Potential coronavirus vaccine to be trialled on people from Thursday, Matt Hancock announces

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

A potential coronavirus vaccine is due to be "trialled in people" from Thursday, the health secretary has said, claiming the government will "throw everything" at efforts to stop the virus.

"In normal times, reaching this stage would take years," Matt Hancock said, adding how he is "very proud" the University of Oxford was able to make such progress.

Mr Hancock, who is under fire over his 100,000-per-day testing target and a lack of protective equipment for health and care staff, said it was clear that the “best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine”.

Speaking at the daily press briefing, Mr Hancock praised the “rapid progress” being made into vaccines by scientists at Oxford and Imperial College London.

He claimed the UK had "put more money than any other country into the global search for a vaccine".

He said of all the efforts around the world, "two of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home at Oxford and Imperial".

Mr Hancock says he has told scientists leading the search he would “back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need” in order to succeed.

The project at Imperial College London will receive £22.5 million to support its phase two clinical trials and Oxford University will be granted £20 million to fund its clinical trials, Mr Hancock said.

"Both of these promising projects are making rapid progress," he added.

Oxford, where the team is being led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, has said it hopes to have at least a million doses of its vaccine ready in September, while Imperial hopes to start clinical trials in June.

Mr Hancock said the UK is at the “front of the global effort” to find a vaccine that is effective against coronavirus.

While many of the signs are beginning to look positive, Mr Hancock warned there must be no relaxation of lockdown restrictions, until experts can be sure a second peak of the virus can be avoided.

He said that the nation owes it to those who have died with coronavirus not to “throw away the progress” made in the fight against the disease.

“We’ve been clear that we will not risk lives by relaxing the social distancing rules before our five tests have been met," he said.

“And most importantly that there is no risk of a second peak."

On the issue of Covid-19 testing, Mr Hancock said it was “terrific” that capacity was increasing across the UK, saying it was further ahead than the planned trajectory.

This is despite the fact less than half of the available coronavirus testing capacity has been used, with just 19,316 tests conducted in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday against capacity for 39,250.

Mr Hancock said testing of NHS staff who are not showing coronavirus symptoms will play a part in reaching the Government’s 100,000 target.

And he said home testing was being rolled out for staff and could be useful for those living in care homes.

Professor John Newton, national co-ordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme, acknowledged that health and care workers have struggled to access testing sites, which include drive-through centres placed out of town.

He said home tests for coronavirus that can be sent back should be available to NHS staff across the UK “very soon”, while mobile deliveries was another option being piloted.

Mr Hancock was speaking alongside Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam and John Newton, the professor of public health and epidemiology and coordinator of the national testing effort.

Several different government ministers have led the daily press conferences since Boris Johnson caught coronavirus and was forced out of work.

Earlier the PM's spokesman said Mr Johnson is "continuing his recovery" and will resume his weekly audiences with the Queen when they speak on the phone later this week.

The prime minister is still not working but has been receiving updates from Number 10 and is in contact with Dominic Raab, who is deputising for him.

Mr Johnson spoke to US President Trump and "thanked him for his good wishes while he was unwell", the spokesman added.

The update comes on the day England and Wales recorded its highest weekly death toll for 20 years, largely due to the number of coronavirus deaths.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the provisional number of deaths registered in England and Wales as 18,516 in the week of April 10.

This is an increase of 2,129 deaths compared to the previous week and 7,996 deaths more than the five-year average. It is also the largest amount of deaths in the UK since the first week of 2000.