Boris Johnson braced the nation dealing with a coronavirus death toll of more than 50,000 for “many job losses” as further details of the economic impact of the pandemic were set to emerge.
The Prime Minister insisted he was “very proud” of the Government’s record despite the grim milestone on Covid-related deaths and his admission that large-scale redundancies were “inevitable”.
He said the Government would take an “interventionist” approach to support the economy as it emerges from the lockdown.
On Thursday, the Commons business committee will hear more on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers, while the Bank of England will publish a list of companies which receive funding through its Covid Corporate Financing Facility lending scheme.
The Office for National Statistics is also set to detail its latest assessment of the financial and societal damage from the disease.
Meanwhile, ministers are likely to face further questions over their decision to end virtual voting in the Commons after Business Secretary Alok Sharma, who appeared visibly ill while in the chamber on Wednesday, was tested for Covid-19.
After Commons authorities undertook a deep-clean, a spokeswoman for the MP said he would self-isolate after he “began feeling unwell” while delivering the second reading of the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, suggested his Cabinet colleague may have been suffering from “severe hayfever” at the time.
Opposition MPs renewed calls for the virtual voting to be reinstated, with Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy saying “reckless doesn’t even begin to describe” the scrapping of the system a day earlier.
Also on Thursday, Mr Johnson will urge world leaders to “unite humanity in the fight against disease” as he hosts an online global vaccine summit aiming to raise £6 billion to immunise millions of children in the world’s poorest nations.
Though not directly involving coronavirus, for which the world is scrambling to find a vaccine, officials said the summit could help lower the likelihood of resurgences arriving in the UK from abroad by alleviating pressure on developing nations’ healthcare systems so they can tackle Covid-19.
A second spike would cause further devastation for the economy, and the PM acknowledged the scale that the UK is already facing during the latest Downing Street press conference.
“I am afraid tragically there will be many, many job losses. That is just inevitable,” he said.
Large sectors of the economy are being kept on life support by taxpayer funding, with businesses borrowing more than £30 billion from three Government-backed coronavirus loan schemes and 8.7 million jobs furloughed.
Mr Johnson was also facing questions over the test and trace programme to slow the disease’s spread, with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty saying it remained “in the early stages of its development”.
In other developments:
– Mr Lewis told the BBC that ministers were “absolutely determined” to “publish very clear statistics” on its test and trace programme, having only declared that “thousands” of people have been contacted, once the UK Statistics Authority is satisfied with the proposals.
– Figures suggested more than half of care homes in England have not had a single staff member tested for coronavirus.
– Health Secretary Matt Hancock was working to rebuild stockpiles of Covid-19 drugs amid concerns Brexit could jeopardise supplies if the UK and the EU cannot agree a trade deal, the Financial Times reported.
– A study from the University of Warwick suggested the gradual reopening of primary schools in England alone is unlikely to cause a second wave, amid concerns the lockdown was being eased too quickly.
– Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed plans for people arriving in the UK from overseas to undergo a 14-day quarantine period from Monday.
– All schools in Wales will reopen on June 29.
The UK toll for deaths linked to Covid-19 passed 50,000, according to analysis of official figures by the PA news agency.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there could be 8,000 new cases of coronavirus a day in the UK and there was “relatively little room for manoeuvre” in easing the lockdown.
While the latest figures showed more than 1,800 a day had tested positive, data from the Office for National Statistics suggested the true figure was significantly higher.
At the same time he said the R – the rate of transmission – was still close to 1 which meant the numbers were not coming down quickly.
He said the number of deaths was also coming down “but it is not coming down as fast as we would like”.