Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 4 April 2020

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us for our daily briefing in the fight against Covid-19.

I am joined today by Professor Steve Powis, Medical Director of NHS England.

I’d like first to update you on the facts about the spread of the coronavirus,

Then I will outline why it is so critical that we continue to observe the rules on social distancing.

Thirdly, I will explain what we are doing to increase the capacity of the NHS to deal with this disease.

And finally, I want to say something about how we can all work together to defeat this invisible enemy.

First, the facts as they stand today.

As of 9am today, a total of 183,190 people have been tested, of which 41,903 tested positive.

15,073 people in England have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms.

But the pattern of hospital admissions in England and Wales has regional differences.

In London, the number of admissions fell slightly between the 1st and 2nd of April.

Admissions are steady in Wales.

But in Yorkshire and the North East they have gone up by 35% and in the Midlands, the rate of hospital admissions has gone up by 47%.

708 people have sadly lost their lives as a result of Covid-19: the highest daily total yet recorded.

And that means that of those hospitalised in the UK, the number who have passed away now totals 4,313.

Those numbers emphasise again the importance of maintaining social distancing measures to halt the spread of the disease.

More than ever, we must ‘stick with it’, as the Prime Minister said in his video message.

Now I know that life under lockdown can be challenging. Some will be tempted, on this sunny weekend, to venture out and about.

But, as the Health Secretary underlined, yesterday, if we relax our adherence to the rules we increase the risk for others.

That’s why it is so important to stay at home. Protect the NHS. And to save lives.

We need to think of those on the frontline, and the sacrifices that they are making for us. As the Chief Nursing Officer for England reminded us yesterday.

Ruth May asked us to remember two NHS nurses who died after contracting Covid-19.

Areema Nasreen, who was just 36, and Aimee O’Rourke, aged 39, each had three young children.

They died while doing everything they could to help the sick and suffering.

We can all best honour them by playing our part in fighting the disease by staying at home and slowing the spread.

Seven healthcare professionals have now lost their lives to Covid-19 and we offer our heartfelt condolences to their grieving families - and to the many others mourning the loss of loved ones.

They include the family of Ismail Mohamed Adbdulwahab, who died aged just 13 in King’s College Hospital in London.

His mother and siblings are showing symptoms of the virus, and they were unable to say their final goodbyes at his funeral. In their despair, the loving, dignified tributes from Ismail’s parents are truly haunting.

Our thoughts today are also with the family of the five-year-old child with underlying health conditions who has tragically died.

So again: you must stay at home, to protect the NHS and to save lives.

Whatever the temptation this weekend please don’t go outside, to the lakes, the beaches or the countryside.

Take pride instead in keeping your own families and communities safe.

The more we restrict contact, the more we slow the spread of the infection – and the more time we have to build capacity in the NHS so that we can treat those who are most in need.

And I want now to outline how we are increasing NHS capacity.

Yesterday we were grateful to HRH the Prince of Wales, himself recently recovered from Coronavirus, for opening the brand new Nightingale Hospital in east London, a testament to brilliant teamwork and determined leadership from the NHS.

Two weeks of hard work have transformed a convention hall into a fully-functioning field hospital that can treat 500 COVID-19 patients on ventilators or through oxygenation.

New Nightingale hospitals are due to be built in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow, Harrogate, and Manchester.

And given we now know that the Midlands are a particular area of concern, the NHS and the military are accelerating their existing work to transform the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham into a 2000-bed Nightingale Hospital. I have spoken to the mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, earlier today and he is doing all he can with the NHS, to accelerate that work.

Of course, a critical part of ensuring the NHS is resilient is improving the testing of staff. 10,984 tests were administered yesterday – and as the Health Secretary outlined on Thursday we have a strategy to increase that number to 100,000 a day.

Testing is a critical part of the clinical pathway that we all follow in seeking to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

But the next vital step is appropriate pharmaceutical treatment.

That is why as the Health Secretary explained clinical trials are now taking place to see if anti-virals which have helped in the fight against HIV, and anti-malarial medicines such as hydroxychloroquine, can reliably reduce the harm the coronavirus inflicts.

The next stage in the clinical pathway is ensuring those patients with impaired lung functions get the oxygen they need – and this is where ventilation comes in.

We have been working to increase the ventilator capacity across the NHS.

Ventilation can be non-invasive and invasive.

Effective non-invasive ventilation can ensure patients do not need to be placed on invasive ventilators – where they are intubated and supported to breathe with machinery which takes oxygen direct into their lungs.

We have secured new non-invasive capacity with the help of UK manufacturers who have worked at pace to develop new technologies. A team from University College London working with Mercedes Benz have produced a new device which has been clinically approved. They produced 215 yesterday, have produced the same number today and tomorrow, rising to 1,000 a day next week.

We are also increasing the capacity of the NHS to deploy invasive ventilation.

We have been buying invasive ventilators from partners abroad, including Germany and Switzerland. And today, 300 new ventilators arrived from China. I’d like to thank the Chinese Government for their support in securing that capacity.

And we have developed new sources of supply here in the UK, with existing and modified models being made in greater numbers and new models designed to come on stream soon.

The first models which have been scaled up as part of the Ventilator Challenge will be coming off production lines this weekend.

More are to come into operation in the coming weeks, subject to safety and regulatory approvals, as part of the Prime Minister’s call to manufacturers to scale up production.

Increasing this production has involved securing supplies of critical components – from lithium ion batteries to flow regulators – from across the globe to assemble here.

The first of the ventilators that the government has ordered from Penlon, a medical devices company based in Oxfordshire, will be begin arriving in hospitals this week for final clinical checks.

We are grateful to the MOD personnel who will be delivering them, as we are to all the companies who have devoted time, staff and resources to fighting Covid-19.

The first devices from Smiths Group have also been received at MOD Donnington, a military logistics hub in Shropshire: these have been approved by the regulator.

The initial dispatch is the result of scaled-up manufacturing of an existing mechanical ventilator design - and we are grateful for the efforts of an industry consortium including GKN Aerospace and Rolls-Royce.

These ventilators will be distributed to hospitals this week.

And next week, UK production of another ventilator device from the companies Diamedica and Plexus will start at their factory in Kelso, in Scotland. The design is based on an existing product already in use in the NHS.

The more ventilators – invasive and non-invasive – available to the NHS, the more patients can get the care they need when they need it.

But the process of design, testing, assembly and manufacture does take time.

We need to make sure these devices are safe and their manufacture scaleable.

The challenges in increasing numbers are formidable – which is why the commitment of the scientists, engineers, designers and civil servants involved in this work is so impressive.

But you don’t need to be a scientist or engineer to help them.

All you need to do is observe the social distancing guidelines that have been put in place.

The more we all stay at home, and slow the spread of the disease, the more time we buy for more ventilators to come on stream and for the NHS to become more resilient.

Finally, I want to turn to the way in which all parts of our country are coming together to fight this invisible enemy.

Teachers have kept schools open for those who need them – and parents have kept their children at home wherever possible – so we enter the Easter Holiday weeks with school attendance having been around just 2% - ensuring the most vulnerable can be cared for.

For children eligible for free school meals, vouchers will be available over the holidays to support household incomes.

But I am conscious more must be done – particularly over the holiday period – to support children at risk and in need, and we will be saying more next week about work in this area.

I also recognise that we are asking a lot of the British people.

And we in Government therefore have a responsibility to communicate as clearly as possible.

Clear, factual, timely information.

And an honest assessment of the difficulties we all face – as well as proper recognition of the achievements of those on the frontline who are doing so much to fight this disease.

Adapting to this pandemic has meant developing guidance, implementing new policies and co-ordinating efforts across government at an unprecedented pace.

Inevitably, there has therefore been criticism of some government actions.

I recognise that criticism has been designed to challenge the government’s performance and improve to our response. Which is why I welcome it.

Even as we unite in our efforts to defeat the virus we must also recognise that robust scrutiny is to be welcomed – and is the duty of the media.

Which is why we are acting to both share robust information and support our media by investing more in our government information campaign which is being disseminated through the national media and local newspapers and radio.

We will share essential health advice and information on the support packages available from the Chancellor for workers or for businesses.

We will share details of how you can help volunteer to support our NHS or the vulnerable; and also how you can help British farmers by buying more locally-grown products, and we will also list dozens of other ways you can join the national effort against Coronavirus.

We are using social media to reach young people, some of whom have been more reluctant than others to follow social distancing rules.

And in this united national effort, where we need both constructive challenge and a shared spirit of national endeavour, we want to make sure that we all work collaboratively to help defeat the virus.

That is why we have been co-ordinating daily with our colleague in the devolved administrations, why I spoke yesterday to my friends in the trade union movement Frances O’Grady and Len McCluskey and why the Prime Minister has written today to the leaders of all opposition parties, including the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer.

I would like to congratulate Sir Keir on his victory and wish him well in his important role.

And I would like again to emphasise that all of us can do our bit this weekend in that united national effort

By staying at home,

Protecting the NHS,

And saving lives.