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Plane carrying 150 fruit and veg pickers from Romania lands at Stansted

The first plane carrying 150 ‘critically important’ Romanian fruit and vegetable pickers landed at Stansted this afternoon. 

The young Romanians, a mix of men and women and all wearing face masks and gloves, filed out of the near empty airport in groups of five to comply with social distancing rules.

They were then transported by buses to a 7,000 hectare super farm in East Anglia ahead of the start of the picking season on Monday. 

The Romanians are joining the fight to save the UK’s harvest with the British ‘land army’, which was created to prevent crops being left rotting in fields. 

The Country Land & Business Association has said more than 30,000 people have signed up as volunteers, but that 80,000 workers are needed to ensure fruit and vegetables are picked on time, ready to feed the nation. 

Workers from Romania arrive at Stansted airport in Essex this afternoon to be greeted by masked armed police and masked officials before boarding coaches to a large farm in East Anglia

Workers from Romania arrive at Stansted airport in Essex this afternoon to be greeted by masked armed police and masked officials before boarding coaches to a large farm in East Anglia

Workers from Romania arrive at Stansted airport in Essex this afternoon to be greeted by masked armed police and masked officials before boarding coaches to a large farm in East Anglia

Fruit pickers from Romania walk through a deserted Stansted airport this afternoon

Fruit pickers from Romania walk through a deserted Stansted airport this afternoon

Fruit pickers from Romania walk through a deserted Stansted airport this afternoon

Young Romanian workers step out of Stansted and get ready to be taken to a farm in East Anglia

Young Romanian workers step out of Stansted and get ready to be taken to a farm in East Anglia

Young Romanian workers step out of Stansted and get ready to be taken to a farm in East Anglia

A fruit picker wearing gloves and a face mask sits on the coach this afternoon ready for it to go to a farm in East Anglia

A fruit picker wearing gloves and a face mask sits on the coach this afternoon ready for it to go to a farm in East Anglia

A fruit picker wearing gloves and a face mask sits on the coach this afternoon ready for it to go to a farm in East Anglia

The plane carrying farm workers lands at Stansted this afternoon. The fruit and veg pickers will then be heading to a farm in East Anglia

The plane carrying farm workers lands at Stansted this afternoon. The fruit and veg pickers will then be heading to a farm in East Anglia

The plane carrying farm workers lands at Stansted this afternoon. The fruit and veg pickers will then be heading to a farm in East Anglia

In recent years, British farms have come to rely on an army of 90,000 fruit and vegetable pickers from Eastern Europe to collect the summer harvest.

But this year with almost all European countries are in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Travel has been hugely restricted and there are real fears crops could go to waste in fields.  

In other developments as the country struggles under the coronavirus strain:

  •  The UK has announced 861 more deaths from coronavirus, taking the total number of victims to 13,729;   
  • A poll for MailOnline has suggested the public is not ready for the lockdown to end, with 80 per cent said they would not have felt safe returning to normal life at the moment;
  • A report sent to ministers has suggested coffee shops, restaurants and estate agents should be among the first to reopen on Britain’s high streets, as they are the businesses most likely to boost the economy and pose the smallest risk of spreading the virus;  
  • There are claims that the population could be ‘segmented’ to ease restrictions with young people allowed to go back to work and primary schools opened, while pensioners and the vulnerable are ordered to stay in isolation; 
  • One of the government’s own key experts, Professor Neil Ferguson, has warned curbs cannot be eased until mass testing is in place and criticised the government’s slow action; 
  • World Health Organisation director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said the UK, along with Russia and Belarus, is one of the reasons the continent is ‘still in the eye of the storm’ of the coronavirus crisis; 
  • The first newly-adapted ventilator design has been approved by regulators, with the government ordering 15,000 of the Penlon’s Prima ES202 model; 
  • Matt Hancock has rejected calls for ministers to take a pay cut in solidarity with hard-hit workers, after counterparts in New Zealand announced they would;
  • Mr Hancock insisted the government could hit its 100,000 a day testing target by the end of the month, despite questions over why it is still not using the current capacity of 25,000. 

Food giants G’s Fresh paid around £40,000 for the Titan Airways AirBus 320 flight because flights have been cancelled and borders closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beverly Dixon, HR director for the company, said: ‘By putting on this flight we are honouring our commitment to those who have worked with us over a number of years.

‘They are critically important to collecting the crops, in this case gem lettuces. They will underpin our efficiency as we train up the new British staff. Without them we would have crops rotting in the field.’ 

Fruit pickers wait in the airport, wearing masks and at a safe social distance, before boarding coaches this afternoon

Fruit pickers wait in the airport, wearing masks and at a safe social distance, before boarding coaches this afternoon

Fruit pickers wait in the airport, wearing masks and at a safe social distance, before boarding coaches this afternoon

Workers move their luggage towards the buses before taking the trip to East Anglia

Workers move their luggage towards the buses before taking the trip to East Anglia

Workers move their luggage towards the buses before taking the trip to East Anglia

Romanian workers are guided to where they can put their luggage before getting on the bus

Romanian workers are guided to where they can put their luggage before getting on the bus

Romanian workers are guided to where they can put their luggage before getting on the bus

The buses left Stansted this afternoon and went to a farm in East Anglia to pick fruit and vegetables

The buses left Stansted this afternoon and went to a farm in East Anglia to pick fruit and vegetables

The buses left Stansted this afternoon and went to a farm in East Anglia to pick fruit and vegetables

With 450,000 new unemployment benefit claims lodged since the Covid-19 crisis began, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs put out an appeal for a home grown land army.

So far around 32,000 have signed up for the scheme but only 4,000 have actually made themselves available for interview.

Farming association warns ‘food will rot in the fields’ unless 80,000 farm labour vacancies are filled

British crops may ‘rot in the fields’ unless 80,000 farm workers are found, a farming association has warned.

The stark warning comes after producers issued a nationwide appeal for Brits join a new ‘Land Army’ of farm workers to pick fruit and vegetables amid the coronavirus lockdown.

So far, more than 32,000 people have signed up – but only around 4,000 have actually opted to interview for a role.

Around 80,000 workers are required every summer to work the fields, with British farmers usually being able to call on seasonal workers from Europe.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic stopping commercial flights and causing lockdowns all over the continent, farmers have appealed to Brits, many furloughed and not currently working, to fill the gap.

The Country Land & Business Association has admitted the number of British volunteers is still not enough, with a spokesman telling Mail Online that they wouldn’t be surprised if more foreign workers are flown in to avoid food ‘rotting in the fields’.

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said: ‘Over 30,000 people have come forward to help farmers, following the call to ‘Feed the Nation’, through the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘This is great news and shows a tremendous attitude at these difficult times. But this excellent response in not enough – we need 80,000 people to ensure fruit and vegetables are picked on time this summer.

‘Where it is possible and safe to do so in the current circumstances, bringing in workers from overseas to help meet the shortfall is the right thing to do if we want to keep the supermarkets stocked.

‘However we would strongly encourage people from across the country to keep coming forward and signing up with recruitment agencies.

The Country Land and Business Association warned that crops could be left to rot if farmers failed to find workers.

G’s Fresh said they had offered jobs to 500 Brits and hoped that 60 per cent of the 1,250 seasonal workforce would be home grown.

‘We have been encouraged by the number of British people who have applied’ added Miss Dixon. ‘There were many more who made an initial enquiry but some decided not to go ahead.

‘From our perspective, to go from zero to 500 is a good start but if everybody was brand new it would be very hard.

‘These workers from Romania know about the food safety. They will provide the platform while we train up the Brits.’

Usually such workers arrive in Britain by car and ferry but this year the closure of borders across Europe due to the Covid-19 pandemic, made that impossible.

The costs of their travel will be borne by the company this time

Those flying in from Iasi in Romania had their temperatures taken before boarding the flight where they were not allowed to sit next to one another.

There were no further medical checks when they arrived at Stansted, but G’s said there would be more checks after their arrival at the farm.

‘We have split them into household groups and they will work and mix exclusively with the other members of their household,’ said Miss Dixon.

‘We cannot afford them to get ill so we will be going to great lengths to maintain social distancing.

‘We have increased the stock of the onsite shops at the farm so they will not have to leave the site and are colour coding each household and restricting when they can go to communal areas.’

They said all workers would be paid at least the living wage – £8.72 per hour for those aged over 25, and the most efficient pickers could expect to earn up to £15-an-hour.

Their shared accommodation is provided and they are each charged just over £50-a-week to stay.

Their flight was organised by the Air Charter Service.

Their spokesman Glenn Phillips said: ‘This is the first and I am expecting there will be quite a few more.

‘We have already done 10 flights into Germany from Romania and one from Bulgaria.

A man sits with his face mask on getting ready to go to a farm in East Anglia and start fruit picking

A man sits with his face mask on getting ready to go to a farm in East Anglia and start fruit picking

A man sits with his face mask on getting ready to go to a farm in East Anglia and start fruit picking

Graph shows the UK's average daily coronavirus deaths for the previous seven days, based on official figures. The dip at the end shows the numbers falling for two days - the first drop since the crisis began. Although it could be a sign of numbers plateauing, Chris Whitty yesterday said he expected a rise in deaths today as officials catch up with a lag in reporting over Easter

Graph shows the UK's average daily coronavirus deaths for the previous seven days, based on official figures. The dip at the end shows the numbers falling for two days - the first drop since the crisis began. Although it could be a sign of numbers plateauing, Chris Whitty yesterday said he expected a rise in deaths today as officials catch up with a lag in reporting over Easter

Graph shows the UK’s average daily coronavirus deaths for the previous seven days, based on official figures. The dip at the end shows the numbers falling for two days – the first drop since the crisis began. Although it could be a sign of numbers plateauing, Chris Whitty yesterday said he expected a rise in deaths today as officials catch up with a lag in reporting over Easter

‘DEFRA were looking to fill the gap of 90,000 workers who normally come and I understand after their appeal they are still looking for 70-80,000.’

It comes as Dominic Raab tonight declared that coronavirus lockdown will stay for at least another three weeks despite growing alarm at the economic consequences.

The Foreign Secretary confirmed the public’s ‘efforts are starting to pay off’ but draconian curbs cannot yet be lifted after he chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee. 

He said scientists believe transmission in the community is ‘almost certainly’ below the level at which the outbreak will peter out, although there is still spread in hospitals and care home.  

‘Based on this advice the government has decided the measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks,’ he told the daily Downing Street briefing. 

The government is under massive pressure to set out an ‘exit strategy’ from the social distancing measures, after its own watchdog warned GDP could plunge by a third and two million people lose their jobs. It came as the UK announced 861 more deaths from the coronavirus, taking the total number of victims to 13,729.

Dominic Raab tonight declared that coronavirus lockdown will stay for another three weeks despite growing alarm at the economic consequences

Dominic Raab tonight declared that coronavirus lockdown will stay for another three weeks despite growing alarm at the economic consequences

Dominic Raab tonight declared that coronavirus lockdown will stay for another three weeks despite growing alarm at the economic consequences

In another dark milestone Britain has now officially diagnosed more than 100,000 people with the virus – making it only the sixth country in the world to do so. But the rising number of cases remains stable, with just 4,618 positive tests in the past 24 hours resulting in a total case count of 103,093.

Raab’s five criteria before loosening lockdown 

Dominic Raab batted away calls to to set out an ‘exit strategy’ from lockdown tonight.  

Instead he merely offered five criteria for when the lockdown could start being loosened. #

They are: 

1. Ensure NHS can provide enough critical care treatment 

2. A ‘sustained and consistent fall’ in daily death rate 

3. Reliable data showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels 

4. Testing capacity and PPE supply are ready to meet future demand 

5. There is no risk of second peak to overwhelm the NHS 

However, Mr Raab said the biggest threat to the economy was from failure to stay on top of the outbreak and rejected calls for transparency. ‘We are being as open as we responsibly can at this stage,’ he said. 

Instead he merely offered five criteria for when the lockdown could start being loosened. They are certainty that the NHS will not be overwhelmed, a consistent reduction in the death rate, evidence that transmission is at manageable levels, capacity for wide scale testing and PPE provision, and low danger of a ‘second peak’. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested earlier that the public cannot be trusted with a blueprint for how the restrictions could be eased, as they might assume the rules are lifted. 

But Nicola Sturgeon risked enraging Westminster counterparts by insisting the public does have a right to know how politicians plan to get out of the crisis, as it threatens to rip the economy to shreds.    

In a sombre speech in Downing Street, Mr Raab – who is deputising for Boris Johnson as he recuperates at Chequers – said:  ‘Overall, we still don’t have the infection rate down as far as we need to.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks via videolink at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham today

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks via videolink at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham today

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks via videolink at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham today

WHAT IS R0? AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF IT IS LESS THAN ONE? 

Every infectious disease is given a reproduction number, which is known as R0 – pronounced ‘R nought’.

It is a value that represents how many people one sick person will, on average, infect. 

WHAT IS THE R0 FOR COVID-19? 

The R0 value for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is estimated to be around 2.5. 

But some experts analysing outbreaks across the world have estimated it could be closer to the 6.6 mark

Estimates of the R0 vary because the true size of the pandemic remains a mystery. 

HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER VIRUSES? 

It is thought to be at least three times more contagious than the coronavirus that causes MERS (0.3 – 0.8).   

Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases, and has an R0 value of 12 to 18. 

Chickenpox’s R0 is estimated to be between 10 and 12, while seasonal flu has a value of around 1.5.  

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A LOW R0? 

The higher the R0 value, the harder it is for health officials control the spread of the disease.

A number lower than one means the outbreak will run out of steam and be forced to an end. 

This is because the infectious disease will quickly run out of new victims to strike. 

HOW IS IT CALCULATED

Researchers take into account several factors when assessing an infectious disease’s R0.

They include how long patients stay infectious for, contact rate and the mode of transmission.

INFECTIOUS PERIOD 

For instance, some strains of influenza and the common cold are contagious for up to eight days. 

Experts say COVID-19 is infectious up to three days before symptoms begin until three days after symptoms end.

But one Yale University study found that patients were still infectious up to eight days after symptoms vanished.  

NUMBER OF CONTACTS 

Another factor depends on how many people the infected come into contact with that aren’t vaccinated or immune.

If the infectious disease causes severe symptoms early, many patients would stay at home and have little contact.

For example, Ebola is known to have a low R0 (2) because it tends to develop before tell-tale symptoms appear.

But if it had a longer incubation period – the length of time before symptoms begin – then it would have a higher R0.

This is because the infected would come into contact with more people, allowing the virus to spread.  

TRANSMISSION MODE 

Transmission mode can also play a role, with viruses spread through the air known to be more contagious.

With COVID-19, evidence shows that it can be caught by breathing near an infected patient.

The virus can also live on surfaces, meaning it can be picked up without ever touching someone. 

But Ebola is spread through bodily fluids, making it harder to catch the virus. 

HOW DOES A LOCKDOWN BRING DOWN THE R0?

The UK’s draconian lockdown imposed on March 23 has slowed Britain’s coronavirus crisis, studies show.

Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last month analysed the virus in the UK.

They estimated each infected patient may now only be passing COVID-19 on to 0.62 others, down from 2.6.

The team said the virus was struggling to spread because people were having less contact with others.

They used a survey of 1,300 people who were asked to list what human contact they had in the past 24 hours.

This was compared to a similar survey done in 2005 to give an idea of how it had changed because of lockdown.

‘As in other countries we have issues with the virus spreading in some hospitals and in care homes and in sum, the very clear advice we have received is that any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.

‘That would threaten a second peak of the virus and substantially increase the number of deaths.

‘It would undo the progress we have made to date and as a result would require an even longer period of the more restrictive social distancing measures.

‘So early relaxation would do more damage to the economy over a longer period and I want to be really clear about this.

‘The advice from SAGE is that relaxing any of the measures currently in place would risk damage to both public health and our economy.’

He added: ‘Based on this advice which we very carefully considered the government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks.’ 

Mr Raab said the public needed to show ‘patience’ and stick with the restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.

‘There is light at the end of the tunnel but we are now at both a delicate and a dangerous stage in this pandemic,’ he said.

‘If we rush to relax the measures that we have in place we would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress that has been made.

‘That would risk a quick return to another lockdown with all the threat to life that a second peak to the virus would bring and all the economic damage that a second lockdown would carry.’ 

Mr Raab said when the government has met its criteria it will look to adjust the measures to make them ‘as effective as possible in protecting public health whilst allowing some economic and social activity to resume’.

‘But we will only do it when the evidence demonstrates that it is safe to do it,’ he said.

‘It could involve relaxing measures in some areas while strengthening measures in other areas.’ 

Mr Raab insisted ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’ but refused to set out a ‘definitive timeframe’ for easing the lockdown measures.

He said: ‘The Prime Minister said at the outset that it would take three months to come through the peak and I think that, broadly, is still the outline.

‘We can’t give a definitive timeframe, that would be to prejudge the evidence, that wouldn’t be a responsible thing to do.

‘But our message to the British public is: there is light at the end of tunnel, we are making progress, but at the same time we must keep up the social distancing measures.’    

But the stance contrasted with that of Ms Sturgeon earlier, when she pledged to set out a ‘framework’ for loosening lockdown when the time comes.  

Answering questions from other Scottish party leaders over video conference this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘We must continue the lockdown measures for at least another three weeks… we are not yet confident enough that the virus has been suppressed sufficiently.’ 

Ms Sturgeon said ‘people do want to know what the thinking is for beyond that period and she wanted to ‘share the thought process’. 

‘I hope over the course of next week to not announce those decisions… but to set out the framework of decision making.’ 

In a bad-tempered interview earlier, Mr Hancock said he recognised that ‘everybody wants to know what the future looks like’.  

But he flatly dismissed calls for the government to flesh out how the restrictions will finally be eased, despite mounting fears that they are wreaking havoc on the economy. 

Mr Hancock said the ‘clarity of messaging’ had a ‘direct impact on how many people obey’ social distancing rules.

In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Hancock insisted it was ‘too early’ for an exit strategy. 

Mr Hancock said he did not want to ‘waste’ the efforts of the public by lifting the lockdown measures prematurely, because coronavirus would ‘run rampant once again’.

‘I’m not going to pre-judge the formal decision that is going to be taken, however, I think everybody can see that we’ve been clear that we think that it is too early to make a change,’ the Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast.

Health minister Nadine Dorries suggested last night that a vaccine is the only true 'exit strategy' from coronavirus lockdown

Health minister Nadine Dorries suggested last night that a vaccine is the only true 'exit strategy' from coronavirus lockdown

Health minister Nadine Dorries suggested last night that a vaccine is the only true ‘exit strategy’ from coronavirus lockdown

‘And whilst we have seen a flattening of the number of cases, and thankfully a flattening of the number of deaths, that hasn’t started to come down yet, and as far as I’m concerned is still far too high.’

Government’s own expert condemns slow response to coronavirus 

One of the government’s key experts today condemned the government’s response and warned curbs cannot be eased until mass testing is in place.  

Professor Neil Ferguson warned that there is no possibility of the country returning to ‘normal’ until a vaccine is produced. 

The epidemiologist – who has been modelling the outbreak for the government – delivered a withering verdict on the performance of ministers, urging them to ‘accelerate action’ to create a system where everyone with symptoms, and everyone they have come into contact with, is tested.

He suggested the organisation in Whitehall was not on the same scale as the effort on Brexit, despite the problem being on a totally different scale. 

Discussing whether lockdown measures could be eased after another three weeks, Professor Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it depended on ‘getting on top of things like transmission rates in hospitals and care homes’.

‘I think the other thing I would say is that it really requires a single-minded emphasis in Government and the health system on scaling up testing and putting in place the ability to track down cases in the community and contact-trace.

‘Because without that, our estimates show we have relatively little leeway; if we relax measures too much then we’ll see a resurgence of transmission.

‘What we really need is the ability to put something in their place. If we want to open schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner.

‘And I should say, it’s not going to be going back to normal. We will have to maintain some form of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.’

Asked whether the Government is moving towards having an exit strategy in place, Prof Ferguson said: ‘I’m not completely sure. I think there’s a lot of discussion. I would like to see action accelerated.

‘We need to put in place an infrastructure, a command and control structure, a novel organisation for this.

‘I’m reminded by the fact we had a Department for Brexit for Government – that was a major national emergency, as it were – and we’re faced with something which is, at the moment, even larger than Brexit and yet I don’t see quite the same evidence for that level of organisation.’

Prof Ferguson added: ‘There needs to be more co-ordination I think, yes. That may be going on, I don’t have unique insight, but I think it could be enhanced.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘I understand those who are calling for an end to the lockdown or some kind of exit strategy to start now, but I think it’s just too early for that.’

Asked about comments from health minister Nadine Dorries urging people to stop asking about an exit plan, Mr Hancock told Good Morning Britain that it is ‘far too early’ for things to return to normal.

‘What Nadine is saying is that this talk about an exit strategy, with the idea that we go immediately back to exactly how things were before, it is far too early for that,’ he said.

‘We are seeing that peak, but it’s still far too high. And so it is too early to be making changes.’  

In bruising clashes with Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4”s Today programme, Mr Hancock angrily told the interviewer to stop interrupting. 

‘The communications are part of the policy. That is why we will not be distracted in to confusing that messaging. The scientists can say what they like, the commentators can say what they like,’ he swiped. 

Mr Hancock defended the government’s handling of testing, despite it already having missed a target of carrying out 25,000 tests a day by mid-April. Levels have been hovering around 14,000.

Mr Hancock said the daily capacity for testing was 25,000.

The Health Secretary told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘In the middle of March, we expected the rate to be, in around four weeks, at around 25,000.

‘That is what our capacity is today.’

Asked why the full capacity of testing was not being reached, Mr Hancock said: ‘We have increased the capacity, over the Easter weekend far fewer people came forward to be tested frankly than we expected.

‘Hence, yesterday, I could say that all social care staff who needed to be tested can be tested, and residents in social care and people coming from hospital to social care, precisely because we have got that capacity.

‘We’ve increased the capacity and that is on a trajectory to get to the 100,000 by the end of the month’. 

Meanwhile, one of the government’s own key experts warned curbs cannot be eased until mass testing is in place.  

Professor Neil Ferguson insisted schools and more shops should not be open until everyone with symptoms, and everyone they have come into contact with, can been screened. Even then, he warned there is no possibility of the country returning to ‘normal’ until a vaccine is produced. 

The epidemiologist – who has been modelling the outbreak for the government – delivered a withering verdict on the performance of ministers, urging them to ‘accelerate action’. He suggested the organisation in Whitehall was not on the same scale as the effort on Brexit, despite the crisis being much bigger. 

Discussing whether lockdown measures could be eased after another three weeks, Professor Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think that will very much depend on quite how quickly case numbers go down, and that does require us to get on top of things like transmission rates in hospitals and care homes.

Research for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton found 80 per cent would not feel safe going back to everyday life at the moment

Research for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton found 80 per cent would not feel safe going back to everyday life at the moment

Research for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton found 80 per cent would not feel safe going back to everyday life at the moment

Around half the public are now resigned to the draconian 'social distancing' curbs being in place into June

Around half the public are now resigned to the draconian 'social distancing' curbs being in place into June

Around half the public are now resigned to the draconian ‘social distancing’ curbs being in place into June

‘I think the other thing I would say is that it really requires a single-minded emphasis in Government and the health system on scaling up testing and putting in place the ability to track down cases in the community and contact-trace.

Four-fifths of Britons say they would not feel safe going back to normal life now with HALF resigned to curbs lasting into June 

Britain is not ready for the coronavirus lockdown to be lifted even if the government wanted to, a poll revealed today.

Research for MailOnline found 80 per cent would not feel safe going back to everyday life at the moment, with nearly 60 per cent saying they are not comfortable leaving the house. 

Around half are now resigned to the draconian ‘social distancing’ curbs being in place into June – and 37 per cent say they will keep obeying the rules indefinitely if the government believes it is necessary.

The extraordinary findings in the polling by Redfield & Wilton come despite some 43 per cent reporting that the crisis is damaging their mental health. 

The figures underline the challenge for ministers amid fears that the message that people must stay at home to save the NHS has been too successful.

‘Because without that, our estimates show we have relatively little leeway; if we relax measures too much then we’ll see a resurgence of transmission. 

‘What we really need is the ability to put something in their place. If we want to open schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner.

‘And I should say, it’s not going to be going back to normal. We will have to maintain some form of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.

Asked whether the Government is moving towards having an exit strategy in place, Prof Ferguson said: ‘I’m not completely sure. I think there’s a lot of discussion. I would like to see action accelerated.

‘We need to put in place an infrastructure, a command and control structure, a novel organisation for this.

‘I’m reminded by the fact we had a Department for Brexit for Government – that was a major national emergency, as it were – and we’re faced with something which is, at the moment, even larger than Brexit and yet I don’t see quite the same evidence for that level of organisation.’

Prof Ferguson added: ‘There needs to be more co-ordination I think, yes. That may be going on, I don’t have unique insight, but I think it could be enhanced.’ 

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said a three-week extension of lockdown measures would be ‘reasonable’.

Mr Ashworth told BBC Breakfast: ‘We would expect the lockdown to continue, we would support that, I actually called for a lockdown before the Government introduced one.

‘But we also want more details from the Government about what happens next.

Hancock dismisses idea of ministers taking a pay cut amid economic crash 

During a GMB interview, Piers Morgan accused Mr Hancock of waffling to gloss over government mistakes

During a GMB interview, Piers Morgan accused Mr Hancock of waffling to gloss over government mistakes

During a GMB interview, Piers Morgan accused Mr Hancock of waffling to gloss over government mistakes

Matt Hancock today flatly dismissed the idea ministers should take a pay cut in solidarity with millions of workers facing coronavirus hardship.

The Health Secretary was challenged on whether he would volunteer for a reduction during a bruising interview with Piers Morgan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

The government’s watchdog has warned that crippling lockdown measures will plunge the economy into the worst recession for 300 years.

The Office for Budget Responsibility suggested GDP will be slashed by a third and two-million people lose their jobs if the curbs last three months.

Many sectors have already seen vast numbers of staff ‘furloughed’, with the government picking up a proportion of their wages, or impose pay reductions.    

Mr Hancock previously demanded footballers curb their pay, and in New Zealand the government has said it will be taking lower salaries.

But asked if ministers here should follow suit he said: ‘I am not proposing to do that.

‘What I am proposing to do is work every hour that there is.’ 

During the interview, Morgan accused Mr Hancock of waffling to gloss over government mistakes, but the minster angrily insisted: ‘Let me speak.’ 

Furious Morgan replied: ‘You don’t actually run this show… You don’t decide how I run an interview.’ 

But Mr Hancock replied: ‘If you interrupt me again I will just keep talking.’

‘I mean, last night the junior health minister Nadine Dorries was complaining on Twitter saying that people shouldn’t be asking about an exit strategy because there’s no exit strategy until we get a vaccine.

‘Well that could be 18 months away so if the Government are saying we’re in lockdown for 18 months they probably need to tell us.’

‘And I would argue that the best way to come out of lockdown or to manage a way out of lockdown is to move to a testing and contact-tracing strategy.’

A report drawn up by Conservative peer Lord Gadhia and GlaxoSmithKline chairman Sir Jonathan Symonds has suggested a way out of the lockdown.

It called for a small number of high street stores to open as Britain ‘must learn to live with Covid’ until a vaccine is mass produced in 12 to 18 months.

All of these shops will have to practise social distancing with gaps between tables to ensure they are safe.  

The report, seen by the Sun, says: ‘The initial focus for reopening the economy should be on sectors that have the greatest multiplier effects with minimum risks — such as coffee shops and restaurants which support agriculture.

‘The property market is another that has wide multiplier effects. We need to avoid a stop-start economy which would sap public morale and damage business confidence yet further.’

Several high street chains like McDonalds, Primark and Topshop have closed their doors due the coronavirus outbreak.

Recently, Burger King, KFC and Pret have announced plans to partially reopen.

Their shops will open near hospitals and GP surgeries for delivery and takeaway services only.

Ministers could be given the green light to start planning an exit from the lockdown within ten days, the Chief Medical Officer suggested last night. 

Chris Whitty said Government experts hoped to have enough evidence about the transmission of the coronavirus by that point to ‘judge how we can go into the next phase’.

It is just a day after the Government’s watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, today warned the economy could shrink by more than a third this quarter alone with two million people made jobless if the lockdown continues for two more months.

Shocking analysis from the OBR underlines the trade-offs being made to combat the deadly disease by putting the country into lockdown.

It warns curbs staying in place for three months will slash GDP by 35 per cent, with unemployment soaring to 10 per cent and the government’s deficit hitting £273billion – the highest level since the Second World War.

The watchdog ominously said it was assumed ‘for now’ there will not be any permanent economic damage, and much of the crash will be unwound as pent-up demand is unleashed when the lockdown finally ends. 

However, the resulting 13 per cent year-on-year drop will still be worse than anything in the last century.

Responding to the chilling scenario – which emerged as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted the worst global downturn since the Great Depression in 1929 – Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: ‘People should know there is hardship ahead.’

The apocalyptic figures emerged the day before Dominic Raab confirmed the lockdown restrictions will continue for ‘at least three more weeks.’ 

HALF of UK retailers face closure if coronavirus lockdown continues until August

by Mark Duell and Amie Gordon for MailOnline

Britain’s high street giants could be wiped out in weeks if the coronavirus continues, consumer experts have warned.

Experts have painted a bleak picture of the scenario facing the UK high street as major retailers including Oasis and Warehouse teeter on the brink of administration.

A study of 34 non-food retailers including Dunelm, JD Sports, John Lewis and Next has found that many may not survive the pandemic sweeping the nation. 

Even after government support, more than half of major non-food UK retailers will run out of cash within six months, according to the report.

The study was conducted by professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), in partnership with Retail Economics. 

Retail Economics estimate that non-food retailers could see a decline in sales of c.17% over 2020 – equating to over £37 billion of lost revenue

Retail Economics estimate that non-food retailers could see a decline in sales of c.17% over 2020 – equating to over £37 billion of lost revenue

Retail Economics estimate that non-food retailers could see a decline in sales of c.17% over 2020 – equating to over £37 billion of lost revenue

The impact of COVID-19 has caused a mandated lockdown of around 70% of non-food retailing in the U.K. The initial period of store closures will last for three weeks before it is subject to review. However, it is widely expected to be extended

The impact of COVID-19 has caused a mandated lockdown of around 70% of non-food retailing in the U.K. The initial period of store closures will last for three weeks before it is subject to review. However, it is widely expected to be extended

The impact of COVID-19 has caused a mandated lockdown of around 70% of non-food retailing in the U.K. The initial period of store closures will last for three weeks before it is subject to review. However, it is widely expected to be extended 

It found that five out of the 34 major non-food retailers analysed already had negative cash flow at the outbreak of the pandemic.

This comes as the UK’s fiscal watchdog warned that more than two million people could lose their jobs and the economy may fall off a cliff because of the lockdown. 

Modelling by A&M and Retail Economics shows that a 10 per cent reduction in sales would have resulted in over two-thirds of major U.K. retailers falling into negative cash flow. 

But sales are forecasted to have dropped as much as 70 percent since the lockdown was introduced on March 23, tipping every retailer sampled into immediate negative cash flow. 

A&M said: ‘Should the lockdown persist into the summer, working capital demands will intensify and large parts of the sector will be decimated as swathes of retailers seek additional funding in order to survive.’

Richard Fleming, Managing Director and Head of Restructuring Europe, A&M, said: ‘Government measures have spared the major retail brands from immediate collapse. You could characterise this three-month period as a payment holiday. But prudent retailers are still pivoting their focus towards what cashflow they have and can expect in future. This is the essential fact base upon which turnarounds can be built.

Closed shops on a quiet Kings Road in Chelsea, West London, as life in Britain continues during the lockdown

Closed shops on a quiet Kings Road in Chelsea, West London, as life in Britain continues during the lockdown

Closed shops on a quiet Kings Road in Chelsea, West London, as life in Britain continues during the lockdown

‘The next few weeks will be critical. Retailers need to ask themselves the tough questions and take steps to address underlying operational issues while they still have the chance.’

Analysis of 34 major British retailers shows High Street stores are on the brink of closure

The report – Surviving the cash crunch: The impact of COVID-19 on the U.K. retail industry was carried out in March-April 2020. It surveyed the following retailers to assess the state of the UK high street: 

AO.com

Mulberry

ASOS

N Brown Group

B&M

Next

Boohoo

Pets at Home

Burberry

Photo Me

Card Factory

Quiz

DFS

SCS

Dixons Carphone

Shoe Zone

Dunelm

Stanley Gibbons Group

Fraser Group

Studio Retail Group

French Connection

Superdry

Games Workshop

Ted Baker

Halfords

Topps Tiles

Howdens

Travis Perkins

JD Sports

United Carpets

John Lewis of Hungerford

Watches of Switzerland

Kingfisher Group

WH Smiths

Moss Bros Group

Erin Brookes, Managing Director and Head of Retail, added: ‘It has already become clear that the high street will take on a very different form once the pandemic is over. 

‘Weaker players will, unfortunately, cease to exist, leaving behind a smaller but more resilient sector comprising operators that acted fast. 

Yesterday, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said unemployment could hit 3.4 million – up from 1.3 million – leaving around one in 10 of the working population without a job, while the economy may shrink by 35% between April and June.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told reporters that not every business or household could be protected, but that a ‘bounceback in growth’ is expected when the crisis eases.

It came as a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce suggested around one in three British businesses has furloughed between 75% and 100% of its workforce.

Fashion sellers Oasis and Warehouse were on the brink of administration on Monday night – putting 2,300 jobs at risk.

The British high street chains called in administrators yesterday as the lockdown threatened to claim its latest victims.

The two brands, which run 90 stores, are expected to appoint auditor Deloitte to run the process.

Workers are likely to be furloughed under the Government’s job retention scheme on 80 per cent of their pay during the administration until a buyer can be found. 

The Oasis and Warehouse Group has been looking for a saviour for weeks but could not close a deal due to the pandemic.

It is owned by failed Icelandic bank Kaupthing.

The lockdown has already claimed Laura Ashley, electrical retailer Brighthouse, and restaurant chains Carluccio’s and Chiquito. 

Many firms were already reeling after last year, the worst for the high street in a quarter of a century. Deloitte declined to comment.

Meanwhile, there are fears are building that gyms, pubs and restaurants may never reopen as landlords threaten them with eviction for unpaid rent during the coronavirus lockdown.

Nearly 3,000 gyms and leisure centres now face the threat of closure, while top chef Yotam Ottolenghi has warned that restaurants are suffering the same issue.

This graphic shows the proportion of non-food retailers whose cumulative losses would deplete their working capital over the next 12 months – based on a 70% reduction in sales

This graphic shows the proportion of non-food retailers whose cumulative losses would deplete their working capital over the next 12 months – based on a 70% reduction in sales

This graphic shows the proportion of non-food retailers whose cumulative losses would deplete their working capital over the next 12 months – based on a 70% reduction in sales

The graphic shows the breakdown of operating costs for non-food retailers

The graphic shows the breakdown of operating costs for non-food retailers

The graphic shows the breakdown of operating costs for non-food retailers

Pubs and non-essential shops have also faced trouble paying rent, amid fears they will not be able to reopen after the pandemic because they will have no cash left. 

Top chef Yotam Ottolenghi (pictured in May 2018 in London) has warned landlords are threatening restaurants with legal actions

Top chef Yotam Ottolenghi (pictured in May 2018 in London) has warned landlords are threatening restaurants with legal actions

Top chef Yotam Ottolenghi (pictured in May 2018 in London) has warned landlords are threatening restaurants with legal actions

Owners of businesses from photography studios in Southport to massage centres in Surrey have got in touch with MailOnline to tell of their concerns over rent. 

Up to 100,000 jobs could be at risk at gyms with trade body UKActive calling for urgent action to protect places of exercise which remain shut due to the pandemic.

Fresh legislation to protect commercial tenants was brought in last month, but it does not stop landlords forcing them to pay rent withheld due to the lockdown.

Mr Ottolenghi told BBC Radio 4’s programme: ‘The biggest worry that we have is rent. When corona started and we were asked to close our doors, which is totally understandable because of safety, nobody really addressed the issue of the rents

‘Many, many have not been paying rents. Others have got into arrangements with their landlords, but this has not been solved.

‘Some landlords have been threatening to prosecute and other legal actions against the tenants at restaurants in such a time because they are not paying their rents, and landlords, many of them, rely on the rent to pay their own debts.’

The Strand in Central London is pictured as the country continues to battle through a lockdown period

The Strand in Central London is pictured as the country continues to battle through a lockdown period

The Strand in Central London is pictured as the country continues to battle through a lockdown period

He is calling on the Government to give restaurants a ‘litigation ceasefire’ with a debt enforcement moratorium for six months in which credit action is banned.

295,000 small firms are still waiting on loans 

Just 4,200 companies have been able to get the Government’s emergency bailout loans – out of 300,000 applicants.

The worrying figures emerged despite the scheme already being overhauled once earlier this month when firms complained they could not access the cash. Business owners have warned the failure means they could go bust.

Around £800million has been handed out under the package – a figure which pales in comparison with £146billion provided to 725,000 firms in the US.

Lord Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, said: ‘Something has gone wrong. The economy will only recover if we can keep businesses running and able to pick up the reins when this crisis is over.’ 

Banks have been overwhelmed by demand since the launch of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme last month.

They have been accused of refusing loans due to complex eligibility criteria. More than two-thirds of the loans, 2,500 in total, have been approved by state-owned bank RBS.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: ‘We have set this up at pace and everyone is working around the clock.’

Mr Ottolenghi said this would mean business owners cannot be litigated against to pay rent – and the same for landlords who can’t pay their mortgages.

He has also suggested a ‘national timeout’ of nine months rent free from April to December in which landlords would also be compensated.

As for the gym industry, UKActive chief executive Huw Edwards has told how taking legal action such as issuing statutory demands and winding up orders was ‘entirely disproportionate’.

Mr Edwards said yesterday: ‘A worrying number have decided to pursue statutory demand notices or winding up orders.

‘We need the Government to act now to direct within the Act that landlords cannot do this. With 2,800 gyms at risk of permanent closure, and 100,000 jobs at stake, time is of the essence.’

Section 82 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced on March 25 intends to help protect commercial tenants by banning the forfeiture of commercial leases until June 30 – or longer if the Government deems necessary – for non-payment of rent.

But it does not stop landlords taking action such as rent arrears recovery, making a debt claim, issuing a statutory demand, or starting winding-up proceedings.

UKActive therefore wants the Government to amend the Act so landlords cannot purse legal action, and introduce financial support for them for a rent holiday.

In one case, David Lloyd Leisure asked a landlord for a waiver of rent due on March 25 until it can reopen its clubs, but the landlord replied by threating legal action.

The chain’s chief executive Glenn Earlham told BBC News: ‘This situation is unfortunately entirely outside of our control.

The Massage Company chain, which is based in Camberley, Surrey, said its landlords 'have varied greatly in their support', with one 'trying to claim in their response that they 'wouldn't instigate legal proceedings' - mirroring their legal obligations from the new law'

The Massage Company chain, which is based in Camberley, Surrey, said its landlords 'have varied greatly in their support', with one 'trying to claim in their response that they 'wouldn't instigate legal proceedings' - mirroring their legal obligations from the new law'

The Massage Company chain, which is based in Camberley, Surrey, said its landlords ‘have varied greatly in their support’, with one ‘trying to claim in their response that they ‘wouldn’t instigate legal proceedings’ – mirroring their legal obligations from the new law’

An empty gym in Leicester on March 21 after the Government ordered them all to close

An empty gym in Leicester on March 21 after the Government ordered them all to close

An empty gym in Leicester on March 21 after the Government ordered them all to close

‘We want to work together with landlords to ensure we can survive this pandemic and emerge with businesses able to continue to pay rent and other costs in the future.’

And PureGym chief executive Humphrey Cobbold said: ‘Time is of the absolute essence, given that proceedings such as statutory demands and winding up orders threaten to force companies into insolvency within days of being issued.’

Meanwhile Elliot Walker, co-founder of The Massage Company chain, said his firm has four centres and planned to sign leases on two more in April this year.

He told MailOnline: ‘Our landlords have varied greatly in their support, one even tried to claim in their response that they ‘wouldn’t instigate legal proceedings’ – mirroring their legal obligations from the new law.

An outdoor gym which is closed in Leicester, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

An outdoor gym which is closed in Leicester, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

An outdoor gym which is closed in Leicester, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

‘Landlords are not going to be the only people who post Covid-19 will have been able to get through this unscathed.

‘We provide a health service and our customers who we provide pain relief are desperate for us to open and greedy landlords are jeopardising many businesses across the UK.’

The company, which launched in 2016 with its first branch in Camberley, Surrey, says it is the first membership-based massage business outside North America. 

And David Coleman, who owns the Barrett & Coe photography studio in Southport, Merseyside, said the issues he is facing with rent are making him consider whether to ‘potentially throw good money after bad or to close down now’.

He told MailOnline: ‘While we have not been threatened I have no doubt we would be. We are a family run photography studio and part of a franchise.

‘Our landlord ignored my email to discuss payment options and instead sent us one with all the flowery stuff about being there for us etc while inserting that they expected our rent on time and in full as per our lease terms.

‘Sadly, given their general attitude, this was exactly as I expected. The small grant of £10,000 we, hopefully, will receive will help but if this drags on it will be an issue.

‘Also we have no clue if people will either be allowed into the studio as restrictions are relaxed, whether they will be confident enough even if allowed and/or whether they will be in a position to buy.’

Ertan Hurer, of chartered accountants Hurkan, Sayman and Co in Palmers Green, North London, said his firm has had various clients – dry cleaners and restaurants – asking their landlords to either defer the rent or give them a rent holiday or discount.

But he said in most cases the landlords have refused by sending a similar response, namely that the business can receive a grant of either £10,000 or £25,000, they should borrow under the government’s loan scheme, or take out personal loans.  

He told MailOnline: ‘Our clients in the West End of London have been particularly hard hit as their rateable values (RV) are in excess of £50.001 and therefore receive no grant and some have RVs in excess of £100,00 and not only receive no grant but will continue to pay around £1,000 per week in business rates in 2020/2021. Some have already indicated they will not bother to re-open.’

A Government spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The Government has already put in place a far-reaching package of support for businesses, including grants and government-backed loans, as well as legislation to ensure both commercial and private tenants are protected from eviction if unable to pay their rent.

‘In these exceptional times, we urge landlords to act in a socially responsible way, exercising judgement and discretion with their tenants.’  

Gyms – alongside pubs, restaurants and other businesses – closed to customers from the evening of March 20 under measures introduced by the Prime Minister.

But many promised to freeze membership payments and deliver workouts online. 

PureGym, one of the UK’s largest operators with 230 premises, told its more than a million members they will not have to pay while gyms are closed.

A message on its website said it had launched ‘PureGym Home’, bringing workouts, on-demand classes, and ideas for nutrition and well-being, through its app. 

When gyms reopen, customers’ first payments will be credited by any outstanding amount from their current monthly subscription, the company said.

Virgin Active also told customers it was automatically freezing membership payments. Accounts will be credited with any frozen fees already paid as well as any pro-rata memberships fees paid for the period between March 21 and 31. 

Nuffield Health also said it was freezing fee payments and told customers it would be providing ways to keep them fit and healthy, including through videos on YouTube.

David Lloyd Clubs, The Gym Group, DW Fitness First, Better Leisure Centres and Better Gyms have all confirmed a payment freeze for members covering the closure. 

 

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