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Covid-19 update from Dods News

The following is a bulletin from Dods News sent Friday 20 March 2020. 

Key announcements      

  • In his press conference last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK could "turn the tide within the next 12 weeks" and send coronavirus "packing", if people followed all steps already outlined. He also spoke about the potential availability of an antibody test, which has the potential to be "a game-changer". He claimed that testing would eventually be ramped up to 250,000 tests every day.
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock reiterated the importance of testing, and the Government's efforts to upscale, on the Today Programme this morning.
  • After a slight delay, the Government published guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision . The guidance states that parents are being asked to keep their children at home, wherever possible. Those included in the key workers list, who can attend, include those delivery food and other necessary goods, postal workers, police, transport, and health and social care. This constitutes under 20% of children.
  • Alongside this, tens of thousands of retired medics asked to return to NHS. Letters are being sent to more than 65,000 retired doctors and nurses in England and Wales asking for their assistance. Senior officials say the ex-employees are needed to boost frontline services.
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning to announce an employment and wage subsidy package to try to protect millions of jobs during the crisis. Yesterday, Sunak held talks with business groups and union leaders, who urged the government to help pay wages. The Times is reporting that the Treasury was reporting cuts to employers' national insurance and the basic rate of income tax.
  • When he was challenged by TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady on Question Time last night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted he couldn't live on the current £94-a-week statutory sick pay.
  • Amid falling demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, and staff being off sick or self-isolating, trains operators across Britain will be gradually reducing services from Monday. It comes after the PM said people should avoid "non-essential" travel.
  • The Time is reporting this morning that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is evacuating "non-core" staff and families from select overseas posts. Officials have been instructed to withdraw from embassies in Africa and Middle East where fewer UK tourists need help.
  • In his first appearance before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal could still be done by the end of the December 2020 transition period. He also acknowledged that the country faced an "epic challenge" to get tourists stick abroad back.
  • A message from Her Majesty – late yesterday , The Queen has issued a message to the nation in which she said the UK was "entering a period of great concern and uncertainty". The monarch added that "our nation's history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one".
  • Keen to shut down rumours of a London-wide lockdown, at yesterday's lobby briefing, a Number 10 spokesman said there was "zero prospect" of restriction on travel in and out of London. A spokesperson also confirmed that there were no plans to restrict the number of people being able to leave house or shut down the London transport system.
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Boris Johnson held crisis talks yesterday amongst speculation of a London shut down. Khan urged people in London to follow expert advice and avoid the transport network. It follows the announcement that up to 40 London Underground stations will close.
  • The Bank of England slashed the bank rate to an all-time low of 0.1 percent . The Bank made the decision at a special meeting of the monetary policy committee on Thursday. It will also buy an additional £200bn of UK government and corporate bonds. Jeremy Thomson-Cook, the chief economist at digital payments firm, Equals Group, said interest rates were "now at the lowest level we think the Bank of England is prepared to go".
  • A written ministerial statement set in motion the Government's plans for reservists to be potentially called into permanent service to support HM Forces in connection to the UK's response to the outbreak of coronavirus. 20,000 troops have already been put standby to be deployed to the UK's streets, hospitals and other key sites, as part of a new Covid Support Force. According to Sky News , reservists could be required to step up in specialist roles, such as engineers or technicians.
  • Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Nicholas Carter, has told the military that the operation could endure for 6 months.
  • The Department for Health and Social care announced that £2.9 billion funding has been allocated to strengthen care for the vulnerable. The funding, to be used by local authorities and to enhance the NHS discharge process, will help patients who no longer need urgent hospital treatment to return home. The funding comes from the £5 billion COVID-19 fund announced by the Chancellor in last week's budget. 
  • The Church of England restricted weddings to five people to limit social contact.

 

Legislation      

  • Yesterday, the Government published the Coronavirus Bill (HC Bill 122) . It includes details for shutting down the UK's ports and airports and giving police powers to detain people suspected of having coronavirus. The bill is to be debated — and passed without a vote — by the Commons on Monday afternoon. 
  • The Government also published a summary document , which provides a summary of impacts relating to clauses within the Bill. As this is temporary, emergency legislation, a formal impact assessment is not required.
  • In his business statement, Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg confirmed that Westminster Hall debates will be suspended from today. Mogg also reached out for cross party consensus on proposals for select committees. He said that he thought it would be "inappropriate" for him to suggest how select committees should operate.
  • 82-year old Lords Speaker Lord Fowler, told peers he would be "withdrawing from the House for the time being".

 

International news

  • President Donald Trump has cancelled the June gathering of the G7 world leaders at Camp David because of the coronavirus. The White House announced that leaders will hold a videoconference instead.
  • In other news from the US, Residents in California have been told to stay at home until further notice. It is the first state to impose such an order. State governor Gavin Newsom said California has to "recognise the reality" in order to tackle the virus.
  • Italy overtook China as the country with most coronavirus-related deaths, registering 3,405 dead, a rise of 427 on the day before.
  • The European Central Bank announced 750bn euros in quantitative easing yesterday after holding an emergency meeting. ECB boss Christine Lagarde tweeted "there are no limits" to its commitment to the euro. The so-called Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme will buy government and company debt across the eurozone.
  • The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier announced that he had contracted coronavirus. He said he was "doing well and in good spirits" in a video message. The UK prime minister's official spokesman said : "We of course send Michel Barnier our best wishes" and confirmed that discussions were ongoing between both side about how to proceed with future rounds of talks.
  • UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said that a global recession due to corona virus is a near certainty and can be of record dimension. Responses at the individual country level are not going to address the global scale and complexity of the crisis, he said, and demands coordinated decisive and innovative policy actions from the world leading economy.
  • From today, Australia and New Zealand will ban entry to all non-residents .
  • Asian countries, including South Korea, China and Singapore facing a second coronavirus wave , fuelled by people importing it from outside. Singapore reported 47 new cases, of which 33 were imported, meanwhile, China reported 34 new cases among people who recently returned to the country.

 

Stakeholders

  • Following an intervention in the House of Commons on job protection, Labour's Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Peter Dowd called on the Government to underwrite wages of workers at risk of losing their jobs. "This crisis is too significant, and the impact on people's lives is too serious, for any more delay", he said.
  • Labour also published their own economic plan for individuals affected by coronavirus.  
  • The SNP has called for the UK government to introduce an immediate five-point plan to protect people's incomes - ahead of a meeting with Boris Johnson in Downing Street.
  • National Chair of the Police Federation England and Wales, John Apter, called on the Government to provide "clear guidance" for police officers about how to deal with people who are affected with the virus. "Police officers will always do their best. They are professional, dedicated people - but behind the uniform they are human beings", he said.
  • The Resolution Foundation published a briefing on "doing what it takes" to protect firms and families from the economic impact of coronavirus. The report proposed a broad and radical approach in three areas: relatively simple extensions of sick pay itself, much bolder moves to aid the retention of workers by struggling firms, and a stronger social security safety net.
  • The Association of Convenience Stores "strongly welcomed" clarification from Government that convenience store colleagues will be included in the definition of key worker
  • Andy Mitchell, Co-Chair of the Construction Leadership Council, wrote a letter alongside leading sector trade bodies to the Prime Minister requesting support for the construction industry. They requested that construction sites continued to be operational, "in order to avoid many thousands of job losses, the closure of thousands of businesses and delays and cost increases on crucial programmes and projects".
  • On the list of key workers, Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary said he would be seeking "absolute confirmation that food retail workers, those in the retail supply chain, those in the pharmaceutical industry and funeral workers will be given full access to any skeleton childcare provisions which are put in place".
  • Rachel Fletcher, Chief Executive of Ofwat wrote to the CEO's of Water Companies amidst Covid-19, calling on them to "demonstrate its commitment to its public purpose by all companies providing effective support, compassionate treatment and clear advice to customers at this time".
  • Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of NAHT warned that amid school closures, "school leaders have many questions that remain unanswered about how this will work in practice".
  • Russell George AM, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Transport Minister, said the decision by Great Western Railway to reduce some services during the Covid-19 outbreak was "the sensible thing to do".
First published 20 March 2020