Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:37 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 12:37 pm, 15th September 2020

Coronavirus exists only to spread, and yesterday the World Health Organisation once again announced a record number of cases globally. France and Spain have both reported daily figures of over 10,000 positive cases and increasing hospitalisations. Here in the UK, we saw around 2,600 new cases yesterday, and last week medical advisers advised that R is above 1. The epidemic is growing.

There are signs that the number of cases in care homes and the number of hospitalisations is starting to rise again, so last week we acted quickly, putting in place new measures—the rule of six, which came into force yesterday. We do not do this lightly, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater.

Testing also has a vital part to play. Everyone in this House knows that we are doing more testing per head of population than almost any other major nation, and I can tell the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country. As we expand capacity further, we are working round the clock to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get a test. The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home, and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles —down from 6.4 miles last week; but the whole House knows that there are operational challenges, and we are working hard to fix them.

We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible. Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need. Over the summer when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing, whether priorities or not, but as demand has risen we are having to prioritise once again. I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important. The top priority is, and always has been, acute clinical care. The next priority is social care, where we are now sending over 100,000 tests a day, because we have all seen the risks this virus poses in care homes. We will set out in full an updated prioritisation, and I do not rule out further steps to ensure our tests are used according to those priorities. It is a choice that we must make.

Finally, to defeat this virus in the long term needs effective vaccines and treatments. I am delighted to say that over the weekend the trial of the Oxford vaccine restarted, and I can tell the House that we will now be trialling a promising new antibody treatment on coronavirus patients in the UK. The challenges are serious. We must work to overcome them, optimistic in the face even of these huge challenges, and to keep this deadly virus under control.