COVID-19: Daily update from Grayling PR (25th March)

26th March 2020, 10:48 am

Guest blog by Grayling PR (review of 25th March). Please contact Chris Peacock to receive these daily bulletins by email. 

    • At this afternoon’s press conference, the Prime Minister reiterated to the country that it was imperative to stay at home where possible. He also thanked the 405,000 people who have signed up to the NHS volunteer scheme since yesterday, to help deliver essential items to the elderly and the vulnerable.
    • The PM stated that tomorrow the Chancellor will announce new measures to help the self employed through the current crisis.
    • In addition, the Government have announced that all businesses will be given an additional three months to file their accounts with Companies House, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
    • Today’s UK wide number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have not yet been published by the Department for Health and Social Care.


    UK Government  


    Daily Press Conference


    Comments by the Prime Minister

    • The Prime Minister began by outlining how he would update the public on “the government’s plan to defeat the virus”, before going on to warn that “our NHS, like any other world class health service, has only limited resources”. He continued, noting that if there were too many people sick at any one time, “the harder it is to cope, so delay is vital”. He reiterated it was imperative for people to remain in their homes where possible.
    • The PM continued, thanking all volunteers who had signed up to the new government programme, aimed at helping alleviate pressure on the NHS and provide essential services to elderly and vulnerable people. The PM said how the government had “hoped for 250,000 people over a few days” however, in the last 24 hours, 405,000 people have responded to the government’s call – which the PM highlighted was “more volunteers than the population of Coventry. Thank you on behalf of the entire country.”
    • The PM went on to remind everyone of the government’s core policy, concluding that it was important to “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives”.
    • In response to a question on business support, the PM said that there was currently in place “an unprecedented programme of support for businesses and workers – never in our history has the government put its arms around people like it is doing now – the measures are extraordinary, and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver further announcements tomorrow on help for the self-employed”.
    • On the subject of testing, the PM noted that “testing is on its way as soon as possible”, reminding journalists that the UK has carried out more tests than most other European countries.


    Comments by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty

    • The comments made by the Chief Medical Officer focused mainly on the subject of testing for the virus. The CMO noted that the initial antigen test, that was used to screen people returning from countries known to have the virus, is working well in hospitals and in intensive care units.
    • Continuing, Professor Whitty suggested that “what we would like to do now is test NHS and other critical workers, who are self-isolating and are not being tested” in order to determine whether they should continue to isolate or whether it would be appropriate for them to go back to work. The CMO appreciated that there was a “global shortage” of this kind of testing.
    • Finally, the CMO outlined how the government was working to ensure that tests are available for those believed to have already had the virus, which would be useful for allowing people, particularly NHS staff, back to work. He reiterated that it was important to wait to ensure the technology currently being developed could be trusted, arguing that rushing to develop the test would be dangerous.


    Parliament to enter recess early

    • Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has tabled a motion proposing that the House rises tonight for Easter recess, and adjourns until Tuesday 21st April. Recess was previously expected to begin on Tuesday 31 March.
    • It is expected that a vote on the motion will take place in the House this evening, should the Coronavirus Bill pass through the House of Lords unamended.


    Companies to receive 3-month extension period to file accounts during COVID-19

    • The Government have announced that all businesses will be given an additional 3 months to file their accounts with Companies House, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
    • The government’s announcement states that “as part of the agreed measures, while companies will still have to apply for the 3-month extension to be granted, those citing issues around COVID-19 will be automatically and immediately granted an extension. Applications can be made through a fast-tracked online system which will take just 15 minutes to complete”.
    • More information is available here.


    FCO: UK offers visa relief for foreign nationals

    • The Foreign Office has announced that the UK is to grant visa extensions until 31 May for all foreign nationals in the country.
    • The Foreign Office announced this afternoon that “individuals who are in the UK and whose visa expired after 24 January should email, and they will be issued an extension until 31 May. This timeline will be kept under review in case further extension is needed. The UK is also temporarily expanding the in-country switching provisions”.
    • More information is available here.


    Government launches Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp

    • The government has announced that it has launched a coronavirus information service which will be available via WhatsApp.
    • An announcement released by the government states that “to use the free GOV.UK Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp, simply add 07860 064422 in your phone contacts and then message the word ‘hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started. A set of menu options is then presented which the user can choose from and then be sent relevant guidance from GOV.UK pages as well as links to GOV.UK for further information.”
    • More information is available here.



    English Regions


    Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) COVID-19 Committee

    • The Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham chaired the second meeting of a weekly GMCA COVID-19 Committee this afternoon.
    • Below are the key points to take from the second COVID-19 Committee meeting,
    • GMCA announce a £5 million package to house the most vulnerable – As an urgent humanitarian response, Mr Burnham has announced there will be an immediate £5 million worth of funding to house 1000 vulnerable people in hotels across Greater Manchester, providing them with essential services to help them during the coronavirus crisis.
    • Hotels – Mr Burnham announced 625 hotel rooms have been made available to house the city-region’s rough sleeping population and those in shared hostels to help protect them from the virus. A further 375 hotel rooms are being sourced in the next 48 hours.
    • Supporting the hotel population – Mr Burnham mentions welfare packages for those moved to hotels will be sourced through the Greater Manchester Action Network, an umbrella organisation key to addressing rough sleeping. These packages will include dry food goods, basic food preparation and eating utensils and hygiene essentials such as sanitary and dental products.
    • Burnham’s challenge to government – The Mayor continued to call for the government to provide greater clarity about the position and support for the self employed. He also called on the government to provide more PPR for frontline staff in the health service and police.


    Scottish Parliament


    • As of 2pm on 25th March, there have been 719 positive cases of COVID-19 in Scotland, an increase in 135 from yesterday. There have sadly now been 22 deaths.


    First Minister’s Briefing

    • The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government has signed a Joint Statement of Fair Work with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), outlining their shared belief that employees must be protected by their employers and should be able to receive pay and support while self-isolating or working from home.
    • The First Minister announced the creation of a Scottish Government Advisory Group for COVID-19, led by Professor Andrew Morris, Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Director of Health Data Research UK.
    • Sturgeon confirmed that bus companies will receive funding for forecasted concessionary travel levels rather than actual levels, given passenger numbers have dropped approximately 70% due to Covid-19.
    • The First Minister confirmed that so far only around 1% of parents are taking up childcare places in schools – a measure of compliance with the government’s directives regarding key workers.
    • Sturgeon also stated that further guidance for employers would be made available on the Scottish Government website, setting out clear principles to guide businesses as they answer operational questions.
    • The First Minister restated the Scottish Government’s belief that construction sites should not be open, other than on essential sites – she stated that the Scottish Government was not in a position to say that working on construction is safe, and as such operating companies should close sites as soon as possible.
    • When questioned about the UK Government’s new Nightingale Field Hospital based in the Excel Centre, the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health confirmed that initial plans were being made of a similar nature, but that reducing caseload below the existing capacity of the NHS estate remains the goal.


    Scottish Government Announcements

    • The Scottish Government has announced an additional funding package for the Scottish Fishing and Seafood industry, to compensate for the collapse of export and hospitality markets.
    • The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman, has formally asked Scottish NHS boards to prioritise the testing of symptomatic members of the public who share a household with an NHS worker, and are therefore causing that worker to self-isolate for 14 days. Negative test results in this group would limit the effect of enforced absence for these essential staff.


    Welsh Assembly


    • Public Health Wales have announced that 150 new cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 628. They have also announced a further 5 deaths in the last 24 hours, meaning that 22 people in Wales have now sadly passed away.


    Statement on Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for front line health and social care staff

    • The Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething has issued revised guidance on Personal Protective Equipment, which has been agreed across all UK nations.


    • The Minister has now authorised the following measures:
      • Personal protective equipment from the pandemic stockpile have been released to the NHS and to social care in order to reinforce the regular NHS supply routes that have come under substantial pressure.
      • As a result of significant increase in demand for Type 11 R fluid resistant facemasks and FFP3 respirators, the Welsh Government have authorised a significant push of PPE to Welsh Health Boards, ambulance services and Velindre.
      • The Welsh Government have also authorised a distribution of PPE to: all 640 GP clinics and the 40 GP out of hours services in Wales; a second distribution of PPE (following changes to advice around eye protection wear) to all GPs; to all pharmacies; and to all social care providers in Wales.
      • An enhancement of arrangements for social care providers through the implementation of a contingency plan for social care access to PPE through local authorities’ Directors of Social Services. This will also put in place arrangements to monitor the use of PPE and top up these supplies when needed.
    • In recognition of the continuing issues and concerns around the distribution and level of supply for PPE, the Minister stated that it will be important to use stock efficiently and appropriately until resupplies become more certain. Further, where voluntary bodies are supporting the NHS or social services in caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 victims, the Minister confirmed that they should be able to access appropriate PPE by getting in touch with the NHS or the local authority they are supporting.
    • The Minister also announced that a hotline telephone and email contact is provided to the Welsh Government Emergency Co-ordination Centre will be established, which can be used in emergencies related to PPE supplies. This hotline will be put in place and operate 7 days a week.


    Statement from Minister for Housing and Local Government

    • The Minister is in the process of establishing a single emergency stream for local authorities to meet the pressures arising from COVID-19, including additional costs of delivering existing services and additional demands of new actions and new responsibilities following the Coronavirus Bill at the UK Government level.
    • The Welsh Government are making £30 million available in the first instance, which includes provision of £7 million to provide financial assistance to families of pupils who rely on free school meals but are not able to receive them due to school closures.  A further £10 million of the fund is to fund urgent arrangements to protect rough sleepers.


    Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance for park (mobile) homes

    • The Welsh Government has published guidance for holiday park owners and operators in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can access the guidance here.


    National Assembly for Wales procedures revised

    • In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, plenary sessions will now be replaced by “emergency Senedd” meetings, which involve the attendance of fewer members.
    • The sessions will only take place when required and will take place on Tuesdays. This will involve a statement from the First Minister, with opposition AM’s able to ask questions.
    • Senedd rules have been changed so that four AMs are required for votes to be valid. Additionally, video conferencing is now permissible


    Northern Irish Assembly


    • A total of 209 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded as of Tuesday, an increase of 37 cases since the previous day.
    • There have sadly now been 7 deaths in Northern Ireland.


    Executive Office daily briefing

    • First Minister Arlene Foster urged citizens to adhere to social distancing measures in place across Northern Ireland, whilst announcing a new call for volunteers to support the NHS.
    • Foster further reiterated the need for only essential businesses to remain open, stating that the Executive will take enforcement against businesses if needed.
    • Foster also confirmed that all MLA offices are now closed to members of the public, whilst social distancing measures are in place in the assembly chamber.
    • Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged businesses remaining open to act carefully and apply strict social distancing measures.
    • The Executive has published a list of the essential businesses that can remain open in Northern Ireland, after yesterday urging non-essential businesses to close. The list approved that corner shops, supermarkets, dental surgeries and veterinary clinics amongst other key retail shops are able to remain open for business. The list is extended to include credit unions and post offices.
    • Health Minister, Robin Swann, confirmed the Department is launching a mobile app tomorrow that will advice members of the public whether they have symptoms of coronavirus.
    • Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced changes to community transport provision that will protect the most vulnerable. In an effort to prevent further spread of Covid-19, Disability Action Transport Services, funded by the Department for Infrastructure, will be suspended, whilst Dial-A-Lift services will only be provided where absolutely essential.

Please contact Chris Peacock to receive these daily updates by email. 

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