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DAILY BRIEFING

Testing times

Written by Adam Shaw, associate partner 
Edited by Kevin Pringle, partner
17 September 2020

Good morning,

Often, when a government minister stands at the despatch box, what they are speaking about can be classed as a “bubble” issue – one that is important but is generally of little interest to your average voter.
 
Like the problems with exams grading this summer, that is not something that can be said about Covid-19 testing, with criticism of government handling of this issue escalating.
 
My own experience of testing is actually fairly positive. Not the test itself – that wasn’t particularly pleasant – but I found it easy to book an appointment and the process itself was efficient.
 
However, this has not been the experience of many, as has been widely reported this week. In Bolton, more than 100 people turned up at a local A&E asking for tests after being unable to secure one through the national system.
 
There have also been reports of people being asked to travel hundreds of miles for a test.
 
In his appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee yesterday, the prime minister acknowledged public frustrations and admitted that the UK’s testing capacity currently “has huge problems”.
 
Increasing testing capacity, and ensuring quick and accurate results, will be key if we are to balance the needs of public health and the economy, particularly as we hit the autumn and winter months.
 
The British Chambers of Commerce has expressed fears that the absence of a comprehensive test and trace programme could “cripple businesses” (£). These concerns have been echoed by the Confederation of British Industry and Federation of Small Businesses.
 
Which is why a story in today’s edition of The Telegraph (£) is so concerning. According to the report, the UK government is considering a prioritisation list for testing, with the result that large sections of the public could be refused a test.
 
At the moment, if you are showing symptoms of Covid-19 – a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or loss of taste or smell – you are being asked to book in for a test and self-isolate until the result comes back. Of course, these are all symptoms which could just as easily be due to a cold or flu.
 
If people cannot get tests to confirm whether they have Covid-19, many households are potentially needlessly self-isolating. It goes without saying that people should be at home resting if they are unwell regardless of the illness. However, the 10-day isolation period for Covid-19 is significantly longer than would be required for your standard cold.
 
That means fewer people at work, children absent from school, and consumers not in shops and restaurants. It’s particularly unsustainable for people who would need to miss work and receive only statutory sick pay – £95.85 per week, as opposed to the average UK weekly salary of £512.
 
This is one that that the government simply has to get right.

News

Almost two million people in the north-east of England will face local restrictions following a rise in coronavirus cases. A full announcement detailing the measures will be made today, with the impacted cities set to include Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham.
 
The UK government has offered a significant concession to Conservative rebels as the government looks to avoid a parliamentary defeat over the Internal Market Bill. Boris Johnson has agreed that the House of Commons must approve at a later date controversial powers allowing the government to override Britain’s EU withdrawal treaty. (£)
 
In related news, Joe Biden has stated that he will not allow the Good Friday Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit if he is elected in November. The Democratic nominee added that any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent on preventing the return of a hard border.
 
Lord Keen of Elie yesterday resigned as advocate general for Scotland. In his letter to the prime minister, Lord Keen said he has found it “increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a Law Officer with your policy intentions with respect to the UKIM Bill”. 

Business and economy

New Zealand is in its deepest recession in decades after the government implemented strict lockdown measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. GDP fell 12.2% between April and June – the country’s first recession since the global financial crisis and its worst since 1987, when the current system of measurement began. However, the government has expressed hope that its pandemic response will lead to a swift recovery.
 
The US Federal Reserve yesterday opted to keep interest rates near zero, promising to hold them at their current levels until inflation gets back on track to “moderately exceed” its two per cent inflation target “for some time”. Forecast suggest that this will not be until at least 2023. However, the central bank improved its projections for the US economy while it waits for inflation to improve.
 
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned that the long-term economic impact of Covid-19 could amount to $7 trillion (£5.3 trillion) – around $900 (£690) for every person on the planet. In its latest forecast, the intergovernmental organisation said the lack of a vaccine meant it was scaling back its expectations and that the world may never regain the economic growth lost during this period. 
 
The Co-op saw like-for-like food sales rise 8.8% in the first half of the year, which the grocery chain attributed to customers shopping closer to home and eating out less during the Covid-19 pandemic. Total revenues for the group increased 7.6% to £5.8 billion and profit before tax increased 35% to £27m for the six months to July.

Columns of note

In the Financial TimesPhilip Stephens argues that the UK internal market bill is a “gift” to the Scottish independence movement, as it legitimises the SNP assertion that England is locking Scotland into a state of vassalage. Also, by stating that he will simply block a second independence referendum, even if the SNP secures a majority at the 2021 Scottish parliament election, Boris Johnson will give the perception of contempt that will energise nationalists. (£)
 
Writing in the New StatesmanAilbhe Rea asserts that the real special relationship is between the US and Ireland, not the US and UK. She highlights that the US views the Good Friday Agreement, and President Clinton’s role in the peace talks, as an American legacy that they will do “everything in their power to guarantee”. Rea reiterates that although any US-UK trade deal may be negotiated with the Trump administration, it will require ratification from the US congress, where the Irish-American lobby is very influential.

Cartoon source: The Telegraph

Markets

London-listed stocks were down marginally overall yesterday, as investors digested a decline in UK inflation and looked ahead to a rate announcement from the US Federal Reserve. 
 
The US central bank confirmed that it would keep interest rates at their current low levels.
 
The FTSE 100 fell 0.44% to 6,078.48 and the FTSE 250 was down 0.11% to 17,795.26.
 
Land Securities Group was the day’s biggest gainer, rising 2.73%. Also among those to buck the trend was Kingfisher, owner of B&Q, which rose 1.28%, recovering losses it saw on Monday on the back of French DIY sales data.
 
Rolls Royce was the biggest faller, dropping 5.39%. It was closely followed by Morrisons, which lost 3.99% after a downgrade from ‘underweight’ to ‘neutral’ at JPMorgan Cazenove.
 
On the currency markets, the pound gained 0.79% against the dollar to $1.2991 and was 0.85% stronger against the euro at €1.0972.

What’s happening today?

Finals
Clinigen
Duke Royalty
Supermarket inc
Thinksmart Ltd
Wilmington

Annual report
Srt Marine Sys.

Interims
Destiny Pharma,
Hilton Foods
Keywords Studio
Next
Oxford Biomedica
Playtech
Safestyle UK
Spire Healthcare
Wandisco

AGMs
Begbies
Fastfwd Innov
Fih Group
Gresham House
Strategic IG Group Holdings
Jpm Brl
Real Est. cred
Ryanair
Trakm8 Holdings

UK economic announcements
(12:00) BoE interest rate decision

Int. economic announcements
(10:00) Consumer Price Index (EU)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(13:30) Contnuing Claims (US)
(13:30) Building Permits (US)
(13:30) Housing Starts (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

Bottlenose dolphins can make up to 1,000 clicking noises per second in order to track their prey. This is called echolocation. These sounds travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back to their dolphin senders, revealing the location, size and shape of their target.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions: transport (including topical questions)
 
Business statement: business questions to the leader of the house – Jacob Rees-Mogg
 
Ministerial statement: Covid-19 update – Matt Hancock
 
Select committee statement: Select Committee statement on the fifth report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: a public inquiry into the government’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic, HC 541 – William Wragg
 
Backbench business
 
Debate on a motion on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – Patricia Gibson
General debate on support for self-employed and freelance workers during the Covid-19 outbreak – Caroline Lucas, Tim Farron, Drew Hendry, Claire Hanna, Stephen Farry, Liz Saville Roberts

House of Lords 

Introductions: Lord Clarke of Nottingham and Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston
 
Oral questions
 
Whether the Hydrogen Advisory Council will develop a fully-funded hydrogen strategy for the UK – Lord Oates
What proportion of the £22 billion of research and innovation funding is allocated to the maritime industry to assist that sector meet its net zero emissions obligations – Lord Mountevans
A regulation system for chemicals to replace the REACH chemicals regime, and a conformity assessed quality standard to replace the CE certification mark – Lord Haskel
Presence of the Chinese Air Force in Taiwan’s airspace – Baroness D’Souza
 
Private notice question: Brexit: civil service code – Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
 
Statement: Update on the Japan Free Trade Agreement – Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
 
Legislation: Agriculture Bill – Report stage (day 2) – Lord Gardiner of Kimble

Scottish Parliament 

First minister’s questions
 
Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body questions
 
Portfolio questions: economy, fair work and culture
 
Scottish government debate: employment support

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