LABOUR leader Keir Starmer has backed Boris Johnson’s plan to get kids back to school on March 8.
The Prime Minister is preparing a major school safety campaign this week to convince parents children are safe, despite nine teaching unions saying they want a staggered return.
Speaking on Sunday morning, Sir Keir told Sky News: “Ideally, I’d like to see all schools back open on 8th March and all children back in school on March 8.
“I’ve been worried through the pandemic, a number of people have, about the impact that being out of school has on particularly vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger, so ideally March 8.
“We’ll have to see obviously where the data is, see where the science is, but that’s what we should be working towards.
“If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.
Brits are expected to be updated on the ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown as Mr Johnson is set to make an announcement from Downing Street at 7pm tomorrow.
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SCIENTIST WARN LOCKDOWN LIFT MUST BE GRADUAL TO PREVENT SURGE IN HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS
Scientists have urged caution for lifting restrictions, with leading epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds warning that any easing of the lockdown must be gradual to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.
Restrictions will be relaxed step-by-step across the whole of England at the same time, Downing Street confirmed, due to the current uniform spread of the virus.
Number 10 said the road map would seek to balance the health needs with the social and economic impacts of lockdown.
For example, outdoor activities are set to be opened earlier than indoor ones, due to the reduced risk of spreading coronavirus outside.
MPs will be given the chance to vote on the regulations enabling the road map in the coming weeks.
MEDICINES REGULATOR INVESTIGATES FIRM WHICH WON £30M OF COVID-RELATED WORK
The UK’s medicines regulator has confirmed it is investigating a firm which reportedly won £30 million worth of work on coronavirus tests during the pandemic.
Hinpack, a manufacturing business run by former publican Alex Bourne, partnered with a diagnostics supplier to produce specimen collection tubes and funnels for Covid-19 testing.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was investigating allegations against Hinpack.
MHRA director of devices Graeme Tunbridge said: “We take all reports of non-compliance very seriously.
“We are currently investigating the allegations about Hinpack and will take appropriate action as necessary. Patient safety is our top priority. As this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to disclose further information at this time”.
WHAT ARE THE ‘FOUR TESTS’ NEEDED FOR ENGLAND TO END LOCKDOWN?
Boris Johnson’s road map will involve four tests for easing restrictions at each of his proposed four stages.
The Government will use the tests to assess the impact of unlocking in England at each stage.
- The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
- The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.
TORY BACKBENCHERS DEMAND PM ADVANCE PUB REOPENING TO BEGINNING OF APRIL
In a boost to Tory backbenchers, who are pushing for faster moves, ex-party leader William Hague said the majority of lockdown measures should end after all the over-50s have been jabbed in April.
The former Foreign Secretary said there would not be “much justification” to continue restrictions after the vaccination of the most vulnerable.
Forty Tory MPs from the backbench Covid Recovery Group have signed a letter demanding Mr Johnson advances the opening of pubs and restaurants to the beginning of April — in time for Easter.
The group’s boss Mark Harper said: “Britain’s hospitality industry has had one of the toughest years on record and it’s vital we do everything we can to get them open in a Covid-secure way that allows them to protect jobs and operate viably.”
But last night government sources said the plea was likely to fall on deaf ears. Following a two-hour meeting of Mr Johnson’s Covid war committee yesterday, one source said: “That’s it, it’s locked in now.”
RESTRICTIONS WILL BE RELAXED FURTHER IN MAY AND JUNE
The rest of restrictions will be eased in May and June with inside mixing and drinking — with the hope of normality by July, when every adult will have been offered a Covid jab first dose.
Last night the PM said: “Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step. We will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe.
“We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan. I’ll be setting out a roadmap to bring us out of lockdown cautiously.”
He added: “Our priority has always been getting children back into school, which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical well-being.
“And we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.”
BORIS JOHNSON’S FOUR STEPS TO FREEDOM EXPLAINED
Step One will see kids return to classrooms on March 8 and “ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely” prioritised.
Three weeks later, on March 29, the “Rule of Six” will return to parks and private gardens — allowing six people from up to six different households to mix outdoors.
If just two households come together they can meet with no cap on their size.
This means families will be meeting together in parks and gardens by Easter. But those desperate for a haircut have to wait at least seven weeks for salons to reopen.
It will be Mid-April before they are unlocked along with non-essential shops, while restaurants and pubs will be able to serve customers outdoors.
BORIS JOHNSON WILL ‘SLAM ON BREAKS IF NEEDED’ AS HE PLANS ROADMAP OUT OF LOCKDOWN
The Prime Minister will publish storming data that shows the vaccine rollout has led directly to tumbling deaths and hospital cases.
His blueprint will see lockdown eased in four steps — with four key tests applied to each stage of the way to freedom.
Mr Johnson will warn that for each step to be taken, benchmark numbers will need to be met on:
- Covid cases
- Hospital admissions
He will reserve the right to slam the brakes on lifting lockdown if a new variant of the virus emerges. Regional tiers have been ditched and all of England will begin the phased return to normality.
CHANCELLOR URGED TO EXTEND BUSINESS RATES RELIEF TO SAVE THEATRES AND MUSEUMS
The Chancellor must extend temporary business rates relief to save hundreds of theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas, Labour has said.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed urged Rishi Sunak to give businesses “certainty” and reduce the risk of losing both jobs and cultural institutions.
He said Mr Sunak should immediately announce an extension to the policy which, Labour estimates, could save a typical property subject to business rates an average of £53,000 over six months.
The party said 1,800 theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas would benefit, as well as high streets.
Labour is also calling for the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors to continue for another six months or until three months after the lifting of restrictions.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts are also set to reopen at the end of next month.
And organised adult and children’s sport – including grassroots football – can return from March 29.
However, Number 10 insisted that the “stay at home” message would remain in place despite the relaxation of some restrictions.
The measures form the first of four steps in the road map which the Prime Minister is set to outline in a statement to the Commons on Monday afternoon.
He has stressed the need to relax restrictions in a “cautious” manner, saying that the Government would make decisions based on the latest data at every step.
SCHOOLS, SOCIALISING AND SPORTS TO RETURN IN MARCH UNDER PM’S ROAD MAP
Schools, socialising and some sports are set to return next month under the Government’s plan to relax coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England, the PA news agency understands.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell MPs that all pupils in all years can go back to the classroom from March 8, with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed to restart as well.
Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted in a fortnight when the rules are relaxed to allow people to sit down for a drink or picnic.
A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin – with larger groups allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
The “rule of six” will return along with new measures allowing two households totalling more than six people to meet – giving greater flexibility for families and friends.
BORIS JOHNSON YELLED ‘SOMEONE SHOOT THAT F***ING DOG’ AFTER HIS PET DILYN WRECKED ANTIQUE FURNITURE
The prime minister reportedly shouted for “someone to shoot that f***ing dog” after his pet Dilyn wrecked antique furniture.
The Jack Russell-cross left the Prime Minister with a four-figure bill after also chewing books and “messing on a floor” at Chequers.
KEIR STARMER WANTS ‘ALL GOVERNMENT MINISTERS WORKING HARD TO GET US THROUGH’ PANDEMIC
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer did not call for Matt Hancock’s resignation following a court ruling that he acted unlawfully over coronavirus contracts.
The High Court ruled the Government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of public contracts.
Sir Keir told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t want to call for him to resign. I do think he is wrong about the contracts – there have been problems with the contracts, on transparency, on who the contracts have gone to.
“There’s been a lot of wasted money and I think that is a real cause for concern.
“But, at the moment, at this stage of the pandemic, I want all Government ministers working really hard to get us through.”
BRITAIN’S NEW SPACE FORCE ‘COULD SEND RAF FIGHTER JETS TO EDGE OF SPACE’
Britain’s budding new space force could catapult RAF Typhoon fighter jets to the “edge of space” soon to sabotage enemy satellites, senior military sources have said.
Specialised training missions will be held for an elite squad of fighter pilots by Space Command, specifically aimed at overthrowing Chinese and Russian military, intelligence and communication satellites during wartime.
PM TO GIVE 7PM SPEECH ON ‘LOCKDOWN ROADMAP’ TOMORROW
Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of senior ministers on Sunday, known as the “Covid S” committee, to finalise his lockdown roadmap before it is signed off by the Cabinet on Monday.
He will then unveil the plans to MPs in the Commons later that afternoon and is expected to lead a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening.
Mr Johnson will first speak to MPs in the House of Commons at 3.30pm tomorrow to explain his approach.
He will later address the nation at 7pm during a Downing Street press conference.
MATT HANCOCK FACES CALLS TO RESIGN OVER PPE CONTRACTS
Matt Hancock is facing calls to resign after a court ruled his decision to withhold the publishing of Government PPE contracts during the pandemic as “unlawful”.
A judge ruled the health secretary had “breached his legal obligation” by not publishing details within 30 days of contracts being signed. But Mr Hancock said his team had been focused on sourcing PPE and said his decision was “the right thing to do”.
He told the BBC his team “spent all of their time buying life-saving equipment, even if the paperwork was a little bit late”.
But one of the MPs who brought the case to court – the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas – said Mr Hancock’s response made her angry.
She tweeted: “How dare Hancock suggest he broke [the] law to prevent shortages of PPE on the frontline? Health workers died for lack of [the] right PPE at [the] right time because of incompetence, cronyism and waste – does he think our memories are so short?”
NORTHERN IRELAND PARTIES TAKE LEGAL ACTION AGAINST BREXIT DEAL
Members of Northern Ireland’s two largest pro-British parties are set to take part in legal action challenging part of Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union, the parties said today
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) are to join other pro-British figures to challenge the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created trade barriers between the British region and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The protocol, which is designed to protect the European Union’s single market without creating a land border on the island of Ireland, has caused significant disruption to trade since it came into force at the start of the year.
Some British companies have halted deliveries to Northern Ireland and some supermarkets have been left with empty shelves.
The DUP said several senior members would join “other likeminded unionists” as named parties in judicial review proceedings challenging the Northern Ireland Protocols compatibility with Act of Union 1800, the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 and the Belfast Agreement, it said in a statement.
UK MINISTERS PLEDGE MORE SUPPORT FOR FISHING INDUSTRY
The fishing industry will be able to draw on more support as it deals with post-Brexit export issues and the impact of coronavirus, UK ministers say.
Cash grants are being made available for more fishing businesses as criteria for a support fund are being expanded.
These will draw on a £23 million fund announced in January to help seafood exporters who were struggling to get produce to their usual markets in the EU.
The fishing industry has also been hit by a drop in demand from the hospitality sector.
A new UK-wide scheme, similar to last year’s Fisheries Response Fund, will open in early March.
SADIQ KHAN ADVISER BRANDED ‘RACIST’ OVER DEROGATORY COMMENTS ABOUT BLACK MPS
A HARD-left activist appointed by Sadiq Khan to review London’s statues has been branded a “racist” over derogatory comments he made about black MPs.
Toyin Agbetu was signed up by Mayor of London to join his Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm.
But Agbetu is already facing calls to be sacked after the racial remarks were uncovered, including labelling David Lammy a “poor example of Africans”.
BORIS JOHNSON CHAIRS ‘COVID S’ COMMITTEE TO FINALISE ROAD MAP AHEAD OF COMMONS
Mr Johnson chaired a meeting of senior ministers on Sunday, known as the “Covid S” committee, to finalise his road map before it is signed off by the Cabinet on Monday.
He will then unveil the plans to MPs in the Commons later that afternoon and is expected to lead a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening.
DUP LEADER AND SENIOR MPS LAUNCH NORTHERN IRELAND PROTOCOL LEGAL CHALLENGE
DUP leader Arlene Foster and senior party MPs are launching legal action challenging the Northern Ireland Protocol.
They will be joining other unionists from across the UK in judicial review proceedings unless alternative post-Brexit trade arrangements are put in place which secure their consent.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, the party’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and chief whip Sammy Wilson are backing Mrs Foster’s action in response to disruption of business through Irish Sea ports.
A separate group of DUP members has also engaged senior legal counsel to prepare for a series of challenges to the protocol.
Mrs Foster said: “Fundamental to the Act of Union is unfettered trade throughout the UK. At the core of the Belfast Agreement was the principle of consent yet the Northern Ireland Protocol has driven a coach and horses through both the Act of Union and the Belfast Agreement.”
POST-BREXIT PLAN TO AVOID MOTOR INSURANCE FOR RIDE-ON LAWNMOWERS AND QUAD BIKES
Vehicles such as ride-on lawnmowers and mobility scooters will not require motor insurance in Britain under a Government plan to ignore an item of EU legislation.
Boris Johnson has previously described the extension of compulsory motor insurance to a wider range of vehicles on private land as “insane”.
The Vnuk law comes from a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice and is named after a Slovenian man knocked off his ladder by a tractor trailer on a farm.
Other vehicles which could have required motor insurance in Britain due to the decision include golf buggies and quad bikes.
Work to implement Vnuk in Britain has been ongoing for several years – including a public consultation in 2016 – but no timetable had been set.
HANCOCK REJECTS CALLS FOR TEACHERS TO HAVE VACCINE PRIORITY
Matt Hancock has again rejected calls for teachers to be given priority for a Covid jab before schools return.
Boris Johnson is tomorrow expected to announce schools will reopen from March 8 after kids were forced to study from home during the third national lockdown.
But the Health Secretary today said there were no plans for teachers to receive a Covid vaccination before going back to class.
He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We’ve asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible.
“They set out the priority groups one to nine, which includes those who are clinically most vulnerable and their carers, and includes the over-50s, going down the age range.”
LOCAL LOCKDOWN MEASURES RECCOMENDED
The Government will have to leave room for “highly local” interventions when it implements its road map out of lockdown, a statistician has argued.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, of the statistical laboratory at Cambridge University, suggested future measures could become “much more focused and targeted” as officials focused on outbreaks in particular areas.
Speaking to Times Radio on Sunday, Sir David said recent coronavirus data indicating drops in hospital admissions, death rates and cases across the country was “very encouraging”.
However, he said there were areas with still “quite a lot of cases” and “really quite substantial numbers”, adding: “These are pockets around the country.”
Sir David, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said some “scattered” areas were seeing above 200 new cases per 100,000 per week, which was “of concern”.
PM TO SET OUT ‘CAUTIOUS’ ROAD MAP FOR EASING CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS – HANCOCK
Boris Johnson will set out a “cautious” plan to relax coronavirus restrictions when he unveils his road map out of lockdown, the Health Secretary has said, despite an accelerated target to offer vaccines to all adults by the end of July.
The Prime Minister will outline his blueprint for easing the stringent measures in England to Parliament on Monday, amid a clamour of warnings from scientists to act gradually and calls from some Tory MPs to lift all legal restrictions by May.
Matt Hancock insisted that, despite the success of the vaccine rollout so far, and the “understandable” urge to return to normal life, the Government’s goal is to take a “cautious but irreversible approach”.
In a series of broadcast interviews on Sunday morning, he said there will be “weeks between the steps” so ministers can “watch carefully” the impact of each relaxation of the restrictions.
Mr Hancock said that one in three adults in the UK has now received a coronavirus vaccine, and that the Government is confident it has the supplies to meet the July 31 target and to vaccinate all adults over 50, and higher risk groups, by April 15.
ONE THIRD OF UK ADULT POPULATION RECEIVED FIRST VACCINE JAB
A third (33.4%) of the UK adult population has now been given the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, latest figures show.
Government data up to February 20 shows that of the 18,197,269 jabs given in the UK so far, 17,582,121 were first doses – a rise of 334,679 on the previous day.
Some 615,148 were second doses, an increase of 10,263 on figures released the previous day.