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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Business briefing – 30 November 2020

Mass testing to provide ‘way out’ for Tier 3 areas

Tier 3 areas have been offered a ‘way out’ of high-level restrictions thanks to mass community testing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

Speaking at today’s Downing Street Press Conference, he said rapid community-wide testing of both symptomatic and non-symptomatic people would be on offer to all Tier 3 areas in the UK and Medway is understood to have already expressed an interest.

The health secretary said mass testing had successfully brought down case rates in Liverpool and the government wanted to roll this out more widely in partnership with local authorities.

“I know national restrictions have been really tough, but the good news is they have been working – cases are down by a third,” he said.

“Sadly, there are still 460 reported deaths on average each day; this is too many. Even as we ease these national restrictions, we have got to keep some restrictions in place, hence the tiering system. We can let off a little, but we can’t afford to let up a lot.”

The Health Secretary said the Winter Plan announced last week by the Prime Minister provided the route map out of restrictions in the longer term, and significant progress was already being made with the NHS ready to roll out vaccinations as soon as approval granted.

The Health Secretary also reaffirmed there was potential for area’s tiers to change before Christmas, and that any announcement would be made on 17 December, following a review of the most recent data.

The Health Secretary’s announcement came as the government published an impact report analysing health, economic and social data to back up its decision behind England’s new tiered system of coronavirus rules.

Shops can stay open longer in the run-up to Christmas

Retailers will be allowed to extend their daily opening hours Monday-Saturday throughout December and January, the government has announced.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick made the announcement which could see shops trading 24/7, earlier today. It will come into effect from Wednesday (2 December) – as England returns to the tiered system.

Under the reintroduced tier system, all non-essential shops are allowed to reopen and the announcement today removes the need for retailers to apply to remove or vary the conditions usually applied to opening hours, which normally takes several weeks.

The government hopes the measures will make socially distanced shopping easier by giving people greater flexibility to choose when they shop and ease transport pressures.

While restrictions on opening hours are being relaxed, councils still have powers they can enforce if they suspect shops are not being COVID-secure.

Mr Jenrick said: “None of us entirely enjoy navigating the crowds, especially now when social distancing is so important for controlling the pandemic. So with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.

“How long will be a choice for shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council. Councils should offer these hard-pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.”

Consumer Minister Paul Scully said: “Extending opening hours for retailers across England will give people more choice about when they can shop, and businesses will have more time to serve their customers safely during the busy festive period.”

Government unveils path to sustainable farming from 2021

The government has laid out a roadmap to change the way in which farmers are supported with the aim of ensuring that by 2028 farmers in England can sustainably produce healthy food profitably without subsidy, while taking steps to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare and reduce carbon emissions.

The ‘Path to Sustainable Farming’, published today, sets out more detail on the changes the government is going to make, and what they will mean for farmers.

The key changes include:

  • Introducing the Environmental Land Management scheme to incentivise sustainable farming practices, create habitats for nature recovery and establish new woodland to help tackle climate change.
  • Investing in improving animal health and welfare as part of a sustainable farming approach. This will initially focus on controlling or eradicating endemic diseases amongst cattle, pigs and sheep.
  • Direct Payments will be reduced, starting from the 2021 Basic Payment Scheme year, with the money released being used to fund new grants and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements.
  • Launching a Farming Investment Fund, which will support innovation and productivity. This will open for applications next year and will be used to offer grants for equipment, technology and infrastructure for the future. 

£20m fund to grow medicines manufacturing in the UK

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a new capital investment fund – the Medicines and Diagnostic Manufacturing Transformation Fund – which aims to improve the UK’s ability to respond to future pandemics.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “There are huge opportunities for innovation in medicines and diagnostics, and this new fund will put the UK head and shoulders above others, boosting the UK’s capabilities and generating significant economic opportunities across the country.”

The fund will have an initial pot of £20 million, which will be available from next year, as part of the government’s 2021/2022 Spending Review.

Additional updates and guidance

Jobcentre guidance on COVID-19 Local Restriction Tiers
Jobcentres will remain open, as they have throughout the pandemic, to provide essential services to those we cannot help remotely. Guidance is available here.