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Duncan Selbie's Friday Message - 20 March 2020

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Dear everyone

COVID-19: Whatever it takes

We are in truly unprecedented times and now more than ever the country needs the expertise, skill and professionalism of the public health community.

The radical social distancing measures set out by the Prime Minister this week require a herculean effort from all of us. We all need to work and live differently in order to slow the spread of the virus. This presents enormous challenges for individuals, families and every sector of the economy and every public service is being asked to think the unthinkable and either stop, slow down, or change the way they operate. The objective is to limit our close contact with people, especially the very vulnerable, and crucially if anyone develops symptoms, to stay at home with other members of their household until their symptoms have gone and they are out of the isolation phase. Read more in the PHE guidance on staying at home and on social distancing.

Ensuring we ramp up our ability to test more potential COVID-19 cases is a critical part of the contain-delay-research-mitigate strategy. Our approach to scaling up UK testing capacity is to use both antigen (are you infected) and antibody (have you recovered) testing and asking partners in biotech firms and global technology companies to help.

First, we will be increasing the PHE and NHS laboratory-based testing capacity from 5,000 to 25,000 per day to meet the clinical priorities of the NHS. PHE’s National Infection Service will be leading this with scientific colleagues at NHS England and the plan is to maximise as much as possible the existing technology already on hospital campuses, and to supplement this with commercial support. Second, the Office for Life Sciences is massively expanding, through universities and commercial partners, the nation’s capacity for antigen tests to create a fast-track route back to work for frontline NHS and social care staff who are not infectious and are much needed at work. And third, PHE will be supporting the roll out of a mass home-based antibody test to confirm whether a person has had the virus but is no longer contagious and therefore can return to their normal life.

Together we can turn the tide of this virus over the next few months. But it will require ruthless, determined and decisive action from each of us, and a consistent adherence to self-isolation and staying at home when we are unwell.

And finally, I am glad to say that the Government has confirmed the Public Health Grant allocations for local authorities for 2020/21. This is good news as the first year in six where the grant has not been reduced and is a signal of the Government’s intention to take prevention seriously and to tackle health inequalities as part of the levelling up promised by the Prime Minister.

Best wishes



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