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May 2020 in United Kingdom politics and government

4 May
MP Conor Burns resigns as Minister of State for Trade Policy after a report found he used his position as an MP to intimidate a member of the public.
The ONS reports that more than 25 million people – 49.6% of over-16s in Britain – rated their anxiety as "high" after the lockdown, more than double the number who did so in December 2019. Overall measures of well-being are reported to be at their lowest levels since records began in 2011.

5 May
The British death toll from COVID-19 becomes the highest in Europe at 32,313 (including suspected) after exceeding the death toll of 29,029 (excluding suspected) in Italy.
Trials of an NHS contact-tracing app for NHS England and NHS Wales start on the Isle of Wight with the app being made available to healthcare and council workers.

COVID-19 pandemic in England: NHS Nightingale Hospital North East, a temporary critical care hospital built near Sunderland for COVID-19 patients, is officially opened by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The virtual ceremony features TV celebrities Ant and Dec, football pundit Alan Shearer and cricketer Ben Stokes.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a prominent scientific adviser to the government, resigns from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies after apparently behaving contrary to the government's messages on social distancing by meeting his "married lover".

6 May 
The National Assembly for Wales becomes Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament.

7 May
The government confirms that 400,000 gowns ordered from Turkey to protect NHS staff from SARS-CoV-2 have been impounded, after failing to meet the required safety standards.

The Bank of England warns that the economy is on course to shrink by 14% in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, pushing the UK into its deepest recession on record.

The prime minister, who is expected to announce the next phase of easing some lockdown measures on 11th may, stood outside Number Ten to take part in the applause.Schools in Wales will not reopen in June, says Welsh goverment. Kirsty Williams, the Welsh education minister, said that “the situation in Wales will not change” on 1 June, in a statement designed to curtail speculation ahead of Boris Johnson’s speech on when schools in England will be ending their lockdown.

Analysis, by researchers at University College London, is based on data from the company Huq Industries, which collected anonymised data via an app on where people are using their phones, giving a sense of how many people are passing through an area across a given hour. This was summed together to gauge activity levels across a day and then a week.

Overall, looking across Greater London, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Greater Glasgow, south Hampshire and the West Midlands, the team found activity levels were 50% lower on average between 13-19 April compared with levels during 9-15 March, shortly before strong physical distancing began. However, by early May levels had risen, and they are now back at 60% of the level before 16 March.

When the team looked at areas with different characteristics, for example zones known to be financial hubs or shopping areas, they further found that activity levels were higher in areas linked to jobs such as construction and domestic work than those associated with activities including tourism or finance. The team said this could shed light on which jobs can be done from home and which cannot.
Prof James Cheshire, a co-author of the study and deputy director of the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre, said:
Our analysis suggests that people have been adhering to the lockdown rules and taking them very seriously over the first month or so. But by early May we’ve started to see a shift, with more activity in recent days. It may be that people have started to increase their movements in anticipation of the government announcement expected this weekend for easing lockdown.

The newspaper The Guardian Revealed the secret report that gave ministers warning of care home coronavirus crisis
The report is based on the findings of a government simulation of an influenza pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus. It concluded starkly that Britain was not adequately prepared for a flu-like pandemic’s “extreme demands”.

10 May 
The government reveals that its lockdown slogan "Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives." is to be replaced, in England, with the new message, "Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives", while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are sticking with "stay at home". 
A new alert scale system for England is also announced, ranging from green (level one) to red (level five), similar to the UK's Terror Threat Levels.

11 May

Good evening and thank you for joining us for this Downing Street press conference.

First of all, I want to update you on the latest data in our fight against coronavirus. I can report through the Government’s ongoing testing and monitoring programme that, as of today:
1,921,770 tests for coronavirus have now been carried out in the UK, including 100,490 tests carried out yesterday;
223,060 people have tested positive, that’s an increase of 3,877 cases since yesterday;
11,401 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus, down from 11,768 the previous day.
And sadly, of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 32,065 have now died. That’s an increase of 210 fatalities since yesterday. This figure includes deaths in all settings not just in hospitals.

Before we begin questions from the public and from the media I just want to remind people of a number of important things I said in my address to the nation last night.

First, in order to monitor our progress, we are establishing a new COVID Alert Level System. The COVID Alert Level has five levels, each relating to the level of threat posed by the virus. The level will be primarily determined by the R value and the number of coronavirus cases. In turn, that COVID Alert Level will determine the level of social distancing measures in place. The lower the level the fewer the measures; the higher the level the stricter the measures.

Throughout the period of lockdown which started on March 23rd we have been at Level 4 – meaning a Covid19 epidemic is in general circulation, and transmission is high or rising exponentially. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the British people in this lockdown, we have helped to bring the R level down and we are now in a position to begin moving to Level 3, in steps.

And we have set out the first of three steps we will take to carefully modify the measures, gradually ease the lockdown, and begin to allow people to return to their way of life - but crucially while avoiding what would be a disastrous second peak that overwhelms the NHS.

After each step we will closely monitor the impact of that step on the R and the number of infections, and all the available data, and we will only take the next step when we are satisfied that it is safe to do so.

Step 1 - from this week:
Those who cannot work from home should now speak to their employer about going back to work.
You can now spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like.
You can meet one person outside of your household outside (outdoors), provided you stay 2 metres apart. The social distancing measures remain absolutely crucial to us keeping the infection rate and the number of cases down as low as we possibly can.

Step 2 - from June 1, at the earliest, as long as the data allows, we aim to allow:
Primary schools to reopen for some pupils, in smaller class sizes;
Non-essential retail to start to reopen, when and where it is safe to do so;
Cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors, without crowds.

And then Step 3 – no earlier than July 4, and again, only if the data says it safe, we aim to allow:

More businesses and premises to open, including potentially those offering personal care such as leisure facilities, public places, and places of worship. Many of these businesses will need to operate in new ways to ensure they are safe, and we will work with these sectors on how to do this.

So, given we have taken the first step in carefully adjusting some of the measures today, and therefore our advice to people on what to do, we have also updated our messaging. We are now asking people to Stay Alert, Control the Virus and Save Lives.

Yes - staying alert, for the vast majority of people, still means staying at home as much as possible. But there are a range of other actions we’re advising people to take as we modify measures.

People should Stay Alert, by:
working from home if you can;
limiting contact with other people;
keeping distance if you go out - 2 metres apart where possible;
washing your hands regularly;
wearing a face covering when you are in enclosed spaces where it’s difficult to be socially distant - for example in some shops and on public transport;
and if you or anyone in your household has symptoms, you all need to self-isolate.

Because if everyone stays alert and follows the rules, we can control coronavirus by keeping the R down and reducing the number of infections. This is how we can continue to save lives, and livelihoods, as we begin as a nation to recover from coronavirus.

12 May
The official death toll from COVID-19 exceeds 40,000 – including almost 10,000 care home residents.
The British furlough scheme is extended until October, with employees continuing to receive 80% of their monthly wages up to £2,500. A quarter of the workforce, some 7.5 million people, are now covered by the scheme, costing £14bn a month.

The Northern Ireland Executive publishes its five-stage policy for easing lockdown without a timetable and titled Executive Approach to Decision-Making.

14 May
The Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster announces that scientific data were sufficiently encouraging to begin the Executive's policy for easing lockdown on the 18 May, the following Monday.

18 May
Loss of smell or taste are added to the UK's official list of symptoms of COVID-19 that people should look out for and self-isolate with.
Testing for the virus is extended to everyone aged five and over in the UK with symptoms. Health Secretary Matt Hancock announces that 100,678 tests were conducted the previous day.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon announces that lockdown restrictions in Scotland would be eased from 28 May and that anyone over the age of five could now be tested for SARS-CoV-2.

In Northern Ireland garden centres and recycling facilities reopen after lockdown.

19 May
Captain Tom Moore, who raised £32m for NHS charities, is to be knighted for his fundraising efforts following a special nomination from Boris Johnson.
Cambridge University becomes the first British institution to announce it is moving all lectures online until summer 2021.
The Northern Ireland Executive announces the first stage of its lockdown-ending policy would go fully into effect, re-opening certain entertainment and sports facilities. Arlene Foster announced contact tracing would begin in Northern Ireland.

Robin Swann announced all residents and staff of care homes were to be tested by the end of June.

20 May
Rolls-Royce announce plans to cut 9,000 jobs as a result of the pandemic, predominantly affecting its British base in Derby, and warns that it could take "several years" for the airline industry to recover.

21 May
Antibody tests to check if someone has had SARS-CoV-2 infection will be made available on the NHS after a deal is agreed between the government and the pharmaceutical company, Roche.
The NHS Confederation warns that time is running out to finalise a test, track and trace strategy to avoid a possible second wave in SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19 cases.
A surcharge for overseas NHS staff and care workers to use the health service (on top of National Insurance and income tax) is scrapped after mounting pressure from MPs.

22 May
The Office for National Statistics reports that government borrowing rose to £62bn in April, the highest monthly figure on record, after heavy spending in the British government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

23 May
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's senior adviser, faces calls to resign after a joint investigation by the Daily Mirror and The Guardian alleges that he travelled 260 miles from London to his parents' home in Durham, and whilst he was displaying COVID-19 symptoms, during lockdown.

24 May
After The Observer and the Sunday Mirror print allegations that Dominic Cummings made a second trip to the North East during lockdown, Boris Johnson expresses his support for his senior adviser during the government's coronavirus daily briefing, saying he had acted "responsibly, legally and with integrity".

25 May
Dominic Cummings says "I don't regret what I did" as he addresses criticism for his actions in an unprecedented public statement from a senior adviser in the 10 Downing Street Rose Garden.

26 May
Junior minister Douglas Ross resigns, saying that Dominic Cummings' view on lockdown guidance is "not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked."

27 May
Boris Johnson appears before the House of Commons Liaison Committee for the first time, during which he rules out an inquiry into Dominic Cummings' actions during lockdown.

28 May
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announces an easing of the lockdown in Scotland from the following day with people able to meet friends and family outside in groups of no more than eight, but keeping two metres apart.
Contact tracing systems go live in England and Scotland – NHS Test and Trace in England and Test and Protect in Scotland.
EasyJet announces plans to cut up to 4,500 jobs as it struggles with a collapse in air travel caused by the pandemic.
The government approves Cleve Hill Solar Park on the north Kent coast, the UK's biggest ever solar farm at 900 acres in size and 350MW of capacity, enough to power over 91,000 homes.
Durham Constabulary conclude that no offence had been committed by Dominic Cummings in travelling from London to Durham during lockdown. They also say that a minor breach of the lockdown rules might have occurred at Barnard Castle, but because there was no apparent breach of the social distancing rules, no further action would be taken.

29 May
Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirms that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will end at the end of October, with employers having to pay National Insurance and pension contributions from August, 10% of pay from September, and then 20% in October.

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford announces an easing of lockdown restrictions in Wales from 1 June, allowing people from two different households to meet outdoors whilst socially distancing.

30 May
Boris Johnson announces a relaxing of restrictions in England for the 2.2 million clinically extremely vulnerable individuals who have been "shielding" in their homes, allowing them to spend time outdoors for the first time in ten weeks from 1 June.

31 May
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defends the government's decision to ease lockdown restrictions after concerns from scientists that there could be a new spike in SARS-CoV-2 infections, insisting that England "can't just stay in lockdown forever".

Thousands of people gather in London, Manchester and Cardiff to protest against the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested by police in the U.S.

May 2020 is reported as the sunniest on recent record in the UK, with 266 hours of sunshine. 

It is also the warmest and driest May ever recorded, beating the previous record set in 2018. The Met Office confirms that Spring 2020 as a whole broke numerous other records