Public Policy

March 25, 2020

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Wednesday, March 25

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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.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak to set out details on 26 March of greater assistance for self-employed workers

  • Sunak will make the announcement at the government’s daily late-afternoon news conference on the coronavirus.
    • It comes as the Resolution Foundation estimated that 1.7 million people in this sector of the economy could lose out financially due to government-imposed restrictions.
    • At Prime Ministers Questions, Boris Johnson said he hopes to achieve “parity of support” for the self-employed, meaning they’ll get the same level of help as offered by the government’s job retention scheme for PAYE workers.
    • However Johnson acknowledged that designing a bailout scheme for self-employed workers is ‘fiendishly complicated,’ hence the delay.
    • An option reportedly being considered by the Treasury is to pay contractors a proportion of their income using earnings made in recent years. Norway has already launched a similar measure, its scheme gives the self-employed 80% of their usual monthly incomes, based on several years of tax returns.
    • However there were still major sticking points for the UK, including  ways of avoiding handing out money to wealthy contractors.
    • Even when assistance is announced, the complexity of dealing with the diverse range of self-employed workers  will likely mean the money could take a month or more to reach the self-employed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a more frequent service on the London Underground as he faced growing pressure to stop non-essential construction work

  • The Government insists that construction work can continue as long as people are 2m (6.5ft) apart.
    • It came amidst calls from Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and London Mayor Sadiq Khan that non-essential constructions sites should close and that all non-essential workers be effectively banned from the tube at rush hour.
    • It follows from criticism that tube carriages remain too crowded to practice social distancing.
    • Tube travel is down by another third from yesterday and bus travel down by a further 20%. Passenger numbers on the tube are now at less than 10% of normal levels, compared with this time a year ago. Those on buses are at around 20% of normal levels.
    • Despite this many tube services remain crowded during rush hour due to the service being dramatically scaled back on 21 March.
    • The Prime Minister and several Cabinet Ministers have rejected the idea of banning non-essential workers from the tube and have instead called for the restoration of the normal tube timetable.
    • However Khan has said that Transport for London cannot run more services because too many staff are off work.
    • Five hundred British Transport Police officers have now been deployed to remind passengers that only those making essential journeys for work should be using the rail and Tube networks.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • Drivers in the UK will be permitted to drive without renewing their MOT for a period of up to six months. Cars, motorcycles and vans will be given the temporary leeway from 30 March. However vehicles must still be kept in a roadworthy condition and drivers can still be prosecuted for driving an unsafe vehicle.
  • Parliament will finish for its Easter Break today, rather than on Tuesday 31 March as planned. Parliament is still scheduled to return on 21 April however Commons Leader Jacob Ress-Mogg said that he will “keep the situation under review in terms of medical advice”. It comes as the Coronavirus bill officially became law today.
  • The government updated its list of premises which are allowed to stay open to include “off-licences and licenced shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries.”
  • From 25 March 2020 businesses will be able to apply for a 3-month extension for filing their accounts in a joint initiative between the government and Companies House. If companies cite COVID-19 as a reason for a delay in their accounts, they will be “automatically and immediately granted an extension”.
  • The Prince of Wales, 71, has tested positive for coronavirus and is displaying mild symptoms “but otherwise remains in good health”, Clarence House has confirmed. The Duchess of Cornwall, 72, has tested negative for the virus, while the Queen is understood to be in good health.
  • Hundreds of high street businesses in the UK are set to withhold their quarterly rent payments, which are due today, so they can afford to pay their staff. The government has said shops will not forfeit leases if they do not pay, but will have to pay arrears in the future.
  • The Welsh Government has announced that the 100% Non-Domestic Rates (NDR) Relief for the hospitality, retail and leisure sector announced last week will not be extended to the small proportion of properties with a rateable value of £500,000 and above. This will affect fewer than 200 properties across Wales but will release more than £100 million to kick-start the economic crisis fund.
  • The Home Office has announced that visas will be extended for those currently unable to return home due to Coronavirus. This leave will be extended to 31 May. They are also temporarily expanding the in-country switching provisions, meaning people can apply to switch routes, such as from Tier 4 (student) to Tier 2 (General Worker).
  • Thousands of 15-minute home tests for coronavirus will be delivered by Amazon to people self-isolating with symptoms or will go on sale on high street within days, according to Public Health England (PHE).  The move would allow many people to return back to normal life.
  • The UK government has confirmed it is not working with the European Union (EU) to secure more personal protective equipment and ventilators for the NHS.
  • London City Airport will temporarily suspend all commercial and private flights from this evening at least until the end of April.
  • Municipal rubbish dumps have closed and a growing number of local authorities have cut collections of food and garden waste in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The UK’s major recycling and waste management companies, along with industry and councils, have insisted that they are working hard to ensure bin collections continue.
  • 405,000 people have offered to join new NHS volunteering effort in 24 hours. They will help national health service employees with shopping, delivery of medicines and to support vulnerable people who have been told to self-isolate for twelve weeks.

Relevant world COVID 19 news 

  • The US Senate has agreed a $2 trillion (£1.7tn) economic rescue plan to cushion America from the impact of coronavirus. It now needs to pass through the US House of Representatives before a sign-off from President Trump. The plan reportedly includes payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay their workers. It also includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages.
  • Leaders of nine EU countries including France, Italy and Spain called on the bloc to agree on a “common debt instrument” to raise funds to support the health industry along with the broader economies. It comes as EU finance ministers failed to agree yesterday on an EU-wide strategy to fight the economic slump caused by Coronavirus. EU leaders will hold a third video conference on coronavirus on Thursday 26 March .
  • India has enforced a lockdown on its 1.3 billion citizens. The decision means that at least a quarter of the world’s population of 7.8 billion is now living under tough restrictions on movement and social contact.
  • The United Nations has launched its $2 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan in the fight against coronavirus in the world’s poorest countries.

Company updates

  • Retirement housebuilder McCarthy & Stone announced it has offered the Government 300 apartments to use, and will also freeze land buying and pause marketing.
  • Bicycle ad car parts retailer Halfords has been forced to defend its decision to stay open, with the firm’s boss Graham Stapleton said the chain had “an essential role to play in keeping the country moving”.
  • Housebuilders Redrow and Cairn Construction said they would keep their building sites open as others in the sector announced they were closing theirs, including Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt.
  • Several major manufacturing firms in Northern Ireland have announced temporary closures, including Bombardier, who are suspending production at its aerospace plants until 20 April, and bus maker Wrightbus.
  • Ethanol refineries and producers in Europe and the US, including French sugar manufacturer Tereos have announced they are re-purposing some products for hand sanitiser to restock supplies depleted by the outbreak.
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