Chancellor Rishi Sunak addressed the nation in this evening’s government press conference, where he sought to reassure the public on the state of the economy following a report by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which modelled a scenario – based on a three-month lockdown period – in which the impact of coronavirus on the UK economy would see GDP shrink by 35% in the second quarter of the year and see unemployment rise by 2 million. The Chancellor defended the government’s existing range of measures that have been put in place to support businesses, employees, the self-employed, charities and households across the country; and stated that the government has given public services an extra £14.5 billion over recent weeks. Sunak said “our plan is the right plan” and encouraged people to continue following the advice on social distancing, and thus protecting the health of the people and reducing the burden on the NHS.
While the OBR’s report sets out one scenario as the result of a 12-week lockdown, it does present a bleak picture of what an extended lockdown period could mean for the UK economy. While Rishi Sunak has defended the action that the government has already taken, HM Treasury said earlier today that the OBR’s forecast would not change the government’s current policy and result in an earlier end to the lockdown. Former Chancellor George Osborne has said the OBR’s figures are “staggering” and warned that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be with the economy long after a cure is found. Furthermore, the OBR’s report comes on a day where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the global economy would suffer its deepest recession in almost a century.
The spotlight on coronavirus cases and deaths in the UK has turned to the plight of older and vulnerable people in care homes, after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its latest weekly death figures for England and Wales, which includes those in care homes. More than half of coronavirus deaths outside of hospitals are taking place in care homes, and the ONS figures suggest that on a daily basis, coronavirus deaths are running over 50 per cent higher than the hospital figures announced by the government. The increasing number of Covid-19 deaths occurring outside of hospital comes at a time when the government is under intense pressure to deliver adequate PPE to care homes, with shadow social care minister Liz Kendall calling for daily figures on the number of deaths due to coronavirus taking place in care homes. Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, confirmed in this evening’s press conference that the government is aiming to publish daily figures on out of hospital coronavirus deaths, but acknowledged the difficulties in doing this quickly.
The Chancellor confirmed this evening that tomorrow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will provide an update on social care in light of the coronavirus crisis.
Summary of the press conference:
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer
- On the report released by the OBR today, it is important to be clear that these numbers are not a forecast or a prediction – they simply set out what one scenario could look like and it may not even be the most likely one. However it is important that we are honest with people on what is happening in the economy. There are three key points to make:
- The OBR figures suggest the scale of what we face will have serious implications for the economy here at home, just like other countries around the world. These are tough times, and there is more to come. We can’t protect every business and household, but we came into this crisis with a sound economy, powered by the hard work of the British people and businesses. While the economic impacts are significant, the OBR expects them to be temporary, and that we can bounce back with economic growth.
- We won’t stand by and let this scenario happen. Our response is about protecting businesses, the employed, the self-employed, charities and households. We will support all these while the restrictions are in place, and once these restrictions change, we will get people back to work as quickly as possible, get business moving again and recover the economy. The OBR is clear these policies will do that. The OBR is also clear the situation would be much worse if we hadn’t taken the actions we did. Our plan is the right plan.
- Right now, the most important thing we can do for the health of the economy is to protect the health of our people. This is not a case of choosing between the economy and public health – doing so would be self-defeating. When we are seeing hundreds of people dying each day, our priority is to focus all our resources – not just of the state – but businesses and all those at home too, to beat the virus. The Government’s approach is to follow the scientific advice at each step to reduce hospitalisations and to protect the NHS’ ability to cope. Whatever the NHS needs it will get. Yesterday we published an update showing that we have given public services an extra £14.5 billion over recent weeks, and more NHS capacity with more beds, key staff and equipment. The Health Secretary will announce updated plans on social care tomorrow.
- As of today, 302,599 people have been tested in UK for coronavirus, with 93,873 testing positive. A total of 19,706 people have been admitted to hospital, down from 20,184 yesterday. Sadly 12,107 people have now died in hospital, an increase of 778 fatalities since yesterday. These figures are a powerful reminder for us all of the importance of following government guidance – stay at home, protect the NHS and save live
- [When asked about the cost of the crisis for a whole generation] – I am deeply troubled by the [OBR] numbers and it will be difficult in the short term, but will say – and what the OBR report confirms – is that the measures we put in place can significantly mitigate the impact, for example the jobs retention scheme. The reason that’s a good thing, is that when we get through this, we can bounce back as quickly as possible. I hope the measures put in place enable us to bounce back like the OBR have said. On public finances, this year the OBR is right to say there will be a significant increase in borrowing to fund these measures, which is absolutely the right decision, and the cost of not doing that would be far worse than what we are doing. If we get a relatively swift bounce back, our public finances on a year-to-year basis should return to a more normal position as the current measures are only temporary.
Professor Stephen Powis, Medical Director, NHS England
- The main strategy is social distancing: stay at home, avoid social contact, and ensure the spread of virus is reduced so over time so that we will see a reduction in the number of infections. We continue to see evidence that the British public is complying with instructions.
- Transport graph – much reduced use, both public transport and private motor vehicles. We need to keep it that way.
- Infection rates graph – there is a plateauing in the number of new UK cases although not everyone symptomatic is being tested, so the data won’t be a complete reflection
- Hospital beds graph – this is stabilising and plateauing, not just in London but also in places like the Midlands. The benefit of social distancing is now beginning to manifest in a stabilisation of hospital admissions.
- Global death comparison – this number will reduce last, will take the longest to change but those benefits will eventually translate into the reduction of daily deaths.
- We are beginning to see the benefit of the undoubted hardship we’ve been asked to go through, so it is really important that the benefits are maintained and that we continue to follow instructions so we get on top of the virus.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director, Public Health England
- [When questioned on out of hospital deaths] – The ONS collects total deaths, as was downloaded today. We are working with the ONS to speed this up so there is quicker information available. It is a bit more complex for care homes; there is a range of places in the community as there are deaths at home and in hospices as well as care homes. In disperse systems such as these, we need the cause of death attributed to be correct on death certificate. We would like data to be made available on a daily basis and we are working towards this.
- A report published today by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said that the coronavirus lockdown could shrink GDP by 35% in the second quarter of the year, see unemployment rise by 2 million and see public sector borrowing hitting 15% of GDP, the largest since the Second World War – if the lockdown were to last three months.
- Rishi Sunak has said that banks are working through a backlog after overwhelming demand for take up of the coronavirus business loan scheme. He said that “I think you’ll see the numbers tick up considerably into the thousands this week, which will be comforting”, after banks ensured their staff were working over the Easter weekend to help process the backlog.
- The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is meeting today to consider its evidence for government about the case for extending the lockdown. The government will respond to the SAGE advice, with next steps on the lockdown to be announced on Thursday.
- The Prime Minister’s spokesman said at today’s lobby briefing that Boris Johnson is still off work, and is not engaged in any government business. He said that the priority for the PM was for him to “rest and recover” and that his medical team had advised him not to return to work immediately.
- The government is expected to resume post-Brexit talks with the EU next week, in an experiment with negotiations by video link. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is due to speak to his opposite number David Frost on Wednesday, where they are expected to agree a timetable for talks in April and May, including several days next week.
- The government has said that figures for how many workers are being furloughed under the government’s job retention scheme will be available when the online portal is operational at the end of April.
- The Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has returned to work at Number 10 after being off sick with coronavirus symptoms.
- Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has said that Labour are seeking to have “as constructive a relationship as possible” with the government in order to defeat coronavirus. She said “I know that Keir [Starmer] has been seeking to work with government as much as is possible and he’s had a number of discussions, as I understand it, with different individuals involved with government.”
- Dodds has also said she is concerned about the low take-up of the coronavirus business loan scheme, and that more information is needed to establish whether the government’s intervention is effective. She told BBC Breakfast: “we really think the government needs to be actually publishing statistics around these different programmes. We need to know how many applications have been made, and how many have then been successfully awarded.”
- The government will reveal more later this week about its plans for a partial ‘virtual parliament’ when MPs return from Easter recess next week.
- MPs sitting on the Justice Select Committee have been told by rehabilitation charity, Nacro, that the number of offenders being sentenced to short term prison sentences will outstrip the number of prisoners set to be released early as part of plans to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
- Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall has called for the publication of daily figures showing how many people have died with coronavirus in care homes.