On Tuesday 12th May, Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP responded to an Urgent Question in the House of Commons on the Government’s economic response to the crisis and reopening the economy. The Chancellor confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended for four months until the end of October 2020 and employees will continue to receive the same support as they do now - at 80 percent of their salary, up to £2,5000 per month. There will be no changes to the scheme until the end of July, and from August, employers will be allowed to bring employees back part-time. However, the Chancellor noted that from August, he will ‘ask employers to start sharing, with the Government, the costs of paying people's salaries’.
From Wednesday 13th May, the Government’s announcement that people in England can spend more time outdoors came into effect, subject to social distancing rules. People and their households can relax in the park, sunbathe, go for a picnic and go fishing. They will also be able to spend time with one member of another household, one-on-one, as long as they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines at all times, staying two metres apart. Outdoor sports facilities can reopen including outdoor tennis courts, golf clubs and basketball courts meaning that people can play a greater range of sport. Alongside this, the Government published guidance including that people should check first if facilities, such as car parks, are open to receive visitors and, when in the countryside, continue to follow the Countryside Code by respecting the local community and protecting the natural environment. Also on Wednesday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced plans to enable people to move home safely and to re-start the housing market in line with social distancing advice. Elsewhere, national organisations working to tackle loneliness and build social connections were invited to apply for a share of £5 million of funding, which the Government is investing to help them to continue and adapt their critical work in a major effort to tackle loneliness during the outbreak and period of social distancing.
On Friday 15th May, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee held an evidence session on the impact of ‘digital divide’ in accessing online support during COVID-19 crisis. MPs heard evidence about the scale of digital exclusion at a time of a rapid shift online to access support during the COVID-19 outbreak. The session focussed on the needs of vulnerable people such as those advised to shield, the Government’s role in promoting digital inclusion and what impact digital exclusion could have in the longer term.
On Saturday 16th May, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson released a letter on the Government’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and plans to begin returning to school safely. He reiterated that they are asking some children to come back from the 1st June, and asking schools to adopt a number of strict protective measures.
On Sunday 17th May, the Government launched a major long-term study to track the spread of COVID-19 in the general population. Up to 20,000 people are being asked to take part in a new Government-funded study to further track the extent of the virus spread across different parts of the country. The research will measure blood antibodies to help determine what proportion of the population has already had the infection, the duration of immunity after being infected, and why the virus affects people differently.
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