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Morning briefing: Council rebels against government schools plan

Good morning.

The Labour-run council in Bury has become the first local authority in England to declare that primary schools in its area will not open on 1 June, regardless of government guidance. Other local leaders across the north have criticised the government’s plan, including in Liverpool and Hartlepool, but Bury’s combative stance is the strongest yet.

“We recognise the importance of schools re-opening, not only in terms of education, but for social and emotional reasons, especially for the most vulnerable children… But this needs to be done with the safety of school communities at front and centre,” the council said. The leader of the Tory group in Bury says the move is a political ploy – but with opposition from both unions and local authorities mounting, the government will have to respond if it wants schools across the country to fall in line.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics released this morning showed that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits soared by 856,000 in April to just under 2.1 million. It’s the single biggest monthly jump on record, and means the claimant count is now at its highest level since 1996. Official unemployment figures for January to March showed a more modest increase of 50,000, to 1.35 million, but only cover the first week of lockdown.

The government is in “active discussions” to create so-called “air bridges” with other countries that would allow free travel back and forth over the summer, possibly without any quarantine period. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the government was considering the reciprocal measure with countries that have a low viral reproduction rate.

Finally, the Guardian reports that vulnerable workers will not be exempt from the scaling back of the government’s furlough grant scheme from August. Chancellor Rishi Sunak favours a universal approach to paring back the scheme, rather than creating specific rules for different sectors of the economy, the paper reports.

Tune into the New Statesman’s live blog at 10:30am for rolling coverage of the health and social care select committee, where leaders from the care sector will be giving evidence on the management of the coronavirus outbreak.

Global updates:

US: President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cut funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO) unless the United Nations body makes major reforms and shows independence from China within 30 days. Trump also said that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that is unproven against Covid-19 and may cause heart problems, as a precaution.

Taiwan: Taipei yesterday pulled the country’s bid to become a member of the WHO, saying a two-day convention of the body’s assembly should be used to debate the pandemic response. It will table its bid at a later date.

New Zealand: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is considering giving New Zealanders an extra public holiday to boost domestic tourism. “My message to Kiwis is, come and experience your own backyard,” she said.

Brazil: Brazil has overtaken the UK in coronavirus cases, with more than 255,000 confirmed infections. It now has the third highest case load in the world, behind Russia and the US.

Europe: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have joined forces to call for a €500bn (£448bn) fund for European Union countries hardest hit by Covid-19. The European Commission would borrow money from the markets and hand out cash as grants, gradually repaying debt from the EU’s budget, they said. It marks a change of heart for Merkel, who previously opposed the idea of shared European debt.

Turkey: Turkey will impose a four-day lockdown starting on Saturday, covering the Islamic religious holiday Eid al-Fitr, during which large groups typically gather. It’s the country’s most severe restrictions since the start of the pandemic.

Read more on the New Statesman:

The government is taking a necessary gamble on the Oxford vaccine

Coronavirus makes the Immigration Bill look like an even worse idea

Why Covid-19 should change the conversation on migrant workers
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