Coronavirus deaths rise 482 in England

Coronavirus deaths rise by 482 in England – a drop of a third compared to last Sunday – as Wales records 41 fatalities and officials prepare to release figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland

  • Boris Johnson is hoping to recover from coronavirus and take back the reins in Downing Street within weeks 
  • Ministers are pushing a ‘traffic light’ plan for easing the draconian lockdown that is crippling the economy 
  • Could mean schools reopen by May 11 as well as non-essential stores such as clothes shops and hairdressers
  • Cabinet split over whether to make the NHS ‘run hot’ to save the economy and risk more deaths from the virus 
  • Senior Tories David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith have joined Labour leader Keir Starmer calling for a plan  
  • Government implementing series of major changes including appointing Lord Deighton to help produce PPE 
  • Michael Gove admits PPE was sent to China but says the UK has since received far more back from Beijing 
  • A further 888 people were revealed yesterday as having died in UK from coronavirus, bringing total to 15,464 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

A further 482 coronavirus deaths have been announced in England, a sharp fall in the number of cases recorded last weekend.

Last Sunday, England – which has suffered the lion’s share of UK fatalities – recorded 657 deaths, suggesting lockdown measures are working to stem the tide of infection. 

Public Health Wales has announced another 41 deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed fatalities in Wales to 575.

There have been a total of 7,270 confirmed cases in Wales, a rise of 334, while 25,170 tests have been carried out on 21,717 individuals, officials said.

The death toll climbed as the conversation turned to the country’s exit from lockdown, with schools mooted to return within three weeks under a ‘traffic light’ plan being pushed by senior ministers to ease lockdown misery – amid Cabinet splits over whether the government should risk more deaths from the disease to save the plunging economy.

The fledgling ‘exit strategy’ would see the country get back up in running in stages after May 11, with primary, GCSE pupils, and nurseries potentially going back part-time.  

Meanwhile, clothes shops and garden centres could be among the ‘non-essential’ stores given a ‘green light’ to reopen with precautions to protect customers. Rail services would be brought up to normal levels, with commuters probably urged to wear facemasks, and the NHS would resume carrying out non-urgent procedures. 

A second ‘amber’ stage later in the summer would see more of the economy revived, with all employees told to go back to work and some social gatherings allowed. 

However, it might not be until later in the year that pubs and restaurants can reopen and sporting events get up and running. And over-70s face a ‘red light’ for many months more, potentially having to wait for a vaccine before going back to normal life.

The proposals are gaining traction amid a mounting backlash at the lack of a clear plan. Senior ministers are divided between those who want to ‘run hot’, using apparent spare capacity in the NHS to relax social distancing soon, and those who fear acting too early will allow the disease to run rampant, according to the Sunday Times. 

After concerns about drift at the heart of power, Boris Johnson is gearing up to take back the reins of government, making calls to ministers from Chequers where he is recuperating from his own health scare with the disease. 

Cabinet minister MIchael Gove tried to dampen down frenzied speculation over loosening of restrictions this morning, saying while it was ‘entirely understandable’ people want to know the way out it was too early to make such decisions. 

Asked if the ‘traffic light’ system was the government’s ‘exit strategy’, Mr Gove told Sky News: ‘No it’s not. It is the case that we are looking at all the evidence. But we have  set some tests that must be passed before we can even think about easing the lockdown.’ 

Although he stressed no decisions had been taken, Mr Gove did hint at the shape of an easing, suggesting pubs and other parts of the hospitality industry will be ‘among the last’ to come back. 

On another frantic day with tensions rising in the coronavirus battle: 

  • The government was accused by Labour of ‘treating the public like children’ by refusing to spell out how the exit strategy from lockdown might look, with leader Keir Starmer demanding a ‘road map’ out of the crisis; 
  • Michael Gove has defended Boris Johnson for skipping five Cobra crisis meetings in the weeks leading up to Britain’s outbreak – but admitted the UK did send a shipment of desperately-needed personal protective gear to China. He stressed the Asian superpower had since sent back far more than it received; 
  • OECD chief Angel Gurria warned there will have to be ‘stop-go’ arrangements in place for ‘social distancing’ for a long time to come, urging governments to ‘err on the side of caution’ to avoid the worst possible outcomes for economies; 
  • The Irish health minister has suggested pubs might not be able to open until there is a coronavirus vaccine, which some believe will take more than a year; 
  • Infectious diseases expert Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s own SAGE advisory group, has cautioned that the lockdown ‘cannot go on much longer’ as it is ‘damaging all our lives’ and could start to be eased within three or four weeks; 
  • A consignment of PPE, including desperately-needed gowns, that Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick boasted would arrive today from Turkey is reported to have been delayed;
  • The chairman of the British Medical Association council said it had warned the government ‘weeks ago’ about the risk of personal protective equipment shortages but hit a ‘brick wall’; 
  • One of the scientists leading efforts to make the breakthrough warned it is not ‘completely certain’ that a coronavirus vaccine can be produced, with Mr Gove admitting no-one should see it as a ‘dead cert’; 

A ‘traffic light’ plan for easing the crippling lockdown curbs is being pushed by some ministers – although Downing Street is flatly denying it has a fixed plan yet

Boris Johnson, who is currently recovering from coronavirus at the country retreat, has told Downing Street aides that he could return as early as next week

Cabinet minister MIchael Gove tried to dampen down rampant speculation over loosening of restrictions this morning, saying while it was ‘entirely understandable’ people want to know the way out it was too early to make such decisions

Michael Gove has defended Boris Johnson for skipping five Cobra crisis meetings in the weeks leading up to Britain’s outbreak – but admitted the UK did send a shipment of desperately-needed personal protective gear to China.

The Prime Minister has been accused of failing to take charge of the response to the crisis early enough, despite mounting concern from scientists over the accelerating health emergency in Wuhan.

This lack of urgency was underscored by him delegating leadership and holidaying in the country, a senior Downing Street adviser told a bombshell Sunday Times investigation.

It also alleged that Whitehall’s attention was fixed on Brexit, and long-term crisis preparations fell by the wayside as key staff were diverted from pandemic contingencies to thrash out no-deal planning.

Mr Gove, who is part of the so-called ‘quad’ of ministers steering the government’s response while the PM recovers from his own battle with the disease, branded the criticism ‘off-beam’ this morning. 

He said it was ‘grotesque’ to claim Mr Johnson had ‘skipped’ meetings, saying Cobra sessions were routinely chaired by other ministers when they focused on specific responsibilities.  

Mr Gove confirmed the government shipped 260,000 items of personal protective equipment to China despite warning sirens from doctors that the UK was woefully under-prepared to cope with a pandemic.

But he claimed the PPE had not come from the UK’s pandemic stockpile, and Beijing had since sent back ‘far more’ than was dispatched to them. 

NHS medics on the frontline have raised alarm at shortages of PPE, stocks of which insiders say were allowed to dwindle in number over the last few years. 

Mr Gove’s remarks were scorned by Labour’s Jon Ashworth as ‘possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history.’

Meanwhile, Mr Gove raised hopes of a quick return for Mr Johnson.

He said the premier was already ‘absolutely on top of things’ as he recuperates at Chequers after his coronavirus scare.  

Sources told MailOnline last week that Mr Johnson is keen to return to Downing Street this week, as Parliament returns from Easter recess, but pregnant fiancee Carrie Symond and doctors are concerned that will be too soon.   

However, he has been issuing orders to First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who is deputising for him. 

Mr Johnson also had a three-hour meeting with the Foreign Secretary on Friday along with Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings and Communication Director Lee Cain.  

‘The Prime Minister is recovering well,’ Mr Gove told Sky News. 

‘And, he had the opportunity to talk to Dominic Raab, his deputy, the First Secretary of State, on Friday.

‘And the Prime Minister’s instructions to the rest of us in Government were communicated by the First Secretary of State when we had a conference call yesterday morning.’ 

Anger has been rising at the sense of drift in government with the PM recuperating at Chequers. 

It emerged on Friday that Cabinet has asked scientists and medical experts to present options for lifting the lockdown in a fortnight’s time – suggesting there will be no formal plan unveiled before then.

But some senior Tories, along with Labour leader Keir Starmer, have been demanding quicker decisions amid mounting accusations that handling of the pandemic has been bungled. Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth today accused ministers of ‘treating people like children’ by refusing to set out options. 

Insiders pointed out that despite the strain on the NHS there were 2,700 critical care beds empty last week, and scientists now believe the reproduction rate – the ‘R’ number – for the virus has dropped below one in the community, meaning its prevalence is shrinking.   

Ministers such as Chancellor Rishi Sunak are increasingly alarmed at the hit to the economy, with the OBR watchdog warning GDP could plummet by a third with millions of jobs lost.  

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is believed to be among the senior figures anxious about releasing the handbrake before the government is certain there will not be a devastating second peak in cases.   

‘The debate is now between people who think we should suppress the virus completely and those who think we should run things quite hot, use the spare capacity in the NHS and aim to keep the R number just below one,’ one official told the Sunday Times.

Another senior insider said: ‘You have to be clear. Running hot means more people are likely to die. That’s the decision the prime minister will have to take.’ 

Mr Gove said this morning that while coronavirus cases seemed to have ‘flattened out’ scientists were not yet confident the peak was past and it was safe to make changes. ‘It is entirely understandable, of course, that there should be a public debate about how we approach these difficult choices,’ he said.

‘But the most important thing to do is to make sure that we proceed in a way that is guided by science.’  

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson tweeted that ‘no decision has been made on when we will reopen schools’.

‘I can reassure schools and parents that they will only reopen when the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to do so,’ he added. 

There have been estimates that the economic hit from the lockdown, and the austerity that will follow the government’s huge bailouts for business and workers, could cause tens of thousands of deaths and leave more than a million people with long-term health conditions. 

Infectious disease expert Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the lockdown ‘can’t go on for much longer’ as it was ‘damaging all of our lives’.

He suggested measures could begin to be lifted within around three or four weeks’ time if the numbers of infections and hospital patients drop ‘dramatically’.

The director of the Wellcome Trust told Sky News: ‘I would hope they will get there in three-four weeks time because it’s clear that the lockdown can’t go on for much longer.

‘The damage it’s doing to all of our health and wellbeing, our mental health… the lockdown is damaging business and ultimately that’s damaging all of our lives.

‘So the lockdowns cannot go on forever, we must lift them as soon as we can but we can’t lift them too soon and we can’t just make arbitrary dates.

‘It has to be driven, I’m afraid, by the data.’ 

Sir Jeremy added that he thought that the UK was past the peak of the ‘first wave’ of the virus – but warned it will come back.

‘We should not see this as a discrete episode. I think the probability of what we must be planning for is that there would be further waves of this in the future.

‘But for this first wave I think the number of new infections stabilised maybe a week or two ago, the number of hospitalisations maybe a week or so ago… we’re probably just past the peak in many parts of this country, as is true in many parts of the world.’ 

Angel Gurria, head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, told the Marr show that the damage to the economy was likely to be short term, and government were doing the right thing by taking drastic action to control outbreaks.

He warned that easing of the lockdown would be ‘trial and error’. ‘What I see also is perhaps a stop and go process, where you have stable numbers on the contagion and hospital admissions and even deaths and the you start to open gradually and then there may be a return to higher numbers and then you stop again,’ he said. 

‘This is not a science. It’s going to be mainly trial and error. 

‘It’s perfectly legitimate that people want to re-open, of course we all want to go out, we all want to work, we all want to do what we do every day. However, the cost can be very high if you get it wrong, so let’s err on the side of prudence.’ 

Sources told MailOnline last week that Mr Johnson is keen to return to Downing Street this week, as Parliament returns from Easter recess, but pregnant fiancee Carrie Symond and doctors are concerned that will be too soon.   

He has been issuing orders to First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who is deputising for him. 

Mr Johnson also had a three-hour meeting with the Foreign Secretary on Friday along with Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings and Communication Director Lee Cain, according to The Sunday Telegraph. 

Mr Gove fuelled hopes of an early return for the PM, saying he is in ‘cheerful spirits’ and ‘absolutely on top of things’. ‘The Prime Minister is recovering well,’ Mr Gove said. ‘And, he had the opportunity to talk to Dominic Raab, his deputy, the First Secretary of State, on Friday.

‘And the Prime Minister’s instructions to the rest of us in Government were communicated by the First Secretary of State when we had a conference call yesterday morning.’ 

It comes after a further 888 coronavirus deaths were announced in the UK yesterday, bringing the total to 15,464.  

It is not yet known when the Prime Minister will return fully to his duties but a source told the Sun: ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if he was back before the end of next week. Everyone knows he is the key to selling the end of the lockdown to voters.

‘This is the biggest decision he will ever take and he knows the implications are vast for millions of families. There is no way he will be on the sidelines.’ 

No ‘certainty’ that a coronavirus vaccine can be produced, warns top scientist 

It is not ‘completely certain’ that a coronavirus vaccine can be produced, one of the scientists leading efforts to make the breakthrough warned today. 

The note of caution from Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, came as Cabinet minister Michael Gove said people should not assume such treatments were a ‘dead cert’.

Prof Gilbert told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘That’s why we have to do trials to find out. The prospects are very good, but it is clearly not completely certain.’

Prof Gilbert said that her team has not immunised anyone yet, but they hope to start clinical trials towards the end of next week.

‘We are waiting for the final safety tests to be done on the vaccine and the final approvals to be given.’

In the meantime, permission has been given to recruit volunteers, take blood tests, explain the process and check their health status, she said.

‘By the time we have all the approvals for the vaccine ready, we should have a good pool of volunteers to draw from and we should be able to get going quite quickly.’

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Gove pointed out that vaccines had never been developed for a number of diseases. 

‘I don’t think it’s the case that anyone should automatically assume a vaccine is a dead cert to come soon,’ he said. 

A spokesman for Number 10 said: ‘The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.’ 

However, Mr Johnson will return to a rising backlash about his handling of the initial stages of the crisis.  

He personally is facing criticism for failing to attend five Cobra meetings on the disease, with claims the Government missed a series of opportunities to try and lessen the impact in February and March.

An adviser to Downing Street told the Sunday Times: ‘There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there.

‘And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends.

‘It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.’  

The accusations drew a sharp reaction from Mr Gove, who branded the allegations that the PM neglected the dangers ‘grotesque’. 

He admitted that the UK had sent a consignment of PPE to China early in the crisis, but insisted it had not been from the core pandemic stockpile and far more had been received back.

‘The PPE wasn’t from our pandemic stock,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. ‘We’ve received far more from China than we have given.’ 

In a fresh embarrassment, it has emerged that a shipment of PPE from Turkey will not arrive today, as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick boasted last night.  

Mr Jenrick revealed the ‘very large consignment’ – crucially including 400,000 gowns – was on its way after fury that NHS staff are being told to reuse protective equipment.   

However, the 84-tonne load is not expected to be here today, with logistical problems on the Turkish side being blamed. 

A No10 spokesman said: ‘The Government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.

‘Guided by medical and scientific expertise, we have implemented specific measures to reduce the spread of the virus at the time they will be most effective.

‘Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support in needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.’ 

However, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association council, underlined fears that the speed of the reaction has left NHS staff lacking PPE.  

He told Sky News the BMA had written to the Government two weeks ago calling for a massive ramping up of the manufacturing of protective equipment.

He said large numbers of contacts were willing to produce equipment and names of around 70 of them were passed on to the Government.

But Dr Nagpaul said the contacts ‘hit a brick wall’ after they weren’t followed up.

He told Sky News: ‘We made it clear weeks ago that we need to do something about the likelihood of a lack of protective equipment. 

He added: ‘Even more stressful now is that doctors and other healthcare workers are treating their own colleagues in intensive care on ventilators and tragically see some of them not survive.

‘This is extremely emotionally taxing and it’s showing its toll on the healthcare workforce.’ 

As ministers scramble to get a grip, former Olympics Chief Lord Deighton has been drafted in to lead a task force to produce the necessary PPE for distribution around the country.

The PM previously described Lord Deighton as being a ‘superb’ executive after he helped deliver the 2012 Olympics while Mr Johnson was London mayor. 

Speaking about his appointment, Lord Deighton said: ‘Countries around the world face unprecedented demand for personal protective equipment and this necessitates an equally unprecedented domestic manufacturing response.

‘This effort calls for exceptional teamwork and I am confident that we, together, will rise to this challenge.’ 

Michael Gove is also in the process of setting up a new unit to advise senior ministers on the widespread economic and social impacts of lockdown to help guide an eventual exit strategy.    

It comes after a grand coalition of the country’s most senior political and business figures called on the Government to lift the shutters from Britain’s deserted high streets and map a route out of the crippling Covid-19 lockdown.

Former Cabinet Ministers David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith have joined forces with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and City bosses to warn the lack of a clear exit strategy could wreak lasting damage on the UK economy.

Officials are currently drawing up a three-stage ‘traffic light’ plan which would see some businesses such as DIY stores and garden centres reopen, and some children return to school, as early as the week beginning May 11.  

There had been growing concern that Boris Johnson’s absence from Downing Street was hampering exit plans despite signs that the outbreak is passing its peak.

In response to claims of a power vacuum, No 10 said that a ‘quad’ of key ministers – Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove – met every weekday at 6pm to decide strategy.  

Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the daily press conference that the Prime Minister Mr Johnson was ‘resting and recuperating at Chequers’ and ‘taking his doctor’s advice’.

Mr Jenrick added: ‘He has had some contact with ministers but mostly with his private office here at Downing Street.’  

The deaths of a further 888 people were announced in the UK yesterday, bringing the total to 15,464, but the number of hospital patients with the virus fell by 952 to 17,759, raising hopes that infection rates have reached a plateau.

Under the first, ‘red’, phase of the ‘traffic light’ plan, businesses such as garden centres and hairdressers could reopen, subject to strict social distancing arrangements.

Around a fifth of children would also go back to school as part of a phased return, although officials are divided over whether to give priority based on year groups, the occupation of parents or by region.

The ‘amber’ phase – probably in June or July – would see restaurants open on condition that tables were far enough apart. Most children and office workers would also leave isolation.

The timing of the ‘green’ phase – a full return to normality including pubs opening and large events – would depend on the development of widespread testing for Covid-19 and consistently low levels of infections and deaths. 

The elderly and vulnerable would remain ‘shielded’ until a vaccine is available, possibly for up to 18 months from now.

Conservative MP David Davis during a second reading of the Coronavirus Bill in the House of Commons. He has joined forces with Sir Keir Starmer and City bosses to warn the lack of a clear exit strategy could wreak lasting economic damage

Labour leader Sir Starmer and his wife Victoria take part in the national ‘Clap our Carers’ campaign to show thanks for the work of Britain’s NHS workers and frontline medical staff around the country as they battle the coronavirus pandemic

But to the frustration of ‘hawks’ led by Mr Sunak, Cabinet ‘doves’ headed by Mr Hancock are reluctant to signal an end to lockdown while infection rates are still high.

Writing in The Mail on Sunday today, former Brexit Secretary Mr Davis says it is ‘now essential we take the brakes off the economy’.

His remarks follow dire predictions that the UK economy could contract by as much as a third if the full lockdown lasts three months, leading to soaring unemployment and bankruptcies. Mr Davis’s views were echoed by ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith who urged Ministers to stop ‘patronising’ the public and explain their plans to restart the economy and that ‘there is life after lockdown.’

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – also writing in this newspaper – says: ‘Now is not the time to lift restrictions. But we do need to have clarity about what is going to happen next.’ The politicians were joined by retail bosses including Julian Dunkerton, the founder of clothing label Superdry, and economist Gerard Lyons, who said: ‘After the current three-week extension, there should be a gradual unlocking of the economy’.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘At all times we have been guided by scientific advice. The current advice is that relaxing any measures could risk damage to public health, our economy, and the sacrifices we have all made. Only when the evidence suggests it is safe to do so will we adjust these measures.’ 

People shopping at The Range in Plymouth. Under the first, ‘red’, phase of the ‘traffic light’ plan, businesses such as garden centres and hairdressers could reopen, subject to strict social distancing arrangements

Call to open garden centres to avoid destroying £200m of seasonal plants 

By Helen Cahill, City correspondent for the Mail on Sunday 

Britain’s garden centres could reopen almost immediately – with strict social distancing rules – under proposals being considered by Ministers.

Businesses have warned that £200million-worth of seasonal plants will be destroyed if centres are forced to stay closed until June.

That would mean an overall loss of £1.6billion due to the lockdown, so the industry has devised a rescue plan which it sent to officials two weeks ago.

It details how the UK’s 2,000 garden centres could open their doors for the rest of the crucial spring and summer season without putting customers and staff at risk. The three month period between April and June is the equivalent of Christmas for the horticulture industry.

Ready to sell: Plants waiting for gardeners at a centre in Essex. Businesses have warned that £200 million-worth of seasonal plants will be destroyed if centres are forced to stay closed until June

Garden centre bosses insist they could shift stock quickly and start paying suppliers if the Government approves the new arrangements, which would allow the public to buy plants, essential gardening equipment and pet care products that are being sold elsewhere in stores that stayed open.

Restaurants, cafes and areas selling non-plant products in the complexes would remain closed.

Under the plans, customers would only be able to use car parks in limited numbers, with an empty space left between each parked vehicle.

Entry to the centres would be strictly controlled, with one-way walking, one customer for every 1,000 sq ft of floor space and tape marks on the floor to enforce social distancing. Perspex screens would protect staff and trolleys would be disinfected regularly.

Sarah Squire, chairman of major chain Squires, said: ‘The timing could not be worse for our sector. It’s all about the spring for us, and if we can catch a little bit of that, it would make a very big difference.

‘We make 40 per cent of our annual takings from the middle of March to the end of June. So you don’t need a degree in economics to know that for the rest of the year it will be difficult for us.

‘You need to make your profits in the spring to carry the business through the rest of the year.’

Simon Burke, chairman of the country’s second-largest garden chain, Blue Diamond, said: ‘If the summer bedding plants aren’t sold between now and the end of June, they are dead.

‘Obviously there is absolutely no room for compromise on safety. But garden centres are large spaces so customers could come in and keep their distance, much more so than they would in an average food store, where the aisles are not very wide.’

Boyd Douglas Davies, president of the Horticultural Trade Association, warned that unless action was taken promptly, millions of plants would be heading towards compost heaps instead of gardens.

He added: ‘This is a quick and easy way for the Government to give something back to the public. If you’re asking them to stay at home for a long time, give them something to do in their garden.’

A sign in front of closed gates at Squire’s Garden Centre in Farnham, Surrey, during the lockdown. Garden centre bosses insist they could shift stock quickly and start paying suppliers if the Government approves the new arrangements (file photo)

The garden centres have missed out on much of the sales they would normally generate from spring plants but bosses are hopeful that they could avoid more serious financial pain if they are allowed to offload stocks of summer plants.

It is thought that independent nurseries that supply the larger stores could be worst hit, as some of them make up to 80 per cent of their yearly sales at this time.

In signs of a Government strategy shift, B&Q has been allowed to open 14 stores to trial new social distancing measures. Since the lockdown, DIY stores have been allowed only to sell items for emergency repairs through click and collect services.

They have been told to narrow their ranges to stop shoppers from buying items that could let them start a home improvement project or any home decoration.

Shoppers order online and drive to stores, where supplies are loaded into the boot of the car by staff.

But industry representatives said the rules should be relaxed so shoppers could start projects without fear of judgment.

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retail Association, said: ‘We do know from our members who run hardware stores that there has been a huge demand for DIY products, especially paint, and most of them have chosen to stay open.

‘There is a sense that if you are asking people to stay at home and don’t want them to go stir crazy, then they should be allowed to do something in the house whether it’s DIY, painting or gardening.

‘Some of our members are taking to delivering their stock and people are very happy to receive stuff at home. It helps lift the national spirit to have something to do.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said last night that the Government ‘would keep the policy under review and guidance will be updated as required’.

When this is over, we must give our most vulnerable the dignity they deserve – AND reward the heroes who give them such devoted care

By Sir Keir Starmer for the Mail on Sunday

Two weeks ago, when I was elected Labour leader, I made a promise to the British people that under my leadership my party will act in the national interest, help steer us through these difficult times and strive for the good of our country. I meant it.

The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest challenge we have faced in a generation. It is a health crisis, an economic crisis and – for many – a personal crisis. Behind every death is a family that has been shaken to its core.

At this time of national crisis, Labour’s duty – my duty – is to support the national effort to save lives and protect livelihoods.

That’s why I supported the Government’s decision to introduce the lockdown and why I backed last week’s decision to extend it for another three weeks.

The lockdown is extremely difficult for all of us. There is no doubt about that. But it is necessary to defeat the coronavirus and the Government can be assured of my support on that.

Equally, my duty is to call the Government out when I believe mistakes are being made, when decisions are being taken too slowly or when the most vulnerable are not being heard. The purpose of this challenge is not to score party political points but to ensure mistakes are rectified and progress is speeded up.

In that spirit, we all have to accept mistakes have been made. I fully accept that any government would find this situation challenging. But the Government was too slow to enter the lockdown. It has been too slow to increase the number of people being tested. It has been too slow in getting NHS staff the critical equipment they need to keep them safe.

We need to make sure these mistakes are not repeated.

And this week has exposed how the Government has been too slow to respond to the growing emergency in our social care services.

We have all heard the harrowing stories of the virus spreading through care homes, relatives unable to say their last goodbyes and staff poorly paid, equipped and protected to provide essential care. Ministers have promised action – that is welcome – but it needs to go further and faster.

First, our carers need to be kept safe. We have all been struck by the extraordinary service and dedication of our key workers during this pandemic. They are the best of us. These are people who are quite literally putting their lives on the line to care for our loved ones. But too many of them are being left exposed because of shortages of personal protection equipment (PPE).

The Government says it is doing everything it can to supply equipment. I do not doubt its sincerity. However, there is a mismatch between the statements coming out of Downing Street and the realities for staff on the ground. That needs to come to an end, and fast.

Second, we need more information. The crisis in our care homes has gone unheard for too long, in part because we do not know the full scale of the problem. That is why we urgently need Ministers to publish daily figures on the number of deaths in care homes. That is the only way we are going to know who has fallen victim to the virus, how fast it is spreading and the scale of response that is needed.

Third, testing, testing and more testing. Matt Hancock’s announcement that all care home residents and staff with symptoms would be tested is welcome.

But many of us will be asking why on earth was this not done sooner? A council leader I spoke to last week told me that of its 5,000 social care workers, only ten had been tested. That is astonishing.

As other countries have proven, testing is a vital weapon in our armoury to contain the infection and it will be central to any strategy to lift the lockdown.

Ministers promised 25,000 tests a day by mid-April, but that target was missed. Now they are promising 100,000 by the end of the month. They are unlikely to meet that target.

Many care homes are feeling overwhelmed, particularly those with an outbreak of the virus. I have spoken to care workers who are concerned about looking after coronavirus patients who have been discharged from hospital, because of the infection risk. The Government should ensure that where there is capacity at the new NHS Nightingale hospitals, it is made available for those who need it most, including care home residents.

Finally, we need a clear plan for what comes next.

The lockdown has been extended and I support that. But we need to have clarity about what is going to happen next.

Other countries have begun to set out a roadmap to lift restrictions in certain sectors of the economy and for certain services, especially social care, when the time is right. This of course must be done in a careful, considered way with public health, scientific evidence and the safety of workers and families at its heart. But the UK Government should be doing likewise.

We also need to make the case for a better, fairer society. Every week, we stand at our doorsteps to clap for our carers. We do so with pride, gratitude and a deep sense of national unity and purpose.

But, when we get through this – and we will get through this – we cannot return to business as usual. For too long, social care has been neglected. Our care workers left underpaid and undervalued. Our relatives denied the dignity they deserve at the end of their life.

We need a new settlement for social care. We can’t have another decade of this being thought ‘too difficult’ for politicians to solve.

We must go forward with the ambition and determination for a better society that puts dignity and respect at the heart of how we care for the most vulnerable – and how we properly reward our key workers and those who work in our public services.

That is how we can repay the debt we owe to all of those who have sacrificed so much during this crisis. That is how we can rebuild the better society the British people deserve. That is what I am determined to deliver.

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