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15 May 2020


The fallout from Sir Keir Starmer’s letter to the Prime Minister for his apparent inaccuracies in his statement at PMQ’s yesterday continued today.

In the early media rounds this morning, the Health Minister Edward Argar, stated that the UK government did not receive “bad advice” from Public Health England on the risk to care home residents at the start of the pandemic. This came as ONS figures released today showed at least 40% of deaths in England and Wales have occurred in care homes.

Speaking to the BBC he stated, “I completely refute the assertion that it was bad advice, or it was poor advice. If you think back to February or March, every day, we and scientists were learning something new about how it (the virus) behaved and that it didn’t always behave the same way in different countries."

At the lunchtime briefing the PM’s Spokesperson revealed for the first time that Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary and the UK’s top civil servant, also had coronavirus during the period that the Prime Minister was in hospital. The Spokesperson insisted that the Cabinet Secretary had been able to continue working from home during this time.

In some positive news for the Government, Public Health England have stated that they have approved a Covid-19 antibodies test by Swiss manufacturer Roche. The test, which is reported to be almost 100% accurate, cannot be carried out at home but will have to be undertaken in a clinical environment.

Daily Press Conference

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps led the Daily Press Conference. He was joined by Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England. Mr Shapps set out how the downtime has been used to upgrade the nation’s road and rail infrastructure.

He re-confirmed that we are in the process of moving from Level 4 to Level 3 and that we are currently on Step 1 of the easing of lockdown measures. He re-iterated what staying alert means – including limiting contact with other people and wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces.

Furthermore, he stated:

  • For 2 months we have travelled as little as possible and have protected the NHS.
  • As we begin to restart the economy and as people who cannot work from home begin to return, transport has a key role to play.
  • It is our civic duty to only use public transport when necessary. If there was 100% of transport services running, there would only be space for 1 in 10 passengers on original levels with the current social distancing measures.
  • He called on the public to help ensure the transport system does not become overwhelmed for commuters. He said, “If you have access to a car, please do use it, rather than public transport.”
  • The Government has set out a £2billion programme to put cycling and walking at the heart of what we do. This includes £1.7billion pounds for local roads to make journeys safer, by filling millions of dangerous potholes.
  • Guidance has also been updated for the transport sector so that it can provide safer services.
  • In the coming weeks, people should notice that whilst the country has been in downturn, we have been busy.
  • 419 separate Network Rail projects have been completed over Easter with a further 1000 over May Day Bank Holiday. This is part of £500m package of rail upgrades.
  • The A14 vital upgrade has been opened 7 months ahead of schedule, helping boost distribution of good around the UK. This is part of £200m worth of upgrades in road infrastructure in April.
  • “I am the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse. In the north we have delivered £96million of infrastructure projects throughout April.” This investment will help fix damage caused by winter flooding and fund necessary infrastructure projects.
  • The Government are developing a network of rapid charging systems for electric cars, including at motorway service stations.
  • Ultimately, we must examine why British infrastructure is one of the costliest in Europe to build. We can help revive many of our small and medium sized towns which over the decades have been left behind with faster transport and internet services.

 Jonathan Van-Tam

  • On social distancing: 80% of adults in GB only left their homes for the permitted reasons, if at all. 91% of adults avoided contact with vulnerable people. 44% of employed adults worked from home compared to around 12% last year.
  • There have now been 2,219,281 tests in total. Today’s figure is a new high. There is a downward trend in the number of new cases with 233,151 cases in total.
  • An estimated 148,000 people have been infected by COVID-19 – 0.27% of the estimated population.
  • There were 902 estimated daily admissions to hospitals in England and Wales on 12th May, down from 1,134 on 5th May. 20% of critical care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. The pressure on hospitals is beginning to ease.
  • 11,041 people are in hospital with COVID-19, down from 12,802 this time last week.
  • 428 daily deaths confirmed with a positive test on 14th May. The decline on deaths on the 7-day rolling average is sustained.

Key Questions

When asked on the Government’s plan for universities this Autumn, the Transport Secretary said it is too early to say. He said that the Education Secretary “will be providing us with further guidance. In the meantime, we need to ensure that we keep social distancing in place, so that we beat the virus and allow parts of our society including Further Education to get going again.”

When asked about the growing anger in the care sector, the Transport Secretary said care homes are “specialists in infection control, often more so than hospitals. Many of them will know exactly what to do. It is certainly the case that in Europe as a whole over 50% of deaths have taken place in care homes – in England it is 25%. It is essential that they must be provided with any provision. The Government has stepped in to assist them despite the global shortage. I do not want to underestimate the extraordinary effort that has gone into care homes to allow most of them to stay COVID free.”

On antibody testing, the Transport Secretary said it is very exciting that there is a very reliable antibody test which shows whether you have had that in the past. He said, “It is very good news, particularly if it states that it makes you immune for a short period of time.” If it did provide immunity, it would be “game changing.”

When questioned whether TFL would introduce higher fares, the Transport Secretary said it was important to provide TFL a rescue package but people from outside the capital should not be unfairly carrying the burden. Sadly, fares have had to rise with inflation. He said that “Freezes only mean that other taxpayers who do not benefit from the service are unfairly treated.”

Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) Statistics

  • According to the latest OBR statistics, the measures that the Government have set out to protect the economy during the coronavirus crisis are forecast to cost £123bn for the current financial year.
  • The OBR said it also estimates that the direct impact of policy measures, such as the furlough scheme, will raise cash borrowing by £103.7bn for the year.
  • The OBR has estimated that a three-month lockdown, followed by a partial lifting for three months, would necessitate public sector borrowing of £298.4bn. This is a £25.5bn increase on the forecast from last month.
  • Furthermore, the OBR estimates that the UK economy is likely to contract by 35% in the second quarter of 2020 but is likely to bounce back quickly.

Health Update

  • A further 428 people have been reported to have died with Covid-19 in the UK. This brings the total number of deaths in all settings to 33,614.
  • There were also 126,064 tests on Wednesday carried out on Wednesday – the third time that the Government has hit its 100,000 target.
  • According to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey of nearly 11,000 people, 1 in 400 people in England has the Covid-19 virus. This means that roughly 148,000 people in England could be currently infected - 0.27% of the population.
  • Health officials in England have approved a test that will show if someone has had coronavirus in the past. The UK government have been looking for a reliable antibody test for some time.
  • Emergency hospital visits in England have halved since the coronavirus outbreak started, dropping to their lowest level since records began. Before the pandemic, more than 2.1 million patients a month were visiting Accident & Emergency departments. In April, that dropped to 916,581 patients.
  • Nadra Ahmed, Chair of the National Care Association, has told stated that care homes felt "completely abandoned" as the coronavirus crisis swept across the UK. She told the BBC that advice to the UK government to prioritise the health service without adequately protecting elderly people in care homes may have been "wrong".
  • At her daily Press Briefing, the First Minister of Scotland Nichola Sturgeon confirmed that another 34 people have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus. This brings the total number of deaths there to 2,007.
  • The Minister for Civil Society, Baroness Barran, told the BBC that the UK government wants to hear more from young people about how to tackle loneliness during lockdown. A survey carried out last month as part of a major study for the Mental Health Foundation found that 44% of 18-24-year-olds felt lonely because of coronavirus - compared to 24% of adults in general. A £5m fund was launched to combat loneliness during the pandemic earlier this week.

Government announcements

  • The Government has updated its guidance for schools, students and parents on how GCSE, AS, A level, vocational and technical qualifications will be graded and awarded in summer 2020.
  • The Government has updated its guidance on coronavirus testing, to include what to do if a care home suspects a resident has coronavirus symptoms.
  • The Government has updated its guidance to reflect that children of critical workers are encouraged to attend school, and to reflect plans for wider opening of schools from 1 June, at the earliest.
  • The Government and the Home Building Federation have co-produced a Charter, committing signatories to safe working whilst COVID-19 remains prevalent.
  • A Q&A has been jointly produced by the Financial Reporting Council and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to provide companies with additional information upon which to plan activities over the coming months. in respect of Company filings, AGMs and other general meetings during Covid-19.
  • The Government has also announced additional information on changes to insolvency laws to assist those companies for which COVID-19 restrictions make it difficult to meet statutory obligations to hold meetings and to file documentation on the Companies Register.

Business Announcements

  • IAG’s Chief Executive, Willie Walsh, has stated that plans to make 12,000 British Airways workers redundant remain unchanged despite the UK government's extension of the coronavirus furlough scheme to the end of October.
  • Singapore Airlines has reported an annual loss of almost $150m, driven by the collapse in air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Lloyd’s of London, the world’s biggest insurance market, expects to pay out between £2.4bn and £3.5bn due to the coronavirus pandemic, as it warned of a $203bn hit for the entire industry.
  • The British chief executive of French pharmaceutical company Sanofi is facing a backlash after saying any vaccine discovered by his firm will be reserved for the United States in the first instance.

Wider World Developments

  • Worldwide - The number of lives lost worldwide in the coronavirus pandemic is nearing 300,000, according to Johns Hopkins University figures, with 297,220 deaths reported.
  • USA - Another 2.98 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week as the economic toll from the coronavirus continues to mount. The new applications brought the total number of unemployment claims since mid-March to 36.5 million.
  • New Zealand - Thousands of businesses have re-opened today as New Zealand relaxes its coronavirus restrictions. Shops, cafes, barbers, and public parks are all open, as the country moves into Level 2 of lockdown, described as a "safer new normal".
  • Russia Moscow's department of health has admitted that it does not include most deaths of Covid-19 patients in official statistics because they had other potentially lethal illnesses. This comes as Russia has reported a very low reported mortality rate, with only 2,305 deaths compared to 252,000 infected.
  • Germany - Germany has reported 933 new Covid-19 infections in the past 24 hours, making 172,239 in total. The Robert Koch Institute says 89 more people have died and the reproduction (R) rate has dropped to 0.8.
  • Finland – In Finland, children are heading back to school. The Finnish teachers’ union has warned that it may not be totally safe. Children are back in class, under social distancing rules, for two weeks before the summer break.
  • Australia – The Queensland Government plans to bid for a stake in Virgin Australia. Over a dozen corporate buyers are reported to be interested in the airline. Virgin has its headquarters there, and there are 5,000 jobs at risk. At the same time, data has come out which states that the Australian jobless rate has jumped from 5.2% to 6.2% in April. This is however lower than the 8.3% forecast by economists.
  • Spain - Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll report rose above 200 on Thursday for the first time since 8 May. The overall death toll from the disease now stands at 27,321.
  • Japan - The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has lifted the state of emergency for 39 of its 47 prefectures, but said it would remain in place in Tokyo, as well as the second-largest urban area of Osaka, until the virus is contained.