Pressure mounts on the Government to set out a plan on how to lift the lockdown.
The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, set out the Scottish Government’s Framework for Decision Making on Covid-19, stating that testing, tracing and isolating virus carriers was at the heart of its plans. The framework underlined that returning to normal is not on the cards in the near future and that the Scottish public must still adhere to the current rules.
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, led the daily press conference. When questioned on potential changes to the lockdown by Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC, he stated that the five tests that the Government had set out need to be met before any changes can be made. He said that the message remains the same - to stay at home and safe lives. He underlined that the Government are following a rigorous programme of test, track and trace. He also pledged that any essential worker will be able to get a coronavirus test from tomorrow through the gov.uk portal.
Meanwhile, Conservative MPs are continuing to raise concerns about the impact of the lockdown on business. Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Treasurer of the 1922 Committee of Backbench Conservative MPs, told the Today Programme that the UK needed to start a discussion "about how we get back to normality" or some businesses would have to cease trading.
On the media rounds, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, stated that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” but caution was needed regarding a vaccine. He re-confirmed the Government’s commitment to reach its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.
Daily Press Conference
Health Secretary, Matt Hancock
- The Government is working through our action plan to protect life and the NHS, by slowing the spread of the virus and ensuring the NHS is always there to treat all people who need it.
- 583,496 tests have now been carried out, with 23,596 tests carried out yesterday.
- Although the number of 616 deaths is lower than previous days, we must maintain our resolve and follow the social distancing rules which are working.
- To lift the measures too soon and risk a second peak would be a mistake. It would be bad for the nation’s health and the nation’s economy.
- We can only start to lift the measures when the daily death rate falls consistently and consecutively.
- The 100,000 tests a day target, is a challenging one. Capacity has now increased from 41,000 to 51,000 tests a day. We are now in a position to expand on who can get tested.
- From tomorrow, any essential worker who needs to get a test, can get a test through gov.uk. Employers of essential workers can also go on gov.uk to book tests from today. This also applies to those who are in essential workers households. Essential workers will be based on the original list set out by gov.uk.
- He praised the role of pharmaceutical companies who have stepped up to the plate including GSK and AstraZeneca.
- He set out that home tests will also start to be introduced and that the armed forces will also play a vital role with mobile testing.
- Stressed that we need to find out how many have coronavirus and how many have had coronavirus.
- Tracing is critical to keeping the virus under control. We are trailing an app which alerts those who have been in contact with you in recent days if you or they could have coronavirus.
- Letters are also arriving on doorsteps today. If you get a letter, please respond and take part in this research.
- We need to kick-start contact tracing as the number of new cases of the virus begins to fall. We are hiring and training up 18,000 people in order to roll out the service.
- Finally, he thanked all British Muslims for their support for the measures which is all the more challenging during Ramadan.
Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance
- Preventing the spread – Most people are avoiding contact with vulnerable people. 85% of adults have not left their home or only left for permitted reasons in the past seven days. Social distancing is having a big effect.
- New cases – Testing capacity is increasing, which is resulting in a greater number of observed cases and the number of new cases is flattening.
- People in hospital – Over the last 24 hours, the number of people in GB hospitals with COVID-19 has fallen and is 10% lower than one week prior.
- Critical care beds – The % of critical care beds that are being used for COVID-19 patients is more stable and has now fallen in England to less than 50%.
- Daily Deaths – The number of daily deaths has flattened and is beginning to fall, but we must keep following the necessary social distancing measures.
Co-ordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme, Professor John Newton
- Our 5-pillar testing programme is designed to ensure those who need a test can have one. The testing capacity has doubled over the last two weeks – it is now at 51,000 tests a day. We also have three new lighthouse labs, which can process tens of thousands tests a day and we are introducing automation in this process. We are on track to reach 100,000 tests as planned and we are actually ahead of where we thought we would be at this stage.
- We already have more than 30 drive through centres in the UK and there are 48 planned, with the Army’s help.
- The new web portal will help transform access to testing via employer and self-referral.
- We are also building new and better blood tests. The UK Rapid Testing Consortium is working on an antibody test.
- The Government plans to borrow £225bn from bond market investors to fund the increase in public spending during the coronavirus pandemic. The Treasury has indicated that its Debt Management Office – which sells bonds to finance the government’s spending requirements – would offer investors £180bn worth of gilts to buy between May and July, on top of £45bn already planned for April.
- The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, has announced new measures to protect the high street from aggressive rent collection and closure. The Government will temporarily ban the use of statutory demands and winding up orders where a company cannot pay their bills due to coronavirus, to ensure they do not fall into deeper financial strain. The measures will be included in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill. The Government is also laying secondary legislation to provide tenants with more breathing space to pay rent by preventing landlords using Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (CRAR) unless they are owed 90 days of unpaid rent.
- The Welfare Minister, Will Quince, told the Work and Pensions Committee this morning that there were 1.5m applications for universal credit in the six weeks to 12 April. He said that there had been a “significant slowdown” since then, but “applications were still three times the normal level.”
- According to the Financial Times, the Treasury is resisting calls for a £2bn bailout of UK universities insisting they should not be treated differently to other hard-pressed sectors. following a proposal from Universities UK (UUK), the sector’s lobby group. The proposal has promised to cut costs, accept restructuring and rein in predatory admissions policies that risked leaving less prestigious institutions facing bankruptcy as the result of students being poached by better-resourced academic institutions. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is expected to review the UUK request in the coming days.
- In her daily lunchtime press conference, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon set out the Scottish Government’s framework for combatting Covid-19. She described the framework as a “first cut”, stating that we “need to be prepared to adapt and change course as we go. We can’t rule out having to reapply restrictions in the future.” The paper will evolve into a detailed plan with metrics, milestones and measurements attached to it.
- In addition, the First Minister stated:
- Certain businesses in certain sectors can reopen but they may have to change the work to keep social distancing.
- Classrooms may have to be redesigned for social distancing, with not all children returning to school at once.
- Limited outdoor activity might have to start earlier than indoor activity.
- Big gatherings and events are however likely to be off for some months to come.
- Will use public health interventions and technology as much as possible including the tracing and isolation of certain people. Preparations to make it possible are also underway.
- Will discuss with the UK government stronger surveillance measures for those coming into the country from elsewhere.
- The House of Commons will no longer sit on Thursdays for the time being. It will continue to meet on Mondays (from 2.30pm) and Tuesdays/Wednesdays (both from 11.30am). Virtual Select Committees will continue to have the option of sitting on Thursdays, as well as the House of Lords via Microsoft Teams.
- Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP for Rochdale, is out of intensive care. He was admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary three weeks ago after falling ill with coronavirus.