Health

UK coronavirus live: Johnson criticised for missing four-nation Christmas talks; 1 in 10 pupils missing school over Covid


Latest updates: No 10 unable to say whether agreement could be reached today; more than 870,000 children not in school last Thursday

2.38pm GMT

This is from the New Statesman’s George Eaton, picking up on what Matt Hancock told a joint health/science committee hearing this morning. (See 12.24pm.)

Matt Hancock says today that Britons should take more sick days. Not having the lowest level of statutory sick pay in the OECD (£95.85 per week) might help. pic.twitter.com/kGUezgktUc

2.35pm GMT

The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has expressed frustration that Boris Johnson will not attend this afternoon’s Cobra meeting on a four-nation approach to Christmas.

Addressing the Welsh parliament, he said:

I’m told the prime minister will once again not attend the Cobra meeting this afternoon. You might think that given the significance of the decisions we are having to take there that the prime minister might think that was a conversation in which he would choose to be engaged.

It will lead to more spreading of coronavirus because coronavirus thrives when people get together and the more people get together, the more coronavirus there will be.

I have been arguing in the meetings we have had for a focus not just on a small number of days of Christmas itself, but the decisions we need to take in the lead-up to Christmas and how we will deal with the aftermath and to try to do that on a broadly common basis as well.

2.32pm GMT

Here are two more lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.

Until now, local authorities have been able to issue fines to businesses who have failed to comply with the legal obligations to be Covid-secure.

The new powers will allow them to formally request rapid improvement or close these premises where appropriate through the issuing of notices.

2.04pm GMT

Around one in 10 children were absent from state schools in England last week for Covid-related reasons, according to official statistics which revealed yet another jump in the number of children sent home to self-isolate.

More than 870,000 children were not in school last Thursday, with secondary schools the most severely affected. Nearly three-quarters (73%) reported at least one pupil off self-isolating – up from 64% a week earlier – and more than one in five secondary pupils were absent (22%).

Schools and teachers are working incredibly hard to keep the system running without any support or resources from the government. The situation has reached a crisis point and the government cannot let coronavirus run riot in schools any longer.

1.57pm GMT

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is due to hold a meeting with representatives of the devolved administrations this afternoon to try to reach agreement on a joint approach to Christmas.

On Sunday the UK government briefed that an agreement was already more or less in the bag. But that seems to have been premature, and at the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman conceded that a four-nation consensus had not yet been reached. The spokesman said:

We have been clear of our desire to try and agree a four-nations approach which will allow families to meet up over the Christmas period …

We continue to work with the devolved nations to agree a plan to allow families to meet up over Christmas. That work is ongoing and there will be a meeting later of Cobra to discuss it.

1.30pm GMT

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, has just told Radio 4’s the World at One that, although he does not yet know exactly what form the Commons vote on the new three-tier system of restrictions for England will take, “my inclination would be to oppose it”.

He explained:

My concern is that huge numbers of businesses, particularly but not exclusively in the hospitality sector, have been losing money under tier 2 already, and there’s a very tight limit to how much longer than they can go on doing without seeing even bigger levels of unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment.

And we know that if we see that big economic hit, in terms of unemployment, in terms of opportunities for young people, the effects – not just economically, but the other health impacts, physical health and mental health – are enormous, and that is the legacy we could be living with for years to come.

1.15pm GMT

More than 30,000 extra deaths not linked to Covid-19 have now taken place in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, PA Media is reporting.

Extra deaths – known as “excess deaths” – are the number of deaths that are above the average for the corresponding period in the previous five years.

1.04pm GMT

Jeremy Hunt, the health committee chair, wraps up the hearing with Matt Hancock by thanking him for his time.

1.01pm GMT

Dawn Butler (Lab) goes next.

She asks why at an earlier hearing he did not answer a question about a meeting his department had with a PR company, Topham Guerin. Did they get a contract because they worked on the 2019 Conservative election campaign?

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12.56pm GMT

Q: How will we know you are not just taking arbitrary decisions?

Hancock says the information behind those decisions about tiers will be published.

12.54pm GMT

Q: Will you publish a cost-benefit analysis for every region?

Hancock says he plans to publish all the data informing the decisions about particular regions going into particular tiers.

12.53pm GMT

Labour’s Graham Stringer goes next.

Q: When imposing tiers on areas, why are you not negotiating with locally elected representatives?

12.50pm GMT

Hancock tells the committee that more than 20m people have now downloaded the NHS Covid-19 app.

12.50pm GMT

Back in the committee Matt Hancock told MPs that he was asking the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation to consider whether people with learning disabilities should be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine.

A recent report from Public Health England found that people with learning disabilities are dying of coronavirus at more than six times the rate of the general population.

12.45pm GMT

Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the Commons health committee, has posted this on Twitter. It is a clip from Prof Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, who was giving evidence to the committee this morning (before Matt Hancock).

In it, she gives a crisp summary of why she thinks the UK has had such a high Covid death rate, arguing that the key mistake was made at the start when it was assumed it was a flu-like epidemic that could not be stopped.

Snappy summary from @devisridhar of how we have fared compared to other countries pic.twitter.com/5IYCQDmNOG

12.38pm GMT

Barbara Keeley (Lab) is asking the questions now.

Q: If relatives are not allowed to visit care homes, who is checking on the quality of care. We all know there are concerns in this area.

12.29pm GMT

Greg Clark, the chair of the Commons science committee, is asking the questions now.

Q: Did you question whether Sir Patrick Vallance should present the chart at a No 10 press conference suggesting 4,000 people could die from a second wave?

12.24pm GMT

Here is the full quote from Matt Hancock, the health secretary, when he told the committee earlier that after the pandemic was over he wanted to use the UK’s new testing capacity to end the British “working when ill” culture. (See 11.46am.)

Britain had built a “global-scale diagnostics capability”, he said. He went on:

Afterwards we must use it, not just for coronavirus but everything.

I want to have a change in the British way of doing things where ‘if in doubt, get a test’ doesn’t just refer to coronavirus but refers to any illness that you might have.

12.17pm GMT

Q: Are you confident that death certificates mentioning coronavirus are an accurate measure of the impact of the disease? I have heard anecdotal evidence that doctors are including coronavirus on death certificates on a precautionary basis.

Hancock says that is a fair question. But he says the chief medical officer would say the best measure of the impact of coronavirus on mortality would be the all-cause excess mortality figures.

12.15pm GMT

Paul Bristow (Con) goes next.

Q: Has an economic impact [assessment] been made of the coronavirus restrictions?

12.07pm GMT

Asked about the revelation that his department spent almost £50,000 on takeaway food for staff at the Department of Health and Social Care, Hancock says he will “defend to the death” this spending. He says feeding staff who were working late on coronavirus was good value for money.

12.03pm GMT

Q: Do you think Eat Out to Help Out was a mistake?

Hancock says government has to balance different priorities.

11.57am GMT

Hancock says more than 100 rapid lateral flow tests have been assessed by the government at its Porton Down laboratory.

But only a handful have been approved, he says.

11.46am GMT

Hancock says, having built a huge diagnostic capacity for coronavirus, he wants to ensure that it continues to get used after the pandemic is over.

He says he would like ‘if in doubt, get a test’ to become a much more normal approach.

We are peculiarly unusual, and outliers, in soldiering on and still going in to work.

Hancock “I want to have a change in the British way of doing things, when if in doubt you get a test not just for covid.. Why in Britain do we solider on with flu symptoms and go in and make everyone ill. We are peculiar unusual outliers in soldiering on. That should change”. 1/2

Hancock on mass testing sites: “I want this massive diagnostic capacity to be core in health services” he said so we don’t just help people when they are ill but help stop them getting ill too said it needs a culture change. 2/2

11.37am GMT

Mark Logan (Con) goes next.

Q: What will Christmas look like this year?

I’m very sensitive to this point, and we did think about it and we engaged and we have discussed it.

The conclusion that we’ve come to, which I agree with very strongly, is that Christmas as a national holiday is the biggest national holiday that we have.

11.34am GMT

Q: So you think a two-week “circuit breaker” would have had to last longer?

Hancock says something would have had to come after it, because two weeks would not have been enough.

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11.33am GMT

Hancock says he was “the architect” of the original tier system, and a big supporter of it.

But, as they could see case rates going up all around the country, they realised another approach was needed.

11.31am GMT

Q: What have your learnt as the pandemic has gone on?

Hancock says there are many things. As an example, he cites the way policy on schools has changed. At first the government did not know how risky it would be keeping them open. Now they are being kept open.

11.30am GMT

Carol Monaghan (SNP) is asking the questions now.

Q: Should we have locked down earlier?

11.23am GMT

Q: What have you learnt about how to improve incentives to self-isolate?

Hancock says incentives are important. The £500 payments are important, he says.

11.20am GMT

Back in the committee Jeremy Hunt asks about Sage saying test and trace has only had a marginal impact.

Matt Hancock says, overall, test and trace has had an important impact. He suggests the Sage comment only referred to the impact of test and trace in a specific context.

You’ve got to look at what test and trace was doing in totality, as opposed to the very specific part that you mentioned. So in totality we wouldn’t have had the ability to test the people that we did unless we built the capacity; we wouldn’t now be in a position of being able to roll out the very widespread community testing, unless we had taken the action that we did.

11.18am GMT

Turning away from the Matt Hancock hearing for a moment, this story is important to flag up. Leftwing members of Labour’s governing body have staged a mass online walkout in protest against the actions of the Labour leadership, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.

Related: Corbyn-supporting Labour faction stage NEC mass walkout

11.16am GMT

Asked about following the science, Hancock says he has always tried to say he was guided by the science. He says he does not like the term “following the science”, because it implies ministers did not have discretion.

Q: Did you get the best scientific advice?

The scientific advice was the best that was available. It’s tough because we started knowing nothing at all about this virus, and nothing about its biological properties, nothing about its impact on humans, and then nothing about how it transmitted and the social side of it, and that information built over time.

The problem was it started from the assumption that we were going to have a pandemic flu that was already rampant and widespread because it was an exercise about what you do at the period at which lots of people are already dying.

But what it didn’t ask was the prior question of what type of pandemic is most likely? What are the different characteristics of different pandemics like flu or coronavirus?

11.13am GMT

Jeremy Hunt, chair of the health committee, starts the questioning.

Q: If all vulnerable people are vaccinated by Easter, what will the social distancing rules be from then?

After Easter we think we will be getting back to normal.

Now, there are some things that are ‘no regrets’, right? Washing your hands more and some parts of social distancing are no-regrets things that, I think, will become commonplace.

11.07am GMT

Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, is giving evidence now to the Commons health and science committees, who are holding a joint coronavirus inquiry.

11.06am GMT

This is from Stuart McDonald, a member of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, on today’s ONS figures. (See 10.51am.)

Latest ONS deaths data (to week ending 13 November) has been released.

1,904 more deaths were recorded in-week compared to the 5-year average.

There had already been more deaths recorded in 2020 by 13 Nov than the whole of 2019 (also more than the average recent year). pic.twitter.com/cBvVwBHqo1

There are 2,466 deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate this week. However, this was partially offset by deaths from other causes being below normal levels.

Numbers are for England and Wales only and are 11-17 days old.

COVID-19 deaths have increased week-on-week for the tenth week in a row, with only a partial offsetting impact from other causes.

Total deaths in-week are significantly higher than average. The second wave is clearly resulting in significant excess deaths.

10.51am GMT

Excess deaths in England and Wales (the number of deaths above five-year seasonal norm) are now running at almost 20%, according to the latest ONS report. The figure for the week ending 13 November was 18.4%.

This chart shows the regional figures.

10.34am GMT

There needs to be more focus on the way people mix inside homes rather than just thinking pubs are to blame for the spread of Covid-19, a government scientific adviser has said. As PA Media reports, Prof Lucy Yardley, a professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told the Today programme this morning that people were in danger of letting their guard down at home. She said:

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In fact, when people come together with people they know well in their homes it’s a particularly risky situation because they let their guard down. They spend a lot of time with them and that’s actually when the infection is most likely to spread …

We can see that in the evidence because so much of the infection spread is happening at home. And it’s a lot to do with … not taking all the precautions that one actually does take when you go out to the pub. The pubs are actually better ventilated and have more regular cleaning every hour going on than we do in our own homes.

10.26am GMT

James Landale, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, says the government is planning to legislate to allow it to abandon the 0.7% of gross national income target for spending on overseas aid. It is no surprise that the government intends to abandon this target – Boris Johnson made no attempt to deny this when asked about it in the Commons last week – but it has been assumed that ministers would do so by using one of the loopholes in the Overseas Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act that enshrines the 0.7% target in law. The legislation was passed in 2015 by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

But, Landale says, it is now being argued that without legislating to override the act, the government could be vulnerable to judicial review. He explains the situation in a Twitter thread starting here.

Excl: The BBC has learned the government is planning to pass new laws to cut Britain’s overseas aid budget, raising fears among MPs the reduction announced in tomorrow’s spending review could be permanent. 1/9

Boris Johnson is doing irreparable damage to the UK’s reputation, and reneging on our duty to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable – by threatening to break our legally binding international aid commitment.

The 0.7% aid target is a shared commitment across the four UK nations – and it must not be broken by Westminster against Scotland’s will. The SNP will resist Tory plans to cut international aid spending in the strongest terms.

10.04am GMT

One in five deaths in England and one in four in Wales in the second week of November involved Covid, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

There were 2,466 deaths with Covid-19 listed on the death certificate in the week to 13 November – an increase of 529 deaths compared with the previous week.

9.59am GMT

The Office for National Statistics has published two Covid-related reports this morning: its regular weekly death figures for England and Wales, and a report with more detail from its infection survey.

The infection survey follow-up shows what proportion of the population in different parts of the UK test positive for Covid-19 antibodies. This is a sign that people have had the infection in the past, although not everyone who has had the virus will still have antibodies because these decline over time to the point where testing may not pick them up.

9.33am GMT

Sky’s Joe Pike told viewers a few minutes ago that No 10 sources were briefing this morning that it could be the case that nowhere in England is in tier 1, where the lightest restrictions apply, when details of which areas are in which tiers are announced on Thursday.

9.30am GMT

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was giving interviews this morning to explain his plan for “test to release”, which will allow travellers to avoid 14-day quarantine if they pay for a test five days after their return to the UK and test negative. The government’s news release about the scheme is here, and here is our story from my colleague Gywn Topham.

Related: ‘Test to release’ scheme will cut England travel quarantine to five days

I think the idea is not very well thought out. I think the problem with this system in the UK is that you only have to isolate for five days. And we know that people simply don’t isolate.

9.04am GMT

Good morning. Yesterday Boris Johnson announced the new three-tier framework for coronavirus restrictions in England from next week, and today we had been expecting a decision about how the rules will be relaxed over Christmas. The UK government has been negotiating this with the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the Northern Ireland assembly.

But the four nations of the UK do not yet seem to have reached consensus, and the government is saying we might have to wait another 48 hours. This is what Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told the Today programme this morning when asked if the Christmas decision would come today. He replied:

No. I think what you’ll wait for is the tier system to come out, and an announcement about Christmas at the same time – unless it is the case that the four different parts of the United Kingdom, the devolved administrations, are ready to do that, in which case we’ll let people know as soon as possible.

Related: Coronavirus live news: WHO virus sleuths to go to China; Germany could allow Christmas gatherings of 10 people

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