OPPOSITION party leaders will attend a UK Government coronavirus briefing this week, with the SNP set to call for more financial support to help people through the crisis.

Boris Johnson issued an invitation to the meeting yesterday, pledging he would listen to views and saying there was a “duty to work together” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford confirmed he would attend the meeting, saying it was a “welcome opportunity” to set out priorities to ensure people get the support they need.

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He said: “Alongside the health response, I will be pressing for action to fix the serious gaps in financial support.

“The SNP has consistently called for a comprehensive package including a guaranteed minimum income, strengthened welfare protections, urgent access to cash for businesses, and increased NHS and social care funding. I look forward to making the case for these measures.”

Blackford said that while the immediate priority would be securing support to help people get through the pandemic, it was also vital to “have an eye on the future”.

The National: Ian Blackford called for greater financial aidIan Blackford called for greater financial aid

He said: “This crisis has exposed the deep flaws in UK Government policy and inequality in society.

“The SNP will be making the case for enduring fundamental changes to ensure a strong recovery and build a fairer society that supports all our people.”

In the letter, the Prime Minister said coronavirus is the “biggest threat this county has faced in decades”.

He said: “As party leaders, we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency.

“Therefore, I would like to invite all leaders of opposition parties in Parliament to a briefing with myself, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser next week.

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“I want to listen to your views and update you on the measures we have taken so far, such as rapidly expanding testing and providing economic support to businesses and individuals across the country.”

The UK Government has been coming under increasing pressure over its handling of the crisis, including criticism for being slow to act on strict social distancing and failing to ramp up testing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week set out a “five-pillar plan” aimed at carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, adding every NHS worker who needed a test would be able to get one.

However doubt has been cast over whether this can be achieved, with health specialists saying they are currently “testing to the limit of our materials” and would only be able to increase capacity if given a “reliable supply” of equipment to do so.

A spokesman for the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) has flagged concerns over issues around reagents – a chemical needed to determine if a coronavirus test is positive or negative. He said: “There is a material supply issue with a worldwide shortage in reagent kits.

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“The supply of precision plastics that are used with the reagents are not due to be ready until mid-May.”

Meanwhile a pandemic modeller advising Number 10 has suggested the controversial idea of herd immunity – which the UK Government adopted as the initial response to the virus – may have to be reconsidered.

Professor Graham Medley warned lockdown measures are a “placeholder” and the UK has “painted itself into a corner” with no clear exit strategy from the Covid-19 crisis.

He said: “This disease is so nasty that we had to suppress it completely. Then we’ve kind of painted ourselves into a corner, because then the question will be, what do we do now?

“We will have done three weeks of this lockdown, so there’s a big decision coming up on April 13. In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?”

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