World News

Nicola Sturgeon confirms ‘phased and gradual’ return to school from Monday

Nicola Sturgeon also had some bad news for those hoping to get away this Easter – and in the summer – PA

The “phased and gradual return to school” will go ahead in Scotland as planned from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

Children aged four to seven and secondary pupils who need to carry out practical assignments will go back to school from February 22 – two weeks ahead of England’s students.

The First Minister said it was “unlikely” that other years could go back before mid-March and warned that if people did not stick with the “core” stay at home message and cases rose, schools would have to shut again.

The Scottish Government will publish a new strategic framework next week – at the same time as Boris Johnson’s roadmap – which will set out the conditions and “broad order of priority” for reopening.

“We are choosing to use the very limited headroom we have right now to get at least some children back to school – because children’s education and wellbeing is such a priority,” she said.

“But being able to get children back to education may mean the rest of us living with some other restrictions for longer. That is a trade-off we need to be willing to make.”

As a result, Ms Sturgeon said people would be advised not to book domestic holidays at Easter, or overseas trips this summer, but added that “staycations” may be allowed later in the year.

04:05 PM

And that’s it for another day…

Nicola Sturgeon has given a glimpse of what is around the corner for the UK as a whole – and it’s fair to say, it’s something of a mixed bag.

Schools are reopening – but not for all years, and with a hefty health warning that they will be shut again if people begin to relax from other measures and cases start to rise.

Perhaps more worryingly is the suggestion that within Scotland Easter breaks – even domestically – are off the agenda. Looking ahead, even summer holidays overseas are unlikely, she suggested. It remains to be seen whether England will follow suit.

But there has been good news: the vaccine appears to be having an effect, with a rise in antibodies and a reduction in deaths among the most vulnerable groups.

And Nadhim Zahawi appeared to suggest that social distancing would be left to our discretion once the vaccine rollout is complete.

More than 1,140 people have voted today and a whopping 83 per cent backed this, saying our liberties must be restored.

Keep on reading for the rest of the day’s news.

03:49 PM

John Penrose: Time for the Tories to find their inner Maggie and embark on supply-side reforms

Love it or loathe it, Brexit means change: an opportunity to forge our own path, for better or worse, for richer or poorer. And so does the pandemic: it’s turned teleconferencing from something we’d see in sci-fi movies into an everyday staple, and made commuting to work as quaint and old-fashioned as bowler hats and Morris dancing.

So we’re at a moment of change, a fork in the road, and the question is which route will we take?

One of the best and biggest opportunities would be more and better choices about what we buy, and who we buy it from – one of the best and most reliable ways to drive up post-Brexit, post-pandemic living standards for all of us, every year.

Even better, it would sharpen up British firms a treat, making our entire economy more competitive on the global stage, which is the only real long-term guarantee of secure and well-paid British jobs and properly-funded public services too.

But all that’s easier said than done, because it looks as though things have gone backwards since the banking crash in 2008 at least.

How do we put things right? John Penrose MP thinks he has the answer.

03:35 PM

Boris Johnson told to ignore those calling for ‘rapid relaxation’ of lockdown

For the third time today someone has invoked the phrase “data rather than dates” when it comes to lifting lockdown.

Following Nadhim Zahawi this morning, and Nicola Sturgeon moments ago, now the chief executive of NHS Providers has urged the Prime Minister to take this approach to his roadmap when it is published next week.

Chris Hopson said NHS trust leaders were hoping for caution and a “focus on data, not just dates, with four evidence-based tests met before lifting restrictions”.

Lessons must be learned from previous approaches to lifting restrictions, he added.

“We have had the debate about when and how quickly to lift restrictions several times before. Each time those arguing for a rapid relaxation were wrong and we had to reimpose restrictions, losing unnecessary lives and causing unnecessary long-term patient harm in the process,” he said.

“If this is to be the last national lockdown we have to learn the lessons from last year and take a cautious approach.”

03:29 PM

Have your say: Should social distancing be left to personal discretion?

Nadhim Zahawi this morning suggested that social distancing will be left to the individual, amid reports that measures like wearing face masks and staying six feet apart will continue long after the vaccination programme has ensured the bulk of vulnerable people are protected from coronavirus.

During an interview the vaccines minister said people would “make those decisions for themselves” once the data is available.

But if it is left to people’s discretion, could we see a further drop in compliance – and a rise in cases?

Have your say in the poll below.

03:18 PM

Further 474 coronavirus deaths registered in England’s hospitals

A further 474 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 79,593, NHS England said on Tuesday.

Patients were aged between 26 and 99. All except 17, aged between 38 and 93, had known underlying health conditions.

The North East & Yorkshire was the worst-affected region, with 114 deaths, followed by the North West with 112 and the Midlands with 76.

There were 53 deaths registered in both London and the South East, 39 in the East of England and 27 in the South West.

UK-wide deaths will be reported later today.

03:05 PM

Six in 10 pubs to stay shut under outdoor drinking plans, bosses warn

Six in 10 pubs will be forced to remain shut if watering holes are allowed to reopen with outdoor space early from April, industry bosses have warned.

Under Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown, plans under consideration for the hospitality sector include the reopening of pubs and restaurants from Easter, but with outdoor drinking and dining only.

About three-quarters of the UK’s 47,000 pubs have a beer garden, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.

But according to the trade body, some 29,000 venues – 60pc of the total – would be unable to reopen under the plans because they lack enough outdoor space to be commercially viable.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: “Outdoor service at pubs is not the same as properly opening pubs both inside and outside and is not commercially viable. We question the Government’s thinking behind this and suggest they consult with us as a sector on it.”

60pc of pubs do not have enough outdoor space for the reopening plan to be viable - PA Wire

60pc of pubs do not have enough outdoor space for the reopening plan to be viable – PA Wire

02:42 PM

Primary and some secondary children to go back to school in Scotland from Monday

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that the first phase of reopening schools will go ahead as planned.

That means the youngest years in primary schools and a “limited number” of secondary school students who need face to face lessons will also be able to attend from Monday Feb 22.

There will also be a “limited increase in provision for vulnerable children”, the First Minister said.

But it is “unlikely” that any further years will go back before mid March, she added.

02:38 PM

Scottish Government to advise against Easter holidays – and summer breaks overseas

The Scottish government is currently planning “a revised strategic framework” for lifting lockdown, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The framework will be published “this time next week” – coinciding with Boris Johnson’s roadmap.

It will set out how they plan to “restore greater normality” including the conditions that must be met in terms of data, as well as “the broad order” of measures being lifted.

“Caution will be necessary”, she says, noting that they are “very likely” to advise against booking domestic holidays at Easter.

Overseas holidays in the summer are also highly unlikely, she says, although “staycations” may be possible.

No Easter holidays for Scots, says Sturgeon

No Easter holidays for Scots, says Sturgeon

02:35 PM

Nicola Sturgeon channels Nadhim Zahawi as she emphasises ‘data not dates’ in lockdown end

Despite older people having additional protection, the level of virus circulating would put younger people at risk of long Covid, Nicola Sturgeon says.

The risk of the virus mutating again is also “acute” while cases are as high as they are. That means infection rates must be driven lower, the First Minister says.

However lockdown cannot last forever and a “gradual phased return to normality”is being planned.

She echoes a phrase used by vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi this morning that they must be led by “data not dates”, noting that “100 per cent normality will not be possible”.

That means decisions will have to be made “about what is most important to us” – starting with “at least some children” back in schools.

02:33 PM

New variant accounts for 80pc of new cases, says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon says there is “much more reason to be hopeful that we did just a few weeks ago”, saying “we can and will win if we are prepared to stick with it”

The reduction in cases and deaths has come from both “speeding up the vaccine programme and at the same time slowing down the virus – lockdown has been working”, she told Holyrood.

However that means “we are only just returning back to the levels seen in early December”.

The new, more infectious variant is responsible for more than 80 per cent of new cases, she adds.

That means the progress is still “very fragile” and “our room for manouvre still remains very limited”.

02:27 PM

Scotland’s schools will begin ‘phased and gradual return’, Nicola Sturgeon confirms

There will be no change to the “core” lockdown rules, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

But the “phased and gradual return to school” will go ahead as planned from Monday, the First Minister has confirmed.

Speaking to Holyrood, she added that she will set out the criteria for lifting lockdown.

There were 773 new positive cases yesterday, and a further 49 deaths were registered, taking the total to 6,794.

02:09 PM

‘Ding ding ding’: MP to ‘max out on life’ after completing radiotherapy treatment

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch has said she intends to “max out on life” as she celebrates having her last radiotherapy treatment.

Ms Crouch announced in June last year that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, adding that the illness had been “caught early”.

After promising to face the challenge “with my studs up”, the former sports minister has since kept people informed of her progress on social media, sharing updates on treatment as well as light-hearted comments about her newly-shaved head.

02:07 PM

Algorithm identifies further 1.7m people who need to shield from Covid

A further 1.7m have been added to England’s shielding list, taking the total to nearly four million in total.

An algorithm model called QCovid has determined the additional people may be at high risk from Covid, adding a further 820,000 people to the vaccine priority lists.

The research, commissioned by Professor Chris Whitty and funded by the new National Institute of Health Research, found that factors including ethnicity, body mass index (BMI) and certain medical conditions and treatments could, when combined, mean someone is at a higher risk from serious illness.

The patients identified through the risk assessment will be sent a letter from NHS England in the coming days explaining that their risk factors may help identify them as high clinical risk and that they are included within the support and advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable.

The predictive risk model was developed by researchers led by scientists at Oxford University.

01:56 PM

MPs ‘barking up the wrong tree’ on post-Brexit visas, claims minister

MPs are “barking up the wrong tree” in suggesting that the Goverment rejected a post-Brexit visa scheme for “ideological reasons”, a minister has claimed.

Caroline Dinenage, a culture minister, told members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the Home Office “would have been very interested in the visa proposals” if they had come with “firm guarantees” and “if they didn’t ask in exchange for us to sign up to something that any other G7, any other big nation, has signed up for with the EU”.

Ms Dinenage told the committee: “I think you are barking up the wrong tree when you think this is some kind of ideological issue on behalf of the Home Office… It is not an ideological thing; it is a common-sense position.”

But there was now little “appetite” from the Government to renegotiate an EU-wide solution to the lack of touring visas. Instead, she said agreements with individual member states are a “more likely success route”.

However the minister confirmed that no such discussions were taking place.

01:47 PM

South African-style variant emerges in UK, scientists warn

Scientists have identified another new variant of coronavirus, which contains a genetic change that is found in the Brazilian and South African variants.

Laboratory studies have shown that viruses with the E484K mutation can escape human defences, making them more efficient at evading natural and vaccine-triggered immunity.

A report from Edinburgh University said there are 33 cases so far involving B.1.525 in samples dating back to December.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, said: “PHE is monitoring data about emerging variants very closely and where necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, such as extra testing and enhanced contact tracing. There is currently no evidence that this set of mutations causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility.”

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told the Guardian newspaper: “We don’t yet know how well this (new) variant will spread, but if it is successful it can be presumed that immunity from any vaccine or previous infection will be blunted.”

01:36 PM

Social distancing after lockdown will be personal choice, minister hints

People will be able to exercise their own discretion about whether to stick to social distancing after the vaccine rollout, a minister has suggested, as he said the roadmap out of lockdown will be “driven by data, not just dates”.

Scientists have repeatedly stressed that measures such as wearing face masks and keeping our distance from each other are likely to remain long after the most vulnerable people have been vaccinated.

Asked about the prospect of long-term social distancing, Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: “We all want to hug our children, our grandchildren, our friends. I would say this – we have to be data-driven, rather than just date-driven.”

“Our way out of this pandemic is our vaccination programme… but with that, surge testing, tracing and isolation, and other measures whether they be mask-wearing or social distancing. I think we have to be driven by data, rather than just date,” he added.

“If we share the evidence, people are able to make those decisions for themselves. The Prime Minister will be saying more about this on February 22 in the roadmap.”

01:26 PM

‘Normal is not good enough’, says Labour MP as he calls for end to Universal Credit

Returning to normal after the pandemic is “not good enough”, a senior Labour MP has said, as he called for a total overhaul of the benefits system.

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow work and pensions secretary, said while the pandemic had excerbated poverty, the problems had pre-dated it, noting that things had “got a lot worse since 2010”.

He told Sky News: “Before this pandemic occurred, the UK was country with rising poverty levels, rising inequality. When the Government talks about returning to normal – well, normal is not good enough.”

In the short-term the temporary uplift to Universal Credit must be extended beyond April, but the “design” of the system, which includes a five-week wait for cash, meant it was not fit for purpose, he added.

“We need to replace Universal Credit – these features always drive the kind of consequences you will see today. We need a system which supports people being able to move into work and that means a complete change of policy, not tinkering with it.”

01:14 PM

Scottish Government investigates hotel quarantine ‘error’

The Scottish Government is investigating after US travellers were mistakenly made to quarantine in a hotel despite a loophole in the rules.

Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan, eight, arrived at Edinburgh airport on Monday via a connecting flight in Dublin and were set to spend 10 days self-isolating in a nearby hotel. However, Mr Wong was contacted by officials later to tell him he did not need to abide by the rules (see 11:31am).

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are looking into the circumstances that led to Mr Wong being wrongly advised he needed to book a managed isolation package and would like to thank the family for their patience.

“This is a very new system, being implemented at pace, and some initial challenges are to be expected.

“However, once the error was identified, the family were contacted and advised they could make alternative arrangements for their self-isolation period.

“We are following up with the travel management company to ensure a full refund is provided to Mr Wong.”

Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan leave Edinburgh airport  - PA

Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan leave Edinburgh airport – PA

01:00 PM

Extend support and hold off on tax hikes this Budget, Chancellor told

Rishi Sunak has been urged to use the looming Budget for a targeted extension of support to tackle a “triple challenge” to the economy from Brexit, Covid and global heating.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the Chancellor should avoid hiking taxes to start paying down public borrowing of about £400bn, and called on him instead to focus on supporting the UK’s economic recovery from lockdown.

Furlough should be extended beyond the end of April, using a gradual-phasing out of the system to protect jobs and growth. It also said there was “no need” to phase out the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift.

Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said: “In the recovery phase, he [Sunak] needs to support jobs and investment, but also crucially needs to recognise and address the multiple inequalities exacerbated by the crisis.”

However sizeable tax rises would be necessary in future, which as much as £60bn required to ensure that government revenues cover day-to-day spending, the IFS said.

12:49 PM

Hotel quarantine guests face extra £1,200 bill for positive tests

Travellers in quarantine hotels face an additional £1,200 bill if they test positive for coronavirus, the Government has revealed.

This is on top of the £1,750 fee for entering the programme and will apply to guests required to extend their stay beyond the initial 11 nights.

Information about the £152 daily cost of longer stays was only published on the Government’s website on Monday, after some guests had already checked in.

Guests are allowed to leave after 11 nights if they receive negative results from tests taken on day two and day eight of their isolation.

However a positive result from the first test will extend a traveller’s stay by two nights at a cost of £304.

If the second test returns a positive reading, the guest must remain in their room for an additional eight nights and pay £1,216.

12:43 PM

Labour member launches legal challenge over refusal to stand candidates in Northern Ireland

A legal bid has been initiated challenging the Labour party’s refusal to stand candidates in Northern Ireland.

Keith Gray has a issued pre-action letter, formally putting the party on notice that High Court proceedings will be pursed if it does not change its long-standing position that it should not fight contests against its “sister party” the SDLP.

But Mr Gray alleges the policy discriminates against him as a subscription-paying member of the Labour Party, and that it is a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“I am a proud member of the Labour Party,” he said. “I want to be able to elect Labour Party candidates to local councils, Stormont and Westminster. I want to be able to put myself up for candidature. The SDLP is not a ‘sister-party’, as the NEC and leadership say it is.

“SDLP policies are not the policies of the Labour Party. For too long members of the Labour Party have been discriminated against and the trust between them and the Labour Party has been broken. Now is the time for a challenge.”

12:30 PM

Tom Harris: Sturgeon’s divisive quarantine plan will unravel the case for devolution

The term “divide and rule” was never more appropriately applied than to the SNP’s 14-year term of office, during which every minor advance is attributed to the bravery and wisdom of the Scottish government, while every failure – and there have been many – is laid at the door of those damned evil Tories down in that there London.

The Coronavirus pandemic has afforded Nicola Sturgeon the latest opportunity to paint Scotland as “different from” England (and by “different from”, we mean “better than”).

It is not enough for the Scottish government to exercise its legal rights within the constitutional settlement to steer a different path from Westminster when it comes to fighting the virus.

Neither is it enough simply to claim – as Ms Sturgeon did during the first lockdown – that the outcomes of Scottish policy were better than England’s. That only worked when the statistics supported the claims, so that strategy was wisely shelved towards the end of last year.

Now, points out Tom Harris, any failures must be blamed on Westminster itself.

12:04 PM

Have your say: Should social distancing be left to personal discretion?

Nadhim Zahawi this morning suggested that social distancing will be left to the individual, amid reports that measures like wearing face masks and staying six feet apart will continue long after the vaccination programme has ensured the bulk of vulnerable people are protected from coronavirus.

During an interview the vaccines minister said people would “make those decisions for themselves” once the data is available.

But if it is left to people’s discretion, will we see a further drop in compliance – and a rise in cases? Have your say in the poll below.

11:56 AM

Hike taxes for ‘multinationals and multi-millionaires’ to protect poorest, says Tory MP

The Government should increase taxes for “big multinationals and multi-millionaires and redistribute the money” to the country’s poorest, a senior Conservative MP has said.

Rob Halfon, the MP for Harlow and education committee chairman, told Sky News that “if the coronavirus has done one thing, it has accelerated existing social justices and exposed them to all of us to see”.

While he welcomed existing support, he called on the Government to bring forward “a new deal to show how we are going to recover from coronavirus and how we are going to help low income families the most”.

That should include cutting the cost of living, plan for education, more intervention for the most disadvantaged families, more affordable housing and “jobs jobs jobs”, he said, paid for by a tax hikes for the biggest firms and richest individuals.

“The Government has very tough tightrope to walk – on the one hand, they have to decide where best to spend money, but also recover some of the trillion pound debt” racked up during the pandemic, he added.

11:47 AM

DUP begins attempt to overturn Northern Ireland’s abortion laws

A legislative attempt to repeal an aspect of Northern Ireland’s recently liberalised abortion laws has been formally tabled at Stormont.

The Private Member’s Bill in the name of DUP MLA Paul Givan targets a specific provision within the region’s abortion regulations that allows terminations up to birth in cases of serious non-fatal disabilities.

Northern Ireland’s previously restrictive abortion laws were changed by MPs at Westminster in 2019 at a time when the Stormont administration was collapsed.

The laws allow abortion in all circumstances up to 12 weeks. Terminations are permitted up to 24 weeks when there is a risk to the woman’s physical or mental health.

Northern Ireland's abortion laws were changed by MPs at Westminster in 2019 - Getty

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were changed by MPs at Westminster in 2019 – Getty

11:31 AM

Family free to leave Scottish quarantine hotel after ‘error’ due to loophole

The first international arrivals to a quarantine hotel in Scotland have been allowed to leave after just one day due to a loophole for travel via Ireland.

Chun Wong and his eight-year-old daughter Kiernan landed at Edinburgh Airport on Monday having flown from the United States via Dublin. They went straight to one of Scotland’s quarantine hotels at the airport.

However, Mr Wong was contacted by officials who said there had been a mistake and he had his daughter could complete their 10-day self-isolation period at their home in Fife.

“I received a call from reception saying a gentleman from the airport would like to talk to me,” said Mr Wong.

“He said that since I landed in Dublin first and then got a connecting flight to here, I was not required to quarantine in a hotel.”

Read the full story here.

Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan pictured leaving Edinburgh Airport  - Getty

Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan pictured leaving Edinburgh Airport – Getty

11:17 AM

Do not set ‘arbitrary dates’ for lifting lockdown, says former minister

The Government should not set “arbitrary dates” for lifting lockdown, but also not”let the goalposts be moved” on the conditions for doing so, a former minister has said.

Dr Liam Fox, the former trade secretary, told Sky News that the vaccine rollout meant “the pressure on the NHS will ease” and “as that strategic aim is recognised… that is the time to start unlocking”.

He added: “Imposing arbitrary dates means we are not operating on the same strategic basis, nor on the basis of scientific evidence, so there is a balance to be struck, but we mustn’t let goalposts be moved – not to drive cases to zero, which in any case would prove to be a medical impossibility.”

He noted that “what doctors might want to do in perfect world” was not the same as what governments had to do when faced with economic pressures.

Switching to a “Covid zero” strategy would end up causing more harm and was unlikely to be effective, he added.

11:12 AM

Government to strengthen laws to prevent ‘silencing and censoring’ at universities

The Education Secretary has warned against a “chilling effect” of “unacceptable silencing and censoring” on university campuses as he unveiled tougher measures to protect free speech.

The Government is planning a string of measures including the appointment of a “free speech champion” who will investigate potential infringements, such as no-platforming speakers or dismissal of academics.

A new free speech condition would be placed on universities for them to be registered in England and access public funding, and the Office for Students (OfS) regulator would have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breached the condition.

The strengthened legal duties would also extend to student unions.

Gavin Williamson said: “I am deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring. That is why we must strengthen free speech in higher education, by bolstering the existing legal duties and ensuring strong, robust action is taken if these are breached.”

Gavin Williamson "deeply worried" about the rise of "unacceptable silencing and censoring" on university campuses - PA

Gavin Williamson “deeply worried” about the rise of “unacceptable silencing and censoring” on university campuses – PA

10:56 AM

EU’s commitment to Northern Ireland protocol ‘unwavering’, says vice-president

The European Commission vice-president has said the bloc’s commitment to the Northern Ireland protocol is “unwavering” – but stressed that responsibility is “a two-way street”.

Maros Sefcovic, who has been meeting with Michael Gove to work through the repercussions of the EU’s abortive decision to trigger Article 16, told Ireland’s European Affairs Committee: “Our commitment to the protocol is unwavering, but we also have to understand that the implementation of the protocol is a shared responsibility.

“It must be always a two-way street.”

Brexit was “a massive operation – it’s not possible to prevent all the disruption”, he added.

“We could do our best and we are working on it to minimise the negative impact on the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“But it was quite obvious from the beginning that there will be the teething problems and I believe that we can resolve them if we work very well together.”

10:54 AM

European Commission ‘deeply regrets’ triggering Article 16, says vice-president Sefcovic

The European Commission vice-president has said he “deeply regrets” the EU’s recent attempt to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and that the bloc has “learned the lesson” from the action.

Maros Sefcovic, who has been meeting with Michael Gove to work through the repercussions of the move, which was sparked by concerns over the EU’s vaccine supply, told Ireland’s European Affairs Committee: “In the end, in a matter of three hours we got it right. Article 16 was never activated and I can reassure you that the commission has learned the lesson, and the commission will do its utmost to protect peace in Northern Ireland, as it has done throughout the entire Brexit process.

“I’m sure you will ask me, how can I prove that?

“I think that the best answer is our track record, unwavering support, political, economic and financial to the peace process since the Belfast agreement was signed and agreed upon.

“Also the way in how we conducted the entire Brexit negotiation process.

“I really would like to underscore the fact that Ireland and Northern Ireland was not only on our minds all the time, but also in our hearts as well, and therefore I believe we achieved very good results.”

10:45 AM

Nicola Sturgeon to set out plans for Scotland’s schools to reopen

Today will get a glimpse of what could be around the corner for England, with Nicola Sturgeon set to announce a return to Scottish classrooms from next week, in a statement at Holyrood.

This could include children aged four to seven, as well as secondary school pupils required to carry out practical assignments.

The First Minister has said she was “very keen” to begin the phased return of younger pupils to schools.

Boris Johnson is due to set out a roadmap on February 22 for easing lockdown in England – including the date schools can reopen to all pupils, expected to be March 8.

Primary schools in Wales begin the process of reopening next Monday, while in Northern Ireland, schools remain closed to most pupils until at least 8 March.

10:36 AM

Charles Moore: For a glimpse of Scotland’s future, just look at Catalonia

The latest situation in Catalonia should echo for all those concerned about Scotland. In regional elections on Sunday, pro-independence Catalan parties got more than half of the votes for the first time. On the other hand, those parties also lost votes compared with previous results because the turnout – at 53 per cent – was so low.

The only parties actually to gain votes were two anti-independence ones: the Socialist Party – which currently leads the national government of Spain – and the Right-wing party Vox. The Socialists are now the biggest single party in Catalonia.

Both sides claim victory, dubiously. The Scottish situation is different, in part. The SNP is the only nationalist party and therefore much stronger than any in Catalonia. The division of votes on the pro and anti sides, however, is very similar. And much of Catalonia’s agony derives from the 2017 decision by its then nationalist government to hold an illegal referendum on independence.

In today’s column Charles Moore sets out why he believes a version of this could happen here.

Protesters against far-right Vox party which won 11 seats in Sunday's regional election in Catalonia - AFP

Protesters against far-right Vox party which won 11 seats in Sunday’s regional election in Catalonia – AFP

10:20 AM

One in five people in England now have Covid antibodies

One in five people in England now have antibodies for the virus which causes Covid-19, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

Having antibodies in the blood indicates that people have either previously been infected with the virus or have had a Covid-19 vaccine.

The rates in England are the highest of the four nations, but have risen across the UK, with one in seven in Wales and Northern Ireland and an estimated one in nine in Scotland.

Older people were more likely to have antibodies in England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the highest rates were seen among younger adults.

Esther Sutherland, principal statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “Antibody positivity rates have increased across all four nations and the effects of the vaccination programmes have begun to appear, especially in the older age groups.”

10:03 AM

Jonathan Sumption: Liberal democracy will be the biggest casualty of this pandemic

The biggest casualty of the lockdown will not be the closed pubs, restaurants and shops and the crippled airlines. It will not even be the wreckage of our economy. These are terrible things to behold. But the biggest casualty of all will be liberal democracy.

The problem is perfectly encapsulated in a recent interview with Professor Neil Ferguson, who revealed last year that Sage had concluded that the Chinese lockdown had worked but was out of the question in Europe.

“It’s a communist, one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realised we could … If China had not done it, the year would have been very different.”

Many people believe that it is OK to be like China for a time, because when the crisis ends we can go back to being like Britain again. But as Jonathan Sumption argues in his latest column, these people are making a serious mistake.

Some might believe it is OK to be like China for a while - but they are making a serious mistake - Bloomberg

Some might believe it is OK to be like China for a while – but they are making a serious mistake – Bloomberg

09:44 AM

Covid deaths drop 13pc in a week: ONS

Covid deaths have fallen 13 per cent week-on-week, new figures show.

A total of 7,320 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending February 5 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, more than four in 10 (43 per cent) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to February 5 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate – the third highest proportion recorded during the pandemic.

09:32 AM

Early vaccines data ‘really encouraging’, says minister

Nadhim Zahawi has said preliminary evidence on the effect of vaccines on coronavirus transmission is “really encouraging” but suggested the full data may not be available for weeks.

The vaccines minister said early research from Oxford University has been promising but cited two ongoing Public Health England (PHE) studies on the impact of vaccines on Covid-19 – the Vivaldi study on care home residents and staff, and the Siren research on healthcare workers – as being key.

“We’ve got to make sure that you bring down the infection rates, hence why we’re waiting to see the data on transmission. The Oxford team had some early data which is really encouraging on transmission, which has to be peer-reviewed,” he told Times Radio.

09:25 AM

Exclusive: Headteachers begin making plans for phased return to schools

Headteachers have started to draw up plans for rotas and a phased return to the classroom, The Telegraph has learned.

School leaders have warned that getting all secondary pupils back at once while also overseeing a mass testing regime is “impossible”.

Jules White, the founder of the Worth Less? group, which represents around 2,000 headteachers, said schools around the country are using the February half-term to begin preparing to reopen in a way they feel is safe for their community.

“We want to get schools open, but heads need to have some flexibility on how to do this,” said Mr White, the headmaster of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, West Sussex. “Heads are looking at things like rotas and phased openings.”

Yesterday Boris Johnson insisted no decisions have been made on the details, adding that it remains a “priority” to open schools on March 8. Read the full story here.

09:09 AM

Asthma sufferers who take oral steroids included in current vaccination list, says minister

Asthma sufferers who take “oral steroids” will be given vaccinations in the current phase of the rollout, the minister for deployment has said.

“In category four, those with serious, extremely vulnerable cases of asthmatics would have been given the first dose in category four,” Nadhim Zahawi told Good Morning Britain.

“Now in category six, if they have oral steroids, then they are in category six.

“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation looked at the evidence and that’s what we are guided by.

“I apologise if there was any confusion, I certainly don’t want to have any confusion at all.”

Asthma sufferers who take oral steroids will be included in the current stage of the rollout - PA

Asthma sufferers who take oral steroids will be included in the current stage of the rollout – PA

08:52 AM

Priti Patel’s legacy ‘won’t be a great one’, says London Mayor

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that Priti Patel’s track record as Home Secretary will not be “a great one”.

When asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday about Ms Patel not expressing her confidence in Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick during a radio interview, Mr Khan said he had full confidence in the commissioner.

But when asked if he had confidence in Ms Patel, he laughed and added: “I don’t like to be discourteous or impolite to colleagues, even from other parties.

“I think Priti Patel’s track record as a Home Sec won’t be a great one in relation to what she’s not done to address some of the concerns we had around the hostile environment, I think she has not addressed the concerns we have got in relation to our borders, I think the quarantine policies have been a big failure and I don’t think she has given the police the resources they need.”

08:36 AM

Minister dodges questions on vaccine disclosure

Nadhim Zahawi has declined to say whether employers can legally require staff to disclose whether they have received a coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccines minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The vaccination is not mandatory. Employers have been talking to us, they are concerned about their duty of care for the residents, the elderly residents, especially if the virus mutates. At the moment, the dominant virus in the UK, the vaccines work well against the dominant virus.”

Pressed again if employers can require employees to disclose their vaccination record, he said: “At the moment, the vaccination programme is non-mandatory.”

The minister appears to be shifting his position: this morning he also said it was “up to businesses” whether they demand vaccine passports to access their services (8:12am).

08:31 AM

Unclear whether lockdown or vaccines driving drop in cases, says minister

The extent to which the reduction in coronavirus infections is down to lockdown restrictions or the vaccine rollout is still unclear, Nadhim Zahawi has said.

The vaccines minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have a couple of very large-scale studies related to giving us better data on the vaccines.

“We should be able to see really good data in the next few weeks from those studies.”

Asked if he is confident the vaccines are having some effect on transmission but it is too early to say how much of the reduction is attributable to the lockdown, he said: “I think that is accurate, that’s absolutely right.”

08:28 AM

JCVI yet to decide whether professions or ethnicity will be prioritised for jab, says minister

The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) is yet to decide whether teachers or other professions should be prioritised, or whether other factors such as ethnicity should take precedent, a minister has said.

The Telegraph understands that the committee, which is meeting today, will urge ministers to prioritise ethnic groups within an overarching age-based structure.

About who would be prioritised after the over-50s, and whether it might include teachers, Nadhim Zahawi stressed that individuals who are at risk because of age or those with underlying health conditions would be vaccinated in the current rollout stage.

But the JCVI would be debating “clinically, should we prioritise a profession because they come into greater contact, or should we be looking at other evidence, because we want to make sure that those who are greater need receive the vaccine first,” he told the Today programme.

Nadhim Zahawi, vaccines minister - AFP

Nadhim Zahawi, vaccines minister – AFP

08:21 AM

People with learning disabilities being vaccinated ‘now’, says minister

A minister has defended the lower priorisation of people with learning disabilities, saying those in residential homes will be vaccinated from now.

The top four categories, which have been all but completed, account for 88 per cent of the mortality caused by coronavirus, Nadhim Zahawi noted. However research suggests those with learning difficulties are six times higher to die with coronavirus than the general population.

“Some with severe learning disabilities and severe, extreme vulnerabilities will have been capture in category four,” he told the Today programme.

“Now in five and six, we are capturing those in those homes. That is happening now… those living in residential care, will be vaccinated in category six.”

08:12 AM

‘Up to businesses’ if they demand vaccine passports, says minister

The Government will turn a blind eye to businesses who require vaccine passports to use their services, a minister has suggested.

The Telegraph this morning revealed that cinemas have begun striking deals to use vaccine passports that could allow them to reopen their doors to those who have already received Covid-19 jabs.

Under the scheme, Verifiable Credentials would create electronic certificates for people to show they have been vaccinated. These certificates would be verified by the NHS and stored in a digital wallet on users’ smartphone.

Despite previously having said this would be discriminatory, Nadhim Zahawi was less quick to criticise today.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We want to make that [vaccine] certificate accessible to people if they need it for international travel. We are not planning a domestic passport.”

But asked about the Telegraph’s report, he added: “It’s up to businesses what they do, but we don’t yet have the evidence of the effect of vaccines on transmission.”

08:08 AM

Ethnicity may be a priority in third phase of jabs rollout

The coronavirus vaccine programme is expected to continue to target people based on their age as well as focussing on ethnicity in its third phase, The Telegraph understands.

The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), which meets today, is expected to recommend the continuation of an age-based approach once the rollout moves on from the most vulnerable adults.

The committee is expected to urge ministers also to take into account the higher mortality risk faced by some ethnic minority communities when deciding how to distribute the vaccine after everyone in the priority groups has been reached.

Members are particularly concerned about death rates in people from South Asian backgrounds, a source said, and will this week discuss methods to prioritise ethnic groups within an overarching age-based structure.

Sources on the committee said prioritising various types of worker, such as teachers, would “create too much complication” and “risk slowing the rollout down”.

08:05 AM

WHO special envoy backs Boris Johnson’s rapid test plan for reopening economy

Boris Johnson’s plan to use lateral flow tests to help reopen nightclubs and other live venues after lockdown has got the backing of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19.

Dr David Nabarro told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The secret to getting life back to some degree of normality for most of us is going to be the availability of really reliable, super-quick tests.

“That will make movement so, so much easier.

“I think that the certificates for vaccination are likely to be required more for international travel and other such activities where you’re actually going into a different jurisdiction.

“But for moving around (domestically) it will be rapid tests.”

Lateral flow tests could be used to help nightclubs and other nightlife venues reopen - Getty

Lateral flow tests could be used to help nightclubs and other nightlife venues reopen – Getty

07:59 AM

Lateral flow testing will be used to support reopening, minister confirms

Lateral flow tests will be used to help reopen nightclubs and theatres, the vaccines minister has said.

Boris Johnson last night sparked quite a reaction after suggesting that the rapid tests – which can be turned around in a matter of minutes – could be used to help reopen these parts of the economy that had stayed shut for most of last year.

But this morning Nadhim Zahawi backed the Prime Minister, saying they could play a crucial role once the vaccine rollout is further progressed.

He told Sky News: “What the Prime Minister actually said is it will be a combination of the national vaccination programme, when we are reaching 89 per cent of the adult population… a world where we have the adult population vaccinated, and rapid testing technology.

“We will use that as a way of reopening theatres or the rest of the economy.”

The country now has capacity for around 800,000 lateral flow tests a day

The country now has capacity for around 800,000 lateral flow tests a day

07:39 AM

Boris Johnson: This must be the final lockdown

Hopes of a rapid reopening in time for Easter were dampened by Boris Johnson last night, as he said the easing of restrictions, due to be announced in a new Government “roadmap” next Monday, should be “cautious but irreversible”.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, he declined to say that families would be able to go on Easter “getaways” as he stressed the uncertain road ahead.

Meanwhile, a well-placed Government source told The Telegraph it is unlikely that normal weddings or hymn singing in church will be allowed again in time for Easter Sunday, on April 4. “It’s not going to be a big bang – it’s going to take some time,” the source said of reopening plans.

Speaking at the press conference, Mr Johnson said: “We want this lockdown to be the last. And we want progress to be cautious, but also irreversible.”

ALSO READ  Five people rescued as boat overturns off Welsh coast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button