The Joint Biosecurity Centre – the body tasked with assessing the Covid-19 alert level – is not yet up and running, Matt Hancock has said.
The Health Secretary’s admission comes just hours after Downing Street said chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty and the Joint Biosecurity Centre recently discussed the coronavirus alert level.
The alert level remains at four – which the Government previously said would mean restrictions remain in place – despite the lockdown being eased across England on Monday.
Discussing the alert level on Monday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that Professor Whitty and the centre “worked together on this last week”.
But later on Monday, Mr Hancock told the Downing Street press conference the Joint Biosecurity Centre “still formally needs to come into existence”, adding that “it’s being formulated at the moment”.
Responding to a question about potential local lockdowns in future, Mr Hancock said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre’s role is a national one to provide the advice and the information that would then be acted on locally.
“So the way to think of it is that the Joint Biosecurity Centre has the information, it advises the CMOs of the UK, who in turn give advice to ministers and to local public health bodies through PHE.
“So that architecture is now established. The JBC still formally needs to come into existence, but we are putting in place all of those data flows to augment the already significant work that Public Health England do in this space.”
Directly asked about whether the Joint Biosecurity Centre exists, Mr Hancock said: “Yes. We’re getting it stood up, making sure that all the information flows come to it so it’s able to analyse them and to make sure that it gets set up correctly.
“All that work’s being done, being done as we speak.”
Pressed on whether it exists yet, Mr Hancock replied: “Well, it’s being formulated at the moment, it’s being pulled together, yeah.”
The Covid-19 alert levels system was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his televised address to the nation on May 10.
He said he was establishing a new Joint Biosecurity Centre to run the alert system, which is similar to that used to establish the terrorist threat.
It has five tiers from level one to five based on the spread of Covid-19 through the country.
Cabinet Office documents said that the centre will provide real time analysis and assessment of Covid-19 outbreaks at a community level to enable rapid action to stop spikes in infection.
It will also advise on specific actions which can be taken to manage rising numbers of infections, such as closing schools or businesses.
The centre is also expected to inform the chief medical officers of a change in the Covid-19 alert level who will then advise ministers.
The coronavirus alert level remained at four as lockdown was being eased across England on Monday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said earlier on Monday: “In terms of the changes I think we were always clear that we would need to be meeting our five tests and I believe that we are.
“In terms of the alert level it’s moving down from four to three.
“We’ve obviously been in the process of setting up the new centre and making it fully operational, and I think we’re only now getting to that point.”