COVID-19 Outbreak – Government guidance as of 17 March 2020

COVID-19 Outbreak – Government guidance as of 17 March 2020

 Given the unprecedented situation caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, the Government holds a press conference every day at 5 pm. During the conference, the PM, the Chief Scientific Advisor and the Chief Medical Advisor update the country on the number of confirmed cases and deaths, in addition to announcing any new measures to deal with the situation.

In a major shift in strategy, the Government yesterday announced a set of drastic measures aimed at putting in reverse, rather than slowing as originally planned, the spread of the Coronavirus.

It is worth noting that, although the original Government’s strategy of achieving herd immunisation among the British population has now been deemed insufficient, these measures were already being considered. Their introduction has only been brought forward a few weeks.

Guidelines

For all groups, the Government advises to restrict access to NHS only when absolutely necessary to free capacity to deal with the virus.

  • Groups at risk: over 70, with underlying health conditions (serious or otherwise), pregnant women
  • AVOID social mixing
  • LIMIT visits from relatives and friends to the house
  • Work from home
  • Avoid all public transport and movements outside the house unless indispensable (health- or treatment related)
  • Under-70 with no underlying health conditions:
  • Self-isolation for seven days if an individual experiences mild cough/cold symptoms
  • Whole household isolation if one member experiences high fever and a new continuous cough (the diagnostic symptoms of COVID-19)
  • Social mixing and visits from friends and relatives are advised against
  • Working from home wherever possible
  • Avoid public transport and commuting wherever possible
  • Where it is not possible to work from home, social distancing is recommended; for workplaces, it’s advised to consult with employees and unions to find acceptable working protocols that protect staff

These measures are changing as the situation evolves and any updates will be announced daily by the Government at 5PM.

 

Government support for the economy

At yesterday’s 5pm press conference, the PM was joined by the Chancellor. They announced what they described as package of measures to support the economy at an “Unimaginable scale only a few weeks ago”.  Even one week ago, when the Budget included a £30 billion package of economic measures to front the outbreak, an intervention on this scale could not be envisaged. The PM stated that “we are at war with this enemy” and that the Government is ready to go further if necessary. The Chancellor said that the Budget was an initial package and that this was “a time to be bold.” Both the Chancellor and the PM reiterated repeatedly the line “whatever it takes.”

The package totals £330 billion in support of all sectors of the economy, businesses as well as individuals. This is equivalent to 15% of GDP. Here’s the detail:

  • A new lending facility will be established to operate alongside the Bank of England to support larger industry
  • SMEs will benefit from an extension to the business interruption loan scheme, which will offer loans of up to £5m from next week
  • Special support would be laid out for the most affected sectors of aviation and hospitality
  • For the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors there will be cash grants of £25,000 for each business of rateable value of up to £51,000
  • The 700,000 smallest businesses in the country will be able to access loans of £10,000
  • The business rates holiday announced in the Budget will be extended to all businesses in the most affected sectors for 12 months
  • To support families who will be facing loss or reduction of income, there will be a three-month mortgage holiday for homeowners
  • The promise of further measures for families and individuals over the next few days and weeks
  • The NHS will get all the support it requires to face this crisis

More is to come. The Chancellor concluded by saying that “In the coming days, I will go much further to support people’s financial security. In particular, I will work with trade unions and businesses to urgently develop new forms of employment support to help protect people’s jobs and incomes through this period”.

In addition, noting the immediate response from people noting that this package does not address the challenges of those in rental accommodation, the Chancellor said that MHCLG Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, would announce measures in the coming days.

Comment

There is a lot to take from this set of announcements and the language used which are instructive for potentials over the coming days.

By any measure this is a significant and extraordinary economic stimulus into the UK economy and is comparable in scale to those packages announced across the EU. As the Chancellor said, this is not a time for “ideology” or “orthodoxy” and it is clear that the Government is listening to the frontline demands and are a reflection of of both the Government wanting to get ahead of the crisis and the scale of the challenge.  The Budget on many fronts is now yesterday’s news.

The “wartime” analogy used by the Prime Minister is instructive, with this government prepared to use spending and the power of the state in a way that would usually be unthinkable for any Conservative government in peacetime. This is a clear signal to the wider Conservative Party movement of his intent and glance to his her Winston Churchill.

Inevitably there are holes in the announcements where certain sectors and groups will be feeling the pinch. Notable are the renters and self-employed; there are some 6 million self-employed or sole traders, many with no statutory pay and living on a month to month basis. An important omission. who may see some additional support in the coming days. Frances Grady of the TUC made the point that support should be for the people not the boardroom and indeed a contrast to the position adopted by President Trump and indeed that advocated by Lord O’Neill (former Goldman Sachs Chief Economist, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and now Vice Chair of the influential Northern Powerhouse Partnership) who has called for Quantitative Easing for households. We should anticipate demands for more money in the coming days.

Another thought is on the nature of the stimulus; it is principally debt that firms will need to access through different portals depending on their size. This will be scrutinised further over the coming days inevitably to understand the burdensome nature of application and the speed with which it operates. Agility will be a key qualification. It may lead to demands for further action not least on speeding up public procurement to ensure that budgets already allocated for public works and programmes move quicker.

For further advice and support or if you have any questions, please contact Maria Bellissimo, Associate Director Public Affairs at Quatro on mbellissimo@quatro-pr.co.uk.

 

 

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