New coronavirus social care taskforce set up to focus on 'stopping infection' among all in receipt of care

A new coronavirus social care taskforce has been set up to stop the spread of the virus among all people who receive care, the government's daily Covid-19 press conference has heard.

David Pearson, the newly appointed chairman of the "National Covid-19 Social Care Support Taskforce", said: "Our focus will be on stopping infection whilst trying to ensure the wellbeing of all people who receive care and support, whether they live in care homes or at home."

He acknowledged the crisis in care homes, which has seen several thousand vulnerable people die of coronavirus since the pandemic reached the UK.

He said the taskforce will "bring together the concerted and determined actions" of both local and central government, in order to protect care home staff and residents, many of whom are considered "extremely clinically vulnerable".

Statistics have shown those over the age of 80 are 70% more likely to die of the virus than working age Britons.

To further protect the group, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced an extension of the coronavirus testing regime to include all staff and residents at all adult care homes in England.

The service will benefit residents and staff in over 6,000 more care homes, he said.

Previously only care homes exclusively housing the over-65s were eligible for facility-wide testing of staff and residents.

"It will mean that right across adult social care, everyone will have the certainty and confidence of a high quality coronavirus test, whether symptomatic or not."

Since the launch of whole care home testing, the government says it has provided 1,071,103 test kits to 8,984 care homes.

Chair of the taskforce Mr Pearson said it "will play an important part in ensuring we are doing everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the sector, both for those who rely on care and support and the social care workforce".

It is made up of representatives from PHE, CQC, Care Providers Alliance LGA, ADASS, Healthwatch England, MHCLG, Cabinet Office and DHSC.

Responding to a question from ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand, Mr Hancock insisted it is safe for new people to move into care homes.

“Even those care homes where there are cases have very strong infection control procedures in place.

“In fact, if you look at the proportion of people in the UK who have sadly died in care homes, it is significantly lower than in comparable countries across Europe.”

He claimed "it’s clear that the epidemic in care homes is coming under control", pointing to coronavirus mitigating measures, such as the implementation of lockdown.

He insisted to MPs that the the reproduction rate (R value) of coronavirus in the UK (R value) was below one in every region of the UK after reports that the number was above that in both the North West and South West.

He said in order to keep the R value down, people must remain two metres apart from others, despite suggestions that the 'safe' distance could be reduced to one metre.

He defended the two-metre rule as being based on science and said businesses may have to rely on their ingenuity to operate within the restriction.

The hospitality industry has warned that pubs and restaurants may be unable to reopen if the distance is not reduced.

“We keep the two-metre rule under review all the time and Sage have been doing some work on this recently,” Mr Hancock told the Downing Street press conference.

“But, ultimately, it isn’t the rule that’s the challenge to the opening of hospitality in a safe way, it’s the virus.”

He said the “current working plan” was for secondary schools to fully reopen in England from September at the earliest, despite concerns about the two-metre rule making that difficult.

For both schools and the economy it was a matter of working out how to open in a way that does not lead to an increased spread of the virus.

“That is going to require ingenuity, you can already see the ingenuity in lots of areas of the economy – bars that have turned themselves into takeaways, all sorts of different ways that people are providing services and making their business work in a way that is consistent with social distancing,” he said.

“We’ve got to be innovative, we’ve got to be thoughtful about this.”

He cited an ever decreasing daily death figure - which today, at 55, was the lowest since lockdown began - as one of the "encouraging trends" which show the virus is "in retreat across the land".

The figures come as Scotland reports no new coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours for the second day in a row.

The health secretary said there have also been no deaths recorded in any London hospital in the past 24 hours.

He said the data is "pointing in the right direction" and it shows the UK is "winning the battle with this disease".

Mr Hancock earlier told MPs in the Commons that Black Lives Matter protests "risk increasing the spread" of coronavirus and said it was a mistake for anyone to attend.

  • Watch the government coronavirus press conference in full: