Latest updates: a further 1,820 die in the UK within 28 days of a Covid test; Downing Street says police must wait for phase two of vaccine rollout
- UK reports 1,820 Covid deaths in record daily high
- Vaccines may need updating to protect against new variant
- Priti Patel says she wanted UK borders shut last March
- Talking can spread Covid as much as coughing, says research
- Coronavirus – latest updates
Nicola Sturgeon has announced more than £250m of extra funding for Scotland’s drugs death emergency in a Holyrood statement that signified a change of tone in acknowledging the level of crisis the country faces, as well as bridging different approaches to improving services.
Sturgeon described this as “a national mission to end what is currently a national disgrace”, acknowledging “it is a reasonable criticism to say this government should have done more.”
Last week was the deadliest in the UK during the pandemic to date, with more than 1,000 Covid fatalities recorded on average per day.
A total of 7,250 Covid deaths were recorded in the week to Thursday 14 January by the government’s count of Covid deaths by date of death within 28 days of a positive test.
The number of patient in hospital in Scotland with coronavirus has passed 2,000 for the first time, according to today’s figures. There are 2,003 patients in hospital with Covid – up from 1,989 yesterday.
There have been 92 further deaths – the highest daily death total since Saturday 9 December (93).
The government is to announce new Brexit guidance within the “next day or two” to try and end food shortages in supermarkets in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, said trials with hauliers had been conducted in the past 24 hours and he was hopeful of a solution.
I have haulage companies haemorrhaging £100,000 a week. They’re entering the fourth week of non-trade. I have a haulage company contacted me this morning have laid off people and told part-time staff to stay at home.
A lot of these companies will not be left standing by the end of these this month. They’re laying people off today. The company can’t wait for three months to see how bad this is. Just awful. Please fix it.
The UK has just updated its coronavirus dashboard, and it says that 1,820 further deaths have been recorded. These are deaths of people who have died within 28 days of a positive test. This is a new record for daily deaths on this measure.
That is an increase of 210 (or 13%) on yesterday’s total (1,610), which was itself a record figure.
Teachers in Wales are to decide GCSE, AS and A-level grades in Wales after a system to replace end-of-year exams was scrapped.
The Welsh education minister, Kirsty Williams, said the pandemic had left her “no choice” but to halt the system of classroom assessments.
The worsening situation with the pandemic has meant we have no choice but to revisit our approach to ensure wellbeing and public confidence in our qualifications system.
The proposals we are announcing today put trust in teachers’ and lecturers’ knowledge of their learners’ work, as well as their commitment to prioritise teaching and learning in the time available to support learners’ progression.
Here is a full summary of the Downing Street lobby briefing.
There are two officials who conduct the briefings at the moment: the PM’s spokesman, whom the media generally don’t name because he’s a civil servant with no aspirations to be a public figure; and Allegra Stratton, the press secretary, who is a political appointee and who is named because there is a plan for her to hold televised briefings.
I don’t think any of us … think is a rude word, or uncivil … Captain Hinsight is not, in the prime minister’s opinion, an unpleasant name.
I would reject that characterisation. The UK is and will continue to be an outward-looking nation and will continue to be a leading voice on the international stage.
I would point to the work we have undertaken on climate change, both home and abroad, where we were one of the first countries to commit to net zero by 2050.
I haven’t had a conversation with him about that. But I would just say more broadly – and we will come back to this again and again – the prime minister needs everybody, no matter their status, no matter their position in life, to be going above and beyond in following the rules on Covid.
From Jessica Taylor, the official House of Commons photographer
A few of my photographs from today’s PMQs. pic.twitter.com/OMhGVbCU2w
NHS England has recorded 1,027 Covid hospital deaths – defined as deaths of people who have tested positive for coronavirus. This is the largest daily death toll on this measure at any stage in the pandemic. The previous highest total came on Wednesday last week, when 1,012 hospital deaths were recorded.
This means that the overall total for UK Covid deaths (which goes beyond hospital deaths, and covers Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) published on the government’s dashboard at around 4pm this afternoon is also likely to be exceptionally high.
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished, and it seems we have a second example of Boris Johnson overruling Priti Patel, the home secretary. This morning, although she was at times opaque in interviews, Patel signalled that she would like the priority list for vaccines, which has been drawn up by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), to be rewritten so that police officers could be included in phase one. (See 9.28am.) Under the current plan they will have to wait until phase two, unless they are over 50 or they have a serious underlying health condition.
But the prime minister’s spokesman said the government was sticking to the current plan. He said:
We will continue to work through phase one. The medical experts have set out clearly that it is those in phase one who are at the most clinical risk.
A total of 4,419,704 Covid-19 vaccinations had taken place in England between December 8 and January 19, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 301,362 on Tuesday’s figures.
As PA Media reports, of this number, 3,985,579 were the first dose of the vaccine, a rise of 298,3730 on Tuesday’s figures, while 434,125 were the second dose, an increase of 2,989.
Here are the latest coronavirus figures from Public Health Wales. There have been 44 further deaths (down from 66 a week ago today) and 1,283 more cases (down from 1,533 a week ago today).
The rapid COVID-19 surveillance dashboard has been updated
Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Commons home affairs committee, says that Priti Patel’s comment to Tory supporters last night about wanting to close the borders in March amounts to “the first recognition by any minister that the government got things wrong at the border during the first wave of the pandemic”. In a statement Cooper went on:
I have been raising the issue of the UK’s weak border measures with the home secretary and the government repeatedly since last March and up until now everyone has defended the decisions made at the start of the pandemic not to have stricter border and quarantine measures in place.
The home affairs select committee was told that up to 10,000 people arrived in or returned to the UK with Covid in March with no testing or quarantine rules in place. Our report found that clearly increased the scale and pace of the pandemic.
The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Heather Stewart and Peter Walker discuss the latest on vaccine rollout plans, and universal credit debates. Severin Carrell examines the upcoming Scottish Labour leadership contest. Plus, Miatta Fahnbulleh and Will Tanner discuss “levelling up”.
Speaking to a friend when infected with the coronavirus could be as dangerous as coughing near them thanks to lingering particles, research has suggested. My colleague Nicola Davis has the story here.
English local elections are now set to go ahead in May, according to the Daily Telegraph’s Lucy Fisher.
New: PM has resolved English local elections should go ahead on May 6 as planned, Telegraph understands.
Decision taken by No 10 in recent days, underlining confidence in easing Covid restrictions by early April to allow for campaigning ahead of ballot.https://t.co/ATpEEd35dC
Electoral Commission has today published research showing a high level of public confidence in England re voting in person
Its survey, conducted in Dec, showed 71% felt safe voting in person (21% said unsafe) if hygiene & distancing measures in placehttps://t.co/TVycweQqDH
At time of survey (December), 42% of voters said they’d prefer to cast postal ballot.
Electoral Commission analysis showed that meant 23% who usually voted in person wd switch to post.
Remains to be seen if appetite for postal votes dims with jab rollout / falling Covid cases
Tory source told me: “By Good Friday restrictions should have started to ease, so that allows 4 weeks of campaign…
“Privately what No 10 has worked out is that if they keep talking about how amazing the vaccine rollout is, it doesn’t make sense why they can’t do the elections”
Late findings of a safety risk by an ongoing Cabinet Office assessment is only thing that could now upend the central Government assumption that the polls will go ahead on May 6, it’s understood.
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted again that Scotland’s coronavirus vaccination programme “is not lagging behind”. Speaking at first minister’s questions, she confirmed that 309,909 people have now had their first dose, including over 905 of care home residents and 20% of over-80s, and a 50% increase in numbers getting the jab from last Monday to this one.
Pressed again by Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader, Ruth Davidson, on why GPs were highlighting a patchy rollout, Sturgeon repeated her point that the Scottish government had very deliberately focused on care homes, which is more labour-intensive and time consuming. She referenced comments from the UK government earlier today saying England’s daily rate has slowed this week because they are now likewise focusing on care homes.
One theory of PMQs is that, when an opposition leader seems to be lined up for an obvious “win”, they come a cropper. It does not always work like that, but in some respects it did today. As a former head of the CPS, Sir Keir Stamer probably understands the importance of data from the Police National Computer better than anyone else in the Commons. But he made little headway in his four questions on the topic, and fared even less well with his final two, on Covid and borders.
On the plus side, Starmer arrived with clear, specific, detailed questions – normally the sort that work best at PMQs (and at press conferences too, for that matter). “How many criminal investigations could have been damaged by this mistake?” “How many convicted criminals have had their records wrongly deleted?” And Starmer’s best moment came when he responded to the slightly waffly first reply he got from Johnson.
That’s not an answer to my question. And it was the most basic of questions. It was the first question that any prime minister would have asked of those briefing him.
Johnson says the G7 summit in Carbis Bay in Cornwall will be an opportunity to showcase a wonderful part of the UK. The Romans mined tin in Cornwall. Cornwall is at the heart of the 21st century green industrial revolution, he says.
And that’s it. PMQs is over.
Abena Oppong-Asare (Lab) says Greenwich council needs to make cuts of £20m. Last year the government said councils would get whatever they needed to get through the pandemic. So why are her constituents facing council tax rises?
Johnson says the government is supporting councils. But he says the Labour mayor of London is putting up council tax by 10%.
Apsana Begum (Lab) asks if the PM agrees that structural racism is behind the increased risk to BAME groups.
Johnson says he does not agree on that point, but he agrees with Begum that it is essential to make sure all groups in the community are vaccinated, including those who are “vaccine hesitant”.
Andrew Lewer (Con) asks about a government review of food regulation.
Johnson says he is a champion of liberty, but also an embodiment of the risks of obesity. It has been a comorbidity in the pandemic. People should stay healthy, he says.
Jason McCartney (Con) asks if the PM agrees that the police should get priority for vaccination.
Johnson says the government must rely on the JCVI, and the priority list it has. But he says he would like to groups like the police getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
Tulip Siddiq (Lab) asks what assurances the government has had that Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be able to return to the UK when her prison term in Iran ends in 45 days.
Johnson says the government is doing all it can to secure her release. Her detention was not justified, he says.
Ben Bradshaw (Lab) asks the PM to admit that he was wrong when he told fishers they would not face new forms after Brexit, and musicians they would still be able to tour in Europe after Brexit.
Johnson says one problem for the fishing industry is that “alas” restaurants are shut. But he says under Brexit they will have the chance to access more fish. And there is a £100m fund to help them, he says.
Gary Streeter (Con) says the south-west needs more investment in infrastructure. Is it included in the levelling up agenda?
Johnson says the potential of the south-west is enormous. There will be massive investment in infrastructure.
Rosie Cooper (Lab) asks the PM to guarantee enough funding for the Environment Agency to deal with flooding in Lancashire.
Johnson says Cooper is right to raise this. He quotes the sums already spent on this.
Johnson says he is confident that the MHRA will be able to quickly turn around any new applications for Covid vaccines needed to tackle new variants.
Claire Hanna (SDLP) says every Northern Ireland party thinks there is a problem with border control, although Brandon Lewis, the secretary of state, claims there is not a problem. Will the PM be straight with the people of Northern Ireland.
Johnson says there is more GB/NI trade than GB/Ireland trade because it is al going so smoothly.
Nicola Richards (Con) asks about Holocaust Memorial Day next week.
Johnson says he would encourage all schools to watch the event she mentions commemorating it.
Ian Blackford gets his second question. The PM ordered his MPs last night to vote down a motion condemning genocide. He says yesterday the outgoing US secretary of state said genocide was being committed against the Uighurs, and he says the incoming one agrees. Does the UK government agree?
Johnson says defining acts as genocide is a judicial matter. But he says what is happening in China is “utterly abhorrent”.
Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says Covid cases have soared. The UK now has one of the highest death rates in the world. He asks the PM to commit to launching the inquiry into what went wrong this year.
Johnson says the NHS is under unprecedented pressure. The idea that state resources should be devoted to an inquiry now does not seem sensible. But of course there will be a time to learn lessons later.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, accuses Johnson of cosying up to Donald Trump and his “callous world view”. He quotes what Theresa May said about the government, and asks Johnson to reverse the cut in international aid.
Johnson says having a good relationship with the US president is part of the job description of prime minister. He says the UK is working with international partners on vaccine supply. And he accuses the SNP of wanting to break up the armed forces.
Rob Butler (Con) asks if the vaccination programme is on track in Aylesbury.
Johnson says it is on track to vaccinate everyone in the first four groups by mid-February.
Starmer repeats the question. Why did he over-rule the home secretary?
Johnson says in March last year Starmer was defending an open border approach. He says Starmer is like a weather vane; twisting round and round with the breeze. He says Starmer stood on a manifesto at the last election attacking the pharmaceutical companies the country now relies on.
Starmer says Priti Patel said that the records might have to be reinstated manually. That will take a long time, he says.
He asks why the PM over-rode Patel’s advice on closing borders in March.
Starmer asks how long it will take for the deleted records to be reinstated.
Johnson says that will depend how long it takes to recover them. People are working around the clock, he says. He says because of the strength of the economy the government has been able to invest in the police.
Starmer says Johnson cannot say how many cases have been lost, how many offenders have been lost and how many investigations compromised.
Johnson says Starmer should have listened to his answer. He says Starmer should have added together the figures he used in his previous answer.
Starmer says his question was the first one any PM should have asked. He asks another question; how many convicted criminal have had their records deleted.
Johnson said he answered the first question; they don’t know. He says about 250,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records are currently being investigated.
Sir Keir Starmer asks how many police investigations will be damaged by the loss of data from the National Police Computer.
Johnson says officials are working to restore the missing data.
Johnson says the government is providing free school meals to people who are eligible over the half-term.
Boris Johnson starts by saying he looks forward to working with Joe Biden on their shared priorities.
And he thanks the emergency services and the Environment Agency for their work on the current flooding. He will later chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on this, he says.
PMQs starts in five minutes.
Here is the call list showing which MPs are down to ask a question.
A Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech appears to protect against a coronavirus variant spreading rapidly across the UK, PA Media reports. Its story goes on:
The results come amid growing fears that the variant, dubbed B117, has mutations that may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines designed to protect against Covid-19.
In a new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers from BioNTech collected blood samples from 16 people who had received the Pfizer vaccine in previous clinical trials.
Nigel Farage, the leader the Reform party (until recently the Brexit party), has praised Priti Patel for saying she was in favour of closing the borders in March.
What a pity Boris Johnson didn’t listen to Priti Patel.
In her interview on the Today programme Priti Patel, the home secretary, strongly rejected Theresa May’s claim that the government has abandoned global moral leadership. (See 11.21am.) Patel, who of course was sacked from the cabinet by May, said:
I fundamentally disagree with that [May’s claim], particularly as this government has been speaking out against regimes complicit in all sorts of dreadful behaviours.
Look at the work we are doing in Hong Kong right now to protect British nationals overseas – that absolutely speaks to actions. Actions speak louder than words.
The Welsh government has drawn up plans to allow it to delay this year’s elections to the Senedd (Welsh parliament) for up to six months.
It plans to introduce the emergency legislation allowing the elections to be delayed a week today. The bill only needs a simple majority to pass, but if ministers were to use the new power to delay the elections, two-thirds of members of the Senedd would have to approve the decision.
The Welsh government’s clear intention is that the next Senedd election should be held on Thursday 6 May 2021 …
However, due to the unpredictable nature of coronavirus, there is significant uncertainty about what the situation will be like in May. That is why we are seeking the Senedd’s consent to introduce an emergency bill that would give members of the Senedd the powers necessary to manage the conduct of the election, in order to protect public health.
In an article in the Daily Mail today, the former prime minister Theresa May has accused her successor, Boris Johnson, of abandoning Britain’s “position of global moral leadership”.
But to lead we must live up to our values. Threatening to break international law by going back on a treaty we had just signed and abandoning our position of global moral leadership as the only major economy to meet both the 2 per cent defence spending target and the 0.7 per cent international aid target were not actions which, in my view, raised our credibility in the eyes of the world.
While the remarks from Theresa May are damning, people will not be quick to forget the role the former Tory prime minister played in the UK’s moral decline – through the hostile environment and callous Go Home vans, the Windrush scandal, and shamefully cosying up to Donald Trump.
The NAHT union, which represents school heads, has welcomed the news that daily coronavirus testing for staff and pupils in schools in England has been paused. Its general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said:
School leaders have previously expressed considerable concern regarding government’s plans to use negative lateral flow test results as an alternative to isolation. It was clear to all but government that the reliability of these tests is simply not good enough to warrant such action.
It is good news that the government has finally recognised the advice of health experts and come to the correct conclusion on this matter. But once again, it is professionals on the frontline who are left unsure which way to face following another government U-turn, and who are deeply frustrated at the regularity of chaotic announcements emanating from the centre.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, has described the admission from Priti Patel that she wanted to close the borders last March as “shocking”. He said:
This is a shocking admission from the home secretary about the government’s failure to secure the UK’s borders against Covid.
Priti Patel’s admission, coupled with the complete lack of strategy for testing of travellers, means that the government has left our doors open to the virus and worrying mutations.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, took part in a Q&A on Covid on Sky News this morning. Here are the best lines.
The advice at the moment is vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment, anywhere near it.
This is about, I’m afraid, the restrictive measures which we’re all living under and carrying on with those.
It’s important to recognise this is not going to be a sort of big bang, ‘great, take the lid off, everything’s fine, we can all go back to normal’. This is going to be a slow release, monitoring carefully, understanding the effects.
We will have got some things right and some things wrong, and we’ve learned a lot as we’ve gone through this, and we know a lot more about the virus today than we did then, for sure.
I think there is a very simple series of recommendations which I’ve been pushing continuously and I’ll continue to do so, which is the lesson is: go earlier than you think you want to, go a bit harder than you think you want to, and go a bit broader than you think you want to, in terms of applying the restrictions.
I think it’s quite likely that we are going to need regular vaccination, at least for a few years, and I think it’s quite likely that those vaccines may need to change a bit as they do for flu every year. So I think that’s quite likely that we’re going to have to have some annual – maybe every two year – vaccination… but that will be planned in the way it’s planned for flu as well.
We know much less about the ability of the vaccine to stop transmission. We think it will stop transmission, but we don’t know by how much yet. And you’ll need very very high levels of population coverage – 70% or more – in order to get some degree of immunity across the whole population.
The Scottish government has not yet received 700,000 doses of the vaccine, despite its own redacted estimates suggesting this, according to deputy first minister John Swinney.
Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon was pressed on the seeming disparity between the widely reported amount of vaccine given to Scotland (700,000) and the number of first doses actually administered (264,991). GPs’ representatives spoke of their frustration at patchy rollout and empty fridges when they had a workforce ready to go.
We are not in receipt of 700,000 doses of the vaccine … we do not have that volume of vaccine in our hands. We cannot distribute that because it has not arrived with us yet.
The government has told schools to pause the daily coronavirus testing of students and staff in England, five weeks after it was announced as a “milestone moment” by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson. My colleague Josh Halliday has the story.
Since the announcement of the schools testing programme in December, we have seen the emergence of a new variant of the virus which has become dominant in the UK. The variant has been shown to have increased transmissibility and causes higher secondary attack rates. This increases the risk of transmission everywhere, including in school settings.
Given that VOC202012/01 has higher rates of transmission and hence generates a higher secondary attack rate – and that the pandemic has entered a new phase – the balance between the risks (transmission of virus in schools and onward to households and the wider community) and benefits (education in a face-to-face and safe setting) for daily contact testing is unclear.
And here are some more lines from Priti Patel’s morning interview.
The way in which death rates, data, is put together and published is different across the world. We’re not using the same data, metrics, for deaths, hospitalisations as other countries, so I would actually suggest it’s not actually like for like, it’s not comparable.
I don’t think this is the time to talk about mismanagement.
The latest data on COVID death rates in Europe.
We continuously keep our COVID Data Explorer up to date.
No, it is not about serious criminals getting away with anything. Multiple records are held on the same individuals on the same crimes on other profiling systems as well.
Good morning. Priti Patel, the home secretary, has been doing the morning interview round on behalf of No 10 (which may be further proof that my colleague Peter Walker’s article last month struck a nerve), and she has confirmed that she wants to ensure that police officers get priority for the vaccine.
On the Today programme she was asked if there was a chance, provided the experts agreed, that the police could be “bumped up this queue” for the vaccine. She replied:
It’s those police, fire and other frontline workers. The health secretary [Matt Hancock] and I are working to absolutely make that happen. I will be very clear about that. That isn’t just something we are thinking about. There is a lot of working taking place in government right now. If the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI] says that is a possibility, we can make it happen. We have the logistical plans in place. We will absolutely work to make that happen.
We’re working to achieve that … I’ve been saying to policing partners in particular, get ready.
We’re working with the JCVI which is the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisations. They are the ones that are determining this, it’s not for politicians.