Coronavirus communication from Kevin Brennan MP

March 20, 2020

At the moment I am receiving a large amount of correspondence regarding coronavirus. As a result, I will attempt to address concerns raised in this one post below.


Click on the following headings to take you to the relevant information:

Table of Contents

  1. New updates to advice
  2. Covid-19 Government approach
  3. Local Authority and Public Services
  4. Health advice
  5. Travel Advice
  6. School Closures
  7. Educational and entertainment advice for children and parents
  8. Childcare
  9. Housing: Information for landlords and renters
  10. Support for workers
  11. Support for businesses
  12. Testing
  13. Transport
  14. Supermarket supplies
  15. Religious burials
  16. Updates

New updates to advice

As of the 23rd of March 2020, there is a UK-wide restriction on travel, leisure and social gatherings effective immediately.

These include:
  • Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes
  • All non-essential shops and community spaces will be closed.
  • Gatherings of more than two people prohibited.
  • All travel other than essential journeys and to and from work (where work absolutely cannot be done from home) is prohibited.
People should only leave their home a maximum of once a day for essential shopping, such as food, medical needs, and for exercise. There are to be no social gatherings of more than two people at any time outside the home, maintaining 2 meters between each person at all times. This does not, however, apply to people who live together in the same household. Breaches of these rules are punishable by a fine, enforced by the police and other relevant authorities. Any non-essential travel is prohibited. Work from home if you can.

Libraries, community centres and youth centres will shut.

Non-essential retail stores, such as clothing stores; electronic stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and all markets (excluding food markets) will all be closed.

Places of worship will be closed other than for funerals attended only by immediate family.

You can find this information here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others#fnref:1

Here is a list of businesses that are permitted to stay open, and those which must close as of the close of business on the 24th of March 2020:

https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-03/coranivirus-closure-of-businesses-and-premises.pdf

These rules will be in place for an initial three weeks, to be reviewed and renewed if necessary.

This advice does not apply to over-70s and vulnerable people who should continue to self-isolate within their homes as far as possible. Those who fall into the high-risk categories (people with immuno-deficiencies, cancers and other conditions which make them susceptible to serious complications from the virus) should remain in their homes for at least the next 12 weeks.

The Welsh Government has also announced that all caravan sites, campsites, tourist hotspots and national parks will be closed to any visitors.

Guidance from Number 10 following the Prime Minister’s statement clarifies that you should go to work, but you should stay at home if it is possible to work from home. If you are completely unable to work from home, you are permitted to go to work but you must follow normal social distancing rules – staying 2 meters away from others at all times.


Approach

These are incredibly worrying times for many families and businesses across the country. The governments of the UK have worked together to produce a joint Coronavirus Action Plan based on scientific and medical evidence, with public health as a top priority.

Using contingency plans previously drawn up for influenza, and having learned lessons from previous outbreaks, the UK Government and the devolved administrations have agreed to follow a strategy of containment, delay, research and mitigation of the disease, setting out an evidence-based structure for decision making. This is guided by the international situation, each of the devolved administration’s Chief Medical Officers, as well as guidance from numerous expert organisations, surveillance and data modelling.

As it is difficult to predict the exact course that the disease will take, it is important that the UK Government will now hold a televised press conference with updated advice and announcements of new measures on a daily basis.

The UK Government recently declared that we have moved into the ‘delay’ phase of the strategy, which entails steps to reduce the rate and extent of the spread of the virus. This is designed to take pressure off public services by pushing the virus into the summer months when the NHS will be better able to cope with the demand for treatment. It could also buy valuable time for testing drugs and developing vaccines.

It is vital, however, that the UK Government learns from the mistakes it has made so far and provides clear and reasoned explanations for its decisions through official channels, rather than leaking to journalists and publishing articles in select newspapers behind a paywall. It should also publish its scientific evidence to provide transparency and allow proper stress-testing.

The Welsh Government Cabinet is now meeting on a weekly basis to discuss COVID-19 and their response to it, and the First Minister and / or Minister for Health and Social Services continue to attend meetings of COBR with UK ministers.


Local Authorities and public services

COVID-19 will impact on public services. There will be fewer people available for an indeterminate period to deliver services that will have seldom if ever been in greater demand – this presents a major challenge.

However, the Welsh Government has been working with colleagues in local government to plan and prepare for COVID-19 and this Government will ensure that our local authorities have the resources they need to continue to deliver much needed public services over the coming weeks and months of this crisis.

They will soon be able to make use of additional, time-limited powers, to be delivered through a four-nation Bill. These powers will help make the response to COVID-19 more effective.
Please see the following link for information from Cardiff Council regarding changes to their services:

https://www.cardiff.gov.uk/ENG/Your-Council/Strategies-plans-and-policies/Emergency-Planning-and-Resilience/coronavirus-information/Pages/default.aspx

Cardiff Council has, as of the 23rd March 2020, shut all its children’s playgrounds in an attempt to enforce social distancing advice.


Health and travel advice

We recently saw significant numbers of people flocking to beaches, parks and national parks around Wales, flagrantly ignoring the advice not to go outside or travel unless it is completely necessary and remain 2 meters apart at all times.

For the sake of public health this cannot be tolerated due to the ease with which the virus spreads. The First Minister has announced that all caravan parks, campsites, national parks and other tourist hotspots will be closed to visitors.

New restrictions now apply across the UK and can be found in the ‘New Updates to Advice’ section of this information pack. They include restrictions on leaving the house more than once a day to do shopping and exercise; not gathering outside of the house with more than one other person who should be 2 meters apart – this includes family members. You can find all these details on this link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others#fnref:1

Further advice:
https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults/

https://gov.wales/what-do-if-someone-your-household-has-symptoms-coronavirus

https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/

Social distancing guidance is available here:

https://gov.wales/coronavirus-social-distancing-guidance
The UK and Welsh Governments are now asking the roughly 70,000 in Wales who are in the high-risk category to stay in their homes at all times, and not to leave for any purpose, for a duration of 12-16 weeks. Each of these 70,000 people will receive a letter from their GP or consultant with details of what they’re being asked to do, and support will be provided for those who aren’t able to rely on others for supplies such as food and medication.

The Welsh government has launched a ‘Safe Help’ website which details how people can help, and how people who need help can seek it. You can find this website here: https://gov.wales/safe-help.
For updated advice see the following information:

https://gov.wales/coronavirus

https://llyw.cymru/coronafeirws

https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/what-to-do-if-you-have-symptoms-of-coronavirus/

If you need to self-isolate and have questions about breastfeeding, or living with a vulnerable individual or with children, and a host of other questions, visit the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection

If you are a returning traveller, follow the advice on this link:

https://gov.wales/travel-advice-coronavirus-covid-19


Travel

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has announced updated travel advice, which warns against all non-essential international travel to any countries for a period of 30 days. You can find this advice, and country-specific advice here:

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Be advised that, as confirmed by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, UK residents who are currently abroad and intend to stay there risk not being covered by their travel insurance if they become unwell and require treatment. This is because travel insurance requires them to follow the current the current advice from the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to return to the UK. Please check your insurance policy and contact your provider if you have any questions about it.

There is also specific advice available on cruise travel. See here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cruise-ship-travel

I am aware that there are many UK residents and citizens stuck abroad, including some of my constituents, due to restrictive immigration rules and a low supply and high demand for international flights. I have raised this in the House of Commons, asking the Leader of the House to arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a further statement, having previously ruled out repatriation, to look again at the possibilities of international cooperation in order to bring these people home. My caseworker will also maintain contact with the Foreign Office to discuss individual cases and gather the latest information and advice.

We understand that many countries have implemented travel restrictions and have suspended flights. Current advice from the Foreign Office tends to be that people should make their way home to the UK by any means possible, even if it means travelling to a different country where flights to the UK are available.

It is vital that these people make contact with their own MPs office for advice, and so that they are able to alert the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the individual’s case.

Anyone from Cardiff West stuck abroad, unable to return to the UK can contact my constituency office on 02920223207, or email kevin.brennan.mp@parliament.uk.


School Closures

As of the 20th March 2020 schools are closed for normal education provision across Wales.

From Monday 23rd March 2020 they will reopen to provide support for those children who cannot safely be looked after at home and for children of parents who are defined as critical workers.

See below a further statement on GCSE and A-level examinations:
"We are in an unprecedented period, one that is changing hour-by-hour, and governments around the world are having to make quick decisions. We recognise the worry and anxiety that the uncertainty around the summer exam series was causing. Today I met with Qualifications Wales and WJEC to consider options that are in the best interests of our learners. We recognise that there are no easy choices but we have agreed that the best way forward is not to proceed with summer exam series. Learners due to sit their GCSEs and A levels this summer will be awarded a fair grade to recognise their work, drawing on the range of information that is available. We will be working with the sector to announce further details shortly but wanted to give this early certainty. We also won’t be using the results to publish performance measure outcomes in 2020."
Kirsty Williams AM, Minister for Education
See further information on schools here:

https://gov.wales/school-closures-20-march-2020-faqs

Please also see the following advice from the Welsh Government:
  • If it is at all possible for children to be at home, they should be
  • If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is critical to the Covid-19 response, then provision in an educational or childcare setting should be available for them
  • Parents should not rely anyone who has been advised to be following social distancing guidance, such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions, for childcare.
  • Parents should do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in ways, which could contribute to spreading coronavirus.  Children should observe the same social distancing guidance as adults.
  • Residential special schools and special settings should continue to care for children wherever possible.We will be continuing to provide food for children who receive free school meals. Further advice and guidance will be available on 21/03/20.

Educational and entertainment advice for children and parents

The children’s Commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, has produced, and will continue to produce advice and content for children and families about how to stay safe, where to get information, how to speak to your children about coronavirus and what to do while you’re at home.

You can find all this at the following link:

https://www.childcomwales.org.uk/coronavirus/


Childcare

Childcare settings are not required to close in Wales. If they are forced to close on medical advice or as a result of a lack of sufficient attendance by staff and children due to Covid-19, then funding will still be made available.

Welsh Ministers also expect local authorities to maintain payments for childcare provided under Flying Start and for the provision of early education.

The Childcare Offer for Wales provides 30 hours a week of government-funded early education (FPN) and childcare for eligible working parents of 3 to 4 year olds, for up to 48 weeks of the year, available throughout Wales.

See the following statement for further details:

https://gov.wales/childcare-offer-wales-payments-will-continue-even-if-children-do-not-attend-due-coronavirus

Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others#fnref:1

You can find more details about the childcare provision in Wales here:

https://gov.wales/coronavirus-and-childcare-provision


Housing: Information for landlords and renters

The Welsh Government has agreed that measures being developed by the UK Government, to suspend evictions from social or private rented accommodation will apply to Welsh tenants.

New protection under the emergency bill will include:
  • Landlords will be unable to start possession proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period during the crisis.
  • The three-month mortgage payment holiday will be extended to Buy to Let mortgages to protect landlords.
This statement can be found here:

https://gov.wales/greater-protection-tenants-and-landlords-affected-coronavirus-wales

https://gov.wales/guidance-social-landlords-about-covid-19

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/mortgage-payment-holidays

https://gov.wales/housing-minister-confirms-help-buy-wales-loan-interest-repayment-holiday

https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/press/press-releases/uk-finance-responds-statement-chancellor-regarding-support-mortgage-customers#summary


Support for workers

Statutory sick pay
The UK Government announced in its budget that, along with a support package for businesses, all employees with valid contracts would get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 if they are required to self-isolate. Even the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has acknowledged that, at £94.25 per week, SSP falls well short of what is required for people to be able to live on.

Self-employed and freelance workers
Self-employed and freelance workers are still advised to seek Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance where they are unable to continue to maintain a stable income from their usual work. I have repeatedly emphasised to various cabinet ministers in the Chamber of the House of Commons that this is simply not enough.

I will continue to advocate for more support, perhaps through a temporary ‘universal basic income’ payment. To this end I have also proposed EDM 302 which has gained cross-party support. I have also received confirmation that the Government is considering all options, including this one, but they must act more quickly to address this critically urgent matter for around 5 million people in the UK.

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has written to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for more support for individuals and businesses, particularly self-employed people and smaller businesses, in order to provide short-term financial security during these deeply uncertain times.

The Government has confirmed that a support package for the self-employed is being drafted.

Job losses due to Covid-19
For those who are being laid off by their employer as a result of coronavirus, my caseworker has received clarification (below) from the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions on the financial support that is available to them at the moment:
“… I can confirm that individuals who are laid off as a result of the impact of coronavirus on their employment can make a claim for [Universal Credit] or New Style [Employment Support Allowance], but this will be subject to the normal conditions of entitlement. This means that if they claim new style [Job Seekers’ Allowance] they will have to have paid sufficient national insurance contributions in the relevant tax years to qualify. In the case of UC, this would mean that entitlement would be established based upon all income coming into the household – that is to say, that of the claimant and their partner, if they have one.”
Universal Credit will not pay your mortgage – only after nine months can you request mortgage payments, but this would be for the interest only and would need to be paid back.

It has been suggested that mortgage companies consider payment holidays. However, a constituent of mine was advised that they could go to an interest only mortgage for the time being – but each mortgage provider might treat each customer differently.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on the 20th of March that the UK Government will provide protection through their Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme by covering 80% of the wages of workers’ wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis. All businesses in the UK are eligible, but they must apply for the scheme and follow specific steps to qualify. You can find the details of this scheme here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses#support-for-businesses-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

However, this is a voluntary scheme in which companies are not obliged to participate, and neither are they compelled to cover the remaining 20%, though they are free to do so if they wish. Neither does it guarantee workers that their jobs will be kept by their employers.

At the same time, people will still have to pay 100% of their bills and rents, with many now with income below the national minimum wage.

If there are constituents who wish to contact me for advice regarding their specific case for extra assistance, please call 02920223207, or email kevin.brennan.mp@parliament.uk.

For more information on your eligibility for claiming benefits and how to do so, including Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance, follow this link:

https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

General guidance for employees can be found at the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus


Information for Businesses

This is a list of businesses that are permitted to stay open, and a list of those which must close as of the 24th March 2020:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874732/230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf

The Welsh Economy Minister, Ken Skates, has announced support for businesses affected by coronavirus and will speak to companies about what else they need. The development Bank of Wales will offer its businesses a three-month capital repayment holiday. See following information:

https://gov.wales/businesses-offered-capital-repayment-holidays-help-manage-coronavirus-impact

The Welsh Finance Minister has announced new rates relief for businesses hit by coronavirus. See more information here:

https://gov.wales/emergency-support-businesses-hit-coronavirus

Any business affected should contact the Business Wales telephone helpline on 03000 603000.  They can help with practical advice - from staffing to financial planning as well as supply chain support.

You can also find details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where 80% of the wage of employees can be covered, including the necessary steps to take in order to qualify, here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses#support-for-businesses-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Further to this, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has written to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for more support for individuals and businesses, particularly self-employed people and smaller businesses, in order to provide short-term financial security during these deeply uncertain times.

According to UK Government advice, businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible. Further, employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible.

This advice, along with more general guidance for employers can be found at the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-covid-19#returning-from-travel-overseas-to-affected-areas

*not all information on this page applies in Wales, particularly around business rate relief

https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

https://wcva.cymru/emergency-fast-track-loans/


Testing

The World Health Organisation has made clear the importance of testing and contact tracing.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that testing rates will increase in the coming weeks to 25,000 per day.

The Welsh Government has announced that it is rolling out coronavirus testing to healthcare workers involved in frontline patient-facing clinical care. A negative result would allow them to return to work.


Transport

Transport for Wales (TfW) has taken the decision to reduce weekday passenger services during the coronavirus outbreak from Monday 23rd March 2020.

This is in order to match the number of services with their reduced workforce, allowing key workers to continue to be able to get to work over the coming months. It will also mean that freight trains will continue to keep power stations running and replenish supermarket stocks. It will further ensure a reduction in their carbon footprint while demand has fallen.

Anybody who has to travel should check the time of their train before setting off at https://tfwrail.wales. Full details of the changes will be online from midday Sunday 22nd March. They encourage people to approach their travel planning with flexibility in mind.

You can find services added to the timetable here:

https://tfwrail.wales/changes-train-times


Supermarket supplies

The Welsh Government has deployed new measures to relax supermarket delivery hours to help maintain the supply of food stuffs and other goods; including those goods which are currently in particularly high demand.


Religious burials

Though initially the new Coronavirus Bill removed the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate to authorise cremation to reduce the burden on medical practitioners, the bill has now been amended to allow for people from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds to have their religious rules and beliefs taken into account. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, confirmed in the chamber of the House of Commons on the 23rd March 2020 that work had taken place to change the bill to respect those religious beliefs when it came to the death of loved ones.


Updates

In order to keep people informed and provide transparency, statements from Public Health Wales will be updated on a daily basis at 11am with all the necessary information and statistics.  You can find this here:

https://phw.nhs.wales/news/public-health-wales-statement-on-novel-coronavirus-outbreak/

The Welsh Government will be holding a daily media briefing at 9.30am about coronavirus. These are on-the-record and on-camera. They are live-streamed on the @welshgovernment Twitter channel.

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has released a new bilingual video message about coronavirus, which is available on his @fmwales Twitter feed.

I hope this is helpful. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to get back in touch.

Kind regards




Kevin Brennan MP.