The UK government’s changing coronavirus strategy

Owl wonders from time to time whether the only thing driving the strategy, if you can call it that, is the formulation of catchy three word slogans. Whenever the clever clogs in No 10 come up with a new one, we are off on a new tack. Please keep up at the back!

Haroon Siddique  www.theguardian.com 

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK the government has changed its strategy and public messaging a number of times, in some cases within days. Here are some of the areas where the line has changed:

Testing

Chief medical adviser to the government, Prof Chris Whitty, 12 March:

It is no longer necessary for us to identify every case and we will move from having testing mainly done in homes and outpatients and walk-in centres, to a situation where people who are remaining at home do not need testing.

Patrick Vallance, Britain’s chief scientific adviser, 5 May:

I think if we’d managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial. And, you know, for all sorts of reasons that didn’t happen. I think it’s clear you need lots of testing for this …

I think if we do test, track and tracing well and we keep the social distancing measures at the right level we should be able to avoid a second wave.

Herd Immunity

Vallance, 13 March:

Our aim is to try to reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it. Those are the key things we need to do.

Vallance, 5 May:

I should be clear about what I was trying to say, and if I didn’t say this clearly enough then I apologise. What I was trying to say was that, in the absence of a therapeutic, the way in which you can stop a community becoming susceptible to this is through immunity, and immunity can be obtained by vaccination, or it can be obtained by people who have the infection.

Death toll

National medical director of NHS England, Stephen Powis, 28 March:

If we can keep deaths below 20,000 we will have done very well in this epidemic.

Boris Johnson, 30 April (when death toll stood at 26,711):

We avoided an uncontrollable and catastrophic epidemic where the reasonable worst-case scenario was 500,000 deaths.

PPE (personal protective equipment)

Health secretary, Matt Hancock, 11 April:

The central challenge is one of distribution rather than one of supply and going from a business as usual, relatively low levels of PPE distribution to the unprecedented level of use of PPE now has been a big challenge.

Housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, 18 April:

Supply in some areas, particularly gowns and certain types of masks and aprons, is in short supply at the moment, and that must be an extremely anxious time for people working on the frontline, but they should be assured that we are doing everything we can to correct this issue, and to get them the equipment that they need.

Use of face masks/coverings by the public

Deputy chief medical officer for England, Jonathan Van Tam, 3 April :

In terms of the hard evidence, and what the UK government recommends, we do not recommend face masks for general wearing.

Johnson, 30 April:

What I think Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) is saying, and what I certainly agree with is that as part of coming out of the lockdown I do think face coverings will be useful, both for epidemiological reasons but also giving people confidence they can go back to work.