The Telegraph turns on Johnson as the Government is savaged by Fleet Street over testing…

“Ministers were on Wednesday night unable to answer basic questions about when Britain’s testing regime for coronavirus is to be increased dramatically in scale to allow the country to plan its exit from lockdown. After days of mounting concerns over the growing testing crisis, it is still unclear when NHS workers are to be tested, when mass testing for the population is to be rolled out or even whether the Government has a plan to end the nation’s quarantine. Wednesday’s death toll from the virus was 563, overtaking France’s highest daily figures and bringing the total number of deaths in the UK to 2,352. Asked repeatedly at the Downing Street press conference about why Britain lags behind other nations in testing, Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, said “increasing testing capacity is absolutely the Government’s top priority”, but failed to explain when the numbers would increase.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Only 2,000 NHS staff tested for virus, UK government admits – FT
  • UK medicines watchdog warns over unsafe coronavirus tests – FT
  • Deputy Chief Medical Office says testing is ‘a side issue’ – ITV
  • ‘Fears grow’ over provided PPE – Daily Express
  • Latest advice – HM Government

…Hancock returns to mobilise private labs…

“Boris Johnson has been forced to shift strategy on the government’s testing regime for coronavirus after criticism of the slow pace of checks being carried out on frontline NHS staff. Private laboratories are now being drafted in to do the tests where before these were being performed through a centralised process… Last night Matt Hancock, the health secretary, spoke to industry bodies about using private labs to expand testing as he moved away from relying on standardised procedures. He told them: “I want industry and government to come together to build a UK diagnostic capability that hasn’t previously been seen. I am entirely open-minded about how we do this, but I am determined that it should happen.”” – The Times

  • Hundreds of little labs ‘ready to fill NHS coronavirus test gap’ – The Times
  • ‘Staggering incompetence’ of public health fat cats – Daily Mail
  • Officials urged to abandon strict rules hampering introduction of mass testing – The Guardian


  • Coronavirus vaccine hope from makers of cigarettes – The Times
  • Oil firms ‘profiting from crisis’ – The Sun

…and the rise in transport use has officials worried about a lockdown ‘rebellion’…

“Britain’s coronavirus lockdown began to fray on Wednesday night as official figures showed an “uptick” in the number of people using transport. The number of those using their cars and public transport, which had been consistently dropping since strict social distancing measures were introduced, rose for the first time at the beginning of this week. It is feared that the sunny forecast for the weekend, which could see temperatures of 20C in London, will prompt more people to go break the rules and go outside and socialise as the Easter holidays begin… Many self-employed people who have been told that they will not receive money from the Government until June now feel that they have no choice but to return to work, a Government adviser told The Telegraph.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Rise in number of people driving too – Daily Express
  • King warns ministers of limited public appetite for restrictions – The Times
  • Lockdown ‘could be relaxed in weeks’ if everyone plays part – Daily Express

>Yesterday: Dr Luke Evans MP in Comment: Communicate, organise, problem-solve. My three principles for local action to help combat the virus.

…while Johnson beefs up his communications team to sharpen the Government’s coronavirus messaging

“Boris Johnson’s revamped communications strategy to combat coronavirus will be run like a “political campaign” after he drafted in a new team of advisers spearheaded by his Australian former elections chief, senior sources have said. Following criticism over mixed messages and selective briefings in recent weeks, the prime minister and his key adviser Dominic Cummings recruited Isaac Levido, 36, who ran the Tory general election campaign in December. Having already a “grid” of communications centred on the daily press conference, the government is now looking to bring in more experienced campaigners to sharpen the message – with the aim of boosting both public health and the prime minister’s standing.” – The Guardian


  • Confusion over the Government’s strategy has worsened delays – The Times
  • Testing is the only way to end this purgatory – Daily Mail

>Today: MPs Etc.: Coronavirus Count

Sharma attacks banks withholding business loans

“Alok Sharma has said it is “completely unacceptable” for banks to refuse loans to good business, amid reports many firms have been unable to receive support. The Business Secretary said the Chancellor had written to the chief executives of UK banks to urge them to “make sure that the benefits of the loan scheme are passed on to businesses and people”. He also confirmed that the Government is “looking at ways” to respond to concerns from businesses who say they are not getting the support they need. It follows reports that up to a million firms are unlikely to get the cash they need to survive the next four weeks. The Corporate Finance Network of accountants predicts four million staff could lose their jobs in May, adding that as many as 42 per cent of small firms could go bust if the lockdown lasts for four months or more.” – Daily Telegraph

  • ‘Million firms’ could shut if they don’t receive vital support – The Sun
  • Bailout scheme to be overhauled for small businesses – The Times


  • Greedy banks won’t be forgiven if they fail to rescue small firms now – The Sun

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Sharma – Banks must not refuse funds to good businesses. Today’s Government press conference.

Huge take-up of furlough support could see much higher costs than Treasury planned for

“About half of UK companies are planning to furlough many of their staff because of coronavirus, according to surveys that threaten a much higher cost to the Treasury than expected. The prospect of a higher than expected take-up of the furloughed workers programme comes as the government seeks to improve the terms of the loan scheme to help banks lend to more companies… The Treasury has estimated that about 3m people, or 10 per cent of the private sector workforce, would be laid off temporarily and thus their employers would be able to take advantage of the government job retention scheme, which covers four-fifths of wages up to £2,500 a month. However, in a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, about 44 per cent of companies said that at least half their staff would be paid through the scheme, and one-third said that they were planning to furlough more than 75 per cent of their workforce over the next week.” – FT

  • Union fears firms could make people work despite furlough subsidies – Daily Telegraph
  • A million universal credit claims in past two weeks – The Times
  • UK blocked from claiming EU unemployment rescue cash despite budget contributions – Daily Express
  • Profile: the Coronavirus Chancellor – FT


  • Treasury to suffer £5bn tax hit as coronavirus stalls housing market – The Times
  • UK charities call for £10bn debt write-off to help the poor – FT


Allister Heath: The coronavirus recession will shift British politics – but not to the Left

“It will be self-evidently unaffordable for the Government to continue paying for half the jobs in the country when the crisis ends, and some of the abuse of furloughing that can even now be detected will remind the public of the dangers of generous welfare. Rishi Sunak’s superstructure will be dismantled: extremely elevated levels of benefits essential during total war can’t continue in peacetime without massive incentive problems. The greatest change AC will be to our culture, and this won’t help the Left: we will rediscover the advantages of economic growth and have to relearn to live with unemployment. The BC (Before Coronavirus) obsession with frivolous “first world problems” will be gone: there will be no interest in identity politics, just in hard-headed policies that can boost growth and jobs and put money in people’s pockets.” – Daily Telegraph

  • This virus is a shot in the arm for science – David Aaronovitch, The Times
  • Inquiry into the UK’s coronavirus response would find a litany of failures – Anthony Costello, The Guardian


UK’s largest hospital to open after nine-day building programme

“NHS Nightingale, the UK’s largest hospital, is due to open this week in London’s Docklands just nine days after military logistics teams were first scrambled to build a new facility for coronavirus patients. The temporary hospital at the cavernous ExCeL conference centre, which will be managed by Barts Health NHS Trust, will open to a small number of patients this week and will expand to accommodate up to 3,500 people when fully operational, according to NHS England. The Nightingale – built jointly by civilian contractors and military specialists – is the first in a series of field hospitals under construction across the UK to provide extra capacity for virus sufferers requiring ventilation and critical care. There are plans to build other medical facilities in Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate, Glasgow, Cardiff and Llanelli in Wales and at a former prison near Belfast in Northern Ireland.” – FT

  • Coronavirus cases could be in half of its care homes, leading charity warns – The Sun

Law and order: woman fined £660 for crime that ‘doesn’t exist’…

“Police have been accused of using the wrong law to prosecute a woman and fine her £660 in the first arrest on the railways under the lockdown. Marie Dinou, 41, from York, was arrested and fined after failing to tell police why she was at Newcastle Central station on Saturday morning. British Transport Police said she was detained because she “refused to speak” to officers after being seen “loitering between platforms”. Dinou was fined at North Tyneside magistrates’ court on Monday after she was found guilty of “failing to provide identity or reasons for travel to police, and failing to comply with requirements under the Coronavirus Act”. The Times has established, however, that Dinou appeared to have been prosecuted after police asked for information that their own guidance cautions against.” – The Times

  • Officers can use ‘reasonable force’ against children – The Sun
  • Intimidated pharmacists call in police – The Times
  • Would you squeal on a neighbour? – Daily Mail


  • Plod have seized the chance to push us around – Rod Liddle, The Sun

>Yesterday: Local Government: Coronavirus: some councils are doing better than others. And where are the Police and Crime Commissioners?

…as SNP ministers forced to u-turn on ‘draconian’ proposals to suspend jury trials…

“SNP ministers were today forced to perform a u-turn on “draconian” proposals to temporarily suspend jury trials in Scotland amid the coronavirus pandemic. Less than 24 hours after the idea was first proposed, the Scottish Government announced the policy to allow serious criminal verdicts to be decided by judges rather than a jury has been removed from emergency legislation. Lord Carloway, Scotland’s Lord Justice General, said the plan was necessary to deal with the heavy delays in bringing the accused to trial which would “stretch into years rather than months”. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the proposal as an “exceptional measure to deal with exceptional times”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sturgeon’s ‘six huge failures’ spark Nationalist concern – Daily Express

MPs should sit ‘virtually’ during lockdown, says Speaker

“Britain’s MPs would end up debating with each other via video link after the Easter recess under plans put forward by Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, in order to allow continued scrutiny of the government during the pandemic. Parliament has been shut down from March 25 until at least April 21 to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, with citizens urged to work from home and all pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops forced to close. But with growing expectations that the current lockdown might continue for much longer, Sir Lindsay suggested that the House of Commons should operate “virtually” if the UK is still in the grip of Covid-19 after that date… Any such decision, however, lies in the hands of Boris Johnson’s government.” – FT

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Home abortions, sunset clauses – and the importance of votes in Parliament

US death toll jumps 884 in 24 hours – the worst day yet

“The death toll in the United States has jumped by 884 in just 24 hours, its worst day yet. The US now has more than 213,000 cases and more than 1,100 people have died in New York alone. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he is considering a ban on domestic flights to coronavirus hotspots around the country. In total, more than 5,000 Americans have died and the US has the highest number of reported cases in the world… US President Donald Trump said arrangements had been made with the UK Government to evacuate British passengers on two cruise ships set to soon dock in Florida after being hit by the coronavirus.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Global cases near million mark as US federal stockpile of medical equipment dwindles – The Guardian
  • Spanish coronavirus cases rise past 100,000 – The Times
  • China accuses Britain and the US of spreading lies about its response – The Sun
  • Japan bans foreigners amid coronavirus surge fears – The Times


  • Cuomo won’t ride to the Democrats’ rescue – Gerard Baker, The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Trump’s mishandling of the virus crisis confirms that he is an impudent opportunist

European law will hold sway for years to come, say senior judges

“Europe’s highest court will continue to rule over British legal disputes until a final Brexit deal is agreed, the UK’s most senior judges said. Courts in the UK will be obliged to refer cases involving unclear EU laws to the European Court of Justice until the country fully leaves the union, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday in a case relating to a mistake over VAT charges. The ruling will infuriate Brexiteers who have demanded that EU legal jurisdiction over cases is brought to an end. Lord Hodge, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, said, however, that current case law did not provide a clear answer in a dispute over EU law. Some lawyers have been lobbying the government not to budge on leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ.” – The Times

News in Brief:

  • Why the coronavirus shutdown is worth it – Sam Bowman, The Critic
  • It can’t be ‘big business as usual’ after coronavirus – Mary Harrington, UnHerd
  • How should we pay for all this extra government spending? – Philip Booth, CapX
  • No lockdown, please, we’re Swedish – Fredrik Erixon, The Spectator
  • Scotland after the trial of Salmond – Dani Garavelli, Tortoise Media