Back to work 1) Johnson to return to Downing Street next week

“When Boris Johnson returns to work in Downing Street next week he will have to make a series of decisions that will define both his premiership and the nation’s future. Less than three weeks after leaving the intensive care unit of St Thomas’ Hospital, the prime minister will decide when, and how, to ease the lockdown restrictions that he imposed 33 days ago. “It’s the political calculus of life and death,” one cabinet minister said. “The work is going on about how we transition from pandemic to epidemic. The question is how many cases of coronavirus — and deaths — are you willing to live with in exchange for reopening the economy?” Mr Johnson’s recovery at Chequers has been a success. Over the past week he has been increasing his daily walks and gradually raising his workload, culminating in regular calls with cabinet ministers as well as President Trump and the Queen. He was “back to his normal, ebullient self”, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said yesterday. Mr Trump said that the prime minister “sounded incredible” when they spoke on the phone this week.” – The Times

  • Johnson “clearly on the mend” – BBC
  • Cummings attended meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – The Guardian

>Today: MPsETC: Coronavirus Count

Back to work 2) Sunak offers a plan for offices to function safely

“A Treasury proposal to “get Britain back to work” includes plans to ensure that offices and workplaces are free from coronavirus. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is drawing up measures to allow non-essential businesses to reopen in a “safe and practical way”. Businesses will have to put up signs telling workers to remain two metres apart from one another and instruct staff to go home if they have symptoms of Covid-19. Companies will also be told to close “communal spaces” such as canteens, unless people are able to socially distance, and to ensure there is a widespread supply of hand-washing facilities and hand gel.” – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Unblocking the loans scheme traffic jam

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The latest track and trace plan is a significant shift in strategy

Back to work 3) Government encourages more firms to reopen

“Businesses are being discreetly advised by ministers on how to get people back to work in the coming days and weeks amid growing concerns over the economic impact of the lockdown. The Government believes there is plenty of room within the existing restrictions for more people to be working, and is now actively encouraging firms to reopen. British Steel, house builder Persimmon and McDonalds are among the latest in a growing number of firms announcing that they are reopening despite the lockdown. It came as the chief medical officer said there was now “scope for manoeuvre” to ease some restrictions in the near future because the transmission rate of the virus is now within a manageable range. Scientific advisers have told ministers that Britain should be in a position to start lifting the lockdown by mid-May, with a team of experts compiling a detailed report on the issue for Boris Johnson when he returns to work next week.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Premier League football back ‘within weeks’ with games on TV as grounds stay shut – The Sun
  • Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska begin to reopen – BBC
  • More than 2.6million people in London may have already had it – Daily Mail

>Today: Columnist David Gauke: The Government’s lockdown message has been almost too effective – rather than not enough

>Yesterday: Damian Green on Comment: It would be wrong, and a howling political mistake, to ask the over-70s to isolate themselves indefinitely.

Small clusters to be allowed to socialise together

“An easing of lockdown rules could allow people to socialise with up to ten of their closest family and friends, it can be revealed today. Ministers are looking at whether to relax the strict ‘stay at home’ advice to let small groups of households ‘cluster’ together. It would allow close family members to meet for meals, or enable friends to share childcare. It could also allow couples who do not live together to see each other. In an idea reminiscent of BT’s ‘Friends and Families’ scheme, people would nominate a small list of those they want to be able to see, drawn from no more than one or two households.” – Daily Mail

  • If Australia lets families see each other during the coronavirus lockdown, why can’t we? – David Davis, Daily Mail

Conservative MPs launch group to push for more sceptical approach to China

“Prominent Conservatives have launched a campaign group to debate policy towards China, underlining growing concerns in the governing party about the UK’s relationship with the regime in Beijing. The formation of the China Research Group, modelled on the influential European Research Group of Brexit-supporting MPs, comes after senior Tories called for a rethink of Sino-British relations, accusing the communist state of a cover-up over the coronavirus outbreak. Rightwing Conservatives in particular have long been concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in the UK, epitomised by deep unease over the role of Chinese telecoms manufacturer Huawei in the UK’s 5G cellular network…..The CRG will be led by centrist Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat, who chairs of the foreign affairs select committee, and Neil O’Brien, a backbench MP who was previously director of the Policy Exchange think-tank. ” – Financial Times

  • The West must ensure China pays for its role in the spread of Covid-19 – Iain Duncan Smith, Daily Telegraph
  • Call for a tougher stance – Daily Express

Test applications website to reopen

“The government website for key workers to apply for coronavirus tests has been suspended again due to “exceptional demand” but will reopen shortly. Speaking at Friday’s daily briefing, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the site closed after “the slots for today were taken up”. It came back online on Friday evening, allowing key workers to apply for tests at drive-through centres. More testing kits and slots are due to become available at 08:00 BST. Some 16,000 bookings have already been made on the website.” – BBC

  • 16,000 tests snapped up in hours – The Times
  • Compulsory coronavirus test could get travellers back in the air – The Times

>Yesterday: WATCH: Today’s press conference. Shapps on the safeguarding of transport routes.

Patel urges the public to follow the restrictions

“Priti Patel will today urge the public to stick to coronavirus restrictions amid “worrying” evidence that commitment to the lockdown is beginning to wane. The AA said yesterday that there had been more car journeys than at any point in the past four weeks, fuelling the concerns people were no longer following social distancing rules. According to official figures, motor vehicle use has risen from 38 per cent of pre-pandemic levels to 41 per cent in a week. The home secretary will today host a Downing Street press conference and warn people of the need to follow the rules.” – The Times

Parris: Ministers can’t keep hiding behind the science

“Because they lack the courage to share with us the political — political, not medical — choices they must make, they’re afraid to take ownership of the trade-offs that only politics can settle: trade-offs between deaths caused by one disease and deaths caused by others less immediately in the public eye; between the longevity of the elderly and the education of the young; between mortality in April 2020 and debt that will scar a whole generation; between loss of life and loss of livelihood. They shy from levelling with us on these things and shy, perhaps, from levelling with each other too. Instead they pass the parcel to “the” science as if science alone will make the judgments they know must, in the end, be political. The evasion is not a pretty sight and if they think the public are not beginning to notice they are wrong.” – Matthew Parris, The Times

Cavendish: The NHS has discovered how to operate more effectively

“Turf battles and bureaucracy are the enemy of both patients and staff — and that we can break free of both. It is impossible to overstate what has happened in the past two months….Virtual consultations are one example. GPs are now doing around 90 per cent of consultations on the phone or online; that’s too many but it’s revolutionary. Until now, the NHS has suffered from clunky technology which wastes time. You can fetch up unconscious in your local hospital and be treated as though you’ve dropped in from another planet, because they can’t get your medical records from the GP. You can wait weeks in dread for a diagnosis, only to find they’ve lost your test results. Nurses spend hours ringing care homes to discharge elderly people, rather than tending to patients. All this must change; suddenly it seems possible.” – Camilla Cavendish, Financial Times

  • Central planning has failed miserably in this pandemic. The last thing we need is more of it – Philip Booth, Daily Telegraph
  • Cancer victims forgotten, vital operations cancelled  – those without coronavirus are shamefully left behind – Sue Reid, Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Craig Dearden-Phillips and Norman Lamb on Comment: National Voluntary Service can rebuild the social settlement after Covid-19

Moore: The lockdown must be cautiously lifted

“The Prime Minister therefore has to move cautiously, but move he must. We consented to lockdown because we could see why it was necessary. We shall consent to easing it for the same reason. The problem, as one health executive expresses it, is that “It’s much easier to declare something unsafe than to declare it safe.” On the whole, the trends are now favourable, but I do not see how the Government can foreseeably meet its fifth criterion for ending lockdown – that there will be “no risk of a second peak”. There is risk in every choice we make. It is the task of leadership, more than of experts, to navigate us through these risks. For reasons beyond his control, we have not had full leadership from Boris recently. We need it next week.” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

Other comment

  • Johnson must overcome any public sector inertia – Leader, Daily Telegraph
  • Trust the people – Leader, The Times
  • We’re all going stir crazy – Leader, The Sun
  • Politicians have some good ideas. It’s the machinery for delivering them that needs to improve – Andrew Haldenby, Daily Telegraph
  • The Bank of England has your back – Andrew Bailey, The Sun
  • Interview with Bill Gates – The Times

EU negotiations “heading for failure” warns Barnier

“Britain’s talks on its future relationship with the EU are heading for failure unless the UK seriously engages in negotiations on fishing rights and other “fundamental issues”, Brussels warned on Friday. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier gave a bleak assessment of this week’s virtual round of UK-EU negotiations, saying progress was “disappointing” in important areas. Britain had “refused to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues”, Mr Barnier said. “I regret it, and this worries me.” This week’s talks were the first since Covid-19 forced the continent into lockdown.” – Financial Times

News in brief

  • Where does Scottish Labour go under Keir Starmer? – Tom Harris, CapX
  • Britain’s bid to become China’s best friend in the West is over – James Forsyth, The Spectator
  • The UK should withdraw from the World Health Organization – Harry Phibbs, Global Vision
  • Making the decision to relax some controls – John Redwood
  • Don’t copy the political TV hosts in America – Douglas Murray, Unherd