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Downing Street hits 100th coronavirus press conference

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Boris Johnson will be joined by his medical and scientific advisors later for a coronavirus press conference – the 100th briefing since the pandemic hit the UK.

The Prime Minister will be flanked by chief medical officer for England professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – the original briefing line-up going back to the first press conference which took place at Downing Street on March 16.

A lot has happened since that first briefing six months ago, with the UK death toll currently sitting at more than 42,000.

Mr Johnson set out the need for “drastic action” to tackle the “fast growth” of coronavirus at the initial presser.

Prof Whitty said measures to tackle the spread of the disease would need to be in place for a “prolonged period”, an early sign that normal life was to change for quite some time.

Three days later, on March 19, Mr Johnson said the UK could “turn the tide” of the coronavirus outbreak in the next 12 weeks if people take the precautionary steps the Government had outlined.

The first briefing on March 16 (PA)
The first briefing on March 16 (PA)

On that day 28 weeks ago, the Prime Minister said: “I’m conscious as the days have gone by that people will want to know how long we’re expecting them to keep it up.

“I think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country.

“But only if we all take the steps that we’ve outlined, that is vital, that’s how we’re going to reduce the peak and once we’ve achieved that and I think that we will, if we take the steps I’ve said, then the scientific progress that we’ve been making will really start coming into play.”

At the June 16 briefing, in response to a question from a journalist about turning the tide within 12 weeks, Mr Johnson said: “I said we would turn the tide, and I really think we did, within 12 weeks.”

But alas, the Prime Minister and his advisers will once again take to their podiums at Downing Street later today.

It is not clear if anything particularly significant will be announced, but on Tuesday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The purpose of that is to provide an update on the latest statistics. It is not because there is some specific set of new announcements to make.”

The daily briefings came to an end on June 23 with the public told that briefings would only take place in future to “coincide with significant announcements”.

Since then there have been seven coronavirus briefings, with Wednesday’s being the eighth since the daily briefings stopped and the 100th overall.

Mr Johnson made his debut at the coronavirus briefing podium on March 16, and today will be the 21st time he will have led the press conference.

He may have led more if he had not been struck with Covid-19 himself, getting so ill that he was moved to intensive care after his symptoms worsened on April 6.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has been the only female politician to lead the briefing (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright)
Home Secretary Priti Patel has been the only female politician to lead the briefing (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright)

Just this week Mr Johnson declared he is as “fit as a butcher’s dog”, dismissing speculation he had not fully recovered.

Other ministers had led the briefing before Mr Johnson got ill but at this stage the Government had no choice but to send out other ministers to inform the nation and take questions from the press.

Overall, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has led the most briefings with a total of 24, the PM is in second place, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in third place having led 12.

Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick, Michael Gove, Grant Shapps, George Eustice, Gavin Williamson, Oliver Dowden and Alok Sharma have all led less than 10 each.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has led the least briefings with just three in total, making the dozens of press conferences very male-dominated affairs.

The only woman to appear as frequently as other men was deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries who stepped up to the podium 20 times.

Overall, counting both politicians and experts, a total of 24 men have appeared at the briefings and just 11 women.

The briefings, which took place at 5pm on weekdays, saw some blockbuster moments.

Following revelations that his chief aide Dominic Cummings had driven 260 miles during the lockdown, Mr Johnson decided to front the press conference on Sunday May 24 to defend the Number 10 adviser.

Reports later followed that England’s chief nursing officer, Ruth May, was stood down from appearing at one of the briefings when she refused to support Mr Cummings’ decision to take his family to stay on his parents’ farm in County Durham.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has led 24 briefings out of 99 so far (Leon Neal/PA)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has led 24 briefings out of 99 so far (Leon Neal/PA)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was forced to deny the reports during the June 12 press conference.

The briefings went through some changes since they began – cast shake-ups, the introduction of questions from the public, and podium slogans.

Back in the beginning, the slogan across the podium was “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”, moving on to “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives”, and the most recent message emblazoned across the podium is “Hands, face, space”.

Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick are now household names having been beamed into the nation’s living rooms since the pandemic hit the UK.

But there has been Tory criticism of the pair and they have been accused of attempting to “terrify” Britons.

Former minister Sir Desmond Swayne claimed it was a “sacking offence” for the two men to deliver a presentation earlier this month to warn how 200 or more people in the UK could die each day by mid-November if the current rate of infection was not halted.

But they will once again be by the Prime Minister’s side later today to provide yet another update on the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.

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