In his Today interview this morning Alok Sharma, the business secretary, said the government had launched its test and trace programme last week. Sir Chris Ham, a former head of the King’s Fund health thinktank, says the government is overstating what has been achieved. He says that an effective test and trace system won’t be in place for weeks, and that the government is easing the lockdown too quickly.
Freddie (right) and Will Noble make their way back to school in West Norfolk. Photograph: Ian Burt.
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PM has not met five tests for easing lockdown, says Association of Directors of Public Health.
In her interview on the Today programme this morning Jeanelle de Gruchy, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, also claimed that the UK government’s five tests for easing the lockdown had not been met. But at a press conference last week Boris Johnson claimed that all five tests were being achieved.
The five tests were originally set out by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and first secretary of state, at a press conference in April (when Johnson was ill). Here they are, with the rival assessments for each test from Johnson in his speech last week and from the ADPH yesterday in its statement.
The PM says all five tests have been passed. The ADPH accepts that the first test has been met, but on the other four it says it is too soon to be sure.
1 - NHS’s ability to cope must be protected
What PM says:
At the start of the outbreak, there was significant concern that the NHS would not be able to cope. That turned out not to be the case, thanks to the heroic efforts of everyone who works in the NHS. And the heroic efforts of the British people to contain this virus.
The data show that on 26 May, 475 people were admitted to hospital in England with coronavirus - down from a peak of 3,121 on a single day, on 2 April.
On 27 May, 11% of mechanical ventilator beds in the UK were occupied by patients with coronavirus, down from a peak of 41% on 10 April.
What ADPH says:
Firstly, the pressure on the NHS – and those that tirelessly and expertly work within it – has been significant but it has been able to cope with those who unfortunately need hospital treatment for the effects of Covid-19. The number of people in hospitals with Covid-19 is falling, and beds are available for those that require them.
2 - Sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates
What PM says:
As measured by a seven-day rolling average, the UK daily death rate now stands at 256, down from a peak of 943 on 14 April.
While every death is one too many, it is now the case that there has been a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate, and so the second test is being met.
What ADPH says:
Secondly, there must be a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate. While the first peak in deaths has passed, the downward trend is slow – particularly in care settings. Deaths are a measure of what happened roughly two weeks before – the effect of easing measures now will only become evident in two weeks.
3 - Rate of infection decreasing to manageable levels
What PM says:
And in the last seven days, an average of 2,312 new cases were confirmed with a positive test, that’s down from a peak of 5,066 in the first week of May. Based on the various data available, the government is satisfied that the third test is being met.
What ADPH says:
The critical debate is about the third test – ensuring the rate of transmission of the infection continues decreasing to manageable levels (taken to mean R being well below 1). The rapid and multiple ways in which measures are being eased is likely to make it difficult to judge the cumulative impact on R. As we saw in March, R can go above 1 in a very short space of time – and once it does it can take many months to bring it back down. The room for manoeuvre is tight.
4 - Testing capacity and PPE supply at adequate levels
What PM says:
Yesterday we carried out 119,587 tests, compared to around 12,000 at the start of April. Testing capacity has now increased to 161,214 a day.
We have now signed over 100 new deals with PPE suppliers around the world. Here in the UK, thanks to the efforts of Lord Deighton and his team and the brilliance of domestic manufacturers we have signed contracts for over two billion items of PPE, including face masks, visors, gowns and aprons.
What ADPH says:
The fourth aspect, ensuring supply of tests and PPE is able meet future demand, remains an enormous challenge. PPE manufacturing and supply chains are stronger, but shortages are still being reported and it is not clear that supply can meet new demand as different parts of society, public services and the economy open. While testing capacity has undoubtedly increased, we are not yet confident that the current testing regime is sufficiently effective in getting the priority tests done and the results to where they are needed to enable swift action.
5 - No risk of a second peak that would overwhelm NHS
What PM says:
This package has been carefully designed so that we can ease the burdens of lockdown while expecting to keep that R below one. I cannot and will not throw away all the gains we have made together, and so the changes we are making are limited and cautious.
What ADPH says:
Finally, the fifth test. A second peak cannot be ruled out – whether it will overwhelm the NHS is an important question to ask. But perhaps the even bigger one is, do we really want the same number of deaths again? The scale to date represents an unimaginable tragedy and we must do everything possible to limit further loss of life.
Updated at 10.08am BST
Good morning. I’m Andrew Sparrow, joining the blog for the day. As we reported overnight, the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) issued a statement overnight saying it was worried that the UK government was lifting lockdown restrictions too soon. Here is our story.
Health officials make last-minute plea to stop lockdown easing in England
Read more Here is the full text of the statement from the ADPH president, Jeanelle de Gruchy. Here is an extract.
Directors of Public Health are increasingly concerned that the government is misjudging this balancing act and lifting too many restrictions, too quickly.
This is a new disease; evidence is still emerging and there is much uncertainty. However, based on what is currently known, several leading scientists and public health experts have spoken out about a string of recent national policy announcements affecting England which project a degree of confidence that many – including ADPH members – do not think is supported by the science.
Over the weekend we have seen signs that the public is no longer keeping as strictly to social distancing as it was – along with this, we are concerned that the resolve on personal hygiene measures, and the need to immediately self-isolate, if symptomatic, is waning. A relentless effort to regain and rebuild public confidence and trust following recent events is essential.
De Gruchy expanded on this in an interview on the Today programme this morning. She said local directors of public health could only be effective if other parts of the anti-coronavirus programme were working too. She went on:
So we need testing, the national testing programme, to be absolutely robust and ready, and we need the NHS test and trace to be robust and ready. And of course the other issue ... is about PPE and the supply of PPE. So all of those organisational challenges that we are all working really hard getting in place - we’re not feeling, just yet, that we are really confident enough to meet any potential challenge if the government goes too quickly on easing lockdown measures.
Updated at 9.37am BST
More than 200 travel and hospitality businesses have joined a campaign urging the government to overturn its planned 14-day quarantine for arrivals into the UK, PA Media reports.
The group of major hotels, travel companies and restaurateurs claim the policy is “unworkable” and are calling for air bridges to be created which enable people to travel - without being quarantined - between countries where the risk of being infected by coronavirus is deemed to be low.
George Morgan-Grenville, the chief executive of tour operator Red Savannah, who is leading the campaign, said:
This is not just a group of company bosses complaining, but employees from bottom to top calling for the quarantine plans to be quashed.
The extent of their pain is deeply worrying for our economy and our country. More than 200 businesses have signed the letter to the home secretory, Priti Patel. Updated at 8.51am BST
The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast is exploring the coronavirus crisis in Britain’s prisons.
When Britain went into lockdown in March, most people were confined to their homes with little more than a short daily walk allowed. But in prisons, lockdown meant an end to an already heavily restrictive way of life. There were no visits allowed, education programmes were paused and prisoners were confined to their cells for more than 23 hours a day, something close to solitary confinement.
The podcast speaks to David Adams, who has just been released from prison where he had served more than two years for a series of burglaries; and Sarah Lewis, director of Penal Reform Solutions, who describes how devastating to inmates and staff the Covid-19 crisis has become in prisons.
The coronavirus crisis in Britain's prisons
The business secretary, Alok Sharma, has said he understands parents’ concerns at sending their children back to school.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I completely understand every parent wants to keep their child safe. And that’s precisely what the government wants to do in ensuring schools are safe places to return to.”
Sharma is doing the government media rounds this morning, but was called out by Piers Morgan last night for apparently refusing to go on Good Morning Britain.
Sharma denied the easing of the lockdown was a “dash”, PA Media reports, insisting measures are being eased in a “cautious” approach. He told BBC Breakfast: “This is not a dash. These are very cautious steps that we are taking. They are phased.”
He insisted there is a “good likelihood” that the R rate of coronavirus infections will not go past the crucial figure of one if the public heeds the rules. “And what they also said is if people comply with the rules and the test and trace system is up and running which it has been since Thursday then there is a good likelihood that we will not breach the R value factor above one,” he said. Updated at 8.58am BST
Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) said it is working to reopen all its stores in England on 15 June, following the announcement by the government allowing non-essential retailers to open their doors to customers again.
ABF expects to have reopened 281 of its stores by that date, having already reopened at 112 sites across mainland Europe. It said in a statement:
Safety has been our highest priority in our detailed preparations to welcome our customers and employees back to stores.
We are following government safety advice in all markets. Importantly, we will apply the valuable experience gained from more than 100 stores which are already open as we open the remainder of our estate, including stores across the UK.
Social distancing protocols, hand-sanitiser stations, perspex screens at tills and additional cleaning of high frequency touch points in the store are among the measures we are implementing. Personal protection, including masks and gloves, are being made available to all employees.
Updated at 8.20am BST
Government guidance requiring 2.2 million people in at-risk groups to stay indoors is to be relaxed in England from Monday, the housing and communities minister Robert Jenrick said on Sunday.
He confirmed that people shielding will be able to spend time with their households or, if they live alone, with one person from another household.
But vulnerable people who have been shielding for many months have voiced concerns that the lockdown is being eased too quickly in England.
The Guardian’s north of England editor, Helen Pidd, reports:
For the last 10 weeks, Graham Bell has been sleeping in a hotel near the Devon hospital where he works as an intensive care nurse, away from his wife and toddler triplets. His wife, Hannah Gallagher-Bell, another nurse, is shielding because of diabetes and other underlying health conditions. The triplets – William, Benjamin and Florence, who are two and a half – were born prematurely and are vulnerable to lung infections. This prompted the couple to take the agonising decision for Graham to stay out of the house in case he picked up Covid-19 on the ward and infected the rest of the family.
Hannah, who has not been able to work during the crisis because of her health vulnerabilities, has not left their house in Barnstaple since Graham packed his bags and went to a hotel on 22 March, the day before Boris Johnson put the UK into lockdown. She will not be going anywhere soon, she said: “The thought of it absolutely petrifies me.”
'Shielding' people voice fears over lockdown easing in England
Updated at 8.43am BST
Five new drugs to be trialled as possible treatment for Covid-19.
Five new drugs are to be trialled in 30 hospitals across the country in the race to find a treatment for Covid-19, according to an exclusive report by the Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll.
UK hospitals to trial five new drugs in search for coronavirus treatment
The drugs range from Heparin, which is used for blood thinning, to therapies still in clinical trial for conditions such as muscular, lung and blood disorders, which have evidence of potent anti-viral or anti-inflammatory properties.
Researchers hope the drugs would prevent people becoming ill enough to need intensive care or ventilators
The studies are part of the Accord (accelerating Covid-19 research and development) programme involving doctors and scientists, industry, the NHS the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation.
“We are looking for a signal of both safety and efficacy, something that could reduce the severity of the disease, shorten its duration and prevent patients going into the intensive care environment,” said Tom Wilkinson, a respiratory medicine professor and consultant, who is the Accord academic lead, from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.
Just a handful of patients have enrolled for the trial so far and with coronavirus patient numbers falling, researchers are keen to quickly enlist as many as possible, said Wilkinson.
Updated at 8.21am BST
England's schools begin to reopen as lockdown eases across UK Morning and welcome to the UK liveblog on the coronavirus.
Children in England in reception, year 1 and year 6 can start returning to the classroom today, but half of pupils are expected stay home as many parents, councils and teachers remain sceptical of the government’s assurances over their safety.
Guardian education editor Richard Adams writes:
Boris Johnson’s government has invested considerable political capital in opening classrooms to primary school pupils in three year groups – reception, year 1 and year 6 – leading to warnings by independent scientists that it is too soon to reopen while transmission and infection rates remain so high.
While most of England’s 18,000 primary schools will open to more pupils from Monday, a large majority of headteachers say they are not able to accommodate all three year groups, in some cases for the remainder of the school year.
According to a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research, primary school leaders expect that 47% of families will keep their children home, with the proportion rising to 50% among pupils eligible for free school meals.
The gradual reopening of schools is part of a raft of measures to ease the lockdown in England on Monday, which includes allowing groups of up to six people to meet outdoors and in private gardens. Outdoor markets and car showrooms can now resume trading from today, provided they socially distance. Senior public health officials made an extraordinary last-minute plea for ministers to scrap Monday’s easing of the coronavirus lockdown in England, warning the country is unprepared to deal with any surge in infection and that public resolve to take steps to limit transmission has been eroded.
The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said new rules were “not supported by the science” and that pictures of crowded beaches and beauty spots over the weekend showed “the public is not keeping to social distancing as it was”.
It follows comments by a second senior government medical adviser, Jenny Harries, a deputy chief medical officer for England, who effectively criticised Dominic Cummings for breaching lockdown regulations by saying it is “a matter of personal and professional integrity” to abide by the rules.
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