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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Weekend update, 16-17 May

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Weekend update, 16-17 May

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.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson accepts frustration over lockdown messaging as he reportedly tells MPs he wants “near-normality” in July

  • In an article for the Mail on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has attempted to clarify the Government’s lockdown easements, amid growing criticism of the Government’s approach.
  • Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Johnson thanked the British people for “sticking with us so far” and that he trusts the “good sense of the British People” to follow the new lockdown rules. However he said that he understands that people “feel frustrated with some of the new rules”.
  • In the article the Prime Minister announced a £93 million investment in the new Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. The funding will enable the centre to open twelve months ahead of schedule in Summer next year. The Centre is to have capacity to develop COVID-19 vaccinations for the entire UK population, 6 months after opening.
  • The article came after reports suggest that the Prime Minister told Conservative MPs on Friday that he wants the UK to return to return to “near-normality” in July, if the country meets the conditions that have been set.
  • At a virtual meeting of the Conservative Party 1922 Committee, Johnson reportedly told MPs that he is not considering a return to austerity to pay off COVID related debts and that he is planning to make infrastructure announcements in the near future.
  • The news comes as polling released by Opinium suggests that there has been a drop in approval of the response to the pandemic, with 39% approving of the Government’s handling of the crisis versus 42% now disapproving.

Government provides COVID-19 vaccine update

  • At today’s Downing Street briefing Secretary of State for BEIS Alok Sharma announced that the Government was investing further money into the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Sharma announced an additional £84m in new government funding for vaccine research at Oxford University and Imperial College. He said that the investment would help mass production of the Oxford vaccine (of which trials are “progressing well”), so that if successful it can be rolled out to the public “straight away“.
  • The Secretary of State added that with UK government support the university has developed an agreement for a global rollout with Astra-Zeneca, with the potential to produce 30m vaccines for the UK by the end of December. Sharma said that the UK would be the first to get access to the vaccine and that it would be made available to developing nations at the lowest possible cost.
  • Overall the Government has announced over a quarter of a billion pounds into vaccine research and development.

 Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer calls for a “four-nation” approach to COVID-19

  • Sir Kier said today that different approaches across the four UK nations to tackling coronavirus are not going to “help us out of this crisis“.
  • The Labour leader said that the Prime Minister’s handling of the lockdown relaxation was responsible for a divergence of approach across the nations of the UK.
  • Labour Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham backed Sir Keir’s comments stating that the Prime Minister risked “fracturing national unity” if he ignored regions in the UK.
  • Burnham said that Mayors had not been given any warning about the lockdown being eased and warned that without extra support for the regions, there was danger of a “second spike” of the disease.
  • Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have refused to follow Mr Johnson’s easing plan, while cities such as Liverpool have said they will not start re-opening schools next month as the government wants.

Government says plans to reopen schools is based on the “best scientific advice” as unions continue to criticise Government proposals.

  • At yesterdays, Downing Street briefing, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that both primary and secondary school pupils could be returning to school in June as he looked to reassure teachers and parents over the Government’s plans to reopen schools.
  • Williamson said that plans were underway for students in Reception and Years 1, 6, 10 and 12 to return next month. Seeking to reassure parents he said that the Government’s decision making was based on the “best scientific advice”. Schools will only return if the Government’s five tests have been met.
  • Ministers and unions were told to “stop squabbling and agree a plan” for safely reopening schools by the Children’s Commissioner for England. Several local authorities have said they won’t reopen schools on 1 June and some teaching unions are fiercely opposed to the proposals, highlighting safety concerns.
  • Today, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said that teachers and pupils would be safe at school and social distancing measures will be introduced such as pupils arriving in a staggered fashion, staggered breaks, social distancing and class size caps.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • The Chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the UK economy is now over “the worst” of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and is entering a recovery phase as restrictions are loosened. However, Robert Chote warned that a quick, “v-shaped” economic recovery is unlikely.
  • Ministers are considering giving restaurants, cafés and pubs permission to sell food and drink from street stalls within weeks. Under draft plans businesses that hold licences to have tables and chairs at the front of their premises could be allowed to set up market-style stalls.
  • The Government has announced that they have now recruited 17,000 contact tracers for its coronavirus test, track and trace programme, bringing it close to its target.
  • Scotland is reportedly set to announce lockdown easing plans next week. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is considering following England by allowing the reopening of garden centres, recycling centres and permitting outdoor sports to be played under social distancing measures.
  • Chief constables and police and crime commissioners in Wales have called for fines issued for breaching lockdown rules to be the same as England. Fines in Wales are £60 but now start at £100 in England. Such differences are apparently creating “cross border confusion”.
  • 19 people were arrested at an anti-lockdown demonstrations in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon. Hundreds of people gathered to protest the COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Plans to get live sport back on UK screens are underway. Horse racing looks set to resume in early June, with Newcastle set to host the first behind closed doors meeting. Following revised guidance from the British Boxing Board of Control, promoters are working on plans for behind closed door boxing cards to start in July

World COVID 19 news

  • Spain has recorded 87 deaths in the past 24 hours, the first drop under 100 since the lockdown began.
  • At a White House press conference President Donald Trump stated that the US  will reopen, “vaccine or no vaccine“, as he announced an objective to deliver a coronavirus vaccine by year end. Announcing “Operation Warp Speed”, the President said that even without a vaccine, Americans must begin to return to their lives as normal.
  • India’s National Disaster Management Authority has requested that the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 be extended to 31 May. India’s interior minister is expected to issue detailed guidelines on the lockdown later today.
  • Germany’s Bundesliga resumed on Saturday, becoming the first major European league to return to action since lockdown restrictions began. The league saw record viewing figures as sport-starved fans from around the world tuned in to watch the behind closed door action.
  • Brazil has overtaken Spain and Italy in COVID-19 cases. This year, the country is expected to suffer its biggest annual economic contraction since records began.
  • Worshippers in some countries, including Greece and Australia, have been able to attend church services for the first time in weeks.

Private sector updates

  • The head of the CBI has said that businesses are “really worried” about plans to bring in a 14-day quarantine for those arriving in the UK by air and the government should think “very carefully” about how this might be introduced
  • Passenger traffic at London’s Heathrow Airport has fallen by 97% according to its Chef Executive. John Holland-Kaye has warned the government that quarantine measures should not extend beyond “a relatively short amount of time” to save the economy.

Bookmaker William Hill has reported a 57% fall in revenues as a result of COVID-19. The betting firm is preparing for a staged reopening of its shops.

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