COVID-19

Update 7th April

Guidance for employees with caring responsibilities has been updated so all employees who are unable to work due to caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus can now be furloughed. For example employees who need to look after children can be furloughed. 

The Government has taken further action to ensure the 'Stay at Home' message reaches as many people as possible. A new partnership with the video games industry will ensure the essential health messaging reaches more UK homes than before. Games which are taking part include Candy Crush Saga. 

The police have the powers to enforce the following restrictions during the lockdown: 

  • Dispersing gatherings of more than two people, unless they live in the same household.
  • Issuing fines to anyone who does not comply with these rules.
  • Closing shops which are not essential, as well as playgrounds and places of worship.

The Prime Minister has also written to all 30 million households in the UK to outline the guidance everyone should follow and the measures the Government has put in place to protect the NHS, save lives, support businesses and fight the spread of the coronavirus. 

Update 30th March

The country is now on emergency footing, an unprecedented step in peace time.

Ventilators and support for the most vulnerable 

The Government has been delighted with the UK companies who have responded to all companies who have contacted us with offers of help for the NHS and to boost our ventilator supply. We are working with several firms to scale up production of existing UK ventilator manufacturers, as well as designing and manufacturing new products from scratch and procuring thousands more machines from overseas, whilst there are already 8,000 machines arriving in the coming weeks. Any new orders are all dependent on machines passing regulatory tests.

I am delighted to see a breathing aid, which can help keep Coronavirus patients out of intensive care, has been created in less than a week by University College London engineers working with clinicians at UCLH and Mercedes Formula One. These Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices deliver oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator and are already used in hospitals. Forty of these new devices have already been delivered to ULCH and to three other London hospitals for trials. If these go well, up to 1,000 of these CPAP machines can be produced per day by Mercedes-AMG, beginning in a week's time. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has already given its approval for their use.

Supporting our NHS across the Country

  • The government is establishing strategic coordination centres across the whole country. Each are led by gold commanders – Senior members of emergency service, along with local authorities and NHS members to lead them through it. Embedded within this will also be members of armed forces.
  • The government is establishing strategic coordination centres across the whole country. Each are led by gold commanders – Senior members of emergency service, along with local authorities and NHS members to lead them through it. Embedded within this will also be members of armed forces.
  • The government has established a national supply distribution team for PPE. Millions of masks, gloves and cleaning equipment delivered to all 58,000 health trusts. This includes every single GP, dental and community pharmacy. Care homes will also receive delivery this week.
  • Three quarters of a million people have signed up to NHS volunteer scheme.
  • If we follow restrictive measures we can turn the tide, but if measures insufficient or people not following will have to consider further options.

Update from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer

  • If we practice social distancing, we can hopefully move the virus peak across.
  • We have 12 weeks get on top of the virus. The proof will come in two or three weeks.
  • If social distancing is successful, we will have squashed top of the curve, but it is dangerous to revert to normal way of living. We could see second peak.
  • We will review the policy at Easter. If social distancing methods are successful, they could be reduced in two to three months. If not, it could be six months until life returns to normal. Plausible restrictions could last longer.

Helping the most vulnerable

  • 1 million letters have gone out to the most vulnerable. These people now also have their own web and phone portal to get assistance.
  • The first food and supply packages have been delivered to doorsteps of these vulnerable people. 50,000 will have been sent out by end of this week. Our own local Council is part of this fantastic effort.  I caught up with MSDC Leader Cllr Jonathan Ash-Edwards and WSCC Leader Cllr Paul Marshall and fellow West Sussex MPs on Friday on the issues that are in my inbox and what we need to pass to crucially across to central Government from Mid Sussex.  

Announcement 23rd March

This Government has now (23 March 2020) introducing three new measures which will help ensure as many people as possible stay at home. This is the single most important action we can all take in fighting the Coronavirus, in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Reducing our day-to-day contact with other people as much as we can will reduce the spread of the infection.

These three measures are:

  1. People must stay at home, except for very limited purposes
  2. Closing all non-essential shops and community spaces
  3. Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public

These measures are effective immediately and every citizen must comply with them. Relevant authorities, including the police, have been given the powers to enforce them – including through fines and dispersing gatherings. This Government will continue to monitor and review the effectiveness of these measures in three weeks.

  1. Staying at home

You should only leave the house for one of four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household. These measures must be followed by everyone.

If you work in a critical sector outlined in this guidance, or your child has been identified as vulnerable, you can continue to take your children to school. Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

  1. Closing non-essential shops and public spaces

Last week, the Government ordered certain businesses - including pubs, cinemas and theatres - to close. The Government is now extending this requirement to a further set of businesses and other venues, including:

  • all non-essential retail stores - this will include clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets, excluding food markets.
  • communal places within parks, such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms.
  • hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial/leisure use (excluding permanent residents and key workers).
  • indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, arcades and soft play facilities.
  • libraries, community centres, and youth centres.
  • places of worship, except for funerals attended by immediate families.

Further information on all businesses and premises which must close can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close

  1. Stopping public gatherings

To make sure people are staying at home and apart from each other, the Government is also stopping all public gatherings of more than two people.

There are only two exceptions to this rule:

  • where the gathering is of a group of people who live together - this means that a parent can, for example, take their children to the shops if there is no option to leave them at home.
  • where the gathering is essential for work purposes - but workers should be trying to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace.

In addition, the Government is stopping social events, including weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies. This will exclude funerals, which can be attended by immediate family.

  1. Enforcing these measures

Every citizen is instructed to comply with these new measures.

This Government will therefore be ensuring the police and other relevant authorities have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings where people do not comply.

They will initially last for the three weeks from 23 March, at which point the Government will look at them again and relax them if the evidence shows this is possible.

Update as of 22nd March:

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced an unprecedented package of measures to ensure food and aid reaches the most vulnerable. 1.5 million people have been asked to remain at home, including those with underlying health conditions.

The NHS will be contacting all of those will be affected directly and they will have food delivered to their homes, so they do not have to leave the house.

The Government is now advising against ALL travel unless it is essential. As a part of this the Government is offering refunds for all advance tickets and season tickets.

Social distancing must be maintained to protect all at risk people and the NHS.

Earlier social measures

Following a COBRA meeting on March 12th, The Prime Minister announced we moved into the ‘DELAY’ phase of the action plan, where we will take more extensive measures to continue to contain the disease, prevent the spread of it to protect our vulnerable citizens and support our NHS, as well as to slow down the disease and stretch out the ‘peak’ of the virus. This has been followed by further announcements on measures of the ‘DELAY’ plan which have been put in place, including:

  • Anyone with even mild symptoms of the COVID-19/Coronavirus (high temperature/fever, new cough, shortness of breath) should self-isolate and stay at home for 7 days
  • If anyone in your household has one of the two key symptoms (a high temperature or a cough), then you should also stay at home for 14 days
  • Everyone needs to stop non-essential social contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel
  • People should remain at least 2 metres apart
  • People need to work from home where they possibly can
  • Only travel if essential
  • Anyone who is: over the age of 70, pregnant, or has serious underlying health conditions, should avoid all unnecessary social contact
  • The following public spaces: cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, leisure centres and gyms must be closed from the morning of the 21st March.
    • Takeaways will be excluded from the new measures coming in from tonight.
    • The measures on closures will be reviewed on a monthly basis.
  • We are emphatically moving away from any mass gatherings, so will not support mass gatherings with emergency workers in the way that we normally do. We have to ensure we have these critical workers, who might otherwise be deployed at those gatherings, available to help deal with this emergency
  • People must ensure they are at least 2 meters away from anyone with the COVID-19 symptoms (temperate, cough, fever, shortness of breath), however mild their symptoms are
  • Nurseries, Schools and Colleges are closed from Friday 20th March, apart from to vulnerable children and children of key workers (including NHS, police, delivery drivers)

The latest unprecedented measures have been taken because we are now asking people to do something which is both difficult and disruptive to their lives. We have always aimed to introduce these measures at the most effective time, when we think it can make the biggest difference to slowing the spread of the disease, reducing the number of victims and fatalities.

This Government has put these measures in place following the best possible scientific advice, which will continue to shape future measures over the coming weeks, as will the international situation, the advice of organisations such as the WHO, data modelling based on the best available evidence and the recommendations of our expert bodies across the UK.

The Government’s Emergency Bill

On Thursday 19th March, this Government introduced the Emergency Coronavirus Bill to Parliament. The Bill, jointly agreed with the devolved administrations of the UK, gives us the power to fight this virus with everything we’ve got. The powers will only be used when necessary. We need these powers in our armoury to give us the best possible chance of overcoming this unprecedented national challenge.

The Emergency Coronavirus Bill enables key action across five main areas:

a.       Increasing the available health and social care workforce;

b.       Easing the burden on frontline staff;

c.       Containing and slowing the virus;

d.       Managing the deceased with respect and dignity; and

e.       Supporting people through the crisis

Details of the policies contained in the Bill is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-bill-what-it-will-do/what-the-coronavirus-bill-will-do.

All the measures are to be strictly temporary, focussed and proportionate to the threats and challenges we face and will only be activated - and deactivated – based on the best possible scientific advice and evidence. While these powers will only be used in extreme circumstances, throughout this pandemic our approach is to plan for the worst and work for the best. 

Schools closing announcement – 18th March

This Government has continued to follow the best scientific advice regarding schools and as the spike of the virus has increased, the public health benefits of keeping schools open has decreased. These actions are being taken now to limit the spread of the virus.

On March 18th this Government made the decision to close all schools, including independent and boarding schools, nurseries and colleges, from Friday 20th March. However, children of key workers (including NHS staff, Police and Delivery Drivers who need to work – the full list of key workers will be provided from tomorrow) and vulnerable children (those who have a social worker and those with educational health and care plans) will continue to go to school, including over the previously scheduled Easter holidays. This is in order to protect both those most vulnerable children and support those workers in the most crucial roles during this public health challenge.

Schools will be given flexibility regarding staffing, whilst children due to sit crucial exams will get the qualifications they need, based on assessments they’ve already completed. Furthermore, regarding school-related duties:

    • Ofsted has ceased all operations for the time being.
    • Schools will not be going ahead with assessments and exams.
    • We will work to ensure children get the qualifications they need.

This Government will continue to work closely with all institutions in the educational system to ensure these measures are implemented successfully.

This Government has been in close communications with Universities concerning this issue and Universities are already taking steps to protect staff and students and we support them in doing so. I would also like to strongly emphasise the point from the PM that children should not be left with older grandparents or older relatives who may be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. All steps to address the challenge must be made and we understand this will be difficult juggles for some families. 

The wellbeing of children, parents and teachers is of paramount importance. We thank all the Headteachers, staff and support staff for there support and help and know that are continuing to do an immense job in supporting communities tackle this hugely challenging public health battle

Supporting our business and economy

I am pleased to see the Chancellor’s press conference on March 17th which announced the unprecedented measures being taking by this Government to protect small, medium and large businesses across business sectors. This includes £330 billion package of loans and guarantees for businesses needing ‘access to cash’ during this period and we are prepared to go further and provide as much capacity as required. The Chancellor, along with the PM, also announced:

  • We will support liquidity amongst large companies, with a major new scheme being launched by the Bank of England.
  • We will support lending to small and medium-sized businesses by extending the Business Interruption Loan Scheme announced in the Budget. This means that, rather than providing loans of £1.2 million, it will provide loans of up to £5 million, with no interest for the first six months.
  • Both of these schemes will be up and running by the start of next week – and the Chancellor is also taking a new legal power in the Covid Bill to offer whatever further financial support is necessary.
  • We will help all businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors – meaning that none of these companies will have to pay business rates. All businesses in these sectors, irrespective of their rateable value, are exempt from business rates for 12 months.
    • In addition, we will provide small businesses in these sectors with an additional grant scheme of up to £25,000.
  • We will increase grants for the smallest businesses from £3,000 to £5,000.
  • We are also increasing grants for our 700,000 smallest businesses from £3,000 to £10,000.

Announcement 20th March

  • Government will pay 80% of wages for employees not working, up to £2,500 a month.
  • The Chancellor also announced he would defer the next quarter of VAT payments for firms, until the end of June. It represents in a £30bn injection into the economy.

Budget measures

Budget 2020, which was announced on March 11th, also includes several measures which will help to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the knock-on effects it has on society, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-delivers-budget-2020

Travel Advice

As of 23rd March, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British people travelling abroad to return to the UK now, if commercial flights are still available. This advice was published on 23 March and takes effect immediately.

International travel is becoming very limited as air routes close, land borders close and new restrictions are put in place that prevent flights from leaving.

If you’re travelling abroad, you should:

  1. Contact your airline or travel company now
  2. Keep up-to-date with our travel advice pages. We are updating information on returning from the country you’re in as quickly as we can
  3. Continue to follow the NHS coronavirus guidance

We are working with airlines to keep routes open, and calling for international action to to keep routes open to enable British people can return home on commercial flights. We are also working around the clock to support those British travellers who are already finding difficulties to come back to the UK.

If you are a permanent resident overseas, you should stay and follow the advice of the local authorities in the country you live in.

For British citizens abroad, the FCO is also advising against all but essential travel worldwide due to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. You must follow the advice of local authorities. Your safety and security are the responsibility of the local authority where you are.

For further information and the latest updates on travel advice and the Coronavirus (COVID-19), please read the Government website’s page on this issue: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus

Strengthened Public Health support

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care recently announced strengthened legal powers to bolster public health protections against coronavirus. Regulations have been put in place to reduce the risk of further human-to-human transmission in this country by keeping individuals in isolation, in situations where public health professionals believe there is a reasonable risk an individual may have the virus.

This Government has testing sites at all A&E facilities across England and have introduced home testing, in order for people to not have to go to the pod in front of A and E, which was put in place to ensure people didn’t actually enter A and E with the virus. This Government continues to emphasise people with mild symptoms of the virus to NOT enter hospital but should stay at home – so our NHS can prioritise those who been worst affected by the virus.

Here is the link to the NHS website on the Coronavirus: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

I have attended COBRA meetings over the past month on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions as Employment Minister, regarding operational DWP matters and working to put appropriate cross-government measures in place. I will continue to be updated through these meetings as and when they are convened.

Global help

UK Aid to the World Health Organisation (WHO) will help prevent the spread of the virus in developing countries, by supporting them to rapidly identify and care for patients with symptoms. Additional experts funded by UK aid will be deployed to the WHO to help coordinate the international response.

Government website

I would advise everyone to continue following the latest Government updates regarding the Coronavirus on the gov.uk website, as well as announcements on the news and in The Prime Minister’s daily press conferences, the link is as follows: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response