People hoping for a Covid-19 test could face “eligibility checks” and be subject to an order of priority system, the Health Secretary has said
Matt Hancock told MPs the measures were under consideration following a “very sharp rise” in the last fortnight of people “coming forward for tests when they’re not eligible”.
MPs raised concerns over test shortages in their areas and people having to travel several miles in a bid to get one, with Tory former minister Greg Clark calling on the Health Secretary to get a “grip” of the testing situation.
Mr Hancock was also heckled by some opposition MPs as he outlined his ambitions for Operation Moonshot, which will aim to provide mass testing using saliva and other methods which can deliver results within 20 to 90 minutes.
He aimed a message at the “naysayers” doubting the idea, although later did not deny reports the project could cost £100 billion when pressed by Labour.
Protesters with placards gather outside the entrance to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to demonstrate against a secondary lockdown
British Airways’ parent company IAG announces cutting of flights due to cquarantine requirements
Between October and December the group expects to operate 60 per cent less capacity than during the same period last year, compared with a previously planned reduction of 46 per cent.
The firm said it continues to expect it will take until at least 2023 for passenger demand to recover to 2019 levels. It saw an “almost complete cessation of new booking activity” in April and May due to the pandemic, while the easing of country lockdowns sparked an increase in ticket sales in June.
Since July there has been an “overall levelling off of bookings”, IAG said.
Demand for short-haul travel has “fallen slightly” following the UK and other European countries reimposing quarantine requirements for travellers returning from specific countries such as Spain.
Tory Sir Desmond Swayne questions whether social distancing policies are having an impact worse than coronavirus itself
Sir Desmond said: “Is there no scintilla of doubt in (Matt Hancock’s) mind occasioned by the growing body of scientific opinion which questions the interpretation of the data and concludes that the policies of governments, I use the plural, the policies of governments are having an impact worse than the disease itself?”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock replied: “I’m afraid to say I would love (Sir Desmond) to be right, but I firmly believe, not only based on the clinical advice, but also based on my own analysis of and judgment of the facts and the international comparisons, that it is necessary for the public health of the nation to take actions to control the spread of the disease.
“And to take the firm and now legislative actions that we are. And the reason is that if the virus spreads, we know that it then spreads into the older age group who too often die from this disease and we also know that it doesn’t just go up in a straight line, if you let this disease rip, it goes up exponentially.
“And that is why, with a heavy heart, I strongly support the extra measures that the Prime Minister outlined yesterday and the strategy of this Government and of most governments around the world to handle this pandemic.”
‘Youth groups’ exempt from new rule of six restrictions
Matt Hancock confirmed that youth groups are exempt from the new restrictions as they have their own guidelines in place.
He said: “Youth groups are exempt from the rule of six because they have their own Covid-secure guidelines in the same way that schools do, in the same way that organised sport is exempt.”
The Health Secretary also said that the virus is “very, very hard” to eradicate.
Asked whether the strategy is now to get to ‘zero-Covid’ in England, he said: “We have seen a number of countries around the world announce that they’re going for an eradication strategy.
“Indeed the Scottish Government announced that it was going for an eradication strategy, but this virus has shown that it is very, very hard to eradicate.
“And we want to keep it under control whilst we pursue both the mass testing and then the vaccine to deal with it once and for all.”
Hancock to consider eligibility check and order of priority for who should receive coronavirus tests
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “There’s record testing capacity and most people get tested close to home, however, we have got this challenge that some people without symptoms who are not eligible for a test have been coming forward.
“Thus far I have been reluctant to put a barrier and a strong eligibility check on the front of the testing system because I want people with symptoms to be able to get tests as fast and as easily as possible.
“However, with this very sharp rise we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks of people coming forward for tests when they’re not eligible, that is something we’re having to look at.”
Conservative Laura Farris (Newbury) later asked: “If there is a reluctance to impose more stringent eligibility criteria, would he consider an order of priority based on, for example, working parents, teachers being able to access tests sooner?”
Mr Hancock replied: “She makes a very good point about the prioritisation, and the question is how to enforce a prioritisation without putting in place barriers that slow down access to tests for people that need them – and that’s something we’re looking at now.”
Social gatherings of people in Scotland will be limited to groups of six from two households both indoors and outdoors, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs at Holyrood.
Ms Sturgeon said given the rise in Covid-19 cases, putting these moves back was “the only responsible decision we can reach”.
She added that the reopening of call centres and offices where staff are still working from home would “definitely not take place” before October 1 – when this will be reviewed.
“For now, working from home will remain the default position,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Public ‘should not and must not go and use a test that somebody else who needs it should be using’ if you do not have symptoms – Hancock
Former Labour minister Maria Eagle said constituents in her Garston and Halewood constituency were struggling to get tested.
In the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock replied: “With this very sharp rise we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks of people coming forward for tests when they are not eligible that is something that we’re having to look at.
“The key message to her constituents is that these tests are absolutely vital for people who have symptoms and therefore if you don’t have symptoms and haven’t been told by a clinician or by a local authority to get a test then you should not and must not go and use a test that somebody else who needs it should be using.”
SNP public health spokesman Martyn Day said “some experts have described this mass testing strategy as fundamentally flawed,” adding: “Does the Secretary of State think the Prime Minister is gambling on something experts feel cannot be delivered?”
Mr Hancock replied: “There were some people in the spring who complained about my determination to expand our test capacity at a record pace and we’re hearing some of those voices out this morning again complaining that we want to increase testing.”
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Matt Hancock was heckled by some opposition MPs as he outlined his ambitions for “Operation Moonshot”, which will aim to provide mass testing using saliva and other methods which can deliver results within 20 to 90 minutes.
He said the approach is being piloted and steps are being taken to verify the new technology ahead of a desired nationwide roll-out, adding: “I’m going to depart from my script there because I’ve heard the naysayers before and I’ve heard the people on the other side complain we’ll never get testing going – and they’re the same old voices.
“They opposed 100,000 tests and did we deliver that? Yes we did. They’re saying what about testing in care homes, well we delivered the test to care homes earlier this week.
“They are against everything that’s needed to sort this problem for this country and they’d do far better to support their constituents and get with the programme.
“I’m looking forward to rolling out this programme and this work, which has been under way for some time already, I’m absolutely determined that we will get there.
“And if everything comes together, and if the technology comes off, it’ll be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to get closer to normal before Christmas.”
Hancock makes a statement in the Commons
Speaking in the Commons about the new coronavirus restrictions, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he “vowed that we will not keep these rules in place for longer than we have to”.
“Our goal as much as possible is to keep schools and businesses open,” he said. “The number of cases among the under 16s remain very low, and we all know how important it is to keep schools open.”
Students will not be sent home if there is an outbreak at university, Mr Hancock said, to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The Department for Education has published the updated guidance for universities on how they can operate in a Covid-secure way, and this includes a clear request not to send students home in the event of an outbreak in order to avoid spreading the virus further across the country,” he said.
“If you are a student who is about to return to university or go to university for the first time then please, for the sake of your education and your parents’ and grandparents’ health, follow the rules and don’t gather in groups of more than six.”
On testing, Mr Hancock said the UK has “record capacity”. Mr Hancock said the average distance to a testing site is 6.4 miles and 90 per cent of people who book a test travel 22 miles or less.
“If you do not have symptoms, haven’t been asked, then you are not eligible for a test,” Mr Hancock added.
Schools and colleges report difficulties accessing coronavirus tests
Hundreds of schools and colleges have experienced difficulties with accessing Covid-19 tests, according to a headteachers’ union.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has warned that the work of schools and colleges in reopening to all students is being undermined by testing delays.
Within hours of inviting feedback on the issue in an email to union members on Wednesday afternoon, more than 200 school and college leaders in England reported problems with the test and trace system.
Mr Barton said: “Having spent the summer working extremely hard to put in place safety measures, school and college leaders feel utterly let down by the fact that within days of term starting it is immediately apparent that there are significant problems in accessing Covid tests.”
He added: “Staff and pupils must be able to obtain tests immediately and easily, so that if they are clear of the virus they can return to school as soon as possible, and if they are positive then the appropriate action can be taken to contact and isolate close contacts.
“If this does not happen the system will come under increasing strain and the health risks will grow.”
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More information about the introduction of ‘marshals’ to enforce social distancing…
Asked for further details on the introduction of marshals to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres, a spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are encouraging the introduction of Covid-secure marshals to help support our high streets and public spaces, making sure that people feel safe to enjoy them.
“Some areas of the country have already introduced marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way and we will be working with local authorities to see where else they are needed. We will be setting out further details in due course.”
The Government said where marshals have already been introduced, they have had responsibilities including “directing pedestrians, providing information, cleaning touchpoints, preventing mixing between groups and being a point of contact for information on government guidelines”.
Councillor Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “We need to quickly see further detail on how the Government’s Covid-19-secure marshal scheme is intended to work, and any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded.”
Routine hospital treatments down 51 per cent
The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was down 51 per cent in July compared with a year ago.
Some 142,818 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, down from 314,280 in July 2019.
The year-on-year decrease recorded in June was 67 per cent, and in May the drop was 82 per cent.
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A&E attendances remain low
A&E attendances at hospitals in England continue to be below levels a year ago, according to the latest figures from NHS England.
A total of 1.7 million attendances were recorded in August 2020, down 19 per cent from 2.1 million attendances in August 2019.
NHS England said the fall was “likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response” – suggesting that people are still staying away from A&E departments because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The year-on-year drop in A&E attendances of 19 per cent in August compares with a fall of 30 per cent recorded in July and 33 per cent in June.