Britain faces lockdown limbo: Tory fury as Matt Hancock hints at tougher enforcement saying ‘nothing is ruled out’ and admitting new squeeze to fight ‘out of control’ mutant Covid will last MONTHS – with vaccines only hope of escape
- Boris Johnson will decide whether to introduce stricter measures as he faces calls to bring in a lockdown
- Matt Hancock said the tiers were no longer strong enough to deal with the mutant version of coronavirus
- Suggested public’s failure to comply with all the rules was to blame for inability to control outbreaks in Tier 4
- PM warned curbs were ‘probably about to get tougher’ – and said he was considering further school closures
- Government’s core ‘Covid-O’ committee expected to meet this morning to decide on the next steps to take
Matt Hancock today warned that ‘nothing is ruled out’ to contain mutant Covid as he defied Tory anger to hint the whole of England will be under Tier 4 within days – and enforcement could be hardened.
The Health Secretary put Britons on notice that stronger restrictions will be needed for months, despite the optimism sparked by the first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses being administered.
Responding to demands from scientists and Labour for an immediate new national squeeze, Mr Hancock said all options were on the table. But he suggested the first step will be to escalate even more of the country into the harshest restrictions, saying Tier 3 did not seem able to hold back the more infectious version of the deadly disease.
He insisted the problem was partly down to people failing to obey the rules, amid calls from some MPs for police to be given more powers.
Meanwhile, parents are facing chaos as many primary schools defy the government’s orders to return after the Christmas holidays – with speculation that ministers will be forced into another humiliating U-turn.
SAGE has cautioned that it is probably impossible to control the new coronavirus variant while they remain open – although experts a total shutdown still might not be enough to bring the ‘R’ reproduction rate below one.
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce a fresh crackdown in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, with speculation that schools north of the border will stay closed until mid-February.
Asked in a round of interviews about the prospect of a national lockdown, Mr Hancock said: ‘We don’t rule anything out, and we’ve shown repeatedly that we will look at the public health advice and we will take the public health advice in terms of what is needed to control the spread of the disease.’
Pressed whether changes could be announced over the next 24 hours, he replied: ‘We have shown we are ready to move incredibly quickly… We look at the data on a daily basis.’
Mr Hancock said the ‘old tier system is no longer strong enough’ because the new variant is ‘much easier to catch, it is much more transmissible, and we’re now seeing the effect of that in lots of different parts of the country’.
Challenged on Sky News over whether Tier 4 restrictions work, Mr Hancock said: ‘It is down to people’s behaviour, frankly. What matters is, yes of course, the rules that we put in place, but it is also about how people act.
‘And frankly what I would say is this: it is critical that everybody in the country does all that they can to reduce the spread of the virus.’
Boris Johnson warned yesterday that curbs are ‘probably about to get tougher’, despite three-quarters of England already subject to Tier 4, where only essential shops such as supermarkets are allowed to open and people are meant to stay at home.
But the idea has sparked fury from some Tory MPs, who insist the country’s experience of the pandemic shows that lockdowns do not work and are crippling the economy.
On another grim day of coronavirus chaos:
- Mr Hancock said he is ‘incredibly worried’ about a new South African variant of coronavirus that experts fear might not be caught by the current crop of vaccines;
- Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old retired maintenance manager from Oxford, has become the first to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine outside of trials;
- Teaching unions launched a concerted bid to shut down all classrooms despite Boris Johnson’s plea to stay open, leaving millions of parents to begin homeschooling their children for at least a fortnight with often only a few hours’ notice.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock put Britons on notice that stronger restrictions will be needed for months, despite the optimism sparked by the first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses being administered
Three-quarters of England already subject to Tier 4, where only essential shops such as supermarkets are allowed to open and people are meant to stay at home
Boris Johnson has refused to rule out cancelling GCSE and A-Level exams this year.
Asked about the possibility, the PM said: ‘We’ve got to be realistic, we’ve got to be realistic about the pace of which this new variant has spread…
‘We’ve got to be realistic about the impact that it’s having on our NHS… and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.’
In a stark message about the length of the fight the UK faces, Mr Hancock said the problem was ‘how we collectively as a society keep this under control for the next couple of months… until the vaccines can make us safe’.
Cabinet sources said they expected the Government’s ‘Covid-O’ committee, which makes decisions on lockdown restrictions, would meet today to decide on the next steps to take.
Mr Johnson said he is also considering further closures of schools, with a possible changes by the end of the week.
Last night Sir Keir Starmer demanded an immediate nationwide lockdown as he warned the ‘virus is clearly out of control’. The Labour leader added: ‘Let’s not have the Prime Minister saying, ‘I’m going to do it, but not yet’.
‘That’s the problem he has made so many times. Nationwide lockdown – the Prime Minister has hinted that that’s going to happen, but he’s delaying again; and we can’t afford that again.’
Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One yesterday, Mr Johnson said he was ‘entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down’ and warned of a ‘tough period ahead’.
He said vaccinating more people would provide a way out of restrictions and that he hoped ‘tens of millions’ would be vaccinated in the next three months.
The Prime Minister stuck by his prediction that the situation would be better by the spring, but added: ‘It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country.
‘I’m fully, fully reconciled to that – and I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that because until the vaccine really comes on stream in a massive way, we’re fighting this virus with the same set of tools.’
Mr Johnson said the Government was assessing whether Tier Four restrictions were tough enough to control the spread of the virus or if further steps were needed, adding: ‘We’ve got to keep things under constant review.’
Asked whether people could be restricted to an hour’s exercise a day or a complete ban on any households mixing could be introduced, he replied: ‘There are obviously a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider. I’m not going to speculate now about what they would be.
Boris Johnson (right) warned yesterday that curbs were ‘probably about to get tougher’. Keir Starmer (left) has demanded a new national lockdown from today
Social distancing signs displayed at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, London, on January 2 as Covid cases across the capital city have been putting rising pressure on the NHS
‘Clearly, school closures – which we had to do in March – is one of those things. It’s not something we necessarily want to do.’
Government sources have confirmed ministers were looking at putting even more areas of England into Tier Four – although curfews are not currently thought to be imminent.
But Tory former minister Sir Desmond Swayne was among those condemning the idea of tightening the curbs. ‘What more pain do they want to cause us? What are they going to stop us doing now?’ he told the Telegraph.
‘Close down essential shops and the takeaways? The whole thing is madness – it’s going beyond ridiculous.’
Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it would be difficult to keep the new, faster-spreading strain of the virus under control without ‘much tighter’ social-distancing measures.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, the former chief scientific adviser said: ‘It’s clear that this variant is transmitting more readily – it’s transmitting more readily in younger age groups as well.
‘It’s important to note that it doesn’t appear to cause worse disease or that it’s going to be more resistant to the effects of the vaccine, but it is going to be very, very difficult to keep it under control without much tighter social-distancing measures.’
Sir Keir insisted there could be ‘no more dither, no more delay’, adding: ‘The longer you delay the difficult decisions, the worse it is on the health front, the worse it is on the economic front.’
Responding to his remarks, a No10 source said: ‘The Prime Minister has been consistently clear that we are driven by the need to protect the NHS and save lives – unlike Labour, who have spent ten months playing party politics.
‘We have moved more areas into Tier Four to bear down on the new variant and escalated other areas into Tier Three. This targeted approach is the right one.’
Surge in ward cases ‘could fill 12 hospitals’
By Glen Keogh and Colin Fernandez for the Daily Mail
PM vows ‘tens of millions’ of jabs by March and crackdown on red tape
Boris Johnson has vowed that ‘tens of millions’ of coronavirus vaccine doses will be given by March – as he admitted ministers must get rid of ‘absurd’ red tape stopping retired medics joining the effort.
The PM refused to give exact figures for how many people will be vaccinated, beyond saying the government wants to be deploying two million jabs a week.
But he said: ‘What I can tell you is that… we do hope that we will be able to do tens of millions in the course of the next three months.’
The Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine is due to start being administered from tomorrow, with the UK’s process so far among the fastest in the world.
Experts have warned that the UK’s exit from crippling lockdown depends on inoculating at least 25million vulnerable people by the spring.
The gap between first and second doses of vaccines is being extended in a bid to reach more people.
Meanwhile, there have been concerns that tens of thousands of recently retired GPs, surgeons, and nurses are being put off helping out due to the bureaucracy involved.
Criticism has been mounting of ‘ridiculous’ demands such as a requirement to be certified in fire safety, or trained in preventing radicalisation.
Asked about the complaints, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think it’s absurd and I know that the Health Secretary is taking steps to get rid of that pointless bureaucracy.’
The number of beds occupied by Covid patients increased by the equivalent of ’12 full hospitals’ in the eight days from Christmas, NHS figures show.
Between December 25 and January 2, the total number of inpatients suffering with coronavirus in England jumped from 17,701 to 23,557 – up 33 per cent.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, described the increase as the equivalent of ’12 extra full hospitals, full of Covid patients’. The East of England, London and the South East recorded the largest percentage increases in hospital admissions for those suffering with the virus as the new, more infectious strain continues to take hold.
Mr Hopson said: ‘You can imagine why people in the NHS are worried about how quickly this virus is spreading.’
Meanwhile, emergency plans are being drawn up to move critically-ill patients hundreds of miles as part of a ‘pairing’ scheme designed to ease pressure on regions where the NHS is struggling to cope.
Those in the East of England could be moved to hospitals in the Midlands while health trusts in the South East are preparing to send patients to the South West.
It is believed to be the first scheme of its kind in NHS history. Mr Hopson said it would involve only a small number of patients being moved from London when space in neighbouring hospitals was exhausted.
‘If it gets more difficult, we will find other ways to treat people within the region but we know there are some patients that can be moved to where the pressure is slightly less, for example the South West and Midlands,’ he told the Sunday Times.
On New Year’s Eve, three intensive care units in London were reportedly full, with seriously-ill patients awaiting transfers to units elsewhere. North Middlesex University Hospital, Barnet Hospital and Whittington Hospital, in the north and north-west of the capital, described various issues including patients receiving oxygen in A&E, in an email leaked to Sky News.
Dr Alison Pittard, the dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said the NHS is trying to continue with its other services and treat patients while also dealing with the second coronavirus wave.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘One of the things I would like to tell the public is that if you have any concerns, whether it is about Covid or not, you must seek advice and help.’ She said there are ‘logistical issues’ with the temporary Nightingale hospitals, some of which have been used to support diagnostic services.
Yesterday NHS bosses denied reports that cancer operations would need to be delayed to ensure there were enough beds in London.
‘Don’t let this be you’ Covid patient, 49, tells how she watched her mother, 76, die in hospital as they BOTH battled virus in intensive care after disease ‘ravaged’ her family
- Anabel Sharma, 49, taken to hospital with Covid along with mother Maria, 76
- Pair took a photo together in hospital beds as they received breathing support
- Maria died 24 hours after the picture was taken at Leicester Royal Infirmary
- Anabel, a mother-of-three, has now warned others about dangers of Covid-19
By James Robinson for MailOnline
A woman who lay side-by-side in intensive care with her mother as she died from Covid has warned others ‘don’t let this be you’.
Anabel Sharma, 49, and her mother Maria Rico, 76, lay next to each other in hospital as they both battled Covid-19 after the virus ‘ravaged’ her family.
The pair were pictured for a final time as they held hands while both receiving support for their breathing. Less than 24 hours later, Maria had died.
Now, in a stark warning about the dangers of the virus, mother-of-three Anabel, from Leicestershire, has urged others they could lose family members if they do not stick to the rules.
Speaking to the Mirror: ‘I never thought Covid would hit us – but it did. The speed Covid ravaged through our family was frightening.
Anabel, 49, and her family, all fell ill from Covid towards the end of last year
‘If anyone is thinking about breaking the rules, I’d urge them to put themselves in my shoes and think about what it might be like to watch your mum die, or be told that you might not live.’
Anabel, 49, and her family, all fell ill from Covid towards the end of last year.
Her 12-year-old son first Isaac contracted Covid following the return to school in September, according to the Mirror.
Anabel, her husband Bharat, 47, and her other sons Jacob, 22, and Noah, 10, later contracted the virus, the paper adds.
Her mother Maria was the last to test positive for Covid.
Bother Anabel and Maria taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary in mid-October and put onto oxygen beds away from each other.
But after Maria signed a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) order, Maria was wheeled in a bed next to Anabel.
Maria died on November 1 – 24 hours after the pair had taken a picture together showing her on a breathing machine and Anabel in an oxygen mask.
Anabel said she took off the oxygen mask in order to say goodbye to her mother.
In an emotional post on Facebook page ‘Humans of Covid-19’, Anabel said the ordeal had been the ‘darkest period of my life’.
She said: ‘By the time my mum and I were rushed to A&E, we both needed ITU but they were full.
‘We only got our beds because four patients died that day, freeing up spaces.’
She described the type of treatment she received for Covid – Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – as ‘horrific and relentless’.
‘I had to wear a plastic hood 24/7 for four weeks that forced oxygen into my lungs.
‘It felt like sticking your head out of a car going at 30mph, it was noisy, I couldn’t see, hear, and they fed me though an opening on the side of the hood,’ she added.
Anabel also revealed she was unable to attend her mother’s funeral due to Covid, adding: ‘I watched it via live stream. I was alone, as were my family, we couldn’t comfort each other, it broke my already fragile heart.’
In a warning to others about Covid, she said: ‘What you read about NHS bed pressures is true, it isn’t like the flu and people are dying or if they are a survivor like me, they may never be the same again.’
Marquees in playgrounds as operation begins to start testing 3.4million pupils
By Max Aitchison and Julie Henry
Final preparations are under way to begin the mass testing of England’s 3.4 million secondary school students from January 11.
School halls are being hastily converted and in some cases marquees will be erected in playgrounds.
It is hoped the programme will eventually see all 11 to 18-year-olds at 3,456 state schools, as well as colleges and private schools, tested regularly. The aim is to spot asymptomatic coronavirus cases and prevent large numbers of students being sent home to self-isolate.
Final preparations are under way to begin the mass testing of England’s 3.4 million secondary school students from January 11 (stock image)
From tomorrow, schools will begin to receive deliveries of up to 1,000 lateral flow device testing kits and PPE. The kits, which require either a nasal or throat swab, can produce results in under 30 minutes.
The Harris Federation, which has 28 secondary schools, will use gyms and marquees to administer the tests. CEO Sir Daniel Moynihan said: ‘There is an enormous gap between those who come from low income backgrounds and those that don’t.
‘The pandemic has made that worse. If we want a fairer society and levelling up, we need kids in school.’ Most secondary students will return on January 18, but 760,000 in exam years 11 and 13 go back on January 11. They will receive one test before their first lesson and a follow-up three days later. Staff will be tested once a week.
Anyone who tests positive will then take a more accurate PCR test before leaving the premises to self-isolate. They will not be allowed to get public transport home and their close contacts will be offered daily tests for seven days so they can stay in school or college rather than have to isolate at home. Ministers are also considering whether to extend the guidance on wearing masks in communal areas to inside secondary school classrooms.
Just under 1.5 per cent of pupils and teachers in English secondary schools tested positive for coronavirus in the week ending November 19, according to the Office for National Statistics, but since then the new Covid-19 variant has spread rapidly.
The testing scheme was initially optional, but made mandatory by the Government last Thursday. Children under 16 will need the signed consent of their parents for tests. Older students must agree to it themselves.
A trial scheme at Painsley Catholic College in Cheadle, Staffordshire, had a take-up rate of 80 per cent. CEO Steve Bell said: ‘It’s a lot to get your head around and the mass of documentation and demands can put anxiety levels through the roof, but that soon disappears when everyone realises it is very straightforward.’
Three schools in the nationwide Star Academies Trust also participated in a pilot scheme, recruiting exam invigilators and cleaners who had already been vetted.
Its CEO, Hamid Patel, said: ‘School leaders and teachers are understandably fatigued after many months of managing the crisis. The tight timetable has added to the challenges but it is manageable with creative thinking, planning and determination.’
Each school will have to deploy a team covering seven different roles: team leader, test assistants, processors, a Covid-19 coordinator, registration assistants, result recorders and cleaners. None of the roles require any clinical experience as most students will do the swabs themselves. But experts have criticised the reliability of self-administered tests, claiming they miss as many as half of cases. To counter that, some schools are enlisting the help of medical professionals.
Chris Ramsey, headmaster of Whitgift School in Croydon, South London, said: ‘It’s not fair to expect volunteers, teachers or the boys to take responsibility.’
The Government has set aside £78 million for the scheme, but there are warnings that will run out within weeks. Private schools must fund the project themselves.
Roughly 45,000 people will be needed to help with the tests and some schools will need paid staff to help. Some are advertising for ‘Covid testing assistants’ paid between £10 and £17-an-hour. Chris Parkinson, principal of Bosworth Academy in Leicester, said: ‘The biggest challenge is getting the workforce in place.’
The only guidance offered by the Government is a 30-page handbook alongside online sessions. Some 1,500 military personnel will offer support but only online or by phone.
Criticising the scheme, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Ministers need to remember that schools and colleges are educational institutions, not medical facilities, and it has to support this testing programme properly.’
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