Statement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Coronavirus Press Conference
9 September 2020
Right, well, thank you very much, Chris. And it’s is clear from that very powerful graphic…that powerful slides that we must act.
And the most important thing for all of us is to remember the basics.
First, wash your hands, regularly and for 20 seconds. Don’t get back into the old habits.
Second, wear a face covering over your mouth and nose if you are in an enclosed space and in close contact with people you don’t normally meet. I know wearing a face covering feels odd to some people and I understand that. But face coverings do make it harder for the virus to spread – so please, wear one to protect others.
Third, make space. Always stay 2 metres away from people you don’t live with – or 1 metre with extra precautions, like extra ventilation, screens, or face coverings.
Fourthly, if you have COVID symptoms, get a test and self-isolate. We are now processing 1.2 million tests per week. To date, we’ve carried out 15.4 million antigen tests – that’s more than any other country in Europe, and more per head than other European countries like Germany and Spain.
We are increasing our testing capacity further to meet rising demand. And you can help by only booking a test if you have a fever, a new continuous cough, or you’ve lost your sense of taste or smell – if you don’t have those symptoms and you haven’t been asked to book a test, please don’t.
So those are the basics – hands, face, space – and get a test if you have COVID symptoms.
Since the pandemic began, we’ve asked you to reduce your social contact and limit your interactions with friends and family.
And I know that, over time, the rules have become quite complicated and confusing. We have spoken to police officers about what they need for an effective enforcement regime and of course, you’ve listened to feedback from you, from the public.
So we are responding, and we are simplifying and strengthening the rules – making them easier for everyone to understand and for the police to enforce.
I should stress that if we are to beat the virus then everyone, at all times, should limit social contact as much as possible and minimise interactions with other households. It’s safer to meet outdoors and you should keep your distance from anyone you don’t live with, even if they are close friends or family.
So in England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of 6. You must not meet socially in groups of more than 6 – and if you do, you will be breaking the law.
This will apply in any setting, indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub.
The ban will be set out in law and it will be enforced by the police – and anyone breaking the rules risks being dispersed, fined and possibly arrested.
This single measure replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing 2 households to meet indoors. Now, you only need to remember the rule of 6.
There will be some limited exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than 6, and obviously, they can still gather.
COVID-secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants, hospitality venues can still hold more than 6 in total. Within those venues, however, there must not be individual groups larger than 6, and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups.
Education and work settings are unaffected, COVID-secure weddings and funerals can go ahead, up to a limit of 30 people, and organised sport will still be able to proceed.
As we’ve found on previous occasions, this rule of 6 will of course throw up difficult cases. For example, two whole households will no longer be able to meet if they would together exceed the limit of 6 people.
And I’m sorry about that and I wish that we did not have to take this step. But, as your Prime Minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives.
And of course, we’ll keep the rule of 6 under constant review and only keep it in place as long as it’s necessary.
I also want to see – and the public wants to see – stronger enforcement of the rules which are already in place. So I’ve tasked the Cabinet with increasing enforcement and I would like to thank the police, as always, and other authorities for the work they are doing to keep us all safe.
* Premises and venues where people meet socially will be legally required to request the contact details of a member of every party, record and retain these details for 21 days, and provide them to NHS Test & Trace without delay when required.
* We will support local authorities to make further and faster use of their powers to close venues that are breaking the rules and pose a risk to public health.
* Fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises remain COVID-secure.
* We will boost the enforcement capacity of local authorities by introducing COVID-Secure Marshalls to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres, and by setting up a register of Environmental Health Officers that local authorities can draw upon for support.
* We will simplify the Passenger Locator Form needed for travelling to the UK, and take measures to ensure these are completed and checked before departure.
* Border Force will step up enforcement efforts at the border to ensure arrivals are complying with the quarantine rules.
* We will also restrict the opening hours of premises, initially in some local areas.
At the present time, we must also, I’m afraid, revise plans to pilot larger audiences in venues later this month and review our intention to return audiences to stadiums and conference centres from 1 October. That doesn’t mean we’re going to scrap the programme entirely; we just have to review it and…and abridge it, and the Culture Secretary will say more about that shortly.
I want to be absolutely clear – these measures are not a…another national lockdown – the whole point of them is to avoid a second national lockdown.
By bearing down on social contact and improving enforcement, we can keep schools and businesses open, in the knowledge that they are COVID-secure.
I’ve always said schools and colleges should only ever be shut again as a very, very last resort. As the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Adviser have said, the long-term risks to children’s life chances of not going to school are very significant and far greater than the health risks now of going back to school – far, far greater.
Indeed, it’s been fantastic to see so many children back in school this term and I want, once again, to thank all our teachers, and to reassure parents, pupils that schools are safe.
University terms will also begin soon. No, opening universities is critical, again, for students’ life chances and, again, the health risks to individuals are low.
Of course, many students…many university students are in the age bracket where we’ve seen the infection rates rise recently as Chris was just explaining. My message to students is simple. Please, for the sake of your education, for your parents’ and your grandparents’ health: wash your hands, cover your face, make space, and don’t socially gather in groups of more than 6, now and when term starts.
Today, the Department for Education is publishing updated guidance for universities on how they can operate in a COVID-secure way, including a clear request not to send students home in the event of an outbreak, so as to avoid spreading the virus across the country. And I’m very grateful to universities for their continued cooperation and planning for the return of students.
The measures I’ve set out today will help us control the virus but won’t, on their own, be enough to allow a more significant return to normality.
Patrick is going to set out in a moment where we are on vaccines and treatments, but we are not there yet and of course, there are no guarantees.
So over the summer, we’ve therefore been working up an alternative plan which could allow life to return closer to normality. And that plan is based on mass testing.
Up to now, if you think about it, we’ve been using testing primarily to identify people who are positive – so that we can isolate them from the community and protect high-risk groups. And that will continue to be our priority. We are working hard to increase our testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.
But in future, in the near future, we hope we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative – who don’t have coronavirus, who are not infectious – so we can allow them to behave in a more normal way, in the knowledge they can’t infect anyone else with the virus.
And we think, we hope, we believe that new types of test which are simple, quick and scalable will become available. They use swabs or saliva and can turn round results in 90 or even 20 minutes. Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved – literally, millions of tests being processed every single day.
And that level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing:
Theatres and sports venues could test an audience…or all audience members one day and let in all those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious. Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative in the morning to behave in a way that was exactly as in the world before COVID. Those isolating because they are a contact, or quarantining after travelling abroad, could, after a period, be tested and released. Now, that’s an ambitious agenda, but we are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month, with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues. And then, we hope to go nationwide.
There are a number of challenges. We need the technology to work. We need to source the necessary materials to manufacture so many tests. We need to put in place an efficient distribution network. And we need to work through the…the numerous logistical challenges.
And as I say, we are not there yet, and I should repeat that, as we manage this period of high demand, it is especially important, I repeat this, that if individuals don’t have symptoms, and have not been specifically advised to take a test, they should not be coming forward for a test because they could be taking a test away from someone who really needs it.
Our plan – this moonshot that I am describing – will require a giant, collaborative effort from government, from business, from public health professionals, scientists, logistics experts and many, many more.
Work is underway now – and we will get on at pace until we get there, round the clock.
We are hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and, if everything comes together, it may be possible even for some of the most difficult sectors like the theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas.
As I said before, all this progress is contingent on continued scientific advances and though we’re hopeful, I cannot 100% guarantee that those advances will be made.
And that is why it’s so important that we take these tough measures now.
I believe that we will continue to drive this virus down and that we will beat this virus before too long.
So let’s work together; let’s follow the rules: meet in groups of no more than six. Wash your hands, cover your face, make space.
Thank you. I’ll now hand over to Patrick, who’ll set out the latest on vaccines and treatments, and then we’ll go to questions from the public and from the media.