Matt Hancock claims UK is 'winning battle with coronavirus' as infections fall

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today claimed the UK is "winning the battle against coronavirus" as the number of new deaths and infections fell to the lowest level since the start of lockdown.

The Government revealed that 111 new new Covid-19 deaths with a positive test were reported today, bringing the total to 39,045 nationwide. In Yorkshire the death toll rose by 21.

And in the 24-hour period up to 9am today, 128,437 tests were carried out or dispatched with 1,570 positive results.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Pic: PAHealth Secretary Matt Hancock. Pic: PA
Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Pic: PA | pa

Mr Hancock told the daily Downing Street press briefing that both figures were the lowest since late-March, when lockdown measures were imposed by the Government in response to the pandemic.

He said: "The data show that we are winning the battle against coronavirus. Today we are therefore able to make some cautious changes to the lockdown rules, carefully and safely."

But he warned that "the disease is not done yet".

"We must all remember that in the war against this virus we are all on the same side. We have come so far together, we can take these steps together.

"But do not step too far, the disease is not done yet. We mustn't throw away the progress that has been made."

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The number of people in the UK who have died after testing positive for Covid-19 is 556 higher than the equivalent total announced yesterday, although the Government is reporting the day-on-day change as 111.

The reason for the difference in these two figures is to do with how deaths are being incorporated into historic data retrospectively.

Yesterday's cumulative total announced by the Department of Health was 38,489, which is 556 below today's cumulative total of 39,045. But since yesterday, 445 deaths have been added to the historic data.

These additional deaths are linked to cases that have been identified through testing that has been carried out by commercial partners, rather than testing that has been done in NHS and Public Health England laboratories.

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Rather than include these 445 deaths in today's increase, the Department of Health has incorporated them within the previous cumulative total, to create a notional total for yesterday of 38,934 (38,489 + 445).

The difference between this notional total of 38,934 and today's total of 39,045 is 111, and this is the one being reported by the Government.

Earlier, a Cabinet minister insisted the lockdown was being eased in a "very cautious" way as thousands of children in England began returning to school despite concerns from public health officials and parents.

And Mr Hancock defended the change in guidance which means vulnerable 'shielded' people in England and Wales who are advised to stay home since the coronavirus lockdown began will be able to go outdoors again.

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He said the changes to guidance for shielded people were made because the incidence of coronavirus is now "down to the levels that it was before" the policy was introduced.

Asked what changed on May 30 to make it safe for those shielding to be allowed outside, Mr Hancock told the press conference: "When the clinical advice said that it was safe to be able to advise those who are shielded to be able to go outside - so long as they stay two metres away from others - then I think that is a small step, it's a very positive step for those who have been shielding."

He added: "We announced it when it was safe and ready to do so, and as I think you can see from the charts that we put up, one of the reasons that we could make that change is that the rate of incidence of disease is now back down to the levels that it was before we introduced the shielding policy."

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said he understands parents' concerns over sending their children back to class todsay, but added that the Government had not undertaken a "dash" to re-start the economy.

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The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) warned that experts were "increasingly concerned" that ministers are making the wrong judgment by easing restrictions too quickly.

And the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said head teachers were reporting attendance rates of between 40-60 per cent of eligible pupils, as parents kept children at home.

Mr Sharma told BBC Breakfast: "This is not a dash. These are very cautious steps that we are taking. They are phased."

He said that he "completely" understands that "every parent wants to keep their child safe", but insisted the Government had taken steps to ensure schools are safe to return to as classes re-opened to children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England.

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Downing Street said it expected the majority of primary schools in England to open to more children this week, with the Prime Minister's official spokesman insisting: "We have only taken this step because we believe it is safe to do so."

He also denied the lockdown was being eased too quickly, saying that the scientific "consensus" was that it is "unlikely" that the changes will push the coronavirus transmission rate R past the crucial value of one.

Classrooms were reopening as social restrictions across the UK were being eased so people can have limited contact with friends and family outdoors.

ADPH president Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy said public health directors were concerned that the public was "not keeping to social distancing as it was", with pictures emerging of crowded beaches and beauty spots over the weekend.

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With UK deaths linked to Covid-19 rising above 48,000, she said the NHS test and trace programme "is currently far from being the robust operation that is now urgently required as a safeguard to easing restrictions".

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