The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, is now on his third day of deputising for the Prime Minister, who continues to battle coronavirus in St Thomas’ Intensive Care Unit. The message from Number 10 is that Boris Johnson’s condition is stable and he is responding to treatment, and although he is receiving oxygen, he is not on a ventilator and does not have pneumonia. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, subsequently announced that Johnson is “sitting up in bed” and “engaging with doctors”.
Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases, wrote today on the length of time that the Prime Minister may need to recover for if he makes it out of intensive care – “I would expect most people who were that ill, to need at least a month or possibly two to be sufficiently back and to be able to function”.
With the Prime Minister’s condition and recovery period in mind, there are growing questions today over the level of authority that Dominic Raab possesses, and will continue to possess, whilst Johnson is out of action. Lord Heseltine, former deputy Prime Minister under John Major, has written in The Telegraph that a time “must come when a deputy is effectively Prime Minister, I don’t think we’ve quite got to that now”.
In terms of lockdown measures, the Welsh Housing and Local Government Minister, Julie James, has confirmed that the current movement restrictions “will remain in place next week” in Wales, with it currently unconfirmed whether this will also apply to the rest of the UK.
Health Minister Edward Argar stated that it is “not the right moment” for the entire UK to consider relaxing the restrictions. The formal UK review of the current restrictive measures is due to take place on Easter Monday, three weeks after such restrictions were initially imposed. Jeremy Hunt, former Health Secretary of State and current Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, has said that he does not think lockdown restrictions will be lifted next week.
Today’s coronavirus press conference failed to bring further clarity on Raab’s authority or when the UK-wide lockdown measures could be eased, but it did include an announcement of a substantial package of support for the UK charity sector. £750m of funding was announced for the sector by the Chancellor, who also confirmed the news that the Prime Minister’s condition is improving.
See below for our summary of today’s press conference and other significant developments.
Coronavirus Press Conference
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer
- 232,708 people have now been tested for coronavirus. 60,734 have tested positive. 19,438 have been admitted to hospital. 7,097 people have now died, an increase of 938 people since yesterday.
- The Prime Minister is receiving “excellent care” and his condition is improving. He has been sitting up in bed and engaging positively with the clinical team.
- Charities “have not been forgotten”.
- We will not be able to match every pound of funding that the UK’s 170,000 charities have received this year. Charities can already use many Government schemes, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
- Charities will receive £750m of funding from Government.
- £370m of that funding will support small, local charities working with vulnerable people. In England, this support will be provided through organisations like the national Lottery Communities Fund. £60m of this funding will be allocated through the Barnett Formula to other UK nations.
- £360m will also be provided to charities providing essential services to support vulnerable people. Up to £200m of that funding will be used to support hospices, with the rest going to organisations like St John’s Ambulance and the Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as charities supporting vulnerable children, victims of domestic abuse, or disabled people.
- The Government will match, pound for pound, whatever the public donates to the BBC’s ‘Big Night in’ on the 23rd April. This will start with the Government donating at least £20m to the National Emergencies Trust appeal.
- “We need the gentleness of charities in our lives”.
Professor Angela McClean, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser
- The spread of the virus “is not accelerating out of control”. This is good news.
- The rate at which hospital admission is “definitely lower”. We are getting towards a flattening of the curve with respect to this.
Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England
- The NHS also has the capacity to deal with other emergency conditions, as well as coronavirus.
- Review of lockdown measures. On the review of movement restrictions, which is due to be announced on Monday after confirmation from Downing Street, Health Minister Edward Argar has stated that the Government is not currently in a position to say that the evidence is there to enable them to make the necessary changes [and ease restrictions]. Argar told Sky News, on the possibility of the coronavirus lockdown being relaxed or ending soon, that “we’re not there yet” and “we will be led by the scientific evidence”. Wales’ devolved Government has confirmed its restrictive measures will remain in place beyond Monday.
- Brexit negotiations. The UK’s Chief Negotiator, David Frost, has confirmed that “UK-EU contacts have been continuing in these difficult times”. Legal texts are being exchanged and technicalities clarified, with Frost hoping to reach an agreement next week with the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, on a timetable for the discussions needed in April and May.
- Antibody tests. Public Health England have announced today that none of the 100,000 COVID-19 tests the Government aimed to be conducting each day by the end of April will be antibody kits. The tests will measure polymerase chain reactions instead. Ministers had touted that antibody testing would have been rolled out by the end of April, but have since backtracked on dates.
- Furloughed workers guidance. BEIS has updated its guidance for furloughed workers to allow some to undertake additional work “if contractually allowed”. The change comes after industry groups sought clarification of furloughed workers’ status. The farming industry welcomed the move after warning of labour shortages, but the new guidance does not go as far as the social care sector would like as people could not temporarily join the NHS workforce unless their contract allowed.
- Poll on lockdown ‘crackdown’. The Home Office has refuted the assertion by The Daily Mail that “a third of Brits think the police have gone too far with their lockdown crackdown”. The Home Office commented that “the headline is misleading” and that “the research has found 74% of the public support the police approach”.
- Retail sector. The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, has written a letter to the UK’s retail sector thanking them for following the Government’s direction. In the letter he reiterated that he knows “that for many of you, your job requires you to travel to your place of work. You can continue to do so”.
- Manufacturing sector. The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, has written a letter to the UK’s manufacturing sector to pay tribute to them in keeping the UK’s economy going. In the letter he writes that “manufacturing is a critical part of our economy” and “there is no restriction on manufacturing continuing under the current rules”.
- Schools reopening. An unnamed Minister is alleged to have told The Times that “we need to be led by the science, of course. But if we can reopen schools after the Easter holidays things could begin to get back to normal. It could kick-start the economy”.
- The DCMS Committee Chair, Julian Knight, has written to the Chancellor to issue a rescue package to support charities. Knight stated that “people need the support of charities now more than ever yet the future of this sector is in jeopardy”. He called for the government to “take immediate steps to support charities”. According to the committee, charities face losing up to £4 billion in income and if nothing is done many will face insolvency within weeks.
- 26 ex-cabinet ministers, including Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, and Esther McVey, have joined calls for an emergency hardship fund for charities.
- The DCMS Committee has also launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on a wide range of sectors within its scope. It will consider the effect of social and financial measures both in the immediate and long-term future. Evidence session are expected to held from late April.
- The House of Commons have published a briefing paper which discusses the Frequently Asked Questions on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which can be found here.