At the government’s daily press briefing on Friday, we saw Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove replace the Prime Minister at the podium following news that Boris Johnson was in self-isolation after contracting coronavirus. In his speech, Gove revealed plans to build two more NHS Nightingale hospitals in Birmingham and Manchester, as well as for the imminent launch of a large-scale testing programme for health workers.
The Prime Minister later posted a video from his Twitter account reiterating that, although self-isolating, his symptoms were mild and he remained committed to leading the government in its battle against COVID-19.
Life turned upside down
On Monday 23 March, amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, Mr Johnson introduced strict new social distancing guidelines in a bid to curb the spread of the disease. UK residents suddenly found themselves facing at least three weeks of severe restrictions on their movements and activities. It was, the Prime Minister said, a “moment of national emergency”, as he emphasised that staying at home was paramount in order to protect the NHS and save lives.
Chancellor announces further financial safeguards
“You have not been forgotten.” Such were the Chancellor’s words to self-employed workers on 26 March; many had feared they would not receive the same government support as their employed counterparts.
Starting in June, self-employed workers will be able to access a cash grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profits, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Eligible workers will be paid up to three months’ profits as a lump sum, paid straight into their bank accounts – but strict eligibility criteria will apply. Still, this is an unprecedented move from the government – 95% of majority self-employed people will be able to access the scheme. However, Mr Sunak also warned: “I must be honest and point out that in devising this scheme it is now much harder to justify the inconsistent contributions between people of different employment statuses. If we all want to benefit equally from state support, we must all pay in equally in future.”
Also, on 26 March, as expected, the Bank of England maintained interest rates at their all-time low of 0.1%.
Global measures to boost recovery
In order to mitigate the effect of the virus on the economy, G20 governments have pledged trillions to kickstart global recovery, while major central banks the world over have reduced rates, recommenced asset purchases and relaxed monetary policy. The US’s approved package of fiscal stimulus measures also helped bolster markets last week. However, a promising three-day surge came to a halt at the end of the week, as the FTSE 100 fell following news that the Prime Minister had tested positive. Meanwhile, the US saw a sharp rise in infections that delivered a blow to markets as the week came to a close.
Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, had this to say following a conference call between G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors on Monday last week (23 March): “The outlook for global growth for 2020 is negative, but we expect recovery in 2021. To get there, it is paramount to prioritise containment and strengthen health systems everywhere. The economic impact is and will be severe, but the faster the virus stops, the quicker and stronger the recovery will be.”
Standing together against adversity
In more positive news, the crisis saw the nation come together on Thursday evening as the country showed its appreciation for NHS workers. From their windows and front doors, millions of Britons stood unified to Clap for Carers, showing their pride in and appreciation for the work of our health service. What’s more, an astonishing 750,000 people have now volunteered their time to support the NHS – three times the number originally requested by the government – in providing much-needed services for the country’s most vulnerable.
If you have been affected financially by COVID-19, your advisers are here to help. They are continuing to work hard to support you and, while you may understandably be worried, there are still opportunities out there too. At times like these, professional financial advice is essential, so please do get in touch with your local advisers with any enquiries or concerns you may have.