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30 Mar 2020


This evening’s Government press conference was led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who outlined what steps the Government is taking to bring home British nationals who are still overseas. The Government will make available £75 million to support airlines to run charter flights to pick up passengers where no commercial flights are available. Airlines who are still running commercial flights have been instructed to fly UK nationals home at little or no additional cost, with British tourists encouraged to arrange commercial flights home as soon as possible. The elderly and those most at risk – in addition to large groups of UK nationals who are in some countries – will be prioritised over the next week.

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance shared several slides which showed how public transport use has dramatically decreased – indicating that the new measures are beginning to work – and data on the number of positive coronavirus cases and hospital admissions, which, while rising, are not increasing at an alarmingly rapid rate at the moment.

Earlier in the day, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London told Radio 4’s Today programme that the spread of coronavirus is showing ‘early signs’ of slowing down since the lockdown, and today’s death toll for England of 159 was lower than Sunday’s 190 and Saturday’s 209. However, these figures also come on a day when the Government confirmed that the ONS will begin collating whole-UK figures that include deaths in the community, as current figures only include deaths within hospitals. In addition, the Government remains under pressure to increase rates of testing, following confusion over the amount of tests being carried out in Britain each day. Health Minister Helen Whately confirmed today that only 7,000 tests each day were being carried out, instead of the target of 10,000.

The increasing negative effect of the coronavirus outbreak – and subsequent lockdown measures – on the UK economy has become starker still today. BrightHouse and Carluccio’s have gone into administration while the price of oil has sunk to its lowest figure since November 2002. Meanwhile, large companies such as Uber, Morrisons and NatWest have made public their own large-scale initiatives to support communities affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The behaviour of businesses in reaction to coronavirus is already receiving scrutiny by the Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, who today published a further selection of concerns by workers who are anxious about the actions of their employers in relation to being forced to go into non-essential workplaces; and the actions of their employers and other staff when in the workplace.

Coronavirus Press Conference

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab who set out what the Government is doing to return home British tourists and travellers who are still overseas. Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance provided an overview of current coronavirus statistics in the UK.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab

  • Announced a new arrangement between the Government and airlines to fly travellers home where commercial flights are not available.
  • Government will work with British Airways, Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan in the first instance to fly passengers home from next week, beginning with a range of priority countries.
  • Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines remain responsible for providing alternative flights at little or no cost, and to enable passengers to use alternative carriers where needed. Britons who are overseas are advised to book air tickets as soon as possible and not to wait.
  • Where commercial routes are not operational, the government will provide a designated £75 million to support airlines to run chartered flights to bring travellers back home. Options for Britons overseas will be promoted through government travel advice and the High Commission in each country.
  • Priority passengers will be the most vulnerable, including the elderly and those with pressing medical needs. Other passengers to be prioritised will be in countries where there are large numbers of UK nationals trying to get home.
  • The Government has been working on improving advice and its call centre to enable quicker information to those who need it. The FCO will continue to work with partner countries around the world and will work ‘round the clock’ to advise and support British people to return home.

 Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

  • Outlined public transport statistics showing that use of transport has reduced dramatically since February, and confirmed that the measures are making a difference by decreasing contact.
  • Confirmed that there has been an increase in positive tests for coronavirus since mid-March but that we should expect the measures in place will reduce the number of cases of transmission in the community and a decrease in the overall number of cases. As the curve flattens, it should result in a decrease in the number of people needing admission to hospital.
  • Showed that the curve of cases is going up in a constant amount, not an increasing amount; however it is expected to get worse over the next two weeks, to be followed by a stabilisation and gradual decrease thereafter.
  • The number of hospital admissions is going up approximately the same amount each day, showing no acceleration at present.

 Government activity

  • Testing. Public Health England contradicted both Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove by saying that Britain was not yet carrying out 10,000 tests a day, as they had claimed on Sunday. Health Minister Helen Whately clarified PHE’s information on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, saying that while the NHS had ‘achieved the capacity to have 10,000 people a day tested’, only 7,000 people a day were being checked. The NHS has meanwhile told hospitals to devote 15% of their daily testing to staff and to prioritise the families of doctors and nurses who are showing symptoms.
  • Coronavirus spread. Leading government adviser Prof Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, has said the spread of coronavirus in the UK is showing ‘early signs’ of slowing down since the lockdown. He told Radio 4’s Today programme that the numbers hadn’t yet ‘plateaued’ and were still increasing each day, but ‘the rate of that increase has slowed’.
  • ONS statistics. Downing Street have confirmed that, from tomorrow, the Office for National Statistics will begin collating whole-UK figures including deaths in the community on a weekly basis.
  • NHS workforce. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that 20,000 former NHS staff have answered calls for them to return to the workforce.
  • Ventilators. A consortium of UK manufacturers, including Rolls-Royce, have received a government order to build 10,000 ventilators to help treat coronavirus patients.
  • University admissions. There are reports suggesting that the Government is set to cap the number of students that each university in England can take on in an effort to avoid a free-for-all on admissions as universities face financial uncertainty due to the coronavirus outbreak. Each university could face limits on the number of UK and EU undergraduates it can admit for the academic year in September, which will be the first limit on numbers since the university admissions cap was lifted in 2015.
  • Coronavirus in government. Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser, is self-isolating after developing coronavirus symptoms over the weekend. Cummings will remain in contact with his No.10 colleagues during his quarantine period.
  • G20. Trade Secretary Liz Truss is set to speak to her G20 counterparts during a trade and investment ministerial meeting. They are set to discuss the importance of ‘maintaining essential goods supply chains to reduce risk and disruption to global health.’

Parliamentary and regional activity

  • The BEIS Select Committee have published a further selection of concerns from workers in businesses across the UK, who told MPs that they are being put at risk by employers who insist they keep working, despite the coronavirus lockdown. Select Committee Chair Rachel Reeves said:

“When this pandemic passes, business will have to answer for how they treated their workers and suppliers. The Government will be judged on the effectiveness of their response. Many businesses will be able to tell of how they did everything they could while others will be found wanting. The BEIS Committee will continue to press for action on these issues and hold the Government and businesses to account for their response to this pandemic.”

  • Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has written to the Prime Minister today, calling on the Government to remove the five-week wait for Universal Credit by introducing an automatic, non-repayable advance payment from day one; and to remove the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition, which we says can take up to six months to remove.

NHS update

  • The number of people who have died in England after contracting coronavirus now stands at 1,284 – a rise of 159 from yesterday.
  • A breathing aid that can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care units has been developed by mechanical engineers and medics from University College London and UCL Hospital, and the Mercedes Formula One team. The continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device was created in under a week and has been used in hospitals in Italy and China.
  • Around one in four NHS doctors have been signed off from work sick or in isolation, according to the President of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).
  • Six more people have died in Scotland, bringing the total there to 47. A total of 1,563 people have tested positive for coronavirus, up by 179 from Sunday. This comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested that a temporary emergency hospital could open at the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow.
  • There have been 14 new coronavirus deaths overnight in Wales, bringing the total number of deaths to 62.
  • Northern Ireland has recorded one more death from coronavirus, bringing the total death toll in the province to 22.
  • Chair of the Health Select Committee Jeremy Hunt MP told Radio 4’s World At One that the UK should be testing its entire population for coronavirus.