17 April 2020
Covid-19 Q&A at the Barn Theatre

This week I will discuss the latest Government Coronavirus announcements and some community news, discussing how we are all dealing with the Coronavirus lockdown.

I will start by saying that it is ok to be concerned, these are unprecedented times for all of us. I realise that many children are being exposed to news that is not age-appropriate on TV or online, these stories are concerning to adults and I know raise a lot of questions for children. It is important to ask questions about things that worry you or don’t quite understand.

The Government has announced that social distancing measures will continue for at least the next three weeks. It is hard for us not to be able to go out and do the things we would usually enjoy, seeing friends and family, going shopping, or going places like the cinema for fun. But these measures have been put in place to tackle the coronavirus and save lives.

Remember we must continue to stay at home, to protect the NHS, and save lives. It would be devastating for us to have gone through the last few weeks, only for a resurgence to take place because we raised the lockdown conditions too quickly.

It is important to remember that our hospital and all those working in them are well prepared to treat people who get sick. I am putting pressure on the Government to ensure Gloucestershire receives the PPE it needs, with 40,000 items of PPE delivered for front-line staff in the county last week. I realise that care homes have been at the sharp end of this and will continue to push for more PPE.

There are world-leading experts working to ensure that we reduce the impact of the pandemic and introduce or relax measures at the right time.

As I discussed last week, this period is bringing out a great deal of kindness in communities and individuals. That is an important message for everyone and I am pleased that today we will have some more examples of community work, before answering some questions that have been sent into me this week.

I will start by giving a brief overview of the key announcements made this week by the Government on Covid-19 action:

· The Foreign Secretary chaired meetings of the Cabinet and COBR to consider the advice from SAGE. While there are indications that social distancing measures have been successful in slowing down the spread of the virus, it is a mixed and inconsistent picture and, in some settings, infections are still likely to be increasing.

· Relaxing any of the measures currently in place would risk damage to both public health and our economy. The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of the virus to hit the NHS and hit the British people.

We have set out 5 specific things which the Government will need to be satisfied of before we will consider it safe to adjust any of the current measures:

1. We must protect the NHS’s ability to cope – we must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK.

2. We need to see a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from coronavirus so we are confident that we have moved beyond the peak. 3. We need to have reliable data from SAGE showing that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board. 4. We need to be confident that the range of operational challenges, including testing capacity and PPE, are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand. 5. We need to be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelm the NHS.

When we are confident on these five points, guided by science and data, we will look to adjust the measures – be will only do it when the evidence demonstrates that is safe to do it. We will make those decisions at the right time for this country – but for now, the most important thing people can do is to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.

The Chancellor has expanded the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme ahead of its launch on Monday, ensuring that no viable business slips through our safety net of support as we help protect jobs and the economy.

· Firms with a turnover of more than £45 million will now be able to apply for up to £25 million of finance, and up to £50 million for firms with a turnover of more than £250 million. · Businesses with turnovers of more than £500 million were originally not eligible for the scheme – but the scheme has been extended after extensive consultation with businesses to ensure all viable firms are able to benefit from support. · We said we would support our economy – and we meant it. Our unprecedented package of measures is one of the most generous in the world, and we are ensuring businesses are provided with the support they need during the pandemic, helping to provide job security to thousands of people and protect our economy · I have been contacted by many businesses who are having difficulty getting loans, if you are in a similar position please get in touch with me and I will contact the banks or Government on your behalf. · It is very important for you to be very clear when making applications, I am aware that there is some difficulty in paying out loans due to repeat or incorrect applications.

The government is giving Councils greater financial relief by allowing them to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments and paying £850 million in social care grants up front this month. These new measures mean councils will be able to defer £2.6 billion of payments they are due to make to central government over the next 3 months as part of the business rates retention scheme. Additionally, the government will bring forward care grant payments to councils worth £850 million for both children and adults. These will now all be paid this month, rather than monthly in April, May and June, and will help provide immediate support for core frontline social care services.

I am in regular contact with Cotswolds and Stroud District Council who are working to ensure every vulnerable person is looked after during this period. Stroud District Council will be sending letters to every household to make sure nobody who is in need of help is left behind. Even with the council action it is vital that we look after our neighbours and to contact the council if there is anybody you think may need help, you can also contact me. I realise that so many of you are already doing this, but if we could check-in with

anyone who might be struggling during this time, not just the elderly but a neighbour who might be sick or vulnerable, or a family that may be caring for a sick child. These are challenging times, but the kindness being shown in our communities is wonderful.

A new action plan for adult social care has been published. This sets out the Government’s plan for minimising the spread of the infection in care settings and supporting the workforce to address the unprecedented challenges posed by coronavirus.

· Ensuring that everyone who needs a test for coronavirus in a social care setting will be able to receive one.

· Testing every social care worker who needs one.

· Extending the cut-off date for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, to make the scheme more generous and to help more people.

The Government are providing over £14 billion from the Coronavirus emergency response fund for public services, including the NHS and local authorities involved in the fight against Coronavirus. This support builds on the initial £5 billion announced at the Budget. We

are helping our public services with:

· £6.6 billion to support our health services

· £1.6 billion for local authorities

· £0.9 billion to cover extra measures such as home delivery of food and medicines to the most vulnerable people

· £3.5 billion to ensure vital rail services continue to operate for those who rely upon them for essential journeys

· £2 billion for the devolved administrations

Outlining extra support to protect the victims of domestic abuse during this national emergency, so they have a safe place to go if they can’t stay at home. The Home Secretary has launched a campaign to tell victims that they can leave home to get the support they need and is providing up to £2 million to enhance online support services and helplines for domestic abuse, so that anybody who needs it can access that help and support.