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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, April 24

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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, April 24

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.

Details of ‘essential workers’ eligible to apply for a Covid-19 test was published, it came as the booking website closed due to high demand

  • The UK’s Department of Health has apologised after its new coronavirus testing website closed to applications hours after it launched.
  • 20,000 applications were made before the website closed.
  • Up to 10 million key workers and their households in England are now meant to be able to book a coronavirus test online or through their employer.
  • It comes as the government published the list of essential workers eligible to apply for the test.
  • In addition to health and social care staff, the list includes teachers, judges, some lawyers, religious staff, and journalists providing public service broadcasting.
  • Also included are local civil servants, police, armed service personnel, fire and rescue service staff, immigration officers and prison and probation staff.
  • Some private-sector staff also qualify including vets, those in food production, essential financial services and information technology, as well as those working in the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors.
  • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that essential workers in Scotland will also be able to apply for a test online.
  • The Welsh government has previously outlined plans to expand testing to key workers and Northern Ireland’s health minister has announced the nation’s testing programme is being expanded to include frontline workers in the private sector.
  • It came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said a workforce of 18,000 people to trace contacts of those infected with coronavirus will be “up and running in a matter of weeks”.

Government has announced a support package to help preserve the supply of critical goods

  • It is hoped the multimillion-pound support package will ensure supply routes bringing critical goods into the UK can remain open.
  • The government has also secured a trilateral agreement with the French and Irish governments which commits to keeping freight routes open throughout the crisis, bringing in medicines and other essential goods.
  • Up to 31 routes are eligible for support, £17.5m fund to keep freight routes, mainly ferries, running.
  • £28m will cover routes Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and up to £10.5m for ferry and freight services to the Isle of Wight and Scilly Isles.
  • Further support is available for critical routes between Britain and the European mainland – including Eurotunnel.
  • Light rail systems in Manchester, Sheffield, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Tyne and Wear will also receive support.
  • Support is expected to be provided within weeks once discussions with operators have been completed.
  • The government has also set up a “transport support unit” has been set up to make better use of resources such as helicopters, ships and trains. It will involve 8,500 volunteers across the transport sector and 9,000 vehicles, and will include using HM Coastguard aircraft to ferry patients.
  • The government has also given the green light to fast-track trial the use of drones to deliver medical supplies, beginning next week on the Isle of Wight.

 Wales is the latest devolved administration to publish its strategy for lifting the lockdown

  • Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said Wales could ease some of its lockdown restrictions at the end of the current three-week period in May.
  • Drakeford said the decision to outline its plan for easing the restrictions was about “strengthening the UK wide approach, certainly not undermining it”.
  • England remains the only nation that has not published a plan to ease restrictions after Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon did so yesterday and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster suggested she could lift its measures at a different pace from the rest of the UK.
  • However like the Scottish plan the strategy was vague in some areas and there were no firm commitment to any dates for lifting the restrictions.
  • The Welsh government said a Wales-wide programme of surveillance, case identification, and contract tracing is being developed. It will highlight the importance of community testing and support the containment of emerging coronavirus infections as and when restrictions are eased.
  • However there will likely be questions about how this approach – where differing restrictions could be in force in Wales and England – affects those living near the border, who may live in one country and work in the other.
  • Drakeford said he remains committed to a four-nation approach to tackling the pandemic and that publishing Wales’ plan was about sharing information with neighbouring countries.

 Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • Councils have been given more flexibility to move around government funding for free childcare entitlements, in exceptional circumstances, to ensure enough childcare places are available for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.
  • The Labour Party have warned that thousands of apprenticeships could be lost without government support and have called for the government to protect independent apprenticeship providers.
  • The NHS has revealed details of the upcoming contact-tracing app it hopes will stop the spread of coronavirus. The app will look to track people as they move around, and use people’s phones to understand when they come into contact with each other.
  • Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has confirmed the UK will host the Global Vaccines Summit on 4 June.
  • The opposition Labour party has launched a review of Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on minority groups.

Relevant world COVID 19 news

  • EU leaders have agreed that emergency EU loans of €540bn (£470bn) will be released from 1 June to help businesses and workers. Later a special recovery fund worth at least €1 trillion will be set up, though details are yet to be decided.
  • The US Congress have approved a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill. The bill will fund small businesses and hospitals and push the total spending response to the crisis to an unprecedented near $3 trillion.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a multibillion-pound “call to action” for a global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme and its 7.5 billion euro (6.5 billion) fundraising effort – will be officially launched on May 4.

 Company updates

  • Lloyd’s of London have warned that insurers face their biggest ever losses from the pandemic, saying it is the “biggest challenge the industry has ever faced”.
  • Apple and Google are releasing tools that will help governments and health agencies develop Covid-19 contact tracing apps ahead of schedule.
  • Train operators are starting to make plans to restore up to 80% of services from May if the lockdown measures are lifted. The Chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy said when services resume they would carry fewer passengers, with restrictions likely imposed to maintain social distancing.
  •  London Gatwick Airport says it does not expect passengers to come back to pre-Covid levels for another four years. The airport has furloughed 2,000 staff and made 500 people redundant.
  • Transport for London (TfL), is to furlough 7,000 employees to save about £15.8m every four weeks. TfL fare revenue has dropped by 90% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Institute of Directors have called for changes to the coronavirus loan scheme, to be improved and widened in scope to make finance more easily available to SMEs. It comes after a survey showed that almost half of SMEs said application procedures are complex, such as needing to provide detailed forecasts, with lengthy processing times, often taking weeks rather than days.
  • Persimmon is to begin a “phased re-opening” of its sites from 27 April to help complete new homes under construction.
  • Fifa will pay out $150m (£121m) to its 211 national associations in the coming days to fast-forward payments due at the end of the season in an effort to help governing bodies through the coronavirus crisis.

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