Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on Covid-19

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 16 March 2020.

Thank you for allowing me to make a statement at this time, Mr Speaker. The coronavirus pandemic is the most serious public health emergency that our nation has faced for a generation. Our goal is to protect life. Our actions have meant that the spread of the virus has been slowed in the UK. I pay tribute to the officials of Public Health England and the NHS for their exemplary approach to contact tracing and their work so far. However, the disease is now accelerating, and 53 people have sadly now died. Our hearts, across the whole House, go out to their families.

Our policy is to fight this virus with everything we have. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed a £30 billion package of financial firepower, including a £5 billion contingency fund to ensure that the NHS and social care system have the resources they need. We will give the NHS whatever it needs, and we will do whatever it takes. We will get through this by working through our action plan to contain, delay, research and mitigate the virus. That plan has two overriding aims: to protect the NHS by building it up and flattening the curve, and to protect life by safeguarding those who are most vulnerable. We will do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice.

Earlier, I attended a Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to decide on the next steps in our plan. I can report to the House that we have agreed a very significant step in the actions that we are taking from within that plan to control the spread of the disease. Those actions will change the ordinary lives of everyone in this country. We appreciate that they are very significant, and I understand that people will be concerned, but we have come to the view that they are necessary to save lives and to stop this disease.

First, based on the updated scientific advice, we are today advising that if you or anyone in your home has a high temperature or a new and continuous cough, you should stay at home for 14 days. If at all possible, you should not go out even to buy food and essentials. Instead, you should ask others for assistance with your daily necessities. The exception to that is for exercise, but even then you should keep at a safe distance from others. If it is not possible to receive deliveries at home, you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.

Even if you or anyone in your household do not have symptoms, there is more that we have to ask of you. Today, we are advising people against all unnecessary social contact with others and all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home if they possibly can. We should steer clear of pubs, clubs, cinemas and restaurants. We should use the NHS only when we really need to. This advice is directed at everyone, but it is especially important for the over-70s, for pregnant women and for those with some health conditions. It is especially true of London, which the evidence suggests is several weeks ahead of the rest of the country.

These measures will be disruptive, but they will save lives. In a few days’ time, by this coming weekend, we will need to go even further to ensure that those with the most serious health conditions are largely shielded from ​social contact for around 12 weeks. We want to ensure that the period of maximum shielding coincides with the peak of maximum transmission. While the risks of transmission at mass gatherings, such as sporting events, are relatively low, from tomorrow, we will be withdrawing our support for mass gatherings. That will free up the critical workers we need to deal with the emergency and ensure a consistent approach to social contact.

Secondly, we are increasing our testing capabilities yet further. The UK has tested more people than almost any other major economy outside of China, South Korea and Italy. We have already increased the number of tests to 5,000 a day, and that is now on its way to 10,000, then radically further.

Thirdly, we are boosting the NHS. Ventilation is mission critical to treating the disease. We have been buying up ventilation equipment since the start of the crisis, but we need more. Today, the Prime Minister hosted a call with the nation’s advanced manufacturers asking them to join a national effort to produce the ventilators we need. We have set up a dedicated team to do that, and we are hugely encouraged by the scale of the response so far. Later today, the NHS will set out the very significant steps it is taking to prepare.

Fourthly, on Thursday, we will introduce to the House the coronavirus emergency Bill, which will give us the powers to keep essential services running at a time when large parts of the workforce may be off sick. Some of those measures will be very significant and a departure from the way that we do things in peacetime. They are strictly temporary and proportionate to the threat we face, and I hope that many will not have to be used at all. They will be activated only on the basis of scientific advice and will be in place only for as long as clinically necessary. Finally, of course, we are ramping up our communications efforts, so that people know what steps they need to take to protect themselves, others and the NHS.

Tackling coronavirus is a national effort and everyone has their part to play. The more people follow the public health advice, the less need to bring in draconian actions that I am keen to avoid. Of course, we must not forget the simple things that we can all do—washing our hands, following the public health advice if we have symptoms, and looking out for the most vulnerable in the community.

The measures that I have outlined are unprecedented in peacetime. We will fight this virus with everything we have. We are in a war against an invisible killer and we have to do everything we can to stop it. I commend this statement to the House.