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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..

Recent events and the criminalisation of humanitarian work

Recent events in Lesbos have made it more difficult to provide humanitarian aid, and three of my friends and colleagues who have devoted their lives to ensuring a safe passage for refugees arriving on the island are currently detained in prison in Greece since their arrests in August this year.

Over 1,000 migrants have died at sea already in 2018. They make these journeys because they don’t have any other choice. This number would be significantly higher if it weren’t for people like Sarah, Seán and Nassos.

This is not about pointing the finger at Greece. For years the Greek islands have hosted a constant influx of thousands of refugees, on the backdrop of an economic and employment crisis. Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon are amongst the countries hosting the largest number of refugees worldwide, while the rest of Europe closes borders and tightens migration policy. The European response to the plight of refugees becomes uglier by the day, and humanitarian aid workers are being arrested and intimidated for helping them.

Regarding the situation in Moria, conditions are worsening day by day. The below article was published today and paints a bleak picture that is difficult to imagine and devastating to experience.


What can you do?

1. Visit Free Humanitarians
Find out more about Sarah, Seán and Nassos, Support their campaign.

2.  Sign This petition which calls on the Greek authorities to issue immediately release while their trial is pending. Humanitarian workers should not be treated as criminals. Their pre-trial detention is not justified, they pose no threat to society.

3. Click here to find out about the European Citizens Initiative to end the criminalisation of humanitarian aid work.
We are a welcoming Europe

4. Read about, and re-open the debate on how the rest of Europe is dealing with the refugee management crisis. There must be another way.


Today I’ll end with a quote from one of my favourite books – Here We Are: notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

It looks big, Earth.

But there are lots of us on here.

So be kind.

There is enough for everyone.