Leicester lockdown loosened
By Tim Le Couilliard, Senior Executive
At 5 PM this evening, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, delivered a statement; not in the Downing Street briefing room, as we have become accustomed to, but in the House of Commons. Leicester, which has been in local lockdown for the last two weeks is set to be partially re-opened. Citing positive indicators, the government has chosen to relax some, but not all, restrictions on Leicesterians. From 24th July, schools and childcare will be allowed to open, and there is to be a more targeted approach to the restrictions on non-essential retail, which will now only be “closed when necessary”. Other restrictions, such as those on travel, the hospitality sector and social gatherings, will remain in force.
Hancock also took the opportunity to make a statement on testing, stating that some swabs have not been up to the “usual high standard that we expect.” The Randox swab tests therefore have been paused until further notice. Hancock was keen to stress that there are no issues with any other tests, and that this does not present a medical concern and there will not be a lack of access to testing as a result.
Should Hancock have been making a Downing Street briefing, providing the Speaker with prior sight of his statement would not have been necessary. Today, however, the Health Secretary was chastised for the lateness in delivering his statement to Sir Lindsay Hoyle. It was finally given to him at 16:59…
Once again the ONS has been the bearer of bad news. Today the statisticians reported that the number of UK workers on company payroll fell by 650,000 between March and June this year. Not only are fewer people in work, the numbers of hours being worked have also fallen, with a record drop of 16.6% compared with last May. It is clear that young people are being particularly hard hit. This probably won’t be the last time the ONS will share saddening stats, with the full effect on employment not likely to be evident until after the government’s jobs scheme ends in October.
There are musings that the Prime Minister might seek to encourage workers back to offices, with home working guidance potentially being scraped or amended as early as tomorrow. Certainly, personal experience from being in the City this week has shown that not many people “at work” yet. When pressed today however, Sir Patrick Vallance said that there is “no reason to change the working from home guidance” presently, noting the social distancing advantages it provides. He was also quick to dismiss the productivity concerns that homeworking brings. Vallance, the usually reassuring face of the UK coronavirus response, appeared in front of the Science and Technology Select Committee today to provide evidence in his role as the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. He accepted that the outcome of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK “has not been good”, but that there will be “many factors” that determine how countries will be judged on their response – many of which will take many years to realise. During his evidence, Vallance pointed to a range of factors that may have already influenced outcome, including different climates, levels of interconnectedness and population structures, but also accepted that some decisions taken may have been the wrong decisions at the wrong times.
In other news; you’ll remember a long-ago General Election press conference when then Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn held up documents regarding the proposed US-UK trade deal. Labour were questioned then about the document’s origin, and to their validity, with many suggesting that they were only mentioned in order to distract from a disastrous interview Corbyn had given to the BBC’s Andrew Neil. There were rumours at the time that the leaked documents had had Russian involvement, but the matter seemed to have settled and the leaked documents proving to be inconsequential to the overall result of the Election. It wasn’t for lack of trying it would seem, as an statement issued today by Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, detailed that “the government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents”.
This is not an isolated incident. Also today, Russia has been accused of “despicable” espionage as the UK, US and Canadian intelligence services have warned that hackers, that are “almost certainly part of the Russian intelligence services”, have targeting organisations trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Again, just as Russia responded to the 2019 accusations, the Kremlin has stated that the claims are “groundless” and that Russia has “nothing at all to do with it.” These are strong claims, and ones that the newly formed (and newly infamous) Intelligence Committee may well want to investigate further. Whether it will be Dr Julian Lewis who is the new Chair of the Committee remains to be confirmed, as his former party might decide to remove him from the Committee.