Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on Coronavirus

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, in the House of Commons on 26 February 2020.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on covid-19, or coronavirus. As of this morning, 7,132 people in the UK have been tested for the virus. So far, 13 people in the UK have tested positive, of whom eight have now been discharged from hospital. We expect more cases here. As planned, 115 people left supported isolation at Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes on 23 February. All tested negative for covid-19. On Saturday, 32 people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship were repatriated and taken to Arrowe Park, where they will remain in supported isolation. Four of those have tested positive and been transferred to specialist centres. British tourists are currently being quarantined in a hotel in Tenerife, and the Foreign Office is in contact with them.

We have a clear four-part plan to respond to the outbreak of this disease: contain, delay, research and mitigate. We are taking all necessary measures to minimise the risk to the public. We have put in place enhanced monitoring measures at UK airports, and health information is available at all international airports, ports and international train stations. We have established a supported isolation facility at Heathrow to cater for international passengers who are tested, and to maximise infection control and free up NHS resources.

The NHS is testing a very large number of people who have travelled back from affected countries, the vast majority of whom test negative. In the past few days, we have published guidance for schools, employers, first responders, social care and the travel industry on how to handle suspected cases. If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited. There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home. Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education. In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors, including professional advice. Schools should be guided by the advice on the website, and contact their regional schools commissioner in case of queries. I can tell the House that in the coming days we will roll out a wider public information campaign.

While the Government and the NHS have plans in place for all eventualities, everyone can play their part. To reiterate, our advice is for everyone to take sensible precautions, such as using tissues and washing hands more. Yesterday we updated our advice to returning travellers from northern Italy—defined as anywhere north of, but not including, Pisa and Florence—as well as from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Those returning from Iran, the lockdown areas of northern Italy and the special care zone in South Korea should self-isolate and call NHS 111, even if they have no symptoms.

We are working closely with the World Health Organisation, the G7 and the wider international community to ensure that we are ready for all eventualities. We are co-ordinating research efforts with international partners. Our approach has at all times been guided by the chief medical officer, working on the basis of the best possible scientific evidence. The public can be assured that we have a clear plan to contain, delay, research and mitigate, and that we are working methodically through each step to keep the public safe. I commend this statement to the House.