Investors are now paying to lend the Government money as the Debt Management Office confirmed that they had raised £3.75 Billion with a yield of minus 0.003pc. Sky News reports that UK Government advisors are cautioning the PM to not ease the lockdown until the track and trace system is a success. In PMQs, the PM said he was confident that a test, track and trace operation would be up and running by 1st June 2020. The PM said the UK was testing more than “virtually any country in Europe” following criticism made by the Labour leader. No10 has praised its SAGE experts and disowned Cabinet minister Therese Coffey after she blamed government coronavirus blunders over testing and care homes on 'wrong' science advice.
The Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees Mogg has insisted that when MPs return to Parliament they will not be coming back to the "crowded, bustling chamber of old". The hybrid virtual Parliament has been abolished as of today. He said: "We will be observing social distancing." He dismissed criticism that his urge to get Parliament back was to provide support for the PM who has faced a few difficult PMQs with new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Labour has said MPs and their staff should be allowed to continue to work from home, as per Government advice. Mr Rees-Mogg confirmed Thursday sittings will resume in the Commons after the Whitsun recess.
In the Daily Press Conference DCMS Secretary Oliver Dowden stated that the UK was ready to begin to move to level 3 in the covid alert system. Public Health England have confirmed that there have been zero new cases in London in the last 24 hours. The Government confirmed they are looking at whether to have a medal for NHS workers as part of recognising their contribution. The PM confirmed the publication of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List will be moved from the summer to the autumn to allow those involved in the “Covid-19 effort” to be recognised. Captain Tom Moore has been awarded a Knighthood for his NHS fundraising efforts.
Daily Press Conference
Today’s Press Conference was led by Oliver Dowden, DCMS Secretary and Stephen Powis, National Medical Director NHS England.
The DCMS Secretary reiterated that the Government are establishing a new Covid Alert system. The UK has been at level 4 throughout the lockdown, now in a position to begin moving to level 3.
The Government have set out 3 steps to carefully modify the measures. The Government want to avoid a second peak. Post each step will monitor all the data and will only take the next step when safe to do so.
Step 1 was that those who can’t work from home should speak about going back to work and can exercise outside more than once a day.
Stay alert, control the virus and save lives – means stay home for the vast majority of people by working from home and social distancing. It means wearing a face covering in places where it is difficult to be socially distant such as on transport.
Mr Dowden spoke about the support the UK Government is providing for sports, arts and tourism. It has been odd to be without sport during this period. The Government are creating guidance to bring back elements of normality.
- Safe return of tv production so programmes such as EastEnders and Coronation Street can re-start.
- Re-opened tennis and basketball courts.
- Will be return of live sports behind closed doors in the near future.
The support for charities will continue:
- British people and businesses have contributed an estimated £800 million to charities during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Coronavirus community support fund with £200 million will begin this week and will be administered by the National Lottery Community Fund, will focus on charities at the local level.
- £150 million from dormant accounts to help social enterprises get affordable credit.
- £70 million is now being distributed by Comic Relief and Children in Need to charities on the frontline after the Government matched the BBC’s Big Night in Appeal.
Combined this amounts to a multi million pound boost for charities.
This week DCMS are setting up a renewal task force made up of people from the creative, tech and sporting fields. It includes alex scott (former lioness), Lord Grade former chairman of BBC and Martha Lane Fox who founded last minute.com. This will advise different areas on how to get back and running.
Announced today that delaying the birthday honours list so can honour the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic, but will be knighting Captain Tom Moore who has raised £33 million for NHS charities.
Things will return when it is safe to do so. When we have come through this together we will appreciate them even more.
Stephen Powis, National Medical Director NHS England
- Slow increase in vehicle movement perhaps reflecting the return to work.
- On public transport the levels of usage are very low.
- 177,216 tests carried out on 20 May.
- 2,962,227 tests in total.
- 248,293 people have tested positive.
- 2,472 cases confirmed as of 20 May.
- 637 admissions with COVID-19 on 18 May.
- 14% of mechanical ventilator beds occupied with COVID-19 patients. Down from 17% on the 12th May.
- 35,704 people have died of Coronavirus.
- 9,953 people in hospital with COVID-19. Down from 11,443 last week.363 daily COVID deaths confirmed with a positive COVID-19 test.
- Trend in deaths consistently downwards
Answers to Questions:
- International Development Aid: Maintaining the commitment to 0.7% of GDP in international development aid. (DCMS Secretary)
- NHS Admissions: Don’t be afraid to use the NHS, it is there for non COVID-19 cases too, we have kept cancer care going throughout. (NHS England)
- BBC Licence Fee: Clear the BBC should not take the TV licence away from the over 75’s, BBC made the right decision not to do that during this period, hope that if in a similar situation later on the BBC will show similar flexibility. (DCMS Secretary)
- Social Distancing: On 2 metre rule keeping it under review as with all guidance. (NHS England)
- UK tourism returning: Would love to get the tourism sector back up and running, worst thing would be to start and then have to slam on the breaks. Won’t, aside from the PM, find a bigger champion of the great British break than Oliver Dowden. (DCMS Secretary)
- Sports fixtures: On sports, want to get it up and running towards mid June. (DCMS Secretary)
- School re-opening: Wants to move forward as one nation. On school re-openings the Minister stated they could stagger school times or allow groups of just 15. (DCMS Secretary)
- Schools re-opening: Wants to move together as a whole country to get people back to school, wants a constructive approach of engagement. (DCMS Secretary)
- Care Homes: PM very clear about the challenges we face in care homes, the Government has published a plan and this is why they are ramping up testing and equipment into care homes. There will be a time for lessons to be learned afterwards as with any crisis. (DCMS Secretary)
- Care Homes: Patients would not have been discharged from care homes if it wasn’t safe. (NHS England)
In a fiery PMQs Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle reprimanded Health Secretary Matt Hancock for heckling the Labour leader during PMQs. Sir Keir focused on care homes, the immigration surcharge and the Government’s test, track and trace commitment.
Sir Keir Starmer questioned the Government's claims it threw "a protective ring around our care homes". He said these were "flatly contradicted by the chief executive of Care England". He said official advice up to April 15 was that negative tests were not required before patients were discharged from hospitals to care homes and asked what was protective about that. Mr Johnson responded that no one was discharged into a care home without express authorisation of a clinician. He said the number of patients discharged to care homes in March was 40% down on the January figure.
Sir Keir then asked what was causing the delay in testing in care homes. The PM said hundreds of thousands of staff and residents have been tested already and the Department of Health will "get up to 200,000 tests by the end of this month." He added: "This country is now testing more than virtually any other country in Europe."
Test, Track and Trace
Sir Keir referenced the fact that “there has been no effective tracing in place since March 12 when tracing was abandoned.” He asked “That is nearly 10 weeks in a critical period without effective tracing. That is a huge hole in our defences, isn’t it Prime Minister?” He continued: “This is the last PMQs for two weeks, can the Prime Minister indicate that an effective test, trace and isolate system will be in place by June 1, Monday week?” Mr Johnson replied: “What he heard is that we have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place, it will be in place by June 1.” He added that “there will be 25,000 trackers, they will be able to cope with 10,000 new cases a day”.
The immigration surcharge and NHS workers
The PM has rejected calls to change the immigration health surcharge for overseas NHS workers. The Labour stated he was “disappointed” as the PM knows “how raw” the issue is, adding the surcharge is currently £400 a year and will increase to £624 from October. He said, “For a care worker on the national living wage that will require working for 70 hours to pay off the fee.”
- A study, published in Welcome Open Research, found that regular handwashing reduced the risk of catching Covid-19 by 36 per cent compared with washing between zero and five times a day. Washing your hands between six and ten times a day reduces the risk of catching infections like coronavirus, new research has found.
- A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology by British scientists recommends 50 days of lockdown followed by 30 day breaks repeatedly until 2022.
- NHS England has released data which suggests that one third of patients to die with coronavirus had diabetes.
- London Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged shops to stock face coverings for commuters using London's public transport. He asked stores to help Londoners access reusable non-medical face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus in enclosed spaces post lockdown.
- The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has stated that the Government prioritised the NHS over care homes at the start of outbreak. Asked on Sky News if the government's policy was "to focus on the NHS first and foremost", he responded: "That’s right".
- The Home Secretary has confirmed that the Downing Street's scientific advisory group will be publishing its advice to the Government on care homes.
- Priti Patel told LBC: “Sage will be publishing their advice. They do that themselves, so I can’t tell you when that will be.”
- The Government has introduced changes to the Care Act 2014 to allow local authorities to prioritise care and support during the coronavirus outbreak.
Schools returning – Teachers and Doctors Unions split
- 13 councils have now expressed doubt over the timing of the return of schools. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has said that No 10 are taking all concerns "very seriously". He said 1st June 2020 was "an important date for everyone to work towards." He also said the government accepted there may be "issues" from employers that need to be addressed "which might not mean that we'll see a uniform approach".
- Around 1,500 schools could not reopen the Sun newspaper reports.
- Teaching union NASUWT said it remained "unconvinced" reopening schools was "appropriate or practicable". England is the only home nation to set a return date.
- The British Medical Association has dropped its opposition to schools reopening on the 1st June 2020, It said that schools should only reopen if “safe to do so,” but added that there was growing evidence the risk to children from coronavirus is “extremely small”.
Warning over treatment delays
- The NHS is being warned not to "lose sight" of other areas of life-saving medicine. The Institute of Cancer Research fears delays in surgery could cost more lives than the number of Covid-19 patients saved. In some cancers, a three-month delay could make the difference between a tumour being curable or not. By the end of April, cancer referrals had dropped by an estimated 70%.
- Capacity Market: The consultation has ended on the proposal to relax the rules temporarily in response to COVID-19. The Government will act to support capacity providers during the coronavirus pandemic while ensuring security of supply by easing CM milestones,
- Future Fund: The Government’s £500 million Future Fund opens for applications today (Wednesday 20 May) with innovative and high-growth British businesses able to secure investment to help them through the Coronavirus outbreak.
- UK-based companies can now apply for a convertible loan of between £125,000 and £5 million, to support continued growth and innovation in sectors as diverse as technology, life sciences and the creative industries.
- The initial Government investment is £250 million. Private investors – potentially including venture capital funds, angel investors and those backed by regional funds are expected to make up the rest.
- Coronavirus guidance in Wales for individuals and businesses has been updated to include the Future Fund.
- HM Revenue and Customs: Guidance on how to pay no import duty and VAT on protective equipment, relevant medical devices or equipment brought into the UK from non-EU countries during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
- UK Atomic Energy Authority: Update on how working arrangements are changing due to the coronavirus.
- Guidance for Schools, Colleges and other providers on safeguarding: On what they should be thinking about as they plan for more children to return from week commencing 1 June – especially around updating the child protection policy, designated safeguarding lead arrangements, protecting vulnerable children and mental health.
- Small Business Minister Paul Scully has written to all postmasters, their staff and Post Office employees to thank them for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other Parliamentary Activity
- Transport Select Committee: General secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, Brian Strutton has suggested airlines are exaggerating how much the virus is hitting them. He told the Commons’ Transport select committee: “I believe that airlines are exaggerating the problem.” He referred to research by the Iata, the International Air Transport Association which predicted that by the end of 2022 the airlines would be back to 2019 levels.
- Treasury Select Committee: In an Oral evidence session with Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, Mr Bailey said some companies were over indebted before coronavirus came along. Their problem was not enough equity. We have seen companies that have raised equity during this crisis. Discussed the possibility of swapping debt for equity. He thought some companies would seek to raise equity and preferred them to do it privately. He would not rule out negative interest rates.