UK coronavirus live: new Covid variant may be behind fast spread of cases in south of England, Hancock tells MPs

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  • December 14, 2020
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Hancock says new variant of Covid may explain fast spread of virus in south

Hancock says a new variant of Covid has been identified.

He says this may explain the fast rise in cases in the south.

We have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the fastest spread in the south-east of England. Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants. We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant, predominantly in the south of England, although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas, and numbers are increasing rapidly.

The WHO has been notified, he says.

He says there is nothing to suggest this will cause a more serious illness, and nothing to suggest it won’t respond to treatment.

In the Commons Matt Hancock is making his statement now.

He says hospital admissions in England are up 13%, and cases are up 14% on the previous week’s.

There has been a particularly sharp rise in south Wales, in London and in parts of the east and south-east of England.


Downing Street has said that it still thinks a no-deal Brexit is the most likely outcome of the trade talks. A spokesman issued a clarification after the No 10 lobby briefing suggested otherwise. (See 1.24pm).

And the spokesman has confirmed MPs will get a vote on the deal. He said:

If a deal is agreed, it will require legislation to come into force. MPs will therefore of course get a vote on any deal before this legislation receives. Royal assent and becomes law.

Matt Hancock’s statement to MPs

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is about to make a statement to MPs about London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire going into tier 3.

Labour MPs criticise Starmer for response to LBC caller who claims whites now victims of racial inequality

Sir Keir Starmer has been criticised by two Labour MPs for his response to a caller on his LBC phone-in who claimed that white people were now victims of racial inequality.

The exchange started when the caller asked Starmer what he thought of the way players who took the knee out of solidarity with Black Lives Matter were booed at Millwall. She said her husband was one of those booing. Starmer criticised the booing, saying that taking the knee was a “recognition of injustice that has gone on for many, many years in relation to racial inequality”.

The caller suggested that white people should now start “playing identity politics” and in her final comment she said:

If anything the racial inequality is now against the indigenous people of Britain because we are set to become a minority by 2066 … We just have to look across to the Middle East. You know, Israel has a state law that they are the only people in that country to have self-determination. Well, why can’t I, as a white British female, have that same right?

Starmer replied:

Gemma, we all have those rights. This is about recognising some injustice that has gone on for a very, very long time and I think people were genuinely moved this year and want to make sure that that injustice is dealt with and, you know, people will look at it in different ways. But, I think the vast majority of people do want a more equal society.

The Labour MP Clive Lewis said it was “appalling” that Starmer did not challenge the woman more forcefully.

Clive Lewis MP

For neither the presenter nor Keir to, at the very least, explore further, unpack and robustly challenge such an extreme statement is frankly appalling.

December 14, 2020

And another Labour MP, Zarah Sultana, made the some point on Twitter, without referring to Starmer directly.

Zarah Sultana MP

When white supremacist conspiracy theories and racist undemocratic laws are promoted on national radio, they must be called-out and vigorously challenged.

That’s a duty on presenters and on politicians.

December 14, 2020


From the BBC’s Helen Catt

Helen Catt

MPs on a call with Health Secretary Matt Hancock have been told London, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will go into Tier 3 at 00.01 on Wednesday

December 14, 2020

New rules for London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire coming into force from Wednesday

The new restrictions for London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire are coming into force from Wednesday, Lewis Goodall reports.

Lewis Goodall

Am told this will be from Wednesday.

December 14, 2020

Parts of Essex and Hertfordshire also moving into tier 3

Parts of Essex and Hertfordshire are also moving into tier 3, Matt Hancock told MPs on a call. This is from Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall.

Lewis Goodall

I understand that in a call with London MPs Matt Hancock has confirmed that T3 will be extended to London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.

December 14, 2020

Obviously most readers in the north of England will not need a reminder, but for London readers here is the government’s guide to what being in tier 3 means.

London moving into tier 3, Hancock says in call with MPs

London is moving into tier 3, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has revealed the news in a call with MPs.

Jessica Elgot

New – I understand Hancock confirmed on call to MPs that London will move into Tier 3

December 14, 2020

People attending an anti-lockdown demonstration in Parliament Square today. Photograph: Alberto Pezzali/AP

An opera about former prime minister Tony Blair is to be staged in London, PA Media reports. Tony! (A Tony Blair Rock Opera) will be performed at the Turbine theatre, at Battersea Power Station, next year. Comedian Harry Hill helped write song lyrics for the production.


The Welsh government has published its new coronavirus control plan (pdf), which sets out what life will be like under its new four-alert system.

At the moment Wales is at level 3 – the strictest restrictions short of a firebreak or lockdown.

The government has said that unless Covid rates fall, the country is likely to be at alert level 4 (very high risk) soon after Christmas.

Under level 4 schools and colleges will remain open “as far as possible”, as will places of worship “with strict mitigations”.

But people will be required to stay at home, non-essential shops will be closed, except for click and collect, and hospitality will be closed, except for takeaways. Travel will be banned without reasonable excuse.


NHS England has recorded 179 further coronavirus hospital deaths. The details are here.

A week ago today the equivalent figure was 190.

Burnham says there is ‘good case’ for Greater Manchester to move down into tier 2

While London is braced for going into tier 3, in the north of England council leaders and MPs are pushing for restrictions in their areas to be eased in the first full review of the tiering system this week.

Barry Lewis, the Conservative leader of Derbyshire county council, said he would be writing to the government to make the case for Derbyshire to move into tier 2. If that doesn’t succeed, he will be demanding “more support for hospitality and tourism”, warning that important parts of Derbyshire’s heritage and high streets could “disappear for good”.

South Derbyshire currently has rates of 201 cases per 100,000, while in the more rural Derbyshire Dales, cases are running at just 76 per 100,000, half the English average.

Robert Largan, the Conservative MP for High Peak, in north-west Derbyshire, where there are 122 cases per 100,000, said:

I’m making the case for us to go into tier 2 and I’m making the argument to ministers that there is unique geography which means it makes sense to treat us separately.

Many of Largan’s constituents work and socialise in Greater Manchester, next door, where Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, is also pushing for the region to be moved down from tier 3. He said:

There’s a good case for Greater Manchester to go into tier 2, looking at our figures and how they compare with those in London when they went into tier 2. What we are asking for is equal treatment, based on the evidence.

He said Liverpool had shown that it was possible to go into tier 2, with hospitality reopening, without infection rates soaring. Cases in the Liverpool city region are now down to just 88.9 cases per 100,000 people.

Six out of 10 Greater Manchester boroughs are now under the English average. “We are on a different path from London. We’re on a different trajectory,” said Burnham.

Behind the scenes, the Guardian understands that the leaders of Trafford, Stockport, Manchester and Bolton are all pushing hard for their districts to be treated separately from the rest of Greater Manchester and be put into tier 2. Though the government has indicated it is willing to look at tiering on a more granular level, the fact that many of Greater Manchester’s 2.8 million residents work and travel regularly between boroughs makes the region harder to split up.

Burnham said that the government needed to think carefully about what would happen on New Year’s Eve in tier 3 areas, warning that if hospitality remained closed “there will be a lot more gatherings in homes”.

A Covid alert sign in Piccadilly, Manchester. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian


Nicola Sturgeon has said it would be “pouring petrol on smouldering embers” to have relaxed Edinburgh’s Covid control level last week, as she defended her government’s decision to keep the city on the second highest tier.

The first minister said the latest Covid infections data for Edinburgh showed a surge in cases since Tuesday’s decision to keep the city in tier 3, with cases increasing 33% in the last week, and the test positivity rate nearly at 5%.

Sturgeon was pressed to justify her decision after the Telegraph disclosed NHS Lothian officials urged the Scottish government to put Edinburgh into tier 2 last Tuesday because its Covid case forecast then was “now very low”. (See 11.58am.)

Their advice was deleted from the publicly disclosed papers justifying the Scottish government’s tiers announcement last week; Edinburgh councillors and businesses were furious, claiming the science did not justify keeping the city in tier 3.

Sturgeon said she had to “apply context and judgment to these decisions”. She explained:

[The decision was] tough and unpopular. I don’t shy away from that. But if you look at the data since last Tuesday, [the] decision not to take Edinburgh down a level was the right one.

She said that was backed by a judge on Friday who upheld the government’s decision as “rational” after he rejected a legal challenge by Edinburgh hospitality businesses.

The latest Covid data showed there had been no deaths reported in the last 24 hours of people with confirmed Covid infections, but another 734 positive tests were reported, with 1,012 people in hospital, three down on Sunday’s figure.


Welsh government refuses to rule out tightening Covid restrictions over Christmas

The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, has said it is possible the rules around Christmas may be changed or a lockdown could be imposed before the festive break.

Asked at the Welsh government’s press conference if Wales could reconsider the four-nations approach to Christmas, Gething said:

You can never say never … nothing is off the table it depends on the choices each of us is prepared to make.

On the prospect of a lockdown before Christmas, he said: “Every option is still available for us.” He added that ministers would discuss the situation at cabinet today.

Gething confirmed that two hospital boards in south Wales, Swansea Bay and Aneurin Bevan, had suspended some surgery and outpatient appointments.

He said on Friday the number of people with coronavirus symptoms in Welsh hospitals passed the 2,000-mark for the first time.

Gething said the NHS was not overwhelmed at the moment and denied the coronavirus crisis was out of control but added he could not give an “absolute guarantee” that the system would not be overwhelmed as he could not determine the number of Covid-19 cases to come.

From the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush

Stephen Bush

It’s incoherent to shift London into Tier 3 – which does not appear to have been effective in the capital during national lockdown – while planning to shift us into Tier 0 on 23 December.

December 14, 2020

No 10 rejects call for London schools to close early before Christmas

And this is what came out of the Downing Street lobby briefing on coronavirus.

  • Downing Street rejected the proposal from Sadiq Khan for schools in London to close early ahead of Christmas. (See 11.18am.) Asked about this, the prime minister’s spokesman said:

We’ve consistently said that not being in school has a detrimental impact on children’s learning as well as their own personal development and mental health.

Which is why we expect all schools and colleges to remain open until the end of term on Thursday, as schools have remained open throughout the pandemic.

  • The spokesman said there were no plans to change the guidance for Christmas in response to claims that it is too lax and that it will lead to a surge in Covid cases. Asked about this, the spokesman said:

There are no plans to review the Christmas guidance. What we’ve said alongside that is that the public should continue to be cautious. I think the prime minister said it’s the season to be jolly careful and we would emphasise that we should continue to do that.

We’ve been clear that it’s a limited easement to allow families to bubble over the Christmas period after what has been a very difficult year for many people. But it remains important for the public to follow the guidance.