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11:21 AM 18th May 2020

Business Secretary's Statement On Coronavirus (COVID-19): 17 May 2020

Business Secretary Alok Sharma gave the 17 May 2020 daily press briefing on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alok Sharma
Alok Sharma
Good afternoon.

I am joined today by Professor Steve Powis who is National Medical Director of NHS England.

I will shortly be setting out our progress on vaccines but first, I want to update you on the latest data on the coronavirus response.

2,580,769 tests for coronavirus have now been carried out in the UK, including 91,206 tests carried out yesterday.

243,303 people have tested positive. That’s an increase of 3,142 cases since yesterday.

Unfortunately, due to technical issues, Northern Ireland have been unable to process any testing data for Pillar 1 today. Today’s daily totals therefore reflect Pillar 1 data for Great Britain only, excluding Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland are looking to resolve this issue as soon as possible and we will update the data when we can.

10,035 people are in hospital with COVID-19, down (15%) from 11,817 this time last week.

And sadly, of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 34,636 have now died. That’s an increase of 170 fatalities since yesterday.

Our thoughts are very much with the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.

Before talking about the work on vaccines and taking questions, I just want to remind everyone of the details of the next phase of our fight against coronavirus.

First, in order to monitor our progress, we have established a new COVID Alert Level System, with 5 levels, each relating to the level of threat posed by the virus.

The alert level is based primarily on the R value and the number of coronavirus cases.

And in turn, that alert level will determine the level of social distancing measures in place.

The lower the level, the fewer the measures.

The higher the level, the stricter the measures.

Throughout the period of lockdown, which started on March 23, we have been at Level 4.

Thanks to you, people across the country, we have collectively helped to bring the R level down.

And we are now in a position to begin moving to Level 3, in careful steps.

We have set out the first of 3 steps we will take to carefully modify the measures, gradually ease the lockdown, and begin to allow people to return to their way of life.

But crucially, whilst avoiding what would be a disastrous second peak that overwhelms the NHS.

After each step we will closely monitor the impact of that step on the R and the number of infections, and all the available data.

And we will only take the next step when we are satisfied that it is safe to do so.

As the Prime Minister announced this week, as part of the first step:

those who cannot work from home should now speak to their employer about going back to work

you can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like

you can meet 1 person outside of your household in an outdoor public place, provided you stay 2 metres apart

Having taken the first step in carefully adjusting some of the measures and our advice to people on what to do, we have also updated what we are asking people to do.

Which is to: Stay Alert, Control the Virus and Save Lives.

Staying Alert, for the vast majority of people, still means staying at home as much as possible.

But there are a range of other actions we are advising people to take.

People should Stay Alert, by:

working from home if you can

limiting contact with other people

keeping distance if you go out - 2 metres apart where possible

washing your hands regularly

wearing a face covering when you are in enclosed spaces where it’s difficult to be socially distant, for example in some shops and on public transport

and, if you or anyone in your household has symptoms, you all need to self-isolate

Because if everyone stays alert and follows the rules, we can control coronavirus by keeping the R down and reducing the number of infections.

This is how we can continue to save lives as we begin as a nation to recover from coronavirus.

But in order to definitively conquer this disease, we need to find a safe, workable vaccine.

Last month I announced a new Vaccine Taskforce to coordinate the efforts of government, academia and industry in the critical mission to find a vaccine.

I am very proud of how quickly our scientists and researchers have come together in their efforts to develop a vaccine that will combat coronavirus.

Their work has meant that 2 of the world’s front-runners to develop a vaccine are right here in the UK – at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London.

The first clinical trial of the Oxford vaccine is progressing well, with all Phase 1 participants having received their vaccine dose on schedule earlier this week.

They are now being monitored closely by the clinical trial team.

The speed at which Oxford University has designed and organised these complex trials is genuinely unprecedented.

Imperial College are also making good progress, and will be looking to move into clinical trials by mid-June, with larger scale trials planned to begin in October.

So far the government has invested £47 million in the Oxford and Imperial vaccine programmes.

But today I can announce an additional £84 million of new government funding to help accelerate their work.

This new money will help mass produce the Oxford vaccine, so that if current clinical trials are successful, we have dosages to start vaccinating the UK population straight away.

The funding will also allow Imperial to launch phase 3 clinical trials of its vaccine later this year.

I can also confirm that with government support, Oxford University has finalised a global licensing agreement with AstraZeneca for the commercialisation and manufacturing of the Oxford vaccine.

This means that, if the vaccine is successful, Astra Zeneca will work to make up to 30 million doses available by September for the UK, as part of an agreement to deliver 100 million doses in total.

The UK will be the first to get access.

And we can also ensure that, in addition to supporting people here in the UK, we are able to make the vaccine available to developing countries at the lowest possible cost.

To further support our domestic manufacturing capability, last month I announced that the government will accelerate building the UK’s first Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which is based at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

And today I can announce that we will invest up to a further £93 million in the Centre, ensuring that it opens in summer 2021 - a full 12 months ahead of schedule.

The Centre – which is already under construction - will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as 6 months.

But if, and it is a big “if”, a successful vaccine is available later this year, we will need to be in a position to manufacture it at scale – and quickly.

So while the Centre is being built, the government will establish a rapid deployment facility thanks to a further investment of £38 million to begin coronavirus vaccine manufacturing at scale from this summer.

This facility will support efforts to ensure a vaccine is widely available to the UK public as soon as possible.

In total, the government has now committed over a quarter of a billion pounds towards developing a vaccine in the UK.

But there are no certainties.

In spite of the tireless effort of our scientists, it is possible that we may never find a successful coronavirus vaccine.

So we also need to look at other drug treatments and therapeutics for those who get the virus.

Treatments that could prevent people progressing to severe illness, or help save lives of those with serious symptoms.

While there are currently no drugs in the world have been clinically proven to treat coronavirus, the government is working with our scientists and medical experts to identify promising candidates.

This collaborative UK programme, known as the ACCORD (Accelerating COVID-19 Research & Development platform), aims to get an early indication of drug treatments’ effectiveness in treating coronavirus.

And today I can report that 6 drugs have now entered initial live clinical trials.

If positive results are seen, they will advance into larger scale trials.

Our scientists are working tirelessly to develop vaccines and drug treatments.

Condensing work which would usually take years, into months and even weeks.

Their drive and dedication inspires us all.

And with their help, we will overcome coronavirus.

Thank you.