Speaking in a shorter edition of his COVID-19 briefing, which will continue to take place every day during the epidemic, Johnson said he was “absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country”.
He doubled-down on the government guidelines that have been set to tackle the virus, which include self-isolating if you display symptoms and avoiding large social gatherings, though rejected rumours that have been circulating today that it will soon put in place stricter, legally-enforced measures such as those seen in France and Italy.
Johnson praised the “huge efforts” made by the UK public to comply with the advice. “What were’ asking people to do is so crucial for saving literally 1,000s of lives… That is vital because that is how we’re going to reduce the peak. Once we’re achieved that, then the scientific progress we’re making will really start to come into play,” he commented.
He noted that the UK has its first coronavirus patient going into clinical trials today, and also that the country is looking at buying an antibody test that tells people whether they have had the virus, which he called a “total game-changer”.
“Once you know [if you’ve had coronavirus], you’re less likely to pass it on, so you can go back to work,” he explained.
One of the major concerns for workers in the leisure sector is how soon the financial help for businesses that were outlined in yesterday’s briefing will come into effect. Those include grants of up to £25,000 ($30,000) to help with cashflow for small companies, and £330BN ($400BN) in government-guaranteed loans.
“For everybody who faces difficulties and is worried about their jobs – I say to businesses, stand by your employees, by your workers, because we will stand by you. You’ll hear more about that in the next day or so,” Johnson promised.
Freelance workers, of which the film and TV industries have many, were again not directly addressed by the prime minister in his briefing.
UK creative industries Union Bectu published a survey today that noted 46% of respondents, who were freelance workers in the entertainment sector, were out of pocket due to the virus. Many of them said they could lose tens of thousands of pounds in wages, and there were concerns they would struggle with bills in the future.
Directors UK, the body that represents filmmakers in the country, today sent a letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak asking for “further emergency measures to support those working outside of typical employment structures”.
It suggested “proportional income support that would guarantee an income to them [freelance workers] that is proportional to their recent average income” as a solution.
“Almost all of our members are self-employed freelancers,” it noted. “The impact of COVID-19 on the production sector is immediate and acute and we are seeing productions being shut-down daily as it is almost impossible for them to continue under current restrictions.”
“We anticipate that almost all non-news production activity in film and TV will have to cease within days. These are unprecedented times and many of our directors and their crews are facing long periods of time without work. As self-employed freelancers they are not able to access many of the benefits and support available to employed workers,” the org said, adding that it did not believe the relief measures outlined to date address the issues facing freelancers.
Fellow UK bodies the British Film Commission and BFI also put out notes today saying that they were looking to help the industry “navigate through this difficult time”.
Johnson promised that in tomorrow’s government press briefing Sunak would outline further measures to support the country’s economy and workers.