Navigate Politics produces a weekly roundup of all the key announcements in the UK’s attempts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, from the four governments across the nation. If you’d like to sign up to our daily updates for free – please get in touch.
Weekly UK coronavirus statistics
The Department of Health and Social Care announced:
124,147,198 tests have been conducted (+7,045,848 in the last 7 days)**
4,350,266 people have tested positive (+31,989 in the last 7 days)*
126,764 people have died (+320 in the last 7 days)
31,147,444 people have been vaccinated (1st dose)**
4,513,458 people have been vaccinated (2nd dose)**
*Figures reporting up to 1st April 2021
**Figures reporting up to 31st March 2021
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Novavax Covid vaccine to be manufactured in North of England, boosting supply by 60 million
Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP addressed a press conference on 29 March in which he announced the Vaccine Taskforce has reached an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to finish and bottle the Novavax Covid vaccine in the North East of England. Subject to MHRA approval, this will provide an additional 50-60 million doses to Covid vaccine supplies.
The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to highlight the Government’s newly adapted slogan – ‘Hands, face, space, fresh air’ – stressing that in terms of the virus “outdoors is generally much safer than indoors”.
Groups of six allowed to meet as lockdown eases in England
As part of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, two households are now permitted to meet outdoors and the Rule of Six has been reintroduced. Outdoor sport and leisure facilities are now open, and organised outdoor sport is allowed, with some of the country’s biggest sports stars urging the public to get active. The Stay at Home order has also been dropped, but the public has been advised to minimise travel.
To coincide with the latest easing of restrictions, the Department of Health and Social Care has released a new film to remind the public that they must stay outside when meeting others. The film places focus on the impact of fresh air on reducing the risk of transmission and forms part of the wider Government ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air’ campaign. Narrated by GP Dr Hilary Jones, it illustrates the difference in how COVID-19 behaves indoors in comparison to outdoors.
PM Boris Johnson MP joins world leaders calling for treaty for future pandemics
Twenty-five heads of Government and agencies – including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP – issued a joint call for the international community to work together ‘towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response’ to build a world that is resilient to future pandemics. In letters to newspapers, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders warned that this pandemic – and future world events – could only be overcome by people working together, noting that the pandemic has been ‘a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe’. The signatories, who also included Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, said that ‘political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system’ in the wake of WWII and now, countries must stand firm to multilateralism to ‘dispel temptations of isolationism and nationalism’ that would stymie cooperation to bring the pandemic to an end.
The letters follow weeks of growing concerns over the inequality of vaccine distribution around the world. The message reinforces conciliatory statements from the UK and EU member states last week, where both parties attested to the desire to achieve a ‘win-win’ solution to a dispute over vaccine supplies.
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ONS publishes survey findings on the prevalence of Long Covid in the UK
The ONS released the results of its survey on Long Covid, finding that one in five people have symptoms of Long Covid five weeks after an initial infection and one in seven after 12 weeks, with more than one million people affected by the phenomenon in the UK in February. The survey found people aged 35-49 most likely to report symptoms, followed by the 50-69 age group. About 20% of people said ongoing symptoms limited their day-to-day activities ‘a lot’. While there is no universally agreed definition of Long Covid, common ongoing problems included fatigue, coughs, headaches and muscle pain.
Workplace testing programme expands to offer free home testing
With over 60,000 businesses having registered their interest to provide rapid tests to key workers, the Government is now expanding the workplace testing programme. From 6 April, the programme will supply home test kits to companies with over 10 workers where it is not possible to set up testing on-site, due to a lack of space or because companies operate across multiple sites. Businesses are encouraged to register before 12 April in order to access free rapid tests until the end of June, even if they are not yet open or are not able to start using the tests immediately.
Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter urges Black Britons to get vaccinated against COVID-19
Sir Lenny Henry has written an open letter urging Black Britons to get vaccinated following the announcement that more than 30 million people have now received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. The letter acknowledges the concerns of many people in the community but stresses that he doesn’t want them to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Author Malorie Blackman, actor Thandie Newton and football pundit Garth Crooks are among those who have put their names to the letter, with Sir Lenny’s letter also being turned into a short film, supported by the NHS, to further encourage Black communities to take the vaccine when offered.
New Office for Health Promotion to improve public health
The Department of Health and Social Care has unveiled details about the new Office for Health Promotion that will lead national efforts to improve and level up the health of the nation by tackling obesity, improving mental health and promoting physical activity. The Office’s remit will be to ‘systematically tackle the top preventable risk factors causing death and ill health in the UK, by designing, implementing and tracking delivery policy across government’. Sitting within the Department, the Office will recruit an expert lead who will report jointly to Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP and the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty.
The UK Health Security Agency, led by Dr Jenny Harries, has launched, with the new agency to work to ‘protect the country from future health threats and ensure the nation can respond to pandemics quickly and at greater scale.’
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JCVI updates vaccine advice to protect severely immunosuppressed adults
Public Health England reported that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised the Government to prioritise people for the COVID-19 vaccine who are over 16 and live with adults who have weakened immune systems, such as those with blood cancer or those on immunosuppressive treatment including chemotherapy. Adults who are immunosuppressed have a weaker immune system, meaning they are less able to fight infections naturally. Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 Immunisation within the JCVI, said that as the vaccine isn’t as effective in those who are immunosuppressed, the latest advice will “help reduce the risk of infection in those who may not be able to fully benefit from being vaccinated themselves”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP wrote to the JCVI in response to their advice, stating that he would ask NHS England and Improvement to take the advice forward and prioritise household contacts of the severely immunosuppressed for vaccination alongside priority group 6.
New planning laws will allow unused commercial buildings to be converted into homes
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced new planning laws to enable unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes. The Government hopes the change in rules will provide much-needed new homes across England and attract footfall to high streets – forming part of a wider package of Government measures aiming to help high streets and town centres recover after lockdown and create a small business friendly planning regime. The new planning rules will also for the speedy extension of public buildings such as schools, colleges, universities and hospitals.
The move did attract some concern from the Local Government Association that councils and local communities could be side-lined in local planning decision making by the change. In a stark warning, the Royal Town and Planning Institute declared the changes ‘risk tearing at the fabric of local communities and jeopardising the vibrancy of high streets’, adding that the RTPI ‘couldn’t fathom’ how the Government thinks this move will reactivate the UK’s high streets.
PM co-chairs second meeting of the Build Back Better Business Council
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released a letter from Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng MP to businesses on the Government’s Plan for Growth. The letter outlines ‘the key pillars of investment that the government will focus on as we build back better from the pandemic, create jobs and drive forward key government priorities.’ BEIS said the Plan for Growth builds on the Industrial Strategy set out in 2017 and strengthens the long-term strategy for growth in light of the economic climate.
Following the letter to businesses, the Prime Minister co-chaired the second meeting of the Build Back Better Business Council with the Chancellor. Alongside the Business Secretary and Trade Secretary Liz Truss MP, ‘they set out how to drive forward the Plan for Growth as part of ambitions to make 2021 the year of economic recovery, and welcomed views from Council members on how businesses can help best deliver it’.
UK, US and other 12 nations share ‘concerns’ about WHO COVID-19 origin study
The Governments of fourteen countries, including the UK, US, Denmark, Canada and Japan, issued a joint statement over their concern about the robustness of a recent WHO study into the origins of COVID-19. The international mission, which included 17 Chinese experts and 10 international experts, recently released a joint report following their month-long trip to China earlier this year. They concluded the most likely introduction of COVID-19 into the human population was through an ‘intermediate host’ animal and said that the likelihood of the coronavirus being introduced through a ‘laboratory incident’ was ‘extremely unlikely’.
However, the joint statement highlights concerns among these fourteen countries that the study was compromised by significant delays and a lack of access by the WHO’s expert team to ‘complete, original data and samples’. The statement called for a ‘renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness’.
The statement was signed by the governments of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
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Latest tranche of funding announced as part of the Sport Survival Package
The Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport has announced the latest tranche of funding from the winter phase of its Sport Survival Package, which will see £88m in loan support provided to Premiership Rugby Union clubs. £40m will also be provided to horse racing, rugby league, speedway and drag racing, alongside £10m in further support for National League football clubs across Steps 1-6.
DfE publishes guidance for Summer Schools to help students catch up after Covid disruption
The Department for Education published new guidance on Tuesday for secondary schools to progress plans for summer schools once they return from the Easter break. Backed by £200m funding announced in February, summer schools will help pupils who have experienced the most disruption as a result of the pandemic to catch up with their peers. Guidance will provide advice ranging from academic support to sports and activities, mental health and wellbeing advice, and guidance for accessing premises.
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Labour challenges the PM’s ‘warped priorities’ following £2.6m press room renovation
The Labour Party has criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP of having ‘warped priorities’ after spending £2.6m on the No 9 Downing Street press room. Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner MP condemned the “pointless vanity projects” and said the Prime Minister should instead provide a pay rise for NHS staff. The Government will be using the new room for press conferences, with the PM’s spokesperson Allegra Stratton to begin her Lobby briefings after the May elections. The provisional start date for the televised briefings is 17 May, occurring three times a week.
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Government reintroduces confirmatory PCR testing
The Department of Health and Social Care announced that the Government is reintroducing confirmatory PCR testing for positive lateral flow test results in England to validate the result of the initial rapid test. The Department said it has backed new technology known as ‘genotype assay testing’ as it could halve the time it takes to identify if a positive COVID-19 test contains a variant of concern, with genotype assay testing only compatible with PCR tests.
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Culture Secretary says vaccine passports may be a “tool in the short term”
Amid a Government review into COVID-status certification, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP has said that vaccine passports could be a “tool in the short term” to reopen theatres and sports stadiums. He explained that the Government needs to consider all options to help reopen society, underlining that no decisions have yet been made. Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford MS added there were “prizes to be won” with vaccine passports.
Surge testing to be deployed in targeted areas in Harrow
The Department of Health and Social Care announced extra Covid testing will be deployed to Harrow to control and suppress any possible new cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa. Testing will start on 1 April and individuals working within this targeted area are strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test when offered, whether they are showing symptoms or not, to suppress transmission of the ‘variant of concern’.
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New testing regime for international arrivals exempt from quarantine rules
The Department of Health and Social Care announced details of a bespoke testing regime for international arrivals who will be exempt from quarantine for work purposes, including hauliers arriving from outside the Common Travel Area into England. Commencing on 6 April, the new testing regime will be made available to certain professions to enable them to carry out their roles through the use of lateral flow tests to ensure positive cases are detected. Under the new regime, international arrivals who are in the country for longer than two days will be required to take a test before the end of day two. People will be able to access these tests through several routes such as home tests and community testing sites. Those remaining in the UK for any longer than 2 days will then be required to take a further test every 3 days – typically on days 5 and 8.
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Latest statistics from Test and Trace released
The latest statistics from Test and Trace have been released, covering the period 18-24 March. During that week, 36,606 people in England tested positive for COVID-19, a 2% drop compared to the previous week. Of the 30,779 cases referred to the contact tracing system during this time period, 91.4% were reached and asked to provide information about their close contacts. 93% of the 94,901 people identified as close contacts were reached by Test and Trace and asked to self-isolate. Also during that week, 36,144 people started quarantine at home, and 1,605 in a managed quarantine hotel.
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Scotland: ‘Stay at Home’ Rule eases to ‘Stay local’ from 2 April
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP confirmed in a statement on 30 March that the ‘Stay at Home‘ rule across Level 4 areas in Scotland will ease into a ‘Stay Local’ rule on Friday, 2 April. From that date, people across Scotland will be able to make non-essential journeys in their local authority. This comes ahead of the re-opening of hairdressers, garden centres, car showrooms & forecourts, homeware stores and non-essential click & collect services on Monday 5 April. More college students will be able to return to on-campus learning, and 12–17-year-olds will be able to resume outdoor contact sports from Monday also. These two steps are in line with the Scottish Government’s timetable for the slow relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
First Minister of Wales sets out plans to further relax Covid restrictions by 17 May
The Welsh Government announced a series of measures that will take Wales fully into Alert Level 3 by 17 May. Subject to public health conditions remaining favourable, the following relaxations will go ahead on 12 April: the full return of all children and students to face-to-face education; all remaining non-essential retail and close contact services will reopen; and travel restrictions on travelling into and out of Wales will be lifted. Further easements are also expected at the 22 April review, including the reopening of outdoor attractions and hospitality
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Northern Ireland: First Easing of post-Christmas Lockdown as Vaccine Programme Expands
1 April saw the first relaxation of Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland since it returned to full lockdown on 26 December. This first unlocking allows six people from two households meet in private gardens; the resumption of golf and other outdoor activities; groups of up to 10 people from two households partake in outdoor sport together; and garden centres can operate click-and-collect services.
Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme has also expanded to the 45-49 age bracket. Everyone aged 45 and over can now book to have their jab at a vaccination centre, or at the recently launched community pharmacy vaccination service. This new service will see almost 350 community pharmacies throughout Northern Ireland begin to administer the vaccine and will mean eligible members of the public will be able to avail of the vaccine at a location more local to them.
Table of UK COVID-19 Measures over the Easter Weekend RegionRestriction LevelImplementedCurrent End DateScotland (Mainland and some Islands)*Stay Local rule; some retail shops open including hairdressers, homewares, car showrooms, garden centres and electrical repair shops; resumption of Click & Collect services; Nurseries and Primaries open; return of college students within the top three priority groups; outdoor gatherings limited to four people from two households; resumption of outdoor contact sport for 12–17-year-olds; outdoor non-contact sports with groups of up to 15 people permitted; places of worship reopened.5 April12 AprilScotland (Certain Islands)*Same as above, but also: 6 people from 2 households can meet indoors in a public place and outdoors, but meeting in somebody’s home is prohibited; venues open with 6pm curfew.5 April12 AprilNorthern IrelandSix people from two households can meet in private gardens; golf and other outdoor activities resume; groups of up to 10 people from two households can partake in outdoor sport together; and garden centres can operate click-and-collect services.1 April12 April †WalesTravel within Wales permitted; self-contained accommodation reopen; Primary school children and those in qualification years return to school; six people from two households allowed to meet outdoors and in private gardens; licensed wedding venues allowed to perform weddings and civil partnership ceremonies; hairdressers, libraries, historic places and archives reopen.27 March12 April ‡EnglandRule of Six for outdoor settings; reopening of outdoor leisure (pools, tennis courts and team sport) face-to-face learning in schools and colleges; Wedding ceremonies resume with six attendee limit; places of worship remain open, with people only allowed to visit with their household.29 March12 April^
*All islands in Highland (other than the Isle of Skye), the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Western Isles, the Isle of Coll, the Isle of Colonsay, the Isle of Erraid, the Isle of Gometra, the Isle of Iona, the Isle of Islay, the Isle of Jura, the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Oronsay, the Isle of Tiree, and the Isle of Ulva are under Level 3 restrictions. Everywhere else in Scotland is under the stricter set of restrictions.
* A timetable for the easing of COVID-19 measures in Scotland was published on 16 March.
‡ The Welsh Government published a Coronavirus Control Plan, outlining the Welsh Government’s approach to coming out of lockdown.
^ The UK Government published a roadmap setting out the planned dates for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.