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Covid-19 Impact Brief: Thursday, February 11

Covid-19 Impact Brief: Thursday, February 11

Each week, our Public Policy team will be reporting on the latest weekly news in the evolving situation.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has laid out a plan to reform the NHS in England  

  • Hancock said the planned restructure will mean a focus “on the health of the population, not just the health of patients”. The reforms will also enable health and care services to work more closely together.
    • The new system would see the NHS and local councils take decisions about local health together.
    • Organisations called “integrated care systems” – which already exist in some parts of the country – will be set up in each part of England and be responsible for funding to support that area’s health.
    • The shake-up will see the law changed to reverse reforms of the NHS in England introduced under Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012.
    • The proposals include scrapping the tendering rule, which sees providers and private companies compete to win contracts to run services.
    • This rule made it complicated for councils and different parts of the NHS to set up joint teams and pool their budgets, with some having to set up separate bodies to bid for contracts.
    • Instead, the NHS and councils will be left to run services and told to collaborate with each other to pool resources.
    • It also gives the Health Secretary more control over NHS England and other national bodies, which had been given a large degree of autonomy under the 2012 changes.
    • The Labour Party has criticised the timings of the reforms, but have said they will study the legislation carefully, to examine whether it brings waiting lists and times down, widens access to mental health services, drives up cancer survival rates and brings up population health.

The Government has tightened border controls further to prevent the spread of new variants of Covid-19

  • From 15 February onwards anyone arriving in the UK from any country will need to take two Covid tests before being allowed to leave isolation, whether they are quarantining at home or a hotel.
    • The two Covid tests will cost £210 and will be at the expense of the passenger, the tests will need to be taken on or before day two and on or after day eight of their quarantine.
    • Passengers arriving from one of the 33 red list countries will have to pay £1,750, which will cover the cost of their hotel stay, transport to the hotel, and their Covid tests.
    • Travelers must complete a passenger locator form with details of where they will home quarantine when they arrive and the travel test package booking reference number.
    • Those who do not comply could be fined up to £10,000, imprisoned for up to 10 years or both if you do not provide accurate details about the countries you have visited in the 10 days before you arrived in the UK.
    • Scotland has announced similar measures, however it has gone a step further by requiring arrivals from all countries – not just red list – to quarantine in hotels upon arrival.
    • The 10-year prison sentence has been criticised by some backbench Conservative MPs and the Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer called the sentence an “empty threat” as judges will not sentence anyone to that long in prison for lying on a form.
    • Government Ministers have defended the measures by insisting the public expects strong action and the maximum sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime.
    • Separately, it has been reported that Ministers will discuss tomorrow a Cabinet Office proposal to introduce vaccine and testing certificates for when international travel is allowed again. If approved the NHS will be told to prepare to let people access their vaccine status when preparing for international travel.
    • If approved, formal engagement with other countries and international organisations will also begin, led by the Cabinet Office.

Other news

  • The Treasury has announced measures that will provide some relief for the 1.4 million small businesses that took out government-backed Bounce Back Loans to cope during the pandemic. The “Pay as You Grow” measures will allow borrowers to tailor payments according to their individual circumstances, provide options to delay all repayments for another six months, and extend the length of loans from six to ten years.
  • Surge testing is to be deployed in further areas in connection to new covid-19 variants. Additional testing and sequencing is being deployed to targeted areas in Worcestershire, Sefton, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
  • The Government has launched a new drive to increase workplace testing in sectors open during lockdown. Cabinet ministers have been tasked to encourage their sectors to take up the offer of rapid workplace testing, marking efforts to “normalise testing” in the workplace.
  • The Government has announced new measures to help the education sector build back from the pandemic. The new measures are aimed at attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges and supporting international education partnerships.
  • The Scottish Government has announced significant investment in healthcare, education, the environment and transport for the next five years. The new funding announcements include £110 million for digital public services transformation, £50 million for Active Freeways and £60 million for climate adaptation of the trunk road network. £2.3 billion for healthcare, £2 billion for education and learning facilities, £600 million for connectivity programmes, £1.5 billion towards transport, £150 million additional funding for flood risk management and £12 million for coastal change adaptation.
  • Sport England has announced new funding to help schools open their sport facilities in an effort to help more children and young people be physically active during evenings and weekends. The £10.1m of government money will help schools deliver extra-curricular activities and open their facilities outside of the school day.
  • The Government has confirmed May 2021 local elections will go ahead. The Government have published the delivery plan for the elections, which included measures to ensure polling stations are COVID safe. The delivery plan states touch points should be cleaned before and after use. Voters should bring their mask and they will be encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot paper.
  • The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed further funding allocations of £226.5m after departmental bidding. £175m will be allocated to fund additional PPE, £15.2m for capital allocations for medical equipment and medical technology, and £23.7m in additional support for students. £9m is also being allocated to the Forest Service, as well as £42k for the Commission for Victims and Survivors.

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