Early evening summary
- Scotland’s schools are expected to fully reopen in early April, with some household mixing allowed, after Nicola Sturgeon unveiled a partial route map to lifting the country’s strict Covid controls.
- Nicola Sturgeon has said “vaccine passports” would be worth considering if they could help people to get “some greater normality back”. But she also said she would like to see a “broad consensus” behind any plan to introduce them. (See 3.14pm.) Earlier Boris Johnson expressed concern that “vaccine passports” could be discriminatory”. He said Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, will lead the review to consider policy on this. (See 1.11pm.) The review is described as genuinely open, but it is understood that that ministers are not keen on a system where entry to a venue might depend entirely on whether or not someone has been vaccinated. Instead there is more interest in using test results too - so that entry might depend on either having been vaccinated, or having tested negative.
- Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been criticised for a “disgustingly disrespectful” claim that there was never a national shortage of personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
- Welsh ministers and health experts have expressed concern at the UK government’s target to lift all limits on socialising in England by June and insisted that reopening schools to all pupils at the same time is unsafe.
- Boris Johnson has said he is “very optimistic” all restrictions on normal life in England will end on 21 June, saying the government will continue to provide economic support to businesses until they can operate as normal – appearing to confirm that many financial packages will be extended in the chancellor’s March budget.
- Airlines and travel companies have reported a surge in holiday bookings after the Boris Johnson announced his roadmap out of lockdown.
- Unemployment in the UK edged higher to 5.1% in December as the government’s furlough scheme continued to prevent a steep rise in job losses in the run-up to Christmas.
- Boris Johnson quit journalism for politics because he felt guilty about “abusing or attacking people” without putting himself in their shoes, he told a group of schoolchildren.
- Labour has been accused of an anti-left “stitch-up” after it reopened the contest to find a mayoral candidate for Liverpool, sidelining the three women who were in the running. (See 4.53pm.)
- Sir Keir Starmer has used a speech to the National Farmers Union conference to say Labour would be “absolutely committed” to investing in farming and rural communities.
- Boris Johnson has warned world leaders that failure to address the issue of climate change will undermine global security.
As PA Media reports, chairing a virtual meeting of the United Nations security council (UNSC), the prime minister said climate change was a “geopolitical issue every bit as much as it is an environmental one”.
- The UK has given the European Union until April 30 to approve the Brexit trade deal. As PA Media reports, MEPs insisted they did not have time to scrutinise the deal between it being struck on Christmas Eve and coming into effect on January 1 so it has only been provisionally implemented since then.A deadline to approve it by February 28 has now slipped after Michael Gove agreed to the EU’s request for an extension.
- The Scottish parliament is redacting one of Alex Salmond’s submissions about “malicious” attempts by former colleagues to banish him from public life after legal warnings from the Crown Office.
That’s all from me for tonight. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog. It’s here.
This is from Liam Thorp, political editor of the Liverpool Echo, on the Labour mayoral selection controversy. (See 4.53pm.)
This is from Dan Carden, the Labour MP from Liverpool Walton, on the party’s decision to reopen the Liverpool mayoral selection contest (which means closing it for the three current candidates, who are being sidelined).
And this is from Jennie Formby, who was general secretary of the party when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.
The Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood, Ruth Davidson, has criticised the Scottish government for not providing enough detail about when Scotland will exit lockdown. In her response to Nicola Sturgeon’s statement in the Scottish parliament, Davidson said the strategic framework update was not a routemap out of Covid, but just a “holding document”.
The Scottish Conservatives have also tweeted this.
Anna Rothery, the current lord mayor of Liverpool and one of the three candidates for mayor now sidelined (see 4.53pm), says she may go to court to challenge the party’s decision.
And this is from Howard Beckett, the Unite assistant general secretary and member of Labour’s national executive committee. Beckett is one of the leading candidates hoping to replace Len McCluskey as the union’s general secretary when he retires.
Labour accused of anti-left 'stitch-up' after it reopens Liverpool mayoral selection contest
Labour has reopened the contest to find a successor to the Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, PA Media reports. PA says:
Three female candidates, councillors Wendy Simon, Ann O’Byrne and Anna Rothery, had been in the running to stand for Labour in the city’s mayoral elections on 6 May. Anderson, who has been the elected mayor since the role was created in 2012, announced on New Year’s Eve he would not stand for re-election following his arrest as part of a Merseyside police fraud investigation.
Today, with less than two months until nomination papers must be submitted to the council, Labour announced it was re-opening the selection for the post. PA understands the previous candidates will not be invited to apply.
Labour has not said why the three candidates are no longer wanted. But a party spokesperson said:
After careful consideration, Labour is reopening the selection for Liverpool mayor. We are committed to ensuring members are able to choose the right candidate to stand up against the Conservatives, lead Liverpool out of the coronavirus crisis and fight for the resources that the city desperately needs.
Momentum, the Labour group set up to support Jeremy Corbyn when he was leader, says this looks like a “stitch-up to keep left candidates off the ballot”.
John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, has described this as a “fiasco”.
UK records 8,489 new cases – lowest daily total for more than four months
The latest UK Covid figures have been published on the government’s dashboard.
Here are the key figures.
- The UK has recorded 8,489 further cases – the lowest daily total for more than four months. This is the lowest daily total for new cases by date recorded since early October, and it is only the third day this year the total has been below 10,000. Week on week, new cases are down 11.8%.
- The UK has recorded 548 further deaths. A week ago today the equivalent figure was 799. Week on week, deaths are down 28.4%.
- There were 1,323 Covid admissions to UK hospitals on Thursday last week, the most recent day for which figures are available on the dashboard. That is the lowest daily total since late November. Week on week, admissions are down 20.7%.
- 192,341 people in the UK received their first dose of a vaccine yesterday. This confirms a trend that has been apparent for several days; the rate at which first doses are being administered is falling.
Rachel Clarke, the palliative care doctor and author, has described Matt Hancock’s claim this morning that there was never a national shortage of PPE last year (see 11.26am) as a “lie”.
PA Media has also pointed out in its news report that there is ample evidence to show that what Hancock said was wrong. PA says:
The PA news agency spoke to numerous doctors as the coronavirus crisis unfolded last year about their experience with PPE. These included:
- An obstetrician at a London hospital who described how staff were “hiding” PPE out of sheer desperation.
- An orderly at the same hospital made themselves a makeshift face covering out of an eye mask usually used for sleeping.
- Another doctor compared the situation to sending a soldier to war without the necessary equipment.
- A junior doctor who said it felt like it was “inevitable” that they would contract the virus due to a lack of PPE.
- One GP told PA they had purchased face shields from the online retailer Amazon as they could not get them through the traditional supply chains.
In March last year, the Royal College of Nursing said that some nurses were sent to treat patients on Covid wards with “no protection at all”.
One desperate NHS procurement chief tweeted: “God help us all”.
And the Health Care Supply Association (HCSA), which represents procurement and supply professionals within the healthcare sector in the UK, warned of “serious supply issues” in hospitals.
Meanwhile, consultant urologist Dr Abdul Mabud Chowdhury died from Covid-19 five days after writing a Facebook post asking the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to urgently provide every NHS worker with personal protective equipment.
From Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall, on the differences between the Scottish and UK governments’ approaches to lockdown easing
Boris Johnson has described the threat climate change poses to global security as of “paramount importance”. Speaking at the start of a virtual United Nations security council session on climate change, he said:
I’m very, very proud to be the first UK prime minister to be chairing the security council in three decades or more.
The reason I’m proud to be doing this particularly today is because the issue before us, security and climate change, and the impact of climate change on global security, is now of absolutely paramount importance.
Johnson also introduced a video message from Sir David Attenborough, a man he described as having “devoted much of his life to chronicling the threats to all forms of life on our fragile blue planet”.
Public Health Wales said a total of 869,653 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, an increase of 7,405 from the previous day, PA Media reports. PA says:
The agency said 49,729 second doses had also been given, an increase of 6,977.
In total, 90.7% of over-80s in Wales have received their first dose, along with 92.7% of those aged 75-79 and 92.1% of those aged 70-74.
For care homes, 84.9% of residents and 85.9% of staff have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Public Health Wales said 84.7% of people in the clinically extremely vulnerable category had received their first dose.
The Scottish parliament is redacting one of Alex Salmond’s submissions about “malicious” attempts by former colleagues to banish him from public life after legal warnings from the Crown Office, my colleagues Severin Carrell and Libby Brooks report.
Public Health Wales has recorded 317 further coronavirus cases and four further deaths.
A week ago today the equivalent figures were 275 new cases and eight deaths.
More than 170,000 people have now signed a parliamentary epetition saying the government should not allow vaccine passports. It says:
We want the government to commit to not rolling out any e-vaccination status/immunity passport to the British public. Such passports could be used to restrict the rights of people who have refused a Covid-19 vaccine, which would be unacceptable.
Epetitions that attract more than 100,000 names are considered for debate by MPs.
Sturgeon says 'vaccine passports' worth considering if they can 'give us greater normality'
In the Scottish parliament Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, was asked by Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, and Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green co-leader, about “vaccine passports”. Although they both raised similar concerns, she sounded mildly more supportive of the principle than Boris Johnson did when he spoke about them earlier. (See 1.11pm.)
Replying to Rennie, who said he was worried that support for “vaccine passports” was “gaining traction”, Sturgeon said she would not support their use for access to public services. But she went on to say that people should not close their minds to the idea completely.
Yellow fever certificates exist for travel to some countries, so there may well be scope for vaccination giving you the ability to do certain things that without vaccination you might not be able to do.
I agree that there are a lot of things - and I’m not sure that is a huge amount of disagreement between the different governments in the UK on this - we need to think through.
We need to, firstly, understand exactly what vaccination gives you, in terms of protection against or passing on the virus.
And then we do need to think about these ethical issues, about what is it reasonable to say can be accessed with a vaccine certificate, if you had that, and what couldn’t. Because there are some people who, for reasons beyond their own control, can’t get vaccinated, and there are other ethical issues that arise from this.
So I think it’s not straightforward, it’s not simple ... I don’t close my mind to this, but I think, like everybody else, we want to think through this carefully.
And if some kind of mechanism like this can give us some greater normality back at some stage that we wouldn’t otherwise get, then let’s think about that.
And when Harvie suggested that “vaccine passports” could make social inequality “even worse”, and make people’s civil rights dependent on their medical history, Sturgeon said she would “never support something that deepened social inequalities, or put barriers in the way of people accessing public services”. But she said these questions illustrated why a debate was needed. She added:
We’ve got to ... whatever direction we take, make sure that we have a broad consensus across the country behind it.
Here is the Scottish government’s 93-page Covid strategic framework update (pdf).
This chart, from the Scottish government’s Covid “strategic framework update” (pdf), summarises the plans announced by Nicola Sturgeon.
Sturgeon sets out timetable for easing of restrictions up to April
Turning to what will happen between now and April, Sturgeon says the first step came with the partial reopening of schools yesterday.
Restrictions on care home visiting will start to ease from early March, she says.
The next phase of easing could start from 15 March, she says.
She says that will involve the next phase of school return – with the rest of primary school years going back, and getting more senior secondary school pupils into class for at least some of the time. She says non-contact outdoors sport should be allowed then for 12- to 17-year-olds. And the limit on outdoor mixing will be relaxed, so that four people from two households can meet - not just two people from two households, as now.
Sturgeon says the next phase could start from 5 April.
In this phase the rest of pupils could go back, she says. She says communal worship could be allowed to start. And the rules on outdoor mixing could be further relaxed, so that six people from two households can meet.
And retail will start to open up in this phase she says, with the extension of essential retail being expanded, and the restrictions on click and collect being lifted.
Sturgeon says the next phase could start from 26 April, when hopefully all of Scotland might move to level 3 restrictions, although possibly with some changes.
But this is provisional, she stresses.
It is important to stress, of course, that all of this depends on us continuing to suppress the virus now - and continuing to accept some trade-offs for a period, for example on international travel. However, if we do so, I am optimistic that we can make good progress in returning more normality to our lives and the economy.
I know this is still a cautious approach which though absolutely essential to control the virus and protect health, is extremely difficult for many businesses.
Sturgeon says today’s report will be followed by a document in mid-March giving more detail of lockdown easing.
She also says that, although she is setting out plans today, “in the coming weeks, if the data allows and positive trends continue, we will seek to accelerate the easing of restrictions”.
She says Scotland will return to the level system from the last week of April.
At that stage, we hope that all parts of the country currently in level 4 will be able to move out of level 4 and back initially to level 3, possibly with some revision to the content of the levels, and afterwards to levels dependent on incidence and prevalence of the virus at that time.
From the last week of April there will be a “phased but significant re-opening of the economy, including non essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers”, she says.
Sturgeon says there are some signs that the decline in case numbers is slowing down.
And R, the reproduction number, is not far below 1. That means “we have quite limited scope at this stage for easing restrictions”, she says.
Sturgeon says the information about the impact of the vaccination programme is “extremely encouraging”.
But she says the government still has to proceed cautiously.
There is little doubt that we now have much firmer grounds for optimism that vaccination, and the other tools at our disposal offer us a route back to greater normality.
However, it is by being cautious, careful and patient for the next period – while the vaccination programme progresses – that we will make that route as safe and sustainable as possible.
Sturgeon says almost a third of Scottish adults have now received their first dose of vaccine.
She says the government expects to have offered a first dose to everyone on the JCVI’s priority list - all over-50s, and people with underlying health conditions - by mid-April.
And she says she expects to offer a first dose to every adult in Scotland by the end of July - not by September, as originally planned.
Sturgeon addresses MSPs on Scotland's plan to ease lockdown
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, says she will set out an indicative timeframe for cautiously easing lockdown.
She starts with the statistics. There have been 56 further deaths, she says. There are 1,076 Covid patients in hospital - 65 fewer than yesterday. And there have been 655 further cases.
Journalists have learned a bit more about the government’s thinking about “vaccine passports”. Boris Johnson expressed some of his own concerns in an interview earlier. (See 1.11pm.) Officials have not been saying any more in public, but reporters are being advised that ministers are not keen on a system where a decision about whether or not someone was allowed to do something would be based solely on whether or not they had had a vaccine.
Instead, there is much more interest in whether information about vaccinations could be combined with information about test results in enabling venues or services to be opened up for people.
But there is no fixed plan yet, we’re told. It will be a genuinely open review.
Ministers also accept that businesses can already decide to refuse people access for various reasons. One function of the review may be to establish the extent to which employers and businesses can and cannot take into account vaccination status when deciding whether to employ people, or serve them as customers. There are already laws in place, but lawyers have argued that they would probably need to be tested in court to determine how they would apply to vaccine documents.
Sky’s Sam Coates has posted on Twitter the full clip from Boris Johnson this morning talking about journalism. It was “a great profession”, Johnson said. But he went on:
But the trouble is that ... sometimes you find yourself always abusing people or attacking [people] ... being critical, when maybe you feel sometimes a bit guilty about that because you have not put yourself in the place of the person you are criticising.
Johnson was talking about journalists criticising politicians, because he went on to say that, having felt guilty about criticising politicians, he thought he would try politics himself.
But, as LBC’s James O’Brien argues, this comment may have been an admission that Johnson’s own career as a columnist involved multiple instances of Johnson being offensive about people - often whole cities, nationalities or minority groups.
Johnson expresses concern that domestic vaccine passports could be discriminatory
PA Media has filed the full quotes from Boris Johnson’s broadcast interview this morning during his visit to a school in Lewisham. Here are the key points.
- Johnson expressed reservations about the principle of “vaccine passports” being used to limit what people can do. Yesterday he announced a review of how “Covid status certificates” might be used, but in his interview he stressed that “deep and complex” issues were raised by this idea. He also said, if these documents were introduced, they should not be “discriminatory” against people who cannot get vaccinated. He said:
This is an area where we’re looking at a novelty for our country, we haven’t had stuff like this before, we’ve never thought in terms of having something that you have to show to go to a pub or a theatre.
There are deep and complex issues that we need to explore, and ethical issues about what the role is for government in mandating or for people to have such a thing or indeed in banning from people doing such a thing.
We can’t be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason people can’t have the vaccine, there might be medical reasons why people can’t have a vaccine. Or some people may generally refuse to have one, I think that’s mistaken, I think everybody should have a vaccine but we need to thrash all this out ...
The fervent libertarians will reject but other people will think there’s a case for it.
Johnson did not say what the review was likely to conclude. But he certainly did not sound like a passionate enthusiast for using “vaccine passports” in a domestic context, and (as one would expect, knowing his background) he sounded as he were closer to the libertarian end of the spectrum on this issue.
- Johnson said Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, would lead the review. He said:
What I want to see is a proper review into the issue. That’s going to be led by Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will be getting the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical viewpoints on it and will work out a way forward.
In December last year Gove told the BBC that the government had no plans for so-called vaccine passports.
- Johnson said that “vaccine passports” would become normal for international travel. He said:
When you look at the international side of things, international travel, there’s no question that that’s where a lot of countries will be going and they will be insisting on vaccine passports, in the way that people used to insists on evidence you’d been inoculated against yellow fever or whatever, so it’s going to come on the international stage, whatever.
- Johnson said he was “very optimistic” that all restrictions would be lifted on 21 June, the “not before” date set out in the roadmap for the final stage of lockdown exit. He said:
I’m hopeful but obviously nothing can be guaranteed and it all depends on the way we continue to be prudent and continue to follow the guidance in each stage.
Genuinely because of the immense possibilities of the rollout, because science has given us this way of creating a shield around our population, we can really look at that June 21 date with some optimism.
I think that’s how I would put it. I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to get there.
- He said the thought the roadmap struck the right balance between opening up quickly and being cautious. He said:
Some people will say that we’re going to be going too fast, some people will say we’re going too slow. I think the balance is right, I think it is a cautious but irreversible approach, which is exactly what people want to see.
- He said a problem with journalism was that journalists were “always criticising”, rather than actually doing things. This is from Sky’s Sam Coates, who interviewed him.
This is a long-standing view of Johnson’s; explaining his decision to quit journalism for politics, he is reputed to have said that “no one ever puts up statues of journalists”. (This might explain why Johnson is keen on a new law to stop people taking down statues. It is also not entirely true. In London, near Fleet Street, there is a fine statue of the 18th century journalist and MP John Wilkes, with an excellent talking commentary from Jeremy Paxman.)
The latest universal credit statistic report, released this morning by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), shows that around 446 people were still making new claims for universal credit every hour in the first week of 2021, and a total of 4.5 million people have made a claim for the benefit since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the UK in March 2020.
It comes as many people who claimed universal credit for the first time during the pandemic were unable to put aside enough cash to save £10 a month, eat healthily or regularly, or pay bills because the benefit payment was too inadequate, a recent study found.
Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, a national charity providing practical help to people who are struggling financially, said the figures highlighted the need for the £20 universal credit uplift announced last year to be extended. He said:
The continued high number of new claims for universal credit further demonstrates that the economic consequences of this pandemic are still in full swing. This is exactly why it would be such a terrible idea to reduce benefit payments by £20 a week now.
The DWP report also shows that 620,000 families with children have started claiming universal credit since the start of the pandemic – a 51% increase.
Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at Save the Children, said:
Providing support for only another six months just won’t cut it. The increase to universal credit in March last year was a clear recognition by the UK government that people who had lost work during the pandemic needed extra financial support.
The UK government must do the right thing and extend the £20 uplift for at least a year, to give families the chance to rebuild their lives and stop even more children growing up in poverty.
The UK should opt for an elimination policy, aiming to have zero Coronavirus cases in communities, experts from Australia and New
Zealand have warned.
The government’s current strategy is to get infections below 10,000 as Boris Johnson announced his road-map out of lockdown on Monday. But experts in countries where they have reduced cases dramatically, have argued that the approach should be one of stamping out the virus entirely.
Speaking at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus (APPG), leading epidemiologist Prof Catherine Bennett said in Australia and New Zealand “eliminating [the virus] was the idea”.
Prof Michael Baker, acting head of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said a key factor was how the problem was “conceptualised” early on – with people treating it like influenza and thinking about herd immunity.
He said New Zealand was going to do the same as the UK until it saw the strict Chinese lockdown, where it was treated the same way as a Sars virus and then changed tack.
Hancock's claim there was no national shortage of PPE last year branded 'an insult' by Labour
In interviews this morning Matt Hancock, the health secretary, claimed that the UK never had a national shortage of PPE last year. Asked about the court ruling last week saying that he unlawfully failed to publish PPE contracts on time, he repeated the argument that it was right for his officials to focus more at the time on acquiring PPE than in complying with the disclosure timetable. He told the Today programme:
What’s more, it’s easy to ask these questions, but what is hard is to deliver PPE in the teeth of a pandemic. And that’s what my team did. And yes, there were individual challenges in access to PPE, but we never had a national shortage, because of my team.
But at another point in the same interview Hancock did say “obviously there was a massive shortage of a huge amount of items” last year and that the demand for PPE rose tenfold. He seemed to be making a distinction between global and local shortages, which he accepted did occur, and a national shortage, which he claims did not occur.
Rosena Allin-Khan, a shadow health minister, said it was “an insult” for Hancock to claim there was no shortage of PPE. She said:
Many frontline workers had to ration protective equipment, putting themselves at risk.
Lots of it was inadequate and poorly fitting, and some NHS staff had to make gowns themselves from bin bags.
The fact is, it was a smash-and-grab for Tory donors and friends. And protecting workers who were putting themselves in harm’s way to look after people seems to have been an afterthought.
A report by the National Audit Office on PPE procurement last year said that, although the government deserved some credit for “building at pace a new international supply chain and distribution network”, it took “a long time for it to receive the large volumes of PPE ordered”. The NAO also said: “There were further difficulties with distribution to providers and many front-line workers reported experiencing shortages of PPE as a result.”
More than third of all universal credit claims ever made submitted since pandemic started, DWP figures show
More than a third of claims made since universal credit was introduced have been made during the coronavirus pandemic, PA Media is reporting. PA says:
There were 4.5m claims for the benefit between 13 March 2020 and 14 January this year, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
This represents 39% of the 11.4m claims made since universal credit was introduced in April 2013.
The latest quarterly figures take the total number of people on UC to 6 million as of 14 January - a 98% rise from 12 March 2020.
Michael Gove to lead government review of 'vaccine passports', PM says
Asked about vaccine passports, Johnson says this is a difficult issue. There are deep and complex issues to explore, he says, including ethical issues.
He says the government cannot be discriminatory. And there may be medical reasons why people cannot get vaccinated, which would mean they cannot get “vaccine passports”.
But he says there is time for his review to consider all the issues.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, will lead it.
Johnson says he knows libertarians would object. But other people are pushing for these measures, he says.
He says he thinks they will be used for international travel.
Johnson says he is 'hopeful' England can fully open up after 21 June
Sky News is broadcasting an interview with Boris Johnson, who is visiting a school.
Q: Your roadmap envisages quite a rapid jump, from semi-lockdown to thousands of people being allowed at events just five weeks later. Are you going too fast?
Johnson says some people say the government is going too fast, and some thing it is going too slow. He says he thinks he is being prudent.
But he thinks the country will be able to open up from 21 June in a way that people did not expect.
Q: The deputy chief medical officer in Wales has expressed doubts about that deadline. How confident are you it can be met?
Johnson says he is “hopeful”. He says science has provided a shield for the population.
In interviews this morning, when asked when people in England would be able to hug friends and family, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he hoped that would be possible from 17 May.
Asked to explain the timing, he said:
The reason for that timing is, by then, all of the most vulnerable groups will have been able to have two jabs.
We know from the data that was published yesterday that the first jab is very effective in helping to protect you against catching Covid, or hospitalisation, or, of course, dying from it.
But the second jab adds to that protection, adds further. But we do want to be cautious until the most vulnerable groups have been able to have both of those doses.
Welsh health chief expresses concern at England's lockdown easing plan
The deputy chief medical officer for Wales, Chris Jones, has expressed concern and scepticism over the UK government’s 21 June target to lift all limits on socialising in England.
Asked on BBC Radio Wales about the excitement in England the announcement of the date had caused, Jones said:
One is very concerned. The messaging to the public has always been very important here. To send the message that everything is going to be back to normal in a few months’ time is a message with some risk. This pandemic could easily go out of control again. This is a critical time.
There is a real risk of a third wave if restrictions are lifted too quickly and too early. There’s no doubt about that. We still have a vulnerable population. We’ve only had time to vaccinate the most at risk.
He said he would be “very surprised” if all limits on socialising could be lifted in Wales by 21 June. He went on:
I think we all need some hope but we’re not in that position yet.
It is absolutely impossible in my view to say at any given date in several months time that this will be the situation. We have to take things as we find them, step by step. It’s got to be an incremental process. We cannot anticipate several months ahead.
Travel firms report surge in demand for foreign holidays
More travel companies have followed easyJet (see 9.44am) in reporting a surge in demand for foreign holidays, PA Media reports. PA says:
Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, recorded a six-fold increase in bookings, making Monday its busiest day in more than a month.
The hotspots of Greece, Spain and Turkey from July onwards are the most in-demand locations.
Managing director Andrew Flintham said the government can work with the travel industry to develop a “risk-based framework” that will give holidaymakers “the opportunity to travel abroad this summer”.
He added that there is “huge demand to travel” and “people can look forward to a well-deserved break away after what has been a very difficult year for many”.
Online travel firm Thomas Cook said traffic to its website was up 75% on Monday as people rushed to book holidays for this summer and 2022.
Chief executive Alan French described the announcement as “good news for those of us desperate to get away on holiday”.
Wales has effectively stopped recording excess deaths, says ONS
Wales had effectively stopped recording excess deaths by early February, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. But in the week ending Friday 12 February deaths in all regions of England were still well above the five-year average for this time of year, and overall deaths in England and Wales were running at 28.8%.
Of the 15,354 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 12 February, 37.1% involved Covid (in that it was mentioned on the death certificate).
This chart illustrates the trend with excess deaths.
And here are the regional figures.
Although the latest weekly deaths figure for Wales is above the five-year average, the ONS says it is “within the range of 2015 to 2019 deaths for week 6” (ie, for this time of the year).
Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the University of Warwick and member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M - effectively a subcommittee Sage), told the Today programme this morning he was worried that Covid could persist in poorer communities. Asked if it could remain a “disease of the deprived”, he said:
This is a real concern actually for me and I know a number of other scientists have raised this, that we may end up in a situation where we have the ‘vaccine rich’, as it were, who are able to access the vaccine who have taken up the vaccine and are at much lower risk.
And there may be people in society who have not taken up the vaccine and potentially these individuals could be clustered in particular parts of the country, and there is increased risk there.
So I think it’s something that we do need to do more about to make sure that the vaccine is available to everyone to take up and so that we minimise the risk of the virus persisting in particular parts of the country, and causing much more harm to those communities.
EasyJet says it experienced a surge in bookings after the PM said yesterday that foreign holidays might be permitted from 17 May. As PA Media reports, in the hours after the announcement, easyJet said bookings by UK customers for the summer season were more than four times higher compared with the same period during the previous week. The Luton-based firm’s holiday division saw an even larger rise, with demand up seven-fold.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said:
We have consistently seen that there is pent-up demand for travel and this surge in bookings shows that this signal from the government that it plans to reopen travel has been what UK consumers have been waiting for.
The prime minister’s address has provided a much-needed boost in confidence for so many of our customers in the UK with demand for flights up 337% and holidays up 630% already compared to last week and beach destinations proving most popular for this summer.
The UK unemployment rate rose to 5.1% in the final quarter of last year, according to figures out this morning. My colleague Graeme Wearden has the details, with reaction and analysis, on his business live blog.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said that everyone needs to play their part in order to meet the targets set for easing lockdown in England with the aim to move to “personal responsibility” rather than having social distancing laws “that get in the way of normal life”, my colleague Sarah Marsh reports.
Public backs Johnson's plan for lockdown easing in England, polls suggest
Good morning. Snap polls aren’t a perfect way of measuring public opinion - they involve people being asked about events that have only just happened, many respondents will not have read beyond a headline, and no one will have had time to mull it over properly - but they are better than nothing, and, on Covid at least, certainly a more reliable guide than newspaper front pages. (Many newspapers suggest Britain is clamouring to end the lockdown, when in fact the survey evidence suggests the opposite is the case.)
And so there is good news for Boris Johnson this morning. There have been two snap polls about the roadmap for lifting lockdown in England he announced yesterday, and they both suggest that voters are in favour.
According to a YouGov poll, the number of people who think the PM has got “the balance about right” outnumbers the combined total of those who think he is relaxing the rules too slowly and those who think he is relaxing too fast (a bigger group).
This is from the YouGov write-up of the findings.
English people tend to think the path being set to a post-lockdown future is happening at about the right pace (46%). A quarter think such a timeline is too rapid (26%), while another 16% think it is too slow.
Most Conservative voters (54%), as well as 42% of Labour voters, agree with the pace the prime minister has set. Labour voters are more likely than their Tory counterparts to think that the plan is too quick (34% vs 18%), while Conservative voters are more likely to consider it too slow (20% vs 11%).
And Savanta ComRes has a snap poll suggesting a majority of voters are satisfied with the PM’s roadmap.
The poll also suggests 31% of voters think the plan is “about right”. There are more people who think it is either “cautious” (30%) or “very cautious” (15%), but respondents may have regarded these as good qualities. Only 19% said they regarded the plans as reckless.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes its weekly death figures for England and Wales.
9.30am: The DWP publishes its quarterly universal credit figures.
10.45am: George Eustice, the environment secretary, speaks at the National Farmers Union conference. Sir Keir Starmer is speaking at the same event at 12.30pm, and Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, is on at 2pm.
11.30am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
12pm: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.
After 2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, makes a statement to the Scottish parliament about Scotland’s plan for lifting lockdown.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.