Here’s a summary of some of the key events in another day of fast-moving developments in the UK as the coronavirus pandemic continues:
- Boris Johnson says it is too soon to ease the lockdown. Speaking outside Downing Street after spending time recuperating at Chequers, the prime minister said although he acknowledged the pressure to relax the rules, he highlighted that this was also a moment of “maximum risk”. He said: “This is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle [coronavirus] to the floor, and so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity. This is the moment when we can press home our advantage. It is also the moment of maximum risk, because I know that there will be many people looking now at our apparent success and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.”
- The NHS will restart some vital services, including cancer care, from tomorrow, health secretary Matt Hancock says, as he admitted the government has a “lot of work” to do to hit its 100,000 a day testing target. Some 29,058 tests had been carried out in England, Scotland and Wales in the 24 hours up to 9am on Saturday, according to the latest figures, suggesting the Government is way off its 100,000 a day target set for this Thursday. But Hancock claimed the government was “broadly where we expected to be” in terms of testing capacity but admitted there was a lot of work to do to hit the 100,000 a day goal.
- A further 360 people have died in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours after contracting Covid-19, representing a dip in the daily number of fatalities. It means that so far 21,092 people have died in UK hospitals to date after testing positive for the virus. The figure does not include those who have died in care homes so the true coronavirus death toll is likely to be significantly higher. The 360 daily death toll is down from 413 yesterday.
- The families of NHS and social care staff who die during their coronavirus work will get payments worth £60,000, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced. The government is looking at what can be done to help the families of other frontline workers who have died during the crisis, he says. So far, 82 NHS and 16 social care workers have died during the pandemic, he added.
- Firms will be able to get loans worth up to £50,000, chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced, as part of a ‘bounce back’ scheme for businesses with 100% government backing. Companies will be able to get loans worth up to 25% of turnover, with a maximum payment of £50,000, he told the Commons. The government will pay the interest for the first 12 months, he says. And the government will back them 100%. He describes them as “bounce back” loans, and he says people will be able to apply from Monday next week. There will be no forward-looking eligibility test, he says.
- Children are falling ill with a new and potentially fatal combination of symptoms apparently linked to Covid-19, including a sore stomach and heart problems. The children affected appear to have been struck by a form of toxic shock syndrome. Some have been left so seriously unwell that they have had to be treated in intensive care. At least one has undergone extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, which is used when someone’s life is at risk because they can no longer breathe for themselves.
- The names of some of the experts on the scientific group advising the UK government’s response to the coronavirus crisis will be published “shortly”, the government’s chief scientific adviser has said. It comes after the Guardian revealed the involvement of the prime minister’s chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings, in meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). Cummings’ attendance and participation in the group’s meetings raised questions about the independence of its scientific advice. After mounting pressure on Downing Street to disclose more details about the group – whose membership and advice the government has kept secret – Sir Patrick Vallance told a briefing for science journalists that the identities of the experts are usually revealed after the emergency is over, and that had also been the advice for the coronavirus crisis.
Here’s a video snippet of the health secretary Matt Hancock’s earlier announcement that the families of NHS and social care staff who die during their coronavirus work will get payments worth £60,000.
The government is looking at what can be done to help the families of other frontline workers who have died during the crisis, he says. So far, 82 NHS and 16 social care workers have died during the pandemic, he added.
Matt Hancock's press conference - Summary
Here are the main points from the press conference.
- Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, said the coronavirus epidemic had “a very long way to run”. He also implied that further peaks were likely as social distancing measures start to ease. Asked about the likely overall death toll, he said:
My view, actually, is we need to view this epidemic over the long run, and this has got a very long way to run.
I’m really cautious about putting out these kind of absolute numbers, because this could go in a lot of different ways over the next many months until such time as we have a clear exit that has a vaccine or drugs or some other route that allows us to be able to say we now can stop people dying from this.
And later he said:
This has got a very long way to run. Just thinking about the first peak, which due to the fantastic work the whole nation has done and the work of the NHS we have actually managed to go through - we have still got some way before it is falling right off - but there is a long, long way to go beyond that. And I think it’s a big mistake, in my view, just to consider just the first phase. We need to consider the epidemic as a whole.
Ministers insist their priority at the moment is to avoid a second peak. Whitty’s comment suggests the scientists think some sort of second peak is inevitable.
- Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that he was “very worried” by reports of a small number of children needing treatment in intensive care for for a condition called “multi-system inflammatory state”. Whitty said it was “entirely plausible” that this was linked to coronavirus. (See 6pm.)
- Whitty was unable to reassure grandparents that they will be able to hug their grandchildren any time soon. He was responding to a question submitted by Lynne, a woman from Skipton, who was the first person to participate under a new initiative allowing a member of the public to submit a question every day. She asked:
I’m missing my grandchildren so much. Please can you let me know if, after the five criteria are met, is being able to hug our closest family one of the first steps out of lockdown?
Whitty said this would depend on whether Lynne has a “significant medical problem in a way that means she has to be shielding and she’s an older person”. He went on:
If she’s in a group that’s vulnerable, then the answer is it might well be prudent - and this will depend entirely on individual circumstances - for her not to get into a situation where she’s putting herself at risk.
We understand the impact of not being able to hug your closest family. We just hope we can get back to that as soon as possible.
- Hancock announced that the families of NHS and care staff who have died from coronavirus will receive payments of £60,000. He said 82 NHS workers and 16 social care staff had died so far. He went on:
I feel a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for their loved ones. Today, I am able to announce that the government is setting up a life assurance scheme for NHS and social care frontline colleagues. Families of staff who die from coronavirus in the course of their essential frontline work will receive a £60,000 payment. Of course, nothing replaces the loss of a loved one but we want to do everything we can to support families who are dealing with this grief.
The scheme could be extended to other frontline workers, he said.
- Hancock said some NHS services which had been paused due to the coronavirus outbreak will be restored from tomorrow.
- He said the government would be able to run a contact tracing system with 100,000 coronavirus tests (the government’s target for the end of this week) being carried out a day.
- He said there were 3,190 spare critical care beds - adding “42% of oxygen-supported beds in the NHS now lie empty”.
- He did not rule out the government introducing quarantine for travellers arriving in Britain in the next phase of the crisis. According to the Sunday Telegraph, the government may put new arrivals in quarantine for 14 days. Asked about the proposal, Hancock did not deny it was an option. He said:
Given the current level of infections, level of new cases in the UK, and the very low amounts of international travel that’s going on right now, it is clear that the impact on the epidemic as a whole of the number of people coming through the borders as a proportion is very low.
But as we bring the number of new cases down in the UK, that proportion coming from those who are travelling internationally will rise. That means the judgment in the measures needed at the border changes.
More detail from the situation inside the country’s jails as my colleague Jamie Grierson reports that the latest Ministry of Justice figures show the increase in confirmed cases of Covid-19 among prisons in England and Wales is continuing to slow.
As at 5pm on Sunday, 324 prisoners had tested positive for the coronavirus across 71 prisons, an increase of less than 1% in 24 hours. The number of prison staff confirmed to have the disease increased by 1% in the same period to 296 workers across 59 prisons.
There have been 321 confirmed cases of coronavirus among prisoners and 293 among staff. There are 81,500 prisoners in England and Wales and about 33,000 staff working in public sector prisons.
Five members of prison staff and 15 prisoners are known to have contracted Covid-19 and died. The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, struck an optimistic tone earlier on Monday as he told MPs “cases and deaths are much lower than originally predicted” in prisons with “positive signs” the approach was working, although he cautioned: “We are not out of the woods yet.”
Opposition politicians in Gloucestershire have called for a public investigation into the decision to allow the Cheltenham racing festival and other sporting events to go ahead in March in the days immediately prior to the nationwide lockdown.
Data about the higher number of cases in the county compared with other parts of the south-west has led to growing questions as to whether the four-day event attended by 125,000 people could have led to a spike in the numbers who caught the disease and even died.
Paul Hodgkinson, the Lib Dem opposition leader on the county council, highlighted “emerging evidence” picked up by the Somerset County gazette, which show a marked uplift in cases in Gloucestershire from March 31, a little over two weeks after the festival ended on March 13.
He said that the Lib Dems in Cheltenham “are subsequently calling for a public investigation into whether Government encouragement to proceed with sporting fixtures and mass-gatherings, at a time when other countries were struggling to contain Covid-19, increased the spread of infections throughout the UK and put the health of Cheltenham residents and visitors at risk”.
Last week the Guardian reported that public health experts said there should be an inquiry into whether Cheltenham led to a spike in coronavirus cases after mortality data showed that more people had died in Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trusts (148) than nearby two trusts in Bristol (75 and 70) plus those in Swindon (79) and Bath (50). But local public health officials have been reluctant to make any connection with the festival, arguing that Gloucestershire is a separate case from the rest of the south west, with one nearby trust, Worcestershire Acute hospitals, registering 178 deaths. They say that “a number of factors” are behind Gloucestershire’s case number.
Just 33 prisoners have so far been freed from jail early as part of efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19, despite plans to release thousands.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) pledged earlier this month to release up to 4,000 low-risk prisoners on temporary licence to ease overcrowding, as well as pregnant inmates and mothers with babies, but it has managed only a tiny fraction of that number.
It comes as there are now confirmed cases in more than half of jails in England and Wales. A total of 321 inmates are confirmed to have contracted coronavirus as of 5pm on Saturday, and 15 have died, the justice secretary has confirmed. As many as 293 prison staff have also tested positive for Covid-19 in 53 jails and five have died.
All offenders must pass a risk assessment before their release is approved. But plans to release a “significant number” over the last week had to be put on hold after six inmates were released by mistake due to an “administrative error” before being returned to prison, the MoJ said.
Answering questions in the House of Commons on Monday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Progress has, I admit, been careful and slow, but we have reached a position now where, also taking into account the release of pregnant women, a total of 33 prisoners have been released.
It’s a scheme that I did not embark upon lightly, it is the result of very careful risk assessment, so that we want to minimise any risk to the public, and of course it’s coupled with the reduction that we’ve seen in prison places and prison capacity of about 3,000, which to my judgment and the judgment of those who advise me, is already making a big difference in creating the space that we need in order to increase compartmentalisation and to reduce the spread of the virus.”
In another plan, low-risk offenders could be moved into temporary prison cells in the grounds of seven jails so fewer are sharing. Prison charities have launched legal action against the Justice Secretary, claiming measures taken so far to address coronavirus behind bars are “unlawful” because they will have a “manifestly insufficient impact”. They have called for a judicial review if urgent action is not taken to address their concerns.
Bad news for music fans as it has been announced, perhaps inevitably, that the annual Latitude Festival has been cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The popular music and arts festival, which was due to take place in Suffolk in mid-July with headliners including Liam Gallagher, the Chemical Brothers and Haim, will offer refunds via ticketing partners or let people retain their tickets for next year. Confirming the cancellation, organisers said in a statement on Twitter:
We’ve been closely monitoring this unprecedented situation and it’s become clear that it’s just not possible for this year’s festival to go ahead. Our heart goes out to the fans, artists, suppliers, performers, volunteers - our entire Latitude family.”
The statement added: “We’re going to put our all into planning the best Latitude you’ve ever been to and can’t wait to see you in July 2021. For now keep safe, keep healthy and look after each other.”
Hancock says, if he had been told a month ago the NHS would be able to get to this point without its capacity being over-run, he would have been very pleased.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
Hancock says the new Nightingale hospitals will not be used for general medical procedures.
But they will ease the pressure on other hospitals, allowing more non-coronavirus patients to be seen.
Powis says the Nightingale hospitals show how the NHS can be agile and flexible, adapting its model of care.
Whitty says new condition affecting small number of children may be linked to coronavirus
Q: How long will it take for NHS operations that have been suspended to be reinstated?
Hancock says the most urgent treatments should be rescheduled first.
What happens will have to be locally driven, he says.
Q: What do you know about the condition affecting a small number of children with coronavirus-type symptoms? (See 9.38am.)
Hancock says he is “very worried” about this and officials are looking at it closely.
Powis says only a small number of cases have appeared. But he says the NHS and Public Health England are looking into this urgently.
It is too early to say whether there is a link to coronavirus, he says.
But he says this sort of disease is very rare. If parents are worried about their children, they should ring 111, or 999. The NHS is there for sick children.
Whitty says this is a very rare situation. But he says it is “entirely plausible” that there is a link with coronavirus.
He says the numbers involved are very small.
And here is an article from our colleague Ian Sample, the Guardian’s science editor.
Q: Will the government cancel beer duty?
Hancock says he will raise this suggestion with the chancellor. But he says Rishi Sunak’s loan scheme announced today is an important step.
Q: So are you saying there is no plan for opening schools?
Hancock says it is “too early” to make decisions on this.
People should follow the social distancing rules, he says.
Whitty says there is “room for manoeuvre” between where R is now, and R hitting 1.
The government is looking at what options are within those boundaries, he says.
He says these are ultimately decisions for ministers.
But he says there will have to be “difficult choices”. You cannot do everything people want and still keep the R below 1, he says.
Hancock says the NHS never stopped treating people.
But, because it now has more capacity, it can do some procedures that were halted.
Powis says the NHS is not undertaking some of the services that were paused. He says some cancer treatments were delayed for good clinical reasons.
He says this should not be seen as evidence that the lockdown is being relaxed.
The NHS can do this because the lockdown has been successful at reducing Covid numbers, he says.
Q: To what extent has your advice on sending children to school changed? If they did go back, what impact would that have on the R number? And can children spread the virus amongst themselves?
Whitty says the great majority of children do not get coronavirus, or only have minor symptoms. But there are a small number of relatively severe cases, he says.
He says having schools open does contribute to increasing the R. Closing schools helped to get R below 1.
He says there is quite a debate around the world about the contribution children make to the spread of this virus, and whether there is a difference between young children and older children. But we don’t really know, he says. It is a new disease.
He says children probably spread this less than they spread flu. But he says people are not sure what impact opening schools would have on R.
Powis says the NHS has been worried about people not seeking treatment because they don’t want to go to hospital because of the coronavirus situation.
Attendance at A&E is down, he says.
He says it will become clearer over time what impact this is having on people’s health.
But “the NHS is always there for you”, he says.
Whitty says the government currently has an antibody test that can give a “ranging shot” as to the proportion of people who have been exposed to coronavirus.
But he says they do not have a test that can say, with absolute confidence, whether an individual has had it.
Q: There were reports over the weekend that you may start quarantining people arriving in the UK. Why did you change your mind on this? And does that mean you do not want people to holiday abroad?
Hancock says the government has been very clear that it is following the science. At the moment, given the levels of coronavirus in the UK and the low level of international travel, the impact of people arriving on the coronavirus epidemic is very low. But as these factors change, the judgment will change, he says.
Whitty says the lower the reproduction number (R), the quicker the peak will move away.
And the lower the R is, the more flexibility there is for ministers as they consider how they might ease the lockdown. The lower it is, the more “room for manoeuvre” they have.
Q: What is your estimate of R for hospitals and care homes?
Whitty says it is falling in hospitals.
It is harder to work out for care homes, he says. But he says there is new ONS data coming out tomorrow.
He says it varies from care home to care home.
Q: What explains the mismatch between what you said the death toll might be initially, and what the situation is now?
Whitty says he has always avoided putting a figure on the number of likely deaths. He repeats the point about how this has a very long way to go. He says it is a “big mistake” just to look at what is happening in the first wave.
Whitty says coronavirus crisis has 'very long way to run'
Q: What would be a realistic figure for deaths now? We have missed the target of keeping deaths below 20,000?
Whitty says the hospital death figure is already above that. He says the all-cause mortality figure will be higher.
He says you have to look in the long run, “and this has got a very long way to run”, he says.
He says that is why he is very cautious about putting numbers on likely deaths.
Q: Will retired NHS staff who have come back to the NHS qualify for these new life assurance payments?
Hancock says this is for frontline staff in NHS and social care. And the government is looking at what other groups it might refer to.
Q: And if they take this money, that won’t stop people suing for compensation if they feel negligence has been an issue?
No, says Hancock.
Q: Why are you so keen to get the reproduction number down to 0.5. Prof Neil Ferguson says he thinks the number is between 0.6 and 0.7.
Whitty says he has never said the target is 0.5. He has said it is probably in a range between 0.5 and 1, probably around the mid point. He says he has said keeping it below 1 is essential. Above that, the disease will spread at an exponential rate.
Q: Are you on track to meet your testing target?
Hancock says he is broadly on target.
Home testing has been very popular, he says.
He says the government wants to make it as easy as possible for people to get these tests.
Hancock reads out the first question from a member of the public.
It is from Lynne, in Skipton, North Yorkshire. She has not recorded a message, so Hancock reads it out. She says she is missing her grandchildren. Will being able to hug grandchildren be one of the first steps out of lockdown?
Hancock invites Whitty to answer. Whitty says it will depend very much on whether Lynne is in a shielded group, and on her age.
Hancock says he understands how hard this is for people.
And he says this shows how questions from members of the public can be as hard to answer as questions from journalists.
Whitty is speaking now, and presenting the daily slides.
He starts with the five tests.
Next is a slide on transport use. The picture is broadly stable, he says.
Whitty says the number of coronavirus cases in hospital is falling.
But he says the number of people in critical care is not falling so quickly.
Hancock says that, from tomorrow, cancer treatments in the NHS that have been on hold will resume.
UK hospital deaths rise by 360 to 21,092
Hancock also said there had been 360 new coronavirus hospital deaths in the UK. That takes the total UK coronavirus hospital death toll to 21,092, he said.
Hancock says families of NHS staff who die from coronavirus to get payments worth £60,000
Hancock says families of NHS staff who die during their coronavirus work will get payments worth £60,000.
And he says the government is looking at what can be done to help the families of other frontline workers who have died during the crisis.
Hancock starts by saying today, for the first time, a member of the public will ask a question. He says this is being introduced in response to strong demand for members of the public to be able to ask a question.
It will be selected by a polling organisation, he says. He says he does not know what the question will be.
More than 15,000 people submitted questions, he says.
Matt Hancock's press conference
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has arrived for the daily government press conference. Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, is also here, along with Stephen Powis, the medical director for NHS England.
Here is an analysis from the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at Oxford University of today’s coronavirus death figures for England.
And here is a chart from the report showing death figures on the day they occurred.
This is from Mel Stride, the Conservative chair of the Commons Treasury committee, on the Rishi Sunak loans announcement. (See 3.44pm.)
The Treasury committee continues to receive evidence that some of the government’s schemes to help businesses get through this difficult time are too complex and too slow.
I have called for government to consider 100% guarantees for smaller-sized loans, so the introduction of “Bounce Back” loans is extremely welcome.
However, the success of the new scheme will still depend on the actions of lenders. It is essential, therefore, that there is full and regular transparency on the progress of this scheme in order to get this further vital lending out the door fast.
Sunak hints furlough scheme could be gradually scaled back after June
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has already announced that he will extend the coronavirus job retention scheme, which pays firms to furlough staff on salaries of up to £2,500 per month, until the end of June. But the government has not said what it will do after that.
In the Commons, Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, asked if Sunak would adjust the scheme to allow for a “gradual” return to work.
Sunak said Brady was making a very interesting suggestion. Sunak said the PM said this morning that there would be “gradual refinements” to the rules, and Sunak said that was how the government would proceed when it removed economic interventions, he said.
That seemed a clear hint that, after June, instead of being removed altogether, the furlough scheme might be gradually scaled down.
It has been estimated that the scheme will end up costing more than £10bn per month.
Here is reaction to the Rishi Sunak loans announcement. (See 3.44pm.)
From Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary
From George Osborne, the former Tory chancellor
From the Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin
From the Institute of Directors
A coalition of more than 20 justice organisations has written to the lord chancellor asking for the strict, three-month deadline to lodge employment tribunal claims on the grounds of harassment and discrimination to be relaxed during the coronavirus crisis.
In a letter to Robert Buckland QC, who is also the justice secretary, the directors of Liberty, Justice, the Law Centres Network, Advice UK, the Centre for Women’s Justice, the Runnymede Trust and other groups are seeking a temporary extension of the time limit to six months. The letter states:
The three-month time limit for bringing a discrimination or harassment claim is one of the shortest limitation periods for any kind of civil case. The argument for such a limit – that it encourages the prompt resolution of workplace disputes – cannot be maintained in current conditions.
The pandemic is making it difficult for those who allege they have been unfairly discriminated against or dismissed to pursue claims. Many law firms have furloughed staff and advice agencies have had to restrict or halt advice clinics during lockdown. The letter adds:
As the time limit for harassment and discrimination cases runs from what the tribunal concludes is the last unlawful act, this puts individuals without the benefit of specialist legal advice at a particular disadvantage, as they may not be able to identify when their time will run out ... While judges have a power to extend the time limit when it is ‘just and equitable,’ this is a high and uncertain bar upon which no prudent claimant would ever rely.”
The letter has been coordinated by Suzanne McKie QC, of Farore Law, an expert in employment litigation. She said she had already been contacted during the health crisis by employees who feel they have been chosen unfairly to be furloughed on the basis of race or nationality, and by women who suspect they are not being allowed to work from home because it is alleged they could be distracted by domestic chores.
Northern Ireland reports 10 more coronavirus deaths, taking total to 309
Here are the latest daily coronavirus death figures from Northern Ireland. There have been 10 more deaths, taking the total in Northern Ireland to 309.
A foul clump of wet wipes and other unflushable items as heavy as a rottweiler has been dragged from a Thames Water sewer, as the number of blockages the company has to deal with has increased by 8% during lockdown.
The grim 40kg bundle had snarled up a temporary pipe in Maidenhead, Berkshire, where Thames Water, the UK’s largest water and wastewater company, has been repairing a collapsed sewer. Engineers are clearing such blockages at least once a week, with each operation taking at least two hours and using up valuable repair time.
Releasing the new figures today, Thames Water said it had seen an increase of about 10 sewer blockages per day compared to normal. Many shoppers have been bulk-buying toilet roll as a result of the pandemic, leaving others turning to seemingly harmless alternatives such as wet wipes, tissues, kitchen roll and even newspapers.
But these unflushables – which include nappies, sanitary products and cotton buds – don’t biodegrade like toilet paper, causing blockages that can lead to flooding and pollution. They can also combine with fats, oils and grease – increased with people doing more cooking at home – to create “fatbergs”.
The Treasury has posted these tweets from Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, on his new loan scheme.
Scientists are aiming to have a Covid-19 antigen test – which can identify whether people have had the virus – ready within three months.
A consortium of researchers striving to develop a test is working to a three-month timescale to have a test ready for mass production.
It comes after a team at Oxford University identified an antigen that is being used as “the basis of the test”, Dr Mario Gualano, chief executive of BBI Solutions, which is part of the consortium, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He said:
So, as a consortium, we’re pulling together the various components of a test. I think the analogy you would use probably is building a car, and in order to do that successfully you have to have all the individual components working very well in their own right, but also crucially making sure that they all work well together in order to deliver the required performance.
And without oversimplifying matters, I think in this case we see the antigen is really the engine of the test and we’ll build the rest of the capability around that.
On the antigen identified by the Oxford team, he added: “We believe the antigen is good at picking up convalescent sera, ie serum from people that have been identified and are therefore are assumed to have some sort of immunity. It typically takes nine to 12 months to develop a test like this and we’re looking at really driving that development in a much shorter timeframe.”
He said it was difficult to put a specific timeline on the availability of the test, but added: “We’re certainly working to a timeline of three months, and hoping that we would be able to develop the test and have something available to go into production at that time.”
Sunak announces 'bounce back' micro-loan scheme for businesses with 100% government backing
In the Commons, Sunak is summing up what the government has done so far.
It has already provided an extra £16bn for the NHS, he says.
He says around 500,000 employers have used the coronavirus job retention scheme to pay the wages of more than 4 million workers. And another scheme for the self-employed is being implemented, he says.
He lists all the business support schemes already implemented.
And he announces a new scheme.
Firms will be able to get loans worth up to 25% of turnover, with a maximum payment of £50,000. The government will pay the interest for the first 12 months, he says. And the government will back them 100%. He describes them as “bounce back” loans, and he says people will be able to apply from Monday next week. There will be no forward-looking eligibility test, he says.
Other coronavirus loans offered by the government are only 80% backed by the government. That still exposes banks to 20% of the risk, and it has led to complaints that banks are not lending.
Rishi Sunak's Commons statement
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is now making a Commons statement about the economic response to the coronavirus crisis.
He is in the Commons chamber, but most of the MPs asking questions will be appearing via Zoom.
These are already tough times, and there will be more to come, he says.
Sunak says his interventions have saved millions of jobs. But not every job can be saved, he says.
He says the most important thing to help the economy is to avoid a second peak, he says.
He says the government needs to provide a bridge to the future for business “to maintain the productive capacity of the economy”.
He says the IMF has described the government’s response as “right”. He says it has been one of the most comprehensive of any government around the world.
Coronavirus crisis could boost chances of UK-EU trade deal by concentrating minds, Gove claims
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has been giving evidence to the Commons Brexit committee. Here are some of the main points so far.
- Gove claimed that the coronavirus crisis could increase the chances of the UK and the EU striking a trade deal this year because it should “concentrate the minds of EU negotiators”. Responding to a question from Hilary Benn, the committee chairman, about whether the coronavirus crisis altered the chances of the UK and the EU negotiating a trade deal by the end of this year, Gove said:
I think the Covid-19 crisis, in some respects, should concentrate the minds of EU negotiators, reinforcing the vital importance of coming to a conclusion.
He also said that reaching a deal by the end of the year was “entirely possible”. He described the statement put out by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, at the end of last week’s round of negotiations as “relatively downbeat” (an understatement - you can read it here) and he said he thought the odds on a deal being struck were 2 to 1.
- He refused to say whether the UK still planned to walk away from the talks if it had not made good progress towards a deal in June. Asked about this, he said he did not want to pre-empt the government’s response.
- He signalled that David Frost, the PM’s chief Europe adviser, would be willing to give evidence to the committee.
Nation to hold minute's silence to honour Covid-19 key worker victims
They have lost their lives in the duty of helping others stricken by Covid-19. Tomorrow, the nation will fall silent in tribute to key workers, including NHS staff, who have died in the pandemic.
Boris Johnson, who survived the disease after being treated in intensive care, will be among those observing a minute’s silence at 11am tomorrow.
It is hoped the tribute will be followed nationwide, with government workers asked to take part. It comes after Unison, the largest trade union in the UK, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Nursing launched a campaign last week for the nation to take a moment to honour frontline staff who have died during the Covid-19 crisis. Between them, the organisations represent more than a million NHS and public service workers including porters, refuse collectors and care staff.
According to PA Media, more than 90 frontline NHS workers have died since 25 March, with other lives lost in other key sectors, including private social care and transport. The Guardian has also been chronicling the Covid-19 deaths of healthcare staff.
On Monday, the PM’s official spokesman said: “We will be supporting the minute’s silence. We will be asking everybody who works in the Government to take part and we would hope that others will take part nationwide as well.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This moment will bring together a sombre but grateful nation. Whether in nursing or driving buses, our heroes kept going to work when many had the luxury of staying at home. Nobody should go out to work and risk their life.
This must not be the last time that sacrifice is recognised. The country and its leaders owes a tremendous debt to these key workers and the many more who are on shift again today.”
The Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “Boris Johnson has seen first-hand how NHS staff are going to remarkable lengths to keep us all safe. The least we can all do tomorrow is spare a moment to pay our respects and show our gratitude to all the key workers who have lost their lives.”
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been answering coronavirus questions on Instagram.
He will get more questions at 5pm, when he is leading for the government at the daily press conference.
The country’s biggest betting firms will remove all TV and radio advertising for games and products during the Covid-19 lockdown, amid concern over problem gamblers.
Industry body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), said firms have voluntarily agreed to remove all their gaming product advertising for at least six weeks.
It comes a week after the government wrote to gambling firms asking them to provide regular updates on how they are tackling problem gambling during the lockdown. It also follows a survey revealing that people who gamble regularly online are doing so just as often or more frequently during the lockdown, despite the lack of sporting fixtures.
The BGC said existing TV and radio advertising slots will be replaced by safer gambling messages, donated to charities or removed from broadcast where contracts allow. The BGC chief executive, Michael Dugher, said:
From day one of this crisis, we have sought to protect customers potentially at risk, including announcing stepping up safer gambling measures as part of our 10 pledges for Covid-19 in March.
This latest move by the regulated industry further underlines our commitment to safer betting and gaming, with many people cut off and feeling anxious.
We are determined to do everything we can to protect customers potentially at risk during this lockdown period and beyond - and we are determined to drive the high standards that the public expect from us. I hope others follow our lead.
Prompted partly by Boris Johnson’s speech outside Downing Street this morning, Tom McTague has written a powerful and thoughtful article for the Atlantic about the extent to which Johnson’s optimism is an advantage or a disadvantage.
Here is an extract, but it is worth reading the whole thing.
The next phase of the crisis plays to some of Johnson’s strengths more obviously than the previous ones have, but also to some of his weaknesses. For example, Johnson has, [Johnson’s biographer Andrew] Gimson told me, always preferred doing “a lot of things imperfectly than one thing perfectly,” choosing to press ahead on the basis of imperfect information rather than waiting until all the facts are clear. In the days and weeks ahead, this carries the risk of overreaching and overpromising – of moving too quickly based on information that confirms things he wants to be true, but might not be. Of course, this is also a reality of being in charge: As Henry Kissinger has observed, the skill of leadership is to make marginal decisions with imperfect information before others are comfortable doing so, taking a calculated gamble and being willing to stand alone first.
Today, the reality of the situation is that when Johnson was admitted to the hospital on 5 April, the death toll in Britain was 4,934. Today, as he returns to work, after a week of emergency medical care and a fortnight of rest, the number of fatalities exceeds 20,000. His challenge is now to show that he can still shape the future – that optimism can inspire, character matters, and his is an asset, not a liability.
People undergoing fertility treatment will be able to freeze embryos, eggs and sperm for an extra two years so that they are not unfairly caught out by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Current storage limits are set at 10 years, at which point people must decide if they want to undergo fertility treatment, or have their frozen eggs, sperm and embryos destroyed.
But ministers do not want patients to be “unfairly caught out” after procedures were paused earlier this month due to Covid-19. The time limits will be extended to give time for treatments to resume, the Department of Health said. The health minister Lord Bethell said:
Many people rely on fertility treatment as their only hope to start a family and the current pandemic means some will have to put their hopes on hold.
We are taking steps to ensure during these extraordinary times those that have embryos, sperm or eggs stored as part of their treatment are not unfairly caught out by the existing storage limits and have the best possible opportunity to start their family in the future.
It comes as the Guardian today reports on women whose IVF treatments have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UCL London and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, published today, the peak for coronavirus hospital deaths in England was probably passed on 8 April. Here is an extract from the news release.
The researchers found that there has been a clear downward trend in numbers of people dying from Covid-19 in hospitals in England since 8 April, with London seeming to have the clearest pattern of decline compared to the rest of England.
However, deaths among people aged less than 60 years only appear to have peaked on April 11.
Data produced by the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre suggests that up to 16 April only 3% of patients admitted to critical care were aged over 80 years, while overall this group of older people made up 52% of all deaths with Covid-19 in hospitals. This compares to those aged 40-59 years, who made up 39% of admissions to critical care units, but only constituted 8% of all hospital deaths ...
Among the elderly aged 80 or more years there was a peak of deaths on April 8, but there is far less evidence of a subsequent sustained decline in numbers of deaths in this group.
Prof David Leon, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the research, said:
The fact a peak may have been reached on April 8 is not an argument for relaxing social contact. In fact, the opposite. Communicating clearly to the public that there has been a peak in mortality at the end of the first week of April might motivate people to persevere with the lockdown as they will then appreciate the sacrifices being made in lockdowns are paying off.
At her news conference Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said that “in the coming days” she would be saying more about the different options for relaxing the lockdown, and “how we’re going about assessing those”.
The Scottish government has already published a document (pdf) explaining in outline what principles it will apply as it moves to ease physical distancing, and Sturgeon’s comment will be seen as putting pressure on London to match her level of policy candour.
Coronavirus hospital deaths in England rise by 329 to 18,749
NHS England has reported an extra 329 coronavirus hospital deaths, taking the total to 18,749.
It says that patients were aged between 29 and 100 years old and that 22 of the 329 patients (aged between 29 and 89 years old) had no known underlying health condition.
The full set of data for today is available here (pdf).
The 329 figure is much lower than other recent daily figures have been. The equivalent daily figure announced on Saturday was 711. This will partly be explained by the weekend, because the number of deaths reported on Saturdays and Sundays always tends to be lower than during the week, because of staffing levels.
Wales reports another eight coronavirus deaths, taking total to 796
There have been another eight coronavirus deaths in Wales, where the total is now 796, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.
Scotland records another 13 coronavirus deaths, taking total to 1,262
A total of 1,262 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 13 from 1,249 on Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, announced at her news conference earlier.
She said 10,521 people have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up by 197 from 10,324 the day before.
There are 134 people in intensive care with coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms, an increase of one on Sunday, she added.
The latest daily figures from Scotland are here.
They are fortunate to have survived where others have tragically fallen victim to Covid-19. Now patients who have recovered from the disease are giving back by donating their blood plasma in a bid to help treat others infected with the virus.
Around 6,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus have signed up to donate their blood plasma, including more than 500 people who were admitted to hospital.
The plasma from former patients – rich in the antibodies that develop as somebody recovers from an illness – will be transfused into people who are seriously ill with Covid-19 and struggling to develop their own antibodies.
Photos issued by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) show former patients giving their blood plasma at Tooting Blood Donor Centre, London, in a process known as plasmapheresis, which uses a machine similar to that used in regular blood platelet donation.
The number of antibodies rises steadily in the bloodstream of those who have been ill and is thought to peak between 21 and 28 days after recovery. Donors must have tested positive for the illness either at home or in hospital, but should now be three to four weeks into their recovery, ideally 29 days.
A donation session takes around 45 minutes to give two units of plasma, and can be repeated as regularly as every fortnight.
More from an earlier post, as my colleague Denis Campbell reports that children are falling ill with a new and potentially fatal combination of symptoms apparently linked to Covid-19, including a sore stomach and heart problems.
The children affected appear to have been struck by a form of toxic shock syndrome, he reports. Some have been left so seriously unwell that they have had to be treated in intensive care. At least one has undergone extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, which is used when someone’s life is at risk because they can no longer breathe for themselves.
In a letter to GPs in north London, reported by Health Service Journal, NHS bosses said:
There is a growing concern that a Sars-CoV-2-related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases.”
You can read the story here.
More from the news earlier that the names of some of the experts on the scientific group advising the UK government’s response to the coronavirus crisis will be published, as Downing Street confirms it will happen “in the coming days”.
“It’s right that only the names of those who wish to disclose their participation will be published,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
This is to safeguard the personal security for the individuals and to protect them from lobbying which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice.”
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advice documents and evidence are expected to be published some time this week, he added.
It comes after the Guardian revealed the involvement of the prime minister’s chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings, in meetings of Sage. Cummings’ attendance and participation in the group’s meetings raised questions about the independence of its scientific advice.
No 10 says there will have to be 'political movement on EU side' for Brexit trade talks to succeed
There was also an interesting line on Brexit at the No 10 lobby briefing.
- Downing Street said there would have to be “political movement on the EU side” for the talks with the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal to succeed. The prime minister’s spokesman was responding to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, claiming last week that the UK was running down the clock in the negotiations. The spokesman said the government did not accept this. He went on:
We are ready to keep talking but that does not make us any more likely to agree the EU’s proposals in areas where they are not taking into account the UK’s status as an independent state. All we are seeking is an agreement based on precedent which respects the sovereignty of both sides.
Clearly there will need to be political movement on the EU side to move negotiations forward, particularly on fisheries and level playing field issues, in order to help find a balanced solution which reflects the political realities on both sides.
Good news for fans of vegan sausage rolls, as Greggs becomes the latest highstreet retailer to announce plans to reopen stores during the lockdown.
The bakery chain is due to reopen a small number of stores for takeaway and delivery after shutting all its sites due to the pandemic.
It comes after firms such as B&Q have reopened their doors to shoppers, while John Lewis has said it hopes to reopen all its shops next month.
Rival chains, including Burger King, Pret a Manger and KFC, have already reopened a small number of sites for takeaway and delivery. It is understood that Leon is due to reopen six of its restaurants for delivery and click-and-collect, in addition to the 16 it has kept open to sell groceries.
The boss of the bakery chain has told staff it plans to open 20 stores in the Newcastle area from Monday 4 May as part of a “controlled trial”.
Roger Whiteside, the chief executive, said he hoped the trial would inform the business about what changes needed to be made to operate safely and meet physical distancing guidelines. He said he believed the trial, which will involve a limited product range and shorter trading hours, would take at least two weeks.
In a letter to staff, Whiteside said he hoped to open around 700 stores, including 150 franchise shops, with new operational measures in place from 8 June. He said:
We expect it will only be possible to open this many shops if the government has taken a first step in relaxing the lockdown, which could be to open the schools. This timing may change depending on future government announcements.
No 10 says it won't immediately know at end of April on Thursday if testing target has been met
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. Here are the main coronavirus-related points.
- The prime minister’s spokesman said that the government would not be able to say on Thursday whether or not it had met the target of reaching 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. Thursday is the last day of April. But the spokesman said that it took a while to get information about how many tests were carried out on a particular day. He said:
We are not going to be able to tell on Thursday of this week whether or not we have met the 100,000 target. It will take a little while longer for that to be clear.
He said that even on Friday it might not be “difficult” to say whether the target had been hit. He said it took 72 hours for the results of home testing kits to be delivered, “and therefore show up in the numbers”.
- The spokesman said that government now has the capacity to carry out 53,000 tests per day. The most recent daily figures show more than 29,000 tests being carried out.
- The spokesman said that more than 40 drive-through testing centres are now open. He said there would be 48 by the end of the month, as well as 96 mobile testing sites by early May.
- Boris Johnson is due to speak to Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, this week about the coronavirus crisis, the spokesman said. The spokesman said that this would follow Johnson’s declaration this morning that he wanted to work with the opposition parties on policies around relaxing the lockdown. (See 11.04am.) Johnson is also planning to speak to all opposition parties next week, the spokesman said.
- The spokesman confirmed that members of Sage, the scientific advisory group for emergencies, who are happy to be named as members of the committee, will soon have their names disclosed. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, also revealed this at a separate briefing this morning. (See 12.08pm.)
- The spokesman said that another tranche of evidence from Sage submitted to the government about coronavirus would be published this week.
- The spokesman refused to say whether Johnson anticipated the fight against coronavirus entering a third phase after the “second phase” mentioned by the PM in his speech this morning. (See 11.04am.) Asked how many phases there would be, the spokesman said he was “not in a position to answer that question”.
- The spokesman was unable to cite any evidence to justify a claim from Dominic Raab in an interview yesterday saying that deaths in care homes were going down.
- The spokesman said Johnson was back at work “full time” now. Asked if that is what his doctors advised, the spokesman said he had been following their advice throughout.
- But the spokesman was unable to confirm that Johnson would be doing PMQs on Wednesday. But he said Johnson would be chairing cabinet this week, on Thursday.
- The spokesman said the government would not be involved in choosing the daily question submitted from a member of the public to be taken at the regular press conference. (See 11.30am.) A polling company (YouGov) will choose the questions.
- Matt Hancock will hold today’s daily press conference, the spokesman said. He will be with Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Prof John Newton from Public Health England, who is described by No 10 as the government’s “testing tsar”.
- The spokesman said that the Department for Health and Social Care would be issuing statement later in response to a report from Health Service Journal saying doctors are concerned about a small number of children affected by a coronavirus-related syndrome. Here is the report.
The British Hollywood actor Riz Ahmed has revealed he has lost two family members to Covid-19, as he warns about the impact of the pandemic on minorities across the world.
The actor and rapper, who said the outbreak is “reflecting and revealing the faultlines in our society”, added that he hopes the surge of appreciation for the NHS draws attention to prejudice against the people from ethnic minorities who keep it running.
“I’m seeing reports of India, where the government are calling it ‘corona-jihad’ and they’re trying to blame it on the spread of Muslims and they are segregating hospitals between Muslims and non-Muslims,” he told GQ Hype.
“Trump is using it as an excuse to try to ban immigration and the Hungarian government is centralising power off the back of this.
“I’m looking at the fact it’s hitting African-Americans twice as hard; I’m looking at the fact that 50% of NHS frontline workers – is it 50%? – are ethnic minorities.”
Referring to the viral video of Clap For Me Now – which features UK residents and people of foreign heritage reciting an anti-racist poem - he compared it to his latest album, in which he symbolically broke up with Britain. He said:
It’s almost like there is an alternate ending to The Long Goodbye! I’ve walked off, but Britney’s [a stand-in for Britain] called me back again. Britannia’s saying: ‘I need you! Come back!’ She’s saying: ‘We need you frontline staff. We need you Uber drivers. We need you shelf stackers.’
Who are the people who, for every moment of crisis in this country, have kept this country together? It’s the people at the bottom of the barrel; the people being hit hardest by this pandemic.
We say we love the NHS more than the royal family, more than the army, but do we love the people who keep the NHS alive? Because every time we tell people to f*** off back to where they came from, that’s not what we’re saying. So I really hope that this revelation, this awakening, opens our minds to that reality, to the stupidity of our prejudice.
He added: “I have lost two family members to Covid. I just want to believe their deaths and all the others aren’t for nothing. We gotta step up to re-imagine a better future.”
He likened the pandemic to an alien invasion. “It’s bringing humanity together against the common enemy. So there is this potential for this momentous, unique-in-the-history-of-our-species moment, of us all going through this crazy challenge together and only being able to get through this together.
“And yet, in the midst of that, insofar as any crisis is a mirror, reflecting your priorities and patterns, this crisis is reflecting and revealing the faultlines in our society, the broken records that are stuck in our head, the f***eries and the power plays that are still dominating how we are running our planet, the rising intolerance.”
A new NHS Nightingale hospital is to officially open in Bristol today, providing up to 300 intensive care beds for coronavirus patients.
The facility, based at the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus, is one of seven Nightingale hospitals to be set up around the country.
The opening comes amid criticism that the flagship 4,000-bed Nightingale hospital in east London is well under capacity and is becoming a “white elephant”. The Guardian revealed last week that dozens of patients with Covid-19 had been turned away from the new hospital because it had too few nurses to treat them. Until a week ago it had treated just 41 patients.
The new Bristol hospital will be opened by the Earl of Wessex, who will be joined by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, via video link.
Run by North Bristol NHS trust, the hospital will provide 300 fully ventilated beds if local services require them. This is six times the intensive care capacity of a large hospital in the south-west.
Tomorrow, London’s Nightingale hospital will hold a minute’s silence at 11am for health and other key workers who have died from Covid-19.
Councils are facing a funding shortfall of up to £9.6bn as a result of the coronavirus crisis and some are considering axing services, town hall leaders have told MPs on the Commons housing and communities select committee.
Additional spending, particularly on social care, and reductions in increasingly important commercial incomes mean they may need a central government bailout four times higher than the £3.2bn already announced by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, according to Cllr James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA).
The assessment of the shortfall is derived from a survey of councils carried out in April by the government, to which 98% of councils responded. Many councils rely on commercial investments. Luton borough council relies on a multi-million pound income from its shareholding in Luton airport to shore up the finances. Incomes from these have been hit hard by the lockdown. “We need the cast iron guarantee that we will be funded to the amount we are delivering to our communities,” Jamieson said.
The LGA told MPs that some councils were actively considering issuing section 114 notices to freeze some spending and limit council expenditure to essential services only, but said that none of these had been triggered yet.
In response to Boris Johnson’s speech, Sir Ed Davey, the acting Liberal Democrat leader, said:
The prime minister has said that he will work with opposition parties as we enter the next phase and we welcome that. Liberal Democrats want to understand why, so long into this crisis, we still have carers on the frontline without the protection they need to keep them safe, and how the UK has fallen behind so many other countries in testing and tracing. We want to see the details of the government’s plan for how they will rectify these crises.
Barristers in England and Wales have gone from working on average 50 hours a week to only 18 hours now, a survey has found, with more than half of self-employed counsel reporting they will not be able to survive financially if the lockdown lasts six months.
The snapshot of legal opinion comes as the courts enter their second month of closure with only a few urgent hearings continuing and a small number of online cases being dealt with through remote video sessions.
The survey by the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, reveals that Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on the profession’s sustainability due to the abrupt drop-off in hearings and other legal work. The research also showed that the financial impact of Covid-19 is greater on barristers from BAME or state school backgrounds. The survey found that:
- 65% of self-employed barristers who responded had had a reduction in work: the typical barrister has gone from working more than 50 hours a week to working fewer than 18 hours a week.
- 53% of self-employed barristers cannot survive six months and 74% cannot survive a year.
- 31% of criminal barristers will not be able to continue to practise within three months; 69% will not last six months and 88% will no longer be practising within a year.
- 83% of young barristers (those in the first seven years of practice) cannot survive a year.
- 7% think access to justice is currently acceptable; 77% of self-employed barristers say people are now unable to properly access justice.
Amanda Pinto QC, the chair of the Bar Council, said:
Barristers and others involved in the justice system are rightly classed as key workers by the government because they are essential to ensuring that justice continues to be delivered for the public despite the pandemic. A threat to the barristers’ profession survival is a threat to the future of our justice system.
We can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore the ramifications this virus has for the future of justice which affects the public in a direct way, day in, day out. Legal issues cannot be put off indefinitely. If we fall into the trap of routinely delaying hearings, adding to the ever-growing backlog of cases, and taking work away from those whose livelihoods depend on it, we might very well find there are no barristers left to help pick up the pieces of the justice system after the crisis subsides.
Experts on 'secret' scientific group advising Downing Street to be named
The names of some of the experts on the scientific group advising the UK government’s response to the coronavirus crisis will be published shortly, the government’s chief scientific adviser has said.
It comes after the Guardian revealed the involvement of the prime minister’s chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings, in meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). Cummings’ attendance and participation in the group’s meetings raised questions about the independence of its scientific advice.
After mounting pressure on Downing Street to disclose more details about the group – whose membership and advice the government has kept secret – Sir Patrick Vallance told a briefing for science journalists that the identities of the experts are usually revealed after the emergency is over, and that had also been the advice for the coronavirus crisis.
“But I believe that we should be more prepared to publish names sooner, and intend to do so shortly,” he said. “So we will be publishing names of those that are happy to have their names published.”
The group would also release a list of the documents, and eventually the documents themselves, that have fed into Sage meetings, he added.
The Guardian also revealed that Ben Warner, who worked with Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit, had attended Sage meetings. Downing Street insists there is nothing untoward about the pair’s attendance at Sage meetings, saying they are largely taking part as silent observers.
However, one attendee of Sage told the Guardian they felt Cummings’ interventions had sometimes inappropriately influenced what is supposed to be an impartial scientific process. A second attendee said they were shocked when Cummings first began participating in Sage discussions, in February, because they believed the group should be providing “unadulterated scientific data” without any political input.
A loophole in Ireland’s lockdown laws means police cannot detain visitors from Northern Ireland, raising concern that some people may cross the border and defy physical distancing regulations.
The disclosure prompted concern from politicians and residents in Donegal and other border counties that Northern Ireland residents frustrated at the UK’s continued lockdown may visit holiday homes and tour beauty spots in the republic.
Residents in the republic are chafing at a ban on travelling more than 2km from home and would bristle at any sign of cross-border visitors taking advantage of the loophole.
Sinn Féin said the loophole reinforced the need for an all-island response to the coronavirus pandemic. The party has also cited the UK’s higher death rate as further reason for an all-Ireland approach. The Ulster Unionist party accused Sinn Féin of “perverse” political point-scoring.
Royal Mint to make medical visors for NHS
The Royal Mint is to make 1.9m medical visors for the NHS in England and Wales to help protect medical workers.
The South Wales based firm – best-known for manufacturing coins and investment products – has transformed its visitor attraction into an emergency production line to produce more than 100,000 medical visors a week exclusively for the NHS.
The Royal Mint began making medical visors last month, after engineers created a design in just 48 hours and became the first firm in the UK to secure BSI safety approval. It has worked with its supply chain across the UK – including Brammer, TJ Morgan and Technical Foam – to source the materials to mass manufacture the design.
More than 150,000 medical visors have already been made, with further supplies reaching hospitals across Britain shortly.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, who is also master of the Mint, said:
It’s vital our brave NHS workers have the protective equipment they need to safely care for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak. I applaud the Royal Mint for refocusing their efforts and working round the clock to play their part during this national emergency.
Anne Jessopp, chief executive of the Royal Mint, said:
When people think of the Royal Mint they think about the coins in their pockets, but we’ve been making useful products for the nation for 1,100 years and have a team of skilled designers, engineers and production staff. Together they turned a rudimentary visor design into a working model in just 48 hours, and within a week we were manufacturing thousands every day.
The family of a veteran NHS doctor who died after contracting Covid-19 have paid tribute to him as an “honest, kind and generous man who was deeply respected”.
Dr Kamlesh Kumar Masson, who worked for the NHS for 47 years, died earlier this month, aged 78.
His family, who described him as someone who “would have wanted to practise medicine for many more years to come”, said he last worked on 12 March, adding that his career “came to an unexpected end last month, when he unfortunately contracted Covid-19”.
The doctor, who died on 16 April, founded Milton Road Surgery in Grays, Essex, in 1985 and worked there until 2017, after which he did locum work across Thurrock and Basildon.
His family also described him as “an excellent clinician whose drive to constantly improve his clinical skills and knowledge with passion and enthusiasm will remain with us all as a reminder to always try to be the best”. They said:
Dr Masson was an honest, kind and generous man who was deeply respected by anyone who was privileged to cross paths with him. He was jovial, funny and kind, always wanting to make the best of any situation.”
He was well-known locally and recognised as a “dedicated, determined, positive individual who would always do his utmost to help in all endeavours”, they added. The family thanked the staff at University College London hospital who “fought tirelessly” to try to save him.
Masson completed his medical training in India and also worked as a doctor in east Africa. He worked in different parts of the UK before settling in Essex in 1975.
Masson is among a number of NHS and private healthcare staff, from heart surgeons to nurses, porters and volunteers, who have lost their lives to coronavirus in the UK. The Guardian has been chronicling their deaths here.
No 10 invites public to submit questions for daily coronavirus press conference
Earlier this year Boris Johnson experimented with holding a “people’s PMQs” on Facebook on Wednesday afternoons. Generally they were dreadful and, with coronavirus becoming a more serious issue in February and early March, No 10 seemed happy to abandon them.
But the concept of getting Johnson to respond directly to questions from members of the public has not been abandoned, and No 10 is now inviting non-journalists to submit questions for the afternoon press conference. One question will be selected every day (alongside the questions from journalists), and the questioner will be invited to record a video, or to just submit their question in writing.
You can apply to take part here.
One drawback is that questions have to be submitted by midday. At that point we don’t normally know who will be holding the press conference.
(Hopefully this is just an exercise in transparency and accountability, although some journalists may worry that this is early evidence of the resurgence of the “war on the Westminster lobby” that some in No 10 were merrily engaged in before the coronavirus crisis took hold.)
He’s better known for playing gangsters or superhero villains on the big screen, but Tom Hardy is adopting a different role during the coronavirus lockdown.
The Hollywood hard man will read a CBeebies bedtime story urging children to remember their loved ones are always with them, even if they cannot hug them because of social distancing.
It is a far cry from the 42-year-old actor’s roles playing the Kray twins in the film Legend, or Batman’s nemesis, Bain, in the Dark Knight Rises. But it’s not the first time he has appeared on the children’s TV channel, with the star first reading a story to children in 2016 – his stories have been requested more than 1m times on BBC iPlayer.
Hardy will read a new story each day from 27 April to 1 May, with the date of a sixth story yet to be confirmed. On Monday, he will read Hug Me, by Simona Ciraolo, about a young cactus called Felipe who really needs a hug, but his family “just isn’t the touchy-feely kind” so he sets off to find a friend.
He will open the story by saying: “Hello. I’m Tom. Sometimes, on a day like this, I feel strong and happy. But on other days, I just need somebody to give me a hug. Tonight’s bedtime story is all about a little cactus called Felipe, who just wants a hug too.”
Finishing the story, he will tell the channel’s young viewers: “So, in the end Felipe found someone to hug. It’s not always possible to hug the ones that you love. But they’re always there, in your heart. It’s time for bed. Off you go and I look forward to seeing you again for another bedtime story. Good night.”
CBeebies Bedtime Story is at 6.50pm on CBeebies and on BBC iPlayer.
Boris Johnson's speech - Summary and analysis
Boris Johnson identifies with Churchill and even wrote a book about him (mediocre on Churchill, extremely revealing about Johnson himself), and it was hard to listen to this without hearing some echo of Churchill’s El Alamein speech. “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Johnson’s own words won’t be remembered in the way Churchill’s are, but he was telling the nation this morning that it is reaching a turning point of sorts.
He was also, in subtle ways, re-defining the terms of engagement.
Here are the main points from the speech.
- Johnson said it was too soon to ease the lockdown measures now. Although he acknowledged the pressure to relax the rules, he said this was also a moment of “maximum risk”.
This is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle [coronavirus] to the floor, and so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity. This is the moment when we can press home our advantage. It is also the moment of maximum risk, because I know that there will be many people looking now at our apparent success and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.
See 9.56pm for more on this argument.
- He said the UK was now “beginning to turn the tide”. There were “real signs now that we are passing through the peak”, he said. He said:
Thanks to your forbearance, your good sense your altruism, your spirit of community, thanks to our collective national resolve, we are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission to prevent our National Health Service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.
And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide.
This was Johnson effectively saying he remains committed to the prediction he made on 19 March (five and a half weeks ago) when he said the UK would “turn the tide within the next 12 weeks”.
- But Johnson also effectively re-defined “turning the tide”, saying that the UK was now near the point where it could move from “the first phase” to the “second phase”. Last month, when he made his “turning the tide” prediction, Johnson said:
I think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country.
Now no one is talking about sending coronavirus packing (Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, said last week coronavirus “is not going to be eradicated”) and Johnson said the aims in phase one were to ensure the NHS did not get overwhelmed and to “flatten the peak” of the curve.
- Johnson said that in the second phase lockdown restrictions would start to be lifted - but only “gradually”. He said:
We are meeting our five tests: deaths falling; NHS protected; rate of infection down; really sorting out the challenges of testing and PPE; avoiding a second peak.
Then that will be the time to move on to the second phase, in which we continue to suppress the disease and keep the reproduction rate, the r rate, down, but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy.
- He refused to make any predictions about what restrictions might be lifted, or when. He said:
In that process [moving to phase two] difficult judgments will be made and we simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.
He also avoided any prediction about life returning to normal, or even the “new normal”, as ministers call it now.
- He said that he wanted to build “the biggest possible consensus” about how and when to relax the lockdown measures. He said:
I want to serve notice now that these decisions [about relaxing lockdown measures] will be taken with the maximum possible transparency and I want to share all our working and our thinking, my thinking, with you the British people.
And of course, we will be relying as ever on the science to inform us, as we have from the beginning.
But we will also be reaching out to build the biggest possible consensus, across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom, across party lines, bringing in opposition parties as far as we possibly can, because I think that is no less than what the British people would expect.
In some ways this was the most novel element in the speech. In the three weeks while Johnson has been off work, Dominic Raab, who has been deputising for him, has not given this sort of commitment. The Scottish government (here) and the Welsh government (here) have both published discussion papers about the issues to be considered as the lockdown gets lifted and Downing Street may be stung by the criticism that it is not consulting the public properly in a similar way. A good example is this statement from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics at the weekend. It says citizens’ assemblies should be used to help determine the path forward.
- Johnson claimed that preparations were underway for the easing of the lockdown. He said:
I can tell you now that preparations are under way, and have been for weeks, to allow us to win phase two of this fight, as I believe we are now on track to prevail in phase one.
He did not elaborate, but he will have been referring to things like the ramping up of testing, and the introduction of contact tracing system.
- He presented the government’s fight against coronavirus so far as a success. He said:
We defied so many predictions. We did not run out of ventilators or ICU beds, we did not allow our NHS to collapse, and on the contrary we have so far collectively shielded our NHS so that our incredible doctors and nurses and healthcare staff have been able to shield all of us from an outbreak that would have been far worse, and we collectively flattened the peak.
This is one interpretation of events. An alternative view is that the UK has one of the worst coronavirus death rates in Europe, perhaps because it implemented the lockdown later than other countries, and that the government has been behind the curve in implementing testing and stockpiling PPE.
- Johnson stressed that he understood the pressure from business for the lockdown to be eased. He said:
So let me say directly also to British business, to the shopkeepers, to the entrepreneurs, to the hospitality sector, to everyone on whom our economy depends: I understand your impatience, I share your anxiety, and I know that without our private sector without the drive and commitment of the wealth creators of this country there will be no economy to speak of, there will be no cash to pay for our public services no way of funding our NHS, and yes I can see the long term consequences of lock down as clearly as anyone.
This passage seemed to be addressed in particular to Johnson’s colleagues in the Conservative party. “I still a free-market Tory,” he was telling them - while failing to offer them any actual concessions on policy.
- He depicted coronavirus as a mugger. He said:
If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger, which I can tell you from personal experience it is, then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor, and so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity, this is the moment when we can press home our advantage.
- He thanks the public for their contribution so far. He said:
Once again, I want to thank you, the people of this country, for the sheer grit and guts, you have shown and are continuing to show.
Every ministerial public statement now contains a passage of thanks to the public like this.
- He ended by saying the UK could come out of this stronger. He said:
If we can show the same spirit of unity and determination as we have all shown in the past six weeks, then I have absolutely no doubt that we will beat it together, we will come through this all the faster, and the United Kingdom, will emerge stronger than ever before.
Johnson speeches almost always contain passage of evidence-free utopianism like this one. At a press conference last month he said he was often accused of being “unnecessarily boosterish”. Today’s speech showed that, despite his illness, he has not really changed.
The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be followed by even more deadly and destructive disease outbreaks unless their root cause – the rampant destruction of the natural world – is rapidly halted, the world’s leading biodiversity experts have warned.
“There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us,” they said. “Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.”
Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz and Eduardo Brondizio led the most comprehensive planetary health check ever undertaken, which was published in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It concluded that human society was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems.
Read the full story here:
The full text of Boris Johnson’s speech is now here, on the No 10 website.
'Contain your impatience,' says Johnson as he explains why it is too soon to relax lockdown
Here is the key extract from Boris Johnson’s speech. It sums up his message; although he understands why people want to relax the lockdown, now would be too soon, he says.
(For the sake of speed, I am posting this verbatim from the No 10 transcript. As you can see, despite being one of the best-paid newspaper columnists in the UK before becoming PM, Johnson does not seem to have mastered punctuation.)
I can see the long term consequences of lock down as clearly as anyone
and so yes I entirely share your urgency
it’s the government’s urgency
and yet we must also recognise the risk of a second spike
the risk of losing control of that virus
and letting the reproduction rate go back over one
because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster
and we would be forced once again to slam on the brakes across the whole country
and the whole economy
and reimpose restrictions in such a way as to do more and lasting damage
and so I know it is tough
and I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can
but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people
and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS
and I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict
and in spite of all the suffering we have so nearly succeeded
Some uplifting news now. Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old who has raised more than £29m for the NHS by walking laps of his garden, is to be honoured with a postmark.
Royal Mail will stamp all letters sent between today and Friday with a message to celebrate the world war two veteran’s 100th birthday.
Post will be marked with: “Happy 100th Birthday Captain Thomas Moore NHS fundraising hero 30th April 2020.”
Moore, from Bedfordshire, has extended his challenge to completing 200 laps of his 25m-long garden after finishing the first 100 laps ahead of schedule.
On Friday, he became the oldest person ever to top the UK singles charts after his duet with Michael Ball went to number one.
Their cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone has sold more than 82,000 copies, with proceeds going to the NHS Charities Together Fund.
An urgent alert issued to doctors has raised concerns that a serious coronavirus-related syndrome may be emerging in children in the UK.
The alert states that in the past three weeks there has been a rise in children being admitted to hospital with a syndrome that has the characteristics of serious Covid-19, according to the Health Service Journal. Children have so far been deemed to be at low risk of serious ill health from the virus.
The alert states:
“[In the] last three weeks, there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK.
“There is a growing concern that a [Covid-19] related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases.”
There is little information about how widespread the condition is but the number of children affected is likely to be small, the HSJ reports. Some of the children have tested positive for Covid-19, and some appear to have previously had the virus, it adds.
The alert, first issued to GPs in north London, also describes the cases as showing features of toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, which causes blood vessels to become inflamed. It advised doctors to “refer children presenting with these symptoms as a matter of urgency”.
The Paediatric Intensive Care Society issued a separate “urgent alert” on Sunday evening.
Last week, doctors at the Children’s National hospital in Washington DC said they had seen significant numbers of children admitted with coronavirus, with more than a quarter of them requiring admission, including critical care.
Here is our colleague Kate Proctor’s story about Boris Johnson’s speech.
And this is how it starts.
Boris Johnson has said the UK is “turning the tide” on tackling coronavirus but is still facing a moment of “maximum risk” and will not be forced to end the lockdown prematurely.
Here is some reaction to Boris Johnson’s speech from journalists and commentators on Twitter.
From Piers Morgan, the Good Morning Britain presenter
From the BBC’s Nick Robinson
From Good Morning Britain’s Anne Alexander
From Michael White, the Guardian’s former political editor
From HuffPost’s Paul Waugh
From our colleague Owen Jones
From the Times’s Matt Chorley
Johnson says the government should only ease up on the lockdown when it is confident there will be no second peak.
He says he wants “maximum transparency” about how the decisions to relax restrictions are taken.
He says he wants to involve the opposition parties as much as possible.
He says measures are in place to win “phase two”, just as the UK is winning phase one.
He says if the UK can show the same sense of optimism shown by Capt Tom Moore, we will come through this.
And that’s it. He has finished.
We will post a full transcript, and analysis, shortly.
Johnson says it's too early to ease up now because second peak would be 'disaster'
Johnson says the progress being made against the virus is why people might be tempted to ease up now.
But now is not the moment, he says.
He says he understands the worries of shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, and everyone in business.
He knows why they think that, without an economy, there will be no way of funding the NHS.
He says he shares their urgency.
Yet we must also recognise the risk of a second spike ... and letting the reproduction rate go back over one.
That would risk a “disaster”, he says.
He says that would cause lasting damage to the economy.
And so he refuses to throw that away, he says.
I ask you to contain you impatience because I believe now we are coming to the end of the first phase of this conflict.
Johnson says the country is making progress.
There are real signs we are “passing through the peak”, he says.
He says the UK has stopped the NHS being overwhelmed.
He says that is why he can say we are beginning to turn the tide.
He says if the virus is a mugger - and he can say from personal experience it is - this is the moment when we are beginning to wrestle it to the floor.
Boris Johnson's speech
Boris Johnson starts by saying he is sorry to have been away from his desk for longer than he wanted.
He thanks Dominic Raab for stepping up.
But he wants to thank the public, he says.
He says this is the biggest challenge the country has faced since the war.
A lectern has been set up outside the door to No 10.
Sky’s Kay Burley thinks the statement from Boris Johnson is coming “shortly”.
Boris Johnson expected to make TV statement this morning to mark his return to work
Good morning. I’m Andrew Sparrow, joining the blog for the rest of the day.
With Boris Johnson back at work at Downing Street this morning, the broadcasters have been told to expect him to make a TV statement this morning.
From the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg
From Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby
People working in some of Britain’s tourist hotspots will be the worst hit by the expected wave of unemployment following the coronavirus pandemic, according to economic forecasters.
Workers in areas including the Lake District, Cornwall and Yorkshire beauty spots are at the highest risk of being left jobless, according to research by the Royal Society of Arts and Manufacturing.
Those living in London, south-east England and the knowledge economies of Oxford and Cambridge are the least likely to lose their livelihoods, according to the study.
More from Argar, who appears to be doing the media rounds for the government this morning. The health minister said Britons should expect “dramatic increases” in the number of people being tested for coronavirus.
Asked if the government would meet its target of testing 100,000 people a day by the end of the month, he told the BBC:
We’ve seen in recent days an exponential increase in the number of tests being made available and we’ve increased dramatically the eligibility for them.
He added that the rollout of testing would not be a “smooth increase” and would instead rise dramatically day-by-day.
Argar also said he would be investigating reports that some NHS staff were waiting 25 days to receive their test results.
“The test results should be within around 48 hours,” he told LBC. “Longer delays than that - and there may be in some cases a scientific, clinical reason why a particular test doesn’t work or is delayed.”
Johnson returns to lead the government as the country enters its sixth week in lockdown, and faces calls from Labour for clarity over how the measures will begin to be lifted.
This morning, health minister Edward Argar echoed comments made by the foreign secretary Dominic Raab yesterday, saying that “we’re not there yet” when it comes to easing social-distancing.
He told BBC Breakfast:
I understand the frustrations that people are having with these measures, they are restrictive and they are very difficult.
However, there are growing concerns about the economic impact of lockdown. On Sunday, Gerard Lyons, Johnson’s economics adviser when he was London mayor, warned the UK could be the hardest-hit western economy if it does not unlock soon.
This handy analysis from my colleague Robert Booth looks at the key areas the government will need to consider when easing the measures:
Health minister Nadine Dorries has welcomed the prime minister’s return to work but added that others who had been in intensive care with the virus would still be off work.
Dorries, who herself tested positive for Covid-19 in March, said other patients who had spent time in an ICU would need at least three months to recover, in comparison to the three-weeks Johnson has taken off.
The government’s plans to move to tracking and tracing to deal with the next phase of the pandemic pose a “real logistical challenge”, a scientific adviser has said.
Prof Peter Horby, chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the strategy would be “critical” as the UK emerged from lockdown.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
We will have to be able to test all those people [declaring via apps that they are displaying coronavirus symptoms] and it is really a matter of scale and speed.
“One issue is how many tests we need, and if we are looking at 1,000 to 5,000 new cases per day of people with symptoms, of which maybe 5-25% may have Covid, then you are talking about 25,000 to 100,000 tests per day.”
He added that speed could prove an issue, as results were needed quickly so that transmission could be reduced.
Prisoners will make personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS hospital workers during the coronavirus crisis, according to reports.
Inmates at eight prisons across the country will begin making scrubs and face visors this week as prices for equipment surge, justice secretary Robert Buckland is said to have told the Telegraph.
The items will cost around a third of current market rates, and will be made as part of a larger UK manufacturing race. John Lewis has also brought a group of its workers back from furlough to make clinical gowns amid worldwide shortages.
Buckland told the paper:
Staff in our NHS are doing an incredible job...and I’m delighted that inmates are supporting them by producing equipment to keep them safe.”
Category B and C prisons which are involved in the effort include Swansea, Channings Wood in Devon, Wakefield, Highpoint in Suffolk, Whatton in Nottinghamshire and New Hall in West Yorkshire, which holds women and young offenders.
According to the paper, prisoners will make scrubs for around £5 a set, in comparison with their £15 price tag on the open market.
An initial order is said to have been made for 5,000 scrub tops and 5,000 laundry bags to be manufactured, while inmates will be paid a standard weekly wage of around £12.50.
Good morning. Prime minister Boris Johnson has returned to Downing Street to lead the UK’s response to coronavirus, as ministers warned that physical distancing must become the “new normal” – even when the lockdown is eased.
Johnson is under pressure to explain how schools and businesses will be able to reopen without putting lives at risk, while the government has begun to set out how it hopes to manage the next phase of the pandemic, including by imposing quarantine restrictions on all arrivals at UK airports.
On Sunday, hospital deaths from Covid-19 rose by 413, taking the total to 20,732. Although it is the lowest daily total since the end of March, the number is expected to increase again during the week.
Elsewhere, scientists on the government’s coronavirus advisory group have continued to voice concerns over the involvement of Johnson’s key adviser, Dominic Cummings, in meetings.
One attendee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told the Guardian they felt Cummings’ interventions had sometimes inappropriately influenced what is supposed to be an impartial scientific process.