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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Monday, April 20

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Monday, April 20

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 Chancellor, Rishi Sunak has revealed a £1.25bn scheme to protect innovative companies during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • There are two elements to the latest package to help businesses through the coronavirus crisis.
  • The first is a new £500m loan scheme for high-growth firms, called the Future Fund, to be launched in May in a 50/50 partnership with the British Business Bank.
  • UK companies which have previously raised at least £125,000 in equity investment, but which are not listed on the stock market, are eligible.
  • Businesses can access between £125,000 and £5m from the government – with the sum matched by the British Business Bank – though the loan would convert to equity if not repaid.
  • The rest of the money available, £750m, will be “targeted support” for small and medium sized businesses focusing on research and development.
  • The latest support package comes amidst reports that small companies dependent on overseas sales have been locked out of the government’s coronavirus business interruption loans scheme.
  • Banks have reportedly rejected several exporters’ requests for state-backed coronavirus loans, citing official guidance, which states that a company must be “UK-based in its business activity” to qualify for the loans.
  • This interpretation of the guidance has been disputed by executives, who believe that companies with operations in Britain are “UK-based”, regardless of where they generate their sales.
  • Officials at the Department for International Trade are understood to have raised the issue with counterparts at the Treasury

The governments Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme officially opened for applications today

  • Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended until the end of June, the government will cover 80% of workers’ wages, up to £2,500 a month, if they are put on leave.
  • The Treasury has said that the system can process up to 450,000 applications an hour and that employers should receive the money within six working days of making an application.
  • The Office for Budget Responsibility had estimated the cost of the scheme at about £42bn, but after the scheme was expanded estimates rose to about £50bn.
  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said it  had dealt with 67,000 claims in its first 30 minutes of operation.
  • Research by Resolution Foundation estimated that eight million workers could be furloughed over the coming weeks, higher than initially anticipated.
  • It also found that those working in low-paid sectors – such as hospitality or retail – are worst-affected, with almost half of the workforce expected to be put on paid leave.
  • Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden stated that firms should only be using government furlough scheme if they can’t afford to pay staff themselves.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is reported to be cautious about easing the lockdown for fear of sparking a second wave of Covid-19 infections

  • Johnson is reported to have held a two hour meeting on Friday at Chequers with foreign secretary Dominic Raab and his most senior adviser Dominic Cummings and communications director Lee Cain.
  • At the meeting he is reported to have said that lifting restrictions too soon could result in a “second peak” and lead to another lockdown which would cause greater economic damage. The message was repeated today by a Downing Street spokesperson.
  • Downing Street has insisted that Johnson is not working however they confirmed that he is receiving daily updates on the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Johnson remains at Chequers, where he has been recuperating since being released from hospital after falling ill with Covid-19.
  • Dominic Raab continues to deputise for him in his absence.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • The Department for Education have unveiled a new “major package” to support online learning for vulnerable and disadvantaged young people. It includes the launching of the Oak National Academy which will provide 180 video lessons a week across both the subject and year group spectrum. Laptops, tablets and 4G routers are set to be made available for all disadvantaged young people.
  • NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) wants people who recovered from Covid-19 to donate blood so they can potentially assess the therapy in trials. It is hoped that the antibodies they have built up will help to clear the virus in others.
  • The Northern Ireland executive has published a list of essential workers permitted to continue work. They include food and personal protective equipment producers as well as workers in utilities, water and waste treatment and construction supporting the health service and food industry.
  • The £43m construction of Scotland’s emergency hospital, the NHS Louisa Jordan,  has been completed and will be ready to receive patients from today. The facility was built in around 18 days in exhibition halls at the Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow, and will initially offer 300 beds with the potential to expand capacity to 1,036 beds.
  • The government has confirmed it is looking into having a one-minute silence for NHS workers who have lost their lives because of Covid-19. It follows a campaign by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to recognise the sacrifice health workers have made during the pandemic.
  • Registration has opened for businesses to apply to the Northern Ireland executive for a £25,000 grant. It is available to the ratepayers of businesses in the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors operating in a premise with a rateable value of £15,001 or up to £51,000.
  • The government announced that mortuaries will be expanded by 30,000 spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government insisted this is a precautionary measure rather than a prediction of how many people will die.
  • Only 17 out of a potential 70 inmates who are either pregnant or held in a mother and baby unit (MBU) have been released from prison since the government announced the emergency measure on 31 March.
  • The NHSX – the health service’s digital transformation arm – is developing an app that alerts users when they have been in contact with someone with Covid-19. However the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has said that any tracing app designed to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 would be “functionally limited” to prevent a “mission creep”.

Relevant world COVID 19 news

  • Lockdown restrictions are beginning to be lifted in some parts of Europe. Denmark, Germany and the Czech Republic are reopening some shops, pupils are returning to kindergarten in Norway, and Poland is allowing people to visit parks and forests.
  • The Spanish government is to propose that the European Union create a €1.5tn (£1.3tn) fund to aid recovery in countries worst-hit by the Covid-19 crisis during a summit on Thursday.
  • India is relaxing some lockdown rules in non-virus hotspots – with agricultural businesses, public works programmes, banks, and cargo transport allowed to resume.
  • The borders between the US, Canada and Mexico will stay closed for another 30 days to all but essential travellers. The borders first closed on 21 March.

Company updates

  • Sir Richard Branson has asked the government for a loan to support Virgin Atlantic, believed to be £500m, warning that the airline will not survive without it. It comes as Virgin Australia, the country’s second largest airline, is on the brink of administration.
  • Biomass power plants, which generated 11% of UK electricity last year, could be at risk of having to shut down due to a shortage of fuel as they rely on a supply of waste wood from construction sites or households that has dried up during the lockdown.
  • Facebook is launching a worldwide project to track coronavirus.
  • RMT union Aberdeen has estimated that as many 1,500 North Sea workers are facing redundancy. Concurrently, Oil and Gas UK (OGUK), expected operators to reduce capital investment by 30 per cent in 2020.
  • According to property consultancy Knight Frank, more than 520,000 UK home sales will be abandoned this year, after the government ordered a temporary freeze on the housing market last month due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The British Retail Consortium and British Property Federation have written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for government support for commercial tenants and landlords, warning that the survival of UK high streets is on the line.
    • It comes as UK retail footfall fell by a record 44.7% in March due to the lockdown, though retail parks performed better than high streets due to the surge in supermarket sales.

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