The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, solely led a slimmed down coronavirus press conference today. The first part of the conference was dedicated to updating the nation on coronavirus statistics; 40,261 people are now confirmed to have died from coronavirus in the UK.
In the second part of the conference, Mr Hancock announced a strengthening of NHS England workplace safety practices from June 15, namely the instruction that all staff, patients and visitors must wear at least a type 1 or 2 surgical mask at all times in NHS settings. He also instructed people not to break social distancing rules by attending gatherings or protests of more than 6 people, in reference to protests related to George Floyd’s death, a tragedy which he labelled as “appalling”.
In post-Brexit trade negotiations, there was no breakthrough at the culmination of the fourth round of negotiations between the UK and the EU today. Despite this, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc remains committed to a “successful outcome”, with UK Chief Negotiator David Frost pledging to “work hard” to reach an agreement.
There have been “no significant areas of progress” in negotiations – this was the assessment of EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier following the conclusion of the fourth round of talks between the EU and UK on a future relationship. The UK Chief Negotiator, David Frost, echoed this sentiment, stating that “progress remains limited”, albeit “positive in tone”.
Mr Barnier acknowledged that the two sides are “very far” from reaching agreement in key areas, namely on fisheries and the level playing field clause which dictates that there is to be a degree of commonality between EU/UK rules and standards. Mr Barnier has argued that the UK negotiating position backtracks on this clause which is outlined in the political declaration, and is pursuing a separate fisheries deal untied to the wider trade deal. Mr Frost has accused the EU of going beyond what is appropriate for a free trade agreement in its demand for level playing field commitments.
There is appetite on both sides to move to face-to-face talks, with both negotiating teams highlighting the constraints of remote negotiating. Mr Barnier said he hopes to restart face-to-face talks by the end of June.
On extending the transition period, Mr Barnier reiterated last week that the EU has “always been open to extending this period by one or two years”, Downing Street has made it abundantly and repeatedly clear that the UK will not agree to an extension. The Withdrawal Agreement allows until the end of June for an extension to be legally requested by the UK.
Business leaders in Northern Ireland have called for the deferral of new Brexit trade checks, due in January, by at least six months. They warn that the plan for checks still lacks crucial details after “little or no engagement” with the UK Government. Regional trade bodies have said that coronavirus disruption means businesses have “little bandwidth of financial capability” to deal with new post-Brexit arrangements.
This plea follows all three of the devolved Governments requesting the UK Government to extend the transition period, due to concerns that a new regulatory regime at the end of the year would bring another level of damaging disruption to businesses following the impact of coronavirus.
The Prime Minister’s former economic adviser, Gerard Lyons, has called on the Prime Minister not to raise taxes as the UK moves out of the worst of the pandemic. In a Policy Exchange paper, Mr Lyons argues that the Government should lower taxes without austerity-reminiscent spending cuts, with investment and infrastructure being financed through more borrowing.
In terms of a ‘green’ recovery, Business Secretary and Cop26 President Alok Sharma launched the “Race to Zero” campaign this afternoon at a U.N.-hosted videoconference. The aim is to get countries, regions, businesses and investors to sign up to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, now Cop26 financial adviser, and the CEOs of Rolls Royce and Nestle supported this campaign.
The Shadow Business Secretary, Ed Miliband, has launched a “rapid consultation” to inform the party’s Green New Deal strategy for post-pandemic recovery. Businesses, sector associations, unions, workers, green campaign groups and the public are encouraged to submit ideas to its consultation to explore what a green recovery should look like. The consultation, which will run until the end of June, will involve virtual round tables, as well as town hall style engagement events online.
The Daily Press Conference
Matt Hancock, Health Secretary
- In England, the number of people who had coronavirus fell from 139,000 between 3-6 May, to 53,000 between 17-30 May.
- In the UK, the R across is between 0.7 and 0.9. The R is highest in the North West.
- In the UK, between 26 April and 30 May, there were 5,600 new coronavirus infections per day.
- These trends are “encouraging”.
- In the UK, 5,214,277 coronavirus tests have been carried out in total, including 207,231 yesterday. This number includes antibody tests.
- People who have had coronavirus can help someone who is currently suffering in hospital with the virus through donating their blood with plasma in it. This was done by the Health Secretary today and can be done by members of the public through accessing the NHS antibody website.
- In the UK, the total number of past and present confirmed coronavirus cases has reached 283,311, with 1,650 cases confirmed yesterday.
- In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 694 people were admitted to hospital with Covid-19 on 3 June, this is down from 740 on 27 May.
- In the UK, 571 mechanical ventilator beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients, down from 751 on 28 May.
- In the UK, there are 7,080 people in hospital with Covid-19, down from 8,285 this time last week.
- In the UK, 40,261 people are confirmed to have died from coronavirus, 357 people yesterday.
- The ONS has reported that 48,106 are suspected to have died, including those who were not confirmed to have coronavirus with a test.
- Progress has been made in the fight against the virus, but there is so much more to do.
- Further steps are being taken to support the NHS from 15 June:
- All hospital visitors and outpatients will now need to wear face coverings.
- New guidance will be provided for NHS staff in England. All hospital staff will be required to wear type 1 or type 2 surgical masks. This will apply at all times. This is in addition to current guidance on PPE.
- A similar approach will be looked at for care homes.
- The death of George Floyd is appalling. Coronavirus still remains a real threat and it is vital people stick to the rules. For the safety of loved ones, people should not attend demonstrations or gatherings of more than 6 people.
- OBR Furlough Scheme Analysis. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the furlough scheme will cost less than expected because many employers have been primarily using it on part-time and low-paid workers. The OBR now estimates that the gross cost will reach £60bn, down from a previous estimate of £84bn.
- Charity Funding Package. The Department for Education has announced a £7m funding package for a coalition of charities that help young people and their families most affected by coronavirus.
- Global Vaccine Summit. The Acting High Commissioner to India, Jan Thompson, has announced that Global Vaccine Summit, hosted by the UK yesterday, has secured £6bn in funding to support global vaccine supply and immunisation. India’s Prime Minister Modi attended and highlighted India’s capability to produce low cost vaccines.
- Air Bridges. The Financial Times has reported that Turkey, Greece and Spain are keen to work with the UK Government on air bridge exemptions from the 14-day quarantine that starts on Monday. The Turkish Government is reportedly looking for an agreement on this to begin on July 14.
- The Chief Executive of British Airways owner IAG has said that the company is considering legal action against the Government’s quarantine plans. Ryanair has said it will support any legal action launched by IAG against the “ineffective” quarantine.
- EHRC Inquiry. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has set up an inquiry into racial inequalities highlighted by the pandemic. The inquiry will have the power to compel evidence from Government departments.
- Northern Ireland. The Stormont Executive has agreed to the easing of more lockdown restrictions. From Monday, many restrictions will be in parallel with England, including vulnerable people being allowed outdoors and car showrooms being allowed to opened; shops in retail parks will be allowed to reopen, a week ahead of England.
- Scotland. Scottish Government Chief Economist has warned that economic output in Scotland may not recover to pre-crisis levels until the start of 2023.