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LACA view

27 Mar 2020


Despite efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, Boris Johnson has today announced that he himself has been infected by the virus. The Prime Minister confirmed in a video this morning that he has tested positive after developing mild symptoms over the last 24 hours. He is now self-isolating for seven days, but will “continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference”.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who leads on the preparedness of the NHS for the virus, has confirmed he has tested positive and is self-isolating. The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, is also self-isolating after experiencing coronavirus symptoms. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is not self-isolating due to not experiencing any symptoms.

Today’s daily press conference was led by Michael Gove (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), where he provided updates on how the virus is progressing and in what ways the NHS are preparing for an expected increase in infections.

Notably, Michael Gove said: “I also want to thank those people in the hospitality and catering sector who have stepped up, who are doing everything they can to support the vulnerable. John Vincent of Leon is making sure his doors stay open as takeaways to feed the NHS. It is that sort of collaboration between citizens, the voluntary sector, backing from Government and enlightened business people who will beat this virus and I am thankful to everyone making this contribution.”

See below for our summary of today’s press conference and other significant developments.

Coronavirus Press Conference

In the absence of the Prime Minister or Health Secretary, today’s press conference was led by Michael Gove who updated the nation of what steps are being taken in response to an ever-increasing number of the public who are becoming infected by coronavirus. The key points from the conference are as follows:

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

  • 113,777 people have now been tested in the UK, with 14,543 testing positive. 759 people have now died.
  • The rate of infection has been doubling every 3-4 days.
  • The number of NHS beds is being expanded, the number of health staff is increasing and life saving equipment is being invested in.
  • The Prime Minister is continuing to lead the response through video conferencing. He has today brought together research institutes, business and universities to consult on how to increase testing capacity.
  • Antigen tests will be trialled immediately amongst frontline workers, with hundreds expected to have been tested by the end of the weekend, to be scaled up next week.

Sir Simon Stephens, Chief Executive of the NHS

  • Over 6,200 confirmed coronavirus patients are in hospitals across England today, with the number bound to rise.
  • 33,000 beds are now available to treat coronavirus patients following reconfiguring hospitals.
  • The go ahead has been given to build temporary hospitals in Birmingham and in Manchester, with more to follow.
  • Staff testing will be rolled out across the NHS from next week, with frontline workers the priority.

Government Activity

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Guidance has been released for employers. The guidance outlines the companies and employees that are eligible for the scheme and some of the practicalities around employees being furloughed.
    • It has also been confirmed that the Government will pay employer national insurance and pensions contributions for businesses that keep staff on their books and use the job retention scheme to pay their wages.
  • Vaccine funding. The Government has pledged a further £210 million to an international coalition, that met yesterday over video conference, as they step up their efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and urged other nations to make similar commitments.
  • Ventilator scheme. On the Today programme this morning, Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, stated that over 3,000 companies have responded to the Government’s challenge to manufacture ventilators. The Government want see prototypes in a matter of weeks before large-scale production. Sharma also reiterated that Government are trying to move at pace. Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of National Health Service providers, has said that a shortage of ventilators was already a “real issue” for hospitals in London.
  • Renters. The Government has issued guidance on the enhanced measures to protect renters affected by coronavirus.
  • Property market. The Government has issued guidance telling people in the early stages of buying or selling their home to delay the transaction while emergency measures were in place. It said that no visitors were allowed into properties, including estate agents, surveyors and potential buyers.
  • Rough sleeping. The Minister for Local Government, Luke Hall, has written to all local authorities in England asking them to find a way to house all rough sleepers. The letter states that communal night-shelters and any street encampments must be closed down for the time being as they are high risk for spread coronavirus. The aim now is that everybody can have an offer of accommodation by this weekend.
  • Statutory annual leave. The Government have announced that employees who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to Covid-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years.
  • Competition law. The Government is to suspend competition law to support Isle of Wight ferry routes which are a “crucial lifeline between the island and the mainland”.
  • Personal Protective Equipment. New guidance on PPE for healthcare workers is due to be updated within 48 hours. Currently healthcare workers only need to wear PPE when a patient has coronavirus or suspected coronavirus.

Self-employment Income Support Scheme

Regarding yesterday’s announcement of a package to support for the self-employed, Rishi Sunak has today received praised from the former Shadow Chancellor and Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ed Balls, who commented “praise where praise is due – the Government is taking the brave and right course – it will help Britain bounce back quickly when the crisis is over”.

There has, however, been some criticism directed at the Chancellor over the speed of delivery of the support package, with self-employed individuals and the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Mel Stride, highlighting that waiting until June for financial aid is too long. Business Secretary, Alok Sharma (Business Secretary), has defended the wait by stating that the implementation of the support is “highly complicated”.

Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has attacked the Government for the gaps in their support and has offered to work with Government to overcome gaps such as the provision for supply teachers and foster workers. McDonell has also highlighted issues with bank lending, saying that there are reports of some banks increasing overdraft charges from 7% to 39% which is causing problems for the self-employed who are trying to source finance while they wait for the government scheme to kick in.

Business Developments

  • Carluccio’s is reported to be on the brink of calling administrators in after being forced to close its restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic. They are understood to be lining up FRP Advisory to handle an insolvency process that would put more than 2,000 jobs at risk.
  • Britain’s biggest rent-to-own retailer, BrightHouse, will collapse into administration next week, putting 2,400 jobs at risk. Grant Thornton is to be appointed as the administrator within days following the withdrawal of support from investors for a proposed restructuring.
  • Owner of Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has said he is “deeply apologetic” following his insistence that Sports Direct is an essential business to keep open and his communication with the Government over this.
  • Gatwick Airport has announced that it will temporarily close one of its two terminals following the extreme decrease in demand for flights due to the pandemic. A full airport closure is still being considered as the Government’s flight repatriation programme comes to an end.
  • Tesco is to limit new online shopping orders to 80 items after a surge in the size of their average online order. The restriction will also allow the company to expand its delivery operation to more customers, especially the vulnerable.