Scotland to test UK virus unity with new route out of lockdown

Boris Johnson’s desire for a UK-wide response to the coronavirus crisis may face further setbacks when Nicola Sturgeon outlines her plans for easing the lockdown in Scotland.

The Scottish First Minister will on Thursday detail how she will begin the “very gradual process” of easing restrictions north of the border while continuing to suppress the spread of Covid-19.

When the Prime Minister outlined his own plans for England, leaders of the devolved nations refused to adopt his “stay alert” advice and opted for a more cautious approach.

Ms Sturgeon declined to follow him in encouraging some workers back to their jobs, but has said she could begin relaxing measures from May 28.

The Westminster Government has repeatedly stressed that maintaining a unified response is favourable, but further divergences may be revealed by Ms Sturgeon when she addresses MSPs in Holyrood.

Key to the PM’s plan is the testing and tracing system, which he promised on Wednesday would be up and running with 25,000 staff by June 1.

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Though the NHS app to aid tracing is delayed, that would mean the tracers will be in place by the earliest date earmarked for the gradual reopening of schools and shops in England.

Mr Johnson said the tracers would be able to track the contacts of up to 10,000 new coronavirus cases each day, which exceeds the current levels of confirmed daily infections.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been told “time is running out” for the Government to launch its testing and tracing system if a possible second wave of coronavirus is to be avoided.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation – which represents organisations across the healthcare sector – wrote to the Health Secretary because his members were “concerned” over an apparent lack of a clear strategy.

“We would therefore urge you to produce such a strategy with a clear implementation plan ahead of any further easing of the lockdown,” Mr Dickson said in his letter.

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Part of the PM’s plans for easing of restrictions and returning to normal life would see schools reopen to all pupils, but the proposal is facing some opposition from councils and unions who have concerns over safety.

Cabinet minister Robert Buckland conceded there may not be a “uniform approach” to reopening England’s schools.

Currently, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 are due to go back from June 1 at the earliest, with other years phased in before the summer break.

The number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK has now passed 44,500, according to the latest available data.

Elsewhere:

– Transport for London has commissioned a study into the deaths of dozens of bus workers who were exposed to coronavirus

– Frontline health workers in the UK will be able to participate in a clinical trial to test if the malaria drug touted by Donald Trump prevents coronavirus

– Facing criticism, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced families and dependants of migrant NHS support staff who die from Covid-19 will get indefinite leave to remain

– The PM said the deaths of 181 NHS staff and 131 social care workers have been reported as involving Covid-19

– Mr Johnson said “no one was discharged into a care home this year without the express authorisation of a clinician” as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer again challenged him on the crisis in care homes

– The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has reportedly called for an investigation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the Welsh Government’s response to Covid-19, suggesting that testing in care homes was not in place as quickly as it needed to be.

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