By Powerscourt on 24/05/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 24 May 2020
The row over Dominic Cummings’ flouting of the lockdown rules looks set to intensify after the publication of further revelations in a joint investigation by the Observer and the Sunday Mirror. Boris Johnson and a number of senior cabinet ministers had spent much of yesterday expressing their full support for Cummings, insisting that he had travelled from London to Durham to seek childcare support from his extended family and had stayed put at the property for the duration of his stay. However, the investigation, published today and picked up widely elsewhere, appears to demolish this defence, having found witnesses who claim that Cummings was in Durham on a separate occasion later in April – and that his family also visited the nearby town of Barnard Castle for a daytrip.
The Labour party has written to cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill demanding a full inquiry, and today’s Sunday Times quotes a YouGov poll which has found that 68% of the UK public believe that Cummings broke the lockdown, and 52% think he should resign. However, the FT quotes a “close friend” of Cummings as saying: “He isn’t remotely bothered by this story, it’s more fake news from the Guardian. There is zero chance of him resigning.” This one looks set to run and run.
The controversy upstaged the government’s announcement yesterday, fronted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, that it is pledging to invest £283m into roads, railways, buses and trams to improve public safety and protect services. In between fielding questions on Cummings’ future, Shapps said that the funding would increase both the frequency and capacity of services while ensuring there is enough space on vehicles to allow for social distancing. The money will be spent on making adjustments to vehicles, signage, deep cleaning and the provision of hand sanitiser.
Elsewhere, there was a small but symbolic milestone in the spread of the pandemic yesterday, as China reported no new confirmed cases for the first time since the outbreak began there. However, as cases continue to drop in the Asian region, Latin America was described by the WHO at a press briefing yesterday as the “new epicentre” for the virus. Brazil in particular has seen a sudden and significant surge in cases, and has now surpassed Russia to become the nation with the second-highest number of infections, behind only the US.
Finally, one of the more eye-catching stories from this morning’s business sections is a Mail on Sunday article which claims that the UK could be poised to launch its first ever sovereign wealth fund. The paper suggests that officials are considering a £25bn taxpayer-backed fund to “reboot struggling regional firms” in the wake of the crisis.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
Consumer and Retail
The world’s largest travel and tourism company has told German newspaper Rheinische Post that it plans to resume flights to holiday destinations in Europe by the end of next month. Among likely first destinations are Spain, Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia. CEO Fritz Joussen said “We are planning to start flying again from end June, in time for summer vacation.”
Industrials & Transport
Jaguar Land Rover
The carmaker is in discussion with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about a state loan which was reported by Sky to be well over £1bn. The company said “Jaguar Land Rover [is] constantly in discussion with government on a whole range of matters relating to COVID and we will not discuss details which are confidential and private”.
Financial Services & Real Estate
The private equity group said in a statement this morning that it is preparing a second-round proposal to buy Virgin Australia, after Australia’s second-biggest airline entered voluntary administration last month. The company said it has “a long-term mindset and commitment to a well-funded, successful airline”. Managing Director Mike Murphy said “We know aviation isn’t going to return to normal any time soon, but Bain Capital is here for the long haul with deep funding to navigate these difficult times.”
IN THE NEWS
Britain’s plan for £25bn sovereign wealth fund – Mail on Sunday
New witnesses cast doubt on Dominic Cummings’s lockdown claims – The Guardian
Companies line up to sell stock as US IPO market reopens – The Financial Times
Britain ‘at risk of five-year jobs hell’ – The Sunday Times