A Plan to Rebuild
We will remember 2020 as the year we were hit, along with all other nations, by a previously unknown and remorseless foe.
Like the rest of the world, we have paid a heavy price. As of 6 May, 30,615 people have lost their lives having tested positive for COVID-19. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy for friends and family: children have lost mothers and fathers; parents have lost sons and daughters, before their time. We should pay tribute to the victims of this virus: those who have died, and their loved ones who remain.
That price could have been higher if not for the extraordinary efforts of our NHS and social care workers and had we not acted quickly to increase the capacity of the NHS. People up and down the UK have made an extraordinary sacrifice, putting their lives on hold and distancing themselves from their loved ones. It would have been higher had we not shielded the most vulnerable – providing help and support to those that need it.
On 3 March we published our plan (1), and since then millions of hardworking medical, health and care workers, military personnel, shopkeepers, civil servants, delivery and bus drivers, teachers and countless others have diligently and solemnly enacted it.
I said we’d take the right decisions at the right time, based on the science. And I said that the overwhelming priority of that plan was to keep our country safe.
Through the unprecedented action the people of the United Kingdom have taken, we have begun to beat back the virus. Whereas the virus threatened to overwhelm the NHS, our collective sacrifice has meant that at no point since the end of March have we had fewer than one third of our critical care beds free.
We can feel proud of everyone who worked so hard to create Cardiff’s Dragon’s Heart Hospital, Glasgow’s Louisa Jordan Hospital, and the Nightingale Hospitals in London, Belfast, Birmingham, Exeter, Harrogate, Sunderland, Bristol and Manchester. In addition to these new Nightingales, the UK has just over 7,000 critical care beds as of 4 May; an increase from 4,000 at the end of January.
Meanwhile the Government increased daily tests by over 1,000% during March – from 11,041 on 31 March to 122,347 on 30 April. Teachers have worked with Google to create the Oak National Academy – a virtual school – in just two weeks, delivering 2.2 million lessons in its first week of operation. We have supported businesses and workers with a furlough scheme – designed and built from scratch – that has safeguarded 6.3 million jobs. Right across the country we have seen huge ingenuity, drive and selflessness.
Now, with every week that passes, we learn more about the virus and understand more about how to defeat it. But the more we learn, the more we realise how little the world yet understands about the true nature of the threat – except that it is a shared one that we must all work together to defeat.
Our success containing the virus so far has been hard fought and hard won. So it is for that reason that we must proceed with the utmost care in the next phase, and avoid undoing what we have achieved.
This document sets out a plan to rebuild the UK for a world with COVID-19. It is not a quick return to ‘normality.’ Nor does it lay out an easy answer. And, inevitably, parts of this plan will adapt as we learn more about the virus. But it is a plan that should give the people of the United Kingdom hope. Hope that we can rebuild; hope that we can save lives; hope that we can safeguard livelihoods.
It will require much from us all: that we remain alert; that we care for those at most risk; that we pull together as a United Kingdom. We will continue to work with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure these outcomes for everybody, wherever they live in the UK.
It is clear that the only feasible long-term solution lies with a vaccine or drug-based treatment. That is why we have helped accelerate this from the start and are proud to be home to two of the world’s most promising vaccine development programmes at Oxford University and Imperial College, supported by a globally renowned pharmaceutical sector.
The recent collaboration between Oxford University and AstraZeneca is a vital step that could help rapidly advance the manufacture of a COVID-19 vaccine. It will also ensure that should the vaccine being developed by Oxford’s Jenner Institute work, it will be available as early as possible, helping to protect thousands of lives from this disease.
We also recognise that a global problem needs a global solution. This is why the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of the international response to the virus, co-hosting the Coronavirus Global Response Summit on 4 May, pledging £388m in aid funding for research into vaccines, tests and treatment including £250m to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the largest contribution of any country.
But while we hope for a breakthrough, hope is not a plan. A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine. So our plan must countenance a situation where we are in this, together, for the long haul, even while doing all we can to avoid that outcome.
I know the current arrangements do not provide an enduring solution – the price is too heavy, to our national way of life, to our society, to our economy, indeed to our long-term public health. And while it has been vital to arrest the spread of the virus, we know it has taken a heavy toll on society – in particular to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged – and has brought loneliness and fear to many.
We’ve asked you to protect those you love by separating yourself from them; but we know this has been tough, and that we must avoid this separation from turning into loneliness.
So this plan seeks to return life to as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible, in a way that is safe and continues to protect our NHS.
The overriding priority remains to save lives.
And to do that, we must acknowledge that life will be different, at least for the foreseeable future. I will continue to put your safety first, while trying to bring back the things that are most important in your lives, and seeking to protect your livelihoods.
That means continuing to bolster the NHS and social care system so it can not only cope with the pressures from COVID-19 but also deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment to continue improving the quality of non-COVID-19 health and social care.
It means a huge national effort to develop, manufacture and prepare to distribute a vaccine, working with our friends and allies around the world to do so.
It means optimising the social distancing measures we’ve asked the nation to follow, so that as the threat changes, the measures change as well – doing as much as possible to suppress the epidemic spread, while minimising the economic and social effects.
That will require a widespread system of testing, of tracing and monitoring the spread of the disease, of shielding the most vulnerable, of protecting those in care homes, of securing our borders against its reintroduction, and of re-designing workplaces and public spaces to make them “COVID-19 Secure.”
Our NHS is already, rightly, the envy of the world. But we now need to build up the other world-leading systems that will protect us in the months ahead.
I must ask the country to be patient with a continued disruption to our normal way of life, but to be relentless in pursuing our mission to build the systems we need. The worst possible outcome would be a return to the virus being out of control – with the cost to human life, and – through the inevitable re-imposition of severe restrictions – the cost to the economy.
We must stay alert, control the virus, and in doing so, save lives.
If we get this right we will minimise deaths – not just from COVID-19, but also from meeting all our non-COVID-19 health needs, because our (bigger) NHS will not be overwhelmed.
We will maximise our economic and societal bounce-back: allowing more people to get on with more of their normal lives and get our economy working again.
Then, as vaccines and treatment become available, we will move to another new phase, where we will learn to live with COVID-19 for the longer term without it dominating our lives.
This is one of the biggest international challenges faced in a generation. But our great country has faced and overcome huge trials before. Our response to these unprecedented and unpredictable challenges must be similarly ambitious, selfless and creative.
Thank you for your efforts so far, and for the part everyone in the UK will play over the months ahead.
Full document can be downloaded HERE