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Boris Johnson is set to give go-ahead for Australia-style quarantine

British holidaymakers returning home won’t escape an order to quarantine in airport hotels – signalling the death knell for summer getaways.

Ministers are finalising plans to force travellers to isolate for ten days as soon as they enter Britain, with details to be decided tomorrow.

Boris Johnson had wanted to exempt British residents and only target those arriving from places where new strains of the virus have been detected.

But Cabinet sources last night said they expect the Prime Minister to sign off on a comprehensive proposal – modelled on Australia – that will see all arrivals sent to airport hotels, regardless of their nationality and where they have come from.

It means people who live in Britain will face having to pay extra, on top of the cost of their trip, to spend their quarantine period in a hotel patrolled by security guards. 

Any new restrictions would be a further blow to the beleaguered travel industry – and could spark chaos at airports already battling through new arrivals checks. 

Queues of people were seen waiting to clear passport control on Friday and Saturday while Border Force agents checked each person’s locator form and negative PCR test.

In another Covid news day: 

  • The UK reported a further 30,004 Covid cases, down almost a quarter on last Sunday, and 610 more deaths today; 
  • It was another record day for vaccinations with 491,970 first doses and 1,043 second doses; 
  • Mr Hancock revealed that as of this morning three quarters of the over-80s have been vaccinated;
  • The UK has detected 77 cases of the South African variant of Covid and nine cases of one of the Brazilian variants; 
  • Nicola Sturgeon faces fury for ramping up her independence drive during the pandemic as she threatened to hold a referendum without Boris Johnson’s agreement – and SNP MPs said they are ‘focused on undermining the union’; 
  • Nursing leaders have called for higher-grade face masks to be given to staff to protect them against highly transmissible strains of coronavirus. 

British holidaymakers will be forced to isolate for ten days as soon as they enter Britain under new plans being drafted by ministers. Pictured: Passengers wait in queues at Heathrow Airport

Boris Johnson had wanted to exempt British residents but Cabinet sources last night said they expect the Prime Minister to sign off on a comprehensive proposal

Boris Johnson had wanted to exempt British residents but Cabinet sources last night said they expect the Prime Minister to sign off on a comprehensive proposal

The UK has recorded another 30,004 Covid cases, down almost a quarter on last Sunday, and a further 610 deaths today

But with some 97,939 deaths now recorded Britain is set to hit the grim milestone of 100,000 lives lost since the start of the pandemic. It will be the fifth country to do so after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

Blasting the hotel quarantine move, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel company The PC Agency, told the Mail: ‘This is destroying confidence among holidaymakers. 

‘People are not booking summer holidays because they don’t believe there is an end game which will see these blanket measures removed.

‘This is a sure-fire way of destroying Britain’s aviation and travel industries.’

It came as Matt Hancock ramped up the Cabinet war over border restrictions last night as he suggested a blanket ban on all arrivals may still be needed.

The Health Secretary warned it is ‘absolutely critical’ Britain is protected from new mutant strains of the virus that might not respond to the vaccine.

Mr Hancock, who is one of the ministers who has been pushing for stronger measures, yesterday said that all 77 cases of the South African coronavirus variant detected in the UK have been linked to travellers. 

There was also another record-breaking day for vaccinations, with a further 491,970 people have their first dose, bringing the total up to 6.3million. The government have set a target of just under 14million jabs by mid-February

There was also another record-breaking day for vaccinations, with a further 491,970 people have their first dose, bringing the total up to 6.3million. The government have set a target of just under 14million jabs by mid-February

The plans will see all arrivals sent to airport hotels, regardless of their nationality and where they have come from. Pictured: Beach goers enjoy the sunshine at Nova Icaria beach in Barcelona amid the coronavirus pandemic

The plans will see all arrivals sent to airport hotels, regardless of their nationality and where they have come from. Pictured: Beach goers enjoy the sunshine at Nova Icaria beach in Barcelona amid the coronavirus pandemic

Matt Hancock warned it was 'absolutely critical' Britain was protected from new mutant strains of the virus

Matt Hancock warned it was ‘absolutely critical’ Britain was protected from new mutant strains of the virus

A further nine cases of the Brazilian variant have also been picked up here but, again, none were linked to community transmission. 

The Health Secretary said the new strains ‘I really worry about’ are the ones that have not yet been spotted, as he suggested measures targeted only at people arriving from specific areas would not be enough.

Ravers fined thousands over illegal bashes

Hundreds of partygoers were fined at the weekend after hiding in closets and even a tent in a bid to escape officers.

Scotland Yard handed out more than £15,000 in fines after 300 people were caught breaking Covid rules at an east London rave underneath a railway arch at 1.30am yesterday. 

Organisers had padlocked doors from the inside to prevent officers gaining entry, with dozens scaling fences to dodge police.

A total of 78 people were issued with £200 fixed penalty notices for attending the illegal gathering. 

It comes after the Met revealed on Saturday that two officers were injured as they broke up a 200-strong party in Beauchamp Place near Harrods at about 3.30am on January 1.

In Birmingham, police found revellers in cupboards when they broke up a party attended by over 50 students on Friday. And Lincolnshire Police fined eight campers from different households partying in a one-man tent in Woodhall Spa.

Asked whether there should be an absolute blanket ban on people coming into this country, Mr Hancock told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘We have got to have a precautionary principle. 

‘We’ve introduced pre-departure testing… but it is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a new variant that may not be as well dealt with by the vaccine. We cannot risk the progress that we’ve made.’

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he added: ‘The argument has changed and the conversation around borders has changed because of two things. 

‘One, the new variants and two, the success of the vaccine rollout programme, which means that we cannot put all of this progress at risk.’

Mr Hancock suggested that the public would not be issued with vaccine passports for use at home, but appeared to concede that they may be needed in future for overseas travel.  

Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said yesterday that Labour had been ‘pushing the Government to take tougher measures at the border since last spring’. 

She told Marr: ‘Scientists tell us that there are a number of countries where these strains are emerging that just simply do not have the capacity to map what is happening.’

A poll of 1,109 adults by Opinium on behalf of campaign group One Rule For Them last night showed 79 per cent think there should have been stricter border controls far earlier. 

Ministers hope the new move will improve compliance with existing quarantine rules. 

In a bid to tighten up restrictions, everyone arriving in the UK must have a negative PCR test and a completed passenger locator form.

But checking the required documents has caused huge delays at passport control – with hundreds of travellers – including children and the elderly – waiting in lines.

Witnesses said the queues took at least an hour to clear on Saturday as Border Force made their checks.  

The Home Office has insisted they have ‘the necessary staff’ needed to get through the hoards of passengers – and claim it is ‘ultimately up to individual airports to ensure social distancing on site.’

Travellers returning to the UK have blasted long queues (pictured on Saturday) at Heathrow passport control as the airport claims it 'isn't possible' for people to socially distance in its terminals

Travellers returning to the UK have blasted long queues (pictured on Saturday) at Heathrow passport control as the airport claims it ‘isn’t possible’ for people to socially distance in its terminals

But Heathrow Airport said Border Force are responsible for the checks, and claim ‘social distancing in an airport environment isn’t really possible’. 

Sharing a picture of the queues at Heathrow Airport on Saturday, Rav wrote: ‘I’m predicting a good hour to get through the UK Border at Heathrow this morning. E-gates offline, presumably for Covid tests and passenger locator form checks.’

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis also shared a picture of the busy passport control area in Heathrow Airport- which she later deleted.

The caption read: ‘200 plus British passport holders queuing to get home (in constricted space).’ 

Shocking images shared to social media on Saturday showed hundreds of travellers - including children and the elderly - waiting in lines

Shocking images shared to social media on Saturday showed hundreds of travellers – including children and the elderly – waiting in lines

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis shared a picture of the busy passport control area in Heathrow Airport (pictured) - which she later deleted

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis shared a picture of the busy passport control area in Heathrow Airport (pictured) – which she later deleted

The caption read: '200 plus British passport holders queuing to get home (in constricted space)'

The caption read: ‘200 plus British passport holders queuing to get home (in constricted space)’

In response to mounting concern over the large queues, a Heathrow Airport spokesperson told Sky News: ‘We’ve been clear since last May that social distancing in an airport environment isn’t really possible.

‘To put that in context, if you had one aircraft of let’s say 300 people, you’d need a queue about 1km long to socially distance just one aircraft, which is why last summer we mandated face coverings in the airport.’

A Government spokesperson earlier said: ‘We are in a national lockdown to protect the NHS and save lives. People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary. 

The social media star, who runs 'Shape Up With Sher' in Sunderland, has been sharing glamorous, sunshine-filled content with her Instagram followers as she enjoyed relaxed restrictions in the United Arab Emirates

The social media star, who runs ‘Shape Up With Sher’ in Sunderland, has been sharing glamorous, sunshine-filled content with her Instagram followers as she enjoyed relaxed restrictions in the United Arab Emirates

‘You must have proof of a negative test and a completed passenger locator form before arriving. 

‘Border Force have been ramping up enforcement and those not complying could be fined £500.

‘It’s ultimately up to individual airports to ensure social distancing on site.’ 

Heathrow said that ‘Border Force is currently experiencing some delays’ getting through the passenger checks, and the airport has measures to remind people of what rules are in place.

The Health Secretary today blasted holidaymakers for having  ‘parties in Paris’ and ‘weekends in Dubai’ amid the UK’s Covid-19 international travel ban.

On Sunday, he reinforced the Government’s rule that international travel should not be happening unless it was ‘absolutely necessary’.

Many UK celebrities and social media stars have descended on Dubai and the Caribbean over recent months, escaping stringent lockdown measures at home, with many maintaining their trips were for business purposes. 

Speaking on the BBC yesterday, Mr Hancock reiterated: ‘International travel, right now, should not be happening unless it’s absolutely necessary.

‘No parties in Paris or weekends in Dubai. That is not on and in most cases it’s against the law.’

Mr Hancock gave a ‘medical emergency’ as one example where travelling abroad would be deemed acceptable.

He quickly added: ‘Although frankly, with the NHS, you’ve got the best medical services you can possibly have in the world, right here in Britain.’

But a fitness influencer who escaped the third lockdown to work in Dubai hit back at those who have slammed other social media stars for doing the same. 

A fitness influencer who escaped the third lockdown to work in Dubai has hit back at those who have slammed other social media stars for doing the same. 

Personal trainer Sheridan Mordew, 24, from Sunderland, arrived in Dubai on January 2, just a few days before the third national lockdown, and planned to film live workouts to inspire her clients back home in the UK. 

Personal trainer Sheridan Mordew arrived in Dubai on January 2, just a few days before the third national lockdown, planning to film live workouts to inspire her clients back home in the UK

Personal trainer Sheridan Mordew, 24, arrived in Dubai on January 2, just a few days before the third national lockdown, planning to film live workouts to inspire her clients back home in the UK

Since then, the social media star, who runs ‘Shape Up With Sher,’ has been sharing glamorous, sunshine-filled content with her Instagram followers as she enjoyed relaxed restrictions in the United Arab Emirates.  

Sheridan flew from Manchester with initial plans to stay for two weeks but now aims to be there until the end of March in the hope that things will be better when she returns. 

‘I was doing classes in my garden during the first lockdown,’ she explained. ‘I was doing the live workouts but then when the second lockdown hit, I couldn’t do anything other than the live stuff. So I just thought, “Why not go to Dubai?” 

‘I was already doing the live workouts from home but I knew I could do it from Dubai. It didn’t matter where in the world I was.’ 

Sheridan initially travelled to Dubai in December for eight days and returned home before travelling back out in January. 

She is currently staying in an apartment where she is filming regular live workouts for clients back home and says she has funded the trip herself. 

The fitness fanatic said: ‘Other personal trainers might not necessarily jump on a plane to Dubai to promote themselves. They might do things in the house and take photos in the mirror. There is not much you can do.  

‘So I thought: “How can I get clients in my area that will benefit myself by getting business?” Mental health and physical things aside, booking a trip to Dubai is business. 

Sheridan says that those who criticise may not understand the industry and the need to be in such locations to sell products, such as bikinis and clothes

Sheridan says that those who criticise may not understand the industry and the need to be in such locations to sell products, such as bikinis and clothes

‘That is how I can increase my clientele so when I come back at the end of March, when gyms start to reopen, I am pretty confident in knowing that I can carry on the online stuff when I am back in the UK.’ 

Since then the fitness star has seen her number of clients increase and believes being in Dubai has helped to motivate and inspire those who take part. 

‘Because I am in Dubai, it motivates them as well,’ she explained. ‘A lot of girls are like, “Oh my god! You are such an inspiration being in the sun when everyone else is stuck in the house.” 

‘Sometimes, I feel guilty and feel like I shouldn’t really be out here because it is unfair on everyone else but then, at the end of the day, they could have gone out as well.’

  • Israel is ‘closing the skies’ to prevent a fast-spreading or vaccine-resistant form of Covid entering the country. The measure was due to last until January 31, when its national lockdown is set to be eased. 

Pubs and restaurants could stay shut until JULY as councils are given power to extend lockdown rules 

By James Robinson for MailOnline 

Pubs and restaurants could stay closed until July after Government chiefs chose to extend the lockdown powers given to councils.

The specially-created powers, which give local authorities in England the ability to close venues and tape-off public areas due to coronavirus, were due to expire next week.

But in a blow to millions of Britons hoping for a summer of reduced restrictions, Government chiefs have now extended the laws until mid-summer, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The move does not mean lockdown has been extended. But it does mean the powers are in place should the Government decide to push back its current lockdown timetable.

Boris Johnson set a mid-February target for lifting restrictions when announcing the third-national lockdown earlier this month.

But the Prime Minister appeared to pour cold water on hopes of a mid-February easing of lockdown earlier this week, by saying it was ‘too early to say’ when restrictions could be lifted.

Meanwhile, Downing Street refused to rule out the possibility of the current lockdown stretching beyond the spring and into summer.

The remarks came after frustrated Tory backbenchers called on the Government to release its road-map out of lockdown – as the UK’s vaccine roll-out total hit more than five-million. 

The specially-created powers, which give local authorities in England the ability to close venues such as pubs (pictured: Library image) and tape off public areas, were due to expire next week.

The specially-created powers, which give local authorities in England the ability to close venues such as pubs (pictured: Library image) and tape off public areas, were due to expire next week.

The move does not mean lockdown has been extended, but means the powers are in place should the Government decide to push back its current timetable. Pictured: A set of taped-off benches outside a pub in London

The move does not mean lockdown has been extended, but means the powers are in place should the Government decide to push back its current timetable. Pictured: A set of taped-off benches outside a pub in London  

Boris Johnson (pictured) had previously said he was hopeful that lockdown rules in England would last until mid-February when announcing the third-national lockdown earlier this month

Boris Johnson (pictured) had previously said he was hopeful that lockdown rules in England would last until mid-February when announcing the third-national lockdown earlier this month

The latest development has caused further frustration among Tory MPs in the 70-strong Coronavirus Recovery Group (CRG) – which argues lockdown measures should only be used where absolutely necessary.

What are the council Covid powers and why have they been extended?

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 were created in July last year.

The purpose of the law is essentially to delegate powers to local authorities across England so they can enforce Covid rules.

Among the powers include allowing council officials to close hospitality venues, including pubs and restaurants, as well as gyms and outdoor spaces.

The law can also be used to prohibit events.

The law also includes the power for local authority officials to fine those who do not comply.  

The powers were due to expire next week, but have now reportedly been extended until July.

Though this does not mean lockdown has been extended, the Government now has the powers in place should it decide to lengthen the lockdown. 

Tory MP Mark Harper, who leads the group, told the Telegraph: ‘The extension of councils’ Covid powers until July will be of great concern to those worried about their jobs and businesses. 

‘Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected by March 8, assuming the Government hits the February 15 deadline, the Government must start easing the restrictions.

‘Vaccinations will of course bring immunity from Covid, but they must bring immunity from lockdowns and restrictions too.’  

Earlier this week Mr Harper had called on the Government to begin lifting the lockdown no later than the start of March.

He also called for the publication of a timetable to prevent further slippage.

Mr Harper said: ‘People must see light at the end of the tunnel and feel hope for the future and businesses need to be able to plan our recovery.’

Government scientists earlier this week urged ministers to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants until at least May to prevent another wave of the virus. Whitehall sources suggested schools could remain shut to most pupils until after Easter.

Ministers met earlier this week to discuss draconian travel curbs aimed at keeping out mutant Covid strains but which could also wreck the summer holiday plans of millions of families.

Priti Patel on Friday said it was ‘far too early to speculate’ about whether foreign holidays would be possible this summer.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would ‘struggle to survive’ if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May.

She added: ‘If we are forced to wait for a longer period then unfortunately there will be very little left of the hospitality sector – and the 3.2million people who work in it – to reopen at that point in May.’

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would 'struggle to survive' if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May. Pictured: A man walks past a closed pub in east London

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would ‘struggle to survive’ if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May. Pictured: A man walks past a closed pub in east London 

Blinds cover the windows of a pub, temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, near Anfield stadium, in Liverpool, on January 17, 2021

Blinds cover the windows of a pub, temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, near Anfield stadium, in Liverpool, on January 17, 2021

In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has repeatedly spoken of a return to normality this spring.

Last month he said: ‘We’re no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year in the spring but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed.’

But asked directly whether the country was ‘looking at summer rather than spring’ for an easing of lockdown earlier this week, he replied: ‘I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of some of the restrictions.’

The PM said the new variant of the disease ‘does spread very fast indeed’, adding: ‘It unquestionably will be a very tough few weeks ahead.’

No10 also refused to rule out an extended lockdown when asked to clarify Mr Johnson’s remarks.

Asked directly whether he could rule out the lockdown lasting into the summer, the PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.

MELTDOWN IN THE HIGH STREET 

The embattled high street will shed 200,000 jobs in 2021 as shops close at a rate of 380 every week, experts warned yesterday.

The Centre for Retail Research said retail will endure its worst year in a quarter of a century as tax breaks and Government support are withdrawn and the impact of the lockdown bites.

The dire warning would mean that the next 12 months are even worse than 2020, which saw 16,130 shops close, or 310 every week.

The retail industry employs around three million people. Shops are fighting to protect themselves from a mountain of rent and business rates costs, even as high streets remain shut. With scientists warning yesterday that much of the high street may have to wait until May before it can reopen, industry groups fear this would decimate the retail and hospitality sector. They had hoped shops would reopen sooner given the Government plans to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.

Footfall is not expected to recover on high streets for up to two years. Professor Joshua Bamfield, head of the CRR, said: ‘All sorts of damage was done last year which carries over to this year. You could argue 200,000 job losses is an underestimate.’

 

‘It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.’

A Government source insisted that the PM’s comments did not amount to a change in the timetable for easing the lockdown.

‘People should not read too much into this,’ the source said. ‘The PM wants to reopen as quickly as we safely can, but cases are very high and only coming down slowly – there has to be a degree of caution.’

Former Tory chief whip Mr Harper said the public now needed a timetable for easing the lockdown.

Mr Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said achieving the Government’s target to vaccinate the 15million most vulnerable by February 15 should clear the way for restrictions to be lifted three weeks later when the vaccines had taken effect. ‘Covid causes serious harm and it’s vital we control it effectively,’ he said. ‘But this cycle of lockdowns and restrictions cause immense damage too – to people’s health, livelihoods and businesses.

‘Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected… the Government must start easing the restrictions.’ But Government scientists and health chiefs warned it was much too soon to even contemplate easing restrictions.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London said the pandemic was ‘the biggest health emergency to face this country since the Second World War’.

Rounding on those still flouting the lockdown rules, he told a Downing Street press briefing: ‘For me and my colleagues in the NHS breaking the rules…. is like switching on a light in the middle of the blackout in the Blitz.’

And Dr Marc Baguelin, of Imperial College London, who sits on a sub-group of the Government’s Sage committee, said the early opening of the hospitality sector would lead to a rise in Covid cases. He told BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme: ‘Something of this scale, if it was to happen earlier than May, would generate a bump in transmission, which is already really bad.’ 

77 cases of South African Covid variant have been found in UK (and nine of a Brazilian mutant) – as experts warn new vaccines might be needed EVERY year

By James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline 

The UK has identified 77 cases of South African coronavirus variant and nine of a Brazilian mutant, it was revealed today – amid warnings the virus is changing so fast new vaccines might be needed every year.

Matt Hancock said the cases were being kept under ‘very close observation’ stressing that they appeared to be linked to travellers – amid a Cabinet row over how to tighten border rules.

‘They are under very close observation, and we have enhanced contact tracing to do everything we possibly can to stop them from spreading,’ the Health Secretary said. 

The figures emerged as Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the country will need to ‘get used to’ living with coronavirus. 

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the country will need to 'get used to' living with coronavirus

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the country will need to ‘get used to’ living with coronavirus

Infections in the UK spiked after a more transmissible variant was identified in Kent

Matt Hancock said the cases were being kept under 'very close observation' stressing that they appeared to be linked to travellers

Matt Hancock said the cases were being kept under ‘very close observation’ stressing that they appeared to be linked to travellers

Hancock pushes for tougher border rules 

Matt Hancock today fuelled Cabinet tensions over a UK border crackdown urging ‘precautionary’ action against Covid variants that have not been detected yet – amid claims the PM wants a more targeted approach.

The Health Secretary gave a strong hint he favours blanket curbs on arrivals ahead of a showdown in a key committee on Tuesday. He also said 77 cases of the South African variant, all linked to travellers, and nine of a Brazilian variant have been identified in the UK.  

The key ‘Covid O’ group of ministers are expected to meet to thrash out a tightening, but ‘hawks’ such as Mr Hancock, Michael Gove and Priti Patel have been wrangling with ‘doves’ such as Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

There are calls for all arrivals to be forced into Australia-style ‘quarantine hotels’ at airports for 10 days at their own expense – and a full border shutdown for foreign passengers has not been ruled out.  

Sources told the Mail on Sunday that Boris Johnson favours targeting the restrictions on Covid hotspots rather than making all air passengers quarantine.

However, in a sign of the tensions, one Cabinet ‘hawk’ told MailOnline that the policy will be ‘worthless’ unless it covers all arrivals to the UK.

Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday Professor Harnden said: ‘I think we have to get used to this. 

‘We are living in a world where coronavirus is so prevalent and rapidly mutating there are going to be new variants that pop up in all sorts of different countries.

‘We may well be in a situation where we have to have an annual coronavirus vaccine much like we do with the flu vaccine, but the public should be reassured that these technologies are relatively easy to edit and tweak, so once we find strains that are predominant, the vaccines can be altered.’

Earlier, Mr Hancock told the programme that work was being done with international counterparts to analyse the efficacy of the vaccine on foreign variants, but added he was more worried about further mutant strains that ‘had not been spotted’.

‘There’s probably (variants) elsewhere that simply haven’t been picked up because the country doesn’t have that genomic sequencing service,’ he said.

Mr Hancock said that tests were ongoing at Porton Down and in South Africa, adding that he wanted to see the UK’s genomic sequencing capability ‘made available across the world’ so that emerging variants could be caught.

‘In the meantime we’ve got to have a precautionary principle… so we’ve introduced pre-departure testing and we’ve also introduced checks on everybody to check that that has happened,’ he said.

‘It is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a variant that is not as well dealt with by the vaccine.

‘We cannot risk the progress we have made.’

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance previously said there was ‘no evidence that the South African or Brazilian variants’ were more transmissible than the new UK strain.

But he said: ‘It is the case that both the South African and Brazilian identified variants have more differences in shape which might mean they are recognised differently by antibodies.’

‘I think it is too early to know the effect that will have on the vaccination in people and it is worth remembering that the response of the vaccine is very, very high antibody levels, so they may overcome some of this.’

Boris Johnson is set to compel visitors from high-risk Covid countries to quarantine for ten days, The Mail on Sunday understands. Pictured: Crowds at London’s Heathrow Airport

Grant Shapps

Rishi Sunak

Cabinet ‘doves’ such as Rishi Sunak (right) and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (left) have been voicing caution about tightening borders too far

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PHE chief admits it’s not ‘absolutely clear’ if Kent strain is more deadly

The medical director at Public Health England has said it is not ‘absolutely clear’ if a UK variant of the coronavirus is more deadly amid concerns over a ‘scaremongering’ Downing Street press conference.

Dr Yvonne Doyle said more work was needed to determine whether the Kent strain was more likely to take people’s lives.

It comes after a SAGE warning revealing that scientists are only 50 per cent sure the variant could be more fatal was handed to ministers just hours before last night’s official address to the public.

Ministers were only informed about the development yesterday morning after scientists on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), a subcommittee of Sage, discussed the issue on Thursday.

The group concluded there was a ‘realistic possibility’ the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain.

Evidence for increased mortality remains thin – Nervtag papers reveal the term ‘realistic possibility’ is used when scientists are only 40 to 50 per cent confident something is true.

But the decision to reveal the new information just hours after learning of the development is a yardstick of how alarmed ministers are.

Some critics accused ministers of ‘scaremongering’ by announcing their fears that the Kent strain is more deadly at short notice without strong supporting evidence.

Chief Scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said during the press conference evidence the strain is indeed more deadly is still ‘weak’.

Earlier yesterday, SAGE said the R rate was between 0.8 and 1. It is down from last week, when it was between 1.2 and 1.3 and and cases are also still falling, down 27 per cent yesterday compared to last week with 40,261 new cases and 1,401 new deaths.

And even a 30-40 per cent increase in the risk of death from the new strain would result in a small increase in fatalities.

The SAGE paper states ‘it should be noted that the absolute risk of death per infection remains low’. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that if the evidence is correct it would mean three to four more deaths per 1,000 cases.

The Covid Recovery Group of Tory backbenchers and business chiefs are  growing increasingly alarmed at suggestions lockdown could stretch well into summer despite Britain’s vaccination programme  

Tory backbencher Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline some of the scientific warnings were reminiscent of Project Fear and every time there was hope of easing lockdown there was ‘a new twist’.

‘It seems to me we are now being held hostage to a zero Covid policy which is completely unattainable – or if you do attain it we are going to be in lockdown for an incredibly long period. That just cannot be,’ he said.

The SAGE paper was released last night after being handed to ministers on Thursday. It cited three studies of the risk of death associated with the new strain:

  • A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study that said the hazard of death within 28 days of test for the mutant strain compared with non-mutant strains was 1.35 times higher. This was based on a study of 2,583 deaths among 1.2 million tested individuals;
  • An Imperial College London study of the Case Fatality Rate of the new mutant strain that found the risk of death was 1.36 times higher. This study used mathematical analysis to look at all cases of new variant but the total number was not revealed in the papers. The SAGE paper said its data is based on just 8% of the total deaths occurring during the study period;
  • A University of Exeter study that suggested the risk of death could be 1.91 times higher. This study matched those with the new variant to those of a similar demographic. The SAGE paper did not reveals its sample size, but its analysis was again based on 8% of the total coronavirus deaths during the study period.
  • The base data used by all three studies is based on just 8% of the total deaths occurring during the study period. 
  • SAGE states ‘the results of all studies may not be representative of the total population’;
  • Some of the analysis might be comparing frail elderly people in nursing home outbreaks of the Kent variant, which is more transmissible, with healthier elderly people infected with other strains in the community;
  • An increase in the severity of infection with the variant would likely lead to an increased risk of hospitalisation, which there is currently no evidence of in individuals suffering from the strain;
  • Analysis has not identified an increased risk of death in hospitalised cases of the variant. 

The SAGE paper cited three studies of the Kent strain: A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study (left) based on 2,583 deaths that said the hazard of death within 28 days of test for the mutant strain compared with non-mutant strains was 35% times higher An Imperial College London study (centre) of the Case Fatality Rate of the new mutant strain that found the risk of death was 36% times higher A University of Exeter study (right) that suggested the risk of death could be 91% higher. Both the Exeter and the Imperial studies were based on just 8% of deaths during the study period

Nervtag concluded there was a 'realistic possibility' - detailed on the yardstick above as a probability between 40 and 50 per cent - that the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain

Nervtag concluded there was a ‘realistic possibility’ – detailed on the yardstick above as a probability between 40 and 50 per cent – that the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain

PHE’s Dr Yvonne Doyle said it is still not ‘absolutely clear’ the new variant coronavirus which emerged in the UK is more deadly than the original strain. She said more work was needed to determine whether it was true.

She told the Today programme: ‘There are several investigations going on at the moment. It is not absolutely clear that that will be the case. It is too early to say.

‘There is some evidence, but it is very early evidence. It is small numbers of cases and it is far too early to say this will actually happen.’

Her comments follow fellow PHE doctor Susan Hopkins, who cautioned people from reading too much into the findings and suggested the evidence was still murky.

How deadly is the Kent Covid variant? Confusion mounts as scientists offer wildly different estimates 

There was confusion tonight about how deadly the Kent coronavirus variant really is after 10 SAGE studies came to wildly different conclusions about its lethality and the World Health Organization said it still hadn’t seen any convincing data.

Boris Johnson and his science chiefs tonight made the claim that the strain — called B.1.1.7 — could be 30 per cent more deadly than older versions of the virus without presenting any evidence to back up the terrifying development.  

The announcement came after 10 studies submitted to SAGE overwhelmingly suggested that the strain was more lethal than past variants.

But there are question marks over the findings because the estimates varied vastly and one study even found the strain was less deadly than the older version.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death from the new variant could be 1.35 times greater, Imperial College London said it was between 1.29 and 1.36 times, Exeter University found it may be 1.91 and Public Health England said it could be as high as 1.6.

But there are further questions over the reliablity of the data because the research was only based on a few hundreds deaths.  

She added: ‘There is evidence from some but not all data sources which suggests that the variant of concern which was first detected in the UK may lead to a higher risk of death than the non-variant. Evidence on this variant is still emerging and more work is underway to fully understand how it behaves.’

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage subgroup the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said it was still too early to be drawing ‘strong conclusions’ about both the suggested increased mortality rates from the new Covid variant, and the gap between vaccination doses.

He said: ‘I was actually quite surprised the news had been announced at a new conference. It seems to have gone up a little bit from about 10 people per thousand to about 13 which is quite a small rise but it’s based on a relatively small amount of data.

‘I would be wanting to wait for a week or two more, monitoring a little bit more before we draw really strong conclusions about this.’

Speaking on BBC Breakfast he added: ‘I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong.’

Kit Yates, a mathematical biologist at the University of Bath, slammed the Government for causing confusion and panic about the variant. He tweeted: ‘I really dislike the way the news about the increased lethality of B1.1.7 was leaked out and then discussed in a press briefing. Where is the data? We want to be able to scrutinise it and to understand the detail, not just the summary.’

However, the long time lag from infection to hospitalisation means there isn’t a huge amount of data available on the variant, with Nervtag saying analyses will become more definitive over the coming weeks. 

One theory as to why it may be more lethal, however, is the stickiness of the mutation and the way it gets into cells and replicates – a behaviour that also makes the variant more easy to transmit, the Telegraph reports. 

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street briefing: ‘We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – first identified in London and the Kent – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’

Sir Patrick said that even now the science is at an early stage.

‘These data are currently uncertain and we don’t have a very good estimate of the precise nature or indeed whether it is an overall increase, but it looks like it is,’ he added.

He said for men in their 60s, the average risk was that for 1,000 who got infected, roughly ten would be expected to die, but with the new variant it might be 13 or 14. That equates to an increased relative risk of 30 to 40 per cent. 

Sir Patrick noted that estimates vary – and stressed some concluded there was no additional risk – but said his best guess was that deaths increase by about 30 to 40 per cent.

He added: ‘The death rate is awful and it’s going to stay, I’m afraid, high for a little while before it starts coming down – that was always what was predicted from the shape of this.’

Nervtag, with Professor Peter Horby of Oxford University as chairman, concluded that death rates have not increased among those in hospital.

But evidence suggests it raises the risk of being hospitalised in the first place, driving up the overall death figures. 

It comes as the public will be faced with a set of hard-hitting new adverts warning people to stay home as part of a change of tack in the bid to ensure people obey lockdown rules.

With close-ups of frontline medical practitioners and Covid-19 patients’ faces, the advert will ask: ‘Can you look them in the eyes and tell them you’re helping by staying at home?’

The public will be faced with a set of hard-hitting new adverts warning people to stay home as part of a change of tack in the bid to ensure people obey lockdown rules

Despite acknowledging that cases are falling across the UK, the Prime Minister – accompanied by Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty – decided to hone in on early analysis by a sub-group of SAGE that suggested the highly-infectious Kent mutation was more lethal.

But the trio resorted to explaining the risk out loud during tonight’s Downing Street press conference, failing to offer any actual proof to back their terrifying claim. World Health Organization bosses claimed they had seen no evidence on the variant’s lethality during a simultaneous briefing.  

Dr Mike Ryan – head of the WHO emergency programme – urged people to ‘remain calm around the issues of these variants’.

Has the UK passed the worst of second peak? 

The UK’s R rate has dropped below one in a dramatic sign that the peak could have been passed.

Scientists said the level was down to between 0.8 and 1, compared to 1.2 and 1.3. 

The number represents how many people an infected individual passes the disease on to, and anything below one means the outbreak is shrinking. 

Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics said the total number of people with coronavirus dropped last week – but there were still more than a million people infected. 

And the symptom-tracking Covid Symptom Study estimates that the number of people developing symptoms each day has halved in a fortnight, down to 34,000 a day from 70,000 on January 8, while official death counts show fatalities appear to be declining in London.

Numbers of people testing positive through NHS Test and Trace have also tumbled for twelve days in a row, with the daily average tumbling from 60,000 on January 10 to 40,000 yesterday. And an array of other data also suggests the epidemic is coming under control, with Public Health England figures showing positive test rates are down in all regions and age groups.

London’s average daily death count fell from 169 to 163 in the most recent four days of data and could be set to fall further as official statistics remain lower than they were at the start of this month. 

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist, said today that the ‘signs are hopeful we’re on our way out of this situation’.

But he cautioned the virus is still widespread all over the country, with huge numbers of people infected. NHS hospitals are under immense strain and intensive care wards twice as busy as last year, despite thousands of extra beds. 

He added: ‘There is a big difference between the lethality of a virus, how many people on average a virus kills, versus the morality of the virus. If I have one million people infected and my lethality is 1 per cent, or two million people infected with a lethality of 1 per cent, twice as many people will die.

‘We are not seeing so far, but we will wait to see, that the disease is more lethal. We are seeing that… increasing incidence leads to increasing mortality. If your cases get out of control, your deaths will get out of control as your health system is overwhelmed,’ Dr Ryan said.

Professor Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, claimed the findings showed a 60-year-old man faced a 1.3 per cent risk of dying of the Kent Covid variant, compared to the usual 1 per cent. But a 30 per cent increase in the risk of death means 13 out of 1,000 men in their 60s will succumb to the illness, instead of 10. Professor Whitty himself admitted the evidence was ‘not yet strong’.

Data on the lethality of the Kent variant, which has been spotted in 60 countries around the world, was first leaked to the press ahead of Mr Johnson’s TV appearance. ITV’s political editor Robert Peston was told by Professor Neil Ferguson that there was a ‘realistic possibility’ that the variant was deadlier.

No10 insiders dismissed claims ‘Professor Lockdown’ – the Imperial College London epidemiologist whose grim modelling that hundreds of thousands of Britons could die without action spooked ministers into lockdown last March – had ‘bounced’ the Government into revealing NERVTAG’s new evidence.

The doom-mongering came despite an array of statistics that showed the second wave has peaked already and may finally be coming under control. SAGE yesterday claimed Britain’s R rate has fallen below the crucial level of one and separate surveillance studies estimated daily cases have halved in a fortnight.

Department of Health figures mirrored the trend, with infections falling by 30 per cent week-on-week as health chiefs announced another 40,261 cases. Officials also posted 1,401 deaths, up just 9.5 per cent on last Friday. But experts warned the fatality toll will continue to rise for at least another week because of how long it takes for infected patients to become severely ill.

Defying mounting pressure to commit to easing the current measures, Mr Johnson warned yesterday that the NHS is still under huge pressure and the curbs will only be lifted when it is ‘safe’. The PM even set the scene for tougher restrictions tonight, warning: ‘We may need to go further to protect our borders.’ Nicola Sturgeon warned Scotland that life may not be ‘back to normal’ by the summer, in another sign that the UK won’t be freed from the draconian restrictions from mid-February.

The 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs is urging the government to start lifting the lockdown no later than March 8 – when vaccines given to the most vulnerable groups should have taken effect. But No10’s refusal to give an exact day for when lockdown will end may have been fuelled by the new variant findings.

The variant has already been spotted in 60 countries, including the US, Australia, India, China and Saudi Arabia. But the Government’s top scientific advisers believe the current crop of vaccines will work against the variant – but may be less effective against other South African and Brazilian mutations.

MailOnline also revealed that Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed vaccines may be 50 per cent less effective on the South African variant. He warned allowing the variant to become the dominant strain in the UK could ruin Britain’s vaccination drive – which yesterday saw a record 400,00 doses administered in one day.

And grim figures laying bare the economically-crippling side of lockdown revealed business activity has fallen even more than expected this month, leaving the UK looking down the barrel of a double dip recession. Number 10 borrowed more than £34billion in December – the third highest monthly total ever – as it scrambles to keep millions of jobs and stricken firms afloat while tax revenues dwindle. 

In a dramatic sign that the outbreak could be flattening out, SAGE said the R rate was between 0.8 and 1. That is down sharply from last week, when it was between 1.2 and 1.3

In a dramatic sign that the outbreak could be flattening out, SAGE said the R rate was between 0.8 and 1. That is down sharply from last week, when it was between 1.2 and 1.3

Worrying strains around the world: Since the Covid pandemic began there have been at least six new stains which appear more infectious and have mutations that open the door to vaccine resistance

Worrying strains around the world: Since the Covid pandemic began there have been at least six new stains which appear more infectious and have mutations that open the door to vaccine resistance 

The ONS report today said the number of people likely to test positive for coronavirus came down from 1.122million on January 2 to 1.023million on January 16

The ONS report today said the number of people likely to test positive for coronavirus came down from 1.122million on January 2 to 1.023million on January 16

Passengers wait at  Heathrow Airport today as ministers mull even tighter rules

Passengers wait at  Heathrow Airport today as ministers mull even tighter rules

The number of people developing Covid-19 every day appears to have halved in a fortnight from 70,000 on January 8 to 34,000 today, according to the Covid Symptom Study, which uses self-reported symptoms through a mobile app used by around a million people

The number of people developing Covid-19 every day appears to have halved in a fortnight from 70,000 on January 8 to 34,000 today, according to the Covid Symptom Study, which uses self-reported symptoms through a mobile app used by around a million people

Grim figures published today showed government borrowing soared to £34.1billion in December - the third highest monthly figure on record - amid growing fears about the UK's debt mountain

Grim figures published today showed government borrowing soared to £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record – amid growing fears about the UK’s debt mountain

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January - with anything blow 50 pointing to a contraction

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January – with anything blow 50 pointing to a contraction

No10 insiders flatly dismissed the idea that Prof Ferguson had been told to brief Peston – and said the suggestion he ‘bounced’ them into the announcement was ‘rubbish’.

Sources suggested Prof Ferguson is on Nervtag and knew the announcement was going to be made.

The Nervtag report with the evidence on lethality is understood to have landed on the PM’s desk this morning, and he was given a ‘detailed briefing’ on the content by Patrick Vallance.

‘The PM has always been very clear that we have to be transparent with people about the information we had on the variants,’ one source said. ‘The idea that we could have done the press conference without giving the public the information… would have been the wrong thing to do.’

Tory backbencher Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline some of the scientific warnings were reminiscent of Project Fear and every time there was hope of easing lockdown there was ‘a new twist’.

Matt Hancock claims South African variant may make vaccines 50% less effective 

The mutant South African coronavirus variant may make the current crop of vaccines 50 per cent less effective, Matt Hancock has sensationally claimed.

In footage obtained by MailOnline, the Health Secretary warned allowing the variant to become the dominant strain in the UK could ruin Britain’s vaccination drive and send the country ‘back to square one’.

Mr Hancock is understood to have made the astonishing comments during an online webinar with travel agents this week, to the shock of everyone on the call.

He said there was ‘evidence in the public domain’ that the South African variant reduces vaccine efficacy by ‘about 50 per cent’.  Although he followed up by saying: ‘We are not sure of this data so I wouldn’t say this in public.’

The South African strain — called B.1.351 — has key mutations on its spike protein which scientists fear might make it difficult for the immune system to recognise. 

These alterations open the door to it being resistant to vaccines, which train the body to spot the spike protein, or natural immunity from previous infection.  

It comes after South African scientists found that 48 per cent of blood samples from people who had been infected in the past did not show an immune response to the new variant – raising red flags about possible vaccine resistance. 

The South African version is also though to be at least 60 per cent more infectious than regular Covid and even more transmissible than the Kent variant that ripped through the UK and plunged England into its third national lockdown. 

The South African strain has already been spotted in the UK 73 times, according to the Covid-19 Genomics Consortium UK (COG-UK). Although it is likely to be far more widespread because COG-UK only analyses 10 per cent of random positive samples. 

‘It seems to me we are now being held hostage to a zero Covid policy which is completely unattainable – or if you do attain it we are going to be in lockdown for an incredibly long period. That just cannot be,’ he said.

‘The next thing will be ‘oh dear, this new variant from Timbuktu is not responsive to the vaccine’, or ‘the vaccine doesn’t work against it’.’

The South Thanet MP, a member of the CRG, went on: ‘Because Covid has been with us now for a year it is not at all surprising if the evolution or mutation is going to be towards a different type of which these vaccines can’t work against.

‘That doesn’t matter as such because you then need to formulate a new vaccine. But we are just adding more delay.’

Mr Mackinlay said: ‘There has got to be a time when you have done the elderly, you’ve done the vulnerable… but the words I seem to be hearing is that this lockdown has got no end to it, because there always seems to be a new twist and turn – a reason why it should continue.’

He said: ‘It does seem to me that scientists are in control of this. I know you wouldn’t put an economist in charge of vaccine control, but you wouldn’t put these scientists in charge of the economy.’

Speaking at this evening’s Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’

And the PM handed over to his chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who added: ‘If you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to, unfortunately, die… with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.

‘That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group.’

He added: ‘I want to stress that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is of concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today.’

The estimates for R and the growth rate are provided by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), a sub-group of Sage.

The growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between minus 4 per cent and minus 1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

It means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1 per cent and 4 per cent every day.

Scientists advising the Government said that all regions of England have seen decreases in the R number and growth rate estimates compared with last week, and R is below or around 1 in every region.

However, they warned that despite the reductions, case levels ‘remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives’.

Sage scientists said: ‘Cases remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives. 

‘It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not. 

‘We all need to play our part, and if everyone continues to follow the rules, we can expect to drive down the R number across the country.’

What do we know about the Kent variant? 

Name: B.1.1.7, formerly VUI-202012/01

Where did it come from? The variant was first found in Kent and can be traced back to September 2020. Scientists noticed that it was spreading in November  and it was revealed to the public in December.

What makes it new? The variant, which is a version of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19, has a series of mutations that change the shape of the spike protein on its outside. The main one is known as N501Y. This appears to make it better able to stick to the cells inside the body and makes it more likely to cause infection and faster to spread.

How did that happen? Viruses, particularly ones spreading so fast and in such huge numbers, mutate all the time. To reproduce they basically force living cells to copy and paste the viral genetic code, and this can contain errors that lead to slightly different versions of the virus. Often these mutations make no difference but, if they make the virus stronger, they can stick around for further generations and become the norm. 

What can we do about it? Nothing much. People who catch the virus won’t know which type they have, and it will still cause the same symptoms and illness. Officials can try to contain it by locking down the areas where it is most prevalent, but if it is stronger than other versions of the virus it will eventually spread everywhere and become dominant as long as people continue to travel. 

Will it make Covid-19 worse? Scientists aren’t sure whether it affects the severity of the disease. Because it is so new, no official data yet exists to track if it is more deadly. If it is, it may be the first of thousands of mutations since the start of the pandemic to increase the risk of death.

Will our vaccines still work? Yes, it’s very likely they will. Scientists on SAGE are fairly sure the mutations the Kent variant carries do not significantly affect how well the immune system can handle it. People who have a vaccine modelled on an older version of the virus, or who have been infected with Covid-19 before, are likely to be immune to it. This is because the main mutations are only on one part of the spike protein, whereas the immune system is able to target various other parts of the virus. 

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, from the maths faculty at the University of Cambridge, said the drop in R was ‘very encouraging news’.

He said the decline in positive cases has been slow but cases are ‘nearly half what they were three weeks ago, which is enormously hopeful’.

Sir David told the BBC that, by next month, the UK will start seeing the benefits of the vaccine rollout.

But he also gave a stark vision of the competing concerns that the government is wrestling with. 

‘The one thing I can be absolutely confident about is that, by this time next month, there is going to be the mother of all argument,’ he said.

‘Because it’s quite feasible that deaths will have come down considerably, infections should have come down considerably, hospitalisations and ICU will still be under a lot of pressure.

‘There will be enormous pressure to loosen things up.

‘Loosening it up will inevitably lead to an increase in cases, a resurgence of the pandemic among younger groups, and we can see then that does seep through into hospitalisations.

‘So there’s going to be a real battle going on.’

Hopes have been fuelled that the UK might have passed the worst of the second wave, with the Office for National Statistics saying the total number of people with coronavirus dropped last week – but there were still more than a million people infected.

And the symptom-tracking Covid Symptom Study estimates that the number of people developing symptoms each day has halved in a fortnight, down to 34,000 a day from 70,000 on January 8, and that the R rate of the virus in the UK is just 0.8, while official death counts show fatalities appear to be declining in London.

Numbers of people testing positive through NHS Test and Trace have also tumbled for twelve days in a row, with the daily average tumbling from 60,000 on January 10 to 40,000 yesterday, and Public Health England figures show positive test rates were down in all regions and age groups last week.

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist, said today that the ‘signs are hopeful we’re on our way out of this situation’.

London’s average daily death count fell from 169 to 163 in the most recent four days of data and could be set to fall further as official statistics remain lower than they were at the start of this month.

But he cautioned the virus is still widespread all over the country, with huge numbers of people infected. NHS hospitals are under immense strain and intensive care wards twice as busy as last year, despite thousands of extra beds.

Kent variant timeline  

September 20 – Variant emerges in a chronically ill Covid-19 patient in Kent 

November 6 – Infected person takes the new strain to California  

November 2020 – Spike in cases occurs in Kent and Medway despite national lockdown squashing case numbers in the rest of the country 

November 23 – Air passenger brings new variant to  Florida

December 11 – SAGE tells the Government about the new variant 

December 14 –  Authorities of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reported to WHO that new SARS-CoV-2 variant was identified through viral genomic sequencing

Matt Hancock tells MPs about the new variant  

December 18 – SAGE tells the Government they are concerned about the new variant and its transmissibility

December 20 – London, South East and East of England go into new Tier 4 restrictions due to spike in cases due to new variant 

December 21 – More than 40 countries halt flights from UK due to new variant 

December 29 – First case is spotted in the US 

All dates are for the year 2020  

More than 20,000 people have died since January 1 and thousands more will die in the coming weeks even with cases continuing to fall because it can take weeks for infected patients to become severely ill. Almost 40,000 Britons are currently in hospital with Covid.

Despite the flattening, the direction of travel in government seems to be towards tightening lockdown even further. 

And No10 delivered a rebuke this afternoon to Tory MPs urging the government to release a blueprint for how lockdown will be eased when the first phase of vaccine rollout is complete.

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘It’s important that we continue to monitor the latest situation.

‘You see the latest figures that we publish on a daily basis which clearly show that transmission rates of the virus remain high.

‘The NHS continues to be under pressure and the number of patients admitted to hospital remains at a high level.

‘It’s obviously the case that we want to see the transmission rate of the virus come down and therefore the pressure on the NHS eased.

‘The Prime Minister has been clear that we will lift restrictions as soon as we can but only when it is deemed safe to do so.’

Signs are promising that the vaccine programme is progressing well. 

More than 400,000 Britons were vaccinated against coronavirus on yesterday, official figures show, as the NHS drive to inoculate the most vulnerable continues to gather steam.

Department of Health figures published today reveal 412,615 jabs were carried out on Thursday, marking the third day in a row the scheme has picked up the pace.

The Government is aiming to vaccinate all 15million in the top priority groups – over-70s, NHS staff, vulnerable and care home residents – by mid-February, meaning they will need to get jabs into the arms of 350,000 people a day.

400,000 Britons are vaccinated in record day

More than 400,000 Britons were vaccinated against coronavirus on yesterday, official figures show, as the NHS drive to inoculate the most vulnerable continues to gather steam.

Department of Health figures published today reveal 412,615 jabs were carried out on Thursday, marking the third day in a row the scheme has picked up the pace.

The Government is aiming to vaccinate all 15million in the top priority groups – over-70s, NHS staff, vulnerable and care home residents – by mid-February, meaning they will need to get jabs into the arms of 350,000 people a day.

But today’s figures show the daily target was exceeded, sparking hopes the Government will make good on its promise which will pile pressure on ministers to end the brutal lockdown sooner.

Overall, more than 5.3million Britons have been vaccinated against the virus since the scheme began.   

In Wales 21,901 jabs were administered yesterday, official figures reveal. The nation has vaccinated 212,700 people in total, including giving 212,317 first doses and 415 second doses.

In Scotland 23,800 jabs were completed bringing its total to 363,143 including 358,000 first doses and 4,600 second doses.

And in Northern Ireland almost 7,000 jabs were done on January 21. In total it has completed 173,500 jabs including 150,000 first doses and 22,510 second doses. 

But today’s figures show the daily target was exceeded, sparking hopes the Government will make good on its promise which will pile pressure on ministers to end the brutal lockdown sooner.

Overall, more than 5.3million Britons have been vaccinated against the virus since the scheme began.   

In Wales 21,901 jabs were administered yesterday, official figures reveal.

The nation has vaccinated 212,700 people in total, including giving 212,317 first doses and 415 second doses.

In Scotland 23,800 jabs were completed bringing its total to 363,143 including 358,000 first doses and 4,600 second doses.

And in Northern Ireland almost 7,000 jabs were done on January 21. In total it has completed 173,500 jabs including 150,000 first doses and 22,510 second doses.

There were reports today that ministers are already in talks with hotel chains over plans to force UK arrivals to quarantine at airports.

Travellers could be prevented from using their own accommodation under the proposals being put together by the government. Using GPS tags to ensure compliance is also believed to have been considered.

The draconian ‘quarantine hotel’ system, similar to that used in Australia and New Zealand, is a prospect amid rising fears about the spread of Covid variants around the globe.

Arrivals would potentially have to pay for their stays while they self-isolate for 10 days, or even a fortnight. There are reports today that negotiations are already taking place with hotel chains, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was in favour.

The powerful Covid O Cabinet sub-committee is due to discuss the ideas over the coming days – although a final decision is not likely until next week.   

Environment Secretary George has refused to rule out even more drastic action, with foreigners barred from coming to the UK altogether.    

Asked about the possibility in a round of interviews, Mr Eustice told Sky News: ‘We always keep these things under review. And it has been considered.

Boris refuses to rule out tough new border curbs

Boris Johnson set the scene for tougher restrictions on travel into the UK tonight as he warned: ‘We may need to go further to protect our borders’.

The Prime Minister refused to rule out tough new measures including enforced quarantine in specially designated hotels as he led a press conference this evening.

Amid fears that a strain of coronavirus that originated in South Africa may be more resistant to vaccines he told the nation making it too easy for it and other variants to enter would under all the hard work put in by locked down Britons.

Desperate wrangling is going on within Cabinet over the shape of the restrictions, set to be finalised at a meeting of the core Covid O sub-committee on Monday.

A range of escalations are being considered to combat the global spread of variants, with a full border closure to foreign nationals still on the table. However, the most likely outcome is a version of the enforced isolation system used by countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

Asked whether new border measures were coming, at the press conference, Mr Johnson said: ‘I really don’t rule it out, we may need to take further measures still.

‘We may need to go further to protect our borders.

‘We don’t want to put that [all the effort to control the virus] at risk by having a new variant come back in.’

‘There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains.’

Any new restrictions would be a further blow to the beleaguered travel industry and put the holiday plans of millions at risk.

It comes as Britain’s airports are already struggling to cope with demand, with passengers queuing for hours yesterday to get through passport control at Heathrow as the border situation worsened.

The lines were so long staff were said to have handed out free water to exhausted travellers just hours after the Home Office insisted there were no staffing issues and people were moving through in ‘good time’. 

The proposal to hand out £500 to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus has surfaced amid efforts to increase compliance – with many believed to dodge the rules because they cannot afford to stop working.

Detailed in an official policy paper, it is said to be the ‘preferred position’ of Mr Hancock’s Department of Health.

Officials fear that too many with Covid symptoms fail to take a test in case knowing a positive result stops them working.

However, it appears to have blindsided Downing Street, with sources making clear No10 was had not seen the blueprint before it was leaked and warning it would create ‘perverse incentives’.

Treasury officials said it was ‘not going to happen’ and swiped that they had ‘zero idea’ how Mr Hancock allowed it to get traction. ‘Just bonkers. The whole country will suddenly develop a dry cough,’ one said.

Sage warns lockdown must not be lifted too soon

The Government will have a fierce battle with SAGE on its hands if it wants to lift lockdown rules in February or mid-way through the vaccine rollout, meeting records show. Files from the scientific advisers show they have repeatedly warned that ministers face another epidemic and ‘very many hospital admissions and deaths’ if they jump the gun.

A batch of papers from SAGE, published today, revealed:

  • There were staggering 117,000 to 287,000 new coronavirus infections per day before the third lockdown, SAGE estimated;
  • It was ‘not clear’ on January 6 whether this lockdown would work at keeping the virus under control. The new variant will undoubtedly make it slower to take effect and the NHS should expect the same level of pressure, or more, into the middle of February;
  • The impact of the vaccines on the R rate in the UK will be ‘modest’ by mid-February, and lockdown should only be relaxed when virus prevalence and hospital pressure are both low;
  • It is critical to get ‘extremely high’ vaccine coverage in vulnerable people before lockdown rules are loosened; 
  • If lockdown rules are loosened mid-vaccine rollout there will be another full-blown epidemic with ‘very many hospital admissions and deaths’;
  • The Kent variant, also known as B.1.1.7, may be more transmissible because it ‘grows well in the airways’;
  • NERVTAG said in December that it expected data on whether Kent variant was more deadly ‘in the next few days’;
  • Variants of the virus will very likely emerge, SAGE warns, and this becomes more likely as more people develop immunity and the virus faces pressure to evolve to survive. 

Mr Eustice refused to rule out the plan entirely, saying ministers were looking at reasons why people avoid self-isolating with Covid symptoms.

But he stressed that ‘no decisions’ had been taken and the government was ‘always keeping multiple policies under review’. 

The wrangling came as as grim figures showed business activity plunging into the red again this month.

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January – with anything below 50 pointing to a contraction.

It was significantly worse than the expectations of analysts, who had predicted 46.1, underlining the devastating impact of the pandemic. 

Economists warned that a double-dip downturn is now firmly ‘on the cards’ after the fledgling recovery from the worst recession in 300 years was strangled by action to control a surge in cases.

Figures last week showed GDP dropping 2.6 per cent in November during the second England-wide Covid lockdown.

Any December rally will have been smothered by the harsh ‘tier’ controls in England, and the renewed blanket curbs in January.

In more signs of the huge problems facing the country, figures have revealed public borrowing hit £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record. 

And retail sales saw the largest fall since records began last year, even though there was a slight uptick in December.

However, separate PMI released for the Eurozone show the UK is far from alone, with France and other major players also facing GDP going into reverse again.  

Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said its ‘flash’ PMI for this month showed the crucial services sector had been hit ‘especially hard’.

However, in a crumb of comfort, he said the scale of the downturn was far less dramatic than last spring. 

‘A steep slump in business activity in January puts the locked-down UK economy on course to contract sharply in the first quarter of 2021, meaning a double-dip recession is on the cards,’ he said. 

‘Services have once again been especially hard hit, but manufacturing has seen growth almost stall, blamed on a cocktail of COVID-19 and Brexit, which has led to increasingly widespread supply delays, rising costs and falling exports. 

‘Worryingly, January also saw companies reduce headcounts at an increased rate again – albeit less so than seen between March and November. The steepest loss of jobs was recorded in the hotels, restaurants, travel and leisure sectors, reflecting the new lockdown measures. 

‘Encouragingly, the current downturn looks far less severe than that seen during the first national lockdown, and businesses have become increasingly optimistic about the outlook, thanks mainly to progress in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. 

‘Business hopes for the year ahead have risen the highest for over six-and-a-half years, boding well for the economy to return to solid growth once virus restrictions ease.’ 

Government borrowing soared to £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record – amid growing fears about the UK’s debt mountain.

UK faces double-dip recession as business activity slumps in January

Britain is facing a double-dip recession as grim figures showed business activity plunging into the red again this month.

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January – with anything below 50 pointing to a contraction.

It was significantly worse than the expectations of analysts, who had predicted 46.1, underlining the devastating impact of the pandemic. 

Economists warned that a double-dip downturn is now firmly ‘on the cards’ after the fledgling recovery from the worst recession in 300 years was strangled by action to control a surge in cases.

Figures last week showed GDP dropping 2.6 per cent in November during the second England-wide Covid lockdown.

Any December rally will have been smothered by the harsh ‘tier’ controls in England, and the renewed blanket curbs in January.

In more signs of the huge problems facing the country, figures have revealed public borrowing hit £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record. 

And retail sales saw the largest fall since records began last year, even though there was a slight uptick in December.

However, separate PMI released for the Eurozone show the UK is far from alone, with France and other major players also facing GDP going into reverse again.  

The number for the last month of 2020 was £28.2billion higher than the equivalent period in 2019 as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy and ministers lashed out on massive bailouts such as furlough.

It pushed total borrowing for the first nine months of the financial year to £270.8billion, the peak for any April to December period since records began in 1993. 

There are fears the full-year figure will top £400billion. Even in the aftermath of the credit crunch, borrowing only hit £158billion in 2009-10. 

The UK’s debt pile reached £2.13trillion by the end of 2020, around 99.4 per cent of GDP – the highest debt to GDP ratio since 1962.  

Other PMI produced by IHS Markit today showed a double-dip recession in the Eurozone is ‘increasingly inevitable’, with France among the countries most seriously hit. 

The slowdown among business activities in the currency area intensified in January as the pandemic continued to batter the continent.    

Government scientists yesterday urged ministers to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants until at least May to prevent another wave of the virus. Whitehall sources suggested schools could remain shut to most pupils until after Easter.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would ‘struggle to survive’ if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May. 

She added: ‘If we are forced to wait for a longer period then unfortunately there will be very little left of the hospitality sector – and the 3.2million people who work in it – to reopen at that point in May.’

In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has repeatedly spoken of a return to normality this spring.

 Last month he said: ‘We’re no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year in the spring but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed.’

But asked directly whether the country was ‘looking at summer rather than spring’ for an easing of lockdown yesterday, he replied: ‘I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of some of the restrictions.’

The PM said the new variant of the disease ‘does spread very fast indeed’, adding: ‘It unquestionably will be a very tough few weeks ahead.’

No10 also refused to rule out an extended lockdown when asked to clarify Mr Johnson’s remarks.

There are early signs in Government data that number of people dying each day in London has turned a corner and started to decline in mid-January, with the daily average declining from 169 to 163 and falling for four days in a row between January 10 and 14

There are early signs in Government data that number of people dying each day in London has turned a corner and started to decline in mid-January, with the daily average declining from 169 to 163 and falling for four days in a row between January 10 and 14

Hancock faces backlash over ‘bonkers’ plan to give people £500 when they test positive for Covid 

Matt Hancock faced a furious backlash today after ‘bonkers’ plans surfaced to give everyone testing positive for Covid £500.

The proposal, which would cost up to £450million a week, is aimed at encouraging more people to undergo swabs and self-isolate to stop the virus spreading.

Detailed in an official policy paper, it is said to be the ‘preferred position’ of Mr Hancock’s Department of Health.

Officials fear that too many with Covid symptoms fail to take a test in case knowing a positive result stops them working.

However, it appears to have blindsided Downing Street, with sources making clear No10 was had not seen the blueprint before it was leaked and warning it would create ‘perverse incentives’.

Treasury officials said it was ‘not going to happen’ and swiped that they had ‘zero idea’ how Mr Hancock allowed it to get traction. ‘Just bonkers. The whole country will suddenly develop a dry cough,’ one said.

In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice refused to rule out the plan entirely, saying ministers were looking at reasons why people avoid self-isolating with Covid symptoms.

But he stressed that ‘no decisions’ had been taken and the government was ‘always keeping multiple policies under review’. 

Asked directly whether he could rule out the lockdown lasting into the summer, the PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.

‘It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.’

A Government source insisted that the PM’s comments did not amount to a change in the timetable for easing the lockdown.

‘People should not read too much into this,’ the source said. ‘The PM wants to reopen as quickly as we safely can, but cases are very high and only coming down slowly – there has to be a degree of caution.’

Former Tory chief whip Mr Harper said the public now needed a timetable for easing the lockdown. 

Mr Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said achieving the Government’s target to vaccinate the 15million most vulnerable by February 15 should clear the way for restrictions to be lifted three weeks later when the vaccines had taken effect. 

‘Covid causes serious harm and it’s vital we control it effectively,’ he said. ‘But this cycle of lockdowns and restrictions cause immense damage too – to people’s health, livelihoods and businesses.

‘Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected… the Government must start easing the restrictions.’ But Government scientists and health chiefs warned it was much too soon to even contemplate easing restrictions.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London said the pandemic was ‘the biggest health emergency to face this country since the Second World War’.

Rounding on those still flouting the lockdown rules, he told a Downing Street press briefing: ‘For me and my colleagues in the NHS breaking the rules…. is like switching on a light in the middle of the blackout in the Blitz.’

And Dr Marc Baguelin, of Imperial College London, who sits on a sub-group of the Government’s Sage committee, said the early opening of the hospitality sector would lead to a rise in Covid cases. He told BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme: ‘Something of this scale, if it was to happen earlier than May, would generate a bump in transmission, which is already really bad.’ 

No Glasto in June for the second year

Glastonbury Festival has been cancelled for the second year running thanks to the pandemic.

The organisers say they ‘moved heaven and earth’ trying to make it happen but continuing uncertainty means Britain’s biggest musical jamboree – attended by 200,000 fans in 2019 – cannot go ahead.

It was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary last year but had to be called off days before the first lockdown in March.

Now organisers Michael and Emily Eavis say the 2021 event cannot go ahead. Sir Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift and rapper Kendrick Lamar were scheduled to headline the Pyramid stage and Diana Ross was the Sunday afternoon ‘legend’.

People in the festival crowd enjoy watching Dizzee Rascal on the Pyramid stage during day two of the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 25, 2010 in Glastonbury, England

People in the festival crowd enjoy watching Dizzee Rascal on the Pyramid stage during day two of the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 25, 2010 in Glastonbury, England

Primal Scream, Dua Lipa, Manic Street Preachers and Lana Del Ray were also on the bill.

The father and daughter Eavis team said yesterday: ‘With great regret, we must announce that this year’s Glastonbury Festival will not take place and that this will be another enforced fallow year for us.

‘In spite of our efforts to move heaven and earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the festival happen.’

They said those who secured tickets with £50 deposits in 2019 will be able to roll this over to the next event in June 2022.

Disappointed fans due to descend on Worthy Farm, Somerset, from June 23-28 said the move was understandable, but Tory MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Commons culture committee, called it a ‘devastating’ blow and criticised the government’s failure to set up an insurance scheme to save major events.

Tom Watson, head of UK Music, said such a backup scheme ‘wouldn’t have cost too much’ and if Britain’s vaccine rollout proved a success Glastonbury would have provided an ideal celebration.

Eurostar passengers down 94% of passengers

Eurostar passenger numbers plummeted 94 per cent at the end of 2020, it emerged yesterday, sparking fresh calls for a joint UK-French support package.

Officials from both sides continued talks yesterday in a bid to strike a deal amid fears the Channel Tunnel firm is facing bankruptcy.

Yesterday’s figures reveal that, over the course of 2020, passenger numbers were down 77 per cent, dropping from just over 11 million in 2019 to 2.5 million.

Workers clean the platform area as a Eurostar train bound for Paris prepares to leave St Pancras International train station in London on January 18, 2021

Workers clean the platform area as a Eurostar train bound for Paris prepares to leave St Pancras International train station in London on January 18, 2021

The fall reached 94 per cent in the final quarter when passenger numbers were 170,010, compared with 2,624,943 in 2019.

One rescue option being discussed would involve the Bank of England providing funds from its Covid loan facility.

Industry projections suggest Eurostar, which is majority-owned by the French government, could go bust by April, although company insiders say reserves could stretch until summer. The UK Government sold its 40 per cent stake in Eurostar in 2015.

Cafes and bars could see 3.2m jobs axed

By Claire Ellicott and Sami Quadri for The Daily Mail 

Hospitality chiefs issued a dire warning about the future of many businesses last night after doctors advised that the reopening of pubs and restaurants should be pushed back to May.

Industry leaders said that just one in five restaurants, pubs and bars had enough cash to get through beyond March.

It came after Sage scientists who advise the Government warned that the sector would have to stay closed until at least May to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told Radio 4’s The World At One that if the reopening of the sector was delayed until May, 3.2million could lose their jobs.

Diners in Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in August 2020

Diners in Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in August 2020

‘Just one in five hospitality businesses are confident that they will have enough cash to get through beyond March,’ she said. ‘There is no way that businesses will be able to survive until May with no revenues coming in for seven months.

‘It’s a cash burn of half a billion pounds to keep the sector closed each and every month. If we are forced to wait for a longer period then unfortunately there will be little left of the hospitality sector and the 3.2million people who work in it to reopen at that point in May.’

She said she hoped that with the vaccination programme under way, there would be a ‘pathway’ to the lifting of restrictions.

‘Otherwise I think you’ve got a danger that you have an impact on peoples’ mental health and well-being and also their economic health and well-being,’ she said.

A man wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, walks past a closed pub in the City of London, on January 15, 2021

A man wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, walks past a closed pub in the City of London, on January 15, 2021

If the sector is closed until May, she warned, there would need to be a ‘significant additional injection of cash support from the Government because the support at the moment is just not sufficient to sustain and maintain businesses and jobs’.

Doctors warned restaurants would not be able to open until May because it would push up the R rate.

Dr Marc Baguelin of Imperial College London, who sits on the Sage committee, said: ‘We looked at partial reopening and the increase of the R number and found that it will generate an increase, the extent of which we don’t really know.

‘And if this was to happen earlier than May, it will generate a bump which is really bad … at best you will carry on having a very unsustainable level of pressure on the NHS.’

School’s out until Easter? 

By Jason Groves for The Daily Mail 

Schools could remain shut until after the Easter holidays unless virus cases fall dramatically in the coming weeks, it was feared last night.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term.

But with Covid cases still at high levels, Downing Street refused to be drawn on the likely restart for millions of children stuck trying to learn from home.

And a government source acknowledged it was becoming ‘increasingly difficult’ to see how schools could be reopened next month, given the state of the pandemic.

During a round of media interviews yesterday, Mr Williamson insisted there would be no repeat of the shambolic episode at the start of this month when schools were ordered to close just one day after returning from the Christmas break.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term (stock photo)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term (stock photo)

He said schools would get at least two weeks’ notice of any order to reopen – suggesting that ministers will have to decide by February 8 whether classrooms will reopen for the start of the second half of the spring term on February 22.

Although Boris Johnson has prioritised the early reopening of schools, government scientists have warned that a return to the classroom could trigger another sharp spike.

‘We have to be realistic about the situation we are in and the impact reopening schools might have,’ a source told the Mail.

Dr Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union, said: ‘After the chaos and confusion that government incompetence over school opening and closure has created, it is good we now have an assurance from Gavin Williamson that school staff will be given two weeks’ notice before reopening.

‘The last thing that parents and children need now is a stop-start approach. We all want schools to be open, but they must be opened when it is safe to do so, and when the conditions are right to keep schools open sustainably.’

Any delays will pile pressure on Mr Williamson to ensure high quality education is available to all those children forced to stay at home.

He said a further 1.3 million laptops, tablets and routers would be distributed to those in need in the coming weeks to widen access to online learning, providing the ‘ultimate safety net’ for disadvantaged pupils.

He added that he had ‘made it clear to schools’ what was the ‘absolute minimum’ they were expected to provide.

Mr Williamson said he wanted to get pupils back in the classroom at the ‘earliest possible opportunity’, adding: ‘I would certainly hope that that would be before Easter.’

Downing Street confirmed that Mr Johnson wanted schools to reopen as quickly as possible but refused to be drawn on when that would be.

‘If we can open them up before Easter we obviously will do but that is determined by the latest scientific evidence and data,’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said. 

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Headlines UK London

Is Kent Covid variant REALLY deadlier? Confusion mounts as studies differ

There was confusion tonight about how deadly the Kent coronavirus variant really is after 10 SAGE studies came to wildly different conclusions about its lethality and the World Health Organization said it still hadn’t seen any convincing data.

Boris Johnson and his science chiefs tonight made the shocking claim that the strain — called B.1.1.7 — could be 30 per cent more deadly than older versions of the virus without presenting any evidence to back up the terrifying development.  

The announcement came after 10 studies submitted to SAGE overwhelmingly suggested that the strain was more lethal than past variants. But there are question marks over the findings because the estimates varied vastly and one study even found the strain was less deadly than the older version.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death from the new variant could be 1.35 times greater, Imperial College London said it was between 1.29 and 1.36 times, Exeter University found it may be 1.91 and Public Health England said it could be as high as 1.6. But there are further questions over the reliablity of the data because the research was only based on a few hundreds deaths. 

Public Health England chief Dr Susan Hopkins cautioned people from reading too much into the findings and suggested the evidence was still murky. She added: ‘There is evidence from some but not all data sources which suggests that the variant of concern which was first detected in the UK may lead to a higher risk of death than the non-variant. Evidence on this variant is still emerging and more work is underway to fully understand how it behaves.’  

Sir Patrick Vallance told the briefing tonight that hospital data had suggested the variant could increase the risk of death for a man his 60s from 1 per cent to 1.3 per cent, but he admitted ‘the evidence is not yet strong’. Adding to the confusion, Professor Chris Whitty, said he was not entirely convinced the strain was deadlier in the first place.

And thevariant has already been spotted in 60 countries, including most of continental Europe, the US, Australia, India, China and Saudi Arabia – yet none of those countries have reported a higher mortality rate from the new variant. 

Kit Yates, a mathematical biologist at the University of Bath, slammed the Government for causing confusion and panic about the variant. He tweeted: ‘I really dislike the way the news about the increased lethality of B1.1.7 was leaked out and then discussed in a press briefing. Where is the data? We want to be able to scrutinise it and to understand the detail, not just the summary.’

The WHO also undermined No10, saying it had not yet seen any evidence to convince it that the Kent strain was actually more deadly than other strains. In a thinly-veiled jab at the UK Government, the body said it was more likely that the increased death rate was a result of ministers losing a grip on infections.

Dr Mike Ryan, chief of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, told a separate press conference today: ‘There is a big difference between the lethality of a virus, how many people on average a virus kills, versus the mortality. If I have one million people infected and my lethality is 1 per cent, or two million people infected with a lethality of 1 per cent, twice as many people will die [in the second case].’

WHAT DO STUDIES SUBMITTED TO SAGE ON THE KENT STRAIN’S LETHALITY SHOW?

RESEARCH GROUP 

IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON (1)

IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON (2)

LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE & TROPICAL MEDICINE (1)  

LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE & TROPICAL MEDICINE (2)

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER 

 COVID-19 CLINICAL INFORMATION NETWORK  

PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND (1) 

PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND (2)

PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND (3)

PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND (4) 

 HOW MUCH MORE DEADLY THAN ORIGINAL STRAIN?

36% 

29% 

35% 

28%

91% 

–37%

 7%

30%

0%

65

The Kent variant first emerged in the South East of England in October and quickly become the dominant strain in Britain, sparking a devastating winter wave of infections and hospital admissions which plunged the country into a third lockdown.

Studies have shown the Kent strain is between 50 and 70 per cent more infectious than the original version thanks to key mutations on its spike protein which make it easier to lock onto human cells. This gives it an evolutionary edge over other strains.

What do we know about the Kent variant? 

Name: B.1.1.7, formerly VUI-202012/01

Where did it come from? The variant was first found in Kent and can be traced back to September 2020. Scientists noticed that it was spreading in November  and it was revealed to the public in December.

What makes it new? The variant, which is a version of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19, has a series of mutations that change the shape of the spike protein on its outside. The main one is known as N501Y. This appears to make it better able to stick to the cells inside the body and makes it more likely to cause infection and faster to spread.

How did that happen? Viruses, particularly ones spreading so fast and in such huge numbers, mutate all the time. To reproduce they basically force living cells to copy and paste the viral genetic code, and this can contain errors that lead to slightly different versions of the virus. Often these mutations make no difference but, if they make the virus stronger, they can stick around for further generations and become the norm. 

What can we do about it? Nothing much. People who catch the virus won’t know which type they have, and it will still cause the same symptoms and illness. Officials can try to contain it by locking down the areas where it is most prevalent, but if it is stronger than other versions of the virus it will eventually spread everywhere and become dominant as long as people continue to travel.  

Will our vaccines still work? Yes, it’s very likely they will. Scientists on SAGE are fairly sure the mutations the Kent variant carries do not significantly affect how well the immune system can handle it. People who have a vaccine modelled on an older version of the virus, or who have been infected with Covid-19 before, are likely to be immune to it. This is because the main mutations are only on one part of the spike protein, whereas the immune system is able to target various other parts of the virus. 

There were also fears that these same mutations could make the variant resistant to vaccines or natural immunity from previous infection. But data from UK studies suggest this won’t be the case. 

Speaking at this evening’s Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said: ‘We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’

And the PM handed over to his chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who explained: ‘If you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to, unfortunately, die… with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die. That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group.’

He added: ‘I want to stress that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is of concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today. 

Professor Neil Ferguson, who sits on the SAGE subgroup NERVTAG and whose grim modelling that hundreds of thousands of Britons could die without action spooked ministers into the first lockdown last March, said today: ‘It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty.

‘Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM, PHE and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death. That suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death. So for 60 year-olds, 13 in 1000 might die compared with 10 in 1000 for old strains.’

Public Health England refused to commit to a lethality figure. Dr Susan Hopkins, strategic response director at PHE said: ‘There is evidence from some but not all data sources which suggests that the variant of concern which was first detected in the UK may lead to a higher risk of death than the non-variant. Evidence on this variant is still emerging and more work is underway to fully understand how it behaves.’

The doom-mongering No10 press conference came despite an array of statistics that showed the second wave has peaked already and may finally be coming under control. SAGE today claimed Britain’s R rate has fallen below the crucial level of one and separate surveillance studies estimated daily cases have halved in a fortnight.

Department of Health figures mirrored the trend, with infections falling by 30 per cent week-on-week as health chiefs announced another 40,261 cases. Officials also posted 1,401 deaths, up just 9.5 per cent on last Friday. But experts warned the fatality toll will continue to rise for at least another week because of how long it takes for infected patients to become severely ill.

Defying mounting pressure to commit to easing the current measures, Mr Johnson warned today that the NHS is still under huge pressure and the curbs will only be lifted when it is ‘safe’. Downing Street was warned it faces the ‘mother of all battles’ next month when it has to discuss relaxing the restrictions.

The 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs is urging the government to start lifting the lockdown no later than March 8 – when vaccines given to the most vulnerable groups should have taken effect.

But No10’s refusal to give an exact day for when lockdown will end may have been fuelled by worrying findings from scientists feeding into SAGE who sounded the alarm about the possible increased death risk of the variant.

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Headlines UK London Manchester

No10 slaps down Tory calls for ‘road map’ out of lockdown

No10’s top scientific advisers fear the Kent Covid variant that ripped through the UK and prompted England’s third lockdown may be deadlier than original strains, it was claimed today as the Government slapped down Tory calls for a ‘road map’ back to normal life. 

Boris Johnson has pointedly refused to rule out the draconian restrictions lasting well into the summer, despite an array of data suggesting the worst of the second wave is over. SAGE today claimed Britain’s R rate has fallen below the crucial level of one and separate experts estimated daily cases have halved in a fortnight.  

Defying mounting pressure to commit to easing the current measures, Mr Johnson warned today that the NHS is still under huge pressure and the curbs will only be lifted when it is ‘safe’. Downing Street was warned it faces the ‘mother of all battles’ next month when it has to discuss relaxing the restrictions.

The 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs is urging the government to start lifting the lockdown no later than March 8 – when vaccines given to the most vulnerable groups should have taken effect. 

But No10’s refusal to give an exact day for when lockdown will end may have been fuelled by worrying findings from scientists feeding into SAGE, who believe that the highly-infectious Kent variant of Covid – called B.1.1.7 – may be up to 30 per cent deadlier than older strains. 

The PM is expected to discuss analysis of the variant’s lethality by Public Health England and other groups feeding into NERVTAG at tonight’s press conference, alongside Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London epidemiologist whose grim modelling warned hundreds of thousands of Britons could die without action back in March, told ITV’s Robert Peston it is a ‘realistic possibility’ the new variant increases the risk of death. 

The variant has already been spotted in 60 countries, including the US, Australia, India, China and Saudi Arabia. But the Government’s top scientific advisers believe the current crop of vaccines will work against the variant – but may be less effective against other South African and Brazilian mutations. 

In a dramatic sign that the outbreak could be flattening out, SAGE said the R rate – the average number of people each infected patient passes the virus onto – was between 0.8 and 1. That is down sharply from last week, when it was between 1.2 and 1.3.

Separate data show cases have halved in a fortnight and deaths in London are falling. And figures today revealed Britain’s mass vaccination drive is continuing to pick up speed following a blip last week, with a record 400,000 doses dished out yesterday.  

The epidemic is still huge and devastating the country, however, with another 1,401 deaths confirmed today – 10,000 people have died in the past 10 days – and 40,261 more people have tested positive. There are 38,562 people in hospital, as of Wednesday, and 3,960 on ventilators in intensive care yesterday.

And grim figures laying bare the other economically-crippling side of lockdown reveal business activity has fallen even more than expected this month, leaving the UK looking down the barrel of a double dip recession. Number 10 borrowed more than £34billion in December – the third highest monthly total ever – as it scrambles to keep millions of jobs and stricken firms afloat while tax revenues dwindle.

Instead Cabinet ministers are embroiled in an unseemly squabble over whether to pump up financial support further and toughen rules at UK borders. A leaked plan from Matt Hancock’s Department of Health would see everyone who tests positive for coronavirus given £500 in cash to self-isolate.

The idea, which could cost half a billion pounds a week, is meant to bolster low levels of compliance – but officials at Rishi Sunak’s Treasury branded it ‘bonkers’, while No10 effectively disowned the proposal, saying the PM had not seen it. 

Meanwhile, the powerful Covid O Cabinet committee is due to made a decision on introducing ‘quarantine hotels’ next week – with all arrivals potentially forced to isolate for 10 days at airports in a bid to prevent more Covid ‘super-strains’ being imported. 

In another whirlwind day of developments in the coronavirus crisis:

  • Nicola Sturgeon has warned there is no guarantee life will be ‘back to normal’ by the summer; 
  • Police raided a lockdown-busting wedding at a Jewish girls’ school last night – 10 months after its principal died of Covid; 
  • A group of 26 British skiers is in isolation in a French resort after 16 tested positive for Covid; 
  • Passengers at Heathrow have vented anger at delays and plans for enforced quarantine as the travel industry warned of looming catastrophe; 
  • An official survey revealed 98 per cent of adults aged 70 or over would show up to a vaccination appointment, but the figure is far lower for younger people. 

In a dramatic sign that the outbreak could be flattening out, SAGE said the R rate was between 0.8 and 1. That is down sharply from last week, when it was between 1.2 and 1.3

Worrying strains around the world: Since the Covid pandemic began there have been at least six new stains which appear more infectious and have mutations that open the door to vaccine resistance

Worrying strains around the world: Since the Covid pandemic began there have been at least six new stains which appear more infectious and have mutations that open the door to vaccine resistance 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a storm basin near the River Mersey in Didsbury on January 21, 2021 in Manchester, England

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a storm basin near the River Mersey in Didsbury on January 21, 2021 in Manchester, England

The ONS report today said the number of people likely to test positive for coronavirus came down from 1.122million on January 2 to 1.023million on January 16

The ONS report today said the number of people likely to test positive for coronavirus came down from 1.122million on January 2 to 1.023million on January 16

Passengers wait at  Heathrow Airport today as ministers mull even tighter rules

Passengers wait at  Heathrow Airport today as ministers mull even tighter rules

The number of people developing Covid-19 every day appears to have halved in a fortnight from 70,000 on January 8 to 34,000 today, according to the Covid Symptom Study, which uses self-reported symptoms through a mobile app used by around a million people

The number of people developing Covid-19 every day appears to have halved in a fortnight from 70,000 on January 8 to 34,000 today, according to the Covid Symptom Study, which uses self-reported symptoms through a mobile app used by around a million people

Grim figures published today showed government borrowing soared to £34.1billion in December - the third highest monthly figure on record - amid growing fears about the UK's debt mountain

Grim figures published today showed government borrowing soared to £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record – amid growing fears about the UK’s debt mountain

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January - with anything blow 50 pointing to a contraction

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January – with anything blow 50 pointing to a contraction

Has the UK passed the worst of second peak? 

The UK’s R rate has dropped below one in a dramatic sign that the peak could have been passed.

Scientists said the level was down to between 0.8 and 1, compared to 1.2 and 1.3. 

The number represents how many people an infected individual passes the disease on to, and anything below one means the outbreak is shrinking. 

Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics said the total number of people with coronavirus dropped last week – but there were still more than a million people infected. 

And the symptom-tracking Covid Symptom Study estimates that the number of people developing symptoms each day has halved in a fortnight, down to 34,000 a day from 70,000 on January 8, while official death counts show fatalities appear to be declining in London.

Numbers of people testing positive through NHS Test and Trace have also tumbled for twelve days in a row, with the daily average tumbling from 60,000 on January 10 to 40,000 yesterday. And an array of other data also suggests the epidemic is coming under control, with Public Health England figures showing positive test rates are down in all regions and age groups.

London’s average daily death count fell from 169 to 163 in the most recent four days of data and could be set to fall further as official statistics remain lower than they were at the start of this month. 

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist, said today that the ‘signs are hopeful we’re on our way out of this situation’.

But he cautioned the virus is still widespread all over the country, with huge numbers of people infected. NHS hospitals are under immense strain and intensive care wards twice as busy as last year, despite thousands of extra beds. 

The estimates for R and the growth rate are provided by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), a sub-group of Sage.

The growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between minus 4 per cent and minus 1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

It means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1 per cent and 4 per cent every day.

Scientists advising the Government said that all regions of England have seen decreases in the R number and growth rate estimates compared with last week, and R is below or around 1 in every region.

However, they warned that despite the reductions, case levels ‘remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives’.

Sage scientists said: ‘Cases remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives. 

‘It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not. 

‘We all need to play our part, and if everyone continues to follow the rules, we can expect to drive down the R number across the country.’

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, from the maths faculty at the University of Cambridge, said the drop in R was ‘very encouraging news’.

He said the decline in positive cases has been slow but cases are ‘nearly half what they were three weeks ago, which is enormously hopeful’.

Sir David told the BBC that, by next month, the UK will start seeing the benefits of the vaccine rollout.

But he also gave a stark vision of the competing concerns that the government is wrestling with. 

‘The one thing I can be absolutely confident about is that, by this time next month, there is going to be the mother of all argument,’ he said.

‘Because it’s quite feasible that deaths will have come down considerably, infections should have come down considerably, hospitalisations and ICU will still be under a lot of pressure.

‘There will be enormous pressure to loosen things up.

‘Loosening it up will inevitably lead to an increase in cases, a resurgence of the pandemic among younger groups, and we can see then that does seep through into hospitalisations.

Kent variant timeline  

September 20 – Variant emerges in a chronically ill Covid-19 patient in Kent 

November 6 – Infected person takes the new strain to California  

November 2020 – Spike in cases occurs in Kent and Medway despite national lockdown squashing case numbers in the rest of the country 

November 23 – Air passenger brings new variant to  Florida

December 11 – SAGE tells the Government about the new variant 

December 14 –  Authorities of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reported to WHO that new SARS-CoV-2 variant was identified through viral genomic sequencing

Matt Hancock tells MPs about the new variant  

December 18 – SAGE tells the Government they are concerned about the new variant and its transmissibility

December 20 – London, South East and East of England go into new Tier 4 restrictions due to spike in cases due to new variant 

December 21 – More than 40 countries halt flights from UK due to new variant 

December 29 – First case is spotted in the US 

All dates are for the year 2020  

‘So there’s going to be a real battle going on.’

Hopes have been fuelled that the UK might have passed the worst of the second wave, with the Office for National Statistics saying the total number of people with coronavirus dropped last week – but there were still more than a million people infected.

And the symptom-tracking Covid Symptom Study estimates that the number of people developing symptoms each day has halved in a fortnight, down to 34,000 a day from 70,000 on January 8, and that the R rate of the virus in the UK is just 0.8, while official death counts show fatalities appear to be declining in London.

Numbers of people testing positive through NHS Test and Trace have also tumbled for twelve days in a row, with the daily average tumbling from 60,000 on January 10 to 40,000 yesterday, and Public Health England figures show positive test rates were down in all regions and age groups last week.

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist, said today that the ‘signs are hopeful we’re on our way out of this situation’.

London’s average daily death count fell from 169 to 163 in the most recent four days of data and could be set to fall further as official statistics remain lower than they were at the start of this month.

But he cautioned the virus is still widespread all over the country, with huge numbers of people infected. NHS hospitals are under immense strain and intensive care wards twice as busy as last year, despite thousands of extra beds.

More than 20,000 people have died since January 1 and thousands more will die in the coming weeks even with cases continuing to fall because it can take weeks for infected patients to become severely ill. Almost 40,000 Britons are currently in hospital with Covid.

Despite the flattening, the direction of travel in government seems to be towards tightening lockdown even further. 

And No10 delivered a rebuke this afternoon to Tory MPs urging the government to release a blueprint for how lockdown will be eased when the first phase of vaccine rollout is complete  

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘It’s important that we continue to monitor the latest situation.

‘You see the latest figures that we publish on a daily basis which clearly show that transmission rates of the virus remain high.

‘The NHS continues to be under pressure and the number of patients admitted to hospital remains at a high level.

‘It’s obviously the case that we want to see the transmission rate of the virus come down and therefore the pressure on the NHS eased.

‘The Prime Minister has been clear that we will lift restrictions as soon as we can but only when it is deemed safe to do so.’

There were reports today that ministers are already in talks with hotel chains over plans to force UK arrivals to quarantine at airports.

Travellers could be prevented from using their own accommodation under the proposals being put together by the government. Using GPS tags to ensure compliance is also believed to have been considered.

The draconian ‘quarantine hotel’ system, similar to that used in Australia and New Zealand, is a prospect amid rising fears about the spread of Covid variants around the globe.

Arrivals would potentially have to pay for their stays while they self-isolate for 10 days, or even a fortnight. There are reports today that negotiations are already taking place with hotel chains, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was in favour.

The powerful Covid O Cabinet sub-committee is due to discuss the ideas over the coming days – although a final decision is not likely until next week.   

Environment Secretary George has refused to rule out even more drastic action, with foreigners barred from coming to the UK altogether.    

Asked about the possibility in a round of interviews, Mr Eustice told Sky News: ‘We always keep these things under review. And it has been considered.

‘There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains.’

Any new restrictions would be a further blow to the beleaguered travel industry and put the holiday plans of millions at risk.

It comes as Britain’s airports are already struggling to cope with demand, with passengers queuing for hours yesterday to get through passport control at Heathrow as the border situation worsened.

The lines were so long staff were said to have handed out free water to exhausted travellers just hours after the Home Office insisted there were no staffing issues and people were moving through in ‘good time’. 

The proposal to hand out £500 to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus has surfaced amid efforts to increase compliance – with many believed to dodge the rules because they cannot afford to stop working.

Detailed in an official policy paper, it is said to be the ‘preferred position’ of Mr Hancock’s Department of Health.

Ministers mull ‘quarantine hotels’ for UK arrivals 

Ministers are in talks with hotel chains over plans to force UK arrivals to quarantine at airports, it was claimed today.

Travellers could be prevented from using their own accommodation under the proposals being put together by the government. Using GPS tags to ensure compliance is also believed to have been considered.

The draconian ‘quarantine hotel’ system, similar to that used in Australia and New Zealand, is a prospect amid rising fears about the spread of Covid variants around the globe.

Arrivals would potentially have to pay for their stays while they self-isolate for 10 days, or even a fortnight. There are reports today that negotiations are already taking place with hotel chains, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was in favour.

The powerful Covid O Cabinet sub-committee is due to discuss the ideas over the coming days – although a final decision is not likely until next week.   

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary George has refused to rule out even more drastic action, with foreigners barred from coming to the UK altogether.    

Asked about the possibility, Mr Eustice told Sky News: ‘We always keep these things under review. And it has been considered.

‘There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains.’

Officials fear that too many with Covid symptoms fail to take a test in case knowing a positive result stops them working.

However, it appears to have blindsided Downing Street, with sources making clear No10 was had not seen the blueprint before it was leaked and warning it would create ‘perverse incentives’.

Treasury officials said it was ‘not going to happen’ and swiped that they had ‘zero idea’ how Mr Hancock allowed it to get traction. ‘Just bonkers. The whole country will suddenly develop a dry cough,’ one said.

Mr Eustice refused to rule out the plan entirely, saying ministers were looking at reasons why people avoid self-isolating with Covid symptoms.

But he stressed that ‘no decisions’ had been taken and the government was ‘always keeping multiple policies under review’. 

The wrangling came as as grim figures showed business activity plunging into the red again this month.

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January – with anything below 50 pointing to a contraction.

It was significantly worse than the expectations of analysts, who had predicted 46.1, underlining the devastating impact of the pandemic. 

Economists warned that a double-dip downturn is now firmly ‘on the cards’ after the fledgling recovery from the worst recession in 300 years was strangled by action to control a surge in cases.

Figures last week showed GDP dropping 2.6 per cent in November during the second England-wide Covid lockdown.

Any December rally will have been smothered by the harsh ‘tier’ controls in England, and the renewed blanket curbs in January.

In more signs of the huge problems facing the country, figures have revealed public borrowing hit £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record. 

And retail sales saw the largest fall since records began last year, even though there was a slight uptick in December.

However, separate PMI released for the Eurozone show the UK is far from alone, with France and other major players also facing GDP going into reverse again.  

Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said its ‘flash’ PMI for this month showed the crucial services sector had been hit ‘especially hard’.

However, in a crumb of comfort, he said the scale of the downturn was far less dramatic than last spring. 

‘A steep slump in business activity in January puts the locked-down UK economy on course to contract sharply in the first quarter of 2021, meaning a double-dip recession is on the cards,’ he said. 

‘Services have once again been especially hard hit, but manufacturing has seen growth almost stall, blamed on a cocktail of COVID-19 and Brexit, which has led to increasingly widespread supply delays, rising costs and falling exports. 

UK faces double-dip recession as business activity slumps in January

Britain is facing a double-dip recession as grim figures showed business activity plunging into the red again this month.

Closely-watched PMI data for the private sector showed a reading of 40.6 so far in January – with anything below 50 pointing to a contraction.

It was significantly worse than the expectations of analysts, who had predicted 46.1, underlining the devastating impact of the pandemic. 

Economists warned that a double-dip downturn is now firmly ‘on the cards’ after the fledgling recovery from the worst recession in 300 years was strangled by action to control a surge in cases.

Figures last week showed GDP dropping 2.6 per cent in November during the second England-wide Covid lockdown.

Any December rally will have been smothered by the harsh ‘tier’ controls in England, and the renewed blanket curbs in January.

In more signs of the huge problems facing the country, figures have revealed public borrowing hit £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record. 

And retail sales saw the largest fall since records began last year, even though there was a slight uptick in December.

However, separate PMI released for the Eurozone show the UK is far from alone, with France and other major players also facing GDP going into reverse again.  

‘Worryingly, January also saw companies reduce headcounts at an increased rate again – albeit less so than seen between March and November. The steepest loss of jobs was recorded in the hotels, restaurants, travel and leisure sectors, reflecting the new lockdown measures. 

‘Encouragingly, the current downturn looks far less severe than that seen during the first national lockdown, and businesses have become increasingly optimistic about the outlook, thanks mainly to progress in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. 

‘Business hopes for the year ahead have risen the highest for over six-and-a-half years, boding well for the economy to return to solid growth once virus restrictions ease.’ 

Government borrowing soared to £34.1billion in December – the third highest monthly figure on record – amid growing fears about the UK’s debt mountain.

The number for the last month of 2020 was £28.2billion higher than the equivalent period in 2019 as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy and ministers lashed out on massive bailouts such as furlough.

It pushed total borrowing for the first nine months of the financial year to £270.8billion, the peak for any April to December period since records began in 1993. 

There are fears the full-year figure will top £400billion. Even in the aftermath of the credit crunch, borrowing only hit £158billion in 2009-10. 

The UK’s debt pile reached £2.13trillion by the end of 2020, around 99.4 per cent of GDP – the highest debt to GDP ratio since 1962.  

Other PMI produced by IHS Markit today showed a double-dip recession in the Eurozone is ‘increasingly inevitable’, with France among the countries most seriously hit. 

The slowdown among business activities in the currency area intensified in January as the pandemic continued to batter the continent.    

Government scientists yesterday urged ministers to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants until at least May to prevent another wave of the virus. Whitehall sources suggested schools could remain shut to most pupils until after Easter.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would ‘struggle to survive’ if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May. 

She added: ‘If we are forced to wait for a longer period then unfortunately there will be very little left of the hospitality sector – and the 3.2million people who work in it – to reopen at that point in May.’

In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has repeatedly spoken of a return to normality this spring.

 Last month he said: ‘We’re no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year in the spring but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed.’

But asked directly whether the country was ‘looking at summer rather than spring’ for an easing of lockdown yesterday, he replied: ‘I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of some of the restrictions.’

The PM said the new variant of the disease ‘does spread very fast indeed’, adding: ‘It unquestionably will be a very tough few weeks ahead.’

No10 also refused to rule out an extended lockdown when asked to clarify Mr Johnson’s remarks.

There are early signs in Government data that number of people dying each day in London has turned a corner and started to decline in mid-January, with the daily average declining from 169 to 163 and falling for four days in a row between January 10 and 14

There are early signs in Government data that number of people dying each day in London has turned a corner and started to decline in mid-January, with the daily average declining from 169 to 163 and falling for four days in a row between January 10 and 14

Hancock faces backlash over ‘bonkers’ plan to give people £500 when they test positive for Covid 

Matt Hancock faced a furious backlash today after ‘bonkers’ plans surfaced to give everyone testing positive for Covid £500.

The proposal, which would cost up to £450million a week, is aimed at encouraging more people to undergo swabs and self-isolate to stop the virus spreading.

Detailed in an official policy paper, it is said to be the ‘preferred position’ of Mr Hancock’s Department of Health.

Officials fear that too many with Covid symptoms fail to take a test in case knowing a positive result stops them working.

However, it appears to have blindsided Downing Street, with sources making clear No10 was had not seen the blueprint before it was leaked and warning it would create ‘perverse incentives’.

Treasury officials said it was ‘not going to happen’ and swiped that they had ‘zero idea’ how Mr Hancock allowed it to get traction. ‘Just bonkers. The whole country will suddenly develop a dry cough,’ one said.

In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice refused to rule out the plan entirely, saying ministers were looking at reasons why people avoid self-isolating with Covid symptoms.

But he stressed that ‘no decisions’ had been taken and the government was ‘always keeping multiple policies under review’. 

Asked directly whether he could rule out the lockdown lasting into the summer, the PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.

‘It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.’

A Government source insisted that the PM’s comments did not amount to a change in the timetable for easing the lockdown.

‘People should not read too much into this,’ the source said. ‘The PM wants to reopen as quickly as we safely can, but cases are very high and only coming down slowly – there has to be a degree of caution.’

Former Tory chief whip Mr Harper said the public now needed a timetable for easing the lockdown. 

Mr Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said achieving the Government’s target to vaccinate the 15million most vulnerable by February 15 should clear the way for restrictions to be lifted three weeks later when the vaccines had taken effect. 

‘Covid causes serious harm and it’s vital we control it effectively,’ he said. ‘But this cycle of lockdowns and restrictions cause immense damage too – to people’s health, livelihoods and businesses.

‘Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected… the Government must start easing the restrictions.’ But Government scientists and health chiefs warned it was much too soon to even contemplate easing restrictions.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London said the pandemic was ‘the biggest health emergency to face this country since the Second World War’.

Rounding on those still flouting the lockdown rules, he told a Downing Street press briefing: ‘For me and my colleagues in the NHS breaking the rules…. is like switching on a light in the middle of the blackout in the Blitz.’

And Dr Marc Baguelin, of Imperial College London, who sits on a sub-group of the Government’s Sage committee, said the early opening of the hospitality sector would lead to a rise in Covid cases. He told BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme: ‘Something of this scale, if it was to happen earlier than May, would generate a bump in transmission, which is already really bad.’ 

No Glasto in June for the second year

Glastonbury Festival has been cancelled for the second year running thanks to the pandemic.

The organisers say they ‘moved heaven and earth’ trying to make it happen but continuing uncertainty means Britain’s biggest musical jamboree – attended by 200,000 fans in 2019 – cannot go ahead.

It was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary last year but had to be called off days before the first lockdown in March.

Now organisers Michael and Emily Eavis say the 2021 event cannot go ahead. Sir Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift and rapper Kendrick Lamar were scheduled to headline the Pyramid stage and Diana Ross was the Sunday afternoon ‘legend’.

People in the festival crowd enjoy watching Dizzee Rascal on the Pyramid stage during day two of the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 25, 2010 in Glastonbury, England

People in the festival crowd enjoy watching Dizzee Rascal on the Pyramid stage during day two of the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 25, 2010 in Glastonbury, England

Primal Scream, Dua Lipa, Manic Street Preachers and Lana Del Ray were also on the bill.

The father and daughter Eavis team said yesterday: ‘With great regret, we must announce that this year’s Glastonbury Festival will not take place and that this will be another enforced fallow year for us.

‘In spite of our efforts to move heaven and earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the festival happen.’

They said those who secured tickets with £50 deposits in 2019 will be able to roll this over to the next event in June 2022.

Disappointed fans due to descend on Worthy Farm, Somerset, from June 23-28 said the move was understandable, but Tory MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Commons culture committee, called it a ‘devastating’ blow and criticised the government’s failure to set up an insurance scheme to save major events.

Tom Watson, head of UK Music, said such a backup scheme ‘wouldn’t have cost too much’ and if Britain’s vaccine rollout proved a success Glastonbury would have provided an ideal celebration.

Eurostar passengers down 94% of passengers

Eurostar passenger numbers plummeted 94 per cent at the end of 2020, it emerged yesterday, sparking fresh calls for a joint UK-French support package.

Officials from both sides continued talks yesterday in a bid to strike a deal amid fears the Channel Tunnel firm is facing bankruptcy.

Yesterday’s figures reveal that, over the course of 2020, passenger numbers were down 77 per cent, dropping from just over 11 million in 2019 to 2.5 million.

Workers clean the platform area as a Eurostar train bound for Paris prepares to leave St Pancras International train station in London on January 18, 2021

Workers clean the platform area as a Eurostar train bound for Paris prepares to leave St Pancras International train station in London on January 18, 2021

The fall reached 94 per cent in the final quarter when passenger numbers were 170,010, compared with 2,624,943 in 2019.

One rescue option being discussed would involve the Bank of England providing funds from its Covid loan facility.

Industry projections suggest Eurostar, which is majority-owned by the French government, could go bust by April, although company insiders say reserves could stretch until summer. The UK Government sold its 40 per cent stake in Eurostar in 2015.

Cafes and bars could see 3.2m jobs axed

By Claire Ellicott and Sami Quadri for The Daily Mail 

Hospitality chiefs issued a dire warning about the future of many businesses last night after doctors advised that the reopening of pubs and restaurants should be pushed back to May.

Industry leaders said that just one in five restaurants, pubs and bars had enough cash to get through beyond March.

It came after Sage scientists who advise the Government warned that the sector would have to stay closed until at least May to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told Radio 4’s The World At One that if the reopening of the sector was delayed until May, 3.2million could lose their jobs.

Diners in Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in August 2020

Diners in Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in August 2020

‘Just one in five hospitality businesses are confident that they will have enough cash to get through beyond March,’ she said. ‘There is no way that businesses will be able to survive until May with no revenues coming in for seven months.

‘It’s a cash burn of half a billion pounds to keep the sector closed each and every month. If we are forced to wait for a longer period then unfortunately there will be little left of the hospitality sector and the 3.2million people who work in it to reopen at that point in May.’

She said she hoped that with the vaccination programme under way, there would be a ‘pathway’ to the lifting of restrictions.

‘Otherwise I think you’ve got a danger that you have an impact on peoples’ mental health and well-being and also their economic health and well-being,’ she said.

A man wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, walks past a closed pub in the City of London, on January 15, 2021

A man wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, walks past a closed pub in the City of London, on January 15, 2021

If the sector is closed until May, she warned, there would need to be a ‘significant additional injection of cash support from the Government because the support at the moment is just not sufficient to sustain and maintain businesses and jobs’.

Doctors warned restaurants would not be able to open until May because it would push up the R rate.

Dr Marc Baguelin of Imperial College London, who sits on the Sage committee, said: ‘We looked at partial reopening and the increase of the R number and found that it will generate an increase, the extent of which we don’t really know.

‘And if this was to happen earlier than May, it will generate a bump which is really bad … at best you will carry on having a very unsustainable level of pressure on the NHS.’

School’s out until Easter? 

By Jason Groves for The Daily Mail 

Schools could remain shut until after the Easter holidays unless virus cases fall dramatically in the coming weeks, it was feared last night.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term.

But with Covid cases still at high levels, Downing Street refused to be drawn on the likely restart for millions of children stuck trying to learn from home.

And a government source acknowledged it was becoming ‘increasingly difficult’ to see how schools could be reopened next month, given the state of the pandemic.

During a round of media interviews yesterday, Mr Williamson insisted there would be no repeat of the shambolic episode at the start of this month when schools were ordered to close just one day after returning from the Christmas break.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term (stock photo)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term (stock photo)

He said schools would get at least two weeks’ notice of any order to reopen – suggesting that ministers will have to decide by February 8 whether classrooms will reopen for the start of the second half of the spring term on February 22.

Although Boris Johnson has prioritised the early reopening of schools, government scientists have warned that a return to the classroom could trigger another sharp spike.

‘We have to be realistic about the situation we are in and the impact reopening schools might have,’ a source told the Mail.

Dr Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union, said: ‘After the chaos and confusion that government incompetence over school opening and closure has created, it is good we now have an assurance from Gavin Williamson that school staff will be given two weeks’ notice before reopening.

‘The last thing that parents and children need now is a stop-start approach. We all want schools to be open, but they must be opened when it is safe to do so, and when the conditions are right to keep schools open sustainably.’

Any delays will pile pressure on Mr Williamson to ensure high quality education is available to all those children forced to stay at home.

He said a further 1.3 million laptops, tablets and routers would be distributed to those in need in the coming weeks to widen access to online learning, providing the ‘ultimate safety net’ for disadvantaged pupils.

He added that he had ‘made it clear to schools’ what was the ‘absolute minimum’ they were expected to provide.

Mr Williamson said he wanted to get pupils back in the classroom at the ‘earliest possible opportunity’, adding: ‘I would certainly hope that that would be before Easter.’

Downing Street confirmed that Mr Johnson wanted schools to reopen as quickly as possible but refused to be drawn on when that would be.

‘If we can open them up before Easter we obviously will do but that is determined by the latest scientific evidence and data,’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said. 

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Rishi Sunak ‘in Cabinet row over extra Universal Credit cash’

Downing Street has insisted it is ‘not the right and proper moment’ to decide if a £20-a-week Universal Credit increase should be kept in place after Boris Johnson told Tory MPs to abstain on a crunch Labour vote tonight.  

The Government rolled-out the extra cash last year to help families through the coronavirus pandemic but the policy is due to expire in April. 

The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Allegra Stratton, said at lunchtime that a firm decision has not yet been taken on whether the increased payments will be extended. 

She said Chancellor Rishi Sunak will ‘come forward when he thinks the time is right’ to deliver a final verdict, with ministers having hinted that moment will be the Budget on March 3. 

Labour will try to force a symbolic vote on keeping the payments this evening after holding an opposition day debate on the matter.  

But Downing Street has labelled the move a ‘political stunt’, with Mr Johnson telling Conservative MPs to abstain. 

The PM has claimed Sir Keir Starmer is ‘playing politics’ and accused Labour ‘trolls’ of ‘intimidating and threatening’ Tory MPs on the issue. 

Mr Johnson said similar votes in the past had been ‘misrepresented’ by Labour and he did not want to risk that happening again. 

However, a number of Tory MPs are still expected to rebel and vote with Labour.  

Mr Sunak is said to be at the centre of a Cabinet row on whether to extend the payments.  

The Chancellor reportedly wants to scrap the increase because he believes that if it remains in place there is a risk it could become permanent at a cost to the Treasury of approximately £6billion per year. 

Tory MPs have demanded Mr Sunak keep the extra payments until the UK is clear of the Covid-19 crisis while Cabinet ministers, led by Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, are also urging him to look at extending the policy. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly facing a Cabinet row over whether to extend a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit payments 

Boris Johnson has instructed Tory MPs to abstain when Labour forces votes on Universal Credit and free school meals today

Boris Johnson has instructed Tory MPs to abstain when Labour forces votes on Universal Credit and free school meals today

Boris Johnson compares Labour ‘trolls’ to Trump supporters ‘inciting hatred’ as he accuses them of ‘intimidating and threatening’ Tory MPs over Universal Credit vote

Boris Johnson has accused Labour ‘trolls’ of ‘intimidating and threatening’ Tory MPs on the crunch issues of Universal Credit and free school meals. 

Labour is set to force symbolic votes on the two issues in the House of Commons this evening but Mr Johnson has instructed his Conservative MPs to abstain. 

He reportedly said similar votes in the past had been ‘misrepresented’ and he did not want to risk that happening again. 

Labour will hold opposition day debates in a bid to force the Government to keep a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit in place and to demand the extension of the free school meals programme. 

The votes that follow the debates are not binding but Mr Johnson has told Tory MPs that he is wary of what could happen if his colleagues were to vote against the motions. 

According to The Sun, Mr Johnson told Tory MPs in a WhatsApp message sent yesterday that he knew many would be ‘thirsting to give battle’ to Labour.

He continued: ‘But after the shameful way in which they used their army of momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimidate and threaten colleagues – especially female colleagues – I have decided not to give them that opportunity.’ 

Mr Johnson accused Labour of ‘playing politics’ and of ‘inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)’.

Ms Stratton sought at lunchtime to explain Mr Johnson’s decision to tell Tory MPs to abstain on today’s vote. 

She said: ‘He is asking people to abstain because today is not the right and proper moment for the Government to be talking about Universal Credit and the £20 uplift.

‘We have always said, the Chancellor has said repeatedly, that he will be coming back to the House in due course with his decision on what should be done with the £20 uplift that is due to end at the end of March.’

Asked why the Government does not simply make a decision now, Ms Stratton said: ‘The Chancellor is constantly filtering the latest up to date information on the economic and health context.

‘That is what he has been doing throughout the pandemic. He has always said he and the Prime Minister will do whatever it takes. That remains true.

‘He is monitoring that data and will come forward when he thinks the time is right.’

She added: ‘We haven’t said whether or not we will continue [with the uplift]. The Chancellor will be coming forward in due course.’ 

Mr Johnson would not be drawn on whether the policy will be extended, telling the BBC during a visit this afternoon:  ‘I think you have heard me say that we will want to support people throughout the pandemic.

‘We want to make sure that people don’t suffer as a result of the economic consequences of the pandemic.

‘When you look at what the Government has done to provide £280billion worth of support, the furlough scheme, the bounce back loans, colossal investment, probably more than most other comparable countries.

‘I don’t think you could fault the Government for supporting people. We will continue to do that.’ 

Sir Keir labelled Mr Johnson’s decision to tell Tory MPs to abstain ‘pathetic’. 

He told ITV’s Lorraine: ‘If he’s going to call it a stunt, he should probably come with me to a food distribution centre to see these families this morning and explain to them what is a lifeline to them is a stunt, because it certainly isn’t from their point of view.

‘I actually think in their heart of hearts, quite a lot of Tory MPs know that cutting this money to people who desperately need it in the middle of a pandemic is the wrong thing to do, they know that, they probably want to vote with us but because of the tribal way we do politics, they can’t.

‘The Prime Minister’s now saying in answer to the question: ‘Do you think this uplift should stay or not?’ he’s saying: ‘I don’t want to say yes and I don’t want to say no, so we’re going to abstain’. He’s got no view on whether it should stay or not – that’s pretty pathetic.’

The Times reported that Mr Sunak, Mr Johnson and Ms Coffey met on Friday to look at alternatives to the Universal Credit uplift but no decisions have been made.

One option which is said to be under consideration is to replace the increased payments with a one-off payment of £500. The uplift is currently worth more than £1,000 a year.  

A final decision is not expected to be announced until Mr Sunak delivers the Budget on March 3. 

A Whitehall source suggested Mr Sunak will be isolated in the Cabinet if he does try to scrap the extra payments, telling Politico: ‘The Chancellor is about to find himself on his own. Read the room Rishi.’        

But allies of the Chancellor have pointed to the cost of keeping the policy as they argued it cannot continue indefinitely. 

One Tory official said: ‘As conservatives, we know that work is the best way out of poverty. It’s time we reminded ourselves of that.’ 

However, Labour has highlighted that many Universal Credit claimants are already in work. 

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: ‘2.2m recipients of UC are *working* & 70% of children in poverty are in working families. The problem is poverty pay.’ 

The Government is under pressure from its own backbenches to keep the extra £20-a-week payments in place. 

The Northern Research Group, which consists of 65 Tory MPs from the north of England, north Wales and Scotland, has called for the payments to be kept until lockdown restrictions have been lifted. 

Speaking on behalf of the NRG, Conservative MP John Stevenson said: ‘The £1,000 uplift to universal credit has been a real life-saver for people throughout this pandemic. 

‘To end it now would be devastating for the 6million individuals and families who are already struggling to stay afloat.

‘Equally, replacing the current system with a £500 one-off-payment which is half the amount people have been receiving and would exclude the estimated 800,000 people expected to become unemployed in the second quarter of 2021 after the job retention scheme stops will not be sufficient.

‘It would see many people falling through the gaps and would damage our economic recovery.

‘That is why the NRG are once again calling on the Chancellor to extend the Universal Credit uplift until restrictions are lifted, to ensure that individuals and families who have been worst affected by this pandemic are supported through our recovery with the security they need.’

Mr Johnson has accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of 'playing politics' on the issue of Universal Credit

Mr Johnson has accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of ‘playing politics’ on the issue of Universal Credit

Tory former work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb said he intends to vote with Labour, arguing that withdrawing the increase ‘will cause hardship to families’.

Mr Crabb told the BBC it will be the first time he has rebelled against the Tory party whip.

‘I just feel very, very strongly that the current Treasury plan, which is to withdraw that additional amount of money at the end of March, will cause hardship to families, there’s no question about that,’ he said.

Senior Tory backbencher Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, said Universal Credit has been ‘invaluable for millions of people during the lockdown’.

‘Depending on what the Government says later, I am most likely to vote for the Labour motion unless the Government makes it absolutely clear it will be extending,’ he told the BBC.

Labour will hold the opposition day debate this afternoon in a bid to force the Government to keep the payments and to demand the extension of the free school meals programme. 

The votes that follow the debates are non-binding but Mr Johnson has told Tory MPs to abstain because he is wary of what could happen if they vote against the motions.

According to The Sun, Mr Johnson told Tory MPs in a WhatsApp message sent yesterday that he knew many would be ‘thirsting to give battle’ to Labour.

He continued: ‘But after the shameful way in which they used their army of momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimidate and threaten colleagues – especially female colleagues – I have decided not to give them that opportunity.’ 

Mr Johnson accused Labour of ‘playing politics’ and of ‘inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)’.

Categories
Technology UK

One in five work Zoom freezes or breaks up because of bad Wi-Fi


One in five work video calls freezes and 15 per cent drop out altogether because of bad Wi-Fi, a study has found

Research polling 2,000 adults found they have done an average of five video calls a week since the start of the pandemic.

But a fifth of those also suffered delays, leading to awkward conversations as people tried to keep up with what was being discussed.

Following the findings, an amusing gallery of some embarrassing mid-call freeze moments has been compiled.

It includes people being caught eating as the video screen freezes as well as those who lost connection while pulling an embarrassing facial expression.

Gareth Lister, director of connectivity at Virgin Media, which commissioned the research and compiled the images as part of the launch of Intelligent Wi-Fi Plus, said: “We understand how frustrating bad Wi-Fi can be and no one wants the shame of a frozen self-portrait.

Work calls are now a big part of many people’s lives

“With work meetings and social events being held virtually, it’s more important than ever that your Wi-Fi is on point all of the time and reaches every part of your home.”

The study also found that a quarter of adults lose patience with a frozen or lagging call after just 30 seconds of problems.

Almost four in 10 are left feeling frustrated while 21 per cent feel fed-up.

Of those polled, 15 per cent admitted they have taken a screenshot of someone else after they froze on the screen and 11 per cent have had their photo taken.

This includes pictures of people yawning (22 per cent), eating (17 per cent) and rolling their eyes (10 per cent).

To get around the connection issues, people have restarted devices (19 per cent), moved closer to their router (12 per cent) or even to another room (10 per cent) in search of signal.

A further 11 per cent have closed all other browsers while 10 per cent have upgraded their broadband package (10 percent).

For many the work Christmas party went online
For many the work Christmas party went online

But it’s not just video calls where Brits have experienced Wi-Fi issues, with films and TV shows buffering (30 per cent) and online games lagging (12 per cent) also leaving them frustrated.

Gareth added: “People are going out of their way – quite literally to different rooms – to try and find a reliable W-Fi signal for crucial work calls or when catching up with family and friends.

“Intelligent Wi-Fi Plus with our new Wi-Fi Pods will provide faster and more reliable speeds throughout the entire home to help customers stay connected on all of their devices, in every room, all of the time.”

With the nation once again under lockdown restrictions, Brits most want to improve Wi-Fi in their office or work from home space (16 per cent) and in their living rooms to watch Ultra-HD TV (13 per cent) during the lockdown.

BIGGEST VIDEO CALL BUGBEARS:
1. Everyone speaking at once
2. Struggling to hear someone but not wanting to say ‘pardon’ again
3. Cameras freezing
4. Speaking before realising you’re on mute
5. Not being able to see everyone on the call at once
6. Not knowing when to jump in the conversation
7. Microphone not working
8. Struggling to share your screen
9. The call crashing and having to log back in
10. The call time running out and having to log back in





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Headlines UK London

Food parcel scandal: How much food can you buy with a budget of £15.20?

The dispiriting photo shared by a parent in receipt of a Government school meal food parcel – where the items appeared to add up to around £5 – has left many suggesting that they could provide a healthy, more satisfying box of food for the same price. 

Fierce criticism of the scheme, which this morning saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet once again with food campaigner and football star Marcus Rashford, came after a Twitter user, RoadsideMum, shared an image of what she’d received from the £15-a-week per child scheme paid for by the Government. 

The photo showed a sparse package from suppliers Chartwells, run by £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland, and was designed to feed one child not at school for a week. The items included bread, a few slices of cheese, two carrots, a small tin of baked beans, three apples, a portion of pasta, two small Soreen loaves, and three Frubes yoghurt tubes.  

FEMAIL sent out a reporter to see exactly how far a food budget of £15 could stretch…and whether their purchases could be transformed into healthy, child-friendly dishes.

Here we reveal how £15 can create filling lunches to last for a week, including pasta with beef meatballs and an omelette, with fruit and snacks for dessert, shopping at Aldi and a local greengrocer. 

Scroll down for video   

And how FEMAIL got on… reporter Jo Tweedy spent £14.19 on a one-week shop for a child – including meat, dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables – after shopping at her local greengrocer and Aldi supermarket

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

Parent @RoadsideMum on Twitter shared a dispiriting photo of the food parcel she’d received from Chartwells under the Government’s free school meal parcels scheme; it was estimated the food cost around £5.22 with the remainder of the £15 allocated to profit, delivery and packing

By Jo Tweedy

Mask firmly on, I headed out to a local fruit and veg shop and then a cut-price supermarket to see just how far I could get £15 to stretch – determined to bring home better food than the meagre-looking items sent to Twitter user @RoadsideMum in the photo that went viral yesterday.

Making a list before I went to ensure I didn’t get tempted by spontaneous purchases, the remit was clear – include a good mix of fresh, tinned and dried foods that could be used to create healthy, satisfying lunches for a child for the homeschooling week, with some treats thrown in.   

First stop, my local greengrocer, where rows of delicious-looking healthy fruit and veg had been fetched at dawn from a West London wholesaler.

My basket ended up with seven pieces of fruit – a combination of plums, apples and satsumas – as well as salad (vine tomatoes and a cucumber) and plenty of veg – broccoli, carrots, a red pepper, onion and baking potatoes. 

FEMAIL reporter Jo Tweedy went shopping with a set budget of £15, the same amount being allocated to English schoolchildren accessing free school meal parcels during lockdown

FEMAIL reporter Jo Tweedy went shopping with a set budget of £15, the same amount being allocated to English schoolchildren accessing free school meal parcels during lockdown

After spending £6.59 on fresh fruit and vegetables at her local greengrocer, Jo headed to cut-price German supermarket Aldi to spend her remaining £9 budget and came away with a bag groaning with dried, tinned and fresh foods

After spending £6.59 on fresh fruit and vegetables at her local greengrocer, Jo headed to cut-price German supermarket Aldi to spend her remaining £9 budget and came away with a bag groaning with dried, tinned and fresh foods

I could, I’m sure, have paid less at any one of the major supermarkets…but my bill still only came to £6.59, leaving me with almost £9 left to spend on dried foods and other fresh products. 

I decided to make for one of the UK’s low-cost food stores to try and eke out as much as I could from the remaining £8.51, using the calculator on my phone to ensure I stuck to the budget. 

Arriving at my local branch of German supermarket Aldi, I decided to first stock up on easy lunches from the dried goods aisle. 

Fresh from the wholesaler that morning, the fruit and veg in Jo's basket came to £6.59

Fresh from the wholesaler that morning, the fruit and veg in Jo’s basket came to £6.59

More than enough for one child for one week, Jo picked up carrots, baking potatoes, broccoli, cucumber, red pepper, apples, vine tomatoes, plums, satsumas and an onion

More than enough for one child for one week, Jo picked up carrots, baking potatoes, broccoli, cucumber, red pepper, apples, vine tomatoes, plums, satsumas and an onion

At Aldi, a 20 pence bag quickly filled up with fresh, tinned and dried goods including eggs, pasta and cans of soup

At Aldi, a 20 pence bag quickly filled up with fresh, tinned and dried goods including eggs, pasta and cans of soup

My basket quickly became heavy with two tins of soups, family bags of pasta and rice, and a loaf of wholemeal bread – plus tuna and tinned tomatoes – but I barely dented the budget by more than £3. 

Meat and dairy came next. While it definitely wasn’t easy keeping my remaining budget in tact, I managed to add in fresh beef meatballs, mild cheddar, bacon lardons and two pints of milk – and some sweet treats too in the shape of chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks. 

HOW FAR DOES £15 REALLY GO?  FEMAIL TESTS THE BUDGET…

At the greengrocers

Carrots x 3 

Baking potatoes x 2 

Broccoli x 1

Cucumber x 1

Red pepper x 1

Apples x 3 

Vine tomatoes x 3 

Large plums x 2

Satsumas x 2

Onion x 1 

Total 

 26p

85p 

72p 

36p 

75p 

 94p

£1.04 

92p

 50p

 25p

£6.59 

The receipt from Jo's shop in Aldi - goods including rice, pasta, cheese and meatballs were bought in family sizes and then divided per 1/4 or half a portion to get the correct prices listed below

The receipt from Jo’s shop in Aldi – goods including rice, pasta, cheese and meatballs were bought in family sizes and then divided per 1/4 or half a portion to get the correct prices listed below

Allowing for treats including chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks, Jo's eventual bill came in at under £15

Allowing for treats including chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks, Jo’s eventual bill came in at under £15

 At Aldi supermarket

 Wholemeal bread – 1/2 loaf

2 free range eggs 

Family pack penne pasta 

Family pack easy cook white rice 

1/2 tin tuna 

Yoghurt tubes x 3 

Bacon lardons 1/4 pack 

Oatie chocolate biscuits whole pack 

Large can of sweetcorn 

2 pints of semi-skimmed milk 

Chicken soup 

Chopped tomatoes 

Baked beans 

Tomato soup 

Beef meatballs – 1/2 pack 

Baked cheese snacks – 7 packets 

Mild cheddar – 1/4 family pack 

 Shopping total

 22p

 23p

29p 

 79p

49p 

29p

37p 

45p 

37p 

80p 

31p 

35p 

29p 

31p 

87p 

73p

44p 

£14.19 

And what can you cook with it? Five hot lunch ideas on a £15 budget…

MONDAY: Jacket potato with a topping of baked beans and cheese, with fruit and a chocolate biscuit

Plenty to go on...Jo found providing a warm, hearty lunch covering all of the major nutrition groups was easy to achieve on £15 a week per person

 Plenty to go on…Jo found providing a warm, hearty lunch covering all of the major nutrition groups was easy to achieve on £15 a week per person

TUESDAY: Chicken soup, served with cheese and salad sandwiches on wholemeal bread, with a yoghurt or fruit for dessert

WEDNESDAY: Penne pasta with beef meatballs and lardons cooked in a simple tomato sauce (using chopped tomatoes, olive oil and salt and pepper), served with grated cheese, with a chocolate biscuit and fruit for dessert

THURSDAY: Tuna rice salad, with red pepper, broccoli and onion, served with carrot sticks and fruit or yoghurt for dessert 

FRIDAY: Cheddar cheese omlette with carrot sticks and salad, served with fruit or yoghurt for dessert 

How will these groaning bags transform into hot lunchtime meals for five days? 

There’s plenty of options: Penne pasta with beef meatballs and lardons cooked in an easy-to-make tomato sauce, served with grated cheese. 

Or perhaps a tuna rice salad, with red pepper, broccoli and onion, served with carrot sticks. With fruit, yoghurt and chocolate biscuits all options for pudding. 

The final bill for my whole shop came to £14.19 – after I’d divided up the price of some of the family packs I’d bought (cheese, bread and meatballs)…and obviously doesn’t include delivery or the logistics of picking and packing that the companies being paid by the Government scheme face. 

However, assuming firms like Chartwells can negotiate strongly on high street prices, it certainly feels like profits are being put long before decent meals for kids.

WHO IS CHARTWELLS? THE FIRM BEHIND THE LUNCH SLAMMED BY MARCUS RASHFORD

The company behind the lunches are Chartwells, which is the education catering specialist of £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland.

On December 8, Chartwells announced it had joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by Marcus Rashford MBE.

Chartwells managing director Charlie Brown said at the time: ‘Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.

‘We know how important nutritious food is to educational attainment, and that food provision is a real struggle for some families, so we fully support widening access to free school meals.

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

‘We’re now going to be working with the taskforce to provide healthy meals during school holidays for those entitled to free school meals. As the first school caterer on board, I believe our insights and our networks in schools will be valuable, to make a real difference to young lives.’ 

Until December this year Tory donor Paul Walsh was the chairman of Compass, the millionaire showing on Electoral Commission documents giving the party £10,000 in 2010.

Companies House documents showed he resigned just over a month ago on December 1, nearly a year after he announced he would.

Categories
Birmingham Headlines UK London

No10 vows to trial 24/7 Covid jabs as GPs in parts of the UK are having to PAUSE vaccinations

Ministers will finally trial round-the-clock coronavirus vaccinations after bowing to immense pressure to adopt a 24/7 roll-out to drastically speed up the scheme, it was claimed today. 

A senior Government source said No10 is considering a ‘pilot where vaccinations are offered for longer hours’ to gauge whether there is enough demand to keep jab hubs open through the night. 

It could mark another U-turn for the Government, if the trial is successful and rolled out across the country. Boris Johnson claimed this week there was ‘no clamour’ for appointments after 8pm, sparking fury over whether the UK was doing everything it could to speed up the scheme. 

There will now be serious doubts about whether ministers are capable of delivering a round-the-clock operation because of issues with supply. This morning it emerged GPs leading the rollout have been forced to pause vaccinations to allow other parts of the country to catch up.

Practices that have already inoculated every patient over the age of 80 and are now looking to dish the jabs out to the over-70s have had their deliveries cancelled because minsters want to avoid a postcode lottery, according to The Telegraph. 

Matt Hancock hinted today that a lack of supply was behind the decision to delay jabs despite the vaccination programme desperately needing to get up to speed.

No10 is also offering vaccine passports to thousands of Brits who have already received their coronavirus jab in a trial taking place this month after ministers flip-flopped over the controversial policy. 

The companies behind the project said if the controversial scheme proves successful it could be rolled out to millions of people across the country. There are concerns about vaccine passports because they are viewed by some as a way of forcing people into getting the jabs.

Meanwhile, an Asda in Birmingham will be the first supermarket to offer up to 250 Covid-19 vaccinations per day starting from January 25, the retailer said.

Rita Passey receives a Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre at Millennium Point centre in Birmingham on Tuesday

Rita Passey receives a Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre at Millennium Point centre in Birmingham on Tuesday

Ken Hughes is also given the injection at the mass-vaccination hub in Birmingham on Tuesday

Ken Hughes is also given the injection at the mass-vaccination hub in Birmingham on Tuesday

Mavis, 87, is pushed by her daughter out of the Covid-19 vaccination centre at ExCel London after receiving her jab

Mavis, 87, is pushed by her daughter out of the Covid-19 vaccination centre at ExCel London after receiving her jab

Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed on Tuesday that 2.43million people have now had their first dose, up from 2.29m yesterday. Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total

Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed on Tuesday that 2.43million people have now had their first dose, up from 2.29m yesterday. Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total

Quizzed over reports that GPs are having to pause vaccinations to let other practices catch up, the Health Secretary told BBC Radio’s 4 Today Programme: ‘The rate-limiting step on the rollout is the supply of the vaccine itself. 

‘We are now managing to get that supply more than we have done before and it will increase over the next few weeks.

How the Government’s vaccine plan breaks down 

PHASE 1 (FEB 15 TARGET)

CARE HOME RESIDENTS – 300,000

CARE HOME WORKERS – 500,000

AGE 80+ – 3,300,000

HEALTHCARE WORKERS – 2,400,000

SOCIAL CARE WORKERS – 1,400,000

AGE 75-79 – 2,300,000

AGE 70-74 – 3,200,000

CLINICALLY EXTREMELY VULNERABLE (UNDER 70) – 1,200,000

PHASE 2 (SPRING)

65-69 2,900,000

AT-RISK UNDER 65 7,300,000

60-64 1,800,000

55-59 2,400,000

50-54 2,800,000

PHASE 3 (AUTUMN)

REST OF ADULT POPULATION 21,000,000 

‘We have the capacity to get that vaccine out. The challenge is that we need to get the vaccine in.

‘What I know is that the supply will increase over the next few weeks and that means the very rapid rate that we are going at at the moment will continue to accelerate over the next couple of weeks.’

Britain’s vaccine drive has started to pick up pace following the approval of the Oxford vaccine but has still only seen 2.43million people immunised against the disease since launching at the beginning of December. 

Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total, with 2.8million shots administered in total. 

But the daily vaccination figure needs to double if the Prime Minister has any chance of delivering on his pledge to vaccinate all 13.9million Britons in the top four priority groups by February 15.

With just 34 days left to deliver on his lockdown-ending promise, around 11.5million over-70s, NHS workers, care home residents and workers, and adults with underlying conditions still need to be vaccinated — the equivalent of around 340,000 a day.

In a bid to speed up the sluggish programme, it emerged today that easyJet cabin crew are being recruited by the NHS as vaccinators to bolster the rollout.

The airline wrote to the PM in November to offer 3,000 crew who are first aid trained, security cleared and based in every major UK city. 

Crew who apply will be fast-tracked to become trained vaccinators at NHS vaccination centres across the country and will undergo online training and onsite immunisation training to become fully-qualified in administering the vaccine. 

EasyJet said: ‘As easyJet continues to operate a reduced schedule as a result of the pandemic, our furloughed crew has an ideal skill set to be able to assist in the effort to provide much needed inoculation support to the NHS in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine.’

Katy Bryant who has been cabin crew for easyJet since 2005 and is based at Luton, added: ‘Like everyone, I’m incredibly grateful to our NHS and all frontline healthcare workers for all they continue to do for the country with the continued pressure they are facing from the virus, so when the opportunity came for cabin crew to assist the NHS as vaccinators I knew I wanted to apply.

Minister have promised o dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country. The map shows the sites that are currently up and running, including seven mass centres (green), more than 100 hospitals (blue), as well as GP practices and pharmacies (purple)

Minister have promised o dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country. The map shows the sites that are currently up and running, including seven mass centres (green), more than 100 hospitals (blue), as well as GP practices and pharmacies (purple)

‘As cabin crew we are in a great position to support the vaccination effort because of the first aid and safety-focused training we receive for our job, so I am sure I will be joined by many of my fellow cabin crew at easyJet who will want to support the NHS in the vital roll-out of the vaccine across the country.’ 

But amid reports of supply chain issues, Brigadier Phil Prosser, the head of military support to the coronavirus vaccination programme, warned of the huge logistical challenges involved in scaling up the rollout.

Appearing on BBC Breakfast, he summarised the challenge: ‘It’s an untested supply chain, brand new vaccines, the largest vaccination programme this country has ever delivered.

‘The amount of sites we’ve set up and the amount of vaccine we have to distribute … it’s complex by its very scale.’

Brigadier Prosser said the military were bringing ‘operational planning excellence’ and working ‘hand in glove’ alongside the NHS.

Thousands of Britons who have received their Covid jab ‘will be offered a vaccine passport’ in trial taking place this month – as EU considers plan to bring them in for travel across Europe 

Thousands of Britons who have already received their coronavirus jab will be offered a vaccine passport in a trial taking place this month after ministers flip-flopped over the controversial policy.

The passport, created by biometrics firm iProov and cybersecurity firm Mvine, will be issued as a free app and will allow users to prove digitally if they have had their first or second jab – or no jab at all.

Though the Department of Health said there were ‘no plans’ to introduce vaccine passports, the Government’s own science and research funding agency Innovate UK has already pumped £75,000 into the project.

Mvine director Frank Joshi said the company, which had started working on the passports to demonstrate test results, later acquired more funding to switch into vaccination passporting.

The Government-backed trial will be overseen by two directors of public health in local authorities and is expected to last until March – right through the third national lockdown.

However, the locations have yet to be agreed, according to the Telegraph.

The trial is expected to show how the passports can be used to help the NHS keep track of the number of people that have received their first or second jab.

iProov boss Andrew Bud told the paper: ‘We’re talking about a piece of remarkable technology that can be brought to bear and can be readily integrated with the NHS.’

Both companies added that if the vaccine passports prove successful, the project could be rolled out to millions of people across the country.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘As large numbers of people from at risk groups are vaccinated, we will be able to gather the evidence to prove the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths. If successful, this should in time lead to a reassessment of current restrictions.’

The Government has contradicted itself on the implementation of vaccine passports, with Michael Gove saying they were ‘not the plan’ while Boris Johnson’s vaccine tsar Nadhim Zahawi said they were ‘looking at the technology’.

Mr Zahawi later told a Westminster Hall debate on Covid-19 inoculation there were ‘absolutely no plans for vaccine passporting’ and said ‘mandating vaccinations is discriminatory and completely wrong’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week also denied plans to implement passporting, telling the Spectator: ‘It’s not an area that we’re looking at.’

The policy has sparked concern that the passports could discriminate against people who must not be vaccinated, such as pregnant women. Others fear it could keep non-vaccinated Britons under house arrest until they have a jab.

The idea of introducing vaccination certifications has already been floated in Europe, with Greek ministers suggesting that EU countries adopt a ‘standardised’ vaccine passport in order to promote travel and boost the industry.

In a letter to EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis suggested: ‘Persons who have been vaccinated should be free to travel.

‘It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states’.

The governments of Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Spain, Denmark and Belgium have all hinted that they would support such a scheme – although the idea is already raising concerns about privacy and data-sharing.

He said planning included ensuring the vaccine was distributed across the country, including ‘the hardest-to-reach cohorts, as well as those most at risk’.

He added: ‘This isn’t about keeping vaccine in the warehouse, it’s about getting it in the arms as quickly as possible.’

He said the majority of clinical roles were being done by the NHS, but 21 quick reaction forces could ‘plug any gaps at short notice’ and could be deployed to hospitals, local vaccination services and large mass vaccination centres. 

Pressure to adopt a 24/7 vaccination scheme peaked yesterday as Nicola Sturgeon today hinted Scotland was considering the tactic.

She said: ‘We will look at anything and everything that allows us to get this vaccination programme done as quickly as possible’. 

Ms Sturgeon said supplies of the vaccine were still ‘relatively limited’, and that with the focus currently on getting jabs to care home residents and those aged over 80, these groups did ‘not lend themselves to out-of-hours vaccination’. 

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Commons that military personnel can ‘do more to assist’, as he suggested that the hold-up was due to a lack of stock and problems in the supply chain.

He added: ‘I could deploy all 100,000 soldiers tomorrow ready to vaccinate but if the stock isn’t there then we’ll have people not… we could employ them better off.

‘We are very, very clear that we can do more to assist, the Prime Minister knows that and the Prime Minister has indicated that we will be called on as the NHS requires it.’

It comes after Boris clashed with NHS chiefs over the pace of Britain’s mass vaccination programme as he blamed the ‘excessive bureaucracy’ for slowing down the national roll-out.

Officials have said the PM read NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens the riot act in a series of ‘tough’ exchanges last week as the Government comes under pressure to halt the cycle of lockdowns. 

Downing Street and the NHS said relations had since improved as the No10 now tries to accelerate the roll-out by approving 24/7 vaccine centres.

Tensions between Sir Simon and Mr Johnson had been simmering since before Christmas when the PM was concerned that some non-frontline NHS staff had been vaccinated before people aged 80 and over.

One person briefed on the clash claimed Mr Johnson had invited Brigadier Phil Prosser, who is leading the Army’s vaccine taskforce, to a Downing Street press conference last week to warn Sir Simon that the military would be given a bigger role in the programme unless the roll-out was sped up.

But NHS insiders told the Financial Times that Sir Simon had proposed Brig Prosser’s attendance at the conference and rejected claims of tension with the PM. No10 called reports of tension ‘completely untrue’, adding: ‘It’s a really good relationship.’ 

Meanwhile, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said coronavirus was unlikely to be eradicated and regular vaccinations may be needed.

He told LBC Radio it was unlikely a new variant would ‘outwit’ the current vaccines and his ‘hunch’ was that they would remain effective for months.

‘We know that the vaccines make what we call a polyclonal response. They make lots of different antibodies to different types, basically.

‘Therefore, the idea that a mutation of the virus would in one go out with the whole of the vaccine is pretty low.

‘So if we were to see an effect, it would be a small degradation rather than going off a cliff.’

Asked whether, in time, an annual jab would be required against a different strain, as happens with flu, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘I can’t say it will be every year yet but I can say that I don’t think we will ever eradicate coronavirus.’

Giving his best estimate on how long the current vaccine would be effective against mutations, he said ‘how long is a piece of string’ but ‘I would say it’s going to be many months that the vaccine is going to work for, but I’m not basing that on data, I’m basing it on a hunch’.

Professor Van-Tam also defended the decision to prioritise giving a first vaccine jab to as many people as possible rather than keeping doses to deliver booster shots after three weeks.

He told LBC Radio ‘we are in a constrained supply situation’ because of the time it takes to supply vaccine doses.

‘We have all got older loved ones and if we want to protect as many as we can as quickly as possible, with a meaningful amount of protection, then the right strategy for us is to give the initial first dose and come back for the second when we have given more people the initial first dose,’ he said.

‘If you have got two grandparents and you have got two vaccines, what do you do – do you give two doses to one and leave the other one with nothing?’

With a delay of 10-12 weeks before people will now be given a second shot, Prof Van-Tam admitted there was no data available on what protection would be given by the initial shot at that stage, although he was ‘absolutely comfortable’ with the decision.

‘If you take an extremely purist answer and say ‘where do the data end?’, the data end at 42 days,’ he said.

‘But if you take an expert science viewpoint, it’s just not plausible that the protective effectiveness is going to disappear after that point and we are very confident that there will be plenty of protection on board right up until the second dose is given.’

Categories
Birmingham Headlines UK London

Covid UK: Scientists urge social distancing increase to THREE METRES

Boris Johnson is under pressure to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Leading members of the Sage scientific advisory panel want the measure raised from ‘one metre plus’ to ‘two metres plus’.

In practice this would change the limit to three metres – nearly 10ft. The drastic proposal came as a furious Matt Hancock denounced individuals who flout social distancing rules.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference the Health Secretary said that he would ‘not rule out further action if needed.’

He was backed by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who sits on Sage and said it was time to ‘double down’ on Covid curbs – including outdoor contact.

Asked if a three-metre rule would be imposed in England, a Downing Street spokesman said last night: ‘There are no current plans to change social distancing rules. However, everything is kept under review.’

It came as the country recorded a further 529 Covid deaths on Monday – marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. 

It was the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives. 

But, in a positive sign that the UK’s soaring case load may be leveling out, 46,169 people tested positive for the virus – down 20 per cent in a week.

As Boris Johnson also warned of tougher Covid-19 curbs if existing restrictions were ignored:

  • Another 529 virus deaths were recorded yesterday, up from 407 a week earlier, with 46,169 new cases;
  • Seven vaccination hubs came into use, including London’s ExCeL and Birmingham’s Millennium Point;
  • Morrisons said it would ban shoppers refusing to wear face coverings;
  • Derbyshire Police cancelled £200 fines for two women penalised for driving five miles to go for a walk;
  • Nearly a quarter of care home residents have received their first shot of Covid vaccine;
  • Hospitals started rationing oxygen as it emerged that one in four coronavirus patients is under 55.

Boris Johnson is under pressure from members of the Sage scientific advisory panel to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

The Daily Mail has been told that several members of Sage say the lockdown needs to be even tougher than the first one in March last year.

The idea of a Chinese-style ban on residents leaving their homes was raised at one meeting.

Ministers are furious that some people have been using their right to daily exercise simply as an excuse to meet friends for a coffee in the park.

One source said: ‘If it means limiting people to a single one-hour walk on their own once a week that is what we must do. We cannot let a few selfish idiots put the whole country in danger.’

It is feared that the failure to observe the restrictions is fuelling the number of deaths and risks hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Increasing the social distancing rule to three metres is seen as one way of stopping the spread of the new variant of the virus, which can be passed on more easily.

Britain yesterday recorded a further 529 Covid deaths - marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives

Britain yesterday recorded a further 529 Covid deaths – marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives

Opponents of the move say it would have little impact, cause more confusion and be a logistical nightmare.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places.

Changing them all would add to the soaring cost of fighting the pandemic.

Supporters claim the benefit in saving lives and protecting the NHS means the move is worth it. They argue it is a response to the new variant which is thought to be up to be 70 per cent more transmissible.

If it goes ahead it would be the Government’s third policy on social distancing.

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two.

But it was reduced to ‘one metre plus’ in July after the first lockdown – mainly to make it easier for restaurants and cafes to reopen.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places

A ‘two metre plus’ rule would in practice mean staying three metres apart – nearly 10ft – unless steps were taken to limit the danger of transmission, such as screens.

Social distancing gaps vary around the world.

In China, Hong Kong and Singapore, which were successful in controlling the pandemic, the gap was one metre.

However, they imposed other, far stricter, rules including curfews. Spain and Canada followed the two-metre rule.

The three other home nations have different versions of the two-metre rule.

In Scotland people are advised to keep two metres apart and in Wales they are told to stay two metres apart unless it is not practical, with young children exempt.

The gap in Northern Ireland came down to one metre but is two again.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Risk declines the further you are away from someone.

‘So three metres will reduce risk somewhat compared to two metres – but it is difficult to say how much and whether that would make a big difference. I suspect the main issue is people not sticking to the two-metre rule.’

Mr Hancock warned against trying to ‘push the boundaries’ on exercise, adding: ‘If too many people break this rule we are going to have a look at it. Don’t say you are exercising if really you are just socialising.’

He said the two-metre rule had to be obeyed, not seen ‘as a limit to be challenged’. 

Shortly after Mr Hancock’s Downing Street press briefing on Monday, the PM released a short video filmed during his visit to the Ashton Gate vaccination centre in Bristol.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is allowed to cycle seven miles from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must ‘stay local’

In it, he urged Britons to ‘follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’ as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country.

Britons shouldn’t ‘lose focus on the pandemic’ as coronavirus is ‘still causing huge, huge problems for our NHS’, Mr Johnson added. 

Mr Hancock also used the briefing to defend the PM after he was spotted cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street in apparent breach of government advice.

The Health Secretary said it is allowed to cycle that distance from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must ‘stay local’.

But he also warned that rules on two people from different households being able to exercise outdoors together could be torn up if people keep abusing them.

‘If too many people keep breaking this rule we are going to have to look at it but I don’t want to do that,’ Mr Hancock told a No10 briefing yesterday evening.

The PM was seen wearing a hat and a face mask on his bike at the venue seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

Shortly after Mr Hancock's address, the PM released a short video (pictured) filmed during his visit to the Bristol vaccination centre yesterday

Shortly after Mr Hancock’s address, the PM released a short video (pictured) filmed during his visit to the Bristol vaccination centre yesterday

In the clip (pictured), he urged Britons to 'follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives' as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country

In the clip (pictured), he urged Britons to ‘follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’ as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country

What are the government’s rules on taking exercise? 

You should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise. 

This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with one person from another household

This includes but is not limited to running, cycling, walking, and swimming. 

Personal training can continue one-on-one unless everyone is within the same household or support bubble.

Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds

A source told the Evening Standard that Mr Johnson was exercising, accompanied by his security detail. 

Extraordinarily the premier is said to have ‘noted how busy’ the park was and remarked on it at a meeting later.

Official Government guidance says exercise should be limited to once a day and ‘you should not travel outside your local area’. 

Two women were fined £200 each by Derbyshire Police for driving five miles from their home for a walk, while in Whitby officers have slammed people for going sledging.

A witness said: ‘He was leisurely cycling with another guy with a beanie hat and chatting while around four security guys, possibly more, cycled behind them.

‘When I realised the person looked like Boris I cycled past them to hear his voice and be sure it’s him. It was definitely Boris.

‘Considering the current situation with Covid I was shocked to see him cycling around looking so care free,” added the woman, who asked not to be named.

Also considering he’s advising everyone to stay at home and not leave their area, shouldn’t he stay in Westminster and not travel to other boroughs?’

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information yesterday on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and why it was within the rules.  

It is also not clear whether Mr Johnson was driven to the park with his bike, or cycled the whole way there and back. 

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said: ‘Government guidance on travelling to exercise is as clear as mud. 

‘People are travelling hundreds of miles to the Lake District while others are afraid to drive 5 minutes to the local park. 

‘I’ve written to the Prime Minister, asking him to set out clear guidance once and for all.’

In a video shared to the PM’s official Twitter account yesterday evening – which features footage of Mr Johnson’s visit to Bristol on Monday- the PM heaped praise on the Government’s vaccine programme.

But he warned Britons that it should not lead to complacency, as the new Covid variant is still spreading rapidly. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘Hi folks. I am here at this amazing Bristol mass-vaccination centre in a football stadium and it’s one of the 50 that we are going to be rolling out by the end of the month to help all the 1,000-plus GP surgeries, the 233 hospital sites, plus the 200 pharmacies.

‘And that’s, of course, just a start that we’re using to dispense the vaccine.

‘As I speak to you this morning I think we’ve done about 2.4 million jabs, 2 million people in the country already who have been vaccinated, and we will be massively ramping that up in the course of the next few weeks as we get up to, we hope, 15 million by the middle of February.

‘And that’s a very ambitious programme, we’re confident we can do it. 

‘But, as we get the jabs into people, it’s incredibly important that we don’t lose focus on the pandemic that is still, alas, surging in so many parts of the country, still filling our hospitals with Covid patients, still causing huge, huge problems for our NHS.

‘So everybody has got to follow the guidance. Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’

Along with his video, the PM tweeted: ‘As we get jabs into arms, we must not lose sight of the state of the pandemic – which is putting huge pressure on our NHS. 

‘So, please follow the rules and stay home to protect the NHS, and save lives.’   

Obey the rules or they’ll get tougher: PM’s warning as Whitty says we’re at the worst point of the pandemic

ByJason Groves Political Editor For The Daily Mail 

Lockdown restrictions will be tightened again if the public flout the current rules, Boris Johnson warned yesterday.

The Prime Minister said ‘complacency’ among the public could plunge the country into a deeper crisis at what was already a ‘very perilous moment’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night reinforced his message, saying so-called support bubbles were the only lockdown exemption guaranteed to stay.

The warnings came amid mounting Government concern that the third lockdown may fail to bring the latest spike in coronavirus infections under control.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus. 

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

He added: ‘The key thing to understand is that when you meet people from another household under any circumstances – and they’re very often your friends, your family – but those are the kind of situations where the virus is passed on.’

He added: ‘It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t care whether they’re your friends. If you meet someone from another household, the virus has an opportunity to be transmitted.’

Ministers are considering a number of further restrictions, including closing the exemption that allows two people from different households to exercise together outdoors.

Government sources yesterday said Mr Johnson was ‘reluctant’ to scrap the exemption, which provides one of the few remaining lifelines for the lonely.

But there are fears it is muddying the ‘stay at home’ message, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman yesterday struggling to clarify whether two friends can take drinks with them on a walk.

No mask, then you can’t shop at Morrisons

Morrisons will ban customers who refuse to wear face coverings from its shops amid rising coronavirus infections.

Shoppers who refuse to wear masks offered by staff will not be allowed in unless they are medically exempt. Chief executive David Potts said: ‘Our store colleagues are working hard to feed you and your family, please be kind.’

The policy threatens to trigger confrontations at the doors amid concerns about a rise in abuse and attacks on staff who are trying to impose social distancing rules.

Sainsbury’s is also introducing rules which require customers to shop alone and wear face masks. Security guards will challenge those who are not wearing a mask or who are shopping in groups.

It came as industry bosses angrily rejected claims from ministers that supermarkets are to blame for the spread of the virus.

One retail source said the Government ‘would be wise to investigate their own decisions around reducing social distancing rules, rather trying to lay the blame on supermarkets.’

Mr Hancock said the exemption was under review as it was being abused. ‘We have been seeing large groups… and you should be two metres apart from the other person. If there are too many people breaking this rule then we are going to have to look at it.

‘But, I don’t want to do that because for many people, being able to go for a walk with a friend… is their only social contact.’

Pre-school nurseries and places of worship could also face restrictions if cases continue to rise – but Mr Hancock said support bubbles were sacrosanct.

The arrangement allows those living alone or with babies to link up with one other household for support.

The Prime Minister and his fiancee Carrie Symonds are among those who have taken advantage of the system, forming a support bubble with Miss Symonds’s mother following the birth of their son Wilfred in April.

Ministers hope the blunt messaging on the NHS crisis and tougher rule enforcement will persuade people to comply with the letter and spirit of the lockdown.

But Labour yesterday called for the rules to be tightened, including the closure of nurseries.

Mr Hancock last night suggested a major relaxation of the rules was unlikely until all over-60s have been vaccinated – which the new plan suggests won’t be until at least April.

He said it was only at this point that ministers could be absolutely sure that hospital admissions from the virus would start to fall.

But the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, who oppose lockdown, last night said it should be lifted as soon as the 13million most vulnerable are vaccinated – which the Prime Minister pledged to achieve by February 15.

Boris Johnson pedals into a storm over lockdown bike ride after he is spotted cycling SEVEN MILES from Downing Street in the Olympic Park

ByClaire Ellicott Political Correspondent For The Daily Mail 

Boris Johnson has been accused of undermining his own lockdown rules after it was revealed that he went cycling seven miles from Downing Street for exercise.

The Prime Minister was spotted on his bike at the Olympic Park in east London on Sunday afternoon with his security detail.

Wearing a Transport for London hat and a face mask, he rode around the site in Stratford, east London, at around 2pm.

A few hours after his ride, Mr Johnson held a meeting with Cabinet colleagues to discuss the current lockdown.

Boris Johnson was spotted at the Olympic Park seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon. Pictured, the PM cycling in Beeston last summer

Boris Johnson was spotted at the Olympic Park seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon. Pictured, the PM cycling in Beeston last summer

Last night, Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter said: ‘Once again it is ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ from the Prime Minister.

‘London has some of the highest infection rates in the country. Boris Johnson should be leading by example.’

A source told the Evening Standard that the PM was exercising, adding: ‘But he did note how busy the park was and he commented on it at the meeting last night.

So what is allowed?

Government rules state that ‘you should not travel outside your local area’ for exercise.

However, what does and does not constitute ‘local’ has been up for debate.

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked if Britons were allowed to exercise seven miles from home.

He replied: ‘It is OK to go if you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles from home, that is OK, but you should stay local.’

He added: ‘You should not go from one side of the country to the other, potentially taking the virus with you, because remember one in three people who have the virus don’t know they have it because they don’t have symptoms.

‘It is OK to go for a long walk or a cycle ride or to exercise, but stay local.’ 

‘He was concerned about if people were following the rules and was concerned after his ride around the park.’

Downing Street declined to comment on the journey, and would not clarify whether the PM cycled to the park or was driven there in a vehicle for his bike ride.

Some social media users have pointed out that there are green spaces much closer to the PM’s home in Westminster where he could exercise.

Mr Johnson has made of a point of being seen to exercise since his brush with death after he contracted Covid in March last year.

In a bid to prove he is ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’, he is regularly pictured running in nearby St James’s Park and with celebrity personal trainer Harry Jameson.

He often runs with his dog Dilyn around the Downing Street garden.

The PM has also been running in Buckingham Palace grounds after the Queen gave permission, and in Lambeth Palace’s grounds after the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his approval.

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information yesterday on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and how it was within the rules.

However a Downing Street source told the BBC: ‘The PM has exercised within the Covid rules and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.’

Mr Johnson has warned he is ready to tighten lockdown further as he voiced fears that vaccines have made people ‘complacent’ about obeying rules.

His warnings come as the NHS teeters on the brink of disaster. 

Derbyshire Police axe £200 fines for women swooped on during reservoir walk 

ByGeorge Odling Crime Reporter For The Daily Mail 

Police last night apologised and scrapped £200 fines handed to two women for driving five miles to go for a walk at a beauty spot during lockdown.

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, both 27, were fined for making a ten-minute journey to Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire last week after police claimed they could have taken exercise closer to home.

They said officers also accused them of having a picnic – because they were drinking takeaway peppermint tea.

Friends Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, pictured, both 27, who were each fined £200 by police for driving 10mins for a walk in a local reservoir say they've had their fines cancelled following backlash

Friends Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, pictured, both 27, who were each fined £200 by police for driving 10mins for a walk in a local reservoir say they’ve had their fines cancelled following backlash

Derbyshire Chief Constable Rachel Swann last night said the penalty notices had been withdrawn and the women had received an apology. She added: ‘I support the fact that the officers were trying to encourage people to stay local to prevent the spread of the virus.

‘We have been working hard to understand the ever-changing guidance and legislation and to communicate this to our officers in a way that makes it clear what is the right course of action to take.’

Beautician Miss Allen, from Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, said both she and Miss Moore welcomed the apology. The pair were stunned when officers swooped as they strolled by the reservoir.

Miss Allen initially thought ‘someone had been murdered or a child had gone missing.’ West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Brian Booth yesterday claimed officers had been left in an impossible situation by ‘woolly laws’.

He insisted: ‘Walking a tightrope between maintaining public confidence and upholding the law is not made easy with poor guidance. Police officers are being made scapegoats for poor policy and law-writing.

However, beautician Jessica Allen, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, revealed they had received separate calls from the force who apologised to them both and informed them their fines will be cancelled (This map shows the proximity between her house and the reservoir)

However, beautician Jessica Allen, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, revealed they had received separate calls from the force who apologised to them both and informed them their fines will be cancelled (This map shows the proximity between her house and the reservoir)

Jessica told how they were surrounded by police when they arrived in separate vehicles at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday and 'assumed there had been a murder'

Jessica told how they were surrounded by police when they arrived in separate vehicles at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday and ‘assumed there had been a murder’

‘Make it clear to the public, for example, if it is desired that exercise be limited to local – then clearly state in law what local is. Do not insert it into guidance that has no legal standing.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night praised the police for their efforts in enforcing the rules.

Following calls from police for clarification, a No10 spokesman said Britons were permitted to meet one other person for exercise but not socialising, adding: ‘Going for a walk, obviously, does count as exercise.’

Meanwhile, police in Devon and Cornwall are using car number plate recognition technology to ensure only essential journeys are made following reports of hundreds of travel breaches at the weekend – many related to second homes in the area.

Elsewhere, police were filmed smashing through the back door of a pub in Walsall, West Midlands, with a battering ram after receiving reports it was serving alcohol to a group of men.

Categories
Headlines UK London

Covid UK: Chris Whitty says worst weeks ahead for NHS as cases surge

What are the government’s rules on taking exercise? 

You should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise. 

This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with one person from another household

This includes but is not limited to running, cycling, walking, and swimming. 

Personal training can continue one-on-one unless everyone is within the same household or support bubble.

Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds

Matt Hancock tonight defended Boris Johnson after he was spotted cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street in apparent breach of government advice – hours before complaining that people have become ‘complacent’ about the rules.  

The Health Secretary said it is allowed to cycle that distance from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must ‘stay local’.

But he also warned that rules on two people from different households being able to exercise outdoors together could be torn up if people keep abusing them.

‘If too many people keep breaking this rule we are going to have to look at it but I don’t want to do that,’ Mr Hancock told a No10 briefing this evening. 

The PM was seen wearing a hat and a face mask on his bike at the venue seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

A source told the Evening Standard that Mr Johnson was exercising, accompanied by his security detail. Extraordinarily the premier is said to have ‘noted how busy’ the park was and remarked on it at a meeting later.

However, official Government guidance says exercise should be limited to once a day and ‘you should not travel outside your local area’. Two women were fined £200 each by Derbyshire Police for driving five miles from their home for a walk, while in Whitby officers have slammed people for going sledging. 

On a visit to the Ashton Gate vaccination centre in Bristol this afternoon, Mr Johnson echoed a dire message from Chris Whitty that the next few weeks are set to be the worst yet for the NHS.

‘This is a very perilous moment because everybody can sense that the vaccine is coming in and they can see that the UK is vaccinating large numbers of those that need it most,’ Mr Johnson said.

‘My worry is, and Chris’s worry is, that this is the moment when that degree of false confidence, false complacency, and that when you look at what has happened in the NHS that complacency is not merited. 

He was asked by reporters why he had opted to travel to Bristol rather than viewing a vaccination centre nearby Downing Street, and argued that his journey was ‘essential’. 

A Whitehall source told MailOnline ministers have discussed going as far as saying people can only leave the house once a week – although No10 today denied this was on the cards saying the focus was on ‘bolstering enforcement and policing’. Other ideas include compulsory mask-wearing outdoors. 

Mr Hancock told the Downing Street briefing tonight that people must abide by the rules, adding that ‘strengthening enforcement is necessary’ but it is about ‘how everybody behaves’.

And he flatly ruled out getting rid of support bubbles, stressing they were important for vulnerable people who live on their own.  

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi this morning suggested that shops are in the firing line, stressing the need for everyone to wear masks and follow one-way systems in supermarkets. He appealed for people not to stop and chat to friends they bump into while outside their homes – and also made clear that sitting on park benches during ‘exercise’ sessions was not recommended. 

Meanwhile, Downing Street was unable to say whether people are allowed to get a takeaway coffee and drink it while walking with someone from another household. 

Limits on individuals from different ‘bubbles’ exercising together also look to be in the pipeline as the government scrambles for ways of lowering transmission. 

And in a piece of detailed tightening, the government has change the definition of ‘close contact’ so it applies when people have been in proximity for more than 15 minutes over a whole day. Previously the rule was 15 minutes of close contact in one go.   

In another dramatic developments in the coronavirus crisis today: 

  • Matt Hancock is unveiling the UK’s detailed vaccine rollout plan with ministers promising that more than 13million people will be covered by mid-February;
  • No10 ruled out immediate 24/7 jabs at the country’s new vaccination hubs opening today, saying there was no ‘clamour’ from the public and blaming a shortage of medicine;
  • Downing Street has said the PM’s father, Stanley Johnson, appears to be among the early wave of individuals to get two coronavirus vaccines before a change in policy; 
  • Rishi Sunak today warned Britons to brace for the economy to get ‘worse before it gets better’ as he said the new coronavirus lockdown will have a ‘significant’ cost and hinted at tax rises; 
  • Ministers have ordered local authorities to place limits on the number of people allowed into shops at any one time, amid fears they could become virus hotspots;
  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised concerns that the current restrictions are not tough enough, saying nurseries being open ‘needs to be looked at’ and suggesting that house viewings should be reconsidered; 
  • Dead bodies are being kept at a temporary mortuary in Surrey after the county’s hospital reached capacity amid rising Covid case rates. 

A file picture of Mr Johnson cycling in London

On a visit to the vaccination centre at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol today (left), Boris Johnson said around 2.4million jabs have now been administered. Right, a file picture of Mr Johnson cycling in London

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is allowed to cycle seven miles from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must ‘stay local’

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty took to the airwaves to highlight the scale of the threat, saying that there are 30,000 people in hospital compared to the peak of 18,000 in April

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty took to the airwaves to highlight the scale of the threat, saying that there are 30,000 people in hospital compared to the peak of 18,000 in April

An ambulance arrives at the Royal London Hospital today amid fresh warnings about the spread of the virus

An ambulance arrives at the Royal London Hospital today amid fresh warnings about the spread of the virus

People on Exmouth beach in Devon today, as ministers urged people not to sit on benches. It is not known whether they are from the same household

People on Exmouth beach in Devon today, as ministers urged people not to sit on benches. It is not known whether they are from the same household 

Don’t stop to chat to friends, says minister 

A minister today hit out at people who are flouting lockdown by stopping to chat to friends they meet while out ‘exercising’. 

Nadhim Zahawi voiced alarm at the pictures of people congregating in parks over the weekend in a round of interviews this morning.

The vaccines minister refused to give a guarantee that the current ‘tough’ lockdown restrictions are sufficient and raised concerns of people not sticking to the rules in supermarkets or when exercising outside.

Pressed on whether the current restrictions are enough, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We don’t want to use tougher measures, the lockdown is tough, schools are shut, but it is important to remember this virus loves social interactions.

‘We’re reviewing all the restrictions, but these are pretty tough at the moment. 

‘I am worried about supermarkets and people actually wearing masks and following the one-way system, and making sure when it’s at capacity they wait outside the supermarket.

‘I’m worried about some of the pictures I’ve seen of social interactions in parks, if you have to exercise you can go out for exercise only.’

Mr Zahawi said when outside their homes people should bear in mind that every interaction is an opportunity for the virus to spread. 

A source told the Standard the PM was exercising, adding: ‘But he did note how busy the park was and he commented on it at the meeting last night.

‘He was concerned about if people were following the rules and was concerned after his cycle ride around the park.’

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information today on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and why it was within the rules.  

It is also not clear whether Mr Johnson was driven to the park with his bike, or cycled the whole way there and back. 

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said: ‘Government guidance on travelling to exercise is as clear as mud. 

‘People are travelling hundreds of miles to the Lake District while others are afraid to drive 5 minutes to the local park. 

‘I’ve written to the Prime Minister, asking him to set out clear guidance once and for all.’ 

Chief medical officer Prof Whitty took to the airwaves to highlight the scale of the threat, saying that there are 30,000 people in hospital compared to the peak of 18,000 in April.

He urged people to remember that ‘every unnecessary contact’ was an opportunity for the virus to spread. 

He insisted that although the NHS was in the ‘most dangerous situation anyone can remember’ vaccines mean the UK can be back to normal in ‘months not years’ – but he cautioned that the situation is a long way from that currently.  

The UK announced a further 573 coronavirus deaths yesterday in the highest Sunday rise since April, and the third-deadliest Sunday of the entire pandemic as it emerged as many as one in five of all people in England may have had coronavirus. It could be as high as one in two people in some areas of east London and Essex, the modelling by Edge Health claims.  

Infections also continue to be high, with 54,940 announced yesterday – the thirteenth day in a row they have been above the 50,000 mark. 

Mr Johnson said it was clear to the public that the UK was in a ‘race against time’ to get vaccines out and ease pressure on the health service. 

‘Far, far better for people to obey the rules that we have than simply to promulgate new rules,’ he said.

Justifying his own trip from London to Bristol, Mr Johnson said it was ‘essential that I explain to the public what we are doing to roll out the mass vaccination centres’.

He added: ‘Everybody should be asking themselves whether they need to be leaving home, whether they need to be doing something that could actually end up spreading the disease.’

Rishi Sunak warns the UK economy ‘will get worse before it gets better’ as he says lockdown will have ‘significant’ cost 

Rishi Sunak today warned Britons to brace for the economy to get ‘worse before it gets better’ as he said the new coronavirus lockdown will have a ‘significant’ cost.

Despite saying vaccines offered ‘hope’ and there were signs of ‘resilience’ in UK plc, the Chancellor delivered a grim message about the scale of the devastation from the pandemic.

In a statement to MPs, he insisted the government was right to have taken measures including offering another £4.6million in grants and discretionary support for stricken businesses.  

But Mr Sunak put the country on notice of looming tax rises and spending cuts, as he said he is determined to take action to ‘repair’ the public finances when the immediate crisis is past.   

The gloomy assessment came as figures showed footfall at shops plunged more than a quarter last week as the brutal restrictions came into force.

Mr Johnson said: ‘More important than us just pushing out new rules, people have got to follow the guidance.

‘In supermarkets, people need to be keeping their distances, making sure that they’re wearing masks, doing the right thing.

‘We need to enforce the rules in supermarkets. When people are getting takeaway drinks, in cafes, then they need to avoid spreading the disease there, avoid mingling too much.’

Prof Whitty said the UK could avoid a tougher lockdown if people stick to the rules properly as he described the Covid-19 death toll of 81,431 as ‘absolutely appalling’.

He insisted that meeting someone from another household is very dangerous, adding that coronavirus ‘doesn’t care if you are meeting your friend or family’.

He told BBC Breakfast that the UK was currently at the worst point in the pandemic, which began last March, and was asked if life would ever return to normal.

Prof Whitty replied: ‘I am confident we will go back to life as it was before at some point, that’s not in doubt, that’s the life we all want to lead.’

Once vaccines are rolled out, he said ‘people will be able to have the restrictions lifted. 

‘It won’t happen in one go, and at a certain point, hopefully you’ll get back to a life that is basically exactly the same as it was before.’

‘However, we’re quite a long way away from that at the moment,’

He said ministers were ‘always looking at’ whether the lockdown could be toughened, but all Britons must comply with the rules to ‘help protect the NHS’.

Prof Whitty added that nurseries were remaining open because the risk to children from Covid ‘is very low’ and it was important that parents could still go to work.

But he urged people to ‘minimise their social contact’ if possible, ‘double down’ on lockdown rules and said the new surge of the virus was ‘everybody’s problem’.

Prof Whitty added: ‘Tinkering with the rules may be useful, but the most important is that everyone abides by the spirit of the rules.’

He also said that the rest of this month is likely to be the worst part of the pandemic as the new highly infectious variants of the virus rampage across the UK.

Prof Whitty said: ‘The peak we had back in April last year, we had about 18,000 people in the NHS. We currently, as of yesterday, have over 30,000 people in the NHS.

‘A week ago, all the four chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said: ‘This is going to be a significant crisis for the NHS unless we take evasive action’.

‘This new variant is really pushing things in a way that the old variant – which was already very bad – was not able to.

Matt Hancock presented slides showing the latest coronavirus situation tonight as he hosted a Downing Street briefing

Matt Hancock presented slides showing the latest coronavirus situation tonight as he hosted a Downing Street briefing

‘So, we have a very significant problem … this is a serious problem and it is rising in every part of England.

‘The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS.’

He also urged people to ‘double down’ and stop any ‘unnecessary contacts’.

Prof Whitty said: ‘What we need to do before the vaccines have had their effect – because it’s going to take several weeks before that happens – is we need to really double down.

‘This is everybody’s problem, any single unnecessary contact with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person.

‘We’ve all got to, as individuals, help the NHS, help our fellow citizens, by minimising the amount of unnecessary contacts we have.’

He added: ‘The virus can be passed on in any place where people from two different households meet together.’

Mr Zahawi refused to give a guarantee that the current ‘tough’ lockdown restrictions are sufficient and raised concerns of people not sticking to the rules in supermarkets or when exercising outside.

Pressed on whether the current restrictions are enough, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We don’t want to use tougher measures, the lockdown is tough, schools are shut, but it is important to remember this virus loves social interactions.

‘We’re reviewing all the restrictions, but these are pretty tough at the moment. I am worried about supermarkets and people actually wearing masks and following the one-way system, and making sure when it’s at capacity they wait outside the supermarket.

‘I’m worried about some of the pictures I’ve seen of social interactions in parks, if you have to exercise you can go out for exercise only.’

Mr Zahawi was asked on Times Radio whether people were permitted to sit on park benches during exercise sessions. 

Israel surges ahead with vaccines drive 

Israel is continuing to shame Britain and the rest of the world with its 24/7 vaccination programme as it now begins innoculating people as young as 55.

The Middle Eastern country has raced ahead by squeezing every last dose out of its vaccine supplies and using its efficient health system to launch a round-the-clock immunisation drive with military help.

But in Britain, a vaccine shortage is being blamed for the slow rollout of the jabs, despite new hubs which hope to administer an injection every 45 seconds.

 

He replied: ‘Don’t go out and sit or have that opportunity of social interaction because you’re helping the virus and that’s what we want to avoid.’ 

On whether it was within the Covid rules for a single person to sit on a park bench, a Downing Street spokesman told a Westminster briefing: ‘Let me take that one away and come back to you, on the … park bench question.’

Pressed over whether someone could sit on a park bench and have a coffee under the coronavirus regulations, the spokesman said: ‘We have set out clearly the rules.

‘We have been clear in the exemption for the stay-at-home rule, we are permitting one person to meet another person for exercise.’

Challenged on whether walking outside with a takeaway tea was against the rules, the spokesman said: ‘Going for a walk, obviously, does count as exercise.’

The Cabinet Office refused to deny that draconian new laws were coming. Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to speculate when directly asked yesterday if harsher measures – including curfews and nursery closures – might be brought in, and instead said Britons should ‘follow the rules that we’ve got’.

One Whitehall source told MailOnline that the changes discussed even included introducing a ban on people leaving their homes more than once a week.

But No10 sources insisted today that was not on the cards, and the immediate focus would be on ‘tougher enforcement and policing’. 

The PM's spokesman was unable to give any information today on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and why it was within the rules.

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information today on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and why it was within the rules.

Evening Standard reporter Sophia Sleigh spotted Mr Johnson on his bike yesterday

Mr Johnson's bike ride was criticised on social media this afternoon as Downing Street remained silent

Evening Standard reporter Sophia Sleigh spotted Mr Johnson on his bike yesterday (left). The ride was criticised on social media this afternoon as Downing Street remained silent

Rishi Sunak today warned Britons to brace for the economy to get 'worse before it gets better' as he said the new coronavirus lockdown will have a 'significant' cost

Rishi Sunak today warned Britons to brace for the economy to get ‘worse before it gets better’ as he said the new coronavirus lockdown will have a ‘significant’ cost

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi this morning suggested that shops are in the firing line, stressing the need for everyone to wear masks and follow one-way systems in supermarkets

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi this morning suggested that shops are in the firing line, stressing the need for everyone to wear masks and follow one-way systems in supermarkets

MPs told to wear masks in Commons chamber 

MPs have been advised to wear face masks ‘wherever possible’ in the House of Commons chamber.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle suggested the exception should be when MPs are called to speak.

People on the parliamentary estate have been encouraged to wear masks in recent months, although the Speaker’s words go a step further in pressing MPs to wear a face covering in the chamber.

The number of MPs on the floor of the House has been limited to 50 during the Covid-19 pandemic, with others contributing virtually via Zoom.

Opening business, Sir Lindsay told the Commons: ‘Can I just say to members, wherever possible please try and wear masks all the time, apart from obviously when we’re speaking.

‘So please bear that in mind.’

Under current rules, Britons can exercise with one other person or with their household or support bubble.

But a Government source told the Daily Telegraph that the rule is ‘being used as an excuse for people to go for a coffee in the park with their friends’ and could be tightened.  

The source said the two-person from two-households ‘rule is there for exercise, for people’s mental health, particularly for older people who are not going to be going for a run to see someone’.

But many are using their ‘imaginations’ to make it what they want.

Their concerns came as hordes of people were seen flocking to beaches and town centres over the weekend – despite Boris Johnson’s pleas for families to stay at home and help control the mutant Covid variant spreading rapidly through the country. 

Officials are also set to encourage shops and workplaces to improve on their social distancing.

Supermarkets will be a key focus of the Government’s latest push, with many worried that lax enforcement of the rules means shoppers are at risk. 

Shortage of vaccines blamed for not having 24-hour jab rollout 

Britain’s vaccines minister today blamed a shortage of the Covid-19 vaccines for not having jabs 24/7 across the country as England’s new mass vaccination hubs opened this morning offering an injection every 45 seconds.

Nadhim Zahawi also admitted that said that most people currently had ‘about a 45-minute drive’ to the seven NHS sites opening their doors this morning, most of whom are over 80, amid claims the vulnerable face ‘gruelling’ trips to get their jab because not enough GP surgeries are taking part.

Mr Zahawi has said the vaccine rollout could take place 24 hours a day ‘if we need to’, but only when there are high enough levels of jabs vaccine. He also suggested those mainly elderly Britons needing vaccinations now are unlikely to want an appointment in the middle of the night, meaning the current opening hours will continue to be 8am to 8pm.

Pressed on whether it could be administered night and day when there is sufficient vaccine, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we need to go to 24-hour work we will absolutely go 24 hours a day to make sure we vaccinate as quickly as we can’.

Fears remain that the government may be overpromising how much can realistically be delivered – or not pushing hard enough to vaccinate the entire population and release the UK from lockdown.

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said today that Boris Johnson’s ‘first priority’ must be to accelerate the scheme to ’round the clock’, adding: ‘This is now the only way out of the darkness’. Sir Keir also believes the Government’s 2million jabs per week should be doubled to 4million by the end of February.

Tougher punishment for rule breakers is also being considered. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer today raised concerns that the current restrictions are not tough enough, saying nurseries being open ‘needs to be looked at’ and suggesting that house viewings should be reconsidered.

‘So we’re in this extraordinary situation where having got to at least as serious if not a more serious position than of March last year, we’ve got lesser restrictions in place and we need those in place as quickly as possible,’ he said after a speech.

‘I do think that the vast majority of the public are complying with the rules.’

But Devon and Cornwall Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton warned that people are getting ‘fed up’ with lockdown restrictions and compliance has dropped.

‘What’s happening is people are beginning to flout the rules, they are beginning to think ‘How can I get away with the rules?” he told BBC Breakfast.

Asked whether it was harder to get people to comply with rules in the current lockdown compared with the previous two, he said: ‘Yes, I think people are beginning to get fed up with it.

‘I can understand that but we have to be firm, we have to save lives, we have to make sure people are keeping apart, isolating and staying at home.’

In more evidence of the seriousness of the situation, MPs have been advised to wear face masks ‘wherever possible’ in the House of Commons chamber.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle suggested the exception should be when MPs are called to speak.

People on the parliamentary estate have been encouraged to wear masks in recent months, although the Speaker’s words go a step further in pressing MPs to wear a face covering in the chamber.

The number of MPs on the floor of the House has been limited to 50 during the Covid-19 pandemic, with others contributing virtually via Zoom.

Opening business, Sir Lindsay told the Commons: ‘Can I just say to members, wherever possible please try and wear masks all the time, apart from obviously when we’re speaking.

‘So please bear that in mind.’

A senior Government science advisor yesterday said it would become clear whether the current lockdown was lowering the spread of coronavirus cases – with deaths now above 80,000 – within a fortnight.

Professor Peter Horby, the chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said: ‘If there’s any sign that they’re not then we’re going to have to be even stricter, I’m afraid.’

Mr Hancock appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Programme yesterday morning, where he was asked about a range of measures that could be brought in.

Mr Marr asked: ‘Are you considering things like curfews, closing nurseries, ending some of those support bubbles, going back to only an hour of exercise outside and telling people in crowded outdoor spaces to wear masks? Are those the kind of things that you could consider if you don’t get this under control very quickly?’

But Mr Hancock replied: ‘Well, I don’t want to speculate, because the most important message is not whether the government will further strengthen the rules, the most important thing is that people stay at home and follow the rules that we’ve got. ‘

What is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for going outside?

Under the rules in England, you must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This will be put in law. The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and issue you with a fine (Fixed Penalty Notice). You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

A ‘reasonable excuse’ includes: 

  • Work – you can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home
  • Volunteering – you can also leave home to provide voluntary or charitable services
  • Essential activities – you can leave home to buy things at shops or obtain services. You may also leave your home to do these things on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating
  • Education and childcare – you can only leave home for education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children where they are eligible to attend. 
  • Meeting others and care – you can leave home to visit people in your support bubble ( if you are legally permitted to form one), to provide informal childcare for children under 14 as part of a childcare bubble (for example, to enable parents to work), to provide care for disabled or vulnerable people
  • Exercise – you can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble, and not outside your local area. The Government advises you should only leave for exercise once a day, but the law does not put a limit on this. 
  • Medical reasons – you can leave home for a medical reason, including to get a COVID-19 test, for medical appointments and emergencies
  • Harm and compassionate visits – you can leave home to be with someone who is giving birth, to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm (such as domestic abuse). 
  • You can also leave home to visit someone who is dying or someone in a care home (if permitted under care home guidance), hospice, or hospital, or to accompany them to a medical appointment
  • Animal welfare reasons – you can leave home for animal welfare reasons, such as to attend veterinary services for advice or treatment
  • Communal worship and life events – You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony.

There are further reasonable excuses. 

For example, you may leave home to fulfil legal obligations or to carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property, or where it is reasonably necessary for voting in an election or referendum. In Scotland, coronavirus legislation gives police the power to force entry into people’s homes if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ rules are being broken.  However, in England, they can only enter in ‘exceptional circumstances’, which includes if they believe someone inside is infectious.  Otherwise, they will require a warrant. 

Shops ordered to tighten up their Covid rules 

Shoppers face a return to long queues outside supermarkets under plans for a new crackdown.

Ministers have ordered local authorities to place limits on the number of people allowed into shops at any one time, amid fears they could become virus hotspots.

Other stores deemed non-essential, or not operating in a ‘Covid-secure’ way, could be shut.

A Whitehall source said: ‘There is a feeling that people have just gone back to doing whatever they want, so local authorities will work with supermarkets and other places that are open to make sure they are still Covid-secure. That could well mean a return to capacity limits.’

The move comes amid mounting concern that the third lockdown is not being observed nearly as closely as the first one last year.

Professor Horby told the same programme that the new variant discovered in Kent, that appears far more transmissible than older strains of Covid, has made the situation ‘more risky’.

Asked what being ‘even stricter’ meant in practice he said: ‘Well I think the principles haven’t changed. There’s no evidence that this virus is being transmitted in any different way, it’s just that people when they’ve got it have got more virus so every contact is more risky.

‘So the same principles apply. It’s about decreasing social contacts and if there are unavoidable social contacts then being as strict as you can about distance and facemasks and hand hygiene and ventilation, etcetera.’

Mr Marr asked: ‘So thinking back to March and the spring I can remember you could only go out for an hour for instance for any kind of exercise and there were much stricter rules about meeting other people. Are those are the kind of things we might see coming back if we don’t get this under control now?’

To which he said: ‘Yes, that’s right. You know we have seen in the past very strict measures do work and if the current measures aren’t strict enough then it’s clear what we have to do.’

Meanwhile Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned that lockdown rules may need to be made tougher if they do not arrest a surge in Covid cases – as he demanded nurseries be shut down immediately. 

He attacked ‘mixed messages’ from ministers over the lockdown restrictions as he urged Boris Johnson to front daily press conferences until the lockdown is lifted.

The UK’s Covid death toll passed 80,000, after a further 1,035 deaths were recorded yesterday, increasing fears that the total will surpass 100,000 by the end of the month.  

But appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Sir Keir said: ‘They are tough and they’re necessary. They may not be tough enough.

‘In a sense, I think the most important thing is people get that message about stay at home.

‘And it’s up to the Government to put that message out there the whole time. We’ve had mixed messages I’m afraid for the last nine months which is why we’ve got a problem.

‘I would like to see the Prime Minister out there every day with a press conference making sure that message is absolutely getting through.’ 

Priti Patel defended police as they began strict application of Covid rules that includes £200 fines and less tolerance for rule-breakers.

The Home Secretary warned that officers ‘will not hesitate’ to take action because the increasing number of new Covid-19 cases proved there was a need for ‘strong enforcement’ in cases where people were clearly breaking the rules.

Mr Hancock told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday more people were obeying the rules than in the November lockdown, but added: ‘Absolutely I’m going to back the police. The challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.

‘You might look at the rules and think ”well it doesn’t matter that much if I just do this or do that”, but these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they’re the limit of what people should be doing.’

Asked about the prospect of tighter restrictions later on Marr he added: ‘I don’t want to speculate because the most important message is not whether the Government will further strengthen the rules.

‘The most important thing is that people stay at home and follow the rules that we have got.

‘And that, in terms of the scale of the impact on the cases, that is the most important thing we can do collectively as a society.’

Mr Hancock, who gave the interview from his own home via video link, added: ‘It is hard, it is not easy. But if you can do something from home and you don’t need to go outside of home to do it, then you should.

‘People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part.’

Sir Keir said nurseries ‘probably should be closed’. Primary and Secondary schools have been closed during the lockdown but pre-schools remain open for younger children.

He told the BBC: ‘I think there is a case for looking at nursery schools, we’re talking to the scientists about that.

‘I think people are surprised that primary schools were closed but nurseries aren’t.’

He added: ‘I think they probably should be closed, I do want to talk to the scientists about that.’

He said delivering on the vaccine programme targets was the best way of reopening schools.

But he said opening classrooms again did not need to be contingent on vaccinating teachers.

‘We’d have to look at all the criteria but the most important thing is that vaccination programme,’ he said.

‘It is very difficult to see how we can start lifting restrictions in any meaningful way until the vaccine programme, at least that first part of it is rolled-out successfully.’

Pressed on whether reopening was contingent on inoculating teachers, he added: ‘No, I don’t know that it necessarily is, although if that can happen that would be a good thing.

‘This argument that there are sectors where there is a very strong case for vaccination for obvious reasons, and I understand that and we are going to have that to accommodate that, quite frankly.

‘But at the moment, we do need to focus on those who are most likely to go into hospital and tragically to die.’

How much TOUGHER could lockdown get? Masks worn OUTSIDE, nurseries shut and support bubbles BANNED among options 

From forcing people to wear masks outside to closing nurseries, the Government has a range of options to toughen England’s third national lockdown.

Other possibilities include banning support bubbles, closing places of worship again and even only allowing people out for exercise once a week.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today raised concerns that people were not complying with the rules closely enough in supermarkets and when exercising.

There are mounting suggestions that the restrictions may need to be toughened as the Government launched a drive to ensure the public abide by the rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have discussed the prospect of introducing tougher controls to ensure the public abide by the restrictions.

And England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty today urged the public to ‘stay at home unless you absolutely have to’ go out.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that ‘every flex can be fatal’ as he backed more stringent enforcement of the lockdown by police yesterday.

Here, MailOnline looks at some of the possibilities for toughening the lockdown:

Leave the house once once a week?  

The current exercise regulations for England mean you can go out once per day for as long as you want to take part in exercise by yourself or with one other person.

However the Government fears the new lockdown rules are being exploited by people to meet up with friends for a coffee or an alcoholic drink in the park.

It is currently illegal to meet ‘socially’ with people – and you cannot leave your home ‘for the purpose of recreation or leisure; eg a picnic or a social meeting’.

But the regulations could be toughened to stop people seeing others outdoors – similar to the opening few months of the first lockdown in March last year.

A Government source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘At present people are using the exercise exemption of lockdown to basically go and socialise with friends.’

A further restriction could be that exercise is limited to just one hour per day to reduce the number of people someone might come into near contact with.  

A source has even suggested to MailOnline that outdoor exercise could be limited to only once a week, although this would be difficult to enforce if people could say they were going out for essential shopping. 

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, told BBC Radio 4 this morning that fleeting contact with someone, such as a jogger running past, is ‘extremely low risk’. 

Overnight curfew  

There is no currently limit on what time of the day people are allowed out of their homes for exercise or other activities permitted under law during the lockdown.

But a curfew is one measure which could be considered to reduce the opportunities for people to meet – and has so far not been ruled out by Boris Johnson.

There would likely be exemptions for key workers travelling to and from work, but public transport could be reduced during the curfew hours to discourage journeys.

The closest Britain has come to a curfew so far is the 10pm pub and restaurants opening limit, which was later extended to 11pm with last orders taken by 10pm.

Other countries in Europe already have curfews in place, such as France where it is active from 8pm to 6am but starts two hours earlier in Marseille and Strasbourg.

Closure of nurseries

Calls for nurseries across the country to close along with primary and secondary schools have been led in recent days by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Most infected children display no symptoms of coronavirus and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said today that the risk to children ‘is very low’.

But Sir Keir said nurseries ‘probably should be closed’, adding: ‘I think there is a case for looking at nursery schools, we’re talking to the scientists about that.’

Nursery industry body Early Years Alliance has urged the Government to explain how nurseries can be safe while primary schools must remain shut.

Schools are currently only open for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, and there is a possibility this could be extended to nurseries.

However Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has insisted that it was important to keep nurseries open so children’s parents can still work.

Return to queuing outside supermarkets

Shoppers face a return to long queues outside supermarkets under plans for a new crackdown – while further stores deemed non-essential could be shut.

Ministers have ordered local authorities to place limits on the number of people allowed into shops at any one time amid fears they could become virus hotspots.

Concerns have already been raised over shoppers going to some stores for non-essential products, such as shopping at Homebase for plants or M&S for clothing. 

A Whitehall source suggested there could be a return to capacity limits, saying: ‘There is a feeling that people have just gone back to doing whatever they want.’  

Capacity limits at the start of the first lockdown last March saw huge queues form at supermarkets and certain products rationed as customers began panic buying. 

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News this morning: ‘In supermarkets we need to make sure people actually wear masks and follow the one-way rule.’ 

Enforcing the wearing of masks outside 

Face masks are mandatory indoors on public transport and in churches and shops unless you have an exemption, but this rule could be extended to outdoor settings.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged the Government last Friday to make masks compulsory ‘outdoors when in queues, streets and other crowded spaces outside’.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty told BBC Radio 4 this morning that there may be certain settings outdoors where people could consider wear masks.

He said: ‘If people, for example, are crowded together in a queue … if they’re really huddled together around a market stall or something, that is a risk with this virus.

‘And people in that situation, there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks, but a much better thing to do is to minimise going out.’ 

Ban support bubbles 

Support bubbles were first introduced in England on June 13 last year, meaning that adults who live alone can visit someone else’s home and stay overnight.

These were prompted following concerns for the mental health and isolation of those living alone, and were not in place for the first three months of lockdown. 

However the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advised against their introduction last May – and the Government has not ruled out removing them again.

But scrapping them would likely be a deeply unpopular move, especially among those rely on them as a vital source of contact, such as a single elderly grandparent. 

The Government advises that bubbles are formed with a local household, and those who have a child aged under one as of December 2 last year count as single adults.

People are also allowed form a support bubble as a single adult if they are aged 16 or 17 and are living with others of the same age and without any adults.  

Close churches

One of the more surprising elements of the third national lockdown is that places of worship were allowed to remain open for private prayer and collective worship. 

It is a rare example of gatherings involving multiple households which are still allowed, and a different policy from the ban during the previous two lockdowns.

But London Mayor Sadiq Khan and council leaders have called for places of worship to close again, and this pressure could lead to the Government changing its policy.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has suggested closing places of worship could reduce the ‘R’ rate by 0.1, but Ministers are reluctant to do this. 

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: ‘It’s absolutely vital that traditions of public worship can continue. I think it’s a very important part of the life of the nation.’

Religious leaders have urged people to take ‘tremendous care’ if going to a place of worship and advised those shielding to stay at home as the pandemic intensifies.

Meanwhile some vicars have criticised the Church of England for not taking a harder stance on closures, saying that it ‘doesn’t make sense’ for churches to stay open.  

Face coverings in offices

Ministers are said to be considering bringing in rules requiring people to wear masks in workplaces as well as schools.

Government advice currently states the best ways to minimise the risk of getting the virus at work are social distancing, good hygiene and protective screens. 

But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said last October that masks ‘have some benefit’ at work and suggested the Government should take this into consideration’.

However if this rule was brought in now, it would only affect a low proportion of the country still in offices – with people urged to work from home if they can. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has said it is guided by advice of scientific and medical experts and keeps the evidence on masks ‘under constant review.’ 

Redefining key workers   

Around one third of the UK workforce are key workers totalling 10.61 million people – including NHS staff, food manufacturers, building workers and warehouse workers. 

Other key workers include staff needed for ‘essential financial services provision’, ‘payments providers’ and those in ‘information technology and data infrastructure’. 

But scientific advice group Independent Sage has called on the Government to narrow the definition of key workers in a bid to reduce numbers of pupils in school.

Calls to limit numbers of pupils receiving face-to-face lessons are growing as attendance levels surge to more than 50 per cent in some schools.

But all key workers unable to work from home will soon be eligible for a test twice a week to try to ‘break the chain’ of transmission by asymptomatic carriers.

The announcement yesterday by Matt Hancock will make lateral flow tests – which take 30 minutes to get a result – a key way to avoid tightening the lockdown.  

Key workers have around 29 daily contacts with other people, seven times as many as someone working from home. Just one in six key workers can work from home.

Increased enforcement 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that ‘every flex can be fatal’ as he backed more stringent enforcement of the lockdown by police yesterday.

Police have been fighting to keep Britons from flouting the rules as thousands flocked to beauty spots at the weekend despite warnings over a stricter crackdown. 

Officers have been told to issue a verbal warning before fining those in breach of the rules £200 as Home Secretary Priti Patel warned they won’t hesitate to take action.

Police chiefs have urged the public to be more responsible and to stop trying to find a way around the rules, but enforcement could still become tougher still.