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UK coronavirus live: calls for tougher distancing measures as death toll rises in Wales and Scotland | Politics











Six ambulances have had their tyres deliberately punctured in Kent, in what must be one of the more depressing acts of mindlessness during the outbreak.

The South East Coast Ambulance Service said the vehicles were targeted overnight in Thanet, adding the strain of its staff who were already under “significant pressure”.

The MP Tracey Crouch described whoever did it as “an utter scroat”:

Tracey Crouch
(@tracey_crouch)

6 ambulances had their tyres punctured last night. I know MPs are supposed to be polite etc but whoever did this is an utter scroat. Just what goes through the mind of someone who does this, nevermind during a pandemic? Thanks to the team for getting them back on the road ASAP https://t.co/tl5CTPk7wr


March 22, 2020

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The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called on the government to force people to stay at home to safeguard public health and limit transmission of the coronavirus.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain on ITV, Burnham said there must be “clear arrangements for enforcement” to stop people leaving their homes apart from for essential trips.

The mayor also called on the government to use today’s press briefing to announce a new deal to protect the income of the self-employed and a commitment to house all those sleeping rough with immediate effect.

Burnham said:


We are entering a new phase of this outbreak and the government urgently needs to move to a new policy. We have had too many mixed and confusing messages. Absolute clarity is now needed.

In today’s press briefing, the government needs to announce a new stay at home policy, backing up the powerful calls from NHS staff over the weekend. This policy would allow only a very limited number of exceptions, for instance to collect shopping, and must come with clear arrangements for enforcement.

Picking up the issue of the self-employed only being eligible to receive statutory sick pay, the mayor went on to say:


You also can’t build a sense of national unity if some are having their wages covered but 5 million self-employed people are being told to live on statutory sick pay. The health secretary has said that he couldn’t live on it and nor should we expect others whose earnings have plummeted. This also needs to be corrected today.

Finally, the mayor reiterated his call for the government to house all homeless people:


No person should be forced to sleep on our streets, and there should be an immediate package announced to allow us to get people into safe and secure accommodation.

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Sturgeon says too many people in non-essential jobs, like building and hair dressing, still at work

At her lunchtime briefing Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, reiterated her advice that “if life is carrying on as normal then you are not doing the right thing”. These new measures are essential to slow down the virus and reduce its peak impact, she said.

On pubs and restaurants that are still open she said: “We will within days have emergency powers and we will use them.” She called on shops not providing essential items like food and medicines to close now.

She also had a message for employers in non-essential services:


It was clear this morning that there are too many people across country who are being expect to go to work as normal.

She had been asked specifically about building sites and hair salons; they should close, she said.

Sturgeon said the Scottish government was putting through further measures to support freelances, the self-employed and contract workers, to support businesses in doing the right thing.

Chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood warned again that Scotland is on the cusp of a rapid acceleration of cases in Scotland, saying that the 14 deaths represent up to 1,000 people each who have become infected.

Calderwood said people should go out for exercise once a day but should not mingle outside their family group. She encouraged people “to continue to use the outdoors to keep their mental and physical wellbeing as good as possible, but we are really in this for a marathon not a sprint”.

The Scottish government’s health secretary Jeane Freeman announced a series of new measures: the creation of new community hubs. From now on if patients with coronavirus symptoms are seeking additional advice, they should call 111 and callers will go to one of the new hubs where clinicians will give them advice.

There are also plans to empower community pharmacists by expanding minor ailments model. This will free up GPs to deal with non-Covid-19 cases, Freeman explained.










Downing Street lobby briefing – Summary










Scotland death toll rises from 10 to 14

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WHSmith has insisted it is an “essential retailer” akin to supermarkets and pharmacies as it vowed to keep open its 1,200 stores in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown.

The high-street newsagent has prompted anger among some of its staff who said they had not been provided protective equipment, such as hand sanitiser or gloves, and had only stopped accepting cash on Monday.

The Guardian understands that several staff at a WHSmith branch in Hertfordshire refused to go into work on Monday morning due to coronavirus concerns, while the parent of an employee at another branch said her son “came home almost in tears” on Sunday as stores remained busy in spite of the UK semi-lockdown.

The 227-year-old firm, which operates more than 600 high street stores and more than 600 airport branches, is one of a plummeting number of retailers choosing to stay open amid the outbreak. Nando’s, Costa Coffee and Subway all announced temporary closures on Monday, while Waterstones will shut its 280 branches at the end of the day.

In a letter to staff last week, the WHSmith chief executive, Carl Cowling, wrote that the company would be “positioning ourselves to government as an ‘essential retailer’”. He added:


In our High Street stores, we have a retail offer that extends to every generation. We can provide essential products to our younger pre-school customers; an unrivalled education officer with accompanying stationery range to children, teenagers and students; a fantastic books offer for everyone; and a news and magazines offer that can’t be beaten, enabling communities to access information and keep up to date with what is happening at the current time.

Cowling said the company’s priority was the health and wellbeing of its employees and that it was monitoring the health of staff. On Monday WHSmith stopped accepting cash and put in place social distancing measures at tills.

A staff notice issued on Monday said hand sanitiser and protective gloves should be available for all stores. However, WHSmith employees who spoke to the Guardian said they felt their health was being put at risk.

“I was shocked and appalled by how busy our store was on Saturday and people’s disregard for safety,” said one member of staff.


It’s putting the general public and ourselves at risk. We don’t want to be there but we feel like we have to.

If the government aren’t going to close all non-essential retailers and people aren’t going to stay in their homes, I think businesses have to take the responsible action.

[To stay open] is not only irresponsible, we feel it is despicable.

A spokeswoman for WHSmith said:


We are very proud of our colleagues, who are doing an outstanding job in serving our customers with key products, such as educational materials, food, drinks and newspapers. WHSmith also provides vital services such as the Post Office, and serving NHS staff in our hospital stores. We have served our communities for over 227 years and we continue to support our customers during this challenging time.

Our key priority is the health and wellbeing of colleagues and customers. We have introduced additional measures to keep everyone safe and supported and all staff have been reminded of the company benevolent fund at this time. We will continue to monitor and follow government and PHE advice very closely.

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Deaths in Wales rise by four to 16

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