House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
Written by Katie Stanton, associate partner
Edited by Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie, associate partner
28 July 2020
The masks are here to stay.
I realised this quite suddenly while on my way from Scotland to London on Sunday, during a stop at Tebay services – one of those delightful farm shop affairs, almost smug in its offering which, as it goes, is far superior to the usual lukewarm Big Mac and assorted travel pillows flung in a wire cage.
As you can imagine, some of the clientele is similarly haughty, dripping in Cath Kidston, guzzling homemade sausage rolls, and frantically trying to corral Labradors into Land Rovers following daredevil toilet trips to the grassy verge off the slip-road.
They are certainly not all ‘Karens’, but they do have matching floral facemasks and they will probably not hesitate to talk to a manager should they need to.
So, when The Maskless Man sauntered into the cathedral-like cocoon that is Tebay services, junction 38, M6, on Sunday morning, you can imagine the scene. Eyes glowered, home-made pies smashed to the floor and jaws hung agape (probably) as his mouth, no doubt dirty and diseased, roamed free about the place. He was the outcast; us masked folk the righteous.
This was surprising to me. Yes, Scotland has been at this for a while, but when I left England a couple of weeks ago, mask wearers were scoffed at. They were nervous Nellies and neurotic Nigels, the politically-correct-gone-mad to be dismissed along with survivalists and doomsday preppers.
We have undergone a seismic societal shift in perception. All of a sudden, formally indignant southerners are kowtowing to the man. And good – I think having to smell your own breath all day is an unfortunate but worthy sacrifice to keep us healthy and avoid a second lockdown.
Still, I haven’t yet mastered the mask. It’s steamy, claustrophobic and I am seriously regretting getting a new phone with facial recognition. Worse still, I’ve been thinking: what will become of our Big Brother state? How will they monitor us from beneath three sheets of assembled gauze?
A couple of taps into a search engine later and low and behold, they are worried. US federal agencies say that masks worn to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 could be restricting the effectiveness of facial recognition technology. This is a particularly hot topic as governments look to implement increased surveillance as a means of protecting public health in the future.
My first thought: see-through masks. Alas, apparently the technology companies are ahead of me and developing updates now to identify a person using only their eye area. This seems a slicker alternative, although the extent to which increased monitoring will decrease civil liberties is a question for the coming months, particularly as discontent grows around systemic racial inequality and protests continue across the west.
Hopefully, this pandemic will give our leaders an opportunity to re-evaluate these important questions. For now, I am ordering a roomier facemask and planning a staycation at Tebay’s sister service station in Gloucester.
The UK government decision to impose a two-week quarantine on everyone arriving from Spain was “unjust”, the country’s prime minister has said. Pedro Sánchez said British tourists in most Spanish regions would face a greater threat of coronavirus back home.
Meanwhile, holidaymakers have been warned that “no travel is risk-free” as concern grows that quarantine rules could be expanded to other countries. At least 11 European countries, where quarantine-free travel is possible, have suffered an increase in Covid-19 infections in recent days, with Croatia and Belgium registering twice as many cases per head as Britain in the past fortnight. (£)
Senate Republicans have unveiled a White House-backed plan for $1tn in new stimulus that would cut emergency unemployment benefits by two-thirds. The US relief package comes after weeks of hesitation by conservatives wary of increased public spending. Democrats in the House of Representatives said the Republican proposal fell short of what is needed.
Business and economy
AstraZeneca has agreed a deal worth as much as £4.7bn with a Japanese drug company to develop and market a potential new cancer treatment. The pharmaceutical giant said it would pay $1bn upfront to its partner, Daiichi Sankyo, in what is the latest of a series of bets on oncology treatments.
UK ministers are drawing up plans to extend the Help to Buy property support scheme beyond its December deadline to prevent buyers losing out due to Covid-19 delays. (£)
Gold has hit a record high as increasing numbers of nervous investors sought a safe place to put their money. The price of the precious metal increased as much as two per cent this morning in Asia, before shedding much of that gain. Viewed by investors as a safe haven during times of uncertainty, gold has risen by more than 30% to date, making it one of the best-performing mainstream assets in 2020.
Columns of note
Ed Caesar investigates the underground German bunker that became home to a dark-web empire beloved by cybercriminals in the New Yorker. (£)
Writing in The Guardian, James Millward argues that the Uighurs’ suffering deserves targeted solutions, rather than anti-Chinese posturing from leading powers, or risk genocide in Xinjiang and a new cold war.
What happened yesterday?
It was a lacklustre session for stocks across Europe yesterday, with the FTSE edging 0.2% lower at 6,111.50, while the FTSE 250 dropped 0.41% to 17,194.29.
Germany’s DAX finished slightly higher, but France’s CAC was down 0.24% and Spain’s IBEX closed 2.01% lower as quarantine fears keep investors cautious, particularly around travel stocks.
In company news:
Ryanair plunged to a €185m loss in what bosses said was its toughest quarter for more than three decades, following the collapse in global air travel. A second wave of coronavirus cases in Europe could delay any hope of recovery until next year, the firm said. (£)
LVMH’s operating profit dived 68% in the first half of the year even as the world’s biggest luxury group slashed spending on store leases, hiring and advertising to cope with the pandemic. (£)
What’s happening today?
St James’s Place
1 Spatial Holdings, BlackRock Smaller Companies Trust Plc, Byblos S, Codemasters Gr., Irish Cont.t, Mitie, Polar C. Hldgs, Strategic Minerals, Syncona, Uls Tech, Vodafone, Wizz Air
Int. Economic announcements
(15:00) Consumer Confidence (US)
80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds and 93% can pass through an umbrella.
House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
House of Lords
Impact of a New Deal for Britain announced by the Prime Minister on the economy and on the spread of Covid-19 – Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Government plans for further devolution of power and decision-making in England – Lord Shipley
Current balance of trade with Russia – Lord Rooker
Measuring the impact on communities of any further relaxation of planning rules, and any increase in permitted development rights – Baroness Thornhill
Agriculture Bill – Committee stage (day seven) – Lord Gardiner of Kimble
In recess until 10 August (with the exception of 30 July and 6 August 2020, on which dates business may be programmed by the bureau)