More than 20,000 people have now died in UK hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, making the country the fifth in the world to pass that grim milestone. Following a rise of 813 deaths since the number announced on Friday, the total now stands at 20,319, almost six weeks after the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said on 17 March that keeping the toll under 20,000 would be “a good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get”.
The government is not going to give a date for schools reopening or more general relaxing of lockdown rules until the five tests are met, Priti Patel said. The home secretary said it would be “irresponsible” to get people’s hopes up as this is still a dangerous time for the country, and tests including a decline in the death rate and not risking a second surge in infections. The tests, previously laid out by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, are: to protect the NHS’s ability to cope with coronavirus cases, to see a consistent fall in the daily death rate, to produce reliable data on infection and death rates, to be confident that testing and PPE are being managed properly, and to not risk a second peak of infections.
Test slots and testing kits for key workers and their households ran out for a second day in a row in England and Wales. The BBC reported that home testing kits ran out within 15 minutes and test slots were fully booked by 10am. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said more would be available by 8am on Sunday.
A campaign was launched in England to urge people seriously ill with non-coronavirus conditions to seek medical help if they need it. Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, stressed that the health service is still there for patients without coronavirus who needed urgent and emergency services for stroke, heart attack, and other often fatal conditions. The campaign urges people to contact their GP or NHS 111 as they normally would, or to dial 999 in an emergency.
As ever, thank you to everybody who got in touch throughout the day with tips and suggestions. That’s it for today from us on the UK side, but you can continue to follow the Guardian’s coverage of the pandemic over on the global live blog.
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As UK universities face huge losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned they need to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to shift their degrees online.
Only around 20 universities are in a position to provide a good range of high-quality online courses by the new academic year in September, according to Prof Sir Tim O’Shea, the former vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University. Some of the country’s top-ranked Russell Group institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, were not in that category, he added.
The warning comes as the sector seeks to attract and retain students already deterred from starting or continuing degrees next year, with physical distancing likely to mean lecture theatres and campus bars are closed.
Most universities would face costs of at least £10m to create five or six new online degrees in different faculties, said O’Shea, a leading expert on computer-based learning. This would total well over £1bn across the sector.
Durham University this week retracted controversial plans to deliver online-only degrees after protests by students and lecturers. Meanwhile, the vice-chancellor of Manchester University said it was preparing to expand its online courses to offset a predicted £270m loss next year.
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It would be irresponsible to give a date for relaxing restrictions – Patel
Q. Parents are trying to juggle childcare with work as schools are closed and the economy has to keep running, do you sympathise with them?
Priti Patel says these are very difficult and unusual times. She pays tribute to schools, especially teachers and headteachers, staying open for children of key workers.
The five tests will have to be met before schools can reopen, she adds. The tests, previously laid out by Dominic Raab and Gavin Williamson, are: to protect the NHS’s ability to cope with coronavirus cases, to see a consistent fall in the daily death rate, to produce reliable data on infection and death rates, to be confident that testing and PPE are being managed properly, and to not risk a second peak of infections.
Q. There was much debate about the timing of entering the lockdown. What was the point of delaying it if it’s going to go on and on?
Patel says this isn’t a binary choice. We can’t just remove restrictions and move back to how things were, she says.
She says she cannot give a date for when it will end and when schools and businesses can reopen. That would be irresponsible and get hopes up, she says.
Prof Stephen Powis says the timing was a really difficult decision, particularly regarding economic harm as a result of a lockdown.
And that’s the end of today’s press conference.
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Q. The Royal College of Surgeons says the backlog of cancelled operations could take five years to clear – is that the timescale you’re working on and how many lives do you estimate these delays will cost?
Priti Patel says decisions about prioritisation of treatments will be based on resources and capacity in the NHS.
Prof Stephen Powis adds that elective surgery had to be stepped down in order to cope in the surge in patients with coronavirus. As soon as we can, we want to step that back up again, he says.
Q. When Dominic Cummings attended Sage, did he ever say anything and if so, what?
Prof Stephen Powis says he has been participating since towards the end of February. His experience of Sage is that it has been about scientists and science, with experts from a variety of disciplines.
It is a scientific discussion between scientific advisers in his experience, he says. The contributions and advice goes from the scientific experts in that group to the government.
He does not comment on Cummings.
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Q. Regarding the rise in motor vehicle use, is the government sending out mixed messages by telling people to stay at home while also allowing non-essential work to take place?
Prit Patel says that if you can’t work from home, you can go to work as long as physical distancing is practised.
She says she understands it is frustrating being at home for five weeks, but physical distancing will continue to be vital in the future.
Q. Why can’t households be extended to a small group rather than just people living under the same roof?
Prof Stephen Powis says the virus can spread from household to household, so the purpose of the lockdown was to disrupt that chain of transmission.
I think we’d all be disappointed if we forfeited those gains by allowing chains of transmission to start to be re-established, because then we would start going backwards.
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Q. When do you expect the peak to come in care homes?
Prof Stephen Powis says that all along they have tried to resist predicting when the peak will come.
With care homes, Public Health England is assisting when outbreaks occur and the government is increasing testing.
Q. Doctors and nurses coming into the country have to pay a surcharge for themselves and their families – isn’t it time to scrap it?
Priti Patel says a range of measures are under review.
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They are taking questions from the media now.
Q. You said weeks ago the UK will have done well if the death rate stayed below 20,000. We have passed that number now – does this mean the strategy should have been different?
Prof Stephen Powis says every death is tragic and his heart goes out to their loved ones.
This is a once-in-a-century global crisis, he says, and there were bound to be challenges. Even countries who got on top of it early on are starting to see new infections. This will continue to be something we work through in the months ahead – a sprint not a marathon, he adds.
Moving past this milestone shows it is still absolutely critical to follow physical distancing guidelines, he says, because we are seeing benefits and this will only continue if we keep doing that.
Priti Patel adds that we are not out of the woods yet, despite the fact we’re making progress.
This is a deeply tragic and moving moment.
Q. Are you able to envisage relaxing any of the lockdown measures now?
Patel says it isn’t optional that the five tests have to be met, so the science can judge when we can revise the measures.
It is not now, she says. We need people to continue.
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Prof Stephen Powis says the number of new cases diagnosed by testing is reasonably stable. With the number of tests expanding, we can expect to see a rise in new cases, but it is fairly stable for now.
There is a sustained reduction in the number of people being treated in hospitals, particularly in London and beginning in other parts of the country, he says.
He says the number of patients in critical care is starting to decline, although that will lag behind the overall number of admissions to hospitals.
A new line for Northern Ireland has been introduced, showing new data that is not currently comparable with the other data as it is cumulative rather than daily, he adds.
The number of deaths is showing a trend towards a decline, which will occur later than the trend in hospital admissions and critical care.
If we continue to adhere to physical distancing we will begin to see a decline in deaths, he says.
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Powis says transport use continues to fall across public transport and roads. There is concern that motor vehicle use is starting to rise again.
Data from Apple Maps shows a decrease since lockdown in requests for walking, driving or public transport directions.
He says it’s tempting to go out in warm, sunny weather, but he can’t emphasise enough that we are not through this yet and it’s critical people continue to comply with physical distancing measures.
It would be foolish and not right if we lost the benefits we’ve gained over the last four weeks, which have been hard for everybody.
Prof Stephen Powis is speaking now.
The NHS has not been overwhelmed and has capacity to cope, he says.
He reminds people the NHS is still available for treatment of conditions that are not related to coronavirus, including sick children, pregnant women, and those who fear they may be suffering from stroke or heart conditions.
Call 111, contact your GP or dial 999 in a real emergency, he reminds everyone.
Fast diagnosis and treatment is absolutely crucial, he says, so do not delay. The NHS is still there for you.
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