Millions more people in the east and south east of England are to enter tier four on Boxing Day, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.
Somerset moves up to Tier 3 and Cornwall to Tier 2 but apparently no change in Devon – Owl
BBC News www.bbc.co.uk
The places moving into the highest level of restrictions – which include a “stay at home” order – border the areas already in tier four.
A number of areas will also move up into tiers three and two.
Mr Hancock also revealed that another new coronavirus variant from South Africa has been detected in the UK.
He said anyone who had been there in the last two weeks must quarantine immediately.
The health secretary told the Downing Street briefing the old tiering system was not enough to control the new variant of the virus.
He said cases had been rising in some of the places close to where the current tier four restrictions are, such as East Anglia, which had seen a “significant number” of the new fast-spreading variant.
“It is therefore necessary to put more of the East and South East of England into tier four.”
Areas moving to tier four are: Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, with the exception of the New Forest, and the parts of Essex and Surrey not already in the toughest restrictions.
Mr Hancock also announced that other areas would move into higher tiers.
Areas moving to tier three are: Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Cheshire and Warrington.
Cornwall and Herefordshire will move into tier 2.
The health secretary also said two cases have been detected of another new variant of the coronavirus in the UK.
Both were contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks, he said.
He said: “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”
The health secretary said both cases and close contacts of the cases have been quarantined.
There are immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa and the government is telling those who have been in contact with anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight that they must quarantine.
He added: “These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down.”
Darts Farm is being investigated after hosting a controversial outdoor carol service last week.
Howard Lloyd www.devonlive.com
The backlash came after images from the event on social media apparently showed significant numbers of people apparently not socially distancing or wearing face coverings.
It was held on the grounds of Darts Farm, in Topsham, on the evening of Wednesday, December 16.
Visitors were asked to congregate outside by The Shack with Christ Church Woodbury and SW Comms Band leading the music.
After a barrage of criticism via social media, Darts Farm defended themselves, insisting that they had followed the suggestions from the Government’s ‘Covid-19: suggested principles of safer singing’ guidelines’.
“You could say that it was more organised than most busy high streets on a Saturday,” said a spokesperson.
A screen shot of the outdoor Christmas carol evening at Darts Farm
But East Devon District Council have now announced that they are looking into the ‘planning and control measures’ to work out if rules were broken.
They are currently awaiting information from the business.
“East Devon District Council is currently investigating to establish what planning and control measures went in to this event to determine if any offence was committed,” said a spokesperson.
“We are currently awaiting further information from the business so have no further comment to make at this time.”
The event, which included a collection for Exeter Foodbank and offered mince pies and mulled apple juice, was watched by many on Dart Farms Twitter feed, although that link was swiftly removed.
On its Facebook page, people vented their anger and disgust at the event.
One person said: “Who thought this would be a good idea? I’m furious how you think you could be above the law.”
In agreement someone said: “I am beyond fuming. You’re bragging about supporting families who have been hit hard by Covid then you host a get together to sing carols.
“The pictures show the massive crowd with no distancing and no masks. Covid has affected us all in one way or another, but you go ahead with a get together that the government has banned others from.
“Those that attended and whoever thought up such a stupid idea should be fined too.”
In response, a spokesperson for Darts Farm said: “We are so thrilled to have been able to run our Outdoor Christmas Carol Evening last night, that complied with all the guidance from the government’s ‘Covid-19: suggested principles of safer singing’.
“With unlimited outdoor space and using closed off car parking, everyone was able to social distance and stand where they wanted. You could say that it was more organised than most busy high streets on a Saturday.
“The actual programme for the evening, including all of the carols, was on our website so that everyone could follow and sing using their phones – reducing any contact with no one gathered around a screen with projected words.
“From all those that attended, we have had nothing but positive feedback and interestingly the only criticism has come from those that didn’t actually attend the evening.
“The comments we have received include, ‘really moving hearing people singing together again even at a distance’, and ‘a big thank you for the organised carol service this evening. You do not know how much we needed that. God bless and merry Christmas’.
“It was brilliant to be able to see our local community come together in festive spirits in what has been a very challenging year. Outdoor carol singing is something that has been encouraged by the government in their recent guidance to help lift our spirits this Christmas.”
A former Conservative Party councillor has said he will not apologise after replying to a union email about school meals with the phrase “if you can’t feed, don’t breed”.
Roger Taylor, now an independent councillor on Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire, sent the reply to a newsletter from the public services union Unison, which contained a request to help save the school meals service.
Mr Taylor – expelled from the Tory party last year following an Islamophobia investigation – said he believed it was up to parents to feed their children during the holidays.
“Many of these so-called impoverished children have smart phones,” the councillor claimed.
The union’s 10 December email contained a letter to councillors asking for their help to stop the school meals service from becoming a “casualty of the pandemic,” which they said had led to cuts to the service, staff numbers, pay and hours of work.
The letter added: “It is good news that the government finally agreed to fund free school meals holiday provision over the Christmas holiday period, and we pay tribute to Marcus Rashford for his determination. But this is not the only area where school meals are under pressure – provision of hot meals for pupils during term-time in schools is suffering too.”
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In his response on 18 December, Mr Taylor said: “If you can’t feed, don’t breed. Simples.”
Speaking to the Press Association, the councillor said: “I’m not going to apologise for it. What I said is what I said. That’s my opinion, I’m entitled to say it.”
Mr Taylor, who represents the Northowram and Shelf wards in Halifax, continued: “Many of these so-called impoverished children have smart phones and we expect the taxpayers to dip into their pockets to feed them. Where does it end? I don’t mind free school meals when they’re at school, that’s fine. I just think enough’s enough.”
Jon Richards, Unison head of local government, said: “Children all over the country are going hungry because of the pandemic. Low-income families need support, not abuse from those who should know better.
“It’s hard to fathom how a politician would think this is an appropriate way to react when asked to help children living in abject poverty.”
Mr Taylor was suspended by the Conservatives in November 2019 following an investigation into Islamophobia. The Halifax Conservatives said he was expelled from the party last December.
He had been named in a dossier sent to the party and obtained by The Guardian which contained details of unacceptable material shared or posted on social media by 25 current and former Tory councillors.
Plymouth is a “hot spot” in Devon for the new virus mutant.
By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor and Lucy Fisher, Deputy Political Editor www.telegraph.co.uk
Government sources warn there is ‘high chance’ of full national lockdown in New Year as virus mutation ‘bleeds’
A swathe of areas hit by surging coronavirus rates are likely to be placed into Tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day, ministers will announce on Wednesday.
Ministers are expected to sign off plans for tougher measures for many areas at a meeting of the Covid-O operations committee as concern grows about the virus mutation spreading from the South-East.
Government sources have warned that there is a “high chance” of a full national lockdown in the New Year.
Under the Boxing Day measures, the worst-hit places will be plunged into Tier 4 – a “stay home” measure akin to lockdown that was introduced in London and much of the South-East earlier this week – and many areas in the lower tiers could be moved to Tier 3, forcing the closure of all pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.
On Tuesday night, health officials and local leaders in Birmingham held a Gold Command meeting to discuss whether to request that the city and its 1.1 million residents be moved into Tier 4.
Areas on the edges of the current tiers are particularly vulnerable, with health officials warning that the new variant of the virus is “bleeding” across boundaries. Hotspots of the mutation have been found in Cumbria and Devon, as well as across large parts of Sussex, Surrey, Essex and Norfolk, just beyond the borders of the current Tier 4.
Health officials are concerned that the exodus of large numbers of people from Tier 4 areas into the Midlands and the North has fuelled the spread. On Monday, Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, said cases were “everywhere” and signalled that restrictions are set to increase.
A Government source said: “Changes are expected, including in some areas that are currently on the margins and edges of Tier 4 areas. We’re concerned that some areas have had significant increases in case numbers as a result of the mutation.”
Whitehall sources said there was now “a high chance” that the country would be placed into a third lockdown after Christmas. One said: “The expectation now is that we can get through Christmas, but after that the chances of a full lockdown in the New Year look pretty high.”
The source added that while ministers were reluctant to announce such measures and would prefer to extend the use of Tier 4, “there comes a point where it doesn’t make much sense to stick with it”.
“If the new variant continues to bleed across the country, and we see more cases of it in the North, then there isn’t much of a case for keeping anyone out of Tier 4, so it amounts to a national lockdown, whether it is called it or not,” the source said.
“No decision has been taken, but the numbers look awful – everything is going the wrong way, and the numbers are worse than those that triggered the December lockdown.”
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said a full lockdown may be imposed due to concerns about the virus variant. The First Minister also suggested a week-long delay to Scottish schools reopening after the Christmas holidays, currently set to end on January 11, could be extended.
“It seems that we are facing a virus that spreads much faster now than in March, so we need to consider whether the current level four restrictions will be sufficient to suppress it,” she said.
“It took a really strict lockdown earlier in the year to get the ‘R’ number back below one. We face a situation now where ‘R’ is around one again and we have a virus transmitting more quickly.
“For those living in level 4 areas – which from Saturday will be the vast majority of us – our strong advice is to stay as local as possible and at home as much as possible. We will be considering in the days ahead whether we need to place that advice in law.”
On Sunday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said those who had fled London for the North after the Tier 4 travel ban was announced were “totally irresponsible”. Health chiefs from the North and Midlands have since pleaded with those who took such journeys to isolate for 10 days, and turn away any visitors on Christmas Day.
The advice came after scenes of people packing railway stations in London hours before Tier 4 controls came into force at midnight on Saturday, prompting fears the more infectious new variant could be spread across the country.
Genetic data, mapping the spread of the new variant, show that it has emerged in areas hundreds of miles apart. A map released by Public Health England showed that labs had found significant numbers of cases of the new variant across the South-East, in areas just outside the Tier 4 restrictions.
Wealden, in East Sussex, has weekly rates of 287 cases per 100,000 after numbers more than doubled in a week, and at least 30 per cent of cases involve the mutated strain.
Across the rest of the county, rates more than tripled in a week in Eastbourne and Lewes, while they have doubled in Crawley and Tendring. In each area, at least 20 per cent of cases involve the new mutation. Similarly, Waverley in Surrey – also just outside current Tier 4 areas – has also registered a doubling in the rates.
The data also show hotspots much further afield. While case numbers are lower, Allerdale, in Cumbria, and Plymouth, in Devon, are both singled out as areas where at least one in five cases is the mutation, with numbers rising.
Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant could be behind “skyrocketing” increases in a number of areas.
Colin Cox, the director of public health for Cumbria, said rates in the district of Eden had risen to 345 cases per 100,000 people, the highest seen in the county to date.
He said: “It’s pretty clear that while it is the South-East of England that is having the worst of it right now, this new variant is already present in most parts of the country.
“Only a small number of cases have been positively identified in Cumbria, but what is happening in Eden, which throughout the pandemic has had low levels of infection and now has the highest we’ve seen, points to something different going on.”
Suggestion discussed on BBC “Today” this morning by Professor David Salisbury, former Director of Immunization at the Department of Health of United Kingdom.
This article also discusses the same question.
Angus Chen www.wbur.org
Tucked inside the Food and Drug Administration’s analyses of Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines was a pleasant discovery: A single injection of either of the two-dose vaccines appears to provide strong protection against the coronavirus.
With supplies of the vaccines limited — and hundreds of millions of people waiting for inoculation — this leaves epidemiologists grappling with a complicated question. Should the nation vaccinate fewer people with the best protection possible, or provide twice the number of people with a single shot, covering more of the population but with slightly weaker protection?
“[The] question is a really difficult moral and scientific one,” says Barry Bloom, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. “If the second vaccine dose were superfluous, and we knew [it] didn’t extend the duration of protection, the principle would be to protect as many people and save as many lives as possible.”
The right answer, in other words, depends on science we haven’t yet completed. For one, the protection from a single dose of Pfizer’s vaccine hasn’t been definitively tested. Scientists can only infer from the trial data that Pfizer’s vaccine would provide protective antibodies to roughly half of people who get one dose.
But Dr. Chris Gill, an infectious disease specialist at Boston University, points out that a single injection of Pfizer’s vaccine may be even more effective than this estimate suggests. Looking at data from a smaller window between the time the first injection should have started working and before the second injection kicked in, Gill says the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may have an efficacy rate as high as 80 or 90% with just a single dose.
Moderna actually collected data from people who only received one dose of its vaccine, Gill says. Some 2,000 participants in Moderna’s phase three clinical trial received just a single injection of either a placebo or the vaccine. In that population, the efficacy of the single vaccine dose was roughly 80 to 90%.
“[Moderna] was not shy about showing that a single dose was so effective, and they do the math right,” Gill says. “After 14 days, the [single dose] vaccine is remarkably effective.”
In light of that, Gill argues it might be better for as many people as possible to get one vaccine shot now, while supplies are limited and the coronavirus is infecting and killing record numbers of Americans. A few months from now, when vaccine makers expect to scale up their manufacturing to produce hundreds of millions of doses a month, Gill says those who only got one dose can come back for their second booster shot.
“We could save a lot of lives. We can give two doses to people now, but in the interim a bunch of people who could have gotten the vaccine are going to die,” Gill says. “Is this not an example of where, yet again, the perfect is the enemy of the good?”
Dr. Benjamin Linas, an epidemiologist also at Boston University, is still mulling over the question. There’s still a lot of information that is yet to be revealed, he says. For example, is it less effective to receive the second dose of the vaccine a few months later than recommended schedule?
“Probably not, but no one knows,” Linas says.
And nobody knows how long the protection from a single dose will last. Of course, nobody knows how long the protection from two doses of the vaccines will last, either. Beyond the roughly two-month period of the clinical trials, those studies haven’t been done yet.
“The only way to know is to follow over time, and we haven’t had time,” Linas counters. “It’s a great question. I’m ready to start doing some simulation modeling, but I don’t have the data now to talk about it.”
There is another concern throwing its shadow over the proposal to vaccinate more people now with a single dose: How to convince millions of people to show up for a second dose at an unspecified point in the future. It’s hard enough to get people to arrive at pre-scheduled appointments for a second shot a month later, Linas says, let alone an unknown date based on an unknown supply of vaccines.
“If we gave all the vaccine now and back fill the second doses later, do we really have the logistical support to do that without entering chaos?” Linas says. “It makes me a little nervous.”
Harvard’s Bloom agrees this is a significant question.
“The probability of finding [vaccines] and getting them to return for a booster shot will be almost impossible,” he says. “That [may] leave a significant number of vaccinated people susceptible. If the booster prevents that, then two shots will lead ultimately to more lives saved over the long run.”
Gill is undeterred, though. The logistical issues in this plan would be real, he admits but, he argues, not insurmountable. At the very least, he says, the idea of vaccinating as many people as possible with one dose should be seriously floated.
“But you know, we can solve those problems,” he says. “This is a one-way trip. It creates a moral urgency to at least have this discussion properly.”
A Twitter post by the home secretary about the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants led to the trial of alleged people-smugglers being halted.
BBC News www.bbc.co.uk
The migrants were found dead in a lorry trailer in Essex on 23 October 2019.
On the anniversary, Priti Patel tweeted they died “at the hands of ruthless criminals” and jurors were warned to ignore comments from politicians.
The Home Office said the tweet was quickly deleted and “not intended to reference” those involved in the trial.
On 23 October, Ms Patel, MP for Witham, Essex, posted: “One year ago today, 39 people lost their lives in horrific circumstances at the hands of ruthless criminals.”
The trial was temporarily halted as lawyers in the case discussed what action should be taken.
In the absence of the jury, Alisdair Williamson QC, who was defending lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, complained about the description of “ruthless criminals”.
He said: “It is unhelpful to say the least and a lot worse could be said.”
The judge in the case, Mr Justice Sweeney, brought the jury back and warned them of comments made about the case outside of the court room.
“No doubt the anniversary will be commented on whether in mainstream media or social media,” he said.
“And whether by politicians, likewise journalists or others, inevitably there is a risk that such comments may assert or imply guilt of amongst others the men who are in your charge, two of whom are charged with the manslaughter of the victims.
“You must ignore any such comments.”
The tweet was live for more than an hour before it was deleted.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary’s tweet intended to refer to individuals who were involved in the incident and had already entered guilty pleas.
“The tweet was not intended to reference individuals involved in the ongoing trial. However, as soon as concerns were raised, the tweet was deleted.”
Mr Justice Sweeney adjourned sentencing of all the defendants to 7, 8 and 11 January.
Boris Johnson has defied an independent commission to hand a peerage to a Tory donor and Vote Leave board member who was caught in a “cash-for-access” scandal nearly a decade ago.
Another example of “Cronyism” as the House Lords heads towards a cast of one thousand. – Owl
Arj Singh www.huffingtonpost.co.uk
The prime minister nominated Peter Cruddas for a seat in the House of Lords, despite past accusations that he had offered access to David Cameron in exchange for party donations. He denied this claim, but the Court of Appeal found it to be true following a defamation case.
Cruddas was one of 16 appointments to the Lords – including seven recommendations from Johnson, five from Keir Starmer and five crossbench nominations.
This list will bring the total in the House of Lords to over 830 – almost 200 more than the House of Commons.
The scale of the nominations list sparked criticism from Lord Speaker Lord Fowler, who said he had a “fundamental concern” about “the number of new peers that have been appointed by the prime minister in his first 12 months in office” and called for a review of the powers of the appointments commission.
But Fowler did welcome the elevation of former Archbishop of York John Sentamu to the Lords, who was reportedly snubbed by Downing Street for an automatic life peerage because Johnson wanted to scale back on numbers in the Lords.
Johnson’s decision to nominate Cruddas came in defiance of the recommendation of the Lords appointment commission, which said it could not support Cruddas’s nomination due to a Sunday Times story revealing the allegations in 2012.
Parliamentary records show Cruddas donated £50,000 to the PM in June 2019, when Johnson was embarking on his campaign to replace Theresa May as Tory leader and in Downing Street.
Cruddas has also recently made several donations to Tory MPs.
In 2012, Sunday Times reporters went undercover to film Cruddas explaining how donations to the Tory Party could secure access to politicians and influence over policy making.
Cruddas denied allegations he was offering access to leading politicians like then-PM Cameron in return for cash for the party.
But in a 2015 libel case, the Court of Appeal found the allegation to be true and branded Cruddas’s behaviour “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.
“Cruddas was effectively saying to the journalists that if they donated large sums to the Conservative Party, they would have an opportunity to influence government policy and to gain unfair commercial advantage through confidential meetings with the prime minister and other senior ministers,” the judgment said.
Commenting on Cruddas’s appointment, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “From Dominic Cummings’s eye test to handing out contracts to their mates, it’s one rule for the Tories and their chums, another for the rest of us.”
In a letter to Lord Bew, chair of the appointments commission, Johnson justified Cruddas’s nomination by saying the former Tory treasurer had made “outstanding contributions” to charity and business since being caught up in the cash-for-access scandal.
The PM also insisted an internal Tory investigation “found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing” on the part of Cruddas, who was born in Hackney.
Johnson went on: “Cruddas was born without the advantages of many of those in the House of Lords and has gone on to become one of the country’s most successful business figures.
“His broad range of experiences and insights across the charitable, business and political sectors will, in my view, allow him to make a hugely valuable contribution.”
Here is a full list of the peerages approved by the Queen on Tuesday:
Boris Johnson’s nominations:
- Sir Richard Benyon – former Tory minister and MP for Newbury.
- Peter Cruddas.
- Dame Jacqueline Foster – formerly deputy leader of the Conservative Party in the European Parliament
- Stephanie Fraser – chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland.
- Dean Godson – director of Policy Exchange.
- Daniel Hannan – formerly Tory MEP.
- Syed Kamall – formerly leader of the Conservative Party in the European Parliament.
Keir Starmer’s nominations:
- Judith Blake – leader of Leeds City Council.
- Jenny Chapman – close ally and former Labour MP.
- Vernon Coaker – former minister and Labour MP.
- Wajid Khan – former Labour MEP.
- Gillian Merron – chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, former minister and former Labour MP.
Nominations for Crossbench Peerages:
- Sir Terence Etherton – former master of the rolls and head of civil justice.
- Sir Simon McDonald – former top Foreign Office official and head of the Diplomatic Service.
- Sir Andrew Parker – former director-general of MI5.
- John Sentamu – former Archbishop of York.
Devon MPs have reacted with anger to the ‘inevitable curtailing of Christmas’, with Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw saying it is the angriest he has ever been with the prime minister. Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris fears her constituency will be caught up in a lockdown that isn’t merited in the new year. She wants MPs recalled to parliament.
Looks like Simon Jupp and Neil Parish are hunkered down somewhere, on “radio silence”. – Owl
Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk
Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas festivities by plunging millions of people in the south east into a new ‘Tier 4’, and for everyone else only relaxing the indoor household mixing ban for Christmas Day.
Devon MPs said that they had feared this was inevitable from much earlier. Ben Bradshaw (Labour) said: “I don’t think I have ever felt so angry with this prime minister. He never learns. Always over promising and under delivering. Millions of people were encouraged by him to make plans to see family and friends for Christmas, even though he knew cases were soaring and he’s known about this new strain since September and now all these people’s plans have had to be scrapped.”
Anne Marie Morris, Conservative MP for Newton Abbot, said: “I am deeply frustrated by the last-minute changes to the Christmas rules, meaning that three households can only meet on Christmas Day, here in Tier 2. This is especially disappointing for those who have relatives living in Tier 4 areas.
“Most people support the need to suppress the virus and measures to manage this, but they don’t support the last-minute change of direction when significant planning had already taken place. This is the latest in a list of avoidable communication failures.”
And on Tier 4, Ms. Morris, who voted against the second lockdown, said: “Let’s be clear, Tier 4 is lockdown with a different name. The reality is that if the data supports it, then more of the country is going to head towards Tier 4 across January and probably February. The data shows Teignbridge and Devon being a long way from this, but I fear we will be caught up in a full national lockdown as the number of Tier 4 areas increases.
“Our response to covid must be rational and balanced, not driven by panic, and should take full account of all the health and economic consequences of lockdowns and restrictions. Our response to the virus should be based on informed scientific, economic and health data.
“I firmly believe that parliament should be allowed to resume as the virtual-hybrid parliament we previously had, in which we can vote ourselves and speak in all debates. We can’t continue to live with the dinosaurs.
“Only then can we really hold government to account. Were that in place, a recall would be both possible and right. I absolutely want to be able to support the government in the measures they are taking but they need to provide the cost-benefit analysis of the measures they have put in place.”
Kevin Foster, Conservative MP for Torbay, said: “The news will be disappointing and it is not where anyone wanted to be, not least after the difficult year we have had, but the emerging situation in London and the South East cannot be ignored and the move to restrict non-essential travel out of the Tier 4 areas, including to our Bay, is a sensible precaution.”
But he added: “It would be easy to look at today’s news and feel like the situation is depressing and there is nothing you can do, yet like in the past when a deadly threat is facing our Bay we can all do our bit to help.
“Many are doing this already by working in our public services, supporting our healthcare teams, working in key services, helping neighbours and being part of the voluntary\faith groups doing so much to support the vulnerable. All of those involved have made a massive difference so far and deserve our thanks.”