Foresight News provides a look-ahead to the key events that need to be in your news diary for next week…
As questions continue to be raised about the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to counter the economic effects of coronavirus, some of the initial measures announced at Budget begin to take effect this week: an increase to the National Insurance contributions threshold from Monday will mean an extra £100 in the average taxpayer’s pocket, while the new higher Employment Allowance is intended to help smaller firms with the minimum wage rise due today.
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The measures come alongside changes to the rules on overdrafts which were first announced by the Financial Conduct Authority in June 2019. Last week, the FCA proposed extra help for consumers in financial difficulty, including temporary payment freezes on credit card and loan payments, and asked banks to set out details by Monday morning. If confirmed, the measures are set to take effect from 9 April.
Oil ministers from OPEC and non-OPEC producers, referred to as OPEC+, are also expected to hold a virtual meeting amid suggestions that a fresh productions cut could be back on the cards. Prices had dropped when countries failed to agree a new production agreement ahead of a 1 April deadline, but rose after US President Donald Trump tweeted that he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut back production by 10 million barrels.
The inquiry into the May 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack holds a further preliminary (video) hearing on Tuesday, considering an application for survivors of the attack to be designated as ‘Core Participants’ once the wider public hearings begin. The inquiry’s start date has already been delayed from June to September as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Chair Sir John Saunders has also warned proceedings could be postponed to spring 2021.
Wisconsin holds its Democratic primary, despite lawsuits and calls from Governor Tony Evers for the contest to be postponed until the coronavirus outbreak has subsided. Voting by mail has been expanded, but fears remain that turnout will be low and public health put at risk. Recent polls indicate Joe Biden will consolidate his lead, despite Bernie Sanders winning the state against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
For the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in China, Wednesday marks a huge moment, as healthy residents will be allowed to leave the city for the first time since it was sealed off from the rest of China on 23 January. The city’s official death count has come into question as restrictions in the city have eased, amid long queues outside funeral homes where bereaved families waited to collect the remains of loved ones.
The first proper indication of the impact of COVID-19 on the UK economy could be revealed when the ONS publishes its monthly GDP estimate on Thursday, covering February. Final figures for the end of 2019 showed that growth was already flatlining before the virus took hold, and the warning signs of a coming economic downturn were illustrated most starkly last week in a prediction by the Cebr that GDP could fall by 15% this year. The ONS has moved several economic statistics to a new 7am release time in response to the pandemic, designating them “market sensitive”.
A number of NHS statistics are also published on Thursday, potentially revealing the early extent of the virus’ impact on the UK’s health services. The figures, which include critical care bed capacity, come as the Government co-opts centres around the UK to turn them into temporary field hospitals to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients.
Alaska also holds its primary this week. On Friday, Democrats in the Final Frontier will pick their nominee for president entirely by mail to reduce the public health risk of in-person voting. Turnout is expected to be high, with the party reporting seven times more registered voters than in 2016. Biden is expected to win the state, though the margin is much narrower than in Wisconsin.
Saturday marks one month since WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the global Covid-19 outbreak to be a pandemic. The virus, which was first identified in Wuhan in late December, has since spread to at least 193 countries, with only 18 countries (including Micronesia and Yemen) reporting no cases.
Since the declaration, governments around the world have stepped up efforts to control the spread, including through mandatory social distancing and city- and country-wide lockdowns.
Easter Sunday arrives with none of the usual fanfare: church services have been suspended in a number of countries, and even Pope Francis will celebrate mass in an empty Vatican Basilica, while public egg hunts and family lunches also off the table. Many lockdown restrictions were put in place with an eye to curbing Easter travel, and several are due to expire (including Spain, Ireland, Ecuador, Argentina and Peru), though extensions seem likely with cases still on the rise.
Sunday also marks the beginning of what’s expected to be the peak period for coronavirus deaths in the UK. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said on 25 March that UK officials were hoping to see the peak in ‘two to three weeks’, while several anonymously-sourced media reports have identified Easter Sunday specifically as the projected worst date for deaths.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge