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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Weekend Update, April 18-19

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Weekend Update, April 18-19

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.

Government states that it is “too early to lift restrictions” as Ministers receive criticism for slow response to COVID-19 crisis

  • The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove MP stated today that the Government is not currently considering lifting any of the lockdown restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
    • Gove’s comments came as reports suggested that the Government has been looking at gradually lifting some lockdown restrictions, such as re-opening schools and allowing some small social gatherings.
    • A Sunday Times report stated that Senior Ministers have drawn up a three-phase plan to lift the lockdown. With the first stage seeing schools reopen as early as May 11. However at the daily Number 10 briefing, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the government needs to meet its five tests before setting any date for the reopening of schools.
    • Gove also reiterated today that he country must maintain the current measures until death rates begin to fall.
    • He said the facts and advice were “clear” that we should not be lifting the restrictions yet. He did warn however that the hospitality sector would be among the last to see restrictions lifted
    • The Government has also been accused of “sleepwalking into disaster” with its slow response to COVID-19. Newspaper reports suggest that the Prime Minister skipped five Cobra meetings on the virus early in the year and calls to order extra protective gear were ignored.
    • The Government has said that such reports are “slightly off” but Gove admitted that “all Governments make mistakes”.

Government confirms more PPE supplies arriving in UK as shortages continue.

  • Following reports that NHS bosses have asked doctors and nurses to work without protective full-length gowns or wear recycled gowns when treating Covid-19 patients, the Government has announced measures to improve the supply of personal protective equipment.
    • Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick announced yesterday that 84 tonnes of PPE including 400,000 gowns is set to arrive in the UK from Turkey.
    • The delivery was set to arrive today (Sunday 19), however unspecified delays mean that they are not due to arrive until next week.
    • To boost PPE production the Health Secretary has appointed the man who led planning for the London Olympics, Lord Deighton, as the Government’s “PPE Tsar”. Deighton will lead the “make” programme to unleash the potential of UK industry to scale up domestic PPE manufacturing.
    • At yesterday’s briefing, Jenrick said that the Government was working with British manufacturers to increase domestic PPE supply.
    • The action comes as Chairman of the British Medical Association was quoted in the media saying that Doctors are “extremely worried” that they are not adequately protected. Dr Nagpaul said that the Government was warned last weekend that there were critical shortages of full length gowns.

House of Commons Speaker urges MPs to “stay away” from Parliament as Parliamentary authorities move forward with hybrid system ahead of re-opening. 

  • Ahead of Parliament re-opening this week, the House of Commons Speaker  Sir Lindsay Hoyle has urged MPs to “stay away” from Parliament after he unveiled plans for a ‘hybrid’ system to allow meetings to be conducted remotely.
    • Government and opposition leaders have already rubber agreed plans, which will see up to 120 MPs using conferencing software Zoom to grill ministers, including at ‘virtual PMQs’, when Parliament re-opens this week.
    • However, Sir Lindsay has said that there would be “no benefit” for MPs or staff to travel to Westminster to attend Parliament in person. However, up to 50 will be allowed in the chamber, following the guidance on social distancing.
    • Under proposals, MPs and their staff could be asked to undergo a temperature test before entering Parliament.
    • The hybrid parliament, which will enable MPs to participate from afar for the first time in the institution’s 700-year history, will initially only work for urgent questions and statements by the government.
    • But discussions are under way about introducing a virtual voting system so that legislation can be passed.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • Scientists working on a coronavirus vaccine in Britain hope to start clinical trials towards the end of next week. Researchers at Oxford University say that they are hopeful that trials will start next week once final approvals are given. Researchers say that they want to make the vaccine available across the world and want it to be available at an affordable price. In an article for the Guardian, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance wrote that there are reasons to be optimistic about a coronavirus vaccine, but he warns that it will take time and that it is not a certainty.
  • New data suggests that the number of deaths linked to coronavirus in UK care homes may be far higher than those recorded so far. The National Care Forum (NCF) estimates that more than 4,000 elderly and disabled people have died across all residential and nursing homes.
  • The Governor of the Bank of England has said that an extension of Government guarantees to lenders from 80% to 100% of the loans extended, could speed up the delivery of financial assistance to cash strapped firms. His comments come as there are growing calls for the Government to increase the level of government backing for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme programme.
  • The Department for Education is supporting free online lessons for primary and secondary pupils to help parents teaching at home. 180 lessons will be available each week. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has also announced that Laptops, tablets and routers will be provided for some deprived pupils who do not already have access to a computer or the internet.
  • At today’s Number 10 briefing, Williamson said that the Government has pledged £1.6 Million to the NSPCC, Childline and adult helplines during the coronavirus crisis.
  • The Liberal Democrats have called for NHS front-line staff to be given an extra £29-a-day reward for their service during the coronavirus pandemic. Acting leader Sir Ed Davey said Downing Street should consider creating a “front-line support package“.
  • Captain Tom Moore, the 99 war veteran who has now raised more than £26m for the National Health Service is to be guest of honour at the opening of a new UK field hospital. Captain Tom will appear via video link at the opening of the Nightingale hospital in Harrogate on Tuesday.

Relevant world COVID 19 news

  • Amid street protests for and against COVID-19 restrictions, President Trump has been calling for the earliest possible return to normality. The President has accused some state Governors of imposing “unreasonable” restrictions while posting a series of tweets encouraging people to “liberate” a number of states.
  • Meanwhile at his daily White House briefing, President Trump praised the production of hospital goods in the US exclaiming “V for victory, V for ventilator!”.
  • The director of the research unit at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, has rejected the“conspiracy theory” that the virus originated in his lab.
  • Spain’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 410 today, down from 565 on Saturday. Today’s death toll is the lowest daily increase since March 22.
  • The Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned that higher levels of debt is a ‘price we have to pay’. Calling the economic impact of COVID-19 “very bad”, Angel Gurria told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show “We’re all going to end up with higher levels of debt for government, higher levels of debt for corporations, maybe even higher levels of debt for households, but that is the price we’re all going to have to pay in order to deal with the crisis itself”.
  • South Korea has announced that it is to loosen lockdown restrictions. The county reported 8 new COVID-19 cases today, and the Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun has announced that the Government is considering opening sports facilities, public facilities and restaurants.
  • On Saturday night, a fundraising event titled “One World: Together At Home”, organised by Global Citizen Movement and the WHO, took place. It featured more than 100 musicians playing live from their homes and it was live-streamed and broadcast on US TV. The event raised nearly £102m.

Company updates

  • Supermarket chain ASDA has cancelled a quarter of orders with clothing suppliers as a result of COVID-19. The supermarket chain wrote to suppliers last week informing them they would be paid just 30% of an order’s value.
  • Arcadia Group has informed landlords that it is serving notice to walk away from more than 100 stores by the end of the summer. The fashion group has 550 stores in the UK, which are all currently shut due to the pandemic.
  • Debenhams has struck a deal with landlords to keep most of its 142 stores open, following its fall into administration last week.
  • Legal & General is considering slashing executive pay to fall in line with other insurers. The news comes as the insurance industry has been under fire for failing to pay out on claims during the pandemic.

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