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.
– 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 said “we desperately need people” to help the NHS as she announced she was returning to her job as a nurse alongside her political role.
– Zoe Ball said she was “reduced to tears” as she joined DJs across Europe in playing the Gerry And The Pacemakers track You’ll Never Walk Alone, all at the same time.
– UK tourists are stranded overseas as countries around the world introduce travel restrictions.
– Demand for hotel rooms has reached record lows, the boss of InterContinental Hotels warned, as the travel industry faces one of its biggest existential threats in decades.
– The Changing the Guard ceremonies at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Windsor Castle are being postponed until further notice.
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.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the list of key workers to whom schools will remain open is “perhaps more extensive than we might have expected”.
He added: “We already know from the trajectory of this that we’re not going to have many staff.
“We have to be careful that the message to parents is not ‘business as usual’.”
Meanwhile, former business secretary Greg Clark and former shadow local government minister Jack Dromey wrote a column in the Daily Mirror in which they said “lending alone will not keep many businesses trading and paying staff”.
On Thursday, the Queen issued a message to the nation which said the UK is “entering a period of great concern and uncertainty”, adding that “our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one”.
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.