Covid: Matt Hancock to lead coronavirus press conference amid backlash over NHS pay rise

Matt Hancock is to lead a coronavirus press conference this evening, with a focus expected to be on the government's pledge to help boost young peoples' mental health, which it says has been "uniquely impacted by the pandemic and lockdown".

The health secretary will take the briefing from Downing Street at 5pm.

He will be joined by Susan Hopkins, incident director for Covid-19 at Public Health England.

The health secretary will focus on the £79 million set out to help youngsters have access to significantly expanded mental health services, but journalists are sure to ask about a proposed pay rise for NHS staff of just 1%.

The government is facing a furious backlash from nurses, doctors, health care unions, politicians and the public for proposing the pay rise, which will in real-terms will amount to a pay cut owing to inflation.

Ministers defended the proposal, saying 1% was the most the government could afford at a time when the economy was under “huge pressure” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's also likely there will be an update on new coronavirus mutants, after Public Health England (PHE) said 16 cases of a strain, designated as a “variant under investigation” (VUI), were detected.

The emergence of the variant, which is understood to have originated in the UK, means scientists are now monitoring four VUIs and four “variants of concern” (VOC) in the UK.

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