The Chancellor is to unveil an emergency package aimed at protecting workers’ jobs and wages, as the Health Secretary promised that around 1.4 million people with serious health conditions will receive further advice on what to do about Covid-19.
Rishi Sunak has been under pressure from Labour, unions and even senior Tory MPs to do more to help workers and the stalling economy weather the crisis.
He will reveal new measures on Friday at the daily Covid-19 press conference in Downing Street, where he is expected to be joined by Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister said on Thursday that he expects the tide to be turned in the fight within 12 weeks, as he urged the public to follow social distancing advice and for businesses to “stand by your employees”.
It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people undergoing treatment for cancer and others who form part of a group of around 1.4 million people will receive specific advice on what to do to keep themselves safe from coronavirus.
At present, anyone with an underlying health condition such as those who usually receive an NHS flu jab, people with weakened immune systems and anyone over 70 is told to be “particularly stringent in following social distancing measures”.
But those who are at even higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19, including recipients of donor organs, those on active chemotherapy or radiotherapy, people with blood cancers and those with severe chest conditions will be given more tailored advice.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “Many of these people have pre-existing health conditions and so will be very worried right now, and I understand that, and they’ll need very specific sets of action – for instance, how do you go about still getting your chemo if you have cancer whilst also social-distancing?
“If you have cancer it’s particularly important to stay away from other people, but you also of course have got to keep going with your chemotherapy.”
He added: “These are some of the most difficult and challenging cases so we’ll be getting in contact with them, but if people think that they are on this list and don’t receive a communication from the NHS, then they also need to get in contact.”
Mr Hancock said the Government is looking “very, very closely” at why there is a coronavirus hotspot in the West Midlands after it recorded the highest number of deaths outside London.
And he suggested that tougher measures could have to be brought in if people do not follow the Government’s advice.
He told the BBC’s Breakfast programme: “What I can say is that if people follow the advice, stay home, which saves lives, and if they keep apart from others – more than two metres, more than six foot – then we can tackle this and we can turn the tide.
“The scientists advise that we can turn the tide in 12 weeks if people follow the advice. If people don’t follow the advice, then it’ll be longer and we might have to bring more and tougher measures.”
Mr Hancock said the UK had brought measures in earlier than Italy, which has now suffered more deaths than China.
“But we’re absolutely clear that, if we need to, we have the powers – in fact, we’ve got a Bill in front of Parliament now to strengthen those powers further.
“But I think it’s far better if people follow the advice.”
Mr Hancock said some retired medics who return to work in the NHS to fight the coronavirus will be able to come “straight back in”.
It comes as the NHS launched its “Your NHS needs you” campaign urging thousands of retired health professionals to come back to the front line.
– A third person who tested positive for coronavirus in Wales has died.
– The FTSE 100 rose by more than 5% in early trading on Friday with travel companies jumping ahead after a bruising few weeks.
– Conservative MP Maria Caulfield announced she was returning to her job as a nurse alongside her political role.
– A man was arrested on the Isle of Man for failing to follow its coronavirus self-isolation rules.
– The competition watchdog said it will clamp down on retailers using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to exploit customers.
– The Changing the Guard ceremonies at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Windsor Castle are being postponed until further notice.
– Downing Street expects post-Brexit talks to continue despite Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost showing symptoms of the coronavirus. His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, tested positive on Thursday.
– The death toll from the coronavirus in Spain now stands at 1,002 and nearly 20,000 people have been infected.
Schools will stay open for the children of key workers. Details here 👇https://t.co/lVe3EONfV1
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) March 20, 2020
Overnight, the Department for Education published a list of workers it deems “essential”, whose children will still be able to attend school after closures were announced.
Meanwhile, Dawn, a critical care nurse in Yorkshire, has made a tearful appeal to members of the public to stop stripping supermarket shelves of food after she came off a shift and was unable to buy supplies.
Chief Nursing Officer for England Ruth May urged members of the public to play their part in the fight against Covid-19.
She told Sky News: “There are many, many nurses like that critical care nurse last night who are working many, many hours.
“We’re asking all supermarkets to allow all of our healthcare workers easy access to buy their food and vegetables.
“I’d also make a plea for all the public to show a kindness.
“We’ve heard that people are spitting at our nurses; this is just not right, they are working very hard. I would want to make sure we all play a part in this coronavirus fight.”
She urged people to follow public health advice, adding: “We need to make sure people are staying home when it’s appropriate and using the NHS responsibly.”
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) March 19, 2020
The death toll in Italy rose to 3,405, overtaking the total number of deaths so far registered in China.
Back in the UK, the toll reached 144 as of 1pm on Thursday, with around four in 10 of all deaths so far in London.