UK COVID-19 Measures: UK Prime Minister’s Daily Press Conference

Latest COVID-19 Measures Announced at The UK Prime Minister’s Daily Press Conference - 3rd April 2020

COVID-19

Today the Health Secretary Matt Hancock led the daily Government Coronavirus press conference from Downing Street. He issued a call for patients to participate in three ongoing clinical trials to help find an effective treatment for Coronavirus.

Daily Government Coronavirus Press Conference

The Coronavirus briefing was led by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who was joined by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and Chief Nursing Officer for England, Ruth May. The Health Secretary began the conference in the usual fashion by urging people to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

He stated that the Government is doing everything possible to boost the capacity to care for those who are ill, including providing more hospital beds and staff, and undertaking research on effective treatments.

Mr Hancock pointed to the opening of the Nightingale Hospital in east London, which has been constructed and made operational within nine days. There are plans for more Nightingale Hospitals in Bristol and Harrogate in addition to those already being established in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Every hospital in the country has managed to expand capacity, providing an additional 2,000 critical care beds on top of those being created at Nightingale Hospitals.

The Health Secretary went on to announce that the Government was working around the clock to deliver protective equipment to front line staff and social services. Mr Hancock also revealed that over 7,000 NHS staff have so far been tested for Coronavirus.

Mr Hancock issued a call for patients to volunteer to be a part of research and clinical trials. The Government is bringing together researchers from across the country to design new trials which are being delivered at a record pace. The trials are looking into the way in which existing drugs, such as those used to treat Malaria, can be repurposed to treat Coronavirus. Mr Hancock is also in talks with his counterparts in the G7 to coordinate efforts to find a cure.

When questioned on the likely peak of the outbreak, both Van-Tam and Hancock stated that this would depend on whether people followed the guidance on social distancing. Van-Tam revealed that statistics show that people are generally choosing to remain indoors. Hancock stated that the Government will not rule out going further on social distancing if that is deemed necessary.

Strengthening support for business

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has taken further action to support firms by bolstering business interruption loans for small businesses and announcing a new scheme for larger companies.

More than £90 million of loans to nearly 1,000 small and medium sized firms have been approved under the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) since its launch last week. The Chancellor has announced the extension of the CBILS so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19, not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, will now be eligible.

The Government is also stopping lenders from requesting personal guarantees for loans under £250,000 and making operational changes to speed up lending approvals. The first twelve months of interest and fees will continue to be guaranteed.

The Chancellor has also introduced the new Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) which will ensure that more firms are able to benefit from government- backed support. It will provide a government guarantee of 80%, enabling banks to offer loans of up to £25 million to firms with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million. See here for more details.

Nightingale Hospital opens at London’s ExCel centre

The first of the Government’s emergency field hospitals to treat Coronavirus patients has opened in east London’s ExCel centre. The temporary NHS Nightingale Hospital is able to hold as many as 4,000 patients and is the first of several such facilities planned across the UK.

The Queen’s address to the nation on Coronavirus

On Sunday 5th April at 8pm (BST) Her Majesty The Queen will address the UK and the Commonwealth in a televised broadcast. This will only be her fourth special address in a time of crisis during her 68-year reign and comes as the Coronavirus death toll has risen by 684 in 24 hours.

Total UK COVID-19 Cases

24hrs to 09:00 03/04/2020 Cumulative total
People tested 10,590 173,784
Confirmed cases 4,450 38,168
Deaths 684*
3,605*

*As at 17:00, 03/04/2020


Summary of UK COVID-19 Business Support Schemes

Beginning with the measures announced in the Budget on 11th March, the UK Government has announced a series of economic interventions aimed at supporting employees, employers and businesses through the uncertainty and potential loss of income resulting from the Covid-19 crisis and the restrictions on business activity as a result. The Government has established a business support web portal with details on eligibility and how businesses can apply for support. A summary of those measures of potential relevance to FTI clients is listed below.

Employment Retention Measures

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: Employers can claim 80% of their usual monthly wage costs for furloughed employees, limited to £2,500 per individual, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. The temporary scheme will be open to all UK employers for at least three months, backdated to 1st March 2020. The scheme is expected to be operational by the end of April.

Statutory Sick Pay Rebate: The Government will refund eligible Statutory Sick Pay costs to all employers with fewer than 250 employees. This applies to any claim arising as a result of Covid-19, including precautionary self-isolation, and is limited to two weeks per employee. While existing systems are not designed to facilitate such employer refunds, the Government is working to establish a repayment mechanism as soon as possible.

Self-employed Income Support Scheme: Most self-employed workers will be able to apply for a grant of up to 80% of average monthly profits from the last three years, capped at a maximum of £2,500 per month. The scheme will cover three months’ earnings with the first lump sum payments anticipated in June. The scheme will be open to those with trading profits of up to £50,000 in 2018-2019 or an average annual trading profit of up to £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. At least half of a claimants’ income must come from self-employment.

Bridging Loans to Mitigate Against Business Disruption

COVID-19 Commercial Financing Facility: The Bank of England’s Covid-19 Commercial Financing Facility is intended to support large companies of investment grade standing. Loans, though the purchase of commercial paper of up to one year maturity, will be provided to support short term liquidity, mitigating against cashflow disruption. The scheme has been extended to include those businesses that are too large to qualify for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (see below) but do not have an investment-grade rating. This will be achieved by constructing a credit rating from information about firms’ relationships with their banks.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme: To support small business access to bank lending and overdrafts, the Government is guaranteeing 80% on loans provided through the scheme up to an individual value of £5m (subject to a per lender cap on claims). Most UK businesses with turnover of under £41 million will be eligible. The scheme is being facilitated by the British Business Bank through participating partners (which includes most high street banks). For borrowers, no interest will be charged for the first twelve months of the loan, which will be paid by the Government. The Government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee. As of April 3, the Government has extended the scheme so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19, and not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, will now be eligible should they need finance to remain operational.

Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme: The Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme will provide a government guarantee of 80% to enable banks to offer loans of up to £25 million to firms with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million. This is intended to give banks the confidence to lend to more businesses which are impacted by coronavirus. Loans backed by a guarantee under CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest and further details of the scheme will be announced later this month.

Bank of England Term Funding Scheme: The Bank of England has introduced a new Term Funding Scheme with additional incentives for small businesses financed by the issuance of central bank reserves. Over the next 12 months, the scheme will offer four-year funding of at least 5% of participants’ stock at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate.

Extension Period on Filing AccountsBusinesses will be given an additional 3 months to file accounts with Companies House to help avoid penalties as they deal with the impact of COVID-19. While companies will have to apply for this extension, those citing issues around COVID-19 will be automatically and immediately granted one. Applications can be made through a fast- track online system which will take 15 minutes to complete.

Grant Funding measures

Small Business Grant Funding: Individual grants of £10,000 will be made available through local authorities to businesses eligible for Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) that already pay little or no business rates.

Tax Relief Measures

VAT Deferral: The Government has deferred VAT payment demands for the next quarter, meaning that no business will be required to pay outstanding VAT until the end of June. Businesses will have until the end of the year to reconcile any accumulated tax debts.

Support for Businesses Paying Tax: HMRC have established a dedicated Covid-19 helpline to support businesses and self-employed individuals unable to meet tax demands. Bespoke Time to Pay arrangements will be offered to those businesses with a legitimate need and support their recovery while navigating temporary financial challenges. HMRC will also waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulty due to Covid-19.

Deferral of Self-Assessment Payment: Income tax payments due under Self-Assessment on 31st July 2020 will be deferred until 31st January 2021. All self-employed individuals will be eligible.

Sector-Specific Support Measures

Cash Grant for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure: A cash grant of up to £25,000 will be made available to businesses in England operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000. Businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of under £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000.

Business Rates Holiday for Retail/Hospitality/Leisure venues: A 100% business rates holiday will be applied from 1st April for a period of one year to all retail, hospitality and leisure venues, including shops, pubs, restaurants and theaters. There is no limit to rateable values.

Business Rate Holiday for Nurseries: Nurseries in England will not have to pay business rates for the 2020-21 tax year. This will apply to properties that are occupied by providers on the Government’s Early Years Register and are wholly or mainly used for the provision of nursery education.

Supermarket Competition Law: To address a spike in public demand, the Government has waived a selection of competition laws to allow supermarkets and food retailers to coordinate activities such as opening times, product resources and the pooling of staff.

Other

Extension Period on Filing Accounts: Businesses can apply for an additional three months to file accounts with Companies House to help avoid penalties as they deal with the impact of Covid-19. Applications can be made through a fast-track online system.

Business interruption Insurance: The Government has confirmed that the business impact of Government measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus provides sufficient grounds for businesses to claim on their insurance where they have appropriate business interruption cover in place.

Protection for commercial tenants: The Government has guaranteed that commercial tenants who are unable to meet rent demands due to a fall in income as a result of the measures to deal with the Covid-19 crisis will be protected from eviction for a period of three months. Tenants will still be liable for accumulated rent after this period.

Flexible Insolvency rules: Changes will include allowing businesses undergoing restructuring to continue trading and receive supplies. There will also be a temporary suspension of wrongful trading provisions for company directors to remove the threat of personal liability, which will apply retrospectively from 1st March.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting Suspension: The Government Equalities Office has suspended the requirement for eligible businesses to report gender pay gap data for the reporting year 2019/20.


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