Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on the Coronavirus

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 9 March 2020.

The coronavirus outbreak continues to advance around the world. The number of cases in China and South Korea keeps rising but at a slowing rate, but the outbreak in Iran, Italy, Switzerland and now France and Germany is growing. In Italy alone, we have seen 1,492 more cases overnight and 102 more deaths. Here in the UK, as of this morning, there were 319 confirmed cases. Very sadly, this now includes four confirmed deaths. I entirely understand why people are worried and concerned, and we send our condolences to the families.

The UK response is guided by our four-point action plan: we continue to work to contain the virus, but we are also taking action to delay its impact, to fund research and to mitigate its consequences. Throughout, our approach is guided by the science; that is the bedrock on which we base all our decisions. Our plan sets out what we are prepared to do, and we will make the right choice of which action to pursue at the right moment. The scientific advice is clear that acting too early creates its own risks, so we will do what is right to keep people safe. Guided by science, we will act at the right time, and we will be clear and open about our actions and the reasons for them. These are the principles that underpin the very best response to an epidemic such as this.

On research, I can report to the House that we have made available a further £46 million to find a vaccine and develop more rapid diagnostic tests, and we will continue to support the international effort. Here at home, the NHS is well prepared, with record numbers of staff, including nurses and doctors. I thank all those involved for their work so far. The number of calls to NHS 111 has increased—we have now added an extra 700 people to support that effort—and 111 online is now dealing with more inquiries than the voice calls.

To date, Public Health England has tested nearly 25,000 people, and the time taken to test is being reduced, as we are bringing in a new system for faster results, but of course responding to coronavirus will take a national effort; everyone must play their part. Of course, that means Government, and it also means everyone washing their hands more often and following public health advice, but there is much more we can all do, through both volunteering and supporting the most vulnerable. We will shortly introduce legislative options to help people and services to tackle the outbreak. The Bill will be temporary and proportionate, with measures that will last only as long as necessary in line with ​clinical advice. I can also report that over the weekend, we initiated action to help 120 passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California to return home.

We will stop at nothing to get our response right.