By Siân Jones, Associate Partner
As a further 768 hospital deaths were announced, today’s press conference saw Transport Secretary Grant Shapps facing questions over the resilience of the Government’s new coronavirus testing website for key workers – which quickly became overwhelmed after facing high levels of demand – and demands to clarify the Government’s lockdown exit strategy following announcements in Wales and Scotland this week.
Focussing his initial remarks on his brief, Shapps laid out a new package of measures which he said would ensure the continued flow of essential goods. A trilateral agreement has been secured with France and Ireland to ensure freight routes can be kept open. Funding had been released for protecting key ferry routes between Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as critical air links. Five ferry and two air routes between Britain and Northern Ireland would be safeguarded, as well as further routes to continental Europe.
Shapps announced that trials of drones will begin next week on the Isle of Wight with a view to allowing them to transport medical supplies, while funding has been made available to keep tram systems operating. MOT renewals have been deferred until the end of outbreak, to save motorists having to make additional journeys.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harris presented data showing that current traffic volumes are down 59% since beginning of February and how it was vital to keep travelling to a minimum. The curve is flattening, which indicates a reduction in new cases and transmissions, but she cautioned that, with the increased testing capacity, we may see an increase in detected numbers of CV cases. The number of people in hospital has fallen very markedly. She said this was real success, but that we need to maintain the social distancing measures to avoid an uptick in new cases. Critical care capacity was sufficient and since last week the number of patients in critical care had fallen by 13%.
Pressed on the coronavirus testing website, which has struggled to meet demand, Shapps said that coronavirus testing slots had filled up quickly for today, but that new slots were now available.
As with other ministers, Shapps was not drawn on further details of the exit strategy, simply saying that the answer ‘lay in people’s own hands’ and that the social distancing measures must be complied with