Daily Covid-19 Brief: Thursday, April 16
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.
The Government has extended the lockdown for another three weeks till 7 May
- The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, announced the decision after an emergency Cobra meeting about the continuation of physical distancing measures.
- The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has said the party will support an extension, but has demanded the publication of an “exit strategy”.
- It comes amid reports that Ministers and their advisers do not yet have a plan for how to leave the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.
- This is despite the fact that chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has said that the country is “probably reaching the peak” of the epidemic, with signs that the rate of new infections is flattening.
- However, Whitty also stated that deaths are likely to rise in the next few days before plateauing for a week or two.
- It comes as one of the governments scientific advisers, Professor Neil Ferguson stated that even if some restrictions were lifted in mid- May, the UK must keep a “significant level” of social distancing until a vaccine for coronavirus is found.
Labour has called for more protection for armed forces
- The new shadow defence secretary, John Healey, has written to the defence secretary Ben Wallace to call for new measures to protect armed forces personnel from coronavirus.
- He argued that the armed forces are increasingly playing a major role in the UK’s response to the pandemic, including supporting the NHS, local community efforts and performing coronavirus testing.
- The Ministry of Defence has created a 23,000-strong Covid Support Force, which could be used for further frontline support in settings such as hospitals and prisons.
- More than 13,000 members of the UK’s armed forces have been unable to report for duty because of the coronavirus pandemic..
- Healey is calling for the following measures:
- Testing armed forces personnel and publishing the results as other countries are doing, with priority given to the Covid Support Force.
- Postponing large-scale training exercises where these cannot be done safely, to prevent outbreaks that other country’s armed forces have experienced.
- Ensuring support for deployed personnel including full PPE for frontline staff in the UK, withdrawal from non-essential overseas postings to places where it is easier to protect personnel and urgent provision of adequate medical supplies to deal with any coronavirus outbreak.
UK farms have flown in pickers from Eastern Europe
- The first of six specially chartered flights from Romania to London landed today, they carried 150 people to assist farmers in picking fruit and vegetables.
- The six flights were privately chartered by large UK food producers and will land between now and June.
- The National Farmers Union estimates a shortage of 70,000 seasonal farm workers that has been exacerbated by the Covid 19 lockdown.
- Despite a high profile “Pick for Britain” campaign appealing to students and laid-off hospitality workers to help with the harvest, not enough British workers have come forward.
- Before boarding, the prospective workers will have their temperatures checked, fill out a health questionnaire and be given masks and hand sanitiser. On arrival in the UK, they will be taken by bus to farms in East Anglia to pick lettuce.
Other UK COVID 19 news
- The government has updated the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme guidance to extend eligibility for furloughing of staff. This means employers can now claim for furloughed employees that were employed and on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020, rather than the previous cut-off date of 28th February 2020.
- The Welsh government has announced that it is extending a scheme offering free mental health support for doctors to cover all frontline healthcare workers.
- The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak attended a meeting with G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. They agreed to a $200Bn package for health programmes and support for the poorest countries from the Word Bank Group and Regional Development Banks. The poorest countries also had their debt payments suspended.
- Ofqual has published a consultation seeking views on GCSE and A Level grading proposals for 2020. The consultation will close on 29 April 2020
- Pupils in England will receive their examination results as planned this summer, with A-level grades published on 13 August, and GCSEs a week later on 20 August.
- The government has postponed a ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The ban will now take effect from October 2020, rather than end of April.
- The Cabinet Office has announced that the first newly-adapted ventilator design from the government’s ‘Ventilator Challenge’ has received regulatory approval. The government has ordered 15,000 of the new Penlon’s Prima ES202 model.
- MPs are set to take part in Commons proceedings virtually when parliament on 21 April– although around 50 at a time will still be able to sit within the House of Commons. Zoom will be used to allow 120 MPs to take part in proceedings remotely, while those who continue to attend Westminster will be told to obey strict social-distancing rules. The measures still need the approval of MPs.
- The government has confirmed that a review will take place into why people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds form 34% of critically ill coronavirus patients despite comprising just 14% of the UK population.
- The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, has announced that essential safety work to replace unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings will continue despite the Covid-19 emergency.
- The Office for National Statistics has said that 29% of the 4,598 businesses it surveyed over the past fortnight have cut jobs.
Relevant world COVID 19 news
- The European Commission has advised EU member states that are using mobile apps to contain the spread of the COVID 19 to ensure such apps comply with the bloc’s privacy rules and avoid using personalised location data. The recommendations come after several EU countries rolled out a variety of apps, triggering criticism from data privacy activists.
- Another 5.2 million US workers were jobless and seeking unemployment benefits last week. It takes the total unemployment rate to 22 million jobs since mid-March.
- Twelve of the UK’s biggest tech firms, including Deliveroo and Citymapper, have written to the Chancellor calling for financial aid, saying that tech firms are missing out on support schemes as they are too big for small business support and do not have the required credit rating for the large business package.
- The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have called on the government to introduce a stamp duty holiday once the lockdown ends, warning that house sales could remain low over the next 12 months.
- Airbnb has suspended new bookings in the UK until at least 18 April, with only key workers able to place a booking.
- Airbus is cutting aircraft production by a third, a move which is expected to have wide ranging repercussions across the global airspace supply chain.
- The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will next week add support for car financing to its list of temporary measures to help consumers facing financial difficulties.
- Fast food chains, Burger King and KFC have announced plans to reopen some restaurants as part of a phased re-opening of more restaurants in the coming weeks. Both chains have said they will also donate “thousands” of meals to frontline workers.
- Ten Pret a Manger stores near hospitals in London are due to open from today. The chain says it will donate an additional 7,000 meals per week to homeless charities, and offer NHS workers a 50% discount until the end of the month.
- EasyJet said it had enough cash to survive nine more months of grounding after it secured new loans and made cash savings to boost its reserves to £3.3bn. The airline said it expected to take no new aircraft deliveries next year, while its base case for the size of its fleet was reduced by 10 per cent to 302 jets.
- Amazon has suspended more than 6,000 seller accounts on its platform from around the world for price gouging on essential items during the pandemic.