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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Thursday, April 23

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Thursday, April 23

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 Scottish government has published its plan for lifting the lockdown

  • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the lifting of the coronavirus lockdown is likely to be phased – with some measures remaining in place into next year.
  • The paper published concluded that now is not the right time to relax restrictions, but that over the next few weeks, based on the evidence and expert advice, options will be considered that include the easing restrictions on some outdoor activity before those on indoor activities.
  • However it does not set any dates for when the restrictions could begin to be lifted.
  • The paper also consider tailoring options to specific geographies and sectors, or parts of the rural economy, or those able to work outdoors.
  • The paper called for an “urgent need to redesign workplaces and education settings to allow for proper social distancing” and the need for “unprecedented levels of support and compliance from the whole population”.
  • Sturgeon said gatherings in pubs and at public events were likely to be banned or restricted for some time to come and that some form of shielding for vulnerable people was likely to continue for a while.
  • And she said all pupils might not be able to attend school at the same time because of social distancing rules.
  • The paper warned the public to expect a cycle of lifting and re-imposing restrictions, with the possibility of restrictions being re-imposed quickly if transmission suddenly escalates.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma updated the Commons Business Select Committee on the government’s Covid-19 financial packages

  • Sharma updated the committee on the government’s loan scheme, saying around 38,000 businesses had applied for finance, with 16,600 securing loans worth a total of £2.8bn.
  • It comes as HMRC has said that 435,000 firms have applied for 3.2 million workers to be furloughed since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. Around £3.75bn-worth of applications had been made for the scheme by midnight on Wednesday.
  • Sharma also said he would look into introducing temporary measures to ease commercial rent demand within the next week, because he was aware that some landlords were “putting undue financial pressure with aggressive debt recovery tactics.”

The government plans to borrow £225bn from bond market investors in just four months to fund the dramatic increase in public spending during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • The Treasury has said its debt management office – which sells bonds to finance the government’s spending requirements – would offer investors £180bn worth of gilts to buy between May and July, on top of £45bn already planned for April.
  • Taken together the borrowing requirement in the first four months of the new year comes close to the annual peak in gilt sales recorded during the 2008 financial crisis, when the UK sold £227.6bn of bonds in 2009-10.
  • Before coronavirus struck, the government had planned to sell around £160bn worth of bonds in 2020-21 to fund its expenditure and service its debts.
  • It comes as the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted that Covid-19 was likely to push the deficit to  £260bn up from £48.7bn in the 2019-20 financial year.

Other UK COVID 19 news

  • Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced that from tomorrow all essential workers will be able to go on the government’s website and book a Covid-19 test for themselves or through their employer. He also announced the introduction of home test kits and mobile testing sites.
  • The government has announced that it aims to recruit 18,000 people, including 3,000 clinicians, to work on Covid-19 contact tracing.
  • A major long-term study has been launched by the government in partnership with the ONS which will track the spread of Covid-19 in the general population. 25,000 households in England are being contacted to take part and the study will include antibody testing. Eventually the study aims to cover 300,000 people over the course of year. The initial findings are expected to be available in early May.
  • Boris Johnson spoke to foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, yesterday. And Johnson also had an audience with the Queen by telephone. A No10 spokesman said that Johnson continued to receive regular updates on government business but he was still not doing government work.
  • Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP and shadow Northern Ireland secretary, is out of intensive care. He was admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary three weeks ago after falling ill with Covid-19.
  • Will Quince, a welfare minister, has said that there were 1.5m applications for universal credit in the six weeks to 12 April but that there had been a significant slowdown since then. The surge in applications, and an increase in the value of universal credit, will take the annual amount spent on working-age benefits to more than £100bn for the first time.
  • Business are expected to receive almost £10bn in rates relief as part of the government’s comprehensive package of measures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The support comes after the chancellor increased business rates retail discount to 100% from 50% for 2020 to 2021.
  • Northern Ireland may emerge from Covid-19 restrictions at a different pace than other parts of the UK, First Minister Arlene Foster has said. She said measures would be eased when scientific and public health criteria were met, regardless of timetables or dates.

 Relevant world COVID 19 news

  • 4.4m Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last week. Almost 26 million Americans had filed new claims for unemployment in the previous five weeks, while a $349bn loan programme for small businesses ran out of money within two weeks.
  • Germany’s Angela Merkel has said Germany is prepared to make “significantly higher” contributions to the EU budget. The extra money will help the 27-member bloc respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, among others.
  • EU leaders met via video today and are expected to sign off a €540bn (£470bn) emergency fund to protect European workers, businesses and those countries worst hit by the outbreak.

Company updates

  • Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey said it intends to reopen the majority of its construction sites in England and Wales from 4 May using “strict social distancing requirements”.
  • UK universities are calling for £2 billion government support, warning that research funding will be hit particularly hard due to the pandemic. The Treasury has so far resisted the calls from the higher education sector.
  • Aston Martin will reopen its South Wales factory on 5 May following guidelines from Public Health Wales and Public Health England to protect its workforce. The company also announced that its senior leadership team have agreed to a pay cut.
  • Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is to gradually resume production at its factories in Solihull, West Midlands, and at its engine plant in Wolverhampton from 18 May, adhering to what it said would be “robust” safety guidelines.
  • B&Q have announced the re-opening of 61 further stores across the UK. The retailer has already re-opened 14 stores in recent weeks.
  • Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said the airline won’t operate if it is forced to leave middle seats empty as has been suggested. O’Leary said he expected 80% of Ryanair flights to resume by September if flights in Europe started again in July, though only if they could use all the seats.
  • Nationwide, Halifax, Virgin and Santander have all begun to resume loans after pausing new deals at the start of the crisis. Nationwide resumed loans at 85% loan-to-value (LTV), and Halifax raised its LTV level from 80% to 85%. Virgin Money has restarted offering purchase mortgages, and Santander has increased its maximum loan size from £300,000 to £500,000.
  • The University of Manchester, the biggest university in the UK, says it expects to lose 15-20% of its annual income due to a “major” fall in international students, amounting to £270m a year.
  • P&O Cruises and Cunard, the two UK cruise lines in the Carnival group, have announced extensions to the “pauses” in their operations, until 31 July this year.

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