Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: Outdoor exercise could be banned, says Health Secretary

Sunday shows round-up: Outdoor exercise could be banned, says Health Secretary
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Picture Credit: Sky
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Matt Hancock - 100,000 tests a day target is achievable

Once again, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock was tasked with doing the rounds of television studios, updating the public on the government's coronavirus strategy. Concerns have been mounting that the government has not made enough provisions to test people for the virus, especially NHS staff. The government has since announced a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. Sophy Ridge challenged him on these figures, but Hancock insisted the goal was realistic:

SR: The numbers sound great... but on [your] record, is it actually achievable?

MH: Yes. It's going to be hard, and it's going to require an awful lot of people to put their shoulders to the wheel... We set a goal of 10,000 tests a day by the end of March, and we hit that goal... We are on a very rapid ramp-up, but clearly we need to see that go further.

The PM still has 'his hand on the tiller'

Ridge inquired about Boris Johnson’s condition, as continues to self-isolate in his Downing Street flat with symptoms of coronavirus. Hancock, who experienced symptoms of coronavirus himself, said that while Johnson had been isolating for longer than planned, there was nothing to worry about:

MH: He's OK! I've been talking to him everyday... [and] he's very much got his hand on the tiller... Some people do get it pretty mildly, and for others it's very very serious, and the Prime Minister is not at that end of the spectrum.

'Follow the rules' or outdoor exercise will be banned

Both Ridge and Andrew Marr asked Hancock about what is permissible to do outside in the current circumstances – beyond essential travel and exercising once a day. Their questions follow reports of a high volume of people sunbathing in parks during the weekend weather. Hancock said that it was essential to stick to official guidance or else the government would be forced to consider curtailing outdoor exercise:

MH: If the result of that is that too many people go out and flout other rules... then I'm afraid that we will have to take action... If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home then you’ve got to follow the rules.

Herd immunity claims are 'rubbish'

Marr also asked about claims that the government had tried to pursue a policy of herd immunity, something which the new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeated this morning. Marr pointed to a comment made by the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. Hancock responded by saying that, while Vallance had indeed spoken about the concept, herd immunity had never been active government policy:

MH: It's all rubbish. It's been rubbish from start to finish... We've had a clear strategy all the way through, which we published... When people write articles about all of this, I just want them to know that they're talking nonsense.

Sir Keir Starmer - 'I won't demand the impossible'

Marr also held the first major TV interview with Keir Starmer since his election as Labour leader yesterday. Starmer set out how he plans to act as Leader of the Opposition at a time of national hardship:

KS: We've got to be constructive. We've got to pull together, support the government where it's right to do so, but asking those difficult questions matters... Not opposition for opposition's sake. I'm not going to score party political points, and I'm not going to demand the impossible.

'I want to rebuild trust' with the Jewish community

Starmer also pledged to combat anti-semitism within Labour, citing it as his first priority for change in the party. He told Marr that he would measure his success by the ability to win back support from Jewish members, such as former MP Louise Ellman, who quit the party in October, in part due to abuse she received from activists:

KS: The first thing I did in my acceptance speech... was to apologise on behalf of the Labour party... I want to rebuild trust... It's going to be a long road. It's going to take a lot of hard work...

AM: And how will we judge whether you've been successful?

KS: I will judge it by the return of Jewish members to our party.

Professor Neil Ferguson - We think virus will 'plateau' after 10 days

Professor Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist at Imperial College London whose research and data modelling on coronavirus has been highly valued by the government, told Marr that his team were hopeful that the virus would reach a peak within the next two weeks:

NF: We think this epidemic in the UK will plateau in the next week to ten days. What's critically important then is how quickly case numbers go down though. Do we see a long flat peak, or do we, as we hope, see a much faster decline? And that really depends on how effective the current measures are.

Alan Johnson - 'Now we have a chance'

And finally, the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson welcomed the election of Keir Starmer and wasted no time in advising him to eradicate the Momentum group within Labour which found itself in ascendency under Jeremy Corbyn. Johnson denounced Corbyn's leadership as 'awful' and 'dreadful', and blamed Momentum 'insurgents' for the party's internal struggles:

AJ: We need to get away from this cult that has taken us over... Momentum is an organisation devoted to internecine warfare... and I'm afraid there's no sign that they've buried the weapons. Now we've got a chance - but it's a chance, and it depends an awful lot on Keir Starmer's leadership.