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Hancock facing grilling by MPs over coronavirus crisis

UK News | Published:

Questioning by Commons Health Committee comes amid calls for a clear exit strategy from lockdown.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will face questions from MPs on Friday over the Government’s coronavirus response, a day after lockdown measures were extended for at least another three weeks.

Mr Hancock is expected to be quizzed on PPE and an exit strategy as he appears before a virtual session of the Commons Health Committee.

It comes following reports that the head of an NHS trust in southern England has asked for the help of a British fashion company as he fears his staff will soon run out of hospital gowns.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, asked the BBC for the factory phone number of Burberry, which – along with other high-end fashion retailers – has recently retooled its facilities to begin PPE production.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while he recovers from the virus, was “reluctant” to set out an exit plan without the Prime Minister.

Mr Raab said their was “light at the end of the tunnel”, but warned lifting restrictions too soon could risk a second peak of Covid-19.

The Foreign Secretary stated the original three-month timeline to come through the peak of the virus, set down by Mr Johnson, was broadly “still the outline”.

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Meanwhile:

– London mayor Sadiq Khan urged the Government to change its advice to the public on wearing face masks to combat the spread of the virus.

– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he would not be booking a summer holiday “at this point”.

– Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would deviate from the UK Government’s lockdown measures if her advisers told her it was in the best interests of her country.

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Dominic Raab clapping outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London to salute local heroes during Thursday’s nationwide Clap for Carers (Tolga Akmen/PA)

Also giving evidence to the Commons Health Committee on Friday is Prof Anthony Costello, chairman of global health at University College London, who will warn MPs the UK could face eight to 10 waves of coronavirus before the population achieves “herd immunity”, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The paper reports Prof Costello will tell the committee that the UK’s lack of wide-ranging testing could leave the country vulnerable to repeat outbreaks until a vaccine is developed.

Meanwhile office staff could be asked to wear masks in order to facilitate an eventual return to work, according to the Daily Mail.

Ministers are discussing telling people to use protective equipment in the workplace and public transport, it was reported.

Labour leader Sir Keir said the Government had not taken decisions fast enough during the emergency.

He told the BBC’s Coronavirus Newscast podcast: “I think that throughout this they’ve struggled with taking decisions quickly enough.

“The other factor though, I think, is we all know that the Prime Minister has been in hospital.

“We’ve all been pleased to see that he’s come out and is feeling better. And it feels as though they’ve been in a position probably for a week or 10 days now where it’s been difficult for the Government to make big decisions. And I think there’s a bit of that lying behind this as well.

“I suspect, although I don’t know, that Dominic Raab is just reluctant – he probably does know that it’s time for an exit strategy – but he’s probably reluctant to sign it off without the Prime Minister and I think there’s a bit of that in the mix.”

Announcing the lockdown extension, Mr Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider it safe to adjust the current measures.

They are:

– Protect the NHS’s ability to cope and be confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK

– A sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak

– Reliable data from Government scientific advisers showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board

– Confidence that testing capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in hand with “supply able to meet future demand”

– Confidence that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections.

Staff join in the applause at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to salute local heroes during Thursday’s nationwide Clap for Carers (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The Department of Health said the Covid-19 death toll in hospitals in the UK had reached 13,729 as of 5pm on Wednesday, up 861 on the figure the day before.

But Mr Raab said the rate of infection – the R0 value – was “almost certainly below one in the community”, meaning infected people were passing the disease on to fewer than one other person on average.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, and Dr Alison Pittard, dean, Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine are also giving evidence to the Commons Health Committee.

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