Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on the Covid-19 Response

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 2 June 2020.

With permission, I would like to make a statement on coronavirus.

Thanks to the collective determination and resolve of the nation, we are winning this battle. We have flattened the curve, we have protected the NHS, and together we have come through the peak. Yesterday, I was able to announce that the level of daily deaths is lower than at any time since lockdown began on 23 March. Today’s Office for National Statistics data show that the level of excess mortality is also lower than at any time since the start of lockdown, falling on a downward trend. The ONS reports 12,288 all-cause deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 22 May. That is down from 14,573 in the previous week. That latest figure is still above the average for this time of year and we must not relent in our work to drive it down, but it is now broadly in line with what we might typically see during the winter. We never forget that each of those deaths represents a family that will never be the same again. This House mourns each one.

We are moving in the right direction, but this crisis is very far from being over and we are now at a particularly sensitive moment in the course of the pandemic. We must proceed carefully and cautiously as we work to restore freedom in this country, taking small steps forward and monitoring the result, being prepared to pause in our progress if that is what public safety requires. So today I would like to update the House on two important aspects of the action we are taking.

First, NHS Test and Trace is now operational. That means we have updated our public health advice. Since the start of the crisis, we have said to people that you must wash your hands, self-isolate if you have symptoms, and follow the social distancing rules. All those remain incredibly important, but there is a new duty—and it is a duty—that we now ask and expect of people. If you have one of these symptoms—that is: a fever; a new, continuous cough; a change in your sense of taste or smell—you must get a test. We have more than enough capacity to provide a test for anyone who needs one and we have more than enough capacity to trace all your contacts. So, to repeat: if you have symptoms get a test. That is how we locate, isolate and control the virus. By the way, I make no apology for this overcapacity. The fact that we have thousands of NHS contact tracers on standby reflects the fact that transmission of the virus is currently low. If we were in a position where we needed to use all that capacity, it would mean that the virus was running at a higher rate—something that no one wants to see.

Secondly, I want to update the House on the work we are doing to understand the unequal and disproportionate way that this disease targets people, including those who are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds. This is very timely work. People are understandably angry about injustices, and as Health Secretary, I feel a deep responsibility, because this pandemic has exposed huge disparities in the health of our nation. It is very clear that some people are significantly more vulnerable to covid-19, and that is something I am determined to understand in full and take action to address.

Today, I can announce that Public Health England has completed work into disparities in the risks and outcomes of covid-19, and we have published its findings. PHE has found the following. First, as we are all aware, age is the biggest risk factor. Among those diagnosed with covid-19, people who are 80 or older are 70 times more likely to die than those under 40. Being male is also a significant risk factor. Working-age men are twice as likely to die as working-age women. Occupation is a risk factor, with professions that involve dealing with the public in an enclosed space, such as taxi driving, at higher risk. Importantly, the data show that people working in hospitals are not more likely to catch or die from covid-19.

Diagnosis rates are higher in deprived or densely populated urban areas, and we know that our great cities have been hardest hit by this virus. This work underlines that being black or from a minority ethnic background is a major risk factor. That racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effects of age, deprivation, region and sex. The PHE ethnicity analysis did not adjust for factors such as comorbidities and obesity, so there is much more work to do to understand the key drivers of these disparities, the relationships between the different risk factors and what we can do to close the gap.

I want to thank Public Health England for this work. I am determined that we continue to develop our understanding and shape our response. I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Equalities Minister will be leading on this work and taking it forward, working with PHE and others to further understand the impacts. We need everyone to play their part by staying alert, following the social distancing rules, isolating and getting a test if you have symptoms. We must not relax our guard but continue to fight this virus together. That is how we will get through this and keep driving the infection down. I commend this statement to the House.