Boris Johnson says he expects mass Covid-19 testing to be possible soon – as it happened

Last modified: 06: 43 PM GMT+0

Rolling coverage of the latest coronavirus developments in the UK - as they happened. This blog is now closed – please head to the global coronavirus blog for the latest updates

Evening summary

  • Boris Johnson told the daily press conference the UK can ‘turn the tide’ in the fight against coronavirus within the next 12 weeks. The Prime Minister said the first British patient had been put in a randomised trial for a treatment for coronavirus, and he expected relatively soon the government would be able to do mass testing to see if people had contracted it.
  • Police, public health and immigration officers have been given powers to detain anyone suspected of being infected with coronavirus under new emergency powers rolled out by the government. The emergency legislation also gives the government sweeping powers to close premises and ban gatherings.
  • The UK death toll rose to 144 as a further 29 patients died in England. The patients were aged between 47 and 96 years old and had underlying health conditions. Scottish deaths doubled to six and the first death in Northern Ireland was recorded.
  • The Bank of England slashed interest rates to an all-time low of 0.1%, a week after rates were cut to 0.25% to address the coronavirus crisis.
  • The capital saw dozens of London Underground stations close as part of measures to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of the virus. Figures show that around 4 in 10 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK so far have been in London.
  • London mayor Sadiq Khan said bans may be needed to stop people gathering in bars, restaurants and continuing to mix together in defiance of expert advice. He also said people’s civil liberties may have to be curtailed to stop more lives being lost to the Covid-19 virus. Boris Johnson continued to deny there were plans to shut down the London Underground.
  • The Queen issued a message to the nation that in this period of great concern and uncertainty “we all have a vitally important part to play as individuals” in the days, weeks and months ahead.
  • Weddings and baptisms should be significantly scaled back under new guidance issued by the Church of England. Weddings should be restricted to five people and baptisms should be limited to meet the need for social distancing.
  • Supermarket staff are to be counted as key workers whose children can stay at school, the environment secretary George Eustice said.
  • Guidance on how pupils unable to sit exams are to be graded is to be published tomorrow, the education secretary Gavin Williamson said.
  • Train, coach and bus services across the country have been cut as passengers stay away, including South Western Railway, Great Western Railway and National Express.

That’s all from us today on the UK side, but the global coverage of these extraordinary times continues over on our global coronavirus live blog:

Updated

Boris Johnson's press conference - Summary and analysis

Some words used by politicians, reporters and the public during the coronavirus have been open to different interpretations, which has sometimes caused problems. “Self-isolate” has been used to mean ‘avoid contact with anyone” and just “don’t go out much”, which meant when Matt Hancock said all over-70s would have to self-isolate for three months, he caused some alarm. London being in “lockdown” could mean quarantine and martial law (never a prospect, as No 10 made clear today) or just all the pubs being closed (still an option). And now we have got “turn the tide”, which Boris Johnson says the UK will be able to do within 12 weeks. Many people will hear that as a prediction that after three months life will start getting back to normal. But it may very well not mean that, as Johnson came close to acknowledging when he faced questions.

Here are the main points from his press conference.

  • Johnson said that the UK would be able to “turn the tide” in the fight against coronavirus in the next 12 weeks. In his opening remarks in the press conference, responding to growing public concern about how long the social distancing measures now in force might last, he said:

I’m conscious as the days have gone by that people will want to know how long we’re expecting them to keep it up.

I think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country.

But only if we all take the steps that we’ve outlined, that is vital, that’s how we’re going to reduce the peak and once we’ve achieved that and I think that we will, if we take the steps I’ve said, then the scientific progress that we’ve been making will really start coming into play.

Johnson argued that by the middle of June scientific advances would be helping considerably in the fight against coronavirus (see below). But, when asked if he thought that people would be able to go on their summer holidays, he refused to give a direct answer to the question. And, when asked to explain what he meant by turning the tide within 12 weeks, he said he could not be sure the UK would be on the “downward slope” at that point. He said:

I believe that a combination of the measures that we’re asking the public to take and better testing, scientific progress, will enable us to get on top of it within the next twelve weeks and turn the tide.

Now I cannot stand here and tell you that by the end of June that we will be on the downward slope. It’s possible but I simply can’t say that that’s for certain, of course not, we don’t know where we are, and we don’t know how long this thing will go on for.

But what I can say is that this is going to be finite, we will turn the tide, and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeks.

This is a sensitive topic because, if coronavirus cannot be beaten within 12 weeks, then the social distancing measures in place now could stay in force for potentially a year or more. In the Imperial College paper (pdf) published on Monday, which explained the modelling that persuaded the government drastic “suppression” measures were vital, the authors said:

The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package – or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission – will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) – given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed.

At a briefing this morning Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser suggested that a long-term “exit strategy” from the current coronavirus policy could involve waiting for a vaccine.

  • Johnson says the first British patient had been put in a randomised trial for a treatment for coronavirus.
  • He said he expected that relatively soon the government would be able to do mass testing to see if people had had coronavirus. This could be a “game changer”, he claimed, because it would allow the government to track the disease and determine when people could safely go back to work. He said:

To give you an idea of what is coming down the track, we’re in negotiations today to buy a so-called antibody test, as simple as a pregnancy test which can tell whether you have had the disease and it’s early days, but if it works as its proponents claim, then we will buy literally hundreds of thousands of these kits as soon as practicable. Because obviously it has the potential to be a total game changer.

  • He said Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, would tomorrow announce more details of measures to help businesses and workers.
  • He appealed to retailers not to engage in profiteering. He said:

On mass buying and the price issue, I really hope that retailers will continue to be reasonable. I certainly wouldn’t want to see profiteering of any kind.

  • He said that compliance with social distancing rules in some parts of London was “very patchy” and he did not rule out bringing in tougher measures for the capital. He said:

If we feel that [the current advice] isn’t working and we need to bring forward tougher measure, nothing is ruled out.

It is vital that people follow that advice. There is huge evidence that they are [social distancing] in the takings of the retail sector, the hospitality sector, TfL [Transport of London] in inner London down about 50%, in outer London 60%, but some evidence that in parts of the capital it is very patchy and some areas where people aren’t following it in quite the way we need them to do.

But there was no prospect of public transport being shut in the capital, he said:

There is no prospect of us wanting to stop public transport in London or stop the Tube or the buses.

  • Whitty said that it would be at least two weeks before the social distancing measures now in place might lead to the infection rate slowing. He said:

To be clear: even if everybody does all the things we hope and really, really would ask that they will do, the numbers will continue to go up over the next two weeks because there’s a lag until things start to improve.

  • Johnson said he was minded to give up holding press conferences in a room with journalists because that implied they were not taking social distancing advice seriously. But he did want to continue speaking to the media daily, he said, suggesting they might take place remotely. (See 5.48pm.)
Boris Johnson speaking during his press conference.
Boris Johnson speaking during his press conference. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Updated

Police Scotland has “temporarily suspended non-essential training” in a bid to support communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The PA news agency understands the majority of training will be stopped from Friday with 266 positive cases in Scotland and six deaths.

Probationer, public order and first aid training is scheduled to continue.

GCSEs should be awarded to pupils from this year’s cohort based on predicted grades following the government’s ‘extraordinary’ step of cancelling exams, say academics from the UCL Institute of Education.

The researchers say this is a better solution than rescheduling exams for later in the year, which could negatively impact children, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who are less likely to benefit from private tutoring.

They added that online exams or subject assessment by coursework would not be viable options due to problems of monitoring, data security and comparability.

Halfords has launched a contactless garage service for any motorists that are self-isolating and staying indoors.

Technicians from Halfords’ Mobile Vans fleet, which includes its Mobile Expert and Tyres On The Drive services, are offering customers the option of having car repairs and fittings done outside their homes or on their drives without coming into contact with anyone.

More info on their website.

The NHS is using wartime rhetoric in a bid to cajole retired doctors and nurses to come back to help relieve the massive pressure expected on hospitals from Covid-19.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said:

As the health service gears up to deal with the greatest global health threat in its history, my message to former colleagues is ‘Your NHS Needs You’.

Our wonderful nurses in every corner of the country are preparing to change the way we work so that we can provide the right care for the rising numbers of people who will need it.

But we can’t do it alone, so I am urging all recent former nurses to lend us your expertise and experience during this pandemic, because I have no doubt that you can help to save lives. And I’m grateful for senior students providing expert care in this time with their NHS colleagues.

The appeal, from their professional bodies - the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the General Medical Council - will go to 50,000 nurses and 15,500 doctors who have left the NHS in the last three years, asking them to re-register.

“By offering to return to the NHS now, these thousands of well-qualified and compassionate people will make more of a difference than ever before - not just to patients, but to colleagues and the wider community,” says Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS.

Final year medical students and student nurses are also being offered the chance to take temporary, fully-paid roles on the frontline. A variety of jobs - clinical and non-clinical - will be available to any of the retirees who want to come back to help.

The head of the UK’s biggest children’s hospice has warned that frontline charities providing vital health and care services to vulnerable people face financial catastrophe without urgent government aid to keep them afloat.

Toby Porter, chief executive of Acorns hospice in the West Midlands, told the Guardian that smaller charities dependent on community fundraising and charity shop income could be forced to reduce services within weeks.

Charity leaders have estimated the sector as a whole faces losses running into hundreds of millions over the next few months as thousands of fundraising events are cancelled, ranging from the London Marathon through to local fetes and coffee mornings.

Porter said:

I’m trying not to be hyperbolic, but for the charity sector this is a catastrophe for smaller and medium sized charities.

I really hope the government is not careless enough to leave charities our of the rescue package offered to small businesses. We all support government supporting the business community.

But people should understand that that the charity sector runs successful, profitable businesses which serve the most vulnerable people in our society. We should be treated the same.

Acorns Hospice provides palliative nursing care and support to 800 babies and children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions every year. Nearly two thirds of its £11m income is dependent on fundraising and from profits from its 54 charity shops. Those £1m profits evaporate if high streets are are locked down, leaving the charity with huge fixed costs.

There is growing anger across the voluntary sector that at a time when they are being asked to step up to deliver local support for vulnerable people affected by coronavirus measures the government has yet to offer them emergency funding in the same way as it has for small and medium sized business.

Unless @BorisJohnson & @RishiSunak announce financial support for civil society now these are the kind of things that won't continue to function/reopen when this crisis is over:

Hospices
Refuges
Youth clubs
Support for victims of crime
Medical research

— Kristiana Wrixon (@KristianaWrixon) March 19, 2020

Free legal advice
Community run parks & cafes
Social movements for young people
Free counselling and helpline services
Housing and homelessness services & advice

If you care about these things please RT and let your MP know.

— Kristiana Wrixon (@KristianaWrixon) March 19, 2020

Karl Wilding, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations tweeted:

Charities employ 900,000 people. Roughly half sector’s expenditure is on staff costs, predominantly health and social care (eg hospices), also children’s services. Our fundraising and trading income has ground to a halt. NCVO is being rung by orgs that need to lay staff off.

A winter night shelter run by a Christian charity in Glasgow is to close after a guest and member of staff tested positive for coronavirus.

Glasgow City Mission helps vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the city with situations including homelessness, addiction, poverty, family breakdown, prostitution, persecution overseas and asylum.

People who had been planning to use the facility will now be directed to alternative accommodation.

Continuing advice is being issued by the Scottish Government for those with any symptoms to self-isolate for seven days. The charity has called for funding to help at-risk people do this.

The department of health and social care has announced £2.9 billion of the chancellor’s £5 billion response fund will go to help sort out a long-running problem that is now going to become critical: the “bed blocking” in the NHS caused by elderly and vulnerable people who are fit to go home but have no safe home to go to.

Local authorities will get £1.6 billion to boost the social care workforce - the carers who are vital to look after elderly people and those with other needs once they get out of hospital, whether they are returning to their own home or moving into a care home.

The rest of the money - £1.3 billion - will go to “enhance the NHS discharge process”, so that those who are fit to be discharged can actually leave.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said:

Our NHS and social care colleagues are at the heart of protecting the most vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak, and the whole country is tremendously grateful for their commitment during this challenging time.

This funding will help the NHS and social care services in our communities to rise to this once in a generation challenge by allowing the NHS to do what it needs to, and help move people out of hospital as soon as possible to get them back home with the right support.

If some elderly and vulnerable people get out of hospital and home sooner, then something good will have come out of this crisis, although the Local Government Association pointed out that the money would just help with the extra impact that coronavirus is having.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board:

Councils are leading local efforts in their communities to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, in their role as a fourth emergency service. Their absolute priority is continuity of care and protecting the most vulnerable from this virus, including children. This funding boost will help councils do everything they can to ensure those vulnerable to the virus are able to access vital supplies.

A widespread coronavirus epidemic across the country will have a huge impact on an already-stretched adult social care system. To maximise the impact of this funding, councils will need to be able to target it towards the pressures in their particular local area, including support to the care provider market.

Johnson says he is often accused of sounding “unnecessarily boosterish”.

He does not want to strike that note today, he says.

But he thinks we will start to get through this, he says.

He says companies should “think very carefully” before they lay off their staff.

He says at some point in the future he may start holding these press conferences remotely. But he wants to ensure that he carries on holding these discussions every day.

He says he does not want people to think they are not following their own advice.

He ask the journalists what they want. Someone says it is important reporters can ask him questions. He says he will ensure that happens, although perhaps not all at the same time.

And that’s it.

I will post a summary and analysis soon.

Q: You say you think you can turn the tide in 12 weeks. What does that mean? Does that mean we will be returning to our normal lives?

Johnson says he wants us to get on top of this. At the moment the disease does not seem yet to be responding to the interventions. A combination of the measures taken by the public and better testing will enable us to turn the tide.

But Johnson says he cannot say that by the end of June we will be on a downward slope.

But this will be “finite”, he says.

Vallance says the measures in place should have an impact on the rate of growth of the epidemic.

You would expect the epidemic to come down. Then you can move to a phase where you test and trace.

There are then trials starting, one today, and vaccine trials later.

That is where we need to get to, he says.

Q: Is there any evidence young people are being affected worse than expected?

Whitty says most people who get this experience just a mild illness.

Older people get it more severely, he says.

But he says that does not mean that there will not be severe cases amongst some young adults.

Q: Do you accept that every day you delay announcing business support measures, thousands of jobs will go.

Johnson says it is vital that people understand that government will support business, and businesses should support their workers.

He says he thinks the government will have a “great package” on this. Rishi Sunak will say more tomorrow, he says.

Whitty says the government is confident that antibody tests will become available. But it is not sure yet whether the ones on the market work.

He says, once they are available, NHS staff will be the first priority group to get them.

He says they will help society normalise, even while a relatively large number of cases are still occurring.

Q: Are you worried about people profiteering?

Johnson says he hopes retailers will be reasonable. He really does not want to see any profiteering, he says.

“Please be reasonable”, he says.

Whitty says the pressure on London will rise.

A&E and respiratory care in hospitals will come under pressure.

Even if everyone does what the government is advising, the numbers will still go up for the next fortnight. That is because, even if the social distancing measures work, there will be a lag.

He says there is evidence that a huge number of people are taking social distancing seriously.

But we do not yet know whether that will be enough to work.

  • Whitty says social distancing measures will not stop coronavirus cases rising for at least two weeks.
  • He says it is too soon to know whether the social distancing measures will work.

Johnson says testing is crucial to beating this virus.

He says tests have an enormous potential to help.

Vallance says Public Health England will be ramping the number of tests up to 25,000 [per day].

If the antibody test works, that will be easy to scale up, he says.

Johnson says compliance with social contact advice in parts of London has been 'patchy'

Q: Almost half the deaths have been in London. Are you going to go further?

Johnson says there is some evidence that in some parts of London compliance with the social distancing rules is “patchy”. The government may have to go further.

But he won’t shut the transport network, he says. He says there has been some “misunderstanding” in the media. He is not going to stop people going to work.

Q: Will people be able to go on their summer holidays?

Johnson says he is very confident that we can turn the tide. But that depends on “collective, resolute action”.

Johnson is taking questions now.

But he says he does not want this press conference to go on for too long.

Q: People are worried about what extra measures you might introduce. Will you shut pubs and clubs within days? And businesses say the loan procedure takes to long to enable them to keep on staff.

Johnson says he is guided by the science, and by an assessment as to whether the advice is working. If people are staying away from places where they might pick up coronavirus, he will just want to say thank you.

If it is not working, “nothing is ruled out”.

  • Johnson signals that if people ignore the government’s social distancing advice, it could introduce binding rules.

On support for business, he says Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will make an announcement tomorrow.

  • Sunak to give more details of the government’s economic support package tomorrow, Johnson says.

Johnson ends buy saying the government will stand by business.

Johnson says, after the 12-week period, science will be able to help the UK to fight coronavirus.

He says the first British person with coronavirus is undergoing a trial for a new drug.

And he says randomised tests for vaccines will start within a month.

He says the UK is in negotiations today to buy an antibodies test that will be able to tell if people have had coronavirus.

If it works, the UK will buy hundreds of thousands of these. If people know they have had this, this can go back to work, because they are less likely to get it again or infect people.

Johnson says UK can 'turn the tide' in fight against coronavirus in 12 weeks

Johnson says the government is asking a huge amount of the public.

He says he can see the impact on companies. That is why it is vital for the government to stand behind them.

He says he wants to talk today about the timescale for this.

I do think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks.

But that will only happen if we take the necessary steps, he says.

Boris Johnson's press conference

Boris Johnson is starting his press conference now. He will with Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser.

And the Welsh government also supports the coronavirus emergency powers bill. This is from Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister.

The bill responds to the unprecedented difficulties that we face and is based on the need to reduce the rise in coronavirus on the one hand, and to free up public service from some of the more normal requirements so that they can be doing more at the frontline.

The Scottish government supports the coronavirus emergency powers bill. This is from Michael Russell, the Scottish government’s constitution secretary.

This bill is the result of a great deal of intensive work between the UK government and the devolved administrations and is required because of the extraordinary public health and economic challenges posed by the pandemic. The Scottish government will recommend granting legislative consent.

I should emphasise these measures are temporary and will only be used if required. I make a commitment that we will institute, after discussion across the Scottish parliament, appropriate reporting on how and when the powers in the bill have been used by the Scottish government.

And this is from the BBC’s Daniel Kraemer on the coronavirus emergency powers bill.

Some pretty morbid stuff in the Coronavirus bill today. Including giving local and national authorities power to force others to give info about their capacity to deal with "transportation, storage or disposal of dead bodies" pic.twitter.com/iXB2XUK6di

— Daniel Kraemer (@dcakraemer) March 19, 2020

This is from Sky’s Sam Coates, on what to expect from the PM’s press conference.

Ahead of the 4th daily press conference with Boris Johnson what do we expect

* clarity that some of the rumours about banning travel in and out of London are untrue

* more details of the meeting with London mayor Sadiq Khan

* questions on emergency legislation

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

Boris Johnson is due to start his daily coronavirus press conference within the next few minutes.

Around four in 10 coronavirus-related deaths in UK have been in London, figures show

Around four in 10 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK so far have been in London, the Press Association reports. Its analysis goes on:

Some 56 of the total 137 deaths have been recorded by hospitals or NHS trusts based in the capital, according to calculations by the PA news agency.

Areas with the next highest totals are the West Midlands (27) and south-east England (20).

All other areas are in single figures: north-west England (9), Scotland (6), East Midlands (5), Yorkshire & the Humber (5), eastern England (2), north-east England (2), south-west England (2), Wales (2) and Northern Ireland (1).

Today’s rise in deaths from 104 to 137 is a jump of 33 on the equivalent figure yesterday.

This is the same rise seen between Tuesday (to 71 deaths) and Wednesday (104).

The mortality rate in the UK suggested by the latest available figures is 4%, but this should be treated with caution as the NHS is currently not testing people with mild symptoms who are self-isolating at home. Were these included in the overall figures, it is likely the mortality rate would be lower.

Updated

The BFI & Radio Times Television Festival has been cancelled.

The festival had been scheduled to take place from 17 to 19 April at BFI Southbank in London, but the venue has been closed because of Covid-19.

Updated

'We all have vitally important part to play' - Queen urges country to unite in fighting coronavirus

The Queen has issued a message to the nation about coronavirus. She is urging everyone to play their part, saying the nation’s history has been shaped by people “coming together to work as one”. She says “we all have a vitally important part to play”.

Here is the message in full.

As Philip and I arrive at Windsor today, we know that many individuals and families across the United Kingdom, and around the world, are entering a period of great concern and uncertainty.

We are all being advised to change our normal routines and regular patterns of life for the greater good of the communities we live in and, in particular, to protect the most vulnerable within them.

At times such as these, I am reminded that our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one, concentrating our combined efforts with a focus on the common goal.

We are enormously thankful for the expertise and commitment of our scientists, medical practitioners and emergency and public services; but now more than any time in our recent past, we all have a vitally important part to play as individuals - today and in the coming days, weeks and months.

Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe. I am certain we are up to that challenge. You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.

Perhaps “people and communities coming together” is not quite the best way of putting it in this era of social distancing, but you know what she means ...

The Queen leaving Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle yesterday.
The Queen leaving Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle yesterday. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Updated

Britons stranded in Peru have expressed fury that foreign secretary Dominic Raab said there was no way out of the country because of travel restrictions when the British embassy in Lima sent out a communication last night asking hundreds of stranded Britons to register interest in a rescue charter flight put on by Colombian airline Avianca, at a cost of £3,000 a ticket.

“This is the only charter option that we are aware of at this moment for a direct flight to London,” said the communique asking people to register their interest.

Edd Webster, who has organised a WhatsApp group involving hundreds of stranded Britons, said he was deeply disappointed that after three days of pleading with MPs and the embassy they have come up with such a solution.

It just feels a lot like extortion and taking advantage of what is a group made up of many young and vulnerable people.

The British embassy and UK government have not made good contact with what is an active community of over 400 British and Irish tourists and after three days we have been provided with what seems like a half-cooked solution.

It has unfortunately deflated my confidence of the work going on behind the scenes if this is the best they could come up with when it seems other countries are finding ways to bring people home at a much more reasonable cost,” said Webster.

Duncan Sharples, whose 22-year-old son is among a small group of medical students from Sheffield stranded in Cusco, said Raab should not be denying the existence of the Lima embassy’s efforts to get people signed up to such an exploitative venture. He said:

I believe the term is target marketing, in this case using a confidential contact list of vulnerable British nationals obtained for humanitarian relief and not for the purpose of “extorting” money in exchange for personal safety. You won’t find a return flight for Peru at any time over $1000 but suddenly it is $3500.

This is being done in conjunction with the British Embassy, a branch of the Foreign Office.

The Foreign Office, Dominic Raab, is denying the existence of this flight, and no-one is asking whether the Foreign Office are prepared to value the Health and wellbeing of stranded British Citizens at $3500 and pay to get them home,.

The Foreign and Commonwealth office was approached for comment. It is understood efforts are being made to put on rescue flights in the coming days.

Updated

A social enterprise restaurant in London Bridge is pledging to give out 500 freshly cooked meals each day to vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the local community affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Following a very busy first day and donations from local kitchens, Brigade Bar + Kitchen confirmed the initiative will go ahead tomorrow and, it hoped, would continue for the foreseeable future.

Updated

The entrance to New Street Station and the Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham today. It is usually crowded.
The entrance to New Street Station and the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham today. It is usually crowded. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Updated

Sky’s Sam Coates has more on the coronavirus emergency powers bill.

This is what the government says the bill is for: and it repeats that up to 80 per cent of the population could be infected. This is clearly the planning basis, even though chief scientists hope it will be far less than that pic.twitter.com/CRHe3YNff0

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

This is quite an extension of spook powers

Allows warrants for monitoring without pre-approval of a Judicial Commissioner.

Needed within 3 days so agencies "maintain their ability to protect national security"

Once taken, I wonder if this power will ever be relinquished pic.twitter.com/TKd3Fn8sqA

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

This is a very broad power to restrict the "use and disclosure of information".

Appears to make leaking information of certain types illegal - and printing some personal data illegal too pic.twitter.com/HOMumiB0oW

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

Protection against medical negligence claims against the NHS for treatment during Covid-19 outbreak pic.twitter.com/GzKzJcrePM

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

Asda has said it will give full pay for 12 weeks to any of its workers if they need to self-isolate due to coronavirus.

The supermarket giant also said it had started working with a number of national companies to offer temporary jobs to people, in view of the “significant demands” being placed on supermarkets.

Asda also announced it will be paying its small suppliers immediately to help them keep their business operating and is to provide a rent-free quarter to about 250 small business tenants in its stores who are struggling to operate during these unprecedented times.

Chief executive Roger Burnley said:

Never in my 30 years in retail have I ever felt so keenly the role played by supermarkets in our communities.

The way our colleagues are working to support the nation is incredible and I want to support them and those closest to them who are experiencing the other end of this crisis and need work.

Where we can provide opportunities for employment, even short-term, to help people through this period, we want to play our part, and where we are able to reduce the strain on our smaller suppliers and tenants, we will do so.

Updated

Students and people who may have lost their jobs in the hospitality and catering sector in the UK are being urged to apply to make up a shortfall of workers on farms, just weeks before harvests begin.

Next month British strawberries will be ripe; blackberries arrive in May, and raspberries, blackcurrants and blueberries will be ready to be picked from June onwards. But the coronavirus pandemic will leave farmers facing a severe shortage of labour to help pick and pack them.

The pandemic has left farmers facing a severe shortage in seasonal workers on fruit farms across the country.
The pandemic has left farmers facing a severe shortage in seasonal workers on fruit farms across the country.
Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 70,000 seasonal workers are normally required to harvest the UK’s fruit and vegetables. Domestic supplies are critical for soft fruits with around 90% of the strawberries and 60% of the raspberries we eat grown in the UK.

There is now uncertainty that overseas workers will be able to travel to the UK over the next month to take up those jobs. There is also worry among the existing overseas labour force working on farms in the UK about whether to stay or travel back home.

We urgently need a UK labour force who can help harvest crops to feed the nation. At a time when international travel is restricted and people are panic buying due to the coronavirus, it is crucial that growers can provide enough British produce to our supermarkets and local shops,” said Sarah Boparan, operations director at the farm recruitment company HOPS Labour Solutions.

We are aware that there are many people facing sustained periods away from their usual employment or studies and HOPS can offer paid positions for those who are willing to work.

HOPS has called for interested applicants to find out more and apply online.

The British Summer Fruits association said it would be mounting a large-scale recruitment campaign in the next few days aimed at that part of the UK population left out of work by the coronavirus. It said 98% of harvest staff last year were from outside the UK.

Updated

The coronavirus emergency powers bill gives government sweeping powers to close premises and ban gatherings. The explanatory note accompanying the bill sets out how broad the power is.

The provisions give the secretary of state the power to prohibit or restrict events and gatherings, and to close premises, if the public health situation deems it necessary. This streamlines existing legislation in England and Wales, to ensure that powers to prevent events or gatherings can be deployed as quickly as possible in the event this is justified by the evidence.

It also extends the power to Scotland and Northern Ireland too, where there is no equivalent legislation.

This can be deployed if, having had regard to the relevant advice, such a prohibition or restriction would: a)prevent, protect against or control the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or b) facilitate the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources.

Fast-food chain Leon will turn its restaurants into mini-supermarkets in a bid to ease food concerns caused by panic-buying in the UK, PA Media reports.

Shelves across the country have been stripped bare of essential items, as shoppers form lengthy queues outside stores – despite official government advice that this is not necessary.

Have you heard? We're going to be doing everything we can to help you get the food you need, and that includes turning our restaurants into food shops. https://t.co/fbyliufwBP

— LEON (@leonrestaurants) March 18, 2020

Leon, which has more than 75 restaurants, will transform its shops and launch a new e-commerce platform that allows customers to book a delivery slot a few days in advance, similar to how other supermarkets do.

Both the restaurant and website will sell restaurant-quality ready meals, sauces, meats and other food that customers can store and eat at home.

The platform will launch by 25 March, while customers will also be able to buy food immediately using Deliveroo and JustEat.

Updated

Net government approval rating hits highest level since 2010, poll suggests

Voters are more likely to approve of the Boris Johnson and the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak than disapprove, according to some new polling from Ipsos MORI. Some 49% of people think the government is handling it well, against 35% who think it is handling it badly (a net rating of +14), and Johnson’s rating are 47% v 38% (a net rating of +9).

Polling on handling of coronavirus crisis
Polling on handling of coronavirus crisis Photograph: Ipsos MORI

But the young, Labour supporters, public sectors workers and Londoners are likely to be significantly more critical of the government than other people, Ipsos MORI says. (These groups overlap quite a lot.) In its write-up Ipsos MORI says:

Young people tended to be more critical of the government’s handling of the outbreak than older people (28% of 18-34s thought the government was handling it well, compared with 70% of over 65s), as were Labour supporters (only 30% thought the government was handling it well), public sector workers (35%), and Londoners (38%).

Coronavirus also seems to have affected the government’s overall approval rating, which is now at +7, with 48% of people saying they are satisfied with the government and 41% dissatisfied. Ipsos MORI says this is the the first positive net rating for a government since July 2010. As this chart shows, it is also the highest rating for any government at this stage in its term in office since Tony Blair’s.

Approval ratings for governments since 1979
Approval ratings for governments since 1979 Photograph: Ipsos MORI

The danger, of course, is that events in the coronavirus crisis are changing by the day, and opinion could flip very easily. The UQ in the Commons this morning illustrated how vulnerable the government will be if it does not come up with a huge package of employment support very soon. (See 11.48am.) But for the moment the politics of coronavirus seem to be working to Johnson’s advantage.

Weddings should be restricted to five people, Church of England says

Weddings should be restricted to five people because of the coronavirus crisis, the Church of England has said.

We have issued guidance on weddings and baptisms during the current period of restrictions on public gatherings.

Read more: https://t.co/P2hl8zVe89

— The Church of England (@churchofengland) March 19, 2020

The legal minimum for wedding ceremonies is the person officiating, the couple, and two witnesses.

Weddings and baptisms need to be “very significantly scaled back to meet the need for social distancing”, the church says in new guidance. It will help families who prefer to rearrange ceremonies to a future date or proceed but hold a public blessing at a later date.

Those attending baptisms should be limited to the candidate, their parents (or guardians or carers), the godparents and the minister.

The priest should not hold the child, and water should be administered with an appropriate implement such as a shell.

David Walker, the bishop of Manchester, said:

Couples and parents, friends and families will have been planning for months, even years for their special moment, whether a wedding or a christening.

Now it can go ahead – but with only the minimum required in attendance. You may need to cancel or postpone.

Whatever decision is made, God’s love and blessing will still surround all those who would have been there that day.

Updated

A reminder of the official advice, from the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, as he said that the frequency of underground services was likely to significantly reduce over the days and weeks ahead.

I can’t say this clearly enough. People should not be travelling by any means unless they absolutely must. The scientific advice on this is very clear.

Londoners should be avoiding social interaction unless absolutely necessary and this includes avoiding the transport network.

I want to see more Londoners following the expert advice, which means it’s critical we see far fewer Londoners using our transport network than is currently the case.

Updated

The Labour MP Kate Osamor has been ordered to apologise by the Commons standards committee after it found that she broke parliamentary rules by using Commons notepaper to write a character reference for her son before he was sentenced in court for a drugs offence. The committee said in a report (pdf) that there was nothing wrong with Osamor supplying the reference, but that the use of Commons stationery implied her letter carried the authority of the house. But it was a relatively minor breach of rules, the committee suggested.

The committee also said Osamor broke the code of conduct by threatening a journalist who came to her house, and by then at first refusing to respond to contact from the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

In its report the committee said:

Ms Osamor resigned from the opposition front bench as a result of these events, so she has paid a price for her behaviour in terms of her career.

We recommend that Ms Osamor should apologise to the house for her breaches of the code of conduct, by means of a letter to the committee which we will publish on our website. We add that if Ms Osamor were to commit any further similar breaches of the code, we would take a very serious view of the matter.

UK coronavirus death toll rises to 137 as another 29 patients die in England

The NHS has announced that a further 29 people who tested positive for coronavirus in England have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in England to 128. It says the patients were aged between 47 and 96 years old and had underlying health conditions.

These are hospital where the latest patients died:

  • London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust - 2
  • King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust - 1
  • Barts Health NHS Trust - 2
  • North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust - 2
  • Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust - 3
  • Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust - 1
  • Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospital NHS Trust- 4
  • Epsom and St. Helier NHS Trust - 2
  • Croydon Health NHS Trust - 1
  • The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust - 2
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust- 1
  • Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust - 3
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust- 1
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust - 1
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust - 2
  • Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - 1

Total: 29

It takes the total number of deaths in the UK to 137

Updated

The Co-op is to create 5,000 store-based posts which will provide temporary employment for hospitality workers who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis.

The retail giant said it is simplifying its recruitment process so successful candidates can start work within days.

Permanent jobs will also be on offer at the Co-op’s 2,600 stores across the country.

We're committed to supporting communities during this difficult time. To help feed the nation we're urgently recruiting permanent and temporary colleagues at our food stores.
Temp - apply in store.
Permanent - apply online.
🔁 Please share this posthttps://t.co/4e9MZMxFp8

— Co-op (@coopuk) March 19, 2020

A restaurant in London offering a discount for NHS staff.
A restaurant in London offering a discount for NHS staff. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

Pharmacies warned not to exploit panic-buying

Pharmacies were warned not to take advantage of people panic-buying medical supplies after reports emerged of independent stores profiteering.

Most supermarkets and large chain chemists have been out of stock of over the counter drugs such as paracetamol in recent days as people have stripped the shelves bare in anticipation of becoming ill with Covid-19.

Some smaller pharmacies have been filling the gap by breaking down larger prescription batches of paracetamol and selling them on at inflated prices. The Guardian found one small pharmacy in south London offering paper bags of 13 paracetamol at 15p per tablet and without labelling, compared to 4p per tablet in supermarket packs last week. The same store was also selling a sample-sized bottle of hand sanitiser for £4, when standard supermarket bottles of hand sanitiser are 300ml, roughly six times the volume, and were priced at £3.49.

The regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council, told us that pharmacists may need to “depart from established procedures” given current exceptional circumstances and prepare smaller packs to keep families supplied, but should only sell them with the appropriate labelling and safety information. “The care of patients and the public should be the primary concern of pharmacy owners and professionals and they should not be exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic for financial gain,” a spokesperson said.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which represents pharmacists, said that splitting packs of paracetamol in this way was not normally within the rules, but that it was accepted that flexibility was needed. Its director of pharmacy Robbie Turner said:

Because of coronavirus, demand for paracetamol is high and frontline pharmacists are faced with making difficult decisions about the supply of medicines every day. The price they have to pay is also rising fast, but we take a dim view of any company that is hiking prices of medicines.

Empty shelves in a pharmacy (not one accused of hiking up prices).
Empty shelves in a pharmacy (not one accused of hiking up prices). Photograph: @CharlotteAlice8/PA

In the midst of further scenes of queues and panic at supermarkets, the logistics industry has appealed for calm, saying the supply chain is resilient and can cope with even the extreme disruption of coronavirus.

The Freight Transport Association said:

The message is clear – there is plenty of everything the country needs to continue working and living, providing people do not panic buy.

Policy director Elizabeth de Jong said:

Logistics operates a very lean business model, with deliveries made “just in time” to keep prices as low as possible, but empty shelves does not mean that stock is not on its way.

She said there were “challenges posed by the potential of illness and self-isolation of workers”, and that government could need to step in to help with driver shortages.

She added that it was vital that employees across logistics were recognised as key workers – and given urgent access to healthcare, washing and toilet facilities.

The Rail Freight Group said it was vital that all operational logistics employees, including rail freight staff, were classified as key workers.

It also called on the government to waive access charges to the railway for freight trains during the crisis, to ensure the shipment of vital supplies even if disruption meant they were not fully loaded and normally economically viable.

Updated

Police and public health officials to have powers to detain people who may be infected

Police, public health and immigration officers will be able to detain people suspected of having coronavirus under new emergency powers rolled out by the government.

The new guidance would allow the officials to return people to where they have been asked to stay during the virus outbreak, believed to be in a bid to curb people leaving hospital early. They will also have the power to take people to screening and testing facilities.

The bill says: “These measures look to fill existing gaps in powers to ensure the screening and isolation of people who may be infected or contaminated with the virus and to ensure that constables can enforce health protection measures where necessary.”

Updated

Bank of England cuts interest rates to 0.1%

The Bank of England has cut interest rates to 0.1%, in a second emergency cut prompted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Monetary Policy Committee at a special meeting on 19 March voted to cut Bank rate to 0.1% and increase its holdings of UK government and corporate bonds by £200 billion. https://t.co/rbpUGU0blr

— Bank of England (@bankofengland) March 19, 2020

More to come over on our business live blog.

Government publishes coronavirus emergency powers bill

The government has published its coronavirus emergency powers bill. The full text is here (pdf) and it runs to 329 pages.

And here are the explanatory notes (pdf). This is the document that tells you what the bill will do in intelligible English.

Updated

A statue of Queen Victoria decorated with a face mask in Manchester.
A statue of Queen Victoria decorated with a face mask in Manchester. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

There are now 77 cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency has announced.

Trade bodies for the sport and physical activity sector have co-signed a joint letter to the chancellor setting out the urgent financial measures needed from government to stop community leisure facilities – and jobs – from disappearing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter, seen by the Guardian, stresses the value of the sector to nation’s (physical and mental) health and the economy, and outlines measures the government could take to protect businesses and jobs, including:

  • Salary payment support, as instituted in other European countries.
  • Rental/management fees reduction support.
  • Making gym memberships tax deductible for a stipulated period.

The bodies also seek clarification on the terms of loan provision, the government’s position on facility opening, business interruption insurance and the grounds for payouts, tailored financial support for self-employed physical activity professionals, as well as clarity on non-payment of VAT, NI, pension and payroll contributions during the period of disruption.

These are worrying times, and as the impact of this crisis takes hold of the nation, the effect on physical activity sector organisations will be great.

Our gyms, leisure centres and sector workforce are at risk of ceasing to operate without the necessary financial commitments to support physical activity businesses.

If operators are forced to close, it will be difficult for this vital infrastructure to be restored once the crisis is over – and a lengthy restoration process would have dire consequences for our society.

Updated

Our science correspondent, Hannah Devlin, has tackled some of the most prominent Covid-19 myths circulating at the moment, including on the effectiveness of face masks and how cautious young people should be.

Chief medical adviser says coronavirus 'exit strategy' might rely on vaccine becoming available

Here are some more lines from the briefing that Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, held earlier. It was billed as a science briefing, and Whitty and Vallance tried to stick to science, in at least one case refusing a question because it was deemed not “sciency” enough.

  • Whitty suggested that a long-term “exit strategy” from the current coronavirus policy could involve waiting for a vaccine. In response to a question about what the “exit strategy” was that would allow the restrictions currently imposed to be lifted, Whitty said there was a short, medium and long term view. In the short term, the aim was to delay and reduce the peak of the epidemic, he said. In the medium term, he said the aim was to reduce “overshoot” - which he said meant reducing the number of people who would get the virus overall. And in the long term, a vaccine was “one way out of this”, he said. But a vaccine would not happen very quickly, he said. He went on:

But there are a number of other scenarios which are largely based around trying to get it to the point where we minimise the probability that at any point the whole system is overwhelmed by this, and then globally science will come up with solutions that help to reduce mortality. Basically, science will help us over time to get to an optimal position.

  • He said it was “improbable” to think a vaccine would be available within six months.
  • He said that it was unrealistic to expect to be able to get rid of the virus completely. He said:

It is our judgement, and it is my judgment certainly, if you look around the world, the idea that we are going to put this virus back to going away completely, whilst not theoretically impossible, seems so improbable that basing scientific evidence on the theory that that is something we are trying to do seems to be a mistake.

  • He said that, as the virus mutated, it was likely to become less dangerous. He said:

There is a lot of chatter on some of the social media sites about whether this virus could become more dangerous as it mutates. Whilst theoretically possible, the general tendency is, if there is a direction of travel for infections over time, actually they tend to become less virulent over time as they become adapted to a new host.

Prof Chris Whitty (right) and and Sir Patrick Vallance speak at a briefing this morning.
Prof Chris Whitty (right) and and Sir Patrick Vallance speak at a briefing this morning. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

Two prisoners in Scotland have tested positive for the coronavirus, Scotland’s justice minister, Humza Yousaf, has said. Both inmates are in HMP Kilmarnock.

Two prisoners in our care have tested positive for COVID-19, both in HMP Kilmarnock. SPS are working with Health Protection Scot & NHS to ensure appropriate care. Currently, affected prisoners don't require hospital treatment. Priority is safety of our staff & those in our care

— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) March 19, 2020

The individuals are currently being treated within the SPS estate and have not required hospital treatment.

There are currently 28 individuals across the estate within SPS who are symptomatic.

The spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with Health Protection Scotland and NHS colleagues to support those in our care and are following their advice.

Clinically-led protocols for the management and care of those who contract COVID-19 are in place and Advice and guidance about steps which should be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have already been issued to staff and those in our care.

Prison visits are continuing to operate normally across Scotland. Any prisoner who presents with symptoms is required to self-isolate within their cell for seven days.

Those who are self-isolating still have access to food and medication and we are working on ways to maintain communication with friends and family,” the spokesperson added.

Updated

I’ve just spoken to the devastated manager of a foodbank in West Yorkshire that had more than £500 worth of food and toiletries stolen when it was broken in to on Wednesday evening.

Janet Burns, who helps run the Knottingley foodbank, said four people had prized open the locks of one of its storage facilities and “ransacked” the place of essential items.

She said volunteers had taken delivery of a huge donation 24 hours before the burglary – which was all stolen in the raid. She said food, sanitary products, toilet roll and even Easter eggs that they were saving for next month had all been taken.

“It’s dire, it really is,” she said. “It’s soul-destroying for the volunteers. The people that have stolen have stolen from the general public not just the foodbank.”

Burns said demand on the foodbank had gone through the roof in the past week due to the coronavirus. She said volunteers were having to turn some people away unless they were known to them or had vouchers for free school meals.

The area’s MP, Yvette Cooper, said it was “truly appalling” that someone could do this in an hour of need. “If someone has done this in order to make profit from other people’s desperation that is a shocking and shameful crime,” she added.

Truly appalled anyone could do this right now. Last night Knottingley Foodbank was broken into, stealing food, sanitary products & basic supplies. We contacted Morrison’s & they’re helping. Appealing for help so they can urgently restock & avoid closure https://t.co/K1UytQR4uM

— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) March 19, 2020

Please help us show the Knottingley volunteers & families who are feeling completely devastated right now that we can pull together and support each other through this

— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) March 19, 2020

Updated

The Royal College of Midwives has expressed concern over the supply of personal protection equipment for midwives.

The body has called on the government to ensure that midwives and maternity support workers receive appropriate personal protective equipment to ensure they remain safe and well so they can continue to care for people.

CEO Gill Walton said:

There are midwives, maternity support workers and thousands of other NHS healthcare professionals working right now without adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

Our members in different parts of the UK have been contacting us with their concerns. Midwives across the country are caring for pregnant women with suspected Covid-19 symptoms without adequate resources to protect themselves. There are community midwives attending home births and postnatal visits without enough hand sanitising gel and other basics such as masks.

We know these are unprecedented circumstances, but the government has a duty to keep our vital healthcare workers safe and well.

It is also calling on the government for a programme of regular testing for midwives and other NHS health workers to be rolled out without delay.

Updated

Housing campaigners have said the current measures announced by the Scottish government to support tenants do not go far enough to address the crisis.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today that landlords in Scotland would not be able to evict tenants with arrears for the next six month.

But tenants’ union Living Rent have called on the government to introduce rent-holidays instead. A spokesperson said:

While the First Minister has offered warm words, the truth is that this isn’t enough to protect tenants. We urgently need a complete ban on all evictions, as well as urgent measures to stop tenants being driven into poverty during the pandemic by rents that are already sky-high.

That’s why we’re calling for ‘rent-holidays’ for tenants affected by the virus. Nothing else will provide tenants the security we so desperately need at this time.

Professional football in England paused until at least 30 April

The Football Association has extended its delay to fixtures until 30 April at the earliest.

A statement from the Premier League, EFL and the FA, along with the women’s professional game, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the League Managers Association, confirmed the extension to the suspension.

The governing bodies agreed a suspension last Friday until early April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Guardian Sport has the full story:

Updated

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, daytime TV shows - as well as news - have seen a spike in viewing, PA Media reports.

ITV Daytime, including shows such as Loose Women and This Morning, reached a six-year high, the broadcaster said.

The BBC news bulletin at 6pm had an audience of 8.7 million, its highest figure since Christmas Day 2008.

And ITV said its lunchtime news bulletin had its biggest audience since New Year’s Day 2014, with 1.6 million viewers.

The National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the UK’s largest charity for parents, has moved all of its antenatal classes for expectant mums and dads online, instead of face-to-face, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

With the virus causing concern among many expectant and new parents, the NCT said it had seen an increase in inquiries from parents concerned about a number of things including the effects of the virus on pregnancy, childbirth, babies and toddlers.

Further information about the online antenatal courses can be found on the NCT website.

Updated

The Department for Work and Pensions is set to announce that it is suspending its rigid welfare conditionality rules, including for universal credit, in an attempt to simplify the system and ensure that benefit payments are not interrupted.

All face-to-face jobcentre interviews with claimants will be suspended, as will the requirement that job-seekers demonstrate that they have spend up to 35 hours a week looking for work, as the DWP moves to adapt the benefit system to cope with the economic impact of coronavirus.

Tens of thousands of people are entering the benefit system as businesses lay off workers because of virus-related shut downs in sectors such as hospitality and retail, and government is under pressure to ramp up support for people hit by the crisis and smooth their access to social security.

It is not clear whether there will be any changes to the current five week wait for a first universal credit payment. New claimants can access advance loans to tide them over the wait, repayable through deductions from future payments.

Under current rules claimants are required to sign up to a range of stringent requirements as a condition of receiving benefits. Failure to adhere to the rules results in financial sanctions, including having benefits withdrawn for at least four weeks and in some cases up to six months,

The measures, which come days after the DWP announced that face to face assessments for disability benefits were to be put on hold for three months, ensures claimants will not feel obliged to travel into job centres because they fear they will lose their benefits if they do not attend.

The Guardian has seen evidence that local job centres have already been abandoning benefit conditionality requirements ahead of a national announcement, possibly because of pressure on staffing at local job centres.

In Liverpool, some universal credit claimants received a message on their online journal yesterday saying work search requirements were temporarily suspended.

Updated

The City regulator has told insurers that it expects them to treat customers fairly and consider payments on claims they might normally reject.

The Financial Conduct Authority said that the coronavirus had changed customers’ behaviour and that insurance firms needed to take this into account.

Christopher Woolard, interim chief executive of the FCA said: “We expect insurance firms to recognise this and treat their customers fairly, recognising the circumstances customers may find themselves in.

“We would not expect to see a customer’s ability to claim affected by circumstances over which they have little control.”

With government advice suggesting that people should work from home and avoid crowded spaces, the FCA said that people may be using their properties and cars differently from when they bought insurance.

Typically, home and motor insurers will ask questions about use when a policy is bought and base premiums on this.

Car insurance customers will be asked to indicate whether their vehicle is used socially or for work, while home insurance customers will be asked about their working practices.

The FCA said that insurers should consider claims even for customers who had indicated they would not be using their car or home for work.

“We expect motor and home insurers not to reject claims because of a consumer’s understandable temporary change in how they use their vehicle and their home address, in response to government advice and the emerging coronavirus situation,” the FCA said.

Updated

John Lewis and Waitrose have become the latest retailers to announce limits on the purchase of some items.

Waitrose, which is part of John Lewis Partnership, has announced a three-item limit on certain products and a limit of two packets of toilet roll.

It comes after rivals Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons all announced similar measures to ease stockpiling pressures.

The retail group said it was also launching a protected shopping period for the elderly and vulnerable at Waitrose, which will be each store’s first opening hour from Friday.

Waitrose cafes and rotisseries will be temporarily shut to help stores cope with increased demand in other areas.

John Lewis Partnership said 2,100 members of staff from the department store business are helping to work at Waitrose stores on deliveries.

The company also launched a 1 million community support fund to be distributed by Waitrose shops to local communities.

Updated

And this is what Peter Dowd, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said on behalf of Labour about the need for employment support after the House of Commons UQ that saw a Treasury minister face fierce criticism from Tories about the fact that the government has not yet said what it will do to help people losing work. (See 11.48am.) Dowd said:

The government itself recognised today that its plan to protect jobs and wages will not feel sufficient to many, which is a stark admission of failure.

The government also said it would ‘expect’ businesses to use the loan guarantees given to support workers, but an expectation is simply not good enough.

It must be a requirement of loans given that no business will lay off workers, and the government should urgently bring forward a plan to underwrite the bulk of the wages of workers at risk of losing their jobs.

This crisis is too significant, and the impact on people’s lives is too serious, for any more delay.

Sir Keir Starmer, the favourite in the Labour leadership contest, has put forward his own plans to protect people who will lose work because of coronavirus. He wants a national income guarantee scheme, featuring a Danish-style wage subsidy initiative, making government loans to business conditional on jobs being protected, trebling the value of statutory sick pay and increasing the value of benefits.

Today I'm calling for a national Income Guarantee Scheme to combat coronavirus.

🔺 Job protection linked to Government loans
🔺 A Danish-style wage subsidy initiative
🔺 Statutory Sick Pay increased and available to all
🔺 Social security strengthened https://t.co/nS8mmF8d0N

— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) March 19, 2020

Oxford Street in London this morning.
Oxford Street in London this morning. Photograph: Philip Sharkey/TGS Photo/REX/Shutterstock

Landlords in Scotland will not be able to evict tenants for six months for rent arrears, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced today.

Sturgeon said the prime minister, Boris Johnson, already announced that landlords would not be able to evict tenants for a three-month period, but Scotland would be extending those provisions to six months, though local housing activists have warned this does not go far enough. She said housing tribunals were currently not sitting.

“Nobody should face evictions because of the crisis we’re living through,” Sturgeon said at first minister’s questions.

She added that these measures apply to private sector and that the government would take action if any social landlord was contemplating eviction.

This post was updated to clarify the six months eviction ban is for rent arrears and that tenants could be evicted on other grounds.

Updated

In the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, has just said the government wants to ensure parliament keeps sitting through the coronavirus crisis. But it said it may have to revise the way it operated. And he thanked Labour for not pushing votes on the finance bill this week, which means MPs did not have to congregate in the division lobbies.

Unions are pressing the government to ensure that all supermarket and pharmacy employees are included in a list of key workers who will be permitted to still send their children to school after Boris Johnson ordered the closure of all of the education system in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

It follows an announcement by Gavin Williamson that delivery drivers are expected to be listed as “key workers” but did not include tens of thousands of staff who work in supermarkets those who will be expected to still sell medicines to the public.

In a letter to the education secretary, Paddy Lillis, the head of the shopworkers union Usdaw, has asked today that those working in the retail supply chain and pharmacies are included. He said:

Would you confirm, as a matter of urgency, that food retailers, those in the retail industry supply chain and those in the pharmaceutical industry will be given full access to any skeleton childcare provisions which are put in place. It is vital that these workers are able to continue delivering a crucial service without suffering financial detriment.

Usdaw’s call has been backed by the TUC, whose deputy general secretary, Paul Nowak, said the government must work with unions if it is to identify the needs of crucial workers.

Updated

A further 24 people in Wales have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases to 170, Public Health Wales says.

24 new cases have tested positive for COVID-19 in Wales, bringing the total number to 170 - although the true number is likely to be higher.
Read more: https://t.co/ZaLzvP7dIn

For more information on what to do if you have symptoms visit our webpage: https://t.co/EtWLVB3luI pic.twitter.com/ECHnedbfzo

— Public Health Wales (@PublicHealthW) March 19, 2020

The Welsh government says it will be rolling out coronavirus testing for frontline healthcare workers.

We’re rolling out coronavirus testing to health care workers involved in frontline patient facing clinical care.

A negative result would allow them to return to work and ensure our NHS is at the strongest capacity to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. pic.twitter.com/JFD0AJkZpT

— Welsh Government (@WelshGovernment) March 19, 2020

The Home Office demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race” and some ministers still “do not accept the full extent of the injustice”, an independent inquiry into the Windrush scandal has found. Amelia Gentleman and Owen Bowcott have the full story here.

Scotland deaths double since yesterday, rising to six

Our Aamna Mohdin in Scotland is reporting that the number of deaths in the country has doubled since yesterday.

Breaking: six reported deaths in Scotland who tested positive for coronavirus.

— Aamna Mohdin (@aamnamohdin) March 19, 2020

The first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed there were six reported deaths in Scotland of people who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The deaths in Scotland have doubled – from three to six – since yesterday.

The number of cases rise by 39 taking the total of positive cases to 266.

Sturgeon also said the four nations are working together to come up with a workable definition of who is a key worker, but added there will be flexibility: “What is a key worker in a remote area in the highlands may not be a key worker in the city centre in Glasgow.”

Police officers and all emergency services will be part of the definition of “key worker”.

Updated

Back in the press conference Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, says that although there are claims the virus could become more dangerous as it mutates, in practice viruses like this normally become less dangerous.

In their press conference Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, said that there are “significant health and social downsides” to the social distancing measures. He said:

If you do them too early you get all the negatives but almost an immeasurable impact on the epidemic.

And Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, added that it was “not possible” to put absolute timelines on the pandemic.

The British embassy in Morocco has put out the following announcement on Twitter for Brits in the country to go to Marrakech immediately:

All special flights departing from Morocco to the UK are scheduled for today. There will be no other flights after midnight tonight.

⚠️⚠️⚠️If you are in Agadir, please go to Marrakech immediately. ⚠️⚠️⚠️

❗️❗️All special flights departing from #Morocco🇲🇦to the #UK🇬🇧 are scheduled for today. There will be no other flights after midnight tonight ❗️❗️@TSAReilly https://t.co/0sD7TQ3gdo

— UK in Morocco (@UKinMorocco) March 19, 2020

No 10 quashes some, but not all, claims about what 'London lockdown' measures could involve

Downing Street has ruled out banning people from leaving or entering London, and also played down the prospect of shutting down the transport network in the capital.

But further restrictions on bars, restaurants and non-essential shops in the capital are not being ruled out, Sky’s Sam Coates reports from today’s lobby briefing.

Downing Street making important clarification about what may happen in London in coming days

From No10 spokesman at lobby briefing

* There are no plans to close down London transport network
* There is “zero chance” of any restrictions to travel in and out of London

More/

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

* It is NOT true that people may only be able to leave their houses one at a time

* All powers for police will be visible when emergency legislation later today.

* Doesnt rule out more restrictions on bars and restaurants

* Doesnt comment on non food shops asked to close

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) March 19, 2020

The idea that people might be allowed to leave their homes in London only one person at a time was reported as an option in the FT this morning. (See 9.20am.)

Updated

Treasury minister faces angry backlash from Tory MPs who want more help for workers now

In the House of Commons John Glen, a Treasury minister, had to respond to an urgent question about employment support this morning which has just finished. It finished a few minutes ago. Glen is a junior minister and he did not have anything to announce to MPs. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor and his boss, has already said that the government is working urgently on a package of measures to help who are losing work and mostly Glen just kept telling MPs that the Treasury was still working on these measures urgently.

But, nevertheless, the session was highly revealing because it showed that backbench Conservative MPs are alarmed by the government’s lack of action on this issue so far. Opposition MPs were also very critical, but that is what you would expect. Here are some of the comments from Conservatives.

From Greg Clark, the former business secretary who tabled the urgent question

All employers have an account with HRMC to pay tax for employees through Pay As You Earn (PAYE). The monthly wage bill is known to HMRC.

Instead of firms paying PAYE to the government, that flow should now be reversed with the nation paying the wages of people for the next weeks if, and only if, they continue to employ their staff.

Separate arrangements would need to be made for the self-employed, but at a stroke this would save people’s jobs, save businesses and put an immediate end to the risk of contagion and help save the economy.

This is similar to the ideas being proposed by the CBI and by the Resolution Foundation.

From Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary

There is something else the government can do, literally today. Universal credit has three basic levers which could all be pulled now enormously to help people who are in work. One, the taper could be lowered dramatically at this stage, which would push the floor right up underneath people in work at the moment, allowing them to fall back on that if government’s cannot deal with them.

Second, you could change the benefit rates allowing the greater expanse of money to flow to them. This could be done today.

The third areas is to look at the waiting time [for benefits] and reduce that almost immediately.

Those three things were always built into the flexibility. They can be done today, they can be delivered within days by the department that already has the ability to do that whilst he gets on with this other facility.

“Universal Credit has three basic levers that could all be pulled now… to help people who are in work,” says Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith

“This could be done today”

Treasury economic secretary John Glen says he is looking at “all options”https://t.co/5vned14aOf pic.twitter.com/kf3ttTZnnH

— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) March 19, 2020

From Sir Bernard Jenkin

Those of us who are not in the engine room of government are being told by our constituents that, welcome as Tuesday’s package was, it’s simply not going to be enough. And when you have got die-hards like [John Redwood MP] and Alllister Heath from the Daily Telegraph lining up for far more radical measures, the government must take note. Can I urge the government to say something today to give people assurance that help will come.

And these are from Sir John Redwood, whom Jenkin referenced.

The government needs to head off many redundancies by offering support to businesses hit by virus closures. Keep the workforces together for an early recovery.

— John Redwood (@johnredwood) March 18, 2020

It took ten years of hard work to create many jobs and record employment. Don't throw it away by allowing big redundancies when we hope the businesses will be needed again soon.

— John Redwood (@johnredwood) March 18, 2020

After the UQ was over the Labour whips office tweeted this.

That was one of the most incredible UQs we’ve ever seen. Tory MP after Tory MP imploring their own Government to wake up to the scale of the economic crisis that faces the country, individuals and businesses.

— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) March 19, 2020

Chief medical adviser and chief scientific adviser hold press conference

Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, are holding a press conference now.

Whitty says the idea that the world will be able to put this virus back completely, while not totally impossible, is so unlikely as to be a mistake.

Updated

Chris Evans broadcast a “test” radio show from a boat as he joined the many Britons working away from their offices amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The broadcaster hosted his Virgin Radio breakfast programme from his tethered spot on the banks of the River Thames in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, this morning. He said the team might be relocating back to London tomorrow, “but we’ll see how it goes”.

Working From Boat...#ChrisEvansBreakfastShow#ThursdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/pVJAyO7N6N

— Virgin Radio UK (@VirginRadioUK) March 19, 2020

Bans, not just advice, might be needed to stop people meeting in bars in London, says mayor

London mayor Sadiq Khan has said bans may be needed to stop people gathering in bars, restaurants and continuing to mix together in defiance of expert advice. He also said people’s civil liberties may have to be curtailed to stop more lives being lost to the Covid-19 virus.

Giving evidence before the London assembly, Khan was asked about a Paris-style formal ban, ordering people to stay indoors except in certain limited circumstances. He said:

We are not there yet. The advice from the government is just advice. I think that provides a mixed message. It’s clearly not been clear enough. We may move to a situation where we move from advice to bans.

Khan meets the prime minister and senior officials later today amid speculation tougher measures will be introduced and concern the outbreak is so far worst in the capital.

“We are nowhere near the peak,” Khan said.

Updated

The National Literacy Trust has launched an online zone for parents looking for ideas and activities whilst their children are home due to school closures.

It includes reading and writing activities, book lists, videos, competitions and reading challenges.

And we're LIVE! Please visit https://t.co/MOCh7aughK to find our new one stop shop to help parents support their child's learning at home. https://t.co/prGkNiaTQz

— Literacy Trust (@Literacy_Trust) March 19, 2020

We know this is a very worrying and stressful time for parents. We've created https://t.co/MOCh7aughK to help ease the burden and provide a place for parents to go to find genuinely useful, educational resources for their children during school closures. pic.twitter.com/V6K7GFQ7VH

— Literacy Trust (@Literacy_Trust) March 19, 2020

Social media posts, such as this, have led to some confusion over which London underground stations are closed today following the announcement by authorities that some would be shut.

While a Transport for London (TfL) press release said that certain stations could be closed, users of social media interpreted it as being a definitive shutdown.

Blackhorse Road station remains open today for example, despite having been listed last night as facing closure.

Commuters, such as those at Blackhorse Road, also reported busy services as passengers were crowded together on fewer trains, leading to some questioning the policy of reducing the number coming through lines.

TfL updates on which services are open and closed can be checked here:

Good morning everyone.

Please see link to the list of station closures this morning. We apologise for the inconvenience caused and thank you for your patience and understanding. https://t.co/lYt6exZbky

— Transport for London (@TfL) March 19, 2020

Users, including key workers, have also complained that underground and other services are as busy as ever due to the reduced services.

Is anyone really surprised this virus 🦠 is worse in London? People are packed into Tubes like Sardines in Cans! All of the measures now being taken, should have been taken WEEKS ago @BorisJohnson 🤬🤬🤬🤬 SHAME ON YOU! 40 London Underground #GMB @GMB https://t.co/2zDZRsLeo5

— Harry & Archie 🥰👶🏻🥰 (@EkbergMageta) March 19, 2020

..on news that tubes & buses in London are still packed@BorisJohnson @10DowningStreet you know this is madness, you know the @NHS can't cope with a huge surge of infected patient

ACT NOW!!!

— Rhona Welsh (@tavole) March 19, 2020

Updated

An eerie calm, punctured by an ever-so-slight camaraderie among commuters, descended on London’s underground network this morning as Sadiq Khan announced more than 40 station closures to help delay the coronavirus surge.

There were seats available on trains normally packed like sardine cans although some lines especially the Victoria line were dangerously devoid of social distancing.

Victoria line quieter than usual but with longer gaps between trains still packed. So no social distancing going on some trains but next train half empty - Euston station pic.twitter.com/87q3fgb1Gs

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 19, 2020

Other lines including the Northern line were ghostly.

“Dead as a dodo,” said Sean Colley, one of the tube workers on the Waterloo and City line at Bank, the heart of the financial services district.

Ordinarily we have 1,000 people off each train. I think we would have 60,000 at peak, bringing all the Surreyites into the City. We would be lucky to have 1,000 this morning. It is unprecedented. I have never seen anything like it.

“Normally we would have 60,000 people come thru here at peak. we would be lucky if we saw 1,000” , Waterloo and City platform worker Sean Colley. “It is unprecedented. This platform would be packed, all travelators going up to move people up, people taking the stairs. Now empty” pic.twitter.com/TpeOrwiYur

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 19, 2020

The shop on the platform has already closed. “The lady took just £11 the other day so she’s long gone,” says Colley.

City of London and Waterloo and City line - empty this morning at rush hour pic.twitter.com/t290qwBwWc

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 19, 2020

Jeremy, a financial services executive who travelled in from Guilford, said about 25% of the 3,000-strong workforce were in the office.

Next week, depending on the government advice, it could be down to 10%. It is not ideal, but given that no one is travelling it seems reasonably safe because social distancing is already there.

The surge is coming and once the surge appears, everybody will be in lockdown and taking government advice seems sensible.

While a fraction of the numbers were travelling on the busy Victoria line, the reduced schedule was an issue.

Bisi, an accountant at a Housing Association near Euston station, said she knew social distancing was two metres apart and people were trying their best in impossible circumstances on the tube.

The gaps between trains are longer. I was on the Jubilee and Victoria lines this morning and they were quite busy, not as busy as normal but you couldn’t maintain distance.

But it was better than normal, she said.

You can see people trying to keep their distance. But we are so used to being in each others faces in London, but you can see people are making an effort today.

One man heading to work at the nearby magistrates court at Highbury & Islington questioned why the country was being led by example in relation to social distancing.

“Just look at everybody at the press conference sitting next to each other and passing around the microphone. With two doctors in the room?” he said referring to the Boris Johnson daily briefings with England’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, and scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

One woman who braved the Waterloo and City line today is this lovely lady: Dolapo. She is homeless and has come into bank from a hostel in Farnborough to pick up the keys to a new council flat. “Stay safe and God bless you”, she says. pic.twitter.com/QeSh21405A

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 19, 2020

Victoria line quieter than usual but with longer gaps between trains still packed. So no social distancing going on some trains but next train half empty - Euston station pic.twitter.com/87q3fgb1Gs

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 19, 2020

Surveying a trickle of people coming off the Northern line at Euston, tube worker Sandie Louis de Canonville, said:

It’s a bit like those hurricanes in the US, there is a stoicism and people are staying at home. We have to put this into perspective. During the war, there was bombing, people’s sons were sent out to their death. We’ll get through this.

Updated

Supermarket staff to be counted as key workers whose children can stay at school, Eustice says

The environment secretary, George Eustice, has sought to reassure MPs about measures to tackle empty supermarket shelves, saying there is “significant resilience in our food supply chain” and that the main issue was getting the food out to shops when people were buying more.

Answering departmental questions in the Commons, Eustice gave no new details of how food supplies would be maintained, but said supermarket staff would be included on a list due out later today of key workers, whose children will remain in otherwise-closed schools.

Asked about this by Labour MP Jim McMahon, Eustice said:

I can assure him we fully recognise that over 25% of staff working generally in the food supply chain have children of school age. That’s recognised, and something that will be reflected when that list is published.

On the endlessly-shared social media photos of stripped shelves, Eustice said:

There isn’t a shortage of food, the challenge that we’ve had is getting food to shelves in time when people have been purchasing more.

As well as moves to improve this, Eustice said, he was talking to colleagues in the communities and local government department about ensuring food reached people who are self-isolating.

Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, called for more help on the “immediate family emergency” of those relying on food banks, saying many were low on food and reliant on older volunteers who would need to self-isolate.

As travel continues to take a hit, London Gatwick airport is running less than half the number of scheduled flights.

More info on the declining number of departures over the last 30 days here.

Good morning. Please visit https://t.co/W8jkEery6W for information and FAQs relating to the current Coronavirus situation, this includes information about flights to and from Gatwick as well as information on any car parking or lounge booking queries you might have.

— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) March 19, 2020

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has warned the government to ensure any measures it takes to curb the spread of coronavirus do not breach human rights provisions, ahead of the publication of emergency legislation later today.

The intervention by parliament’s joint committee on human rights comes after Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Boris Johnson asking that the powers in the new coronavirus bill, which will last for two years, are reviewed every six moths.

Opposition parties are not expected to seek votes on the emergency legislation, which is expected to complete all stages of the House of Commons on Monday, and then pass through the Lords on Wednesday and Thursday.

However, both party leaderships and MPs are lobbying hard to try to ensure safeguards, with the new powers set to include the potential ability of police to ban all gatherings, and to detain people with the virus and move them to quarantine.

The human rights committee has published a 12-page interim report into potential civil liberties issues which could arise because of the powers in the legislation.

It stresses that all measures should comply with the UK’s obligations under both the UN and European conventions on human rights. Under the European convention, the report notes, a member state can derogate from some provisions during a public emergency. But the report adds:

Provided the measures in response to the Covid-19 outbreak are necessary, justified and proportionate, a derogation should not be needed.

Potential areas of conflict the committee highlight include whether forced quarantine could breach the right to liberty and to family life. It says:

Such measures should be capable of justification, but if unduly onerous measures are being imposed on people who are simultaneously being denied tests to establish if they are infected, there could be grounds to question proportionality.

Updated

First death in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has recorded the first death of a patient who tested positive for Covid-19, the Department of Health has announced.

The patient was described as elderly and as having an underlying medical condition.

STATEMENT: A patient who tested positive for Covid-19 has died in a hospital in Northern Ireland.

➡️https://t.co/lVLUPp1hr3

— Department of Health (@healthdpt) March 19, 2020

Updated

The Ivors, an annual celebration of excellence in screenwriting and composing, have been postponed from May until 2 September amid the coronavirus outbreak, with the announcement of nominations happening closer to that date.

The Ivors Academy’s chief executive, Graham Davies, and its chairman, Crispin Hunt, said in a joint statement:

Our efforts are on supporting our community during this incredibly tough time and our thoughts are with all those who are face health, wellbeing and economic challenges.

We hope this will be a short-term crisis from which we can all come together later in the year to reunite, reflect and rejuvenate.

Updated

Guidance on how pupils unable to sit exams to be graded to be published tomorrow, says Williamson

In an interview this morning Gavin Williamson, the education secretary for England, said that the government would be issuing guidance tomorrow explaining how pupils unable to sit exams this summer will be graded so that they get the qualifications they need for the future.

He also said there will be a “proper and fair system” of appeal for those who are unhappy with the results they are given. He said:

It is absolutely vital for me for those children who have put so much work into all their learning over these years working up to their GCSEs and A-levels to get their results, but also making sure that we have a proper and fair system if they dispute that, if they are not content with it, there is some mechanism for them to have redress.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said he expected pupils to be given grades based on teacher assessment and internal work, such as the results of mock exams. And he said Williamson’s decision to scrap performance tables for schools this year would remove any incentive for teachers to skew the results. Barton said:

The vast majority of teachers endeavour to give accurate assessments, but the decision to suspend school and college performance tables this year will remove any incentive to do otherwise.

There will clearly need to be an appeal procedure if candidates feel they have been disadvantaged, and inevitably a great many questions remain about how all of this will work.

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis told the Today programme that one option might be for students who already have an offer from a university to be told that that will now be treated as an unconditional offer. Asked if this could happen, he replied:

That is possible, that would be a good option to immediately remove the uncertainty for students.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, gave a strong hint that the capital may see tougher measures because it highest level of cases in the UK, and said that Londoners should cease all but essential travel.

Giving evidence before the London assembly on Thursday morning, Khan said:

This means that further measures will need to be introduced at the point at which they’ll have the biggest effect. And I can assure Londoners that this is under constant review by the experts.

He said those in London must follow the advice and cease all but essential travel:

I want to see more Londoners following the expert advice.

So big was the crisis, Khan said, that London and the country will be living with its effects for years.

He confirmed transport services would be reduced, with some underground stations closed.

Khan said he would be meeting prime minister later on Thursday Boris Johnson and senior officials amid continued speculation about new measures.

Khan said:

Nobody should be traveling, whatever their mode of travel, unless you are an essential worker.

Arsenal is one of the London underground stations to have closed today, as the mayor Sadiq Khan said Londoners should cease all but essential travel.
Arsenal is one of the London underground stations to have closed today, as Sadiq Khan said Londoners should cease all but essential travel. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

Updated

Restaurant chains have started to shutter their sites in the face of the pandemic, PA Media reports.

Zizzi and Ask Italian are to close their sites temporarily as national restaurant chains start to close in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

Azzurri Group, which runs the Italian chains as well as Coco di Mama, confirmed that its 300-plus sites will shut their doors from today.

The company said it currently plans for 117 Ask and Zizzi sites to be open for delivery.

Zizzi will close all sites to the public temporarily, with some remaining open for delivery only.
Zizzi will close all sites to the public temporarily, with some remaining open for delivery only. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Meanwhile, hospitality giant Whitbread is also set to temporarily close around 400 restaurant sites from Friday night in response to the virus.

The move will affect its chains such as Brewers Fayre, Beefeater and Bar + Block.

A Whitbread spokesperson said:

Following the recent, updated Government advice on social distancing, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our restaurants commencing Friday night. All of our Premier Inn hotels will remain open.

Vietnamese brand Pho revealed it will close its 30 sites to focus on home delivery, while burger chain Byron has also closed its operations to the public completely and is moving to delivery-only. Brasserie Blanc has closed its operations for the near future.

Other chains like Itsu have moved to take-away only models to reduce the time customers spend at their sties.

Updated

Train, coach and bus services cut as passengers stay away

Public transport operators have started slashing services due to the coronavirus, PA Media reports. The story goes on:

Train, coach and bus frequencies are being cut amid a collapse in demand and government advice on avoiding non-essential travel.

Northern Trains said there will be cancellations on a dozen routes on Thursday “as a result of Covid-19”.

The affected routes include Liverpool-Manchester airport, Leeds/Sheffield-Nottingham and Newcastle-Carlisle.

South Western Railway said it is cancelling trains at short notice as, “like most organisations, we’re seeing more staff having to stay at home unwell”.

Great Western Railway has announced its sleeper service between London Paddington and Penzance – known as the Night Riviera will be suspended after Friday “to protect our customers and colleagues”.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said train companies will operate services to “as many places as possible in line with demand”.

He added that this must be balanced with “ensuring we are able to maintain staffing levels needed”.

The UK’s largest operator of scheduled coach services, National Express, said it will reduce its capacity by 80%.

This means it will be running the equivalent of a Christmas Day timetable every day.

The firm’s bus networks – which operate across the West Midlands and urban services in Coventry and Dundee – have been cut to a typical Sunday service.

This amounts to the removal of around 40% of its bus mileage.

A passenger in a near-empty carriage on the Jubilee line in London.
A passenger in a near-empty carriage on the Jubilee line in London. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Updated

Former England defender Gary Neville has said he will open his hotels to health workers free of charge, in an effort to help with the public health crisis.

His two Manchester hotels will be closed to the public, freeing up 176 beds for medical staff from Friday.

Neville said none of his staff will be made redundant or asked to take unpaid leave.

He made the announcement on Twitter yesterday:

A message from our co-owner Gary Neville. @GNev2 @GG_Hospitality pic.twitter.com/uy2rEfweho

— Hotel Football (@hotelfootballuk) March 18, 2020

Chelsea Football Club made a similar announcement on Monday, opening a hotel owned by the club to NHS workers.

Driving tests in Northern Ireland will be suspended for three months as part of the effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Nichola Mallon, the infrastructure minister in the Northern Ireland executive, said the suspension would run until Monday 22 June 2020, but that this would be kept under review. She said:

I understand that this will cause inconvenience to customers and businesses, but it is the right step to take given the public health advice concerning social distancing and given the personal nature of the driver testing service.

Driving examiners are in close proximity to members of the public, in a confined space, for up to 40 minutes on each driving test.

Updated

The BBC is to broadcast church services on Sunday via all its 39 local radio stations from this weekend after the Church of England and other religious institutions closed their doors to congregations.

The “national wireless congregation” will give churchgoers a sense of community while their usual place of worship is closed, the BBC said.

Sunday’s service will be led by Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury. He will say that looking inwards at this difficult time will “only reveal the limit of our own resources, and lead to deeper fear and selfishness”.

He will add:

As we love the poor, go and give to a food bank, call on someone who is isolated, do their shopping, pray with and for them from a distance, we will find that we are deeply consoled by our own gift of consolation.

Helen Thomas, director of BBC England, said local radio had a unique role as a community hub: disseminating information, airing views and being “a constant companion to listeners”.

She added:

We hope this national wireless congregation will allow thousands, if not millions, of people to worship during this difficult time.

BBC local radio will also be working with other faiths - including Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs – to provide on-air spiritual reflections. In areas where there are Muslim populations these will be on a Friday.

Updated

Britain’s biggest online-only supermarket, Ocado, has seen growth double in March as the business is overwhelmed by orders from people staying indoors to avoid the pandemic.

The news comes a day after Ocado had to temporarily shut down its website and app to give itself breathing space amid “unprecedented strain” as orders streamed in from new and old customers.

In case you missed it yesterday, here are the details of the updates issued to customers by CEO Melanie Smith:

Hi everyone. We want to keep you totally updated so our CEO, Melanie Smith has written an open letter to you.

You can read it on our blog:https://t.co/KAWRTuxrSj pic.twitter.com/2YQBvgsbFu

— Ocado (@Ocado) March 17, 2020

National Express said it is running reduced coach services in a similar way to how it operates on Christmas Day, due to the drop in demand caused by the coronavirus.

This has the effect of removing up to 80% of capacity.

The company said demand for coach travel had plummeted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The company said demand for coach travel had plummeted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Retail chain Next has said it is preparing for up to a £1bn hit to sales in the year ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic as it revealed full-price sales have tumbled by 30% in recent days.

Next reported a drop of 30% in sales in recent days as shoppers stayed away.
Next reported a drop of 30% in sales in recent days as shoppers stayed away. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

Online sales are likely to fare better than stores due to social distancing measures, but it gave a bleak outlook for trading in the coming months, cautioning that “people do not buy a new outfit to stay at home”.

More on how the pandemic is impacting UK retailers here:

Updated

Government should pay firms to keep workers in jobs, says thinktank

The government has promised to come up with an employment support scheme to help people who will lose work because of the coronavirus crisis but, despite hints that Boris Johnson is willing to consider some far-reaching ideas, ministers have said very little about the specifics of what they might do.

Today the Resolution Foundation, a thinktank focusing on low pay and poverty, has published a 26-page report (pdf) with proposals for the government to adopt. There is a summary here.

At the heart of the plan is a statutory retention pay scheme. It says this could be implemented in various ways, with the most expensive option costing £8bn over six months. It summarises the plan like this:

The government should introduce a new statutory retention pay (SRP) scheme in which people who don’t have work to do stay formally employed by their firm, but with a significant amount of their pay covered by the state. Firms would continue to pay workers at least two-thirds of their previous wages via their payroll, with the state providing a rebate for those payments at a cost of £4bn for an initial six months if 500,000 employees were involved, and £8bn if a million were. A simpler flat-rate payment of £151 per week would cost £3.6bn if 1 million workers were involved.

Today we propose a new Statutory Retention Pay (SRP) scheme so people who don’t have to work stay formally employed by their firm, with a significant amount of their pay covered by the state. Critical for those in sectors directly affected by the shutdown https://t.co/ttgjpSbVji pic.twitter.com/D3QwI60NRw

— ResolutionFoundation (@resfoundation) March 19, 2020

The Resolution Foundation has two other key recommendations. It wants statutory sick pay to be extended and made more generous. It explains:

On statutory sick pay (SSP), the government should extend it to the 2m employees who earn less than £118 per week (£120 from April) and are ineligible. This would cost around £200m. The government could go further and make SSP more generous, but only if it met the costs of that increase, for small and medium-sized firms at least. Increasing SSP from £95.85 to £160 per week would ensure it covered half the earnings of employees that rely on it, up from the current third, and cost a further £800m for small and medium-sized firms.

And it is also calling for universal credit payments to be made more generous. It says:

To protect families affected from hardship, and strengthen the automatic stabilisers that support demand in the economy, the government also needs to strengthen the social safety net. The main adult rate of out-of-work support in universal credit (UC) and other benefits should rise by one-third, to £100 per week, with equivalent increases in young-adult and couple rates. This would cost £10bn over a year. The government could go further and target a 10 per cent uprating of other elements of the means-tested benefit system (UC and tax credits), which would bring the total cost to £13bn.

Given the scale of the current economic shock, job losses are inevitable. But a decade of cuts means that unemployment support today is worth less in real terms than it was back in the early 1990s. Government should increase JSA, ESA and UC by one third immediately to £100 a week pic.twitter.com/oHZZ6AlscO

— ResolutionFoundation (@resfoundation) March 19, 2020

Updated

A woman crossing a largely empty Westminster bridge this morning.
A woman crossing a largely empty Westminster bridge this morning. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

On the Today programme this morning Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, urged the government to do more to stop people losing their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis. He told the programme:

[Rishi Sunak] says he’ll do more but the package should be out now to avoid redundancies being forced upon companies over the next day or two.

I think a lot of company directors will be looking at the moment to how many staff they are going to shed in the next few days, next few weeks.

And I think we need to step in now with building the confidence that we can keep people in work or keep people on short term in work and have an arrangement with people where they take some holidays but at the same time they are going to have income protection.

If families don’t have income protection there’s a lot of other consequences: people try to work if they are sick, people put themselves at risk.

Their health becomes an issue of public health and I think we really have to step in to deal with this particular blockage at the moment and I hope the chancellor will act before the end of tomorrow.

Gordon Brown.
Gordon Brown. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Dozens of London Underground stations are to be closed indefinitely amid a toughening of measures to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, my colleague Kevin Rawlinson reports.

Gavin Williamson refuses to rule out government putting London in lockdown by weekend

Good morning. This week the government has already a series of measures unprecedented in peacetime to fight coronavirus by limiting social contact. But there are indications that it is going to go even further. For the last 24 hours there have been widespread reports that Boris Johnson is planning to enforce measures that would put London, where the coronavirus outbreak is most advanced, under some form of effective lockdown. And in interviews this morning Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, did not rule it out.

On the Today programme, asked if the government would shut down bars, restaurants and tube stations in the capital, he said Johnson said at his press conference yesterday that there were no plans to do that. But Williamson went on:

But the prime minister will constantly be informed by the scientific and medical evidence. And, as has been demonstrated by the unprecedented move that we made yesterday in terms of closing schools, scrapping exams and all forms of other assessment, we will take the incredibly tough decisions that are sometimes needed in order to ensure the safety of the population.

Asked if that meant the government would be willing to implement these measures, Williamson went on:

The prime minister has at every stage in terms of dealing with this demonstrated that he will provide the leadership that is required in order to deal with some of the most difficult decisions that any prime minister has ever had to deal with in peacetime. But, as the prime minister said, there are certainly no plans to do so at the moment.

Quite what a lockdown in the capital would involve is not clear, but in the Financial Times (paywall) George Parker and Jim Pickard say one option might involve people being ordered to largely stay at home from Friday. They report:

According to one person briefed on the proposal, there would be a full lockdown of the capital with only one person allowed to leave home at a time, with no entry to local shopping areas.

Supermarkets would be guarded by police, while pharmacies would be among the few other shops to remain open.

Two officials briefed on the proposals said residents and business would be given just 12 hours’ notice of the new restrictions. They could initially be in place for about a fortnight.

We will be covering the latest on this, and all other UK coronavirus developments, as the day goes on.

For the worldwide picture, do read our global coronavirus outbreak live blog.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: George Eustice, the environment secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

10.15am: Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee.

After 10.30am: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, makes a statement to MPs about next week’s business.

After 11.30am: Priti Patel, the home secretary, is due to make a Commons statement about the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. As Amelia Gentleman reports, it is expected to recommend wholesale reform of a “reckless” and “defensive” Home Office.

Afternoon: The government is due to hold its daily coronavirus press conference.

And at some point today the government will be publishing its coronavirus emergency powers bill.

We will be covering all UK coronavirus developments, as well as any non-coronavirus political developments (if there are any). You can read all the latest Guardian coronavirus articles here, you can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here and here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow and Lucy is on @lucy_campbell_.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.

Updated

Contributors

Andrew Sparrow and Lucy Campbell

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