Raab unveils £75 million repatriation plan

“Dominic Raab today unveiled a massive £75 million repatriation plan to bring home ‘tens of thousands’ of Britons stranded abroad because of the coronavirus crisis. The Foreign Secretary said the UK government will now step in to provide ‘special charter flights’ from parts of the world where commercial flights are no longer in operation. The government has struck a partnership deal with British Airways, Easyjet, Jet2 and other airlines to provide the planes for the effort. Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus press conference in 10 Downing Street, Mr Raab said: ‘Under the arrangements that we are putting in place we will target flights from a range of priority countries, starting this week.’” – Daily Mail

  • Passengers to be given emergency government loans if they cannot afford tickets – The Times
  • Flights to destinations prioritised based on number of British citizens, vulnerability and local health provision – FT
  • Association of British Travel Agents urges Government to change the law on refunds to stop firms going bust – Daily Mail
  • Dozens of flights still landing in the UK from coronavirus hotspots – The Times

We don’t know when lockdown will end, says chief scientific adviser…

“The UK’s chief scientific adviser has said that the Government cannot tell the public when lockdown will end – because they don’t know. Speaking at Downing Street’s daily virus news conference tonight, Sir Patrick Vallance said that it would be ‘premature’ to put a time frame on the next steps of the fight against coronavirus because cases and deaths must stabilise first. ‘I think its premature to put a time, an absolute time, on how long this goes on for,’ he said. Sir Patrick said that the first step was to reduce the rate of transmission to ensure the NHS can cope with the amount of Covid-19 cases.” – Daily Mail

… but it is working, he claims

“Britain may be starting gradually to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control because residents are doing a “good job” of social distancing, the government’s chief scientific adviser said yesterday. Sir Patrick Vallance said that hospital admissions were increasing by a stable amount each day, with the NHS coping as numbers stopped accelerating. He warned that deaths would continue to rise and that it was vital for Britain to stay in lockdown until it was clear that intensive care would not be overwhelmed. He expressed cautious optimism that “dramatic” reductions in travel and contact could be decreasing the number of new cases and putting the country on course to halt the epidemic.” – The Times

  • Millions complying, but Britons still more likely to head to public parks and use city transport networks than those from other countries – FT
  • Britain’s death toll bigger than official figures show – Daily Telegraph
  • Bin collections could be reduced due to coronavirus – Daily Telegraph
  • Spain to tighten its lockdown – The Times
  • Coronavirus pandemic “could unleash a revolution in Germany”, warns senior MP – The Times
  • Lockdown fatigue hits Europe – FT

Officers accused of acting like “police state” over lockdown rules

Police have been accused of a draconian interpretation of their coronavirus powers as fears grow that the public are being punished for minor breaches of lockdown rules. Lord Sumption, a former justice of the Supreme Court, accused one force of “disgraceful” behaviour akin to a “police state” and acting like “glorified school prefects” in enforcing the Government’s social distancing regulations…At Monday, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary defended the police and told the public to “bear in mind the number one message which the police are rightly trying to convey”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Police chiefs draw up new guidance for forces – The Guardian
  • Inconsistencies between different forces’ approaches cause alarm – FT

Nigel Farage: Of course we must stop coronavirus, but not at the cost of becoming a police state

“I was delighted when the Government performed its dramatic U-turn a few weeks ago and moved away from a herd immunity strategy to outright prevention of the rapid spread of Covid-19. To have allowed 500,000 people to die while watching the NHS being overwhelmed would have been immoral. But is this new plan being enforced too drastically? We have stringent rules affecting the most basic routines of daily life and a police force with full discretionary powers. Are the Government and police trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus or put the nation under house arrest?” – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Damian Green in Comment: Our approach to China may now have to be more like our attitude to Russia during parts of the Cold War

Ministers 1) Whately under pressure to explain testing shortages

“Health minister Helen Whately was yesterday forced to clarify that only 7,000 patients a day were being tested, despite Cabinet minister Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock both implying on Sunday that 10,000 tests were being done a day. A Downing Street spokesman said the Government hoped to get to 25,000 tests a day within the next fortnight. Asked why the UK was working on a target of 25,000 daily tests while Germany was testing 70,000 a day, he said there were difficulties ‘getting all the equipment they need to conduct these tests at a time when everybody in the world wants them’.” – Daily Mail

  • Fewer than 5,000 people were tested in one day – The Guardian
  • Government orders 15,000 new ventilators – The Guardian
  • Fall in Covid-19 tests putting lives at risks – The Guardian
  • Traces of coronavirus found in kits due to be sent to the UK – Daily Telegraph
  • Hospitals have “growing concern at the disconnect between ministerial rhetoric and the amount of testing and protection available for NHS staff” – FT
  • A quarter of doctors are now reported sick or in isolation – The Times
  • “Immunity passports” could speed up return to work – The Guardian
  • Government must get a grip on its shambolic strategy for testing – The Sun

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Saving the NHS v saving the economy

Ministers 2) Patel appoints youngest head of M15 ever

MI5’s deputy head will take the top job at the spy agency next month promising a sharper focus on China and to work more closely with the private sector in harnessing artificial intelligence in tackling hostile state and terrorist activity. Ken McCallum, a career MI5 officer, has been the agency’s deputy director general since April 2017 and was seen by insiders as the heir apparent at an organisation that prides itself on internal appointments to its leading position. The Glaswegian is the youngest ever boss of MI5, although the organisation will only say he is “in his 40s” – and replaces Sir Andrew Parker, who had been due to step down in April after seven years as the director general in charge of the UK’s domestic security service.” – The Guardian

Ministers 3) Shapps pushes forward with transport consultation paper

“The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation paper on the future of UK transport, which calls for a major shift out of cars into cycling, walking and buses, and “using cars differently in future”, but hasn’t told anyone about it. The paper crept out on March 26, the day that UK Covid-19 victims reached 578, up to that point the largest recorded daily increase. Decarbonising Transport: Setting The Challenge calls for respondents to the debate, as set out by the Government, prior to the publication of a full transport decarbonisation plan, due in November to coincide with the UN’s annual climate-change conference COP26 due to be held in Glasgow.” – Daily Telegraph

Ministers 4) Brexit should take a back seat, says Shirley-Anne Somerville

The social security secretary has urged the UK government to be “sensible” and put tackling coronavirus before the forthcoming Brexit talks. Shirley-Anne Somerville said the pandemic was the focus of all of her cabinet colleagues north of the border. Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is set to co-chair a new round of discussions about Britain’s relationship with the EU via video conferences. Ms Somerville, 45, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that the decision to continue with negotiations was “disappointing”.” – The Times

  • Johnson told to forget trade deal unless he imposes Irish Sea customs checks – Daily Express

>Today: The Moggcast: “The EU as a structure looks rather irrelevant during this crisis.”

Government tells schools to stay open through Easter holidays

“The government is asking schools across Britain to stay open through the Easter holidays to look after the children of key workers who will still be needed in the fight against coronavirus. All schools were closed to most children from March 20, with millions told to stay at home in a bid to beat the pandemic, piling pressure on struggling families. The only pupils still expected to attend school are those seen as vulnerable, alongside the children of key workers so they can continue to work. The Easter holidays are rapidly approaching, and children are due to begin their break in England and Wales on April 6, in Scotland on April 3, and in Northern Ireland on April 9.” – Daily Mail

  • … as universities face £7bn black hole – The Times


Johnson brings in Levido to co-ordinate coronavirus battle as Cummings falls ill

“Tory election chief Isaac Levido has been called into Downing Street to help co-ordinate the coronavirus fightback, as key staff including Dominic Cummings continue to go off sick. Downing Street said the 36-year-old political strategist had been brought in last week to work on ‘all aspects’ of the Government’s response. He played a key role in the Conservatives’ win in the December election. The revelation came as it emerged that Mr Cummings has become the latest senior Government figure to test positive. Boris Johnson’s chief aide developed symptoms of the virus over the weekend and is now self-isolating at home.” – Daily Mail

  • Former civil servants with emergency planning experience asked to return to Whitehall – The Guardian

Prime Minister under pressure to grant low-risk inmates early release

“Boris Johnson is poised to allow pregnant inmates to leave jail but is refusing to sanction the release of thousands of low-risk offenders as coronavirus spreads through prisons. About 50 expectant mothers will be allowed to leave state-run and private prisons within days, as they are classed as “vulnerable”. However, the government is refusing to countenance the widespread release of prisoners approaching the end of their terms amid concerns it will undermine confidence in the justice system. Ministers are instead in talks about converting disused military barracks and immigration detention centres into prisons to ease pressure on overcrowded jails.” – The Times

DIY antibody tests are still being evaluated, says Government official

“DIY coronavirus antibody tests are still being evaluated – despite promises to start rolling them out in mid-April, a senior Government official today admitted. Professor Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England’s medical director, said the millions of kits Number 10 had ordered in principle were ‘under investigation’. Her comments came after one manufacturer of a finger-prick kits warned it could take six weeks for them to have any antibody tests ready for Britons to use at home. BioSure, one of the firms in talks with the Government to make 17.5million home-kits, has been asked to get ready to ramp up production.” – Daily Mail

News in brief: