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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, April 17

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, April 17

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 Treasury has confirmed that loans to all medium-to-large firms will now be included in the government’s £330bn coronavirus support package for the economy.

  • From 20 April, all viable businesses with a turnover of more than £250 million will be able to borrow £50 million from banks under the Treasury’s coronavirus business interruption loan scheme.
    • The move extends the scheme from its remit of helping small businesses with turnover of up to £45 million, which was later changed to allow larger firms to borrow up to £25 million.
    • All of the larger loans will be available from banks that are accredited by the British Business Bank, the state-owned entity.
    • It comes as the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak also announced that the government’s furlough scheme will be extended until end of June in light of the further three-week extension to the lockdown.
    • The scheme, which allows firms to furlough employees with the government paying cash grants of 80 per cent of their wages up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, was originally open for three months and backdated from 1 March to the end of May.
    • The government has also stated that it is considering ways to assist start-ups and businesses at an earlier stage of development that are backed with venture capital funds. Many of these have been unable to access other schemes because they are not profitable.
    • It is reported that the Treasury are working on plans to inject funds into venture capital-backed businesses that may be in the form of loans that convert into equity. It may offer to commit funds on the basis that they match money put in by the existing backers.

The Scottish and Welsh governments have announced plans to set out measures to ease the lockdown over the coming weeks.

  • Both Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford have said they will set out measures to ease the lockdown over the coming weeks due to the slowing rate of infections in both countries.
    • However, both reiterated that they have no intention of lifting restrictions within the next three weeks as the current infection rate is still too high.
    • It comes as the UK government has repeatedly refused to lay out plans of an exit strategy.
    • Sturgeon has said that it may be “logical and sensible” for Scotland to move in a different direction to the rest of the UK in terms of exit strategy in certain circumstances.
    • However the Conservative Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, warned against confusing the public message. He suggested “that this is not the time to muddy the message by talking about exit strategies or getting into arguments about sectors or geography or demographics.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been questioned by the Health and Social Care Committee

  • Hancock told the committee that 50,000 NHS workers had been tested for Covid-19 with testing planned to be rolled out to other services from today.
    • The government will expand eligibility for testing to police, fire, and prison officers, the judiciary and local authority officials. Hancock also said the government could reach the point of testing everyone with symptoms.
    • Hancock also announced plans to improve the delay in the number of Covid-19 fatalities in care homes.
    • The data has been published by the Office for National Statistics at a lag of several weeks because it relies on death certificates which must be registered and processed, and until now has been the only official source for deaths outside hospitals.
    • Earlier this week, the head of Public Health England, Professor Yvonne Doyle, said agencies were working towards producing “much more rapid data, preferably on a daily basis”.
    • Hancock said that the lag has now been reduced to five days. However he did not specify precisely when, or how often, this data will be published.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • The government has announced plans to create new government-led “vaccine taskforce”, which they say will accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines in the UK to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
  • London buses will temporarily become middle-door only boarding from 20 April in a bid to improve social distancing and protect drivers. Passengers will also not be required to “touch in” and have been told not to approach the card reader near the driver.
  • Around 150,000 self-employed people are not eligible for a coronavirus income support scheme because they have worked for themselves only since after the end of the 2018/2019 tax year, according to a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
  • The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has urged the public to wear non-surgical face masks when they go out. Khan said he is lobbying the government to change its advice on wearing face coverings to add “another layer of protection” to members of the public.
  • England’s fishing industry has been granted  £10m in cash grants by the government to help them stay afloat amid the coronavirus crisis.
  • Downing Street has suggested that summer holidays should not be booked yet as there is no certainty of when the lockdown will be lifted and travel can resume.
  • The government will manufacture one million as-yet-unproven vaccine doses for September. The Oxford University team’s experimental product is a type known as a recombinant viral vector vaccine and is one of at least 70 potential Covid-19 candidate vaccines under development around the world – at least five of which are in preliminary testing in people.

Relevant world COVID 19 news

  • China’s economy has shrunk for the first time in decades. New data showed it contracted 6.8% in the first quarter of the year, amid coronavirus-related business and factory closures.
  • China has revised the death toll in Wuhan – the city where the Covid-19 outbreak started. New figures show a 50% rise of confirmed deaths, up by 1,290 to 3,869 in total. It came after criticisms from the US and French Presidents that China wasn’t being transparent.
  • US President Donald Trump has unveiled new guidelines to state governors about gradually re-opening up their state economies in three stages, with each phase lasting, at minimum, 14 days. They include some recommendations across all three phases including good personal hygiene and employers developing policies to ensure social distancing, testing and contact tracing.

 Company updates

  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will ask firms involved in car financing, payday loans, and pawn shop borrowing to offer a payment holiday to people struggling to pay bills. The FCA is calling on motor finance firms to grant a three-month freeze.
  • The National Union of Journalists has warned that national and local newspapers could shut unless they can access government support. The NUJ has called for a windfall tax on tech firms to support newspapers.
  • National Grid has warned that lower demand for electricity during the lockdown could lead to windfarms and power plants being turned off so as to avoid overloading the electricity grid.
  • Estate agent Foxtons has furloughed hundreds of staff members and cut pay for many staff. All of its branches have been closed since 23 March.
  • The social media service TikTok has announced a £5m donation to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Foundation’s Covid-19 healthcare support fund, which will provide frontline health and social care staff practical and psychological support both during and after the emergency.
  • High-end fashion retailers in the UK, including Burberry, Barbour, Louis Vuitton and David Nieper have all repurposed factories to produce PPE items such as gowns and masks.
  • Morrisons and Kellogg’s have partnered with Magic Breakfast to provide 200,000 boxes of cereal to over 12,000 schoolchildren during the COVID 19 lockdown.

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