Matt Hancock delivers coronavirus briefing, 2 April 2020. Photo: Number 10 via Youtube Matt Hancock delivers coronavirus briefing, 2 April 2020. Photo: Number 10 via Youtube

After demands from the public and eventually the press, the government are finally being forced to move on testing and PPE, reports Lucy Nichols

This evening’s coronavirus briefing was given by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, in his first TV appearance after falling ill of Covid-19 a week ago. Boris Johnson is still in self-isolation, but has been consistent in vlogging his experience with the virus over Twitter, promising in a series of shaky but motivational videos to ‘solve the puzzle’ of the Coronavirus.

Meanwhile, trade unions are still having to fight hard to save jobs and livelihoods; Unite has secured a deal with British Airways to furlough 26,000 staff on 80% of pay, saving countless jobs.

It would not be a Coronavirus briefing without the reassurance that the government is ‘taking the right steps at the right time’, and this evening Matt Hancock did not disappoint. His promises tonight centred largely around PPE, funding the NHS, and the mass roll-out of Coronavirus tests. That these steps have been taken at the right time is up for debate. What we do know is this about-turn, this attempt to show the government is finally getting a grip follows widespread outrage on all the press headlines this morning about the escalating death toll, the fatal consequences of the very limited testing and the lack of PPE for frontline staff.

Hancock announced that he was ‘profoundly moved’ by the doctors, nurses and other NHS workers who have died of the virus, and ‘saluted’ the migrant doctors who have tragically died over the last few days. Hancock should feel guilty at his government’s poor response to the virus. He has almost completely changed his tune since mid-March, now promising to ‘stop at nothing’ to get PPE to those who need it. The minimum standard for the protective equipment worn by frontline workers has been increased, and now the army has been enlisted to help distribute PPE

It seems that the Conservatives may finally regret the decade they have spent stripping away at the NHS, as Hancock also revealed that he has wiped the service’s £13.4bn debt – not only to help combat the Coronavirus, but also to lay ‘stronger foundations for the future’. 

The second half of Hancock’s briefing was dedicated entirely to his ambitious plans around testing. After making some very weak excuses for the previous reluctance to issue tests to NHS workers, Hancock finally made promises to eventually extend testing to anyone who needs it – though NHS workers and patients will obviously be the priority. That, weeks into this crisis, 100,000 tests are being promised in a months’ time is nothing short of scandalous. 

The pledge for 25,000 tests per day by the end of April is certainly a step in the right direction, however the government’s heavy reliance on the private sector for these tests is worrying to say the least. Companies like Amazon and Boots will be providing us with swab tests, while ‘big pharma’ companies will help with the production of new testing methods. The Heath Secretary bragged that he was ‘building a brand new [diagnostics] industry’ in order to combat the virus, but it is indicative of the government’s priorities that this means relying on private enterprise to swoop in and save us when the state can’t (or won’t).

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