NHS Test and Trace is officially set to launch with the help of 25,000 contact tracers, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying it could lead to the national lockdown being replaced by individual isolation. Those who test positive for Covid-19 will have their contacts traced in a bid to monitor the disease, control local flare-ups and prevent transmission.
However, it comes amid warnings that “very key bits” of the strategy are not ready with the accompanying app still delayed by several weeks.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is facing mounting anger from Tory MPs over the Dominic Cummings controversy, with calls continuing for his top adviser to resign over an alleged breach lockdown rules. The Prime Minister continued to stand by his aide and insisted it was time to “move on” when he faced intense questioning in an appearance before senior MPs on Wednesday.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said being one metre away from someone for one minute has the same risk of transmission as being two metres away from someone for fifteen minutes.
Asked about whether the two-metre social distancing rule will be amended, Mr Hancock told LBC:
The scientists are going to look at it. What doesn’t change is the science, which is that if you are closer then you are more likely to transmit.
The scientists tell me that they reckon at one metre, for one minute, that has the same risk of transmission as being at two minutes for 15 minutes.
So, it does make a big difference to transmission being close to someone. But the scientists are going to look at it again and put forward some advice.
He added that the tracing app will introduced “in the next couple of weeks”.
Lancashire County Council advises schools not to open on Monday
Lancashire County Council is advising schools not to open to more pupils from next Monday, citing fears of contributing towards a second coronavirus peak locally.
The local authority said “the safety and wellbeing of children, their families, and school staff outweigh the benefits of opening schools on June 1”.
It comes ahead of the Government’s decision on whether to reopen primary schools in England to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from next week.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government was pushing ahead with the plans, but the scientific evidence will be reviewed before a final decision is taken on Thursday.
Ministers have come under pressure from education unions and councils who have urged the Government to reconsider its plans to open schools more widely.
In a statement, Lancashire County Council said:
The test and trace programme is not at a state of readiness to respond to Covid-19 community setting outbreaks in a timely manner, which poses a risk to school environments.
Furthermore, we are not confident that adjustments to the current measures of the lockdown policy will not risk a second peak of infections locally.
Consequently, our advice to schools is to not re-open to more pupils on June 1, but to continue with their current support systems that are in place.
Earlier on Wednesday, Durham County Council also advised against reopening schools next week, saying June 15 is a “more realistic date”.
Hancock – People will not receive penalties for not abiding by the NHS test and trace self-isolation period “in the first instance”.
Pushed on people’s concerns about fraudulent NHS calls, Mr Hancock told LBC:
If anybody calls they will be calling from the number 03000135000, if you get a text it will come from NHS and they will never ask you for any form of payment or purchase or details of your bank account, and also you will then be given, if you’re online, a QR code to be able to confirm those details online.
Asked whether he himself, having had coronavirus, would have to self-isolate again if told to do so, Mr Hancock said: “Unfortunately, yes. It is very frustrating but the reason for that is we don’t yet know whether people like me who have had it still transmit it if they come into contact with it a second time.”
On employers covering the wages of employees told to self-isolate, Mr Hancock said “it is very important work constructively with their staff”.
He added “it is better to have this sort of targeted isolation than the blanketed measures we’ve got in place at the moment”.
Newsnight host Emily Maitlis says she has been “overwhelmed” by support following the Dominic Cummings monologue row.
The BBC ruled the presenter’s comments on Cummings in the programme breached impartiality rules.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there are currently around 5,000 to 7,000 unknown positive cases of coronavirus in the country.
Asked what would result in the test and trace self-isolation system being made mandatory, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “Obviously we’re going to track very carefully the proportion of people who do what they are instructed to do by the NHS.”
In response to a viewer raising GDPR concerns, Mr Hancock added: “There are very strict confidentiality rules that are in place.
“Actually, in practice, we’ve found that only a tiny proportion of people have that sort of reaction.”
Asked who will pay someone’s wages if they have to self-isolate more than once, Mr Hancock said: “The onus is on employers … when you’re instructed to go home by the NHS that is equivalent to being off ill and we did put in place support much earlier in the crisis to deal with this challenge – it is a very significant problem.
“At the moment we estimate there is around 9,000, 7,000 to 9,000, positive cases in the country, we know who 2,000 of those are, we’ve got to hunt them down. Because that is how we get on top of the virus and lift the wider lockdown measures.”
Another Tory MP slams Dominic Cummings’ actions
Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Tory MP Simon Hoare has said “hundreds” of people are “annoyed” by Dominic Cummings’ actions.
Mr Hoare told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They are annoyed, they feel played if they weren’t aware that there was the opportunity for self interpretation of the rules and they see nothing exceptional in the circumstances that Mr Cummings set out before us in the rose garden.”
Asked whether he fears Mr Cummings’ actions will cause the virus to spread more widely, Mr Hoare said: “I think that has to be a risk, let’s pray that it doesn’t happen, but if we are taking these baby steps to release us from lockdown, that is good news.
“But if the R rate … starts to go up or spike and the brakes have to be reapplied then it has to be surely a legitimate fear … that they will not abide either in whole or in part to any new lockdown regime which has to be put back in place because … they will think that there are some people in the country who are twisting the rules to meet their own purposes and, thereby, sort of slightly laughing in the face of the British people.”
EasyJet staff will be “shocked at scale” of job cuts announcement:
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the pilots’ union Balpa said:
EasyJet staff will be shocked at the scale of this announcement. Only two days ago staff got a ‘good news’ message from their boss with no mention of job losses so this is a real kick in the teeth.
Those staff have taken pay cuts to keep the airline afloat and this is the treatment they get in return.
EasyJet has not discussed its plans with Balpa so we will wait and see what impact there will be in the UK.
But given EasyJet is a British company, the UK is it’s strongest market and it has had hundreds of millions in support from the UK taxpayer I can safely say that we will need a lot of convincing that EasyJet needs to make such dramatic cuts.
Indeed, EasyJet’s own projections, though on the pessimistic side, point to recovery by 2023 so this is a temporary problem that doesn’t need this ill-considered knee-jerk reaction.
Tracers will make “clinical judgements” over whether members of public should self-isolate
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said tracers will make a “clinical judgment” on who should self-isolate “with the best aim to be to find the people who you’ve been in contact with under two metres for 15 minutes”.
Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “Our goal is that we have the turnaround of the test within 24 hours. We’ve now managed to get the system so that 84% of the tests that you take at a drive-through centre are turned around within 24 hours and the Prime Minister yesterday set us the goal of having every test turned around within 24 hours.”
On when the timeframe starts, Mr Hancock said “the time that really matters is the time from the moment you have symptoms and call up”.
He added: “From that moment until we can get the positive result back if that is what it is, if it is positive, and get going on the contact tracing – it is that end-to-end time that matters.”
Mr Hancock said he is “confident” that results can be received “faster” than an academic study which suggested it would take three days.
After being questioned on Dominic Cummings, Matt Hancock said that people are not following the rules for the Government but for their loved ones and their community.
Mr Hancock has again said that the employees will have to play and that employment law had been extended earlier in the crisis.
This whole thing is all about trying to break that chain of commission which is very targeted towards where those cases are.
We’ve got to hunt them down because that is how we get on top of this virus.
Matt Hancock has said there are “very strict confidentiality laws in place” amid GDPR fears with people feeling uncomfortable about handing over their friends and family’s phone numbers.
Could the local reopen within weeks?
Boris Johnson’s plans to ease the lockdown will be confirmed today in an official review that could pave way for schools to begin reopening, with possible good news for pubs and restaurants.
Number 10 said the next steps for England should be detailed at the daily press conference, though they are dependent on further scientific advice including on the rate of transmission.
Matt Hancock has said that calls with contact tracers will be “very much” like a visit with your doctor because the majority are clinicians.
Hancock has told BBC News that some 2,500 who tested positive for the virus yesterday will begin the track and trace programme.
Anyone they have been in contact with, the NHS contact tracers will get in touch with to ask them to self-isolate, he said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that people will have to self-isolate for 14 days on more than one occasion if told to do so by the NHS.
Employment law covers this and we changed the law a couple of months ago so that if you are instructed by the NHS for public health reasons to stay at home, then that is the equivalent in employment law to being ill, and it is very important that employers are flexible around this.
Asked how quickly test results will be received back, Mr Hancock said:
84% of the tests from the drive-through centres are returned within 24 hours, 95% of all tests are returned within 48 hours.
Of course, there are examples of where the process hasn’t worked, because this is now a massive process, so there are individual stray examples. We’re working all the time to make it faster, I want to see every test returned within 24 hours from those drive-through centres and we will do that just as quickly as we can.
Mr Hancock added that he is “sure” chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance “will be at the podium soon”.
A council worker removed graffiti daubed near the home of Dominic Cummings:
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government is moving at “just at the right speed” with the test and trace plan.
He told Sky News:
The app is helpful, it is working on the Isle of Wight, but there’s a reason we haven’t brought it in right at the start, which is that asking people to isolate, even if they’re healthy, because the NHS has got in contact and informed them that they are in higher risk because they’ve been in contact with somebody who has tested positive, that is quite a big change.
One of the things we learnt in the pilot on the Isle of Wight was that getting people used to that idea is important to do before we then also add the technological capability, the app, on top.
Mr Hancock also confirmed that people who have had or believe they have already had coronavirus cannot avoid self-isolating if told to do so.
He said: “The science says that there is a likelihood that those of us who have had it have a lower risk but we are not yet confident in that and we’re currently doing the research to find out, if it’s true, that those of us who have had it can’t transmit it.”
British shoppers have abandoned cash in droves during the pandemic, choosing to pay with plastic instead, according to new data from PayPoint.
The payments company said it has registered around 21 million transactions at its cash points every week, a 60% reduction on last year.
Meanwhile, card payments have increased by as much as 75% during the pandemic, following expert recommendations.
“It is likely consumers’ cash usage habits will fundamentally change,” PayPoint said as it announced a 3.8% increase in profit before tax to £56.8 million, on revenue of £213.3 million for the financial year which ended March 31.
Mr Ashworth said that there is a weird anomaly in the system that statutory sick pay only gets triggered if you test positive so its important tests get turned around in 24 hours.
Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary, has said that it is an “important moment” today as the test and trace system is launched.
He said: “Let’s make sure the test is turned around in 24 hours.”
He said that people will have to cooperate with the system, isolating immediately but people need to have access to sick pay too.
Mr Ashworth criticised the Government’s support of Dominic Cummings for sending mixed messages when it is essential people cooperate with the system.