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Lockdown exit plan ‘within days’, says chief medic

“Britain is reaching the peak of the coronavirus pandemic and will be able to finalise its strategy for easing the lockdown within ten days, the chief medical officer has said. Chris Whitty said health officials believed that the trend in new infections was beginning to “flatten out” as the death toll stayed below 800 for the fourth day in a row. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, who is deputising for the prime minister while he recovers, is expected to announce today that lockdown restrictions will remain in place for a further three weeks. After chairing a cabinet conference call and a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee he will say that it is too early to lift them.” – The Times

  • Johnson ‘could return to work on May 7’ – FT
  • UK faces ‘segmenting’ older family from young – The Times
  • Britain braced for lockdown until early May – Daily Telegraph
  • Coffee shops, estate agents and restaurants ‘to be first to re-open’ – The Sun
  • Seven ways rules could be lifted – The Times

Economy:

  • Chancellor pushing for earlier exit – The Sun
  • Sunak ‘deeply troubled’ over warnings of economy shrinking by 35 per cent – Daily Express
  • Economists not included in group shaping coronavirus lockdown – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: The longer the lockdown lasts, the bigger Sunak’s bazooka will be

>Yesterday:

Peers demand post-crisis public inquiry

“Britain’s response to the coronavirus outbreak should be the subject of a full independent public inquiry as soon as the worst of the crisis has passed, a group of a dozen senior peers and medical experts is demanding. The group, including former cabinet secretary Bob Kerslake and Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chairman, say in a letter to the Financial Times that the inquiry should come to its conclusions “in a timely fashion”. The idea of a full public inquiry, constituted under the 2005 inquiries act, could be problematic for Boris Johnson, who has been accused by opposition parties of mounting a late response to the crisis. They have highlighted how Britain was not ready to tackle Covid-19 by carrying out mass testing of the population, as well as the limited numbers of ventilators available to help those suffering from the virus in hospital.” – FT

British company that can deliver one million Covid-19 tests per week left waiting

“A million coronavirus tests a week can be delivered by a British company, but Public Health England (PHE) has not taken up the offer, it has emerged, amid growing concerns the government’s 100,000-a-day target is now unreachable. Berkshire-based Apacor Ltd, has already gained approval from the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to supply coronavirus antigen tests and said the first 150,000 could be flown to Britain overnight. The South Korean test, made by Wells Bio, is already being used by Germany, but the PHE laboratory at Colindale has still not sent for a sample so it can be verified and says it cannot find time to talk to the company until next week.” – Daily Telegraph

  • UK expected to miss 100,000 a day virus testing target – FT

More:

  • Coronavirus ventilators given green light for production – The Times
  • Manufacturers protected from injury claims – FT

Editorial:

  • Our failure to harness the private sector in this crisis is inexplicable – Daily Telegraph

Iain Duncan Smith and Gerard Lyons: Staged exit and changed behaviour will be crucial for recovery

“In ensuring we unlock when medically sensible to do so, we must not rely solely on epidemiological models. While essential in outlining the case for a lockdown, these scientific models do not factor in behavioural change and so are likely to recommend leaving the lockdown in place for longer than is perhaps necessary. As behaviours play a key role, economics and social science have a role to play in plotting a credible and safe route out of lockdown. The government’s slogan has been very effective in changing people’s behaviour, emphasising we act in ways which reduce risk to others. This shift must remain. Furthermore, in any exit strategy, increased testing and tracing will be essential but we cannot wait for these to determine when we unlock.” – The Times

  • Too few have realised the true cost of this ruinous new economic Ice Age – Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph
  • I fear the coronavirus lockdown is also harming the nation’s health – Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Mail

More:

  • Covid-19 has been a reminder that the NHS is not the envy of the world – James Bartholomew, Daily Telegraph
  • Boris Johnson can now redeem his debt to the NHS – Philip Stephens, FT

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: When the virus crisis is over, we will have to look at what the NHS can learn from Germany

Sun backs Ashcroft’s call for NHS to receive George Cross

“Britain’s NHS heroes should be given the right protection at work and a George Cross medal – as well as another round of applause on Thursday night. Our amazing healthcare staff will be clapped around the country again at 8pm – and there were calls last night to give them lasting support and recognition. As well as the PPE they desperately require to do their jobs safely, we are backing philanthropist Lord Ashcroft’s plea for a collective George Cross medal to be awarded to the NHS. He argues in an article below that the prestigious gong would be appropriate as it acknowledges supreme bravery that did not take place in the heat of battle. It will also honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice — the medics who lost their lives while treating patients during the coronavirus crisis.” – The Sun

  • Labour calls for better coronavirus protection for UK armed forces – The Guardian
  • Teachers demand access to PPE before returning to work – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • After coronavirus, Tories will be a very different party – Martin Kettle, The Guardian

>Yesterday: Dr Luke Evans MP’s column: What I learnt from my own experience in intensive care with pneumonia about goals and setbacks

Let family see dying patients in care homes, says Hancock

“Close relatives should be allowed to visit dying coronavirus patients in care homes, the health secretary said yesterday, as he faced criticism for the slow speed of government support for the sector. In new guidance, ministers said that end-of-life care was an “exceptional circumstance” that overrode the ban on visits to prevent the spread of the disease. Matt Hancock pledged additional supplies of protective equipment for visitors and said testing for coronavirus would be ramped up across the sector. Despite this he faced criticism over the failure to hit government targets. The health secretary claimed yesterday that testing was now available “right across the NHS and social care for all those who need it”.” – The Times

Editorial:

  • Government’s blind spot over care homes has been a calamity – The Sun

>Yesterday:

Start-up rescue package expected within days as loan scheme criticism mounts

“The Treasury is expected to unveil a sweeping rescue package for start-up businesses within days as criticism mounts over the emergency support on offer for companies battling through the lockdown. Ministers are rushing ahead with a bailout plan for loss-making companies whose funding pools have dried up since normal life was put on hold, according to two senior sources in the tech industry. It came as the Government’s furlough scheme was extended to support up to 200,000 more workers at risk of losing their jobs. Details of the start-up rescue package are yet to be finalised, although it is thought to centre around a co-investment strategy – where investors continue to back fast-growing firms but their funding is matched by the taxpayer.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Minister seeks ways to extend bailout to owner-directors – FT
  • Small firm owners reveal toll of bank loan debacle – The Sun
  • Firms could go bust in days – Daily Mail

More:

  • Thousands could now be eligible for child benefit payments – FT
  • Coronavirus crisis could send the benefits bill soaring – The Sun

Comment:

  • Why the UK’s coronavirus bailout plan isn’t working – Nils Pratley, The Guardian

>Today: Allie Renison in Comment: SMEs are most at risk from economic collapse. They need to know that help is coming.

Davidson cheers Sturgeon U-turn after pressure to match England’s business pay

“Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to match government support for small business in Scotland to that in the rest of the UK has been welcomed by former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who said the grants would help companies stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday morning the Scottish Government bowed to pressure to match the UK’s support for business owners during the COVID-19 crisis, by announcing grants for firms with multiple properties. The move was branded a “U-turn” by the Scottish Tories. In a change to its initial stance, Holyrood has said it will extend grants to small companies with more than one premises, with 75 percent of the grant available for each subsequent property in an investment of £120million.” – Daily Express

Britain and EU agree to revive talks on future relationship

“Britain and the EU on Wednesday announced plans for three negotiating rounds on their future relationship between now and early June, as they seek to reinvigorate talks that were hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic.  EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost took the decision during a video call — their first official contact since the former announced on March 19 that he had contracted Covid-19. Coronavirus has played havoc with the tight timetable for the future relationship talks, which began in March. Mr Barnier warned even before the outbreak began that it would be extremely difficult to reach a comprehensive deal before the end of this year, when Britain’s post-Brexit transition period expires.” – FT

  • Negotiations will resume next week – The Guardian
  • Sunak ‘sends EU leaders into a panic’ with promise of deal by December 31 – Daily Express

>Today: Stephen Booth’s column: The UK and EU should agree a deal this year. The implementation period is the tricky part.

US investigates if COVID-19 escaped from Wuhan lab

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded that China ‘come clean’ following reports that coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, not as a bioweapon, but as part of bungling experiments to prove that Chinese scientists were superior to Americans in identifying emerging virus threats. It comes after President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the U.S. is trying to determine whether the coronavirus first crossed to humans accidentally during experiments with bats at the Wuhan Institute of Virology Lab. After word of the outbreak finally became public, Chinese leaders were quick to blame Wuhan’s ‘wet market’ where wild animals — though not bats — are sold for consumption, leading one source to tell Fox News the debacle is the ‘costliest government coverup of all time.’ ‘Patient zero’ worked at the Wuhan lab, and spread the virus into the local population after leaving work, sources who had been briefed on intelligence told the outlet.” – Daily Mail

  • China ‘concealed’ coronavirus from West and must take responsibility, says ex-MI6 chief – The Sun
  • Trump’s decision to end WHO payments over ‘opens door for China’ – The Times

>Yesterday: Patrick Hall in Comment: This outbreak is a deadly reminder that we must up our game on biosecurity

Building work to begin on HS2 but ministers say it’s poor value

“Full construction of the HS2 railway line will start in weeks after the government gave formal approval even though it admits that it could deliver “poor” value for taxpayers. Yesterday ministers said that the “notice to proceed” had been signed which gives HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company, permission to build the line. It is estimated to cost up to £106 billion. The move will provide a “vote of confidence” in the construction industry at a time of economic uncertainty posed by the pandemic, the government said. An updated business case for Europe’s biggest infrastructure project acknowledged that the first phase, between London and Birmingham, could deliver “poor” value for money.” – The Times

  • Ministers shrug off economy fears to give final go-ahead – The Sun
  • Farage attacks decision to approve HS2 – Daily Express

Labour’s McNicol steps down from Lords role after report leak

“Labour’s former general secretary Iain McNicol has stepped down from the party’s frontbench in the House of Lords while an investigation is carried out into claims former senior officials sought to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Lord McNicol was nominated for a peerage by Corbyn after resigning as general secretary in February 2018. An 860-page report, which was leaked to Sky News at the weekend, includes lengthy extracts of private WhatsApp conversations between former senior Labour staff in which they are scathing about leftwing MPs and advisers – and Corbyn himself. Its release risks reigniting factional tensions just as the new leader, Keir Starmer, seeks to underline the need for party unity.” – The Guardian

  • McCluskey condemns ‘cruel and rancid’ anti-Corbynite culture in Labour party – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • Labour still tainted by Corbyn’s grim legacy – David Aaronovitch, The Times

>Yesterday: Left Watch: The Corbynites may have handed Starmer a stick with which to beat them – the ICO

News in Brief:

  • The curious case of Cardinal Pell and the perils of ‘we believe you’ – Ramesh Thakur, CapX
  • Imagine having to write a eulogy for Boris – Giles Fraser, UnHerd
  • How Covid-19 will change the Tory party – James Forsyth, The Spectator
  • Government must save Britain’s smallest companies from virus crisis – Maggie Pagano, Reaction
  • The supposed scandal in Scotland has got the facts back to front – Graham Stewart, The Critic

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