The Joint Biosecurity Centre, which was set up to advise the Government on managing Covid-19, has recommended that the Covid-19 alert level should move from Level 4 to Level 3. Medical Officers from England (Professor Chris Whitty), Scotland (Dr Gregor Smith), Wales (Dr Chris Jones) and Northern Ireland (Dr Michael McBride) have all agreed with this recommendation.
A Level 3 alert means that “a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation”, as opposed to the Level 4 alert that “a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation and transmission is high or rising exponentially”. The recommendation has been made on the basis that the number of cases continues to steadily decline in all four nations, although local outbreaks are still “likely to occur”.
The Department of Health confirmed that the level has been changed “with immediate effect”, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock stating that it is “a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus”.
This level now means that a gradual relaxing of restrictions and social distancing measures can take place, possibly giving the Government the green light to take the third step in their lifting of restrictions, which they have stated will take place on 4 July at the earliest and will be subject to the scientific advice. This step could see a controlled public reopening of personal care businesses (hairdressers, beauty salons), hospitality businesses (food service providers, pubs, accommodation), places of worship and leisure facilities (e.g. cinemas).
When the Prime Minister was asked today whether the 2-metre social distancing rule could be relaxed to facilitate restrictions being lifted, namely more children going back to school in September, he said “watch this space”. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson took the press conference today but wouldn’t be drawn on a date for when the 2-metre rule review will be completed.
Mr Williamson did confirm that the Government’s intention is to bring all pupils in all year groups back to school by September. Robust protective measures will be in place to allow this, including expanding the size of ‘bubbles’ in schools to encompass whole classes. He did not detail what social distancing rules will be in place when they reopen, although further guidance will be issued to schools in the next two weeks to allow them to prepare for a full September reopening.
The Covid catch-up plan, which was announced last night, was also outlined by the Education Secretary at the press conference. This £1bn fund will be split into two parts:
- £650m to be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020/21 academic year. Head teachers will decide how their share of the funding is spent, with the Government expecting it to be spent on “small group tuition for whoever needs it”.
- £350m National Tutoring Programme. This programme is aimed at increasing access to high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged young people over the 2020/21 academic year.
Daily Press Conference
Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary
- The Covid-19 alert level has moved down from 4 to 3. This is supported by the Chief Medical Officers of all four nations.
- The pandemic is not over yet.
- 7,433,114 tests have been carried out in total, 169,600 of these yesterday.
- 301,815 people have tested positive in total, 1,346 of these yesterday.
- The R rate is unchanged on last week (0.7-0.9). We want to keep this below 1.
- 494 people were admitted to hospital on 16 June, down from 534 on 9 June (England, Wales, Northern Ireland).
- 354 mechanical ventilator beds were occupied with Covid-19 patients on 18 June, down from 392 on 11 June.
- 5,030 people are currently in hospital, down from 5,608 this time last week.
- 42,461 people are confirmed to have died in total, an increase of 173 on yesterday.
- We want as many children back in schools as possible, hence the recently afforded flexibility to primary schools.
- All children in all year groups will be back in school by September.
- The wellbeing of children is a top priority. There are robust protective measures in place.
- It is in every child’s best interests to return to school if they are eligible and available.
- Further guidance will be issued in the next two weeks for safety in schools.
- Currently ‘bubbles’ in schools will be expanded to include the whole class in September.
- On the catch-up plan:
- We will not allow an entire generation to lose out on education.
- The £1bn Covid catch-up plan will lift outcomes for all pupils.
- A universal catch up premium, worth £650m, will support all state school children in England to help them make up for the lost teaching time.
- The Education Endowment Foundation has published advice on how this money could be best spent.
- Schools will be able to tailor the funding to their needs.
- Within the £1bn funding, it will include a £350m tutoring programme aimed at disadvantaged children and young people.
- Over the coming weeks we will publish further guidance to help schools prepare for a full return in September.
Key Government Activity
Public Finances. Figures released by the Office for Budget Responsibility show that tax payments received by HMRC over the last 2 months are down 43% from the same period last year, whilst central government spending has increased by 48%. As a consequence of this, government borrowing during the past two months has reached £103.7bn, £87bn more than the same period last year and the highest since records began in 1993. The UK’s national debt at the end of May was £1.95trn, which is the equivalent of 100.9% of GDP and at the highest level since 1963 following a record-breaking £173.2bn increase in the last year.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated that “Today’s figures confirm that coronavirus is having a severe impact on our public finances. The best way to restore our public finances to a more sustainable footing is to safely reopen our economy so people can return to work”.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released a report on which predicts the state of public finances going forward. It predicts that borrowing this year will rise to levels “not seen since the Second World War”, with the economy taking “several years to adjust”. The UK will need to source £30-40bn through savings or tax increases in order to stabilise debt at 100% of GDP. The end of the transition period on December 31 also “risks hampering the recovery further, potentially compounding the damage to output in the longer-term”.
Schools Reopening. The Prime Minister has stated that he expects all children, primary and secondary, to be back in the classroom five days per week from September. In a visit to a primary school earlier today, he confirmed that this would be the case provided that classrooms can be made safe. On relaxing the 2-metre social distancing rule to enable this, he stated “watch this space”.