Chancellor to throw lifeline to self-employed amid coronavirus crisis

By Jane Kirby and Shaun Connolly, PA

A financial package aimed at helping self-employed workers get through the coronavirus crisis will be announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak with the Government under growing pressure to throw the sector a lifeline.

The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament he wanted to achieve “parity of support” so the self-employed could have similar levels of protection to waged workers.

The Chancellor will outline his measures on Thursday, as the Government said it expects 10,000 coronavirus tests per day to be carried out by the end of this week despite testing just 6,643 on Wednesday.

They include the Prince of Wales, who is self-isolating in Scotland after testing positive with what Clarence House described as “mild symptoms”.

Billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Dyson said the Government has ordered 10,000 ventilators from his company.

In an email to staff, the inventor said his eponymous company had designed the “CoVent” at the request of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and is now waiting for the design to receive regulatory approval so manufacturing can commence.

The PM’s spokesman said all manufacturers turning their efforts to making ventilators must pass tests from expert clinicians and health regulators before purchases are made.

It comes as thousands of extra ventilators ordered for patients critically ill with coronavirus are not expected to be ready for a number of months.

Downing Street said on Thursday that 8,000 additional ventilators had been ordered by the Government to boost the stock of 8,000 already available to the health service.

But with Covid-19’s peak expected to strike the UK in around three weeks, there were concerns hospitals will not have the numbers required in time.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman assured that 8,000 approved machines had been ordered.

“We would say we expect thousands of those to arrive in the coming weeks and thousands more in the pipeline to arrive in the coming months,” he told a Westminster briefing.

There was also criticism of Mr Johnson for not taking part in an EU scheme to boost the number of ventilators, with allegations that Brexit ideology was being placed above demand for the essential equipment.

The PM’s spokesman said “well, we are no longer members of the EU” when asked why the UK was not utilising the scheme and pointed towards other efforts to secure ventilators.

(PA Graphics)

Elsewhere:

– The Bank of England left interest rates unchanged at 0.1% after last week’s emergency action to shore up the economy.

– Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood said around 40,000 to 50,000 people in the country may be infected.

– Downing Street indicated that additional coronavirus field hospitals are being considered around the UK. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said 500 of the additional 4,000 beds created in the NHS Nightingale Hospital being set up in London’s ExCeL centre will be available for use next week.

– The Government has raised the target for volunteers to help vulnerable people through the coronavirus crisis to 750,000 after more than half a million people responded to the call.

– North Yorkshire Police said they will use checkpoints to stop vehicles and ask drivers if their journey is essential.

– British and Irish travellers stranded around the world have said they face a race against time to get on repatriation flights.

– The PM was expected to announce further funding on Thursday for research to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

–  Nurse Dawn Bilbrough, from York, who posted a tearful video of herself outside a supermarket after she was unable to buy food due to others stockpiling, has developed coronavirus symptoms.

– GPs said they need “urgent clarification” from the Government on whether they should now wear protective equipment to examine patients, while the head of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, warned London hospitals were facing a “tsunami” of cases.

As the Commons shut down early for Easter due to the escalating epidemic, Mr Johnson told MPs on Wednesday: “There are particular difficulties with those who are not on PAYE schemes as … I think the whole House understands.

“We are bringing forward a package to ensure that everybody gets the support that they need.”

The Queen speaks to Prime Minister Boris Johnson from Windsor Castle for her weekly audience with the PM during the coronavirus crisis (Buckingham Palace/PA)

He added: “I cannot, in all candour, promise the House that we will be able to get through this crisis without any kind of hardship at all.

“We will do whatever we can to support the self-employed, just as we are putting our arms around every single employed person in this country.”

Ahead of the Chancellor’s announcement, The Daily Telegraph reported one in three self-employed workers were set to ask the Government to support their wages.

The move comes after Mr Sunak set out plans for 80% wage subsidies for PAYE employees last week.

Coronavirus-related deaths in the UK (PA Graphics)

On Thursday, the Royal College of Nursing called for further action to protect staff after the British Medical Association (BMA) warned doctors and patients would die without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The BMA said there was “growing evidence that thousands of GPs and hospital staff are still not being provided with the kit they need to properly protect themselves and their patients”, despite Government assurances.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said millions of items of PPE had been sent out in recent days, with a hotline set up so staff could report shortages.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told ITV’s Peston: “We need to get more PPE out to people working on the frontline, that’s in hospitals, it’s in social care, it’s in pharmacies and GPs’ surgeries.

“We are doing that, we are ramping up efforts very significantly, we’re taking very large stocks now, over 10 million masks for example in the last few days.

“Every social care provider in the country will get deliveries this week. We now have a PPE hotline so that those people on the front line can ring up, get the order that they desperately need.”

The economic impact of the outbreak has also brought a large spike in the number of people applying for Universal Credit.

Ministers are being urged to step-up testing for coronavirus, especially among health workers.

But the UK’s chief medical officer dismissed suggestions a coronavirus antibody test will be ready to buy online next week.

Professor Chris Whitty said the accuracy of the tests needed to be properly tested before they were made available, and he stressed that frontline NHS workers would need them first so they could get back to work if they have already had the virus.

A national salute is set to take place to honour the hardworking NHS staff who are trying to battle coronavirus.

In a gesture of thanks to the frontline healthcare heroes, everyone across the nation has been invited to join a a mass round of applause from their doorsteps, windows and balconies on Thursday at 8pm.