A decision on whether schools will return next month is likely to be made this week , Downing Street has suggested.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was keen to resolve the issue “as soon as we can”, amid a growing row between ministers and unions over the safety of teachers and children.
It came as medical experts said a loss or changed sense of taste or smell would be added to the NHS coronavirus symptoms list, alongside a cough and fever, weeks after experts first raised concerns that Covid-19 cases were being missed. Anyone experiencing any of these coronavirus red flags should now self-isolate for seven days to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that anyone aged over the age of five with symptoms is now eligible for a coronavirus test.
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Answering a question about why quarantine was not brought in earlier, Prof Van-Tam said the UK did enforce quarantine on February 29 and February 30 for people returning from Wuhan. Four weeks later, advice was also issued to travellers returning from northern Italy, South Korea and Iran to self-isolate.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said very few Covid-19 patients experience loss of taste and smell as a lone symptom of the virus.
Asked whether the UK had missed diagnosis of coronavirus by failing to add it to the list of symptoms to watch for until this week, the deputy chief medical officer said: “What I can tell you is from the Public Health England data set, called the FF100 – the first few hundred cases – there are actually 229 cases in there, all laboratory-confirmed Covid, all of whom have been studied in considerable detail and 0.44% reported anosmia on its own as a symptom.
“So, the point about anosmia is it doesn’t always come as the first symptom.
“Even if it does, it is followed by the cough, the fever and many of the other symptoms I have talked about, referring to the WHO definition.
“So you don’t miss those cases.
“The important thing was to work out if this would add any sensitivity to the diagnostic cluster we were using and the answer is that it makes a small – a very small – difference and we have therefore decided to do it.”
Daily coronavirus tests and deaths in the UK:
Only 0.44 per cent of people reported loss of smell or taste as the only symptom of coronavirus, Prof Van-Tam said.
Prof Van-Tam said the Government needs to prepare for potential “healthcare surges” in autumn and winter.
Until we get a vaccine, Prof Van-Tam said we may need to learn to live with the virus in the long-term, for many months to come, perhaps for years.
Mr Raab said it was “not sustainable” to keep the lockdown in place “permanently” but that the Government was monitoring the changes it was making.
It is true to say that making any changes inherently comes with some risk of spreading the virus compared with simply staying at home.
But it is also true that staying in permanent lockdown is itself not sustainable on health grounds or economic grounds.
That is why we have only eased measures where it can be done with the lowest risk possible.
That’s also why we are watching the impact of every change we make very closely.”
The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 is in “sustained decline”, Prof Van-Tam said.
Professor Van-Tam presented data from Apple searches for directions, which shows a gradual upwards trend for searches for walking and driving directions. The trend for public transport searches is flat, he said, which is in line with Government advice to avoid public transport.
Mr Raab reiterated Mr Hancock’s announcement that anyone over the age of five with symptoms of Covid-19 can get a test.
Dominic Raab opens the briefing by emphasising that the Government’s “overriding” priority is to save lives, while preserving livelihoods.
Downing Street’s daily press briefing is due to start in a few minutes, led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.
NEW: The Department of Health said 34,796 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday, up by 160 from 34,636 the day before.
In the 24-hour period up to 9am on Monday, 100,678 tests were carried out or dispatched, with a total of 67,409 people tested and 2,684 positive results.
Overall a total of 2,682,716 tests have been carried out, and 246,406 cases have been confirmed positive.
‘High chance’ of coronavirus vaccine being developed, expert says
Researchers in the UK are not able to agree on when they think a coronavirus vaccine will be available, but they seem optimistic that one will be developed.
A University of Oxford team is currently testing a vaccine candidate in humans, while another group from Imperial College London are expected to start human trials next month.
If Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate proves successful, then up to 30 million doses for the UK could be available by September, the Government has said.
Wearing face coverings in schools
Mr Hancock said that it is a matter for headteachers whether school staff are free to wear face coverings or visors.
Labour former minister Hilary Benn told the Commons: “Many teachers and school staff are anxious about a return to the classroom, especially those who have medical conditions or who are living with someone who is shielding.
“I understand that it will not be a requirement, but can (Mr Hancock) just clarify whether if for reassurance staff at times want to wear face coverings and/or visors, they are perfectly free to do so?”
Mr Hancock responded:
They are not advised to do so. What staff do within a school is a matter for their head.”
Four crown courts in England and Wales reopen doors for cases
Judges in the first new trials since the coronavirus lockdown have been moved to allay any fears as they welcomed jurors back to court.
Strict social distancing measures were put in place at the Old Bailey, Cardiff, Bristol and Manchester Minshull Street crown courts to ensure safety.
Jurors were seated two metres apart in court and a second court was set up for press and members of the public to watch by video link.
Before starting a death by careless driving case at the Old Bailey, Judge Richard Marks QC used a microphone to address 27 potential jurors gathered in the hall outside.
He said: “We are living, are we not, in very challenging times and it would be remiss of me not to address your concerns during the pandemic.”
Judge Marks said the listed building had been thoroughly cleaned and inspected before they arrived.
Jurors were dotted around the well of the court, having swapped places with barristers who occupied their box.
Mr Hancock has pledged to work to resolve issues at a care home in Lancashire where around half of the residents died last month.
Raising the issue in the Commons, Conservative MP Mark Menzies said: “I currently have a care home in Fylde where 16 residents died in April. This represents around half of those in the home.
“Six of the remaining residents are displaying symptoms but they’re being told that they’ll have to wait until mid-June for further tests following errors made by Randox a few weeks ago. Can (Mr Hancock) please investigate this matter and work with me to resolve this really important issue?”
Mr Hancock responded:
Yes, of course I can. I will take that up immediately and we’ll try to get a resolution. Thankfully, we’ve got the testing capacity to be able to resolve problems like that.”
Shielding remains “necessary”
Mr Hancock has said shielding remains “necessary” and that protections for those who are shielding will continue to apply until June 30.
Labour’s Stella Creasy said: “Two weeks ago 1.8 million people in this country who are currently shielding were told that they would have to shield for an extra two weeks until June 30.
“Can the Secretary of State confirm what protection there will be for them and their families so that they do not face the threat of redundancy or sanctions from not going to work or not going to school in order to follow that medical advice?”
Mr Hancock replied:
We’ve put in place extensive protections for people who are shielding and those protections, of course, will continue to apply up until June 30.
The shielding is not something that we do lightly because we understand the very significant impact it has on those concerned and their families, but it is necessary in a pandemic like this.”
First set of vaccines will be for most vulnerable, Hancock says
Mr Hancock said, if successful, the first 30 million vaccines will be “at the start for the most vulnerable”.
Mr Hancock told MPs in the Commons:
I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to come to an agreement with AstraZeneca that will ensure that if the science behind the Oxford vaccine works, and if it does it is likely to be one of the first available in the world, then we have agreement to make sure that 100 million doses are available for the UK, the first 30 million of which will be right at the start for the most vulnerable.
That is a UK-wide policy, we’ll deliver it right across these islands.”
He added: “Vaccine science is an uncertain business, that is why we cannot ever be 100 per cent sure that there will be a safe and effective vaccine. But we’re putting everything we possibly can into making sure that we can give them the best possible chance for every citizen of the whole United Kingdom.”
Matt Hancock on reopening dentists
Mr Hancock said the Government is “working on the restart of dentistry” but cautioned practices will only open when it is safe to do so.
Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne asked: “The regional dental hubs offer little more than extractions. But I want to keep my teeth. When will dentists be able to treat their own patients?”
Mr Hancock replied: “We have urgent dental hubs so anybody who does need urgent dentistry can get a dentist’s appointment through their GP.”
However, we are also working on the restart of dentistry more broadly. I understand the challenges especially for those who want to see their own dentists and, frankly, for dentists’ practices.
With NHS contracts we have continued to keep the funds flowing but, of course, many dentists rely on their private income as well – and we support the mixed market in dentistry.
What we need to do is get dentistry safely up and running when we can, but it has to be safe.”