Chris Whitty transcripts

Downing Street Press Conference Oct 12, 2020

On the 3 tier strategy – I am very confident that the measures in place are helping to slow the virus and that these measures will help to slow it further. I am not confident and nor is anybody confident that the tier 3 proposals for the highest rates, if we did the absolute base case and nothing more, would be enough to get on top of it. That is why there is a lot of flexibility in the tier 3 level for local authorities, guided by the directors of public health to go up that range so that they can do significantly more than the absolute base, because the base will not be sufficient, I think that’s very clear the professional view, but there are quite a lot more additional things that can be done within that with local guidance, but that these only work if people buy into them. 

On lockdown vs the tier 3 strategy – lockdown means a whole bunch of different things in different areas areas. It is the case that we are going to have to do more, probably in some areas significantly more, and the balancing act here, and in a sense that is reflected by the fact that the chancellor and I am standing here, is doing things which pull down the virus to the point where the R goes below 1, but with the minimal impact on the economy that you can get away with, but none of us have any illusions about this and I would like to be really clear about this because I think we should not have any illusions. The idea that we can do this without causing harm is an illusion. Every country in the world is struggling with this. I am confident we will get through it, but it is a balancing act between two harms. A harm for society and the economy on the one hand and a harm for health on the other hand. If we damage the economy, we damage long term health and if we damage health, we damage the economy and the confidence in the economy so getting these right is critical. We are all trying to find the balance, the middle way, a really narrow path between these two harms on either side, accepting that whatever we do it not going to be easy. 

In response to a question criticising local areas: In terms of what Bradford is trying to do and every area of the country is trying to do is to find this balance between keeping the rates down without doing unnecessary harm to society, to the economy and to all the other things that in the long run have major implications.

On lockdown decisions: Currently we have basically two poles that we are confident of. A full lockdown works, and letting it go will lead to very substantial numbers. Between those what we are trying to do, and what every country is trying to do, is find for any particular society and for our society here, the right balance between the various things, all of which cause harm, all of which we would not want to do, but which can collectively if you do them all together, pull the numbers down. 

Downing street press conference 31st Oct 2020

In response to lockdown decisions: Relative to other countries in Europe, some have gone earlier and some have gone later – France for example has gone arguably slightly later in terms of it’s epidemic. These are very difficult judgements for every government. I would reiterate though, this point, just from a health point of view, many of the things that are involved have significant downsides and therefore we’ve always having to, in the advice, walk the path of saying there are some very significant things you have to do early, but if you do them early, they also come at a very significant cost, and how do you balance those two across one another.

Again, in response to lockdown decisions: In terms of the timing, the idea that there is some perfect time to act, is a complete misapprehension. there is basically no perfect time and there are no good solutions, all the solutions are bad and what we are trying to do is have the ‘least bad’ set of solutions..

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