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Weekly update

17 April 2020

This week (the week commencing 13 April) 

As part of our inquiry into UK science, research and technology capability and influence in global disease outbreaks, we held our third public evidence session. We focussed on the effectiveness and longevity of social distancing measures in the UK, the wider implications of these measures for the population, and international strategies for relaxing social distancing measures.

This week, we took evidence from:

  • Dr James Rubin, Reader in the Psychology of Emerging Health Risks, King's College London
  • Professor Graham Medley, Professor of infectious disease modelling, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Professor Xihong Lin, Professor of biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Professor Dr. Clemens Fuest, President, Institute for Economic Research (Ifo), Germany
  • Professor Dr. Herwig Ostermann, Executive Director, Austrian Public Health Institute

We asked a range of questions, including questions relating to:

  • the effect of social distancing measures on the transmission of the virus in the UK
  • the levels of adherence by the public to social distancing measures and how that might change over time
  • the wider impacts, including psychological, health (mental and physical) and social, of coronavirus of social distancing measures on the UK population
  • communication of a so-called exit strategy for social distancing measures
  • how other countries, including China, Germany and Austria, have relaxed and plan to relax social distancing measures
  • the role of data, testing and contact tracing in informing strategies for relaxing social distancing measures in other countries; and
  • conditions to put in place when some social distancing measures, such as opening shops, are relaxed. 

You can watch the session back on parliamentlive.tv. A transcript of our evidence session will be published next week.

You can also catch up with our previous evidence sessions as part of this inquiry:

  • Our session on 25 March focussed on: i) the basis of the UK Government's interventions; ii) vaccines and diagnostics, including testing; and iii) science advice to Government. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.
  • Our session on 8 April focussed on the UK's approach to testing during the ongoing pandemic and what we can learn from other countries. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

Commenting after our evidence session, our Chair, Rt Hon. Greg Clark MP, said:

"This week, we heard further valuable evidence from members of our scientific community. It was reassuring to hear that the social distancing measures taken have helped to reduce the reproductive value of COVID-19 below one, and that levels of adherence with the measures are high.

“It has also been useful to hear the basis of decisions made by international Governments as they ease their social distancing measures. The UK must learn from the international scientific community and from the data and scientific evidence that emerges from other countries when the UK devises its strategy to ease social distancing measures.

“The current social distancing measures are undoubtedly difficult for people across the country. The Government will need to think about how it can best communicate its future plans to address people's concerns.”

Next steps

Following this week's session, we will be writing to witnesses with follow-up questions. We will publish their responses on our website.

We will continue to take evidence on the UK's response to the evolving Coronavirus crisis. While most of the inquiry will take place after the pandemic has subsided, it is important for us to ask questions during the crisis for two reasons:

i. to ensure that contemporary evidence is captured on decisions and assessments so that not all evidence relies on recollections and hindsight; and

ii. so that any lessons learned which are relevant to the ongoing management of the pandemic can be uncovered and applied.

Next week we are holding our fourth public evidence session on the afternoon of Friday 24 April as part of our UK science, research and technology capability and influence in global disease outbreaks inquiry. We will confirm details of this session next week.

Published correspondence

This week we also published a number of letters:

  • A letter from Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, relating to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing. This was in response to our letter of 30 March (our letter is also available on our website); and
  • Letters from our Chair, following our 8 April evidence session on testing and the COVID-19 pandemic, to:
  • Professor John Newton, Government adviser on increasing Covid-19 testing capacity;
  • Kathy Hall, Director of Covid-19 testing strategy, Department of Health and Social Care; and
  • Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director, NHS England. 

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Specific Committee information: scitechcom@parliament.uk/020 7219 2793 

Further information

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