There are now more than 800,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, with nearly 30,000 cases in the UK. This evening’s Government Press conference was led by the Business Secretary Alok Sharma. He was joined by Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England.
The Business Secretary focussed on the fact that from today, businesses can benefit from £22bn of relief from the Government. He stated that “when the time comes, we are ready to bounce back from this crisis. The Government will do all it can to support businesses, safeguard jobs and protect the economy.”
Testing, and the perceived lack of PPE for frontline NHS workers, continues to dominate the narrative. Heads of Britain’s health and social care unions including UNISON, The Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite and TUC have warned ministers that the lack of PPE for NHS and social care workers is a “crisis within a crisis” and have called on the Government to increase the supply urgently. Furthermore, NHS England have written to trusts instructing them to lift restrictions on testing NHS workers for COVID-19. This comes as the Government confirmed in their Daily Press Briefing that more than 2,000 NHS frontline staff have now been tested for coronavirus in England.
When questioned by Laura Kuenssberg on whether the Government response had been too slow, Mr Sharma said that testing was the Government’s “absolute priority”. He stated that the Government are now performing 10,000 tests a day and 390 million PPE are now available for NHS staff. Professor Yvonne Doyle said that it is positive that the Government has met the target on testing, that PHE are positive that we can reach 25,000 tests a day, and there is also spare capacity to test the most urgent healthcare workers.
Meanwhile the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, told Sky News in the early media rounds that the UK is aiming to increase the number of tests for coronavirus to 25,000 a day by the middle of April. He also told the Today Programme that capacity is “expanding slower than we would wish” but the UK is now capable of testing 12,750 people a day and this should rise to 15,000 in the next couple of days.
Coronavirus Press Conference
Alok Sharma, Business Secretary
- The Government’s step by step action plan is aiming to slow the spread of the virus. They are following scientific and medical advice and are taking right steps at right time
- He stated that 152,979 people have now been tested for COVID-19, with 29,474 have testing positive, 10,677 being hospitalised and 2,352 sadly dying.
- This is more tragic evidence the virus does not discriminate, and it is the biggest threat that the country has faced in decades.
- He thanked everyone for their collective effort from frontline workers, businesses and people delivering supplies to the millions staying at home.
- He noted the important role that broadband providers were playing in giving people unlimited data to stay connected.
- Furthermore, he thanked the thousands of businesses, both large and small, who are playing their part. This is through carrying out PHE guidelines on site, carrying over annual leave or providing needs to work from home
- As of today, local authorities have received more than £12bn in support and he held a call earlier today informing them that this support must reach businesses as soon as possible.
- He praised the role of high street banks are playing through mortgage holidays and via the COVID-19 Business Interruption loan scheme.
- The Chancellor and Financial Conduct Authority have written to banks to make sure benefits are passing through to businesses.
- He will work with banks to do everything they can to repay the favour following the 2008 crash, and support businesses across the UK in their time of need. The Chancellor will be saying more on this in the coming days.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England
- There has been an uptick in motor vehicle traffic. People do need to stay at home. She welcomed the decline in public transport use.
- Number of new UK cases is slightly concerning with three days of increases in a row.
- Urged people to stay at home and avoid catching the disease and give it to anyone else.
- England hospital omissions show the threat is everywhere and the Midlands is now a concern.
- By global death comparisons we are doing better than Spain, Italy and France but there is much work to do.
- A Spokesperson for the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has stated that the Government is working with industry to address a shortage of chemicals required for coronavirus testing kits to tackle the outbreak. This follows the Cabinet Minister Michael Gove stating that there was a global shortage of the chemicals in yesterday’s press conference. The Chemical Industries Association have stated that despite the escalating demand, reagents are being manufactured and delivered to the NHS.
- Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has stated he has been self-isolating after displaying COVID-19 symptoms last week but has now recovered.
- The National Living Wage has increased today to £8.72, giving a pay rise to thousands of workers at the frontline of the UK’s response to Covid-19. This is a 6.2% increase on the previous rate. The full set of rates can be seen here
- From today, thousands of high street firms are beginning to receive £25,000 cash grants and will be exempt from business rates, as part of a £22 billion package announced by the Chancellor. Eligible properties, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, will not pay business rates for the next 12 months. The Government states that measures will “save firms in England £11 billion.”
- The Government has published guidance setting out the details of the Small Business Grants Fun and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grand Fund:
- Under the Small Business Grand Fund all eligible businesses in England in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief or Rural Rates Relief in the business rates system will be eligible for a payment of £10,000.
- Under the Retail, Hospitality, and Leisure Grant eligible businesses in England in receipt of the Expanded Retail Discount, which covers retail, hospitality and leisure, with a rateable value of less than £51,000, will be eligible for a cash grant of £10,000 or £25,000 per property.
- The Government has updated their guidance on how Local Authorities can use the new Care Act easements, created under the Coronavirus Act 2020, to ensure the best possible care for people across the UK.
Message from Prince Charles
- The Prince of Wales has addressed the nation for the first time since suffering from coronavirus. He called on people to “look forward to better times to come”. In a video posted on Twitter, he stated that his self-isolation period had now ended, since his diagnosis on 24th March, but warned that social distancing could be a “strange, frustrating and often distressing experience.” The video highlights Prince Charles’ role as a Patron of Age UK and the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the older members of the community.
Parliamentary and regional activity
- The DCMS Select Committee Chair Julian Knight has condemned the action of some Premier League clubs who have furloughed non-playing staff. Tottenham, Newcastle and Norwich have opted to utilise the Government’s job retention scheme. Mr Knight stated “It sticks in the throat. This exposes the crazy economic in English football and the moral vacuum at its centre.” Meanwhile the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told BBC Radio 5 Live that “topflight players should be the ones to carry the burden and sacrifice their salary instead.”
- The Scottish Justice Secretary has said that he is withdrawing a proposal to suspend jury trials in Scotland. The measures were part of emergency legislation to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic being debated by the Scottish Parliament today.
- The Department of Health has confirmed that 2,352 people have now died as a result of COVID-19 across the UK. This is an increase of 563 deaths compared to yesterday, where sadly 1,789 people had passed away. Overall, 152,979 people have been tested of whom 29,474 tested positive.
- This includes 2,137 in England, 98 people in Wales, 76 in Scotland and 28 in Northern Ireland. A 13-year-old boy from South London has become the youngest person in the UK to die as a result of COVID-19.
- NHS England has written to trusts instructing them to lift restrictions on testing NHS workers for COVID-19. This comes as the Government confirmed in their Daily Press Briefing that more than 2,000 NHS frontline staff have now been tested for coronavirus in England.
- Heads of Britain’s health and social care unions including UNISON, The Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite and TUC have warned ministers that the lack of personal protective equipment for NHS and social care workers is a “crisis within a crisis” and have called on the Government to increase the supply urgently. Number 10 has said that the Government has provided face masks to 25,000 care companies and is setting up a dedicated PPE ordering channel. Furthermore, they stated that 390 million pieces of PPE including masks, alcohol wipes and aprons, have been delivered to NHS staff over the last two weeks.
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered hospitals to use their spare laboratory capacity to test NHS staff for coronavirus. There is frustration amongst staff that they cannot get tested and go back to work if they or a household member has been unwell. NHS England has told hospitals to use 15% of their lab capacity to test staff, but the Health Secretary has now said they should go further.
- Health officials say that more than 16,000 staff will be needed for the NHS Nightingale Hospital in London once it is at full capacity. The hospital will be ready to receive its first patients by end of this week. There will be 42 beds in each ward and only patients on ventilators will be admitted once they have been referred from other hospitals. Staff will be drawn from across London and other areas.