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‘Game changing’ test, ban on evictions and school closures - PM’s latest coronavirus conference

PUBLISHED: 21:49 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 21:49 18 March 2020

Video screen-grab of Dr Jenny Harries, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) as NHS England announced that the coronavirus death toll had reached 104 in the UK. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 18, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: PA Video/PA Wire

Video screen-grab of Dr Jenny Harries, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) as NHS England announced that the coronavirus death toll had reached 104 in the UK. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 18, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: PA Video/PA Wire

A ban on evictions, school closures and increasing the number of people tested are among the latest proposals announced to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson held his daily conference at Downing Street on the day where many have waited to hear if schools in England would remain open, after Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland announced they would be shutting schools.

The prime minister and education secretary Gavin Williamson announced as of the end of Friday schools will close to all pupils except those of key workers in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.

He was also quizzed on a lockdown of London, self-isolation compliance and regulations to support renters.

The Prime Minister spoke about a new coronvirus test that reveals who has had Covid-19 but not shown symptoms.

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said Public Health England’s (PHE) work on the antibody test is “progressing very fast”, and will provide valuable insight into the pandemic.

Sir Patrick added: “That’s progressing very fast, Public Health England are looking at this today.

“They’ve got a test in house they’ve got going and we’re looking at ways at getting the much more widespread version out.

“It is a game-changer. And the reason it’s a game-changer is that it allows you to understand the proportion of the asymptomatic population - who’s had this disease, but hasn’t had symptoms.

“Going forward it’s going to be critically important to be able to monitor this disease well because only by being able to monitor it can we start relaxing measures again.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Government announced that it would be ramping up its testing efforts, carrying out 25,000 coronavirus tests per day.

Speaking at the press conference, Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, said officials were also looking at Covid-19 tests that could be taken at home.

She explained: “As we go forward, we have an ambition to have some sort of home-based test for the very reason which has been described here - which is we don’t want potentially infectious people arriving in hospitals.

“But we recognise that the public, and particularly our key workers, want to understand their status so that they can get back to normal activities.”

She added that a lot of work was ongoing in that regard and that “huge” progress had been made in the last few weeks.

During the conference, Sir Patrick again stressed the risk to the sickest patients if people dismissed the guidance.

He said: The modelling does take into account that not everybody is going to follow it but a very high proportion need to, which means we all really need to focus on this.

“The moment we say, ‘It’s not for me it’s for somebody else’, and the compliance goes down, the less effective it’s going to be. When we don’t adhere to this we are actually putting lots of people at risk.”

The prime minister also discussed the emergency legislation which will be introduced to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation during the coronavirus “national emergency”.

The move is to ensure landlords cannot start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period, in a bid to ensure renters do not worry about the threat of losing their home.

The three-month mortgage payment holiday announced by the Chancellor on Tuesday will also be extended to landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

When quizzed on transport he said they will rule nothing out after questions of a potential lockdown of London, which has seen the largest recordings of positive cases.

He said: “I have to tell you we will rule nothing out and we will certainly wish to consider bringing forward further and faster measures where that is necessary to suppress the peak of the epidemic to protect our NHS, to minimise casualties, and to minimise suffering.”


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