Coronavirus dominates the headlines, but there’s more to the story than just the pandemic as the UK prepares for further lockdown measures to lift.
Here are five things we learnt from this week’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
The UK is ‘on track’ to reopen more of the economy at the start of July (or ‘It’s the pub, Jim, but not as we know it’)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sophy Ridge the government’s plan was that “on around the 4 July we will take further measures, if it’s safe to do so” and “we are clearly on track for that plan because the number of cases is coming down”.
Acknowledging that “a lot of the country does need a haircut”, he did not rule out an increasingly shaggy-haired nation being able to get a trim from the 4th.
Asked what could be required to get pubs open again, the health secretary suggested “things like wearing a facemask which reduces the transmission very clearly, about how the seating is arranged because face-to-face is much more dangerous than back-to-back and there is more transmission than side-to-side” and asked if you might have to sign up or register to go for a drink, said “well, I wouldn’t rule that out”.
No date for contact tracing app
The health secretary told the programme that the government’s contact tracing app would eventually be released, saying “we will get that up and running” but “we don’t have a launch date”.
The app has gone from a “crucial” element of the government’s test and trace strategy set for a mid-May release to “the cherry on the cake”.
:: Listen to Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
At the heart of the delay was the government’s attempt to build its own version via the NHS’ technical arm – which would have allowed it to keep the information collected.
It has now announced that it will use technology developed by tech giants Apple and Google, who have been pushed for a decentralised version where information about who has met who stays on phones rather than a central database.
Mr Hancock allowed a little frustration to show when asked about Apple, whose phones had particular problems with the government app.
He said the company had previously been “intransigent in the face of perfectly reasonable requests from democratically elected governments to work with them on solving particular problems, whether that’s about solutions to terrorism or other technical problems”.
A ‘Back to Work Budget’ is needed
Labour shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves told Sophy: “We do need from the chancellor a budget for jobs, a back to work budget in July this year, to quickly get on top of this.”
The UK’s economy shrank by 25% in March and April, with 600,000 jobs lost in the last two months, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The ONS says the number of people claiming unemployment benefit hit a total of 2.8 million last month, up 126% since March.
It makes for a grim economic picture, something Ms Reeves called “incredibly worrying”.
Saying that the UK “came late, we were too slow on lockdown, we were too slow to get personal protective equipment and clothing to those on the frontline, too slow to put a protective ring around our care homes”, she said “all of these are having their toll, not just on lives but also on livelihoods”.
Inhuman efforts to reopen restaurants – but will it be enough?
Ahead of what has been dubbed “independence day” in some newspapers, celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi said restaurants would make “inhuman efforts” to reopen for 4 July, but “we haven’t received very clear guidelines from government what that reopening is going to look like… we need it now, we really, really need it now”.
He added: “We need to know how many people are allowed in, what kind of distance we need, how people are going to queue.”
But just being able to reopen might not save the industry, as he warned “90% of restaurants will all go bust” without government help on rents for businesses shut by the pandemic.
He said that without legislation or guidance, conversations between restaurants and landlords “might break down and businesses will suffer”, as “most of us have not been paying rent since March and I don’t expect to be paying rent in June, and this has not been sorted legally”.
Lockdown cooking tips from the best
And after months of eating our own cooking, you cannot have a famous cookbook author on the show without asking for at least one or two tips.
Today’s recipe is fritters, with Ottolenghi suggesting that cooks “take a bit of flour and you have some tins of chickpeas or some cooked up vegetables from the previous day, you mix it all together with eggs with some chopped up herbs and spices but everything you have, then you shallow fry it and you serve it with a bit of cream or yoghurt or a squeeze of lemon, you’re okay, grown-ups, children, everybody’s happy”.