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22 May 2020


Today marks the third Anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing which claimed the lives of 23 people. At the Daily Press Conference, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, updated the UK public on the Government’s plans for a 14-day quarantine for people arriving in the UK from overseas. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics revealed that borrowing has soared to a record level in April. Key evidence on the safety and impact of reopening schools was published today by SAGE, as pressure from councils and unions continues to grow on the Government regarding the planned re-opening of schools from 1 June.

Furthermore, the Government also came under criticism from Sir Paul Nurse, the chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute and 2001 Nobel laureate for medicine. Speaking to the Today Programme, Sir Paul stated that we are “desperate for clear leadership at all levels.” He went on to question whether there is a “proper governance system in the UK” that can “combine scientific knowledge with political action.”

According to the latest Ipsos Mori Poll, Boris Johnson’s ratings have fallen this month, but are still positive on balance, and higher than his scores before his illness. 45% percent feel favourable towards him (down 6 points since April), and 38% unfavourable (up 7). Keir Starmer’s ratings also continue to be more positive than negative. 34% are favourable towards him (up 8 points this month) and 26% unfavourable (also up by 5). Those with a neutral or no opinion about him have fallen from 53% to 40%.

Borrowing has soared to a record high in April.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed the cost of the pandemic to the Government’s finances as borrowing surged to the highest monthly figure on record in April.

  • The public sector spent more money than it received in taxes and other income. In April 2020, the public sector borrowed £62.1 billion, £51.1 billion more than it borrowed in April 2019.
  • Central government borrowed £66.2 billion, while local government was in surplus by £7.3 billion. This local government surplus partially reflects the increase in current transfers from central government to fund its COVID-19 measures.
  • Central government receipts fell by £16.4 billion compared with April 2019 to £45.6 billion, including £29.6 billion in tax revenue.
  • Central government spent £109.3 billion, an increase of 53.9% on April 2019.
  • Central government grants to local authorities in April 2020 increased by £14.2 billion compared with April 2019, mainly to fund additional support because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government's independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), has predicted that borrowing for the whole year could reach £298bn, more than five times the estimate at the time of the Budget in March. Speaking to the BBC, Jonathan Athow, Deputy National Statistician at the ONS described April's figure as "pretty much unprecedented". He said that the “cost of furlough schemes alone was £14bn in April.” He went on to say that “Borrowing now is about six times what it was in April last year, so we are talking about some really significant changes in the government finances."

Number 10 appoints new Permanent Secretary

The Prime Minister has promoted Simon Case, a senior UK civil servant, to a new role at the heart of Downing Street to oversee the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Mr Case, 41, currently serves as private secretary to Prince William and will take up the newly created role of permanent secretary at Number 10. His arrival follows reported tensions in Whitehall and Downing Street over the role of Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service.  Mr Case previously worked as former Prime Minister Theresa May's principal private secretary. In his new role, he will have to work closely with Dominic Cummings.

Return to School

According to a BBC Breakfast Survey, many local councils in England have now said they “cannot guarantee” primary schools will reopen on 1 June, throwing government plans to get pupils back to class into chaos. Only 20 of 99 English councils to respond to the survey said they were advising schools to open more widely on Boris Johnson's target date. Of the 99 who responded, two thirds (68), could not guarantee schools would reopen to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

Furthermore, as a straw poll of Unison members working in schools in England found that the vast majority remain concerned over the safety of their workplaces opening to more pupils on 1 June. More than 90% said the government has failed to put safety first when planning to reopen schools to nursery, reception, year one and year six pupils in nine days’ time, while 77% said their school would not have the resources to cope.

This news came as the key evidence on the safety and impact of reopening schools has been published today. SAGE have modelled a range of scenarios for school reopenings, including low-risk options for pupils attending on alternate weeks, before the government settled on a June 1 reopening plan. The papers reveal high levels of uncertainty around different scenarios for school reopenings and over the likelihood of transmission of Covid-19 virus by children of different ages. The Prime Minister’s Spokesperson has announced that they will set out more details as soon as they can and that the Government “trusts headteachers to know the best course of action for their schools.”

Meanwhile, the independent SAGE committee, chaired by the former Government Chief Scientist Sir David King, has said that new modelling of the coronavirus shows the risk to children will be halved if they return to school two weeks later than ministers propose. Delaying until September reduced the risk still further. Speaking to the Science and Technology Select Committee, Public Health England’s Medical Director Yvonne Doyle stated today that it “will be for schools to decide whether to open or not.”

Labour demands Serco investigation

Labour has demanded an investigation into how the outsourcing firm Serco revealed the details of 300 contract tracers. In a letter to Michael Gove, Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, “It has never been clear what expertise or specialist knowledge Serco can bring to contact tracing. It now appears that they are struggling to implement even basic aspects of data privacy. We need some clarity from the government about why and how Serco came to be awarded this contract; and we need reassurances that the contract tracing programme is in safe hands.”

Summary of the Press Conference

Speaking at the Daily Press Conference Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, informed the public on temporary public health restrictions to be put in place at the border, with international arrivals having to self-isolate for 14 days from 8 June. There was also an update from Paul Lincoln, Director General of Border Force.

The Home Secretary said:

  • It is crucial to stay alert and save countless more lives. We are taking the right action to prevent a second deadly wave
  • We are putting in place temporary public health restrictions at the border.
  • We must protect hard won progress and protect ourselves from a second wave
  • Imported cases of the virus could begin to pose a larger and more increased threat.
  • International arrivals will have to self-isolate for 14 days from 8th June, except for those on a “shortlist for exemptions”. This full list will be published shortly, it includes medical professionals, foreign officials and citizens from Ireland and Northern Ireland (Common Travel Area).
  • I recognise how hard the changes will be for travel and leisure sectors. The Government will work with them to find new ways to reopen travel in a safe and responsible way.
  • We will review these temporary measures every 3 weeks.
  • Arrivals will have to give their contact and address details so that we can chase them if we need to.
  • We will not allow a reckless minority to endanger us all.
  • I would like to thank all of Border Force for the role that they will play.
  • We will conduct spot checks by mid-June to ensure people are self-isolating.
  • PHE will contact people at random to ensure that they are self-isolating.
  • Anyone breaking their 14-day quarantine could face a fixed penalty notice of £1000. We will keep these measures under review and are not afraid to increase them if necessary.

Paul Lincoln said that Border Force staff are working tirelessly to keep the country safe and facilitate the re-patriation of UK nationals from abroad. He stated that they have a 5-point plan:

  1. They are ramping up communications so people travelling are aware of the process.
  2. Anyone entering the UK must provide contact details, travel plans and details of where they will be self-isolating online, unless they are in an excepted group (e.g. national security, road haulage and medical professionals) Journeys to Ireland in the common travel area will be exempt. Obtaining these details will support the test, track and trace measures that are being put in place
  3. At the border there will be spot checks. If you do not follow the procedure, border force have the right not to let you enter.
  4. Passengers will then be required to go to their place of isolation.
  5. £100 penalty for not completing the form and £1000 to those who are found not to self-isolate. We will take enforcement action against the small minority who do not follow the advice.

Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Advisor) also gave an update on the daily figures and re-iterated the importance of avoiding a second peak of the virus. He said:

  • 0.25% of people (137,000) in England had coronavirus between 4 May and 17 May.
  • There an estimated 61,000 new coronavirus infections in England per week.
  • The ‘R’ rate is between 0.7 and 1.
  • 713 people admitted to hospital with coronavirus on 20 May in England, down from 788 on 13 May.
  • 13% of mechanical ventilator beds across the UK were occupied with coronavirus patients on 21 May, down from 17% on 14 May.
  • From 14 May to 17 May:
    • 90% of adults avoided contact with vulnerable people.
    • 97% of adults tried to stay at least 2 metres away from people outside their household.
    • 86% of adults left their home.
    • 41% of employed adults worked from home, compared to 12% last year.

When questioned by the BBC whether Summer Holidays are unlikely to take place this year, the Home Secretary said the advice is not about booking summer holidays right now. She said “The advice is not to travel unless it is essential. You should follow the advice put out by the FCO. We have to be clear that we want to avoid a second wave – that is absolutely vital.” 

When asked by Sky why the quarantine did not exempt France, the Home Secretary said that there are limited exemptions when it comes to France regarding the critical supply of goods. She went on to say that “We continue to engage with our French counterparts and will keep the measures in place under review.”

Government Announcements

  • The Treasury has announced that homeowners in the UK who are struggling financially due to the pandemic will be able to extend their mortgage payment holiday for a further three months or cut their payments. Mortgage holidays were first introduced in March. Respite from payments was set to end for the first applicants in June, and the Treasury said the extension would provide “certainty” for those affected.
  • The Health Minister, Nadine Dorries, has announced that over £22 million in cash grants will be awarded to charities providing vital services to ensure they can meet increased demand as a result of COVID-19. Mental health, ambulance, social care, learning disabilities, autism and dementia charities are among those set to benefit.
  • The Government have announced that they are consulting on proposed arrangements for an additional GCSE, AS and A level exam series to take place in autumn 2020. The consultation closes on 8 June 2020.

Health Updates

  • As of 9am 22 May, there have been 3,231,921 tests, with 140,497 tests on 21 May.
  • 2,144,626 people have been tested of which 254,195 tested positive.
  • As of 5pm on 21 May, of those that tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 36,393 have sadly died. This is an increase of 351 since yesterday.
  • 254,195 cases have now been confirmed, 3,287 new cases since yesterday.
  • 9,307 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus, down 14% from this time last week (10,781).
  • The R number remains steady between 0.7 and 1.
  • Children and older adults will be included in the second phase of trials for a vaccine to protect against the virus. The first phase of the University of Oxford's vaccine trial began in April, studying adults aged 55 and under. Now more than 10,000 people, including people over 70 and five to 12-year-olds will take part to see the effect on their immune system. The government has announced that if the trial is successful 30 million doses will be available by September.

Regional Activity

  • The Scottish Government will not publish an advance timetable of set dates for when other parts of the lockdown will be eased. Speaking to BBC Good Morning Scotland, John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, stated that the easing process would follow the current three-weekly pattern governed by the lockdown regulations, but it would not copy the schedule being used by the UK government in England. A total of 2,245 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 24 from 2,221 on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said.
  • Wales has recorded 138 new cases and seven new deaths. The total number of cases in Wales is 72,984 and the total number of deaths 1,254.
  • Lockdown changes being eased in London ahead of other parts of the country was hinted at by Downing Street today.  Focus on the capital comes as the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that he and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will co-chair a London Transition Board on how the city might ease its way out of the lockdown process.  The capital reported no new Covid-19 cases in a 24 hours period earlier this week.
  • Schools in Northern Ireland will not begin to reopen to full year groups of pupils until late August at the earliest according to the Education Minister, Peter Weir.