Duncan Selbie’s Friday Message – 15 May 2020
COVID-19 recovery strategy
The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on Sunday set out a three-step road map to recovery from the COVID-19 lockdown. Step one is about encouraging people who cannot work from home to go back to work in safe and ‘COVID-secure’ workplaces, as well as encouraging people to take more outdoor exercise. Step two, at the earliest by June, will focus on the phased reopening of shops and getting the youngest children back into schools in stages. And step three, at the earliest by July, will see the reopening of the hospitality industry and other public places, provided they are safe and social distancing can be respected.
At this stage in the pandemic, steps two and three are very much conditional on the R value being under 1 and that everyone follows the advice on staying alert and safe.
The Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy also establishes a new Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) to bring together epidemiological expertise and analytical capability from across Government including local Government, and academe, to provide real-time analysis of outbreaks and to have a suite of interventions, both national and local, to quickly address them. The JBC will also be responsible for advising the Chief Medical Officer and Ministers on the current level of overall risk in the country.
PHE is fully involved in the creation of this new capability, with our Emeritus Medical Director Professor Paul Cosford acting as its Senior Medical Advisor, along with a number of other public health colleagues from within PHE and from local Government.
A joint PHE and University of Cambridge Modelling Group are producing real-time tracking of the pandemic, including the R number. The data is shared with SAGE, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza sub-group on Modelling (SPI-M) and with regional teams to assist in planning actions and control measures to protect the public. This is of course a contribution and it is a model which is predictive but does not necessarily reflect what might happen in the future.
PHE Colindale and Porton Down have been evaluating antibody tests developed by several companies to determine their specificity and as expected, we are beginning to see good quality tests with high accuracy, including those developed by Roche and Abbott Laboratories. This is a very positive development, as highly specific antibody tests are reliable markers of past infection, although the level of long-term immunity conferred by past infection remains unknown and requires more time to pass before this can be assessed.
Many measures, and in particular step one of the road map to recovery, require new safety guidelines that set out how each type of physical space can be adapted to operate safely and be COVID-secure. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) worked closely with PHE and the Health and Safety Executive and consulted approximately 250 other stakeholders, including industry bodies, local authorities and trade unions, in the development of the guidance on the safest ways of working across the economy, published this week. This covers eight workplace settings, from construction sites to factories, laboratories and restaurants offering takeaway or delivery. This is a critical first step and PHE will continue to work with BEIS and other Government departments to ensure that people can work safely, whatever the setting, and have the confidence to return to work.
Local Government Annual Public Health Report
Last week, the Local Government Association published their 2020 public health annual report. This was written prior to the pandemic but when this passes there are likely to be a number of beneficial outcomes including a greater sense of community and understanding of what we mean by good health, and a recognition that social care matters as much as the NHS to this. The leadership of local Government has never been so necessary nor more visible, something everyone involved should be proud of.
PHE Remit Letter
We have published our annual Remit Letter from Ministers, which mainly refers to our focus on the pandemic, but does look ahead to what follows. We also received a letter of thanks from Jo Churchill MP, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, which I would like to echo and you can read in full here.
International Nurses Day
And finally, on Tuesday we celebrated International Nurses Day, which this year also marked the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. As never before, we are reminded of the incredible contribution of nurses and midwives and the part they play in everyone’s lives. I also add my warmest thanks to the PHE nurses and midwives and those across the public health system for their tireless and priceless work.
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