The Prime Minister faced the Labour leader for the first time at PMQs today. Sir Keir Starmer went on the attack criticising the Government over the high death figures and the failures in care homes. The UK has become the worst hit nation in Europe with its official death toll overtaking Italy, there are difficulties comparing the data for different countries but the figures look bad for the Government.
At PMQs, the PM stated the roadmap would be announced on Sunday so the measures could begin to go into operation on Monday. Separately, the Times reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering cutting the wage subsidies in the furlough scheme over concerns the nation is becoming addicted to this support. There is speculation that Mr Sunak will announce plans next week to begin to wind down the scheme in July.
Last night the Telegraph broke news that Professor Ferguson, the scientist from Imperial College an advocate of lockdown whose reports with their dire predictions of death rates had been defying the lockdown to conduct an affair with a married woman. He has now resigned from SAGE. It is not clear what impact his departure will have on Government strategy. Significantly, part of his defence was his belief that because he had already had coronavirus he was immune. Scotland Yard confirmed they do not intend to take any action against Professor Ferguson.
Public Health England are reported to have asked for the Stay Home messaging to be taken down from their websites by this Sunday as they move to the next stage. The new slogan released today is ‘stay safe save lives.’ At the Daily Press Conference it was confirmed that the Government will continue with its levelling up agenda and that more detail on how the lockdown will end will be provided by the PM on Sunday.
The Daily Press Conference
Below is a summary of the remarks of Mr Jenrick and the presenters from Public Health England.
Robert Jenrick led the press conference with Prof Yvonne Doyle the Medical Director of Public Health England and Nikki Kanani, Director of Primary Care for NHS England.
He confirmed that the official death toll has risen to 30,076, as 649 more people have died. This figure represents the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus and who have died.
69,463 tests were carried out yesterday. That means that for the fourth day in a row the government has missed the target of 100,000 tests per day.
So far, 201,101 people have tested positive, which is an increase of 6,111 cases since yesterday. 13,615 are currently in UK hospitals with coronavirus.
Mr Jenrick stated that coronavirus won’t hold back the government’s commitment to levelling up. He said the Prime Minister will set out on Sunday how the government will move ahead. Mr Jenrick said his department will help local communities recover. Will look at specific requests for support from companies and sectors.
Regional journalists asked the questions. Mr Jenrick said a free country needs a free press and the local and regional press is under pressure, everyone who can should buy a newspaper.
This is a national effort taking place at a local level. Local Authorities have been provided with £3.2 Billion to help them meet the increased demand the virus is putting on them.
Businesses are also receiving discounts of almost £10 billion on their rates bills in response to Covid-19, with the hardest hit by the pandemic such as shops, cafes and pubs paying no business rates whatsoever this financial year. Together with existing reliefs, this means that 1.1 million rate payers are no longer paying business rates this year.
Last week also saw high streets get a financial package including 25k grants being paid to businesses. Local councils have paid out £8.6 billion in grants to 700,000 businesses. He congratulated Chichester and other councils for paying these out fast.
Every local economy now needs a plan to restart and recover and local bodies will be supported by the Government in areas such as how workspaces can be adapted, how outdoor spaces can be managed and how public transport networks can work. Each stage guided by scientific advice with social distancing, giving people the confidence to return to work and to cycle or walk to work.
The commitment to infrastructure work remains and want the work to begin again in England wherever it is safe to do so. Won’t deny the challenges the virus poses to the economy – but it won’t let it stop the government achieve its aims on improving connectivity etc.
The Government are working closely with regional Mayors. Government want to ensure that people are kept safe in their homes, with the building safety pledge, the Government have agreed with the Mayors that vital building safety work will continue. The Government were joined by 25 local government leaders in this pledge. Building work will begin to restart in these cases.
At start of March Mr Jenrick established a task force to support local resilience forums (LRFs), these include local leaders of the emergency services, council and the NHS and military planners. A comprehensive and coordinated response is being delivered nationwide. LRF’s have delivered 67 million items of PPE across England since crisis began. 1 million boxes of food and essential supplies to those identified as extremely vulnerable by the NHS have been provided.
Unfortunately, we will need to mark VE day from home this year. Speaking with veterans about this – as we rebuilt and recovered after VE day we will do so again this year.
Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement
- Primary Care services still available, more phone consultations and dressed in PPE but still there
- She said she wants to thank people for following the government advice
- The NHS has had to step away from routine procedures in the last few weeks but now want to return to the core services.
- Paid thanks to those working in the sector
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director and Director of Health Protection for Public Health England
- Daily tests have increased.
- More new cases are a matter of concern but also a matter of testing. Need to find the positive cases so we can break transmission.
- North West England is now getting more cases than in London but overall a decrease.
- In the 4 home nations – less than a third of critical care beds are being occupied by coronavirus patients and this is declining.
- Recorded deaths are slowly coming down – 649 yesterday and that was a decline.
- International deaths – depends on the size of the country but in terms of rate per million population – UK and EU countries are closer together.
- Far too early to say how countries have fared in this epidemic, need to give it time, a year or so.
- Where services have had to stop such as immunisations we need to move as soon as possible to restore them when it is safe.
- Getting confidence of parents and teachers essential to the return, face masks are not everything, need a variety of measures including good hand hygiene and cleaning the classrooms. Working with trade unions to get this right.
Members of the public asked why the UK has had more deaths compared to Italy whose healthcare system was overrun by the virus. Mr Jenrick answered that excess deaths will be the measure but we won’t know for a while yet the full picture.
Mr Jenrick was also asked about why religious services are not being allowed. Mr Jenrick stated he knew it was tough but was right we stick to the medical advice at this time to protect others. Mr Jenrick is in discussions with faith leaders about when to restart services and how to conduct funerals during this time.
There was a significant focus on whether adequate resources were being provided for local councils dealing with the virus impact, whether there would be a regional split in when the lockdown would end and on the health inequalities that exist between different regions. Mr Jenrick highlight the funding that has been made available and reiterated that information on the lockdown would come on Sunday but the strong preference was to leave the lockdown as one.
Mr Jenrick was asked about the job losses at Rolls Royce but did not comment on any specific measures to help the company beyond general business support measures. The Government will consider support for individual companies but will have to explore general government schemes, external finance and shareholders before direct help for a company.
PMQ’s – the first bout between the PM and the new Labour leader
Sir Keir Starmer opened with the death figures, that 29,427 in UK have lost their lives to the virus, the highest figure in Europe. He asked how on earth did it come to this? Sir Keir then followed up with questions on care homes and why the Government had not “got to grips” with the situation. He also criticised the Government’s abandonment of contact tracing in mid March and the fact that many professionals are having to purchase their own PPE. He urged the Government to put a plan in place to address the PPE issues and to come to the House of Commons on Monday to present the Government’s overall plan.
The PM acknowledged the high death figure but said the data is not there to allow for accurate international comparisons. He acknowledged the epidemic of coronavirus in care homes but said the figures were improving. He confirmed the move to a new target of 200,000 tests a day by the end of this month. The tracing capacity was not there in mid March as the Government moved out of the containment phase and the transmissions exceeded capacity. Now there is the capacity to track and trace hundreds of thousands of people. Mr Johnson pledged to set out the PPE plan this Sunday.
Significantly, the PM said there will be a statement on Monday and he would answer questions. The PM said - We had to be sure that the data would support our ability to do this. We want to get going with as many measures as possible on the Monday and therefore setting them out on the Sunday allows us to do this.
- The Chancellor has confirmed that more than 69,000 Bounce Back Loans worth over £2 billion have been approved during the first 24 hours of the scheme.
- The revaluation of business rates will no longer take place in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the impacts of coronavirus.
- DCMS have released guidance on how businesses can help voluntary, community and social enterprise groups during the coronavirus outbreak. It confirms that the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is acting as a central hub where offers of support from businesses are being assessed against needs arising from the COVID-19 response.
- BEIS have released detail on additional resources to support business, employees and the self employed through the coronavirus epidemic, they include online digital and numeracy courses, webinars, helplines and a growth hub where they can get advice on how to access sources of finance etc.
- Leaders from 25 councils have pledged their commitment to ensuring vital building safety work continues during the pandemic.
- Nadine Dorries has been promoted to Minister of State at Health.
- BEIS have released an impact assessment calculator for policy officials to use in policy considerations.
Government response to emerging questions around borders, testing and 5G
- Home Office Minister James Brokenshire stated that shutting the UK borders would not have had a big impact on the spread of the virus but said this will be kept “under review”.
- He was probed on the decision after chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said most of the coronavirus strains being spread across the UK in March came from people returning from Spain and Italy.
- Figures provided to the home affairs committee by the Home Office show that between January 1 and the end of March 18.1 million people entered the UK without any health checks including from coronavirus hotspot countries. Of these, just 273 were quarantined.
- Mr Brokenshire confirmed that the UK Government decided to stop testing and tracing for the virus in the community on March 12 due to a “shift” in expert advice.
- The Government’s 100,000 daily test target has not been met for the 3rd day in a row. Mr Brokenshire stated the capacity was there but demand will vary.
- DCMS have clarified that there is no link between 5G and coronavirus following false social media reports.
- The new chair of the BEIS Select Committee has been elected and it is Labour MP Darren Jones (Labour, Bristol North West). His statement can be found here. He got 296 votes out of 544 cast.
- The new chair of the Standards Committee is Labour MP Chris Bryant.
- The Mail on Sunday’s Deputy Political Editor Harry Cole reports that the PHE Regional communications team has reportedly sent out a message to take down all stay home messaging from websites, social media and any other available channels by Sunday 10 May 2020. They envisage that they will move to “a new phase of the campaign” when the PM signals a roadmap out of lockdown.
- Ofqual is consulting on changes they intend to make to their existing guidance in relation to malpractice and maladministration so affected parties can comment on these changes to their Conditions of Recognition. This closes on 1 July 2020.
- The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released plans to track the impact of the lockdown on UK prices.
- The ONS has produced a paper on how the global outbreak of COVID-19 and the wider containment efforts is expected to impact upon the UK Labour Market. It states that the impact of the virus through the temporary closure of businesses, the increase in remote working and introduction of social distancing are having an impact on collecting survey data from households and businesses on which it relies to produce its stats.
- The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is producing guidance and information for industry, healthcare professionals and patients on the development of vaccines in cooperation with covering the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
- The Office for Product Safety and Standards has updated its guidance on how it is supporting businesses, local authorities and consumers during the coronavirus pandemic regarding the small scale manufacture of PPE.