Covid: millions more in England to enter tier 4 on New Year’s Eve

Devon and Cornwall move up to Tier 3 tomorrow

Josh Halliday 

Millions more people in England will be placed under stay-at-home orders from New Year’s Eve, the government has confirmed, after the new variant of Covid-19 contributed to a record rise in infections across the country.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that 75% of England – including all of the north-east, Greater Manchester, large parts of the Midlands and the south-west – would be in the strictest tier 4 rules from Thursday morning.

They will join nearly 24 million people in England already under the “stay at home” restrictions, meaning the closure of non-essential shops and strict one-to-one outdoor meeting limits between households.

There have been growing calls for tighter coronavirus restrictions in England as cases continue to rise and hospitals report mounting pressure. All of mainland Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already in the tightest restrictions, meaning the closure of hospitality and non-essential retail.

The number of Covid-19 patients in English hospitals surpassed the first-wave peak on Sunday, with 21,787 people in hospital with the disease on Tuesday morning and numbers expected to rise further as cases climb.

The infection rate in England increased by a third in the week to Christmas Eve, while the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital rose by 8% on the week before – to 14,915 people.

On Tuesday, cases reached a record high, with 53,135 reported in the UK, including 47,164 in England. The Covid variant discovered earlier this month accounted for a majority of all new cases in London, the south-east and east of England, Hancock said on Wednesday.

Areas moved into tier 4 include all of the Midlands except Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and Rutland, which will all be in tier 3. In the north-west, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, Cheshire, Warrington and Cumbria will be in tier 4. Liverpool will be moved up to tier 3.

In the south-west, Gloucestershire, Swindon, Somerset, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be in tier 4, while the remainder of the region – including Cornwall, Devon and Dorset – will be moved up to tier 3. The Isles of Scilly, which have a population of 2,224 people, will be the only part of England not in tiers 3 or 4.

Hancock told the Commons that Wednesday was “a day of mixed emotions” due to the announcement of the new restrictions hours after the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the UK’s medical regulator.

He told MPs: “It brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions that no one in this house wants to see any longer than are absolutely necessary. But we must act to suppress the virus now, not least because the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult.

“And so whilst we have the good news of the vaccine today, we also have to take some difficult decisions.”

Hancock said he knew the measures would place a significant burden on businesses and livelihoods but that it was “absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we have seen”.

Will Matt Hancock raise Devon to Tier 3 later today?

From the Western Morning News:

Tougher restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus are expected to be announced today as rising cases put an increasing strain on hospitals.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will address the recalled House of Commons after MPs have passed key legislation on the post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

With case rates rising in all regions of England, as well as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, any changes are likely to involve areas moving up a tier rather than down.

Devon’s director of public health designate, Steve Brown, said before Christmas he was surprised the county had not been put into Tier Three at the last review. Cornwall was raised from Tier One to Tier Two from Boxing Day, but Devon stayed where it was. 

Mr Brown said: “Given our rising case numbers and emergence of the new variant, I am surprised that Devon has not yet been lifted into Tier Three.”

Last night, Cornwall Council said it was becoming increasingly concerned at a 44% rise in cases in the last seven days.

Now an expert adviser to the Government has said national coronavirus restrictions are needed to prevent a “catastrophe”, and the head of an organisation representing health trusts said “as much of the country as possible” should go into the harshest Tier Four.

Exeter University’s expert in infectious diseases, Dr Bharat Pankhania, said it would be ‘prudent’ to delay schools reopening after Christmas and to increase the closure period beyond the one additional week announced by Michael Gove.

Owl has been keeping a record of the daily active Covid cases as estimated by the Covid Symptom Tracker App since the end of November. It is interesting to compare the trajectory of estimated cases per head of population (ppm so ten times larger than the usual measure) for East Devon and Cornwall (Cornwall with a larger sample presents less scatter). Looks like they are both on the rise, with Cornwall ahead.

Key dates:

Lockdown 2 ended Dec 2. East Devon moved to Tier 2, Cornwall placed in Tier 1.

Revised Tier system, raising Cornwall to Tier 2, introduced Dec 26

‘Boris is a kipper’: fury and frustration at Brexit fishing deal in Brixham

Anton Bailey had just taken a delivery of a new set of fishing nets and was patiently sorting them on the harbour-side at Brixham in Devon. The skipper, who first boarded a fishing boat four decades ago when he was just three, was feeling a mixture of optimism and frustration.

Steven Morris

He is optimistic that when he chugs out to fish for pollock with his fresh nets in the new year he will be lucky and return with a good catch, but frustrated that, to his mind, the Brexit fishing deal has sold the British industry short.

“The Europeans always get what they want. It’s a simple as that,” said Bailey.

His main gripe is that under the deal EU boats will be able to operate up to six miles off the UK coast while British boats will have to remain 12 miles off the beaches of mainland Europe. “How is that fair? We’re not allowed inside their 12, I don’t see why they should be allowed up to our six.”

Andy McLeod, who owns and skippers the Brixham beam scalloper van Dijck, is also puzzled over the six/12 mile disparity. “One thing I did hope for was that we would get the 12-mile limit,” he said. “It should be a level playing field.”

But he is not one of those who feels that every fish off the coast of Britain belongs to UK fishers. “I thought it was a bit harsh to try to cut the rest of Europe off from our fish completely,” he said. “To be honest we don’t have the fleet to catch all the fish. If they suddenly said: ‘All the fish is yours’, actually we don’t have anything to catch it with.”

Brixham bills itself as the birthplace of the trawling industry. It has been a fishing port since the middle ages, but in the 18th century pioneered the use of sailing trawlers, fast powerful robust boats that targeted demersal fish – cod, sole, plaice, haddock.

The port boasts England’s largest market by value of fish sold and this year enjoyed a run of million-pound weeks, with sales of the more than 40 types of fish landed here regularly reaching seven figures.

But, as McLeod points out, most of the Brixham boats have seen better days. McLeod’s vessel was already 16 years old when it arrived in Devon from the Netherlands 30 years ago.

“There’s never been much help for the fishing industry in the UK compared to other countries where their governments back them, give them grants for new boats,” he said. “That’s why our fleet is second-hand Dutch and Belgian boats. They get the grants, run them for 20 years and sell them to us.”

A seal bobbed its head up as Matt Shepherd, at 32 one of the younger skippers, prepared his small boat for a trip out. “You hear a lot about Brexit and the EU all the time. Some are for, some are against. I’m just trying to get on and make a living.”

But it is hard to forget Brexit. On the way into the town a “Fishing for Leave” banner with the slogan “Save Britain’s fish” still flutters in a farmer’s field.

Mike Sharp, the owner of two Brixham beam trawlers, took part in the Fishing for Leave protest on the Thames in London during the EU referendum campaign.

Four years on, he is furious at the EU deal. “I’m hoping the deal gets voted out by parliament. I doubt it. Boris came to Brixham and promised us everything. He’s used fishing as a lever to get whatever he wants. Fishing’s not important to them. I have a fish merchant friend who calls two-faced people kippers. Boris is a kipper.”

The government has promised a £100m funding package for the industry. “But £100m goes nowhere,” said Jim Portus, the chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation. “You won’t be able to replace old vessels with new ones. You’ll just be patching up in the same way we have been doing for the last 20 years.”

Brixham-born Sean Irvine, 61, who has been fishing from the port since the early 1990s, said he was glad, at least, that there had been a deal but he is concerned about the new paperwork that will be needed to send fish to mainland Europe – as much as 80% of Irvine’s catch is exported.

“We’ll be catching the same fish in the same water as the French but we’ll have to produce a mountain of paperwork for it. It seems to me what we have achieved is minuscule when you think of the upsets it has caused in families and communities. All that effort for so little.”

Labour calls for investigation into Tory mayoral candidate’s ‘fake’ council tax rise warnings

The Labour Party has doubled down on demands for the Conservatives to launch an investigation into London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign over “fake” warnings sent out to voters appearing to threaten a council tax rise from City Hall.

In a letter obtained by The Independent, MP Angela Rayner, deputy leader and party chair of Labour, admonished the Conservative Party for failing to act in the weeks after Mr Bailey’s campaign sent out flyers made to look like official warnings from Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office that their Council Tax would be raised unless they “take action”. 

“The public rightly expects honesty and integrity from political parties, elected politicians,  candidates and their campaigners so it is extremely concerning to me that Mr Bailey, an  elected representative of the London Assembly, and your candidate for Mayor of London,  would continue to seek to deceive Londoners with false information presented as being from  trusted public bodies,” Ms Rayner wrote in the letter, which was addressed to MP Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservative Party, and dated to Sunday.

Noting that she had already written a previous letter “inquiring whether weaponising fake news is now official Conservative Party policy,” the Labour deputy leader said she was now writing again to demand that the Tories launch an investigation into the incident and push Mr Bailey’s campaign to issue a public apology. 

Ms Rayner also called on the Conservatives to publicly condemn the actions of the mayoral candidate’s campaign team. 

Mr Bailey’s campaign has faced significant scrutiny after being accused earlier this month of playing a “heartless, cheap trick” on voters by sending out the controversial flyers.

Liberal Democrat mayoral contender Luisa Porritt had initially flagged concerns around the initiative, demanding an immediate apology from Mr Bailey. 

The Tory candidate’s campaign team has defended the flyers, however, with a spokesperson telling The Independent that  “Londoners have a right to know the full facts. And the fact is Sadiq Khan’s planning to hike his share of council tax.”

The campaign accused Mr Khan of planning to raise Council Tax to “pay for the cost of his management”. 

However, the London mayor had previously only expressed that he was considering the possibility of raising Council Tax to cover gaps in TfL funding worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic and left unplugged by central government.

On 16 December, however, the day that Mr Bailey’s flyer campaign made it into headlines, Mr Khan issued a warning that a council tax rise was likely.

“I must sound a warning for Londoners that instead of providing the funding we need, Ministers are pushing for an extraordinary and significant increase in Council Tax in London and across the UK,” he said in a statement.

“I will be honest and upfront with Londoners about exactly what this means for your bills as soon as possible,” he added.

In Ms Rayner’s letter, the MP accuses Mr Bailey’s campaign of failing to acknowledge that much of TfL’s borrowing was incurred “under the previous Mayoralty, under a Conservative Mayor”. 

“By contrast, the current Mayor has dramatically cut TfL’s rate of borrowing and hugely improved its finances during his mayoralty,” she said in the letter, which can be seen below.

The MP further accused Mr Bailey’s campaign of failing to “acknowledge the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on TfL finances, which as you know is the reason emergency funding was needed in the first place.”

In a statement sent to The Independent, a London Labor spokesperson said: “The Tory Mayoral candidate is now making a regular habit of deliberately lying to Londoners and spreading fake news.”

The spokesperson accused Mr Bailey’s campaign of exaggerating what a potential Council Tax increase might look like to “scare Londoners at a time when many are facing financial hardship because of the pandemic.”

“There is simply no way Sadiq would choose to increase council tax by anything like those levels. He should immediately withdraw these leaflets and apologise to Londoners for lying yet again,” the spokesperson said.

The Independent has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.

This article has been updated with a comment from London Labour.

Breaking News – Covid-19: Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine approved for use in UK

By James Gallagher Health and science correspondent

The coronavirus vaccine designed by scientists at the University of Oxford has been approved for use in the UK.

It marks a major turning point and will lead to a massive expansion in the UK’s immunisation campaign, which is aimed at getting life back to normal.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses from the manufacturer AstraZeneca – enough to vaccinate 50 million people.

The approval, by the medicines regulator, means the vaccine is both safe and effective.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was designed in the first months of 2020, tested on the first volunteer in April, and has since been through large-scale clinical trials involving thousands of people.

It has been developed at a pace that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic.

It is the second jab to be approved in the UK after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was given the go-ahead in December.

More than 600,000 people in the UK have been vaccinated since Margaret Keenan became the first in the world to get that jab outside of a clinical trial.

But the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will lead to a significant increase in vaccination as it is cheap and easy to mass produce.

Crucially it can be stored in a standard fridge – unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech jab which needs ultra cold storage at -70C – so it will be far easier to get the Oxford vaccine to care homes and GP surgeries.

Priority groups for immunisation – including the elderly, care home residents and health and care workers – have already been identified.

The new vaccine approval comes after Public Health England said the country was facing “unprecedented” levels of infections, and health officials in parts of Wales, Scotland and the south of England voiced concerns about the increasing pressure on the NHS.

How does it work?

The vaccine is a genetically modified common cold virus that used to infect chimpanzees.

It has been altered to stop it causing an infection in people and to carry the blueprints for part of the coronavirus, known as the spike protein.

Once these blueprints are inside the body they start producing the coronavirus’ spike protein, which the immune system recognizes as a threat and tries to squash it.

Then, when the immune system comes into contact with the virus for real, it already knows what to do.


Two full doses of the Oxford vaccine gave 62% protection, a half dose followed by a full dose was 90% and overall the trial showed 70% protection.

EDDC to determine two controversial planning applications on “Super Wednesday” 6 January

Next Wednesday, 6 January starting at 10.00am, is set to be a “Super Wednesday” in planning terms as EDDC determines two major planning applications. Both are concerned with reacting to flooding and both have divided local opinion. In both cases planning officers are recommending approval.

Agenda item 8: 20/2089/MFUL (Major) BUDLEIGH AND RALEIGH (Pages 20 – 79) 151 Hectares Of Land Within The Parishes Of East Budleigh, Budleigh Salterton And Otterton From Lime Kiln Car Park (SY072810) To South Of Frogmore House (SY074850) (The Lower Otter Valley). [The Lower Otter Restoration Project]

Agenda item 9: 20/1504/MOUT (Major) OTTERY ST MARY (Pages 80 – 128) Land Opposite Barrack Farm, Exeter Road, Ottery St Mary.  [Tipton St John primary school relocation] 

Here is what Devon live says on the the school relocation:

Planners urged to approve relocation of historic Devon school

Anita Merritt 

Plans to close a Devon primary school which has been in a village for more than 200 years and relocate it to a neighbouring town are set to be approved next week.

Proposals for outline planning permission to build a 210 space primary school and up to 150 new homes on land opposite Barrack Farm in Exeter Road, Ottery St Mary, are to be discussed by members of East Devon District Council’s planing committee next Wednesday, January 6.

The plans also include the construction of a new roundabout on Exeter Road, a new junction onto Cadhay Lane, and associated infrastructure.

Tipton St John Primary School, which has about 90 pupils, has suffered from repeated flooding with children being evacuated and the school being shut. It led school governors to take the decision to seek to relocate the school from its current location to a new site next to the King’s School.

The Thorne Farm Site from above (to the west of the King's School)

The Thorne Farm Site from above (to the west of the King’s School)

In December 2018, Devon County Council’s Farm Estates Committee agreed that Thorne Farm be declared permanently surplus and that part of the site be transferred to the Dioceses of Exeter for the provision of a new primary school, subject to planning permission being agreed.

Land at the farm will also be sold off for housing which will held to raise the finance needed to build the new school.

The preferred option had been to try and relocate the school within the village, but after a £3.5m bid to the Government was rejected, and due to the flood risk, a rebuild on the current site was not viable, a move to Ottery St Mary was considered the only realistic option.

The new school will accommodate children from Tipton St John and will also meet the need for additional school places for children from the new developments in Ottery St Mary which cannot be met at the existing schools which are at capacity.

Concerned Tipton St John former parent Matt Davidson says he is anxious about the proposals because no plans have been shared about helping to transport young children from the village to the new school.

Flooding at Tipton St John Primary School

He said: “The ‘flooding’ pretext used to push this plan through has been proven false. There are zero lost school days due to flooding on record. With simple remedial work, we have now successfully rectified a brook which had previously created a photo opportunity for excess water on the site.

“Other schools, such as Sidbury, have all successfully mitigated their flood risk with investment and community help.

“Technically the plan avoids the language of closure, which in reality it would be for Tipton St John Primary School, and the derelict site that will remain in the village.

“The financial gains are very significant for Devon County Council and the governors/ governing bodies pushing for the plan. The building of new homes on previously earmarked educational land, and against the town plan, is also suspect and need investigating.

“Our own social media polls and Ofsted ratings show how successful the school is in its current format and location. Why is a fully stocked, top achieving school being targeted this way?

“No impact assessment in the village has been conducted over the past years leading up to this point. The school has been central to the Tipton St John community and surrounding areas for 200 years.

“With current Covid-19 troubles, we desperately want to reduce travel, retain and look after the youngest members of our community here in Tipton St John.”

In planning documents, committee members are being recommended to approve the application.

It states that although it represents a departure from the development plan and the officer recommendation is contrary to the views of the ward member and the parish council, the application needs to be considered in the context of sustainable development and whether the benefits of the proposal outweigh the harm of departing from the adopted allocation.

The report says: “The provision of housing on agricultural land outside of a Built-Up Area Boundary (BUAB), below policy level of affordable housing, and the visibility of the site from various viewpoints within the town and local area all weigh against the proposal.

“However, the overriding benefits of the proposal through providing a new primary school to replace an existing school which is required due to identified dangers from flooding, control of the impact from the housing at the reserved matters stage, together with provision of affordable housing within the town and the construction of a new roundabout which would improve highway safety are considered to outweigh the dis-benefits of the scheme.

“Accordingly, on balance, it is considered that the proposal is acceptable subject to the package of measures proposed in the application to mitigate any harm, secure affordable housing, including an overage clause, and habitat mitigation through a legal agreement and appropriately worded safeguarding conditions.”