News diary 27 April-3 May: World Press Freedom Day and Captain Tom Moore turns 100

Foresight News provides a look-ahead to the key events that need to be in your news diary for next week…

Monday

The first sitting of the hybrid House of Commons featured social distancing on the benches and questions via video screens, and the changes continue as MPs return (physically and virtually) this week. The House will only sit from Monday to Wednesday for the next three weeks, with two shorter sets of departmental questions each day, while business requiring a vote has been temporarily paused until electronic voting can be introduced.

Up first is Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who can expect questions on the spread of the coronavirus in prisons and the decision to pause an early release programme.

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Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove is due in front of the committee on the UK’s future relationship with Europe following a week of virtual negotiations with the EU. Committee members may be most interested in the progress made in discussions on fisheries with just two months to go before an agreement is due.

Any extension to the transition period must also be agreed by July, so Gove is likely to be asked to explain the government’s vow to reject an extension despite public support for what is, according to his predecessor David Lidington, an inevitable prospect.

Tuesday

A minute’s silence takes place at 11am across the UK to honour all essential workers who have died from Covid-19. Organised by the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and Unison, the commemoration coincides with International Workers’ Memorial Day, and takes place just after the Government is due to publish its weekly mortality statistics.

Recent figures showed that the number of deaths in England and Wales is nearly double the average for this time of year, with a third linked directly to Covid-19.

Ohio holds its presidential and statewide primary almost entirely by mail. Republican Governor Mike DeWine has been praised for postponing the primary, originally scheduled for March, when the threat from the coronavirus was still being widely underestimated in the US.

Just a week ahead of election day however, only a quarter of registered voters had requested absentee ballots, prompting fears that turnout may fall to a record low.

New Zealand will begin easing lockdown restrictions, moving from Alert Level 4 to Level 3, meaning some schools will return, parks and beaches will re-open for exercise, and certain businesses will be allowed to begin operating again.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won plaudits for leading her country’s effective response to the virus, pursuing a strategy of eliminating the virus entirely through a combination of testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and border closures to avoid new introductions.

Wednesday

After a confident showing in his PMQs debut, Labour leader Keir Starmer resumes hostilities with Dominic Raab at the despatch box (unless rumours of Boris Johnson’s imminent return to work prove true).

Starmer used his first appearance to press the acting Prime Minister on the deaths of NHS staff as a result of Covid-19, putting Raab “on notice” and demanding confirmed numbers of social care worker fatalities for this week’s session. Matt Hancock’s declaration that the UK has now reached the peak of its outbreak is almost certain to prompt further questions from Starmer on the government’s lockdown exit strategy.

Raab won’t be the only senior government official facing questions on the Covid-19 strategy, as Priti Patel is also slated to appear before members of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The Home Secretary, who has been accused of dodging scrutiny thus far, faces specific questions on her department’s preparedness for the pandemic.

The release of US GDP figures will provide a clearer picture of the cost of the pandemic, with the data expected to show a decline in growth that will only worsen when the economic consequences of lockdowns and mass unemployment are revealed in the second quarter.

The Federal Reserve also holds its regular monetary policy committee followed by a press conference with chairman Jerome Powell, who may face questions on the bank’s management of the federal bailout programme.

Thursday

Thursday marks the UK Government’s self-imposed deadline to carry out 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day, though in recent days language has shifted to a discussion of the country’s testing “capacity” instead. The target has been met with scepticism, with some scientists claiming it was only ever meant to be a “headline-grabber”.

Captain Tom Moore (pictured), the war veteran who rose to fame after completing 100 laps of his garden to raise more than £28m for the NHS, turns 100. Since accomplishing his feat, Captain Tom has been aiming to reach the Number One spot on the UK Singles Chart with a fundraising cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone, accompanied by singer Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir.

Amazon reports first quarter results for 2020 after a tumultuous month in which a record-high share price and surging revenue contrasted with warehouse closures and walkouts by staff angered by a lack of virus protection.

Founder Jeff Bezos came in for criticism last week over a perceived lack of financial investment in coronavirus containment efforts during a period in which his personal wealth was reported to have increased to $138bn.

It’s a bumper week for companies operating in markets transformed by coronavirus, with oil majors (BP, Shell, Total, Chevron, and ExxonMobil), banks (UBS, Deutsche Bank, Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC and RBS), tech giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple) and high street stalwarts (McDonald’s, Starbucks and Sainsbury’s) among those also releasing quarterly results this week.

This quarter may not reveal the full impact of the virus on firms’ balance sheets, but investor calls are sure to provide opportunities for expectation  management and interesting tidbits.

Friday

US federal social distancing guidelines and statewide “Stay Home” orders are due to expire on Thursday night, making Friday President Trump’s target date for beginning to re-open the economy. Though many orders are likely to be extended, Trump’s eagerness to get back to business as usual has encouraged protests across the country demanding an end to lockdowns.

Some states, mostly led by Republican governors, have already begun relaxing restrictive measures; with over 800,000 cases and a rising death toll of over 50,000, such decisions have been met with concern over a second wave of infections.

The latest OPEC+ production cuts agreement, which will see supply slashed by 9.7m barrels per day, comes into force. The agreement, which aimed to counter tumbling prices amid a dramatic slump in demand as well as the bizarre price war between key producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, is already being viewed as inadequate, prompting widespread speculation that further cuts are in the pipeline.

Saturday

The latest meeting of the UK’s Climate Assembly takes place virtually, postponed from its original date in March. The final session, which is being broken into three weekends across April and May, brings together members of the public to make recommendations for how best to approach electricity in the future, feeding into the assembly’s final report in June.

The assembly has suggested that the ongoing lockdown provides proof that the UK is able to act quickly when it needs to, which will be vital in the fight against climate change.

Portugal’s state of emergency is due to expire, and there is cautious optimism that no further extension will be required as the country emerges as Europe’s coronavirus success story.

Portugal banned public gatherings and closed schools early on, and has recorded a mortality rate of just three per cent, compared to around 13 per cent in the UK. Prime Minister Antonio Costa has signalled hope for a progressive re-opening of the economy and society in May.

Sunday

There’s plenty more to watch for those keen to see UK measures eased when the latest lockdown period is reviewed – some of the strictest rules in Germany, Italy and Belgium are all due to expire.

Schools will reopen in Germany from Monday, and Italy and Belgium are working on plans for exactly what a partial relaxation will look like in those countries. India’s nationwide lockdown is also due to end, though some measures have already been eased to avoid food shortages, and other restrictions are more likely to be lifted on a regional basis.

It’s World Press Freedom Day, and this year’s theme of “Journalism without Fear or Favour” seems apt as media around the world struggle with the effects of government censorship on coronavirus reporting.

Last week’s Press Freedom Index identified the US and Brazil as countries where political leaders are encouraging hatred of the media, while a UK poll showing trust in politicians has increased as trust in media has decreased appeared alongside viral blogs and Facebook posts criticising journalists for being “too negative” and critical of the government at a time of national crisis.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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