Covid-19

Monday 16th March 2020

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Matt Hancock) - Hansard

Thank you for allowing me to make a statement at this time, Mr Speaker. The coronavirus pandemic is the most serious public health emergency that our nation has faced for a generation. Our goal is to protect life. Our actions have meant that the spread of the virus has been slowed in the UK. I pay tribute to the officials of Public Health England and the NHS for their exemplary approach to contact tracing and their work so far. However, the disease is now accelerating, and 53 people have sadly now died. Our hearts, across the whole House, go out to their families.

Our policy is to fight this virus with everything we have. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed a £30 billion package of financial firepower, including a £5 billion contingency fund to ensure that the NHS and social care system have the resources they need. We will give the NHS whatever it needs, and we will do whatever it takes. We will get through this by working through our action plan to contain, delay, research and mitigate the virus. That plan has two overriding aims: to protect the NHS by building it up and flattening the curve, and to protect life by safeguarding those who are most vulnerable. We will do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice.

Earlier, I attended a Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to decide on the next steps in our plan. I can report to the House that we have agreed a very significant step in the actions that we are taking from within that plan to control the spread of the disease. Those actions will change the ordinary lives of everyone in this country. We appreciate that they are very significant, and I understand that people will be concerned, but we have come to the view that they are necessary to save lives and to stop this disease.

First, based on the updated scientific advice, we are today advising that if you or anyone in your home has a high temperature or a new and continuous cough, you should stay at home for 14 days. If at all possible, you should not go out even to buy food and essentials. Instead, you should ask others for assistance with your daily necessities. The exception to that is for exercise, but even then you should keep at a safe distance from others. If it is not possible to receive deliveries at home, you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.

Even if you or anyone in your household do not have symptoms, there is more that we have to ask of you. Today, we are advising people against all unnecessary social contact with others and all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home if they possibly can. We should steer clear of pubs, clubs, cinemas and restaurants. We should use the NHS only when we really need to. This advice is directed at everyone, but it is especially important for the over-70s, for pregnant women and for those with some health conditions. It is especially true of London, which the evidence suggests is several weeks ahead of the rest of the country.

These measures will be disruptive, but they will save lives. In a few days’ time, by this coming weekend, we will need to go even further to ensure that those with the most serious health conditions are largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks. We want to ensure that the period of maximum shielding coincides with the peak of maximum transmission. While the risks of transmission at mass gatherings, such as sporting events, are relatively low, from tomorrow, we will be withdrawing our support for mass gatherings. That will free up the critical workers we need to deal with the emergency and ensure a consistent approach to social contact.

Secondly, we are increasing our testing capabilities yet further. The UK has tested more people than almost any other major economy outside of China, South Korea and Italy. We have already increased the number of tests to 5,000 a day, and that is now on its way to 10,000, then radically further.

Thirdly, we are boosting the NHS. Ventilation is mission critical to treating the disease. We have been buying up ventilation equipment since the start of the crisis, but we need more. Today, the Prime Minister hosted a call with the nation’s advanced manufacturers asking them to join a national effort to produce the ventilators we need. We have set up a dedicated team to do that, and we are hugely encouraged by the scale of the response so far. Later today, the NHS will set out the very significant steps it is taking to prepare.

Fourthly, on Thursday, we will introduce to the House the coronavirus emergency Bill, which will give us the powers to keep essential services running at a time when large parts of the workforce may be off sick. Some of those measures will be very significant and a departure from the way that we do things in peacetime. They are strictly temporary and proportionate to the threat we face, and I hope that many will not have to be used at all. They will be activated only on the basis of scientific advice and will be in place only for as long as clinically necessary. Finally, of course, we are ramping up our communications efforts, so that people know what steps they need to take to protect themselves, others and the NHS.

Tackling coronavirus is a national effort and everyone has their part to play. The more people follow the public health advice, the less need to bring in draconian actions that I am keen to avoid. Of course, we must not forget the simple things that we can all do—washing our hands, following the public health advice if we have symptoms, and looking out for the most vulnerable in the community.

The measures that I have outlined are unprecedented in peacetime. We will fight this virus with everything we have. We are in a war against an invisible killer and we have to do everything we can to stop it. I commend this statement to the House.

Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:30 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for keeping me informed of developments. Our thoughts must be with the loved ones of those who have sadly died from the virus, including the family of the man who died at the Leicester Royal Infirmary in my constituency over the weekend.

I pay tribute to all our NHS staff, our social care staff and, indeed, all who work in public services. Never have we been more in their debt, and will be in the coming weeks. The public, as indeed all Members of the House, want the national effort to succeed. Every one of our constituents wants to do the right thing for their loved ones, for their neighbours and for themselves.

The virus spreads rapidly. It exploits ambivalence. It demands clarity of purpose. It demands Government effort as we have never seen before in peacetime. With that in mind, I put a number of questions to the Secretary of State, which I trust he accepts are raised in a constructive spirit. Specifically, on today’s measures, which we endorse, if we are asking people to work from home if they can, what is the advice to those who are not able to work from home because of their occupation—millions who work in the retail sector, for example?

Today, the Government will ask the elderly and those with long-term conditions to shield themselves, starting at the weekend. Can the Secretary of State give us more details of how that will work in practice? Will they be able to exercise or go for a walk? What happens if someone refuses to follow the advice? How will those who need social care support get the care they need? What protections are in place for social care staff embarking on regular 15-minute visits? How will those with complex needs and disabilities be supported?

We know that those with co-morbidities and a compromised immune system are also vulnerable. What specific advice is there for those with conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and cardiovascular issues, who the emerging literature shows to be particularly vulnerable at the moment? How will those people access repeat prescriptions?

I understand the gravity of the situation. Could the Secretary of State update the House on how far away from the peak he thinks we are? While I understand the reasoning for the decisions the Government have made today, surely there will now come a moment when schools will close. Teachers are already anxious, and parents need to plan. Can he offer some advice to parents, who will be worried tonight?

Throughout the outbreak, we have been as one in agreeing that all decisions must be based on science and evidence, but the Secretary of State, of course, will know and understand that different scientists can reach different conclusions, even when presented with the same data and evidence, so does he agree that all the evidence informing the UK’s strategy must be transparent, and that the modelling and the evidence base should be published, so that it can be peer-reviewed and stress-tested? This is about maintaining public confidence.

May I press the Secretary of State on the controversy, if I may put it like that, of recent days, in the debate about so-called herd immunity? He said yesterday that herd immunity is not the goal. The chief scientific adviser suggested something slightly different on Thursday. Could the Secretary of State clarify the Government’s position?

May I put a point that is repeatedly raised by our constituents? I hope that the Secretary of State appreciates the way in which we are putting these points to him. Many of our constituents are asking us why the UK has hitherto seemed to have taken a different course from other nations. They have suggested that other nations have been deliberately trying to delay, and to buy time to prepare for, future outbreaks. Will he explain what ideas the Government have and have not rejected, and what lessons they have learned, from countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, which have brought the virus under relative control through containment policies? What lessons can we learn from Germany and Scandinavia, which, in recent days, according to the data, are reporting death rates of less than three per 1,000 covid-19 cases, whereas in the UK and France, the figure is much higher?

May I press the Secretary of State on the advice of the World Health Organisation? It has been clear that testing and contact tracing should continue. Many of our constituents are saying to us that surely we need community testing to continue, because we need to know the percentage of the population infected at any one time. Otherwise, the percentage of immunity will be unknown. People who are ill, those who work in the NHS or the care sector, and anyone caring for elderly relatives will surely want to know their covid-19 status, because it will have an impact on how they interact with other people in the community. NHS staff are being asked to care for covid-19 patients, not knowing whether they themselves are transmitting the virus. If they get ill, will they now be asked to stay at home for 14 days? Surely if we can test those NHS staff, and the test returns negative, we can get them back on the frontline sooner.

Is the issue around testing about capacity? If it is, has the Secretary of State considered demanding that UK-based pharmaceutical companies hand us their labs? Can we use the testing labs in higher education institutions and universities? Can diagnostic kit makers be urged to manufacture more testing kit urgently?

On a vaccine, we understand the timescales involved, but can the Secretary of State confirm that he will approve funding for scaling up manufacturing of the vaccine candidates that are being developed in the UK? On antivirals, clinical trials on repurposing drugs are under way across the globe; can he provide a written statement to the House on what capacity the UK has to assist in that process?

Turning quickly to the capacity of the national health service, our NHS and social care staff need support. They need quality personal protective equipment, whether in secondary care or primary care. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many additional intensive care unit beds have been opened? I think he has hinted that non-emergency elective treatment will now be suspended; could he confirm that? Members have long been asking him about ventilators. Can he outline the latest numbers, and say where he thinks we will be by this time next week? Can he update us on ECMO bed capacity, and say whether he is also increasing the availability of non-invasive ventilation, such as BPAP? If we need beds and equipment from private sector organisations, we should requisition that equipment, not pay for it.

Finally, we will co-operate with the Government on the proposed emergency legislation, and I am grateful for the discussions we have had, but the biggest challenge to the public health social distancing measures will not be boredom and fatigue; it will be finances and affordability. The poorest, who struggle to pay the rent, those who worry about putting food on the table, and those who have no savings to dip into, will be faced with impossible choices between hardship and health. From sick pay and lost earnings protection, to universal credit changes and rent and mortgage payment deferrals, we need a package of financial support, and we look forward to working with the Secretary of State on that front.

These are indeed serious times. Many of our constituents are anxious, and want as much certainty as possible. We have put these questions to the Secretary of State because the health and safety of the nation must always come first.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:19 p.m.

I commend the shadow Secretary of State for the tone he has taken throughout this crisis. He rightly asks questions; I will seek to address each and every one of them, but before I do, I repeat something that I have said to the House a few times. We welcome questioning of the approach, because we are constantly looking for the very best solution for this nation, and the very best way through this, in order to protect life. I would rather have questions from all around the House, asked in the tone in which he has asked them, so that we can ensure that we are constantly doing the best we possibly can. That goes for publishing the science and the modelling, which we absolutely will do, because the very best science is done in the open.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the NHS being prepared. I am thankful that we have the NHS all the time, but in a crisis like this, I am doubly thankful, because we are reliant on those who work in the NHS. Thanks to the NHS, we are as well prepared as any nation can be. We are, by some measures, the best prepared for this stage of the spread of the virus, but what matters is giving the NHS all the support that it needs, and especially having regard to the capacity of the NHS, so that it can address the symptoms and consequences of this particular virus. The issues are around ventilation and oxygen supply, as he says. We are increasing the number of ventilators. We have been buying ventilators for several weeks now, but we also need to manufacture more. As we have discussed in the House, there is no limit to our appetite to buy ventilators, and there should be no limit to the appetite of industry to make them, because around the world, everybody is trying to increase their ventilator capacity.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have ensured that we can use all hospital capability in this country, public or private, and bring it to the task. We are expanding the use and production of personal protective equipment. Making sure we get PPE to every single part of the NHS is absolutely vital. We will be cancelling or postponing non-time-sensitive elective surgery; the NHS will make a statement about that later today. We are increasing ICU bed capacity, but I want to make sure that the House understands that we do not need a generic type of intensive care capacity. Of course we need intensive care capacity, but we need very specific intensive care capacity with the ventilation that is needed in many of these cases.

I turn to the other questions asked by the hon. Gentleman. He asked, “What if you can’t work from home?”. The answer is that if you are healthy, and if you are not being asked to isolate because a member of your household or you have symptoms of the virus, then of course you should still go to work. It is important that this country keeps moving as much as we possibly can, within the limits of the advice that we have given.

The hon. Gentleman asked about shielding, and about the elderly. The policy of shielding is specifically about reducing contact for the most vulnerable. For those who have significant health conditions, the NHS will be in contact with you over the next week. We will publish a list of those conditions, and if you think you should have been contacted and you have not been by next week, get in contact with the NHS. The shielding policy starts later than the general household isolation policy and the general advice to reduce social contact, because the reduction in contact that we need to see among those whom we are shielding is much more significant, and we need to see it last for a significant period of about 12 weeks.

The hon. Gentleman asked about those who refuse to follow advice. I do not think that many people will refuse to follow advice. Of course we have powers, and powers are proposed in the Bill, should we need to take further action, but I hope and expect that that will not be necessary.

The hon. Gentleman asked about schools. The scientific advice is not only that closing schools has a significant impact on people’s ability to work in, for instance, key areas such as the health service, but also that if we get it wrong, children may stay with elderly grandparents instead of going to school, and thus increase the risk. We keep this matter under review and we are in constant discussion about it, but we have not changed the advice on schools today.

The hon. Gentleman asked about other countries. Of course we are constantly looking to all other countries around the world—including South Korea and Singapore, which he mentioned—to see what we can learn about how we can do things better. We are taking these measures at a different time from other European countries because we are behind them in terms of the progress of the virus, which is a good thing. In fact, as the chief scientific adviser has said, we are taking these actions earlier in the curve than, for instance, France and Germany did, but behind in time, because the progress of the virus is further advanced in those countries.

The hon. Gentleman asked about testing. That is very important, because of course people want to know their covid-19 status, and we are expanding testing as fast as we possibly can. The test that the world is looking for is the test that can check whether people have the antibodies because they have had coronavirus, because then we can find that out not just by testing people while they have it but afterwards, if they have had it, and therefore have the antibodies with the immunity that comes from that. That test does not yet exist, but we are putting an enormous amount of effort into creating it. We also need testing that can be done at the bedside rather than in the lab, and a huge amount of work is under way to bring that about. The same goes for vaccines and antivirals, on which the hon. Gentleman asked for a written ministerial statement, and I will of course ensure that the House is provided with one.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about a package of financial support. We established a significant package in the Budget last week, and I had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman earlier today to discuss what further amounts might be needed.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:23 p.m.

There are many young people in my constituency, but when I was first elected it had the highest proportion of people above retirement age in the country. Most of those people are economically active, and many of those who are not are volunteers. I pay tribute to those over 70 who are helping people even older than themselves.

I welcome all the points that the Secretary of State has made so far, but may I put three quick points to him? He does not need to answer them in detail now. First, senior general practitioners are worried that some medicines—controlled drugs, which are safe—are being destroyed because the patient for whom they were first ordered may have died. If a shortage of morphine and the like happens, it will lead to distress and agony for people unnecessarily. Will the Secretary of State look into that, and see whether, whatever the requirements are, they might be lifted during this period?

Secondly, the advice to reduce social contact may be right and important, but if people are fit and healthy and are running a business, it is not necessarily right for that business to be closed down just because they have hit a certain age.

Thirdly, may I add to a sensible point made by the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth)? There is some help for people with mortgages, but many people who will lose their jobs are paying rent. Will the Secretary of State also ensure that no one is unnecessarily evicted or threatened during a short-term period of shortage of money?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:24 p.m.

The measures on shielding are specifically for those who have significant health conditions and will be contacted by the NHS. They are not for the generality of over-70s who are healthy, for whom the guidance is the same as that for people of working age, except that we strongly advise, as opposed to advising. That is for their own protection, because the over-70s, and especially the over-80s, are at significantly higher risk of mortality—of dying from this virus.

The other points made by my hon. Friend are welcome. He made a very important point about rent, which featured in the discussions that we had earlier today. I have been talking about it to those at the Treasury and to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Many banks have already taken action on mortgages.

My hon. Friend’s point about the availability of drugs is, of course, critical. We have a very comprehensive drug supply chain system that we understand well, thanks to the planning that we have done over the last couple of years. Thus far we have not seen shortages beyond those that already existed before the virus, such as the one that we debated in the autumn in the context of HRT, but of course we keep the position under constant review.

Dr Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:26 p.m.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the concern about why the UK Government’s approach was such an outlier until now, including the talk about herd immunity, when it is not clear that any immunity from this virus is long-term. The UK is now facing an exponential rise, and I therefore welcome what the UK Government have said about decreasing all non-essential contact, as I think that it is critical to slow down and limit the spread of the virus.

The briefing from the Prime Minister talked about not providing emergency services for large gatherings, but can the Secretary of State clarify whether the Government are advising against or forbidding mass gatherings? I welcome the talk about increasing testing capability, but the briefing talked about only testing those in hospital and key workers. In Scotland, surveillance testing in practices that monitor disease in the community is continuing. Will that also be the case here in England?

Following the confusion over the weekend and, indeed, the comments that he has just made about healthy people over 70, will the Secretary of State clarify what exactly is the advice for people over 70 who live in their own homes or in care homes? Are they meant to be staying at home, or are they simply meant to be decreasing contact? In particular, is the Secretary of State discussing with social care providers lengthening the time of each visit so that there is time for the careworker to take precautions? He says that the healthy should go to work, but what if they work in a club? What provision is being made for socially vulnerable people such as the homeless or those who have no recourse to public funds, such as refugees or asylum seekers? We on these Benches welcomed the measures in the Budget, but when will the devolved Governments know exactly how much funding they will have to mitigate the economic impact of this in the three devolved nations? Finally, what further changes will be carried out in the Houses of Parliament to ensure that core services continue without increasing the risk to, in particular, older Members of both Houses?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:28 p.m.

We do not support mass gatherings. We have advised against unnecessary social contact, so it goes without saying that we do not support mass gatherings.

The hon. Lady asked about surveillance testing. Across the UK, we have one of the biggest coronavirus surveillance operations in the world. Of course it happens in Scotland, but it happens throughout the UK. She also asked about Parliament. I understand, Mr Speaker, that you have been having discussions today about how Parliament will operate, but I think the whole House will be sure, in our collective decision, that although Parliament may have to operate differently, it must remain open.

Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:29 p.m.

May I join the Secretary of State, and the shadow Secretary of State, in commending and paying tribute to all who work in our national health service, on whom we rely from day to day, but on whom we rely all the more under these conditions?

May I press the Secretary of State on two points that have been raised by others? The advice from the World Health Organisation was very clear: test, test, test. At an earlier stage the UK changed its testing requirements, and those who have symptoms and self-isolate are no longer tested. If the full information is to be available, surely the testing has to be very significantly increased. Who exactly is going to be tested?

One of the difficulties has been the way in which information has been presented. To pick up the point made by the SNP spokesman about the over-70s that was echoed elsewhere, the headlines are that over-70s, even now, are going to have to stay at home for 12 weeks. Can the Secretary of State be absolutely precise as to what the advice is for over-70s and those with other conditions, and what those conditions are? Finally, on the question of seven or 14 days’ self-isolation, my understanding was that if someone had symptoms and were on their own they should self-isolate for seven days, but if they were in a family the whole family should self-isolate for 14 days. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could confirm.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

My right hon. Friend is precisely correct on the third question. The difference between the advice for seven days and 14 is precisely as follows. If you have symptoms yourself, if you live on your own you should self-isolate for seven days, but if you live in a household with others, the whole household now needs to stay at home for 14 days. The reason is that if you live in a household with someone who has coronavirus it is highly likely that you will catch it, so it is important, to protect against onward transmission, that everybody stays at home. That is the reason for the distinction between the seven days and the 14 days, and I hope that is clear—seven days for individuals, 14 for households.

On the point about the World Health Organisation saying that we should “test, test, test”, I wholeheartedly agree. We have continued the increase in testing in this country throughout this outbreak. The point that was made last week was that as the increase in the number of cases continues, so our testing capability must increase faster, and at this stage we have to make sure that the use of the tests we have are prioritised. As we expand testing capability, we will expand the number of people who can get hold of those tests. I understand the frustrations of those who want a test, but the whole House will agree that we have to make sure that we use those tests on the people who need them most, which means saving lives in hospitals.

On the point about the over-70s, to reiterate the answer that I gave a moment ago, the advice to everybody is to avoid unnecessary social contact. For the over-70s, for their own protection, that is strongly advised. The shielding, which is essentially reducing all contact as much as possible, is for those who have underlying health conditions and will be contacted by the NHS. The precise details of all these will be published on the gov.uk website so that everybody can see not only the answers I am giving to the questions, but the precise wording of what we expect everybody to do, as I have set out in the statement.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard

Can I say to the Secretary of State that the House has always come together at times of national crisis as one, and that is the spirit across the House today? In that spirit, can I ask him to match the unprecedented public health measures that he has announced today with unprecedented economic measures to support all the businesses, large and small, their workers, and the self-employed, who will be affected by the measures announced today? We have seen across the world—for example, in Denmark—workers’ wages being guaranteed by a combination of Government and employers. It is no fault of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that his Budget last Wednesday is now out of date, but can I ask the Secretary of State to urge him to come back to the House with economic measures that match the gravity of the moment?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

I absolutely understand the point that the right hon. Member is making, and he is right to make it. Of course, these are matters for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, rather than me. There was a G7 call today, in which the Prime Minister participated, during which economic considerations like this were considered. Finally, every single one of us in the House will have businesses in our constituencies that are already facing the brunt of this virus. We saw from the collapse of Flybe right at the start—that feels like weeks ago—the very significant economic consequences, and we have our eyes wide open to those.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con) - Hansard

I warmly welcome the measures announced today. People have debated when they were going to be introduced, but the Government have shown today that they have the courage to introduce very tough measures that will have profound economic consequences, which will reassure many people up and down the country. In the constructive spirit adopted by the shadow Health Secretary, I want to ask a couple of things about the measures that have been introduced.

First, the Secretary of State is advising people not to go to clubs, cinemas and restaurants. Will he also advise clubs, cinemas and restaurants to close their doors, so that there is absolute clarity that people should not, at this moment, engage in those activities? Secondly, if someone in a household is symptomatic, he is advising the whole household to self-isolate for 14 days. I understand the logic behind that, which was very clearly explained, but the World Health Organisation advice is to test and isolate every single suspected case of the virus, so would he explain why there is divergence?

Thirdly, to follow up the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—[Hon. Members: “Former”]—the former Prime Minister, is the advice to healthy over-70s who do not have an existing long-term condition that they should be part of a new shielding policy that is happening at the weekend, or is that shielding policies just for over-70s with an existing health condition?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

On that last point, no—the shielding policy is only for those with existing health conditions. Those whom we are going to ask to participate in shielding, from next week, will receive a contact from the NHS, and we will publish the list of conditions that we consider necessary for shielding. On the point that my right hon. Friend makes about testing and isolating, I strongly agree with the World Health Organisation about the need for testing. I spoke at the weekend to Dr Tedros, head of the World Health Organisation, and we strongly agree on the need for testing. The question is how fast can we ramp up testing capability for the tests that we need—the blood tests to know who has had coronavirus and the bedside test or the home test, so that these tests can be expanded rapidly across the whole country? The first has yet to be invented, although we hope that it will be fairly soon, and the second has just been invented in the past few days, and we are in intense negotiations about rolling those out very rapidly.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan Portrait Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting) (Lab) - Hansard

Today I bring a message from my colleagues who are working hard on the NHS frontline. They say that they do not have the protective equipment that they need, nor do they have the capacity to manage the spread of infection in their own departments. There is clear concern among hospital staff and the wider public alike about the transparency of the plan to tackle the virus. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that our incredible staff must immediately have the protective equipment that they need to be safe; that they should be tested if they show symptoms of virus infection, as currently not all of them are being told that they can; and that more information must be transparent so that medical teams across the country can prepare their departments for the very worst?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:40 p.m.

The whole of our action plan is based on the science and on as much transparency as possible. We have exhibited unprecedented transparency in this crisis so far, and I pledge again to full transparency, publishing, for instance, the modelling that underpins the scientific advice, and also publishing the action plan two weeks ago. At the time, that felt as if we were looking at some things that were quite out of the ordinary, and I do not think that anybody then anticipated that we would have to bring them in in the way we have, and as many countries have now brought them in. I pledge once again to that transparency.

The hon. Lady is completely right about PPE, and we need to expand the amount of PPE. Again, we are buying it, as with ventilators, as fast as we possibly can, and part of our call for a national effort to manufacture includes PPE.

I want to end my answer to the hon. Lady by saying something about those who work in the NHS. The NHS will face an extraordinary period and many people will do extraordinary things, but it will be very, very difficult. I pay tribute in advance to the service that every single person who works in the NHS will give.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan Portrait Dr Allin-Khan - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:40 p.m.

Staff testing?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:40 p.m.

The hon. Lady is right to remind me. Of course we want as much staff testing, as soon as possible. We are using the testing capacity we have to save lives, and that includes saving the lives of medics.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:41 p.m.

In the past 24 hours or so, I have spoken to a great number of the headteachers in my constituency. I think it is a fair summary to say that there is support for the decision to keep schools open, and I agree with them. However, there is great concern that no matter what they or we might want, an increasing number of teaching staff becoming unwell and therefore unable to be in school might end up forcing the issue, leaving heads in an impossible position. I feel slightly guilty asking the Health Secretary these questions, but his is the statement we have today. What is the Government’s view on relaxing the student-staff ratio and getting Ofsted off schools’ back now, please. Also, if we were to run a skeleton service in schools to allow key workers to keep working, how are we to define key workers, given that we are in the middle of a national crisis?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:42 p.m.

We are looking at all those questions. The proposal to relax student-staff ratios is in the Bill. We will publish the content of the Bill tomorrow and the Bill itself on Thursday. The point about key workers is incredibly important. I am working hard with the Education Secretary to address precisely the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. Of course schools play an important part not just in educating our children but in allowing so many people to go to work, but we have to make sure that they are safe as well. One of the blessings of this virus is that it almost entirely spares children, which means that it is safe for children to go to school.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:42 p.m.

Can the Health Secretary give the public some reassurance about his plans for social care, which many vulnerable elderly and disabled people rely on? In particular, what plans does he have to ensure that the care workforce can continue to be effective? We already have more than 120,000 vacancies in the sector, and half of all home care workers are on zero-hours contracts. Is he confident that the care workforce can do what elderly and disabled people and the NHS need?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:43 p.m.

Obviously, that is an incredibly important area. Earlier today, there was a call with local authority leaders, my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary and the Care Minister. Enormous amounts of work are being done and we will do everything we can to support social care.

Dr Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:43 p.m.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State on the tone both have adopted. It is inevitable that most people will be infected. Most people will recover. When can the people who recover return to work, and what will the impact be?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:43 p.m.

Yes, most people recover within seven days of first showing symptoms—most people, not all. Many become very ill, but for most people this is a mild to moderate illness, and the vast majority of the evidence is that once they have recovered, the illness does not come back for some time. Of course, all the evidence is kept constantly under review.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:44 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State clarify some details of his answer to the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) regarding testing of our frontline healthcare workers and, just as important, our frontline social care workers? Our services are stretched to the max already. We cannot afford to have those who do not need to self-isolate self-isolating, potentially multiple times if they do not know whether they have had the virus.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:44 p.m.

I entirely understand that point. I want to get testing to everyone who needs it as soon as possible.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:45 p.m.

I join the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State in extending sympathy to those who have died of the virus and admiration for NHS staff members and others who are coping with it. May I press my right hon. Friend on testing? First, if we are relying on scientific evidence, it is important that we are transparent about it. When will he publish the scientific evidence that he mentioned in his statement? Secondly, there has been a change in policy on testing. Up to the end of last week, people could be tested via drive-in or home visits; that is no longer the case. Is that because there is not the necessary quantity of test kits available? If so, will that type of test be restored when they are available, and when does he expect that to be?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:46 p.m.

At the start, when the number of cases was very small, we had enough tests to test everyone who had suspected symptoms. The number of cases has risen exponentially and the number of tests has been increased, but we need to make sure that the tests we have available are there for saving lives. We hope that the introduction of a home test or equipment for bedside testing, which my right hon. Friend and I have discussed previously, will enable us to increase the number of tests radically, and get ahead of the epidemiological curve as soon as possible. We are in live negotiations about bringing that in.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:46 p.m.

Order. I will let this run for about one hour, so if we can speed up questions—[Interruption.] It might helpful if we try to help each other and not hold each other up.

John Cryer Portrait John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:46 p.m.

Many of us have thousands of constituents who are either on zero-hours contracts or are self-employed. I have raised this question before, but unless the Government can offer those people some sort of minimum income guarantee, they will quickly be facing repossession and homelessness.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:46 p.m.

Of course I understand that, and it is part of the discussions I have been having with the Welfare Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:47 p.m.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and everyone in the House for their calm response. I have two brief questions. One has been raised several times, and although it may sound flippant, it is important. People are asking whether they can walk their pet if they are self-isolating. I ask because people want to know whether self-isolating means that they should be fully housebound, or that they can go to a park and walk their pet.

The second question—[Interruption.] I will be very quick. In Watford, we have a great volunteer network popping up. I am sure that is happening across the country. Will there be guidance for volunteers on how to ensure they do not spread the virus by doing the right thing?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:48 p.m.

The answer to the second question is yes. The answer to the first is yes, people should go outside. Walk your pets. People in household isolation should go out, but they should try to avoid other people. It is very important that we look out for others in our communities and that people get the exercise they need.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:48 p.m.

I realise that this is not in the Secretary of State’s remit, but he announced that the Government will advise people not to go to pubs, clubs, restaurants and so on. Unless the Government mandatorily close them down, they cannot claim on their business insurance. Will he please get a diktat from the Government that formally closes such businesses down?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:48 p.m.

We have set out the advice today, and I will look at the point the hon. Gentleman raises.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:48 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State make sure that in the legal powers and guidance will be provision to ensure that all our councillors who are over 70 can participate fully in council and committee meetings from their home, using technology?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:49 p.m.

Indeed, technology has a huge role to play in helping people to get through this.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) - Hansard

Everyone wants us all to pull together and support the same strategy, and the Health Secretary will be aware of the real unease about the differences between the UK’s approach and other approaches taken internationally. Can he reassure us that the Government’s objective is the same as the WHO’s, which said today that we should be testing everyone who has symptoms, not waiting for a future test that might work in different circumstances? Is that the objective: to test everyone who has symptoms now? What is his target for how many new tests a day he wants to be able to do and by when? I have been contacted by GPs who are self-isolating because they cannot get tests.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:49 p.m.

The answer is, yes, we want, of course, all the tests that we need.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:50 p.m.

Does the test give evidence of no infection? That goes to the point that has been made about frontline health workers. Is the Secretary of State saying today that there is an immunity that builds up? Has that been medically confirmed for people who have had this once?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:50 p.m.

On the latter point, the chief medical officer has set out today that immunity is built up by having had this virus. That evidence is constantly being kept under review, but immunity does appear to be built up. On the testing point, as I said to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), of course we want tests to be available for everyone. Our goal is to beat this virus. We want to make sure that all our frontline medical staff can have the testing and that everyone in the community can have those tests, but where only a limited number of tests are available we have to use them to save life. I am working as fast as I can to increase the number.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:51 p.m.

The Secretary of State said that this was a national effort and he is right, but it is more than that; this is a global crisis that has seen different approaches taken in different countries. Does he not accept that we need stronger, co-ordinated, global leadership, both on the health front and on the economic front, to get the best possible response to this global crisis?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:52 p.m.

I half agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and that is because I think that international co-ordination is important—I have been participating in regular G7 calls, as have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—but different countries are also in different places on the curve. For instance, we have introduced measures such as these earlier on the curve than similar countries, such as France and Germany.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:52 p.m.

May I repeat the point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) about pubs and restaurants? I have been contacted by a number from the Moorlands today that are particularly concerned in the run-up to Mother’s Day, which would normally be one of the busiest days of the year. Can the Government give firm advice now as to whether pubs and restaurants should close or not, so they can claim on insurance?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:52 p.m.

We are advising against all unnecessary social contact. I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, but we are having to fight this virus.

Mr Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:52 p.m.

When exactly did the Government start buying extra ventilators? How many more have they managed to get? How many more do they need?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:53 p.m.

We started weeks ago. I can get back to the right hon. Gentleman with the exact date of the first time I authorised the purchase of more ventilators, but I can say that it was very shortly after it became clear that ventilators are the thing needed to support people who have coronavirus. On the question of how many more we will need, I can say that we will buy however many will be produced.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:53 p.m.

This morning, I was pleased to hear Nicola Sturgeon say that she supported the UK Government’s approach, but of course the devolved health service, the police and the education service are different and different operational decisions will inevitably be made in Scotland. How can that be respected at the same time as ensuring that we have a common message across the UK?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:54 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is right about the advantages of a common message across the UK, and we have worked hard to try to achieve that. I visited the three devolved nations on Friday to meet my counterparts to try to ensure that we have as co-ordinated a message as possible, but of course there are differences in the delivery of our local NHS.

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:54 p.m.

The Secretary of State made reference to the special measures announced by the Chancellor last week, yet the Northern Ireland Executive have yet to have been given a clear indication as to what the consequentials are for our funding in Northern Ireland. That inhibits our ability to respond to this crisis, and to provide leadership and direction to people in Northern Ireland on the schemes we can implement.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:54 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury tells me that undoubtedly the devolved nations will very rapidly get the information they need. After all, this is a UK-wide effort.

Sir Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:55 p.m.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the thousands of local community groups that are already mobilising in order to deal with what may be a very serious situation in their communities, involving looking after vulnerable people and even nursing the sick? Will he, with the Prime Minister and others, make sure that we mobilise these people and empower them to take decisions without having to wait for instructions?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:55 p.m.

Yes, this is incredibly important. Communities have a huge role to play in this; it is truly a national effort. I want to empower people on the ground in communities and within the NHS to do the right thing by what is in front of them. We will support wherever possible, but people should not wait for the instruction—they should get on with it.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:56 p.m.

The World Health Organisation has given the advice of, “Test, test, test”. The Secretary of State has said that there is a limited capacity in terms of testing kits. When will those kits be made available? What is the timeframe? How many does he think we are going to need?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:56 p.m.

As many as possible, as soon as possible.

Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con) - Hansard

I thank my right hon. Friend for the sterling job that he, his ministerial team, his officials and everybody on the frontline of this crisis is doing. Does he share my concern about reports I have had in my constituency in the past few days of local pharmacies hiking up prices of products such as sanitiser and masks, given that we should all be working together and, rather than profiteering, acting responsibly?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:56 p.m.

Everybody has a responsibility: citizens have a responsibility to follow the public health advice; all of us have a responsibility to make sure we buy only that which we need; and of course businesses have a responsibility to look after the communities they serve.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:57 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is now the Government’s wish, subject to capacity being available, to test all those with symptoms who are at home? If so, as the capacity ramps up, how does he intend to prioritise tests of people living at home, potentially with the disease?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:57 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman asks the question very precisely and correctly. The answer is: yes, that is our intention, and Public Health England will advise on the order of priority for the use of these tests.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:57 p.m.

People want accurate information during this crisis. Are the Government considering creating an offence of the malicious spreading of disinformation about the coronavirus with the intent of harming public health? Are they considering requiring social media platforms to act against known sources of such disinformation, should it occur?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:57 p.m.

My hon. Friend is an expert in this area. So far, the social media companies have acted with great responsibility in this area and have responded to all the asks we have had of them.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:58 p.m.

The Government are trying to regulate behaviour, so to avoid some of the scenes we have seen at the weekend would he encourage supermarkets to allow the elderly to have one hour a day when only they can shop to get their essentials?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:58 p.m.

I have seen this call and how the Australians have done this, and I discussed it with the Environment Secretary today.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green (Ashford) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:58 p.m.

May I ask my right hon. Friend about specific very vulnerable groups? A mother in my constituency is keeping her four children off school because her husband is a diabetic and she does not want to put him at unnecessary risk. Is she doing the right thing? More generally, what should pregnant teachers be doing? Should they be going into work now, or is that too risky?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

Both cases are covered by the formal public health advice that will be published on the gov.uk website. For all specific questions such as that, which of course our constituents will have, I refer them to that advice, to make sure that we get the answers completely accurate.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 6:59 p.m.

We are now rightly asking people, including the self-employed, to self-isolate for seven or 14 days if they show symptoms of coronavirus. The self-employed do not qualify for statutory sick pay and there is no one else to pay them, so will the Government revisit statutory sick pay for the self-employed, and pay it at a rate that enables them to put food on the table and pay their bills? Unless we do that, we are asking people to make impossible decisions.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7 p.m.

I discussed this issue with the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth). The delivery of support to make sure that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing is incredibly important but, as the hon. Lady says, there is no employer for those who are self-employed, so it has to be delivered through the benefits system.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7 p.m.

With flight restrictions around the world, many of us have constituents who are stuck abroad. Will my right hon. Friend provide reassurance that consular assistance is available and that he is working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that stranded constituents in countries that have imposed flight bans can get home?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7 p.m.

Yes. That is an incredibly important point that I discuss regularly with the Foreign Secretary.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7 p.m.

Food banks will be under unprecedented pressure in this period, so what measures will be put in place to provide volunteers with protective equipment? Will the Secretary of State consider requiring supermarkets to put aside stocks and provide donations to food banks in this crisis?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7 p.m.

As we expand the amount of protective equipment available, we should look to and work with food banks, which have an incredibly important role to play. I certainly urge supermarkets to do what the hon. Lady asks.

Mr John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:01 p.m.

In welcoming this package of measures, I very much urge my right hon. Friend to encourage businesses to be as flexible as possible so that employees can work from home, and to step up testing for emergency and public sector workers. Will he particularly focus on the elderly and the vulnerable who are living alone? There is a risk that in this sort of scenario they become inadvertently ignored by the system. What more can the Government do to reach out to these people—whether by looking at the voting register or whatever—to ensure that they are catered for? They are particularly vulnerable if they live alone.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:02 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. One reason why we have held off from taking measures like this for as long as we have is because they have significant downsides, many of which have been discussed in the Chamber today. I of course urge people to follow the advice that my hon. Friend gave, and I urge communities to come together as much as possible to help each other through.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:02 p.m.

We need a plan for scaling back schools. Teachers are saying to me that they are part of a mass collection of people every day and are concerned not only about being infected but about relatives who may have secondary illnesses and about colleagues who are pregnant. Schools are losing pupils and losing staff. They will close of their own volition unless we have a plan to scale them back and provide essential childcare for those workers who will still need to work and the children who will still need to go to school.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:03 p.m.

I understand why some parents are concerned, but the evidence is that children are not badly affected by this virus and it is important to take that into account. The hon. Gentleman makes the point about people who need to go to work not being able to because of childcare responsibilities, and that is very serious in terms of the impact that it could have and is therefore very important to take into account.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:03 p.m.

In the past two hours, the Prime Minister has said that school closures will be kept “under review”. In the event of a school needing to close, who takes the final decision—is it the Government, the local education authority or the headteacher?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

It is the headteacher, and there are discussions with regional schools commissioners in such cases in England. We are looking to address that issue in the Bill.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:04 p.m.

I join other Members in placing on record my condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones. I pay tribute to the workers in the NHS who are working around the clock and to those working in social care.

After a decade of austerity, our NHS and public health were already at breaking point, even before the coronavirus hit our communities. Public sector workers have borne the brunt of austerity over the past 10 years, and they are the very workers who are expected to continue to provide services to the most vulnerable people in our society.

Today, I have been contacted by Paul, a critical care nurse in my constituency who has had to self-isolate after developing a cough. He has been told that he will not be tested. His skills, along with those of his colleagues, are vital to care for patients. Frontline staff need to be—

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:05 p.m.

Order. We are going to have stop the question there because we have to get everybody in.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:05 p.m.

Can I just say this, Mr Speaker? When will local government be provided with the additional ring-fenced funding for public health? When will public health officials be provided with their allocations for the new financial year?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:05 p.m.

I have addressed the question on testing repeatedly. I am delighted that we go into this situation with a record number of people in our NHS, and I pay tribute to each and every one of them.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:05 p.m.

Covid-19 may put particular pressure on the dozen or so unavoidably small hospitals that serve isolated and island communities. We have one respiratory consultant on the Island, and we are ferry-dependent. I know that the Secretary of State is very busy, but will he assure me that isolated communities will not be forgotten about when it comes to mutual aid, clear advice and the supply of medicine and equipment?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:06 p.m.

Absolutely. I discussed that issue with officials today.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:06 p.m.

Last week, I asked the Secretary of State why public advice about covid-19 had not been translated into any language other than English. Coronavirus has been present in the UK for more than a month, and it is five days since I raised the issue with the Government, yet there are still no translations available on the NHS England website. Will the Secretary of State provide an update on when exactly translations will be made available? Will he clarify which languages the Department is currently working on?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:06 p.m.

We are going to do that as soon as possible, but I am sure the hon. Member will understand that we have just published new guidance that we have been working on and it is a very rapidly evolving situation. We will translate it as soon as we possibly can.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:06 p.m.

I endorse the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) about having an hour in supermarkets—I believe Iceland is already doing this—when older people can purchase food before it is stockpiled and so on. Can mothers of very small children be included in that? I am afraid I have heard today of some scarcity in baby products, which is of course of great concern for us all.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:07 p.m.

Yes, that is a very good suggestion. It is one for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the supermarkets, of course, but is an example of people pulling together to help the most vulnerable.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:07 p.m.

In answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), the Secretary of State stated that people had to take it through the benefits system, unlike maternity allowance, just as an example. I wish to speak for a moment about the benefits system. My own brother, who is a universal credit claimant and an agency worker, has likely lost his job because he had to self-isolate for a period and it will not be kept open for him. Given the lag of universal credit, he will not get anything until early May. The Secretary of State needs to tell us now when he will come before us with a package of financial benefits for business and people, because it is getting too late.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:08 p.m.

We changed the law on Friday to take into account the need to make sure that payments are made from day one, in some of the benefits. It is absolutely the case that statutory sick pay is paid by employers. For the self-employed, there is no employer. We cannot put in place, in the time that is necessary, a whole new system. We need to make sure that people use the benefits system that exists.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:09 p.m.

Will the Government consider giving the much needed funds to support businesses directly to regional mayors and combined authorities, so that businesses in Redcar and elsewhere that are affected by the coronavirus can get the help that they need without delay?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

I am discussing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer a further package of support, because it is absolutely clear that the measures that we are having to take will have a very significant impact on business.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:09 p.m.

Professor Costello of University College London says that the virus is particularly contagious at the early stages before symptoms present. Given the prevalence of this virus in London in particular, is the current Government’s strategy based too heavily on responding to observable symptoms and is there not a case now for going further faster, particularly in London?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:09 p.m.

The point behind household isolation is precisely to address the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Furthermore, by reducing all unnecessary social contact, we will help to reduce the sorts of transmissions that he talks about.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con) - Hansard

Will the Secretary of State explain how he and his team have been working to learn from the experience of other countries that are ahead of the curve, so that we can see the things that they have done well, and the things that they have not done so well?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:10 p.m.

Yes, we are constantly looking at what is happening around the world, what people are doing and the research in order to try to make sure that we calibrate the very best possible response.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard

Many of my constituents live in severely overcrowded accommodation or in single hostel rooms. There is a looming public health crisis in the short term and a looming long-term mental health crisis because of the conditions in which they will have to self-isolate. What will the Secretary of State do about those people and what advice will he give?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:10 p.m.

Yes, of course, we are incredibly concerned about that, and it is reflected in the guidance that we have specifically put out. It is one of the many reasons why we encourage people to get outside, even if they are in household isolation, so long as they do not come into contact with others. Of course, I understand the consequences of the advice that we have given for the hon. Lady’s constituents.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:11 p.m.

Many of those whom the Secretary of State will want to shield at the weekend and who are self-isolating are in receipt of at-home social care. Can he be clear about the guidance that he is going to give about whether they should continue to be visited, or what else he will put in place to protect those individuals?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:11 p.m.

Yes, of course, the further advice will go out for social care. We put updated advice out at the end of last week knowing that that was a likely step, and there will be further advice precisely to help people to address exactly that question.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:12 p.m.

Given the anxiety in schools, colleges and universities about exams, will the Minister reassure students and staff alike that there is provision in place for exams to take place within the cycle of this academic year? Will he also reassure the House that, in the event of school closures, there is provision in place to feed those children who are currently in receipt of free school meals?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:12 p.m.

Those are both very important points. Children who receive free school meals often receive their best or, in some cases, their only meal at lunch time at school, and it is an issue that I discussed with the Education Secretary over the weekend.

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:12 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) talked about the importance of information consistency, but some constituents are seeing competing messages which look like they come from credible sources and are then passed on in good faith. In the worst cases, not only do they mislead, they can even be dangerous. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to continue his work with the platforms not only to ensure the primacy of the official information, but to actively work against that which disinforms.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:12 p.m.

Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:13 p.m.

The Spanish Government recently announced sweeping measures to take over private healthcare and to requisition products such as ventilators, testers and, indeed, facemasks. We have heard that, in the UK, the Prime Minister has ordered the NHS to acquire resources from the private health system to the tune of something like £2.4 million today. Will the Secretary of State outline measures that the Government will take to ensure that we put public health and public safety before private profit?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:14 p.m.

I am absolutely delighted at the response of the private hospitals which are rising to that challenge, and we are working very closely with them.

Rob Roberts Portrait Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Con) - Hansard

Will my right hon. Friend outline what discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales to ensure that the plan is consistent and that constituents do not get mixed messages? Furthermore, will he appeal to certain sections of the media to realise the power of their platform and encourage them not to undermine the official advice?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

Yes, that is very important. I was in Cardiff on Friday to discuss that with my opposite number who attended the Cobra meeting today. We are working very closely with the Welsh authorities, which, of course, run the NHS in Wales.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:14 p.m.

What consideration have the Government made of the possibility that some people, especially those living in London, may, in light of today’s announcement, decide to move from more urban areas to rural areas? Will the Secretary of State reassure us that additional resources will be made available to local health authorities should there prove to be a significant shift in population?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:14 p.m.

Yes, of course, I will keep both of those under review.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:15 p.m.

Last Friday, the heads of all the NHS services in Gloucestershire held a conference call with the six MPs in the county, and very helpful it was indeed in answering all our questions and giving us information to share with our constituents. Does my right hon. Friend think that this is something that could be done in every NHS cluster around the country?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:15 p.m.

Yes, and I have asked Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, to ensure that local trusts and clinical commissioning groups keep their local MPs informed of what is happening locally, what is having to happen and how they are responding. Of course, the NHS is incredibly busy at this time preparing for events to come, but that would be a good idea.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:15 p.m.

What extra support will be available for pharmacists, and when will local authorities know what their public health funding allocation will be?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:15 p.m.

The public health budget is going up and pharmacists are an incredibly important part of the NHS family.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:16 p.m.

The people most seriously at risk are those with underlying conditions. Will the public health agenda being published promote how people can minimise those conditions—for example, by giving up smoking and leading a healthier life—so that we can minimise the number of serious cases that are seen by the NHS?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:16 p.m.

That is absolutely right. It is abundantly clear from the research into previous coronaviruses that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:17 p.m.

Every time the Prime Minister makes a statement on coronavirus and the advice changes, the 111 hotlines go mad. Our 111 call handlers are asking that the script changes in real time, because they are required to keep to the scripts, and on Thursday there was a three-hour delay before the scripts were updated. Please will the Secretary of State look into this and change it for next time?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

Yes. First, let me pay tribute to the 111 call handlers and the clinicians who have done an amazing job over these past few weeks. I do not know what we would have done without them. Secondly, the three-hour turnaround of the script changes was an unbelievable task for those who implemented it. They did a magnificent job to turn it round so quickly, and I, of course, applaud them for doing so, and would wish them to be able to turn it round even quicker, but they did an amazing job doing it as fast as they did.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:17 p.m.

The Secretary of State’s announcement today will mean that large numbers of elderly and vulnerable people will be required to self-isolate. Will the Government therefore co-ordinate all the volunteering organisations because large numbers of people will be required to deliver necessities to those vulnerable groups?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:17 p.m.

Just as we have introduced a national effort for ventilators, so we are introducing a national effort for volunteers, and my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is leading that drive.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:18 p.m.

In answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) earlier, the Secretary of State made it clear that he wanted everybody to be tested at home if they had the symptoms. What is the difference between the number of new cases currently and the number of tests that are currently available per day?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:18 p.m.

Our estimate of the total number of new cases is significantly higher than the available number of tests right now, which is why we need to increase testing capacity so quickly.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con) - Hansard

Something that will unite us across this House is our utter admiration for the great British public. All parts of our society have responded to this crisis—our public health officials, families, communities and, today, businesses that have heeded the call for ventilator production. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, as well as the hotline, there is now also an email address for businesses to send their response to if they want to contribute to the national ventilator effort?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

Yes, there is. We have been absolutely overwhelmed with the positive response to the national effort for building ventilators. That email address is up and running, and we are trying to engage with everybody who contacts us.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab) - Hansard

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that if schools are closed because of the coronavirus, money will be made available so that lunches and hot food are provided to the children who are the most in need? Also, he said that he took advice from other countries—Ireland has closed its schools.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

We are looking at the impact of all the decisions that different countries have taken. There will be lots of consequences should we take the decision to close schools, but we have not taken that decision today.

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con) - Hansard

May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, and to all the staff and officials at the Department of Health who are working around the clock in incredible situations to deal with coronavirus? Indeed, I also pay tribute to the Secretary of State’s counterpart in the Scottish Government and to all her staff, who are working to do exactly the same north of the border; I know that my constituents in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine appreciate it. Does the Secretary of State know whether the Transport Secretary will be coming to the House at some point soon to update us on any discussions he is having with the airline industry? The maintenance of routes is very important to the economy of the north-east of Scotland, and the survival of those airlines is vital.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

It is of course a matter that I discuss with the Transport Secretary, who I am sure will be coming to the House sooner rather than later.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard

May I encourage people across the country to have complete confidence in the Government’s medical and scientific advice, and that is essential for the safety of the country? I also encourage the Secretary of State to ensure that the population as a whole have confidence in their own economic futures. We spent £500 billion bailing out the banks in 2008. We need to be prepared to go even further than that to ensure that people—for example, the 60,000 people working in tourism and hospitality in Cumbria—know that their economic future is not about to be burnt.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:21 p.m.

I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman, and it is important that they are addressed. Coming from a small business background myself, I understand the impact that a change like this can make, especially to the tourism industry, which is so important in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We regret having to take the measures that we are taking today. As I said earlier to the former leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), this is something on which we are working at pace.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con) - Hansard

The Secretary of State should be congratulated for the calm and responsible leadership that he has shown during this crisis, but may I draw his attention to the subject of a hugely vulnerable group—that is, children with immunosuppression with underlying health concerns? The advice to those children is still to go to school, but he will know that any virus can be devastating to them given their low immune systems. Will he issue specific guidance to parents with such children who have these concerns?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:22 p.m.

Yes.

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) - Hansard

I have talked to my local trust this afternoon, and it is doing everything it can to prepare for the potential surge in covid-19, but it told me that the big problem it has is knowing what to do if schools close, and what that will mean for the workforce and their ability to turn up to work. Can we please have an assurance that there will be a national childcare policy, particularly for key workers in the NHS?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock - Hansard

This, allied with the fact that children are safe at school because they do not have significant symptoms from covid-19, is the reason that we are keeping schools open for now.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con) - Hansard
16 Mar 2020, 7:23 p.m.

Charities and third sector organisations are also going to be deeply affected. Will the Secretary of State inform the House what support will be available to them, especially when they are trying so hard to help in our communities?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock -