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Coronavirus: UK health minister to consult colleagues on lockdown fines

Reuters/London, United Kingdom
Filed on May 27, 2020
Britain, fines, rescinded, childcare, travel, Matt Hancock, Dominic Cummings, coronavirus
Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock holds a daily news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain May 26, 2020.

(Reuters)

His pledge follows mounting fury about top government adviser Cummings' controversial lockdown trip.

British health minister Matt Hancock said he would talk to colleagues about fines imposed on families for breaking lockdown rules, after a top government adviser received widespread public condemnation for his lockdown travel.

Asked whether fines would be rescinded for those who had given childcare-related justifications for breaking the lockdown, similar to those made by government adviser Dominic Cummings, Hancock said the government would consider this.

"We do understand the impact and the need for making sure that children get adequate childcare. That is one of the significant concerns that we've had all the way through this," Hancock said at the government's daily news conference.

"I think that (it) is ... perfectly reasonable to take away that question. I'll have to talk to my Treasury colleagues before I can answer it in full," he added.

Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's closest aide, drove 250 miles from his London home with his wife and young son during lockdown, and while there made another trip to a local beauty spot, which he said was for the purpose of testing his eyesight.

He said on Monday he believed he had acted "reasonably" and within the law, and had no regrets about his actions.

Johnson said he was satisfied with his aide's version of events.

However, in a poll conducted after Cummings sought to explain his actions, YouGov found 71 per cent of people believed he had broken lockdown rules and 59 per cent thought he should resign.

Police in England and Wales have issued more than 14,000 fines for alleged breaches of lockdown laws from March 27 to May 11, the period that included Cummings' trips, according to the National Police Chiefs' Council.

Hancock was questioned about the justification for fining others for breaching the rules by Martin Poole, a clergyman from Brighton.

"Everything about this weekend and the storm that is going on around this is about unfairness," Poole told Sky News.

"I think people feel a very strong sense that it's not right that certain people can behave in a way the rest of us are not allowed to."

BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, citing a government source, said Hancock had not announced a review of lockdown fines, but had instead meant he would pass on the concern to colleagues.

The government said it had nothing to add to Hancock's comments.

UK to provide anti-viral drug remdesivir to some Covid-19 patients

Meanwhile, Britain will provide the anti-viral drug remdesivir to certain Covid-19 patients that it is most likely to benefit as part of a collaboration with manufacturer Gilead Sciences, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

The department of health said early data from clinical trials around the world showed that the drug could shorten the recovery time of Covid-19 patients by four days.

"This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began," health minister Matt Hancock told a government news conference.

"These are very early steps, but we are determined to support the science and back the projects that show promise."

The government said the allocation of the drug would be determined by where it would have the greatest benefit, but did not say how many patients would be treated.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) said last week that data from its trial of remdesivir showed that the drug offers the most benefit for Covid-19 patients who need extra oxygen but do not require mechanical ventilation.

The researchers also said that "given high mortality despite the use of remdesivir," it is likely that the drug would be more effective in combination with other treatments for Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Stephen Griffin, an associate professor at Leeds University, welcomed the move to use remdesivir, saying it would "likely mean that the most severe Covid-19 patients will receive it first". He said that while this approach was the most ethical, it also meant drug would not be a "magic bullet".

"We can instead hope for improved recovery rates and a reduction in patient mortality," Griffin said.

Gilead said it expects results from its own study of remdesivir in patients with moderate Covid-19 at the end of this month.

After shortages, Britain opens new protective equipment supply lines

Also on Tuesday, Britain said it had agreed deals with more than 100 new suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) used to combat the spread of the coronavirus, addressing supply problems seen earlier during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government has faced heavy criticism from health workers who said they were not always provided with the right equipment and did not feel safe. The government has acknowledged problems with distribution and sourcing sufficient supplies in a competitive international market.

"We have now ordered 2 billion pieces of PPE from homegrown firms, which is also great news for jobs and the economy, and over 3 billion pieces from abroad," health minister Matt Hancock said in a statement.

The deals, some of which had already been announced, include the purchase of 70 million face masks from Honeywell and 14,000 visors per week from Jaguar Land Rover.


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