COVID-19 continued its relentless rampage across the world last week, with the latest statistics painting a grim picture. We saw worldwide confirmed cases tip over the one million mark, with the United States suffering a surge in infections and the global death toll continuing its steady march upwards – including the tragic deaths of many of those on the frontline.
Replacing the Prime Minister, who remained in isolation following his COVID-19 diagnosis, at the podium on three days last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock boldly stated: “We will strain every sinew to defeat it once and for all.” Mr Hancock, who also contracted the virus, has since made a full recovery.
The topic of testing took centre stage last week. Amid mounting criticism of the government’s failure to increase testing for key workers, Mr Hancock unveiled a new, five-step testing programme, which will aim to reach 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. It remains uncertain, however, exactly how the government will achieve this. The Health Secretary said that a combination of antigen and antibody tests would be used to reach the target. While the antibody test is hugely important in getting the UK workforce back to their jobs, there are problems to surmount with regards to the reliability, development and availability of testing kits.
Looking ahead after a challenging Q1
While many are glad to see the end of a difficult Q1, it is with apprehension that we look ahead to Q2. Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, had the following to say during a conference call with G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors: “We welcome the decisive actions many of you have taken to shield people and the economy from COVID-19, that led to a decline in volatility in major financial markets in recent days. Nonetheless we remain very concerned about the negative outlook for global growth in 2020 and in particular about the strain a downturn would have on emerging markets and low-income countries. Our forecast of a recovery next year hinges on how we manage to contain the virus and reduce the level of uncertainty.Thus, we support an ambitious G20 action plan to strengthen the capacity of health systems to cope with the epidemic; to stabilize the world economy through timely, targeted and coordinated measures; and to pave the way towards recovery.”
Weak business activity data at the end of last week pointed to an economic and earnings recession, while major European indices were also down. As more and more nations impose country-wide lockdowns in response to the rapid rise in confirmed cases, economists are predicting that euro area real GDP could shrink by up to 43% in Q2. In the US, a record 113-month job growth streak was brought to a sudden halt as main Wall Street indices also traded lower – heightening concerns of economic downturn.
More support for businesses
On Friday, the Chancellor announced the extension of his business support package to mid-sized firms (those with a turnover of between £45m and £500m) originally excluded from fiscal support measures. Meanwhile, British banks are approaching the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) with no small degree of caution. Aware of their responsibility for the survival of thousands of firms, participating lenders have granted just 1,250 loans, totalling £145m – a tiny fraction of the 130,000 enquiries so far received from SMEs.
The whole world comes together
As the nation woke to warm spring sunshine, it was understandable that many sought to take advantage after weeks at home. In a video on his Twitter account, however, Boris Johnson appealed to the population to remain at home, continue to observe social distancing practices, and save lives. Although it is clear that many are abiding by the rules, others aren’t doing their bit. On Sunday, Mr Hancock warned that restrictions could intensify if people continue to ignore the measures.
The country also tuned into a rare Queen’s speech on Sunday evening – one of just five non-Christmas speeches she has made in nearly 70 years as our monarch. Extending her thanks to the UK’s key workers, the Queen took a reassuring, empathetic tone in a bid to bolster the country’s resolve in this difficult time: “I hope in the years come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”
That same evening, we learned that Boris Johnson had been taken into hospital for routine tests on the advice of his doctor, after suffering persistent symptoms for 10 days.
News also broke on Saturday that Sir Keir Starmer had been named the next leader of the Labour Party; he pledged to rebuild the country’s trust in the party.
You may have noticed a proliferation of rainbows brightening your daily walks in recent weeks; they will soon be joined by stuffed teddies as the Easter holidays commence. A global teddy bear hunt has been organised to keep the kids entertained while out walking with their families, as they face an unprecedented holiday in lockdown. Meanwhile, the nation once again clapped for our carers on Thursday evening in gratitude for the heroic actions of our healthcare workers on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus.
Keep in touch as we enter a new tax year
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