Latest updates: PM faces Labour leader in parliament; Prof Stephen Reicher warns UK risks ‘squandering opportunity’ to avoid stringent lockdown
PMQs: #Covid_19 the only real item on agenda as cases & hospital admission cont to rise. Expect @Keir_Starmer to go in on missing test results; the effectiveness of local lockdowns & how they’re being rolled out. Cases in Manchester have doubled in a wk to more than 500 per 100k
Covid: Government close to closing pubs and restaurants in much of northern England as cases soar https://t.co/AUdu1N2fZT
The new coronavirus restrictions being announced in Scotland this afternoon will be closely watched in England because they may provide a clue as to what Boris Johnson’s will be doing shortly.
According to a story by Harry Cole in the Sun today, Johnson is considering whether to close pubs and restaurants in cities in the north of England. Cole says:
Pubs and restaurants face closure in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak scrambling to put together a local bailout package for businesses facing ruin.
Mr Johnson’s message came after Downing Street was hit with a “white-faced briefing” from senior medics about soaring virus numbers in the north-west and north-east.
And, according to the Daily Telegraph (paywall), a cabinet row is holding up the announcement of a new, three-tier lockdown matrix to simplify the rules. It reports:
A “traffic light” system of different levels of restrictions was due to be announced on Wednesday – but an intervention by Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is threatening to delay the plans …
Mr Sunak is understood to be insisting that decisions about which towns should be put in the “red” zone of the “traffic light” system should be made by a new committee of himself, Mr Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.
That would exclude the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove from the decision-making process, meaning the chancellor – a “hawk” who wants to protect the economy – would not be outnumbered by Mr Gove and Mr Hancock, “doves” who want stricter lockdown measures.
Ministers have also failed to agree on how harsh the strictest of the three “traffic light” lockdown tiers should be. The closure of pubs, restaurants and non-essential retailers in those areas are still on the table, along with a ban on households mixing.
In an interesting column for the Herald in Scotland, Iain Macwhirter says that Nicola Sturgeon is likely to announce what will amount to a “lockdown lite” today – and that policy in England is not that different.
Get ready for the local lockdown circuit breaker – or whatever we’re calling it today.Life is likely to get harder if you happen to live in Glasgow.My column on how Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson are belatedly on the same lockdown page. https://t.co/MA7pY01feM
The message of yesterday might be that for all the recent unpleasantness and four-nation rivalry, the UK may be coming together again in its approach to pandemic management. We are all Swedish now – sort of. Indeed, with today’s lockdown lite we may be seeing a tacit admission that the original lockdown was a mistake. It didn’t suppress the disease, just delayed it, increasing non-Covid deaths while serving to wreck the economy in the process.
Truth be told, the policies, and mistakes, north and south of the Border have never been very different. Even at the height of lockdown, Scottish exceptionalism existed mainly on the fringes of pandemic policy. Though Ms Sturgeon will no doubt find new ways of accusing the PM, as she did before, of “putting peoples lives at risk” by not locking down hard enough. Or of neglecting Scotland’s unique circumstances. As first minister of Scotland she has the luxury of opposition even while being in government. She can and will blame Mr Johnson for not meeting the cost of extended furlough, which promises to be the next big argument.
The Conservatives spent more than £16m on the 2019 general election campaign, it has emerged. As PA Media reports, the Electoral Commission has published figures showing the party spent £16,486,871 across the country in order to gain its 80-seat Commons majority in December 2019.
The biggest chunk of the money, £5,818,998 went on “unsolicited material to electors”, the commission said. Marketing and canvassing cost £4,471,937, and advertising came in at £3,011,665. Rallies and other such events saw £529,650 spent on them.
Figures for the Labour party have yet to be published as its financial submissions to the commission were late due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The report shows that the cost of the SNP campaign was £1,004,952. Plaid Cymru spent £183,914 in the December election, and the Independent Group for Change paid out £29,556.
It was a good morning for Sage participants on the Today programme. As well as Prof Stephen Reicher, the programme interviewed Prof Calum Semple, professor of child health at the University of Liverpool and another academic who advises the UK government by participating in meetings of Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
Semple said the government should consider giving up testing primary school children for coronavirus because the risk of them spreading the virus was relatively low. He said:
We’re quite confident now that primary school children are probably a quarter to half as likely to become infected and are also much less likely to pass the infection on. So there’s growing evidence that primary school children are not amplifying this disease.
Then, in secondary school children, again it’s less than adults, but it’s a gradient of effects such that sixth-formers are probably about the same risk as adults, but that data is slightly less stable …
If it’s shown that [the risk of children spreading the virus is] less than the adults, and if the children themselves are at a low risk of harm, the question has to be should we be making greater efforts to keep children in education, either through improved testing or potentially, with the primary school children, taking them out of testing altogether.
Semple also suggested that children could be excluded from the rule of six that applies in England, as they are in Scotland and Wales. He said excluding children was “something that many scientists and public health doctors are considering”.
Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today that the compulsory 10pm closing time for pubs was having “the wrong effect” and that it should be up to local leaders to decide what was best for their areas. He told the programme:
We’re seeing 2,500 new cases in the last week in Liverpool and yet we’re seeing restrictions that were imposed on Manchester and Newcastle not working and the increasing infection rate going up.
It’s about common sense, it’s about getting the balance right and about what we can do, what we should do and how local lockdowns work, working with local leaders to get it right.
There’s a lack of consistency, a lack of clarity, but most of all a lack of communication and collaboration.
Anderson is one of four Labour city leaders from the north of England who have signed a letter to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, saying the current restrictions are not working. They have proposed a five-point plan to make them work better, involving local authorities getting more control, test and trace being localised, more compensation for businesses, better support for people who need to self-isolate and more effective monitoring.
The letter has also been signed by Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds city council and Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council.
Their five-point plan mostly overlaps with a similar one proposed by Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor for Greater Manchester, at the weekend.
Supplies of some vital medical testing equipment, including material used for Covid tests, are at risk because of a supply chain problem affecting the pharmaceutical company Roche, it has emerged. There are more details here.
Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, who has been giving interviews on behalf of the government this morning, said people should continue to request coronavirus tests when they need them. She told Sky News:
There is an issue with the supply chain. Roche are working with the NHS, the health secretary is fully aware.
I would encourage people to continue going through the testing process – that process is still working.
In his Today interview (see 9.27am) Prof Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and an adviser to the Scottish and UK governments, said there was no point imposing tighter restrictions now unless you used that time to change the way coronavirus is being handled. He said three changes were critical.
Increase testing, that’s number one. Improve the regulation regime, that’s number two, And number three, support people, so they can do whatever you ask of them, like self-isolation.
Good morning. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, will make a statement to the Scottish parliament later announcing a new set of coronavirus restrictions. Scotland’s laws are already tighter than England’s but case numbers in Scotland are rising alarmingly, as they are across the UK as a whole, and Sturgeon said yesterday: “The government is receiving very strong public health advice that action over and above the current restrictions is necessary.”
We got a good insight into what that advice sounds like this morning from Prof Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and an adviser to the Scottish government on Covid, as well as a contributor to Sage, the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. Reicher said that without action now, a March-style lockdown would be needed by the end of the month. He told the Today programme:
I do think it’s important to do something because if you look at the figures at the moment, the level of infections is about 10% of what it was at the peak in March, but, at the rate of doubling, it would probably be at the same as the peak in March by the end of October. So the good news is we have a window of opportunity to do something.
If we squander that window of opportunity, then we really are in trouble, then we really would be talking about going back to March in terms of lockdown measures. But we’re not talking about that now. We’ve got time.
The first minister’s rather unusual pre-announcement yesterday of “the things we will not do” has done nothing to dampen speculation or anxieties. Nicola Sturgeon assured the public at her daily briefing yesterday that the country will not be returning to full lockdown this month, but left the door open for localised restrictions – likely across the central belt where the virus is accelerating fastest – that could well include a travel ban and closure of pubs and restaurants.
Remember that restrictions in Scotland are already tougher than elsewhere in the UK: last month Scots were banned from visiting other homes, with strict limits also in force for outdoor meetings and a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.
The Federation of Small Businesses warned that more than a week of uncertainty about details of the new restrictions – with ministers and public health officials floating the idea of a “circuit breaker” lockdown – had caused emotional strain for employers and staff, while the Scottish Licensed Trade Association predicted that Scotland could lose about a third of its pubs and about 25% of staff if another shut-down was ordered.
Meanwhile, the virus is back in Scottish care homes, with two deaths and 80 staff and residents testing positive following a significant outbreak in two homes in Lothian.
New #coronavirus restrictions in Scotland announced today:▪️expect reduced hours for pubs and restaurants▪️restrictions may be tightest in central belt▪️Scottish cabinet meeting 0830, @NicolaSturgeon statement to Holyrood 1450
FM said she would have an “obligation” to provide financial assistance to affected businesses, so expect @scotgov to announce some help
2.30pm: Richard Hughes, the new chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, and other economists give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about tax policy after coronavirus.
5pm: Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and David Frost, the UK’s chief EU negotiator, give evidence to the Commons Brexit committee.
Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time 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 where they seem more important and interesting, they will take precedence.
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.
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Actu monde – GB – UK coronavirus live: Boris Johnson to face Keir Starmer at PMQs; Scotland faces new restrictions