Coronavirus live blog: 14-20 March

Coronavirus: latest news (Getty Images)
Coronavirus: latest news (Getty Images)

Evening Standard to deliver to people's homes.

Friday 20 March

7pm: UK government to cover up to 80% of workers' wages – up to £2,500 a month 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that will offer up to 80% of the salary of retained workers, up to a total of £2,500 a month. Any employer in the country will be eligible for the scheme.

"That means workers in any part of the UK can retain their job, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them, and be paid at least 80% of their salary," Sunak said.

It was one of a raft of new emergency measures, including a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme that will be interest-free for 12 months and the deferral of the next quarter of VAT payments.

4.30pm: Evening Standard to begin home deliveries of newspaper

The Evening Standard will begin delivering hundreds of thousands of copies of the newspaper to people’s homes in 26 neighbourhoods in London from Monday.

It will also temporarily reduce the number of distributors at central travel points in anticipation of further travel restrictions, according to an email to staff by chief executive Mike Soutar. 

The title will also upweight volumes of copies distrbuted in retailers, where demand has increased. Soutar said the Standard would now be targeting 500,000 copies per day, "which we believe is an appropriate scale in the circumstances and is still considerably larger than anything else serving London’s readers. In the context of currently lower advertising volumes, it makes good economic sense too."

4pm: WhatsApp and NHS developing coronavirus chatbot

Facebook-owned instant-messaging platform WhatsApp is reportedly in discussions with the NHS about setting up a chatbot that will provide people with basic information about the coronavirus pandemic. It is understood that the move is part of an attempt to shed the reputation that WhatsApp is fuelling misinformation about the pandemic.  

Sources told The Guardian that the chatbot will be similar to the one that has been set up by the World Health Organization (see Thursday 2.30pm).

11.30am: Local newspapers team up to launch #ThereWithYou joint front page

The local news media sector has pulled together to reassure readers that their regional newspaper will support them through the challenges caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

Today, the co-ordinated campaign has seen the majority of daily local newspapers in the UK publish the same front page, headlined: "When you’re on your own, we are there with you."

The campaign is supported by the News Media Association, Newsworks and the Society of Editors.

10.30am: BT in talks with government about tracking mobile users' movements

BT is considering providing the government its location and mobile-usage data to help monitor coronavirus-limitation measures to ensure people are heeding government advice.

The data, from the BT and EE mobile networks, would be delayed for up to 24 hours and anonymised, but used to identify patterns such as whether people are staying away from pubs and restaurants.

A BT spokesman told The Guardian: "We are talking with the government about a number of areas in which we may be able to assist with the national public-health effort.

"In relation to the use of mobile data, we are still actively exploring possibilities. As always, we are mindful of the privacy of our customers, while making sure we do everything that might help the medical authorities in the fight against coronavirus."

7.30am: Marks & Spencer warns on revenues and cuts marketing spend

"It is too early to make any reasonable forecast for revenues in the next financial year, but we are planning on the basis of a prolonged downturn in demand for clothing and home," Marks & Spencer told shareholders, adding: "At this stage, we are not assuming a return-to-normal trading in the autumn."

M&S expects its food business "to trade profitably throughout" but is axing the dividend, deferring all pay increases and "reducing non-essential spending at all levels, freezing non-essential recruitment and reducing marketing spend".

Thursday 19 March

4pm: Creative directors offer helping hand to students

Nicola Wood and Andy Forrest, creative directors at Ogilvy UK, have offered to give online book crits to students while the agency's placement scheme and student workshops are on hold during the coronavirus outbreak. Their email addresses are: and

4pm: ITV posts strong viewing figures

ITV daytime shows have received a boost in ratings. This Morning reported a two-year high, while Loose Women posted a six-year high on Wednesday. 

Overall, between 6am and 5.59pm yesterday, the broadcaster attracted an average of 1.5 million viewers – a 20% share of the total audience watching TV at the time and the strongest performance for a Wednesday since Christmas Day 2013. 

3pm: Cadbury pulls latest ad

Cadbury has decided to pull its Easter ad, "High and low", in light of the latest government advice on social distancing.

In the spot, a grandfather lovingly hides Easter eggs around his flat in anticipation of his grandchildren's visit. On Twitter, Cadbury recognised that "it was no longer appropriate to encourage close physical contact amongst families". The brand added that it was looking to replace the film with something "mindful of the current climate".

2.30pm: WhatsApp unveils coronavirus information hub

WhatsApp has partnered the World Health Organization, Unicef and United Nations Development Programme to create a hub containing helpful and factually correct information about coronavirus.

The social platform has also launched hotlines that people can use to access information from the hub, such as how governments and businesses can communicate via WhatsApp as the pandemic continues.

1.45pm: Publicis Groupe cancels VivaTech conference

Viva Technology, the annual technology conference hosted by Publicis Groupe in Paris, has been cancelled. The event organisers said that the containment measures decreed by the national authorities in France now make it impossible to prepare and organise VivaTech for the planned dates of 11-13 June. 

12.30pm: Snapchat fast-tracks mental-health help feature

Snapchat is speeding up the launch of a tool to help users with mental-health issues. Today, it is expanding Here For You, a new feature that shows users resources from specialist partners when they search for certain topics related to mental health, including anxiety, depression, stress, suicidal thoughts, grief and bullying. It was due to roll out next month.

Launch partners include YoungMinds, Samaritans and The Diana Award in the UK, and Active Minds, Because of You, Crisis Text Line and Seize the Awkward in the US. Snapchat plans to add more local partners in other markets globally.

To help combat the spread of Covid-19, Snapchat's Bitmoji team has also created a sticker pack with educational messages including "Stay home if you are feeling sick", "Don’t touch your face" and "Wash your hands" (pictured, above).

11am: Bompas & Parr launches sanitiser pump design competition

Bompas & Parr has launched a design competition to drive innovation in the midst of the coronavirus. Creatives of all ages are being asked to redesign sanitiser pumps, with the winning applications exhibited at the Design Museum and auctioned by Christie’s.

10.30am: IPA welcomes delay to reform of rules governing freelance workers

As part of a series of measures designed to support businesses battling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced on Tuesday that it would delay the introduction of changes to IR35, the regulation that governs off-payroll working rules in the private sector, by a year until 6 April 2021.

David Clasen, finance director at the IPA, welcomed the move, saying: "The IPA has been campaigning for better execution of this reform and, whilst we still have reservations about the details, in particular the operation of the CEST [checking employment status for tax] tool, we welcome this postponement." The IPA submitted a response to the then-proposed reform in June 2019.

The change is intended to combat tax avoidance by "disguised employees" – people who in effect have permanent jobs at companies, but charge for their services through a limited company rather than being on the payroll. But it could pose challenges for any company working with freelancers on a regular basis.

Last month, chancellor Rishi Sunak responded to business concerns about the change by promising that HM Revenue & Customs would avoid "heavy handed" enforcement in the first year. But it has now gone a step further, recognising that it is not the time to place extra regulatory burden on businesses facing serious challenges.

10am: Euro 2020 sponsors hold fire on alternative marketing plans

Four out of nine sponsors involved in Euro 2020 have given their support to the decision made by Uefa on Tuesday to postpone the tournament until next summer – but have not given any information on how the change would affect their marketing activity this year, reflecting the rapid development of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe. 

A spokeswoman for Dutch food-delivery company, a tournament sponsor along with Coca-Cola and Heineken, said it would now "focus on how we can adapt our current plans to make next year’s championships a success. What exactly that would be, or our immediate marketing plans following the decision, we are not in a position to discuss yet."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Heineken commented that the brand looked forward to "supporting the competition and giving fans the best experience once a new schedule has been agreed. In the meantime, we hope everyone remains safe and look forward to engaging with football fans in Europe and the rest of the world in the future."

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said: "We look forward to working with Uefa to create a successful event next year."

A spokesman for – one of six Uefa national team sponsors – expressed gratitude to front-line staff fighting the spread of the virus, adding: "We hope the world can come together to overcome the outbreak soon and we look forward to meeting you at Euro 2021."

Campaign has also contacted the other five sponsors:, FedEx, Hisense, Socar and Volkswagen. 

Wednesday 18 March

6pm: Government releases ads featuring Mark Strong and Chris Whitty

The government’s latest coronavirus ads will be released tomorrow morning (19 March) featuring a voiceover from actor Mark Strong. The TV spot shows chief medical officer Chris Whitty explaining government guidance that anyone with coronavirus symptoms should self-isolate for seven days and any others in the household must self-isolate for 14 days from the same time. The work was created by MullenLowe Group.

3:30pm: ITV cuts output of Corrie and Emmerdale

ITV has announced that it will half the frequency of Coronation Street – with all 8:30pm episodes scrapped. Emmerdale, meanwhile, will no longer have an extra episode on Thursdays.  

1pm: Cannes Lions officially postpones until October

Cannes Lions is moving the event to 26 to 30 October as part of its previously announced contingency plans.

The decision to postpone from 22 to 26 June "comes following much deliberation with our partners and customers, as well as, consultation with public health officials, the mayoral office of Cannes and the French Authorities", Cannes Lions said in a statement.

"We acknowledge the challenging circumstances facing us all as a community - we have and continue to be in deep consultation with many of our customers and partners as we adopt our contingency plans. The health, safety and wellbeing of our customers, employees, sponsors and partners remains our first priority," it added.

Read more here:

11.30am: Adobe offers free Creative Cloud

Adobe is offering 60 days free use of its Creative Cloud software to make working from home easier (and cheaper) during global self-isolation measures. The move has been largely welcomed by creatives, such as director Christian Gideon, who is sharing the tip on social media.

11am: Glastonbury announces festival cancellation

Glastonbury has announced that it will be cancelling its 50th-anniversary event due to coronavirus. The decision was taken following government advice instructing people to avoid mass gatherings. The news on Glastonbury is available in full here.

10.30am: Advertising Association welcomes government action to support struggling businesses

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled plans to implement government-backed loans of £330bn for small and medium-sized enterprises, in light of the "economic emergency" caused by coronavirus.

The government also intends to invest £20bn in other aid, as well as a business rates holiday and grants for retailers and pubs. Sunak claimed support for airlines is also being considered, alongside the promise that the government would go further if the package is "not enough".

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, released a statement hailing the announcement of government-backed loans for SMEs throughout the industry. He said: "We welcome the business support measures announced that should help keep people employed and businesses functioning during this unprecedented period of economic and social disruption."

9.30am: Amazon blocks non-essential goods to warehouses

Amazon has announced it has temporarily blocked shipments of all non-essential items to its warehouses across Europe and the US. The block is set to last until at least 5 April and goods already in warehouses will be handled as normal. 

An Amazon spokesperson told the Independent: "We are temporarily prioritising household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into our fulfilment centres so we can more quickly receive, restock and ship these products to customers.

"We understand this is a change for our selling partners and appreciate their understanding."

9am: Sorrell's S4 Capital sees 'no significant impact' yet from coronavirus

Sir Martin Sorrell's "new age/new era" digital marketing services group, S4 Capital, told investors that it is "not seeing any material impact from coronavirus" yet. 

"Our Chinese operations, which are small in the context of our overall operations, were closed most of February, but have now reopened. There have been some limited ripple effects in Europe and the United States, and some offices have recently been working from home, as a precaution, with remote working technology, which digital industries are well-versed in," S4 Capital said.

"As it is difficult to assess the impact of the crisis on our business, we will update the market appropriately."

Tuesday 17 March

6pm: Cinema media owners respond to 'unpredecented' shutdown

Karen Stacey, chief executive of Digital Cinema Media, has said that it will be "temporarily pausing its advertising services until further notice" following news that cinema chains are closing their sites across the UK because of government advice.

"We are providing advertisers with flexible opportunities, including the option of a full refund or to defer their budget to when cinemas reopen, with no penalties incurred," Stacey said, describing the shutdown as "unprecedented".

Meanwhile, Pearl & Dean chief executive Kathryn Jacob told Campaign that it was offering credit notes to advertisers that have booked campaigns and is dealing with brands on a case-by-case basis.

3pm: Diageo and HSBC make account moves despite coronavirus

Diageo appointed PHD and Omnicom Media Group to run its global media planning and buying account in most markets and HSBC consolidated its global advertising account with WPP as lead agency partner, Campaign revealed.

You can read more about Diageo here, while the full story on HSBC can be found here.

2pm: Euro 2020 postponed until 2021

Broadcasters, including ITV, and sponsors are facing a one-year delay to the football tournament. What does it mean for brands?

12pm: UK experiential industry reveals £15.4m losses

Leading brand experience agencies in the UK have valued the amount of business that has been scrapped to date due to coronavirus at £15.4m, a snap poll by Campaign has found. It also revealed that more than 200 activations have been cancelled since January. 

11:40am: British Arrows decides show must not go on

The 44th British Arrows Awards has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The event, which was set to take place on 31 March, has been rescheduled to 16 July. All tickets will be transferred to the new date.

11am: Reddit co-founder buys New York billboards urging people to stay home

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has bought billboards in New York's Times Square urging the public to stay at home. They read: "Staying home means saving lives, flatten the curve." The bottom of the boards also read #flattenthecurve, referencing the epidemic curve that is commonly used to visualise pandemics such as Covid-19. A flatter curve means a slower spread of the virus, improving the ability of healthcare systems to treat people as they become ill.

11am: $2.5bn of new business could be hit

Campaign quizzed leaders at 11 intermediaries and gleaned a largely consistent picture of the new-business market, which due to Covid-19 has necessitated a reformatting of the traditional meeting model and a shift towards video-conferencing.

However, intermediaries have reported that one major review might not go ahead, another has been postponed and one has been cancelled, totalling $2.5bn. 

11am: Havas CEO reassures staff in internal memo

Yannick Balloré, chief executive of Havas, reassured employees concerned about the unknown impact of Covid-19 that the business was financially strong and would get through the disruption, in an internal email sent yesterday.

He wrote: "I know that you’ve likely read about the deep economic impact of Covid-19 as well. I want you to know that Havas is a solid group with a strong financial position, and I am confident we have everything we need to get through this.

"My confidence starts with each of you. As I think about all the people around the world who make up the Havas Group, I know that we can step forward in strength, together as a family, and that we will be better on the other side of this situation."

10.30am: Campaign readers expect serious hit to ad market

Campaign readers are pessimistic about the prospects for the UK advertising market in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than half of those participating in an online poll saying the market would decline by at least 20% over the next six months.

Of the 831 registered users of the Campaign website who took part in the survey, just over a third (34.2%) said the hit to the ad market would be greater than 20%, while a further 15.9% expected a fall of around 20%.

10.30am: Share prices edge up slightly at market open

WPP, Publicis Groupe and ITV's share prices edged up slightly when stock markets opened this morning but have been gradually falling again. 

WPP opened at 521.20p this morning after closing at 498.10p, Publicis Groupe was €23.81 earlier today compared with €22.98 and ITV opened at 76.62p after closing at 73.96p.

9am: Haymarket Media Group latest publisher to request WFH

The owner of Campaign has advised all UK and US employees to work from home until the end of the week after successful business continuity tests that are being assessed and monitored daily to ensure the business runs effectively and efficiently.

Kevin Costello, global chief executive of Haymarket Media Group, said: "After successfully testing our business continuity plans, we have made the decision to ask all our UK employees to work from home until the end of the week. Our US offices were also closed with immediate effect from on Monday until further notice.

"As an international business, we have been managing Covid-19-related issues since early this year and we will continue to pull on the experience of our colleagues in Asia, who have faced the challenges we are now experiencing in the UK and US.

"Given the fast-evolving and fluid nature of this situation, we will continue to assess and monitor our plans and will be informing our people of any ongoing measures on Thursday. Clearly at this challenging time, the welfare of our employees is paramount and we are therefore closely following the guidance of the government and local authorities in all of our locations. Nonetheless, we will continue to fully serve our client and audience needs alike."

8.30am: ITV staff at Grays Inn Road work remotely after employee contracts virus

Staff at the office on the third floor have been asked to stay away. ITV's marketing and creative teams are among the employees who work there. 

A spokesman for ITV said: "Our priority is the well-being and safety of all our people and everyone who works with us on our shows and across our business.

"We are in a developing and dynamic situation, so we’re complying with the guidance from Public Health England and the World Health Organization to make sure we keep everyone as safe and secure as possible."

Monday 16 March

4pm: SCA closes school but will provide online classes and freelancer support

The School of Communication Arts 2.0 is temporarily closing its studio to students but will move all of its learning online.

The school is also planning to create opportunities for freelancers who may be struggling financially, allowing them to give masterclasses on its platforms, with all proceeds from ticket sales given to the individual. It is running a survey to find potential speakers.

Faculty members will be asked to work from home on their usual days, but will instead conduct their student mentoring online.

The SCA’s plans are available to view in full here.

2pm: Hearst UK staff work from home until end of March 

The publisher of Good Housekeeping, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan conducted a two-day rehearsal at the end of last week to prepare the business to work from home. 

James Wildman, chief executive of UK and president of Europe at Hearst, said: "The health and safety of our people and their families is our number-one priority. Therefore, we have strongly recommended employees to work from home for the remainder of March 2020 in light of the current situation.

"Having a two-day trial has allowed us to effectively test our business-continuity plans, ensuring that the business can run efficiently during this period. Hearst UK will continue to fully service both consumers and clients throughout this period.

"We continue to adhere to Public Health England’s advice and are monitoring all developments carefully."

1pm: Ascential sends staff home

Ascential, the company behind Cannes Lions and Warc, has now instructed staff to stay at home for a four-week period.

In a statement, the company said: "Ascential has advised all our people to work from home for a period of four weeks as a response to the current Covid-19 outbreak. We have clear processes in place to manage any potential disruption, including contingencies for our people, workplaces, platforms/technology and supporting services. 

"As a company that fully embraces flexible and remote working, this change of ways of working will mean that we remain fully operational. We have also updated our travel policies and health advice, in line with World Health Organization and to reflect local government guidelines."

11.30am: Facebook announces match-funding to support Covid-19 relief efforts

Facebook will match $20m (£16.3m) in donations towards Covid-19 efforts, with half of this for the United Nations Foundation and World Health Organization’s newly established Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, and half for the US-based CDC Foundation. Founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the move in a post on Friday afternoon.

11am: Arthur Sadoun says agencies must evolve to help clients

Publicis Groupe chairman and chief executive Arthur Sadoun has used a video message to urge staff to adopt a new approach to supporting clients faced with the impact of Covid-19.

In the video, Sadoun thanked Publicis employees for their "time, patience and solidarity" and said that "now, more than ever, we need to stay close to our clients and their business, even if we can’t be with them in person".

10.30am: Cheil UK introduces working from home

Cheil UK has become the latest agency to send staff home to work "in the interests of employee and client safety".

Peter Zillig, the agency’s chief executive, said that the policy was introduced as of today. He added: "This will initially be for one week only and we will evaluate the situation at the end of next week to decide whether to extend this working-from-home period. This is a proactive step to protect employees and the business.

"In the meantime it is business as usual, and we will keep our clients and partners informed of further changes or extension to this period."

10.15am: Microsoft Teams crashes following surge in demand

Microsoft’s chat and communications tool, Microsoft Teams, has gone down across Europe as it struggles to cope with a massive spike in demand as more office staff are sent home.

According to a tweet by Microsoft 365 Status, the tech giant is investigating the functionality problems.

10am: Supermarkets run ads asking customers not to panic-buy

UK supermarkets have joined forces to run an ad urging shoppers to stop bulk-buying staple goods and show consideration for others.

The letter, which appeared in national newspapers today and will run into next week, also tries to reassure consumers about efforts retailers are taking to lessen the impact of Covid-19 on supply.

It thanks staff and adds: "But we need your help too. We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop. We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without. There is enough for everyone if we all work together."

9.30am: Time Out closes five markets as ad campaign delay sets in

Time Out Group has closed five of its overseas markets in Portugal and the US in response to local government guidelines and suspended ad campaigns.

In a statement, the listings magazine publisher said it was only "in very recent days that we have observed any change in footfall to the Time Out markets and delays to advertising campaigns".

Meanwhile, with a refreshing dose of humour during these po-faced times, the group has changed its London logo to Time In and highlighted how the UK capital has "faced far worse than" the coronavirus.

"As you know, usually all we do is bang on about how great it is to go out," it said in a statement on its website. "Judging from the half-empty restaurants and deserted pubs, however, leaving the house might not be on everyone's agenda at the minute."

Sunday 15 March

9.30pm: Omnicom says 'only essential staff' to go into office

Omnicom CEO John Wren sent an email to the holding company’s 70,000 employees stating that it will be moving to a global work-from-home policy from Monday.

The group has told staff of "marked improvements in China and Singapore, with teams starting to get back to business as usual". 

Wren stressed that essential staff only are to go into the office – and they must "maintain the recommended social distance".

Part of the memo reads: "We are asking for the support of our agency leaders to make certain our people work remotely and only essential staff go into the office. If you have not done so already, please ensure in the next day or so that you collect what you need to work from home. In addition, we are encouraging all of you to follow the guidance of national, local and city regulatory authorities."

1pm: Gov uses TV ads for second phase of public information campaign

The government has launched the next phase of its coronavirus public information campaign with a series of TV ads featuring chief medical officer Chris Whitty urging people displaying symptoms to stay at home.

With a voiceover by actor Mark Strong, the work by MullenLowe Group builds on current activity, which stresses the importance for people to wash their hands. This latest stage comes as the government shifts comms into the "delay" phase of its action plan, which is aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

Ads are also appearing across newspapers, magazines, radio, online, via social and on out-of-home.

More details are available here.

Saturday 14 March

8.30pm: All WPP staff to work from home where possible

Every WPP employee around the world has been asked to work from home "wherever possible" in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

In an internal memo sent to the holding company's more than 100,000 global staff on Saturday, chief executive Mark Read said offices will remain open for business subject to local government policy, but it "will take action to greatly reduce the density of people in our buildings and the amount of travel to and from work".

WPP has also escalated restrictions on business travel. Going forward and until further notice, there is no domestic and international business air travel without permission from agency chief executives. "Unless in truly exceptional circumstances, that permission should be denied," Read said.

See more here.

7am: Apple shuts all its stores outside China for two weeks

Apple is to shut all of its retail stores outside Greater China until 27 March. Tim Cook, the chief executive, said one of the "lessons" of the coronavirus outbreak in China, where Apple's stores have reopened, "is that the most effective way to minimise risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximise social distance".

Apple's employees "should work remotely if their job allows" and "all of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations" during the store closures, according to Cook. 

He added that "there is no mistaking the challenge of this moment" for society and warned that "we do not yet know with certainty when the greatest risk will be behind us".

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