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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 7 February 2020

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Dear everyone


The novel coronavirus outbreak continues to evolve and yesterday we had our third confirmed case. On Friday last week, a Foreign Office-chartered aircraft carrying 83 British nationals arrived in the UK from Wuhan and this week a further 11 people returned. They are currently spending 14 days in supported quarantine, which is one of the many precautionary measures being actioned to protect the UK and has involved a herculean effort by national government, the NHS, the emergency services and PHE. We have also launched a UK-wide public information campaign with advice on how people can protect themselves and their families from the infection.

Critical work is also being carried out in our specialist laboratories and this week, PHE sequenced the viral genome from the first two positive cases in the UK and made it available to the scientific community. Our findings suggest that the virus has not evolved in the last month. The government has pledged £20 million to support the international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus, with the aim of advancing 2019-nCoV vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible. This funding will also support a better epidemiological and clinical understanding of the virus. PHE will be contributing to this with the full panoply of our talent, capabilities and knowledge.

The Secretary of State, Matt Hancock MP, announced this funding on his visit to our Porton Down campus, where he saw unique UK scientific capability to work with the novel coronavirus and test potential vaccines when they become available, as well as state of the art new laboratories that produce a world-leading treatment for childhood leukaemia.

CVD prevention

Yesterday, we welcomed over 500 delegates to our seventh annual cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention conference, with a focus this year on helping people to age healthily by taking proactive and personalised action to reduce their risk of CVD. Delegates heard about system wide approaches to prevention from Dr Tom Frieden from America’s Resolve to Save Lives, from Professor Chris Bentley on how to put health inequalities at the heart of work to address hypertension, and got to explore the potential of digital solutions such as the Good Sam app. With over 50 speakers, a packed exhibition area and over 40 poster presentations delivered on the day, the event provided a rich source of evidence, experience and ideas to support national and local action on the prevention of CVD.

We also celebrated one-year on from the publication of national CVD ambitions and the event provided a fruitful opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved since, which you can read more about in our blog.

Heads Up Weekend

And finally, this weekend will be the first of two consecutive Heads Up Weekends, which will see football teams across the nation dedicate their matches to Heads Up. This is part of the wider campaign, spearheaded by HRH The Duke of Cambridge, which is harnessing the influence and popularity of football to normalise the conversation around mental health. In January, PHE’s Every Mind Matters collaborated with Heads Up in the Emirates FA Cup Third Round, encouraging fans to ‘take a minute’ to consider their own mental health. A powerful one minute film featuring football stars was played out in stadiums across the country, urging fans to complete the Every Mind Matters quiz and so far, since its launch in October, 1.5 million have done so. We hope that the Heads Up Weekends will encourage more to join the conversation and take care of their mental health.

Best wishes



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