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Weekly Coronavirus Update – 25th September 2020

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:

  1. 19,583,360 tests have been conducted (+1,587,890 in total from last Friday)

  2. 423,236 people have tested positive (+37,300)

  3. 41,936 people have died (+204)

See online here


New measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in England 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP announced a range of new measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, as daily infection rates went above 6,000 for the first time since May. Stating that the nation had reached a “perilous turning point”, Johnson announced that: all those who can work from home should do so; all pubs, bars and restaurants must close to customers at 2200; all staff and customers in hospitality must wear face coverings unless seated at a table; and fines for breaking the Rule of Six or not wearing a face covering will be doubled to £200. He also told MPs that the newly announced measures may have to remain in place for “perhaps six months”.

To reinforce the importance of the moment, Johnson delivered an Address to the Nation, where he said that, whilst the majority of people had been complying with the rules, there had been too many breaches, and the virus was now spreading in an “exponential way”. Contending that he wanted to avoid a second national lockdown, he argued that the new measures were “robust but proportionate”, and that he did “reserve the right to go further”.

See online here and here


Chancellor unveils new Job Support Scheme in a Winter Economic Plan but job fears remain

Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP unveiled a Winter Economic Plan, where he announced a Job Support Scheme to replace the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme when this expires on 31st October. Workers will be eligible for the scheme if they work 1/3rd of normal hours, with the Government together with the employer to then increase their pay to cover 2/3rds of hours. All SMEs are eligible for the new scheme, with larger businesses only eligible if they can prove their turnover has fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme will begin in November 2020 and run for six months.

In addition, Sunak announced that a “pay as you grow” scheme was being introduced for companies that had claimed Bounce Back Loans, which allows them to extend their loan from six to ten years. The Government guarantee on other loan schemes will be extended to ten years, with work also due to begin on a successor loan guarantee programme to begin in January 2021. It was also confirmed that businesses that had deferred VAT would be able to spread the VAT bill over eleven months, and the reduction in VAT to 5% in the hospitality and tourism industries has been extended to 31st March 2021.

When speaking to the media, the Chancellor revealed he was unable to know how many jobs the new scheme would protect, and said that fears the UK was facing a “wave of redundancies” remain. After the announcement, many expressed concerns with whether the new scheme would actually keep people in employment. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds MP cited the Resolution Foundation who found that it was cheaper for employers to bring back one employee full time, rather than to put two employees on the new scheme. The Institute for Fiscal Studies anticipates that many jobs will be lost in the coming months, while the OBR has estimated that the unemployment rate could peak at 13.2% next year, representing 4 million of the UK population as being out of work.

See online here, here, and here


Health Secretary announces new local restrictions in large areas of Northern England

Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP announced that further COVID restrictions will be put in place in Leeds, Blackpool, Wigan and Stockport, which have COVID-19 cases per 1,000 ‘significantly above’ the national average. As a result, the Government is imposing tighter restrictions on inter-household mixing in private dwellings and gardens in these areas, resulting in people unable to gather in a private dwelling or garden with any other household unless they are part of a support bubble. This is in line with measures seen elsewhere in the country, such as Leicester and the West Midlands.

The Health Secretary revealed that the Government has reviewed the position in Leicester, the Borough of Oadby and Wigston, Birmingham, Solihull, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Bolton, Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale and the remaining local authorities in Greater Manchester. The Government has decided to maintain the current restrictions in these areas. These localities will, however, be monitored on a watchlist should further intervention be required.

See online here


Warnings that UK could face 50,000 COVID-19 cases a day by mid-October

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance addressed a press conference without any politician present, in order to deliver a stark warning of the situation that the UK may find itself in if no action is taken to combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Vallance outlined that if the current trajectory continued, there could be 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by mid-October, followed by around 200 deaths a day a month after that. Whitty said that it should be seen as a “six-month problem that we will have to deal with collectively”, as COVID-19 was likely to benefit from the Autumn and Winter months.

See online here


NHS COVID-19 app launched in England and Wales

The NHS COVID-19 app has been launched across England and Wales, with people urged to download it and to play their part in controlling the spread of the virus. The app includes contact tracing using Bluetooth, risk alerts based on postcode districts, QR check-in at venues, and a symptom checker. It is available to all those aged 16 and over, and a major advertising campaign is being run to advertise the app. The app will inform users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and advise the user to then self-isolate, however this is not enforceable by law.

See online here


UK COVID-19 Alert Level raised to Level 4

The four Chief Medical Officers of the UK nations released a joint statement confirming that they had recommended that the COVID-19 alert level should be raised from level 3 to level 4. This means that rather than the COVID-19 epidemic simply being in general circulation, it was now in general circulation with a transmission rate that was high or rising exponentially. The statement urges people in all four nations to follow guidance relating to social distancing, face coverings and personal hygiene, concluding that ‘together we will get through this.’

See online here


Labour Party take aim at Government’s handling of COVID-19 at Virtual Conference

COVID-19 understandingly was a leading topic at the Labour Party’s ‘Connected’ Party Conference, with Labour leader Keir Starmer MP and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds MP both taking aim at the Government over various aspects of its handling of the pandemic. Starmer argued that any second national lockdown would be a “sign of Government failure”, and expressed his frustration that they were showing no signs of learning from the first stages of the pandemic. In her speech, Dodds accused the Government of being “cavalier with public money” with regards to its contracts for PPE, and outlined Labour’s three-step plan for recovery, including: a Job Recovery Scheme; a National Retraining Strategy; and a Business Rebuilding Programme.

See online here and here


New package to support and enforce self-isolation

From 28th September, people will be required by law to self-isolate, supported by a payment of £500 for those on lower incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result. New fines for those breaching self-isolation rules will also start at £1,000 – bringing this in line with the penalty for breaking quarantine after international travel. However, this could increase to up to £10,000 for repeat offences and for the most egregious breaches, including for those preventing others from self-isolating. A number of steps will be taken to ensure that people are complying with the rules, which include: NHS Test and Trace call handlers making regular contact with those self-isolating, with the ability to escalate any suspicion of non-compliance to Local Authorities and local police; using police resources to check compliance in high incidence areas and in high-risk groups, based on local intelligence; investigating and prosecuting high-profile and egregious cases of non-compliance; and acting on instances where third parties have identified others who have tested positive, but are not self-isolating.

See online here


Prime Minster calls for a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 crisis 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP addressed a UN Climate Action Roundtable, hosted by the UN Secretary General, in which he urged nations to make ambitious commitments to safeguard the planet and foster a green and sustainable recovery from coronavirus. He emphasised that “climate action cannot be another victim of coronavirus” after announcing that the UK will co-host an event with the UN on 12th December 2020 to mark the five-year anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement.

See online here-


Taskforce launched to look into safely allowing fans into stadiums

With the UK Government’s newly announced measures including a cancelling of plans to allow fans back into sporting events from 1st October, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP has launched a Sports Technology and Innovation Group to work with sports bodies to ‘explore high-tech solutions to get fans back into venues’. The group will consist of independent sport, health and tech experts, be chaired by co-founder of Carphone Warehouse David Ross, and met for the first time on 24th September. Marking the launch of the group, Dowden promised that he would “not give up on finding ways to get fans back safely”.

See online here


10,000 volunteers invited to take part in new COVID-19 vaccine trials

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced that 10,000 UK volunteers will be invited to a join a Phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trial, with the number of people who have signed up to take part in the research hitting 250,000. The Phase 3 study will test the safety and effectiveness of a new vaccine, developed by US biotechnology company Novavax, including volunteers from a variety of age groups and backgrounds. The study aims to give researchers insights into the effects of a vaccine on a much larger population than Phase 1 and 2, and will be undertaken at a number of National Institute for Health regional sites across the UK.

See online here


Push to ensure those who are eligible receive the flu vaccine

Senior medics have called for all people who are eligible to get themselves vaccinated against flu, after research carried out by Public Health England suggested that those who were infected with both flu and COVID-19 between January and April were more at risk of severe illness and death. Up to 30 million people are set to eligible for a free flu vaccine this winter, starting with adults aged over 65, those with long-term conditions and pregnant women. Those aged between 50 and 64 are also eligible for the vaccine this year, with all primary school children and Year 7 pupils to be offered the flu ‘nasal spray’ in order to reduce transmission. In a bid to increase the uptake of the vaccine, ‘pharmacists will be able to vaccinate residents and care home staff at the same time.’

See online here


Increased business protection with extension of insolvency measures

Measures from the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act to protect businesses from insolvency will be extended to provide greater relief during the crisis. The measures previously introduced were due to expire on 30th September 2020 but will now enable companies and other qualifying bodies with obligations to hold AGMs to continue holding meetings virtually until 30th December 2020; statutory demands and winding-up petitions will continue to be restricted until 31st December 2020; termination clauses will remain prohibited; and the modifications to the new moratorium procedure will be extended until 30th March 2021.

See online here


UK secures £31m funding through the European Union’s mobility package

The Department of Health and Social Care announced that the UK has secured £31m in funding through the European Union’s mobility package to assist the UK’s coronavirus response. This will fund some of the costs associated with the transporting of equipment and items of PPE to the UK from overseas, and the successful bid for this grant ensures the UK continues to benefit from its own contributions to the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement.

See online here


Latest changes made to the travel corridors list

The Department for Transport announced that people arriving in England from Denmark, Iceland, Curaçao and Slovakia after 0400 on 26th September will be required to self-isolate for two weeks after the countries were removed from the travel corridors list. All these nations have seen sharp and significant rises in their COVID-19 infection rates, with the Department for Transport emphasising that arrivals from these nations will still be required to fill in a passenger locator form. No country has been added to the travel corridor list.

See online here


Latest NHS Test and Trace statistics released

The latest statistics from NHS Test and Trace have been released, with the data confirming that 1-in-10 people in England have now been tested for coronavirus. In the week 10th – 16th September, 19,278 people tested positive for COVID-19, which is almost three times as many compared to the end of August. Of the 21,268 people who were referred to the contact tracing system during this time period, 77.7% were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts. 74.7% of the 77,556 people identified as close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate. The Department of Health and Social Care also underlined that work continues to expand testing capacity across the UK, aiming to reach a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October, with 28 new test sites due to open to reduce the distance people need to travel.

See online here and here


Latest statistics on Government support schemes released

Having not been published for a month, the latest statistics on the UK Government’s COVID-19 support schemes have now been released. As of 20th September, £15.45bn of loans had been approved under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS); £3.84bn under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS); and £38.02bn through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS). Additionally, 1,072 applications have been made to the Future Fund, with £720m of convertible loans approved. A total of 9.6 million jobs have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) at a cost of £39.3bn, with 2.2 million claims having been made through the second tranche of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which opened on 17th August. Chair of the Treasury Committee Mel Stride MP has written to the Government asking for them to return to publishing updates on a weekly basis.

See online here, here and here


Scotland announces COVID-19 Restrictions in line with other UK Nations

On Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP announced broadly the same restrictions will be put in place as those restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP. Like the Prime Minister, she stressed that Scotland was at a “tipping point” as the number of COVID cases has nearly trebled in the last three weeks. She announced that from 24th September, people will be restricted from visiting each other’s home – barring exceptions for care giving responsibilities – and by 25th September, pubs, bars and restaurants will close by 2200. The Rule of Six will apply for outdoor gatherings, with exception for under-12s – who can play outdoors with no limit to numbers.

See online here


Scottish Government commits further £2.5bn to pandemic response

The Scottish Government announced that the latest revision to its Autumn Budget has resulted in a further £2.5bn being allocated towards the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The latest allocations include an additional £1.8bn for health and social care, a further £222m to support public transport, an extra £190m for business and the arts and a £119m increase for education. They are funded by £2.38bn of COVID-19 consequentials generated by UK Government spending, £142m of Scottish Government savings and the reprioritisation of existing budgets, plus £30m from reserves. This brings the total amount that the Scottish Government has committed so far to dealing with the pandemic to more than £6.5bn.

The Scottish Government also announced a £24bn infrastructure plan to boost the economy’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Covering the five years from 2021-22 to 2025-26, the Plan will help stimulate a green recovery from the pandemic. It includes investment to decarbonise business, industry and buildings, the provision of new health facilities and schools and support for manufacturing innovation. The Plan also places a new emphasis on enhancing and finding new uses for existing infrastructure before embarking on new projects. It is envisioned that the Infrastructure Investment Plan will create tens of thousands of jobs.

See online here and here


Cardiff and Swansea amongst Welsh areas to go into lockdown

The Welsh Government announced that Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli will enter a COVID lockdown, in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. The lockdown will come into force in Llanelli from 1800 on 26th September and in Swansea and Cardiff from 1800 on 27th September. The Llanelli lockdown is the first not to cover a whole local authority area. A postcode finder will be made available online to make clear which areas are under lockdown. The changes mean that around 1.5 million people will be under local lockdown in Wales, a little under half the Welsh population. The Welsh Government has stated that they will keep these restrictions under regular review.

The Welsh Government had earlier announced that coronavirus regulations would be tightened in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport, in order to ‘protect people’s health and control the spread of the virus in the four local authority areas’. People are not allowed to enter or leave these areas without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and are only allowed to meet with those from outside their household in outdoor settings.

See online here and here


Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford MS announces new restrictions in line with UK Nations

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford MS announced that hospitality businesses will have to close at 2200 throughout Wales. People who can work from home should do so, face coverings must be worn in indoor public places, and indoor interactions are limited to households and support bubbles. The measures are part of a package of co-ordinated actions to control the spread of coronavirus, which are being introduced across the UK. They came into force in Wales on 24th September.

The First Minister also announced a new £500 payment to support people on low incomes who are asked to self-isolate if they have coronavirus; and strengthened regulations to ensure employers support people who need to self-isolate

See online here


Welsh Government further extends measures to protect businesses from eviction

The Welsh Government announced that it will further extend measures to protect businesses affected by coronavirus from eviction until the 31st December 2020. Welsh Economy Minister Ken Skates MS stated that it will prevent “unreasonable” evictions and also acknowledged the need to “develop sustainable ways to provide stability and certainty” for business, adding that the Welsh Government will continue to press the UK Government to provide additional support.

See online here


Northern Ireland Executive extends restrictions following a rise in cases

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed that current restrictions to reduce the spread of coronavirus should be extended across the whole of Northern Ireland, rather than just in post codes with the highest rates of the virus. The new restrictions mean that there should be no mixing of households in private dwellings, with certain exemptions, and no more than six people should gather in a private garden from no more than two households. However, children aged 12 and under from two households will be discounted from the total. The restrictions apply from 22nd September at 1800 and will be regularly reviewed.

See online here


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