UK coronavirus LIVE: London on brink of Tier 2 lockdown as Boris Johnson grilled for ignoring Sage 'circuit-break' calls

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  • October 13, 2020
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Londoners are being urged to brace for a return to tighter coronavirus restrictions after Boris Johnson divided the nation into three tiers.

The system, announced by the Prime Minister yesterday evening, will see areas put into different categories labelled as medium, high or very high risk depending on their rates of infection.

MPs will debate and vote on the measures today which, if approved, will come into effect on Wednesday. However, London could be placed into Tier 2 within the coming days as Covid-19 cases in the city hit more than 7,700 a week.

It comes after it emerged that the Government failed to heed calls from Sage advisers weeks ago to enforce an urgent “circuit-breaker” lockdown on England in a bid to avoid a “large epidemic”.

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No other areas to join Tier 3 this week

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick ruled out any other areas joining the Liverpool city region in Tier 3 this week but said there is no time for “party politics” when discussing further measures.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we don’t want to do is impose measures on parts of the country without the consent of local communities and their local leadership.

“So we made a specific decision, and many people have been calling for us to do this, to work intensively with those local leaders.

“I think that bore fruit over the weekend in respect to Merseyside – we had very good conversations with (Liverpool Mayor) Joe Anderson and (Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor) Steve Rotheram, the two elected mayors, and as a result of that were able to agree a package of measures and associated support for Merseyside.

“We are having similar conversations with other parts of the country and I hope we will be able to engender the same spirit of non-partisan working with other mayors elsewhere in the Midlands and the North.”

Asked whether more areas could enter Tier 3, Mr Jenrick replied: “No, there are no plans for other parts of the country to go into Tier 3 this week, but this is kept under review and we will keep talking with those local leaders and listening to their views.”

He added later: “We should be having local and national government working in harmony as we are trying to tackle this – at the end of the day it is a national crisis, it is not a moment for party politics. I think we can put that aside and work closely together.”


World update:

Deliberately allowing Covid-19 to spread in the hope of achieving so-called herd immunity is “unethical”, an expert has warned.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the concept, which occurs when a large portion of a population becomes immune to a disease, “means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death”.

It came as Boris Johnson said Covid-19 cannot be allowed to “rip” through the population and that letting the virus “take hold” among the young and fit while shielding the elderly and vulnerable was “no answer”.

Read more…


World update: Russia reports new records for daily cases and deaths

Russia’s coronavirus cases have increased by 13,868 overnight, a new daily record for the country.

This takes the total number of infections confirmed across the nation since the start of the pandemic to 1,326,178.

The previous record of 13,634 new cases was registered on Sunday.

Russia’s Covid-19 crisis centre also reported a record daily rise of 244 deaths from the virus, bringing the official death toll to 22,966.



Current tiered measures are just a ‘baseline’

Asked about Professor Chris Whitty’s criticisms that the base level of Tier 3 restrictions would not be enough to subdue the virus, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the restrictions in place would have an impact.

It came after England’s chief medical officer said at Monday’s press conference that he was “not confident” that the “base case” for Tier 3 proposals “would be enough to get on top of it”.

But Mr Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The base lines measures will have an impact.

“Objectively, they are measures that will reduce the rate of transmission because they will limit the amount of social interaction that people have in those areas.

“But they are, as the Prime Minister said, a base line.

“What we want to do now is work with local leaders to make difficult decisions where necessary in those communities and to consider going further if we have to.”


Government caught in difficult balancing act – Minister

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government “certainly can” say it is still being led by the science despite ignoring the majority of the recommendations made by Sage last month.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “We have to take a balanced judgment – these are not easy decisions.

“But the Prime Minister has to balance protecting people’s lives and the NHS from the virus while also prioritising things that matter to us as a society, like education and keeping as many people in employment as possible, and also ensuring that other health risks, like mental health and illnesses, don’t get neglected as a result.

“That’s the difficult but balanced judgment we are taking.”

Mr Jenrick said ministers have taken the “right approach”, adding: “We want to try, wherever we can, to avoid a blanket national lockdown that is incredibly damaging to people’s lives and remember the rate of infection does vary very widely across the country.”


Tiered approach offers glimpse of ‘what path might be’ if steps are insufficient – Minister

Asked whether some areas with high infection rates such as Manchester and Newcastle should be in the higher alert level, Robert Jenrick said the current position had been agreed with the local leadership.

The Communities Secretary told BBC Breakfast: “I hope they don’t have to go into Tier 3. There is no plan for them to do so.

“We hope that the measures that we have put in place are sufficiently robust to bear down on the virus and to get it back down under control and to flatten the curve in those communities, but we keep this under review.

“The purpose of the tiered approach is to show people what the path might be should the steps we have implemented this week not be sufficient.”


Government can’t just listen to scientists, it needs to make balanced judgements – Minister

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government had taken “robust action” despite being accused of ignoring its own scientists, after documents showed that a “circuit-breaker” lockdown was recommended for England by expert advisers three weeks ago.

Mr Jenrick said this had included introducing the rule of six and 10pm curfews for pubs and restaurants but that the Government had also taken a “balanced ” approach to the situation.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had suggested immediately introducing a national lockdown lasting between two and three weeks to halt the rapid spread of the virus.

Mr Jenrick told BBC Breakfast: “We listened to that advice as we always do and we did take action but these are balanced judgments.

“We also have to balance that up against the effect on the economy, people’s jobs and livelihoods, on education which we have made a priority and all the other unintended consequences of taking action, whether that is on people’s mental health, on other illnesses and elective surgery that might be delayed or cancelled as a result of that.

“We took a balanced view as to what was required at that moment and that’s the way we will continue to behave.”


EOTHO feeds supermarket boost

Supermarket sales were given a boost following the end of the Government’s Eat Out To Help Out Scheme, according to the latest data.

The closely-followed Kantar grocery sales stats showed an increase of 9.4 per cent in the 12 weeks to October 4, with a 10.6 per cent boost in the latest four weeks – showing an acceleration from September, analysts said.



Sunak: There will be opportunities for those who lose jobs

Rishi Sunak has promised that there will be new opportunities for people who lose their jobs after ONS data revealed a sharp fall in employment and a record rise in redundancies in August.

“I’ve been honest with people from the start that we would unfortunately not be able to save every job. But these aren’t just statistics, they are people’s lives,” the Chancellor said in a statement.

“For those who do lose their job, there will be new opportunities through apprenticeships, traineeships and our £2 billion Kickstart scheme, and extra work search support which will help to ensure nobody is left without hope.”



Tier 2 will cripple local businesses – Middlesbrough mayor

Andy Preston, the Independent Mayor of Middlesbrough, said Tier 2 restrictions would effectively force businesses to close in the city due to a lack of financial support.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “What’s happening right now as we speak, there are people getting ready to close their businesses.

“The Government hasn’t legally told them to close, so there is no financial package directly available, but they are effectively being told to close because their customers aren’t coming because they are not allowed to mix with friends, relatives and other people in the restaurants or the bars or the other venues.

“So the Government is effectively closing these venues. We need real support, real financial help now and we want to work with the Government to get through this and build a much better 2022, 2023.”

Mr Preston added that there was “very little evidence that well-run bars and well-run restaurants contribute at all really to the spread of the virus”, adding: “It is all exclusively transmitted in the home, at school or a place of learning or a place of work.”

Asked what he made of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) recommending a “circuit-breaker” style lockdown, Mr Preston said he “wasn’t a medical expert” but that he was “sceptical about such a harsh lockdown”.


Britons should expect restrictions to extend beyond current ‘tiers’

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has conceded that the plans announced by the Prime Minister yesterday evening may not be enough to curb the spread of the virus.

Boris Johnson unveiled a new tiered system of restrictions for England, with Liverpool and the surrounding Merseyside placed in the highest level, with pubs shut, to curb an acceleration in Covid-19 cases.

“The message that we did deliver to those leaders in Merseyside was that we need to take these steps, we probably even need to go further but that we want to design those steps jointly between ourselves and local government,” Mr Jenrick told Sky News’s Kay Burley.

Under the rules announced by the PM pubs that serve substantial meals can stay open while purely drinking establishments will have to close in high risk areas. But there has been some confusion over the definition of a substantial meal.

“A substantial meal means the kind of meal that you’d have for lunch or the kind of meal you’d have for dinner – a proper meal. It doesn’t mean a packet of crisps or a plate of chips or a bag of pork scratchings,” Mr Jenrick said. 


City update:

High street fashion chain French Connection slumped to a £12.2 million pretax loss in the six months to July 3.

Sales more than halved from £51 million to £23.9 million as the impact of Covid-19 hit the business.

Chairman and chief executive Stephen Marks said its wholesale business also suffered, with a fall of 49.3 per cent to just £13.8 million.

He said: “This has undoubtedly been the most difficult trading period that the group has ever faced and I would like to thank our staff, both those who have kept the business running and those who have been on furlough, for their ongoing commitment to French Connection.

“Despite the unprecedented difficulties we continue to face alongside the rest of the high street, having been able to secure the necessary financing we feel that we are well positioned to navigate an extended period of uncertain consumer demand but also ready to capitalise on any opportunities that may arise especially given the good performance of wholesale, while maintaining a very tight control of costs.”


Here’s more on those unemployment figures:


Unemployment update: The number of UK workers on payrolls increased by 20,000 last month.

However, it has fallen by 673,000 between March and September due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.


Here’s a breakdown of those tiers announced yesterday evening:


A new spanner in global efforts to find a virus vaccine:

A late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial has been paused in the US as the company investigates an “unexplained illness” developed by one of the participants.

Johnson & Johnson’s halting of its study marks at least the second such hold to occur among several vaccines that have reached large-scale final tests in the country.

The company said accidents and other so-called adverse events “are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies”.

Read more…


Local lockdowns to help ease pressure on NHS

Local lockdowns will help alleviate potential pressure on the health service and help ensure treatment for non coronavirus-related problems is available, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson has said.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, he said: “The fact that we are beginning now to mobilise the Nightingale centres is a clear indication of the pressure the NHS might come under which is why we have been arguing… that it’s really important we move quickly and decisively to tough local lockdowns wherever they are needed.

“Clearly the NHS has been under pressure and clearly we’d always like more staff, we’d always like more beds, and that’s an issue which the Government hopefully is going to address when it looks at the spending for the NHS over the next few years.

“But the bit that we can assure you is that every single NHS member of staff is going to do everything they can to provide as much treatment as possible for everybody but that’s precisely why it’s really important that people follow the advice about hands, face and space and that we try and minimise the number of Covid cases coming in so that we can provide the cancer treatment, the heart attack treatment, all the other treatments that are needed.

“If we put those tough local lockdowns in place, however painful they may be, and we can reduce the number of Covid cases, we’re giving the NHS the best possible chance over winter, which is when we are at our busiest… that gives us the best possible chance to treat all of those people who need treatment.”


Liverpool city leaders unite to call for greater financial support as 1.6 million residents thrown into tier 3 lockdown 

In a joint statement, Liverpool city region metro mayor Steve Rotheram, city mayor Joe Anderson and the leaders of the area’s six local authorities said they “welcome the opportunity” to get support from the armed forces to halt the spread of coronavirus after the area was placed on the “very high” local Covid alert level.

“We share the Government’s grave concerns about the increasing pressure on our hospitals and remain absolutely committed to working with the Government to drive down the spread of the coronavirus and the number of Covid-19 cases,” they said. 

The mobilisation of NHS Nightingale hospitals in the region should be a “wake-up call”, they went on, and financial support and boosted NHS Test and Trace measures had been agreed with ministers. 

“However, we must be clear that we have not yet reached an agreement on the wider economic support package that we require,” the statement warned. 

“The national furlough scheme is inadequate and risks pushing tens of thousands of low paid workers below the national minimum wage, while the direct support to businesses is also less than that offered during the national lockdown.”


More clarity on which pubs and bars have to shut in tier 3 areas 

In legislation relating to locations in the “very high” tier, some more clarity is given as to what constitutes a meal in a pub – with those that serve “substantial meals” told they can remain open. 

The regulations refer to a “table meal, and the meal is such as might be expected to be served as the main midday or main evening meal, or as a main course at either such meal”.

They further explain that “a ‘table meal’ is a meal eaten by a person seated at a table, or at a counter or other structure which serves the purposes of a table and is not used for the service of refreshments for consumption by persons not seated at a table or structure serving the purposes of a table”.

This means pub chains such as JD Wetherspoon could likely remain open. 


Sage scientist says three-tier system too little, too late

Sage scientist Professor Calum Semple warned the new restrictions had come too late and a “circuit-breaker” could be needed within weeks.

Asked if the level of response announced for London is sufficient for the threat, the University of Liverpool academic told BBC Radio 4’s PM: “I’m going to be difficult and say no, I think we’re a little late to react.”

He said there is a three-to-four-week delay before interventions see benefits in hospitals:

I and other people who were advocating for quite stringent severe local interventions where necessary three to four weeks ago, our fear is now that we’re in another place now.

And that we’re going to need a much firmer intervention perhaps, the so-called circuit-breaker, in the matter of weeks.

The outbreak is a bit like a super-tanker, you put the brakes on but it takes a long time before you see the effect.