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Companies forced to closed can claim two-thirds of their employees wages from the government (PA)

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The government has promised to pay two-thirds of employees’ salaries if their business is forced to close due to local or national coronavirus restrictions.

Employers will only have to cover the national insurance and pension contributions of their staff, and can claim up to £2,100 a month for each person on their payroll.

It is expected that the government will announce a new three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions early next week to replace the patchwork of existing local restrictions.

Areas with less than 100 cases per 100,000 are understood to fall under tier one and will be required to follow national restrictions such as the ‘rule of six’, while areas with infection rates above 100 will be subject to stricter rules such as bans on household mixing.

Tier three areas—those with significantly higher levels of infection—will likely face full lockdowns, with only supermarkets, schools and other essential businesses allowed to stay open.

This new system is expected to come into force in mid-October, while the fresh support announced by the government will become available to businesses once the Job Support Scheme (JSS) begins on 1 November.

The JSS—which succeeds the government’s furlough scheme—will be available for six months pending a review in January, and firms who have been forced to close prior to the start date can still claim the two-thirds of their employees salary. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Throughout the crisis the driving force of our economic policy has not changed.

“I have always said that we will do whatever is necessary to protect jobs and livelihoods as the situation evolves.

“The expansion of the Job Support Scheme will provide a safety net for businesses across the UK who are required to temporarily close their doors, giving them the right support at the right time.”

The announcement comes after council leaders and regional mayors became increasingly irate with Downing Street on Friday on what local lockdown measures they should expect, and when.

Meetings that had been scheduled for this morning were later cancelled and then put in the diary again for this afternoon and early evening.

There is a growing feeling that local authority leaders and mayors have not been kept in the loop as many learnt about potential new measures from briefings appearing in newspapers.

One regional mayor told PoliticsHome that the details around new restrictions for the north had been chaotic and no-one from No 10 could say they had been consulting with the regions regularly with “a straight face”.

The Treasury said today’s announcement “comes alongside intensive engagement with local leaders today on potential measures are coming in their areas”. 

Tonight Eddie Lister, a senior adviser to the prime minister who worked with Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, will give each metro mayor a 30-minute briefing about what the new restrictions will mean for their area.

Concerns are growing that whole regions will be moved into tier three, even though they have a low number of cases.

There are particular worries that Wakefield will be categorised as tier three, even though it has far fewer cases than Leeds.

Likewise Rotherham’s cases are lower than Sheffield, which is expected to move into tier three.

A local government source said: “The metro mayors should be getting this news from a minister, they don’t know why it’s an adviser. I think No 10 is feeling a little chastened by the strength of feeling particularly from the north of England that we have not been properly involved.

“There will be disquiet from those areas that would be tier two that will be told they need to go into tier three as well.”

The country’s Metro mayors – which were championed by ex-Chancellor George Osborne – had their first meeting of the entire pandemic with the communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick only this week.

They had one face to face meeting with Boris Johnson last September.

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Australia’s coronavirus epicenter records no new cases as the US and Western Europe struggle to contain the pandemic

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Announcing the relaxation of restrictions at a news conference on Monday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said starting on Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., Melbourne residents will be allowed to leave their homes and most businesses in the state can reopen with restrictions on the number of people.

“With 0 cases and so much testing, we are able to say that now is the time to open up. Now is the time to congratulate every single Victorian who has stayed the course,” Andrews said.

The remarkable milestone of no new cases comes just months after Andrews declared a “state of disaster” to stem an outbreak that saw as many as 725 people in the state test positive for the virus in a single day.

The steep decline in cases has allowed the government to lift major social distancing measures that have been in place for weeks.

As cases began skyrocketing this summer, Andrews put in place the type of strict anti-epidemic measures that governments in Western Europe and the United States have been hesitant to enact out of fear of damaging the economy and trampling on civil liberties.

From a public health standpoint, Andrews’ decision appeared to have worked. While cases in Europe continue to skyrocket to record-breaking levels and US President Donald Trump’s chief of staff said the United States “will not be able to contain the pandemic,” Victoria appears to have done just that.

East Asian governments including those in China, South Korea and Taiwan have not needed to put in place such restrictions because early efforts to contain the virus focused on testing and contact tracing, combined with the readiness of their respective populations to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, which helped keep the pandemic in check.

Andrews said Victoria was able to rein in the pandemic because of the public’s willingness to endure hardship, listen to the science and follow the rules.

“I could not be prouder than I am today to lead a state that has showed the courage, the compassion, and the character to get this job done. But it is not yet absolutely finished,” he said.

“We have to be vigilant in the weeks and months … until a vaccine comes, there is no normal. There is only Covid-normal.”

Under the relaxed measures, staff are allowed to immediately return to their businesses in order to prepare for customers and put in place anti-epidemic measures.

Some restrictions, including a 25-kilometer (15-mile) limit on travel and an internal border between Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, will remain in place until November 8.

Though Victoria, as of Monday, accounts for at least 20,300 of Australia’s more than 27,500 cases and 817 of the country’s 905 deaths, the number of active cases in Victoria has steadily declined in the past 30 days. The number of new infections has been in single digits since October 13 and has not exceeded 20 in the past month.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated the state for the drop in Covid-19 cases and lauded Victorians for the making “great progress in reducing the rate of Covid-19 infection.”

“They have played their part and sacrificed much in the pursuit of reaching those targets in the belief restrictions would be eased,” he said.

Morrison added that Victoria would open state borders by Christmas. They were closed as part of the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

Winter lockdown

Victoria and its capital Melbourne faced Australia’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 this Australian winter.

Andrews declared the disaster in early August as Victoria was recording hundreds of cases per day, while the federal government closed the state’s borders to non-essential travel. The state’s government instituted some of the strictest social distancing measures in the country, including placing Melbourne’s 5 million residents under a seven-week lockdown and barring nearly all trips outdoors.
The decision was unpopular with Andrews’ detractors on the right, who held protests, called him a “dictator” and said he was trying to build “a gulag.” He also faced pressure from business and Prime Minister Morrison to ease the strain on the economy caused by the lockdown.

Andrews said Monday the government was not going to be “pushed by the loudest voices” to reopen before public health experts deemed it was safe to do so.

The draconian restrictions were kept in place for quite some time, even as the state’s case count and the number of fatalities began dropping.
By late September, cases has declined to low double-digits, allowing the government to lift Melbourne’s curfew.

Andrews hinted earlier this month that authorities were considering lifting more restrictions if trends continued in the right direction. However, a small cluster of cases in Melbourne’s northern suburbs prompted him to put in place a “cautious pause” in order to test more than 4,000 residents, further delaying reopening.

Nearly all tests have come back negative. Andrews said health authorities can now rule out widespread community transmission.

“It was worth waiting to be sure,” he said.

A previous version of this story misstated Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’ political affiliation. This has been corrected.

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Democrats already angling to take out Ron Johnson in 2022

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Johnson, a two-term senator who hasn’t said whether he’ll run again, has been an adamant defender of President Donald Trump — and Democrats think that record will not play well in the perennial battleground in 2022.

While an announcement eight days before the presidential election might rankle some in the party for sidetracking from an all-hands-on-deck attempt to oust President Donald Trump from the White House, the move gives Nelson a head start on other Democrats expected to flock to challenge Johnson in the weeks after the presidential election.

The early start could allow Nelson to take advantage of sky-high Democratic enthusiasm that’s translated into fundraising records across the country, which could wane after Nov. 3, especially if Joe Biden wins.

Other Democrats whose names are already circulating as possible candidates include Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry, who also served as the Democratic National Convention host committee finance chair. Lasry, the son of billionaire hedge fund manager and Democratic bundler Marc Lasry, could quickly mount of a formidable, well-funded campaign.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who took on a national role speaking for Wisconsin in the wake of police shooting of Jacob Blake and the subsequent Kenosha riots, is another name in the mix, as well as state Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Nelson’s announcement coincides with an expected Monday confirmation vote on Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Nelson criticized Johnson, who, after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, vowed to wear a “moon suit” to return to the Senate and cast a vote in favor of Barrett if needed.

“I think his record, I think his behavior and what he has done and what he has said — not just the last couple of years but for the last nine years — makes him very vulnerable,” Nelson said. “Ron Johnson is an unmitigated disaster and a conspiracy nut, among other qualities. Every time he opens his mouth he embarrasses himself and our state.”

Nelson said his county — about an hour-and-a-half north of Milwaukee — has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, putting him on the frontlines of the pandemic as the state has undergone one of the most severe spikes in the nation.

Nelson assailed Johnson for recent remarks seeming to underplay the virus, as well as Johnson’s decision to attend a fundraiser while he awaited the results of a Covid-19 test. He later tested positive. Nelson said the senator was especially vulnerable electorally because he had voted against the first coronavirus relief package.

Nelson, who rolled out an announcement video on Monday, served as a Bernie Sanders delegate earlier this year. He argues he’s well-positioned to win statewide because he’s demonstrated he can win over voters in a key swing area. He was elected three times to the state assembly and elected three times as Outagamie county executive, most recently in April. The county, which voted twice for Barack Obama, swung to Trump in 2016, along with the rest of the state.

That year, Nelson ran unsuccessfully for an open seat in Congress, losing to now-Rep. Mike Gallagher by more than 20 points.

For his part, Johnson, first elected in 2010, has not announced his 2022 intentions, refusing to rule out any of three scenarios: retirement, reelection or a potential run for governor against Democratic incumbent Tony Evers. When he last ran for reelection in 2016, Johnson said it would be his final term in the Senate — but he backtracked last year.

Even if they retain control of the Senate in next week’s elections, the 2022 cycle will be a challenging one for the GOP. Two swing-state Republican senators, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have already said they will retire in 2022 rather than run for reelection. Also on the ballot in two years are Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who will be 89 years old on Election Day 2022.

If he does seek a third term, Democrats view Johnson as vulnerable because of his steady loyalty to Trump and controversial remarks about the Covid crisis, including downplaying the severity of the virus, even as Wisconsin hospitalizations have soared.

“We have unfortunately been snookered into this mass hysteria that isn’t even close to the real risk,” Johnson said in recent remarks to Wisconsin business leaders. “And so we’ve shut down our economy. We’ve had this economic devastation.”

Democrats have also cast Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as hyper-partisan because of his role in releasing a conflict-of-interest report on Biden’s son, Hunter, and attempting to bring outsize attention on his business dealings overseas. Democrats have also hammered Johnson for comments he’s made about everything from outsourcing to calling media coverage of coronavirus “panic porn.” He also drew a rebuke from Dr. Anthony Fauci for comparing deaths caused by coronavirus to traffic accidents: “We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways,” Johnson remarked.

Since January, Johnson’s favorability numbers have hovered in the 30s, according to the Marquette Law School poll, under-performing Trump, Evers and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

“He has defended Donald Trump to the hilt,” Nelson added, predicting that would come back to haunt Johnson.

But Republicans point back to 2016, when Democrats predicted Johnson was headed for sure defeat, only to watch him overcome former Sen. Russ Feingold, the liberal icon he had ousted six years earlier.

“He’s been a dead man walking two times before, and it just never really sticks when it comes down to the ballot box,” says Brian Reisinger, a former Johnson adviser, also referencing Johnson’s 2010 victory. “He’s the sort of person that it becomes fashionable for the Democrats and for the national Beltway media to bash him because he sticks his neck out there.”

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Manchester Leaders Have Until 12pm To Accept The Government’s Coronavirus Deal Or Have Tier 3 Restrictions Imposed Unilaterally

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Regional leaders have until midday on Tuesday to accept the government’s deal (PA)

3 min read

Leaders in Greater Manchester have been issued an ultimatum to accept the government’s offer of coronavirus support by noon on Tuesday or have tier 3 restrictions imposed on them.

Writing to the region’s mayors and council leaders, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said that if the deadline was not met he would “advise the prime minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement.”

The letter was sent just hours after the most recent meeting with Manchester representatives ended without progress, marking the end of the 10th day of talks with the government.

It is understood that the prime minister will impose the strictest tier of coronavirus restrictions on the region later this week if an agreement is not reached by 12 pm on Tuesday. 

Mr Jenrick said local leaders had been “so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control”.

He continued: “The deteriorating public health situation in Greater Manchester means that we need to take action urgently. We have held discussions in good faith with local leaders for 10 days in order to ensure that the measures put in place were tailored to the local community.

“We have offered an extensive package of support for local people and businesses, proportionate to the approach we have taken in the Liverpool city region and Lancashire and in addition to the wider national support.”

He added that Great Manchester has been offered £22 million to support the area’s 2.8 million people throughout the additional measures, and ministers were “open” to discussing further support.

But the city’s mayor Andy Burnham accused the government of “trying to respond to a pandemic on the cheap.”

Many local officials have expressed frustration that the sum offered to Manchester is much less than other regions, with Lancashire and Merseyside getting £42 million and £44 million respectively despite having smaller local populations. 

Speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley, Mr Burnham said: “We’re in a crisis, and people need support in a crisis, but it does appear there’s been an abrupt change since the summer where it’s the opposite.”

Asked if he would oppose the restrictions were they imposed once the deadline passes, Mr Burnham said he would “accept that decision” as it was the “government’s prerogative”.

“But I would say to them at this point, are they sure that that is a wise thing to do because this isn’t just Greater Manchester’s problem,” he continued.

“Everywhere could end up in tier 3 over the winter and if they imposed tier 3 on places without providing that support… it will be the poorest people that will suffer the most as a result of that. 

“And I would say to them that the government will be at risk of losing what public support remains for the approach that they’re taking.”

But speaking on LBC, business minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The important thing is to focus on saving lives”. 

He said the government had been “negotiating in good faith for 10 days” but there were now fears that “there will be no ICU beds left in greater Manchester by the second week of November.”

He also confirmed to Sky News that “there’s more to come if [Andy Burnham] wants to negotiate”.

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