The coronavirus press conferences have become markedly worse. Two months ago, I wrote that these events were “becoming torturous – lengthy, rambling, with no opportunity for video-linked journalists to ask follow-up questions”. They are not quite as rambling now, but after introducing follow-ups 10 Downing Street has rediscovered the mute button on Zoom and taken to cutting off journalists. As a result, Boris Johnson delightfully sped through the press questions last night.
The Prime Minister also appeared to stop Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance (who were stood down on Monday) from addressing the Dominic Cummings story. This “Trumpesque” move, as Angela Rayner put it, was a bad look. And when they did speak for themselves, the medical advisers made clear that they didn’t want to be “pulled into politics”. But the need for clarifications on rules post-Cummings is important to public health, and refusing to respond is itself political.
54% of the public believe that lockdown measures are being lifted too quickly, according to a new Ipsos MORI poll. From Monday, schools are being reopened, we’re allowed to meet outside in groups (of up to six in England and eight in Scotland), and Johnson has even encouraged us to have barbecues. (In England, you’re allowed to use the toilet in homes other than your own; in Scotland, you’re not.) Yet we were promised that an app and a fully functioning test, track, trace programme would be in place before these changes were made.
There are also concerns that income support schemes are being cut off too early. 113 MPs from across parliament have written to Rishi Sunak to demand an extension of the help available for self-employed workers. Although many will continue to be affected by restrictions, that scheme is due to end this weekend. And while the furlough scheme for employees has been thankfully extended to October, there are worries that forcing employers to contribute 20% of wages from August will lead to huge job losses.
On LabourList today, Jon Ashworth has offered the second of his weekly updates on Labour’s Covid-19 response. The Shadow Health Secretary shares his views on Dominic Cummings, NHS Test and Trace, and the need to give people financial security. It remains unclear just how those who cannot work from home will be expected to take two weeks off if they are told to isolate after coming into contact with someone who has coronavirus. We need more comprehensive and more imaginative solutions from government to get through the coming months. Right now it looks like ministers are seriously underestimating the economic impact of this crisis. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.