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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, March 20

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, March 20

Each day, our Public Policy team will be reporting on the latest news in the evolving situation. 

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced an employment and wage subsidy package to try to protect millions of jobs

  • The chancellor announced a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in which the  government will step in and help pay wages for the first time in UK history.
    • Companies and organisations will be able to apply for a grant from HMRC to cover the wages of people who are not working due to coronavirus shutdowns, but who haven’t been laid off.
    • It will cover 80% of the salaries of these retained workers, up to £2,500 per month. It will apply for three months with no limit on total spending.
    • The chancellor also said he is deferring VAT for all businesses until the end of June. That is an injection of £30bn to businesses.
    • The government is also extending its coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, to be interest free for 12 months (up from 6 months).
    • The Universal Credit standard allowance will increase by £1,000, for the next 12 months, as will the Working Tax Credit basic element.
    • Sunak also outlined help for self-employed people — suspending the minimum income floor for universal credit. This means self-employed people can now access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees.

The Government has ordered pubs, restaurants, gyms and leisure centres to close across the UK

  • Pubs, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres across the UK are to close from the night of 20th March in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.
    • However cafes, bars, and restaurants will be allowed to provide takeaway services.
    • The decision is to be reviewed every month.
    • The move comes after Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of key officials at 10 Downing Street amid growing concern that too many people in the  UK are ignoring advice issued on 16 March to avoid social gatherings.

The Government announced that it was temporarily relaxing elements of competition law as part of a package of measures to allow supermarkets to work together to feed the nation

  • The move allows retailers to share data with each other on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, or share distribution depots and delivery vans.
    • It would also allow retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.
    • Further measures to help retails include, temporarily relaxed rules around drivers’ hours in order to help move food and other essentials more quickly so that shelves can be stocked-up.
    • The government has also waived the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases, which will come into force on Saturday 21 March. The charge will remain in-place for in-store purchases.

The Government has published more information on the cancellation of GCSEs and A-levels as well as a list of key workers whose children will still be able to go to school 

  •  Exam boards will be asking teachers to submit judgments about the grades they think their students would have received if exams had gone ahead.
  • Teachers will have to take into account “a range of evidence and data”, such as mock exam results and other school work. This will be combined with information from “other relevant data”, such as pupils’ previous attainment, to calculate their grades.
  • This comes as the Government published a list of key workers whose children will still be going to school they include workers in:
    • health and social care, including doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff
    • education and childcare
    • key public services including those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, “those responsible for the management of the deceased”, and journalists and broadcasters who provide public service broadcasting
    • local and national government
    • food and other necessary goods, including those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery
    • public safety and national security, including police and support staff; Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel; fire and rescue service employees, border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles
    • transport
    • utilities, communication and financial services

The Government and rail operators across the UK agree reductions in service levels following reduced passenger demand as people change their travel patterns to help tackle spread of COVID-19

  • Rail services will be reduced from Monday 23rd March and kept under review.
    • Operators will continue to run core services ensuring people remain able to get to work, can travel to access medical appointments and the flow of goods continues across the UK.
    • Similar measures have been agreed by the Scottish and Welsh governments.
    • Passenger numbers have dropped 70% in the outbreak, with train companies Northern, TransPennine Express, South Western Railway and Great Western Railway already running reduced timetables

Other UK COVID 19 News 

  • The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, is self-isolating after showing symptoms of coronavirus.
  • BT is to remove all caps on home broadband plans to give customers unlimited data while working from home or self-isolating. The BT Group, which also includes mobile network EE, said it wanted to help people stay connected during periods of isolation because of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Top companies are helping the UK to produce thousands of ventilators to fight the coronavirus outbreak with a prototype already having been produced the prototype should be ready for use in hospitals by 27 March.
  • The UK government has banned the parallel export of 80 crucial medicines – including adrenaline, insulin, paracetamol and morphine – to protect supplies during the coronavirus outbreak. The government describes parallel exporting as “when companies buy medicines meant for UK patients and sell on for a higher price in another country, potentially causing or aggravating supply problems”. Any company found to be parallel exporting could face tough action from the country’s drug regulator, including the removal of their trading licence. The full list of medicines is here.
  • Starting 19 March 2020, people receiving benefits do not have to attend jobcentre appointments for at least three months. However jobcentres will remain open and will continue to support people who are not able to use phones and online, including homeless people.

Letters are being sent to more than 65,000 retired doctors and nurses in England and Wales asking them to return to the NHS to help tackle the outbreak.

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