to-day variations in the numbers of new infections. These data show that the UK is still facing a “situation of danger”.
He went on to say that the number of people in hospital in London peaked on 10 April. This is not yet happening in the regions – instead most areas are showing a plateau, which has yet to decrease.
ICU: spare capacity – the plan is working
From its height of around 20,000, there are now 17,700 COVID-19 patients in UK hospital beds.
Matt Hancock reported that at the start of March there were 900 intensive care beds available, and this number has risen to 3,000 today.
PPE procurement being undertaken on an “unprecedented scale”
Matt Hancock acknowledged that the government’s handling of PPE has been widely criticised. He reported that they had received 8,331 offers from firms offering to supply PPE and that each would be investigated. He added that the "reality is not everyone who approaches us can deliver on their offers in scale".
He later said that there has been a need to "sort out the credible offers" and suggested that some suppliers have only existed for days before presenting themselves and seeking public funding.
When asked why NHS staff are still short of critical PPE, he agreed that the demand is vast, and said “"We are doing everything we possibly can”.
Should we be told to wear face masks?
This question has arisen many times. Matt Hancock re-stated that government will be "guided by the science as always". Jonathan Van-Tam followed up: if there is evidence to support wider use of face masks, ministers will be informed.