Public Policy

May 22, 2020

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Thursday, May 21

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Each day, our Public Policy team will be reporting on the latest news in the evolving situation. To view the previous day’s summary, please click here.

Government antibody study suggests just 5% of UK population have had Covid-19

  • The results of a government study suggest around 17% of people in London and 5% in the rest of the country have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  • If accurate it would suggest that the death rate for Covid-19 in the UK is between 1%-2% (it was originally predicted  that the death rate would be between 0.5%-1%).
  • It would also suggest that the UK is not close to achieving herd immunity which would require 60% of the population to have been infected by Covid-19.
  • The news came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that a faster form of swab testing which would tell people if they currently have Covid-19 in just 20 minutes is being trialled from today.
  • Hancock also announced the government has signed a contract to supply more than 10 million antibody tests over the next few months.
  • The antibody tests will be free for all but NHS and social care staff will get the tests first.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled a four-phase “route map”  to ease lockdown restrictions from 28 May

  • The first phase will include allowing people to meet someone from another household, providing they remain two metres apart, and will see the gradual reopening of drive-through food outlets.
  • Outside leisure activities including tennis, golf and fishing will be permitted. Some outdoor businesses will be allowed to reopen, such as garden centres and forestry firms, as well as waste and recycling services.
  • People will be able to travel for recreation and sit or sunbathe in parks and open areas however people will still be forbidden from visiting each other’s homes.
  • There will also be a phased resumption of some aspects of the criminal justice system, as well face to face Children’s Hearings, and people at risk will have more contact with social work and other support services.
  • NHS services which were caused because of the Covid-19 crisis will “carefully and gradually” resume.
  • The second phase could see Scots allowed to meet larger groups of family and friends outside, and also meet people from another household indoors with physical distancing and hygiene measures in place.
  • At that point pubs and restaurants can also open outdoor spaces such as beer gardens, again with physical distancing and increased hygiene routines.
  • Phase three will see pubs and restaurants open indoor spaces and “personal retail services” including hairdressers begin to trade again – but all with appropriate distancing and hygiene measures in place.
  • This final phase will see mass gatherings resume.
  • Sturgeon also announced that all schools will re-open from 11 August, and that pupils will get “a blended model of part time in-school and part time at-home learning”.
  • Sturgeon also announced a further £30 million to provide laptops for disadvantaged children and young people to study online. 

More details have emerged of the Government’s new Cultural Renewal Taskforce

  • The taskforce will be chaired by Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, and contains representatives from the arts, cultural and sporting worlds.
  • The taskforce will support the renewal cultural/arts sectors and help develop new Covid-19 secure guidelines for the reopening of public places and businesses, where and when it is safe to do so. They will hold their first meeting on 22 May and will meet on a weekly basis.
  • The Culture Secretary has appointed Neil Mendoza as Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal to support the sector’s recovery from the pandemic. Mendoza will act as an adviser to the government on how the UK culture and heritage sector can recover from the pandemic.
  • An Entertainment and Events Working Group has also been created. It will focus on recreation and leisure.
  • The working group will include representatives from regional and London-based theatres, performing arts and other creative organisations as well as medical advisors.
  • The Coronavirus Community Support Fund for small and medium sized charities will open this week, with £200m being distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund.
  • An additional £150m will also be released from dormant accounts for social enterprises and charities.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • The Government has announced that the charge paid by overseas workers to use the NHS will be scrapped for health and care workers. The health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants is £400 per year and set to rise to £624 in October. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been under pressure from some of his own MPs to scrap the charge for NHS workers.
  • The Scottish Parliament has supported a bill which gives power to Scottish Ministers to temporarily intervene and manage care home services where appropriate. The bill also includes an additional £19.2 million investment in the Carer’s Allowance Supplement, the introduction of notice to leave periods for students in purpose-built student accommodation, and additional protections for those facing bankruptcy.
  • The Home Office has announced that the bereavement scheme has been extended to families and dependents of NHS support staff and social care workers. This will offer indefinite leave to remain, free of charge, to the families and dependants who die as a result of contracting Covid-19.
  • The Department for Education has said that students who had to abandon their belongings in university accommodation can now go and get them. In new guidance issued today, the DfE told universities to contact the students affected.

World COVID 19 news

  • Wuhan, the city in China where the Covid-19 outbreak began has officially banned the eating, hunting and breeding of wild animals. It is wildly thought that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan wet market.
  • A global trial is to begin in the UK of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which has been endorsed by Donald Trump as a Covid-19 preventative despite being so far unproven.
  • Sicily’s coronavirus co-ordinator and nine other healthcare officials have been arrested. Italian police said that they are suspected of taking bribes from equipment and services contracts.
  • A further 2.4 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, despite hopes that easing lockdowns would help the economy.The new filings brought the total number of claims since mid-March to roughly 38.6 million – roughly a quarter of the workforce.
  • Italy will open borders to EU countries. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said EU travelers and people from UK could enter the country with no mandatory quarantine required from 3 June.

Private sector updates

  • AstraZeneca plans to ship its first deliveries of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine in September following a $1 billion grant from the US Government to boost its development. The firm has booked orders for 400m doses of the as yet unproven vaccine.
  •  Premier Inn owner Whitbread hopes to raise £1bn through a rights issue. The firm said its UK hotels are “ready to open when the government advises”, though they expect hotels will be either be closed or operating at low occupancy until September.
  • The founder of retailer BooHoo has partnered with a Cambridge-based biotech firm to develop a 10-minute home saliva test for Covid-19. It is expected the antigen test will look similar to a pregnancy test.
  • Easyjet has said it will restart flying from June 15 on a limited number of routes, with passengers required to wear masks
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