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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Thursday, April 2

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Thursday, April 2

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is to announce an overhaul of the government’s bailout scheme for businesses in the coming days

  • The measures will come in response to businesses complaining that banks are demanding guarantees and charging double-digit interest rates when they try to access the emergency loan scheme.
    • It is reported that Sunak will announce the measures on 3 April
    • The emergency loan scheme was announced by the Chancellor last month in which the state underwrites 80 per cent of the risk of bank loans of up to £5 million.
    • The loans are interest-free for 12 months, but some companies say they are being threatened with penal rates after a year.
    • It is reported that Sunak will address this by banning banks from asking small firms for personal guarantees on loans.
    • Reports suggest Sunak also plans to overhaul the legal terms under which banks provide loans to ensure businesses can access the money they need.
    • Banks will be banned from requiring those taking out loans worth up to £250,000 to provide any form of personal guarantees such as rights to their assets or second homes.
    • Most big banks have already promised that but the government wants to force all lenders to the same standard.
    • For loans of over £250,000 personal guarantees will be limited to no more than 20 per cent of the outstanding debt. The government will also remove a requirement for businesses to demonstrate that they have no other means of accessing funding.
    • Businesses applying for the loans, however, will have to show they were “creditworthy” before the crisis to ensure the government does not prop up failing businesses.
    • The chancellor is also drawing up a support package for charities amid warnings that they face a £4 billion black hole. Charities have called on the government to set up a “stabilisation fund”.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has announced a new plan for scaling up testing across the country following his recovery from COVID 19

  • Hancock announced the government’s intends to increase testing from 12,750 test a day currently to 100,000 a day by the end of April.
    • Hancock also announced that accurate antibody test have been developed at Porten Down to ensure they can carry out surveillance of who has had the virus. He said the government is working with nine companies on antibody tests.
    • Hancock also announced that £13.4bn historic NHS debt will be written off and that £300m will be made available for community pharmacies.
    • Hancock also announced that a “brand new swab” is being developed with commercial providers and that a network of testing laboratories will be increased “significantly” in private partnership with Boots and Amazon.

The government is to set up a virtual parliament to allow MPs to scrutinise its response to the coronavirus crisis

  • The move follows demands from the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and opposition parties
    • Hoyle argued that a trial of virtual select committee hearings had already been successful and he had asked officials to investigate how they would apply similar technology for use in the Commons chamber.
    • Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, announced that the government hoped appropriate technology to set up a virtual parliament will be in place by 21 April, when MPs are due to return to Westminster.

Scottish Parliament approved the Scottish Emergency Coronavirus Bill

  • The Bill aims to support the economy and protect essential public services during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Most of the emergency measures in the Bill will expire automatically in six months. The Scottish Parliament may extend the measures for two further periods of six months, giving the measures in the Bill a maximum duration of 18 months. It includes:
    • Adjustments to the law on evictions to protect people renting their homes.
    • Giving people and some small businesses that are unable to repay debts due to the outbreak will be able to apply for a six-month ‘breathing space’ period.
    • Allowances for licensing authorities to extend the deadlines for licence applications that allow the sale and supply of alcohol, and taxi and private hire.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is still suffering from mild Covid-19 symptoms, meaning he may not be able to leave self-isolation as intended on 3 April.
  • UN climate talks, Cop26, that were due to take place in Glasgow in November have been postponed until 2021.
  • Up to 3,000 armed forces reservists have been called up. Those with specialist skills are expected to provide medical and logistical support to the NHS.
  • The Financial Conduct Authority, which supervises banks and credit providers across the country, has asked banks to freeze payments on loans and credit cards for up to three months for those facing difficulties. The watchdog also wants interest on the first £500 of existing overdrafts to be frozen for a period.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions has reported almost 950,000 new universal credit benefit claims since 16 March – up from around 100,000 in a normal two-week period.
  • A new rapid diagnostic test for Covid-19 capable of diagnosing the infection in under 90 minutes, is being used at Cambridge hospitals, ahead of being launched in hospitals nationwide.
  • The Office of National Statistics reported that 27% of responding businesses said they were reducing staff levels in the short term.  While 5% reported they were recruiting – particularly supermarkets and food delivery companies.

Relevant world COVID 19 news 

  • It has been reported that the European commission will propose to borrow €100bn against EU governments’ guarantees to finance a short-term work scheme to protect jobs. The scheme will increase cash advances to farmers under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and provide more time for applications for support and for claims to be processed.
  • The  European commission has also proposed removing any national co-financing normally needed when countries get EU money to build infrastructure projects such as motorways, sewage plants or bridges, making the projects fully paid for by the EU.
  • The World Health Organization is considering changing its guidance on whether people should wear face masks in public, prompted by new evidence that suggests doing so could help contain the pandemic.
  • Nearly 6.6 million Americans have filed for benefits in the last week. Meaning almost 10 million Americans have lost their job in the last two weeks.

Company updates

  • British Airways is expected to suspend 36,000 staff from cabin crew to ground staff, engineers and head office employees, following an agreement with the union Unite to avoid redundancies. Those affected are expected to receive some of their wages through the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which covers 80% of someone’s salary capped at a maximum of £2,500 a month.
  • National Express has announced it will suspend all coach services from midnight this coming Sunday following a huge fall in demand even on a heavily reduced timetable.
  • Centrica is the latest energy company to cancel its dividend payments, and has also announced £400m in spending cuts.
  • Pets At Home has seen its sales surge since the start of the crisis, allowing the firm to raise its profit forecast for the year.
  • Retailer Next has appointed Savills to find buyers for its headquarters in Leicester and three warehouses, with the aim of leasing them back, as it tries to raise money following the temporary closures of its stores and website.
  • The National Lottery has set up a £50m emergency fund for British heritage sites after almost 50% said they will not survive beyond six months if the coronavirus shutdown continues.
  • Most of Nissan’s 6,000 employees at its Sunderland plant will be furloughed as the site will remain shut throughout April,
  • Zoom’s daily users has increased to more than 200 million in March from a previous maximum total of 10 million.

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