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The Times and Sunday Times
Monday March 30 2020
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning,
Some people think the police are being too heavy-handed, filming people with drones, telling off the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock for visiting his father, the former Labour leader Neil, and banning sales of Easter eggs.

But then comes news that officers have stepped in to break up a karaoke party, and I couldn't help thinking I wish I'd known they did that, I would have dialled 999 years ago.

I wonder if they are available to clamp down on other forced fun like drinking games, murder mysteries and the Lib Dem Glee Club?

LISTEN: Catch me every weekday morning giving a sneak preview of what's coming up in Red Box at 7.30am with Julia Hartley-Brewer at breakfast on TalkRadio. Listen here
Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
 
And the winner is...
They think it's all over, it is now. On Friday, as promised, we ran the World Cup of Political Films. In a shock result, All The President's Men crashed out in the semi-finals, leaving Armando Iannucci to go up against himself in the final, where In the Loop narrowly beat The Death of Stalin.

Needless to say people on Twitter were unhappy with the result and immediately demanded a confirmatory referendum, which slightly overlooked the fact that it was only people on Twitter who could vote.

Relive the tournament: Group stage; final 16; quarter finals; semi finals; The Final. Or just add the top few films to your list of things to watch.

And listen to the Red Box podcast by clicking on one of the links below.
The briefing
  • Police will cut services, drop investigations and scale back their response to crime as forces hit different “tipping points”.

  • The drive to recruit thousands of volunteers to help the NHS fight Covid-19 has been suspended after three times as many people signed up than expected.

  • From today car drivers are given a six-month exemption from MOT testing. The government has said the measure will enable important services such as deliveries to continue and key workers to get to work during the pandemic.

  • Train travel is down by 95 per cent on pre-lockdown levels and bus travel by 75 per cent.

  • Under normal circumstances, the Mercedes Formula One team would be starting to arrive in Vietnam today for next weekend’s Grand Prix to help Lewis Hamilton defend his world title. Instead, they are deeply involved in the manufacture of ventilators to help fight coronavirus.

  • Staff made redundant because of the virus, along with the self-employed, will be expected to use their savings before they are eligible for emergency government assistance.

  • Esther Webber's trivia question: What links Chris Whitty and the comedian Susan Calman? Answer at the bottom of today's email.
Red Box: Comment
A head teacher
The fear and frustration of running a school in lockdown
A head teacher – South East secondary school
Wake me up when September comes
The secret to getting through coronavirus, like great comedy, is timing. And no Mrs Brown's Boys.

The big question is how long is it going to go on for. The outbreak, not Mrs Brown's Boys, which experts admit has spread with baffling ease and now cannot be stopped from appearing in your home when you least expect it.

As for coronavirus, one of the most shocking things to emerge over the weekend is that the lockdown has only been in place for a week, and not several years as it already feels. Things are so bad yesterday I heeded repeated warnings and pleas to supply my energy firm with meter readings. Extraordinary.

But when will all of this be over? When Boris Johnson announced the lockdown on Monday he said it would be reviewed in three weeks but even then that felt like "it is going to be much longer but if I tell you that now you won't like it". Like repeatedly telling children in the back seat that the journey to Cornwall will take "more than half an hour".

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister and one of the few ministers able to appear in public thanks to being neither in self-isolation nor Priti Patel, admitted he did not know when normality might return.

"So the date of the peak depends on all of our behaviour," he told The Andrew Marr Show. "It’s not a fixed point, a date in the calendar like Easter." That's Easter, one of the few dates in the calendar which is not fixed.

At the afternoon press conference Gove was joined by Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England and one of the few leading medics not holed up at home.

She made clear that we are in this for the long haul. Strict social distancing rules will have to continue not for three weeks but between two and three months.

“We must not suddenly revert to our normal way of living. That would be quite dangerous,” she said. “If we stop them [the restrictions] all of our efforts will have been wasted and we could see a second peak.

"So over time, probably the next six months, we will see where we are going." Six months. That takes us into the autumn. Is this what Green Day meant when they sang Wake Me Up When September Ends?

This could mean schools and universities not reopening until the autumn and people being told to continue working from home. Factories, offices, restaurants and theatres all remaining shut, risking such a long, deep and painful recession that the economic impact causes greater social harm than the virus itself.

Most shocking of all it could mean the Lib Dem conference cannot go ahead. This just days after we were told they have postponed their leadership contest for a year, fearing the public clamour for news of who will replace Jo Swinson could overshadow the efforts to contain coronavirus.

It also raises the prospect of parliament remaining shut too, well beyond the four weeks planned.

Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the education select committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night: “In terms of parliament, that is a hotbed of ill health, who knows what is going to happen. They may keep it open, I hope very much that we can develop some kind of virtual parliament, if it is shut and if we’re not able to go, where we can vote online and walk through virtual division lobbies."

The issue is that despite living with the most severe restrictions outside wartime, we are still some way off the peak of cases in the UK. The time lag of several weeks between infection and fatalities means that hospitals are gearing up for a sharp escalation in admissions.

That is why you will receive a letter from the prime minister this week warning: "It's important for me to level with you - we know things will get worse before they get better."

The risk of suddenly lifting the restrictions is that it will lead to a second spike in cases. And there are too many unknowns to be sure when or how to do it.

Tom Whipple, The Times Science Editor, who has carefully and calmly explained so much already in this crisis, today sets out the questions we need to answer most urgently. It includes the issue of immunity (there are still no definitive answers on whether if you've had coronavirus once you can get it again); infectiousness (nobody is quite sure how long and from when an infected person transmits the virus); the true death rate (why is Italy's so much higher than Germany's?), and the impact of the weather (will this spread less slowly in the summer?).

As I wrote early on in this crisis, about seven or eight years ago I think, there are no good answers. There is no question to which the answer is: actually it will all be fine.

The big question, though, is about a vaccine. Low mutation rates (so far) raise the prospect of a single shot injection giving immunity. We just don't know when it will be ready: a process that can often take a decade could be accelerated to about 18 months, but nobody wants to stay in doors that long.

So we sit and wait and convince ourselves that it's not so bad and will be over soon. While we pray that people whose jobs we didn't know existed a few weeks ago work on testing, testing, testing: testing to see if vaccines work, but also testing to see who has it, and crucially who has had it.

If (and it's a big if) going down with Covid-19 is a one-off experience which gives you immunity, knowing that large swathes of the population have had it, could pave the way to restrictions being lifted and a return to normality for at least some of us.

This morning Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College scientist whose calculations influenced the decision to go into lockdown, said there were some early signs of the epidemic slowing in the UK. He told the Today programme that antibody tests, currently in final stages of validation, would be "critical" to the understanding of the epidemic, adding they would "hopefully" be available in days.

In the meantime, while we wait, speed is of the essence for the NHS. Ministers have announced that millions of face masks, gloves and aprons are now being delivered to frontline healthcare workers. However Gove refused to say yesterday when all NHS workers will receive coronavirus testing, despite widespread concern among medics.

Telling us now that it is going to take months is likely to prove counter-productive. Making it sound as if the end, like the proverbial late taxi, is just around the corner is what will get us through.

It is not just the UK where the timeline is slipping. Overnight President Trump announced he was extending social distancing in the US until at least April 30, having previously said he wanted to have the "country opened up and just raring to go by Easter" with "packed churches all over our country".

We all know how he feels. I went from thinking maybe our break in Norfolk might be OK, to thinking my wife's birthday at the end of April might be OK, to now wondering if my birthday in September will be marked indoors with our 945th game of Cluedo.

"We need to keep that lid on," said Harries. "And then gradually we will be able to hopefully adjust some of the social distance measures and gradually get us all back to normal."

Whatever normal will look like by then. "The one thing the coronavirus crisis has already proved," Johnson declared in his latest hostage home video, "is that there really is such a thing as society."

Maybe some time to sit and think about what he has done has given him the confidence to rebuke Margaret Thatcher's "there's no such thing as society". The Iron Lady argued that there are only "individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours".

Right now our duty is to stay at home to look after not just, perhaps even not especially, ourselves but others: neighbours, family, friends, millions of people we have never met. It is a profound change in the way we live our lives, in the relationship between state and citizen, in the idea of what politics is for.

And that is likely to last well beyond the end of this crisis. Whenever it comes.
Red Box: Comment
Andrea Leadsom
Focus on the cameraderie, not the chaos
Andrea Leadsom – Former business secretary
Chart of the day
The Times's data and digital storytelling team are doing great work trying to take all of the numbers floating around and help you to make sense of them. This is one of the most striking charts, showing the number of UK cases against other countries, although testing rates will have an impact on this.

It is worth adding this story to your bookmarks, as it will keep being updated to help track the spread of the virus.
Read the full story >
OK boomers
Britain faces a baby boom because of quarantined couples seeking solace and distraction through intimacy, as relationship experts predicted a surge in births early in 2021. It comes after a temporary shutdown at one of the world’s biggest condom producers
Read the full story >
Red Box: Comment
Sarah Olney
British public won’t forget the actions of unscrupulous business owners
Sarah Olney – Liberal Democrat MP
Poll of the day
For seven years the polling firm Populus has been asking people which news stories they have noticed in the past week. As Will Clothier reveals in his latest round-up for Red Box, coronavirus has reached a level of near-universal focus that no other event has managed.
Read the full story >
Red Box: Comment
Will Clothier
Coronavirus: the news story that dominates like no other
Will Clothier – Populus
Need to know
HOLYROOD HOLD-UP: Talks have been held about the prospect of delaying next year’s Scottish parliamentary election because of the coronavirus crisis. (The Times)

COURT OUT: Alex Salmond’s
QC has said he does not believe the former Scottish first minister is a “sex pest” after he was recorded making disparaging remarks about his client on a train. (The Times)

CLEAN AIR: A new programme to convert Britain’s railways to electric power will be rolled out after the government admitted that greenhouse gases from trains will rise by a fifth in the next three decades. (The Times)

HOPE OF RELEASE: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national on temporary release from a five-year jail sentence, is for the first time under formal consideration for clemency, her family has been told. (The Guardian)
Labour leadershipwatch
It's still going! I know, me neither. But the voting ends on Thursday, with the result announced on the Labour website at the strange time of 10.45am on Saturday.

Each of the remaining candidates – Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy – have been asked to film victory videos in advance, with only the winner's released. Fingers crossed the right one is uploaded.

Sir Keir, who remains the frontrunner, is apparently planning to purge Jeremy Corbyn’s allies in the shadow cabinet and party headquarters within weeks of becoming Labour leader. The Sunday Times reported on “scorched earth” plans that lay bare his desire to break definitively with the factionalism of the party under his predecessor.
Read the full story >
On Friday Esther asked you how you'd found the first week of lockdown. Two thirds said it had been easier than expected. Although it was only week one... Full result here
Have your say
On Friday I asked how you were "socialising" over the weekend.

Enda Cullen said: "I shall be drinking some splendid craft beers and posting a photo of every second one on social media. (My parish priest follows me!)"

Kevin Cottrell said: "A trolley dash in Waitrose."

Howard Phillips said: "The Dowager Countess of Grantham was right: when you are confined to your own ‘estate’, there is no weekend."

Bill Giles said: "Weekends now barely exist. But thank goodness for the internet and all the clever apps to keep in touch. Although our family is spread around the country and the world we have become closer and speak nearly every day. Most of the chat is matters of moment, shopping, staying safe and such as well as sharing memories and forgotten photos."

Gina Burton said: "My husband tells me we’ve been invited to a Zoom dinner party. We had cocktails last weekend with friends with over FaceTime but apparently this is a video conferencing app so more can join in. Does this means I’ll have to change out of yoga wear? I hope not."

Bill Bradbury said: "Talk to my wife or to myself."

Roger Bothwell said: "Play the ostrich game. Stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is fine."

TODAY: As Times2 offers top tips for couples working from home, what is your advice to ensuring relationships survive quarantine? Email redbox@thetimes.co.uk and we'll use some of the best tomorrow.
The best comment
Clare Foges
Harry and Meghan have chosen celebrity over duty
Clare Foges – The Times
Edward Lucas
We need herd immunity against fake news
Edward Lucas – The Times
James Kirkup
Business must agree a new social contract with voters to restore trust
James Kirkup – The Times
One battle Boris Johnson is clearly winning
Matt Singh - Bloomberg
Coronavirus means we really are, finally, all in this together
John Harris - The Guardian
The cartoon
Today's cartoon from The Times by Morten Morland
Now read this
He has been forced into lockdown at his home in Delaware, his speeches from a lectern in his basement ignored by the national press. And yet a poll by one of the most conservative networks in the US has shown that Joe Biden is now nearly nine points ahead of President Trump — and even further ahead in some of the crucial counties that determined the outcome of the last presidential election, writes Henry Zeffman.

Despite his apparently shrinking profile in an America caught up in the coronavirus crisis, the Fox News poll puts Biden on 49 per cent to Trump’s 40 per cent. Even more concerning for the president is the revelation that the man expected to win the race for the Democratic nomination has a thumping lead of 25 points — 57 per cent to 32 per cent — in counties where Trump and Hillary Clinton were within ten points of each other in the 2016 election.
Read the full story >
The agenda
Today
  • Boris Johnson and other senior ministers hold daily press briefing alongside the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser.
  • Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president, and Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, hold first talks as co-chairs of the EU-UK joint committee under the withdrawal agreement. Takes place remotely.
  • Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum hosts virtual panel discussion with Hugh Elliott, the UK ambassador to Spain, and Katharine Braddick , the Treasury director general for financial services, on experiences of the Covid-19 outbreak in London and Madrid.
  • MOT due dates for cars, motorcycles and light vans are extended by six months from today to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
House of Commons & House of Lords
  • Parliament is in recess until April 21.
Today's trivia answer
Esther Webber's trivia question: What links Chris Whitty and the comedian Susan Calman?

Answer: Susan Calman's father, Sir Kenneth Calman , is one of Whitty's predecessors as chief medical officer for England.

Send your trivia to redbox@thetimes.co.uk
 
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