House of Commons
No business scheduled
Written by Scarlett Regan, researcher
Edited by Kevin Pringle, partner
1 April 2020
It’s officially only the eighth day of isolation but boy does it feel like the eightieth.
After a tough week at the upstairs office, I was looking forward to the rest and relaxation of the weekend. To no avail. As I attempted to read a single page of my book on Saturday, my choir-deficient mother was desperately searching her iPhone for a virtual one. (She has since found Gareth Malone, who is streaming live daily rehearsals from his garden shed, if that is of interest to anyone.) My sister was belting out Walking in the Air, hitting just some of the notes. I complained that I couldn’t concentrate with all the noise. “It’s the living room, you can’t expect it to be quiet”, I was reminded.
I found solace in my bedroom, where I lit a candle and read my book in peace. But the peace was limited, and it is limited for everyone. Increasingly depressing updates about the virus flood into our consciousness, every hour of every day.
The more articles I read, the more inundations I have from BBC News, the more I have felt grateful for my safety.
We might have rolled our eyes at the “wash your hands” governmental advice which seemed to go on for weeks, but reading about the distressing situation in India puts that into perspective. Some 160 million of India’s 1.3 billion people don’t have access to clean water. And there is not much ‘self’ in self-isolation there either, with families cramped into tiny spaces: a fact of daily life. Millions of vulnerable urban migrants are making desperate journeys to their rural homes to try to survive. We’re talking 200 kilometre journeys.
And closer to home, there are hundreds of thousands of people living a nightmare. Those in abusive households, for whom being confined at home is dangerous. Those who are homeless, or yet to be housed. Those who live alone, with no friends nor family to look out for them. Those who rely on food banks, which are near empty due to panic-buying. The list goes on.
In the past strange week, I’ve come to acknowledge our immense privilege. Yes, we are living through a dystopian blockbuster, but we are far from its worst victims.
So, while we sing in our virtual choirs, read our books, do Zoom pub quizzes and try out new recipes, let’s remember that we are incredibly lucky to even have a roof over our heads.
Because “stay at home” doesn’t mean the same for everyone.
The UK government is working to increase coronavirus testing, especially for frontline workers. Health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that hospitalsshould use spare laboratory space to test self-isolating NHS staff in England for the virus. This came as a 13-year-old boy from south London died after testing positive for the virus.
MSPs are currently debating emergency powers to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland. The bill, due to be passed by the end of the day, gives new protection to tenants and makes considerable changes to the justice system. This comes as the number of deaths reported in Scotland yesterday was the highest so far.
In Italy, three weeks on from the start of lockdown, the singing has stopped as Italians fear poverty. In the south of the country, tensions are rising as people run out of food and money, with some shop owners being pressured to give food for free. Thefts are happening at supermarkets. The prime minister has announced that €4.3bn will go to municipalities and an extra €400m for food stamps, but mayors have protested that this is insufficient.
Business and economy
British Airways has suspended all of its flights to and from London’s Gatwick airport, amid a collapse in demand. This is due to what they called the “unprecedented circumstances” of the coronavirus. It follows easyJet’s similar announcement after the government advised against non-essential travel. British Airways will still fly from Heathrow but on a reduced service. It is among the airlines working with the government to fly Britons back to the UK.
UK department store Debenhams is in urgent talks over a further restructuring plan that might involve more store closures. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, sales have plummeted. The new proposals could be a company voluntary arrangement, its second in less than a year. The high street chain is reportedly having discussions with landlords to agree rent cuts.
New research suggests that nearly a fifth of all small and medium-sized businesses in the UK are unlikely to get the cash they need to survive the next four weeks, despite government support. It expects that between 800,000 and a million businesses nationwide may have to close soon. This comes as many firms have reported difficulties in obtaining emergency loans from banks.
Columns of note
In The Times, Carolyn Fairbairn argues that businesses are stepping up to become the fifth emergency service. In these incredibly challenging times, she notes, firms are doing their best to keep daily life and the economy going, which will ultimately help our country get through this crisis. She praises businesses big and small for reacting to the lack of ventilators, hand sanitiser, and grocery boxes. They are being businesses with purpose, she says, and in doing so are showing their value to the whole of society. (£).
In The New York Times, the editorial board argues that hostility towards immigrants is hurting the fight against the pandemic. With 40,000 people at detention centres across the United States at serious risk of contagion, Trump’s animosity towards undocumented immigrants is affecting the efforts to contain the virus far beyond the border, they argue. Those who are not documented are too scared to go to a public health facility for fear of being exposed. The board argue that the best practices should transcend borders and help us acknowledge our humanity.
What happened yesterday?
A new forecast for GDP by Goldman Sachs suggested a 34% annualised contraction in the second quarter in the US. The bank has predicted an unemployment rate of 15% by July in the US. Over the last week, investors have saved Wall Street from notching up its worst quarter since the Great Depression.
There were signs that the Chinese economy is stabilising, with production and demand starting to recover. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 1.9%. But analysts warned against reacting too positively to the numbers, saying that the figures don’t signify that output is back to its pre-coronavirus levels. Instead, it might show that economic activity is on the up, compared to February.
This news in the Asian markets offered a glimmer of hope to European equities. The Stoxx 600 and the FTSE 100 closed 1.7% and two per cent, respectively. However, this not disguise that London’s FTSE 100 is poised for its worst quarter since 1987.
Oil prices rose, with WTI settling up 1.9%.
What’s happening today?
Brave Bison Grp
Cathay Intl Ld
The Mission Group
Cathay Intl Ld
UK economic announcements
(00:01) BRC Shop Price Index
(9:30) PMI Manufacturing
Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Retail Sales (GER)
(08:55) PMI Manufacturing (GER)
(09:00) PMI Manufacturing (EU)
(10:00) Unemployment Rate (EU)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(14:45) PMI Manufacturing (US)
(15:00) ISM Manufacturing (US)
(15:00) Construction Spending (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
(20:30) Auto Sales (US)
In 2004, the citizens of Ecuador synchronised their watches as part of a national ‘Campaign Against Unpunctuality’. The president’s spokesman was several minutes late to the television broadcast announcing it.
House of Commons
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House of Lords
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Emergency Coronavirus Bill
Scottish Labour Party Debate
Investing in Our Future
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