Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is facing questions from MPs over the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes as a minister warned tougher lockdown measures could be on their way, as they insisted the Government needs to be “agile” amid calls to increase the social distancing distance to three metres.
Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse has said the UK is at a “perilous stage” in the battle against coronavirus, and added: “Whether there are going to be greater restrictions or not very much depends on the numbers. We are tracking the infection rate.”
Tightening the lockdown will depend on effectiveness of the Christmas restrictions, Mr Malthouse said, and added: “This virus is moving so quickly that government is having to make very, very agile decisions about the way we live our lives.”
Scientists from the Sage advisory committee have urged the Prime Minister to increase the two-metre rule to three metres, according to a report.
Follow the latest updates below.
UK excess deaths pass 88,000
The number of excess deaths that have occurred in the UK since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has now passed 88,000.
There were 79,739 excess deaths in England and Wales registered between March 7 2020 and January 1 2021, according to figures published by the ONS on Tuesday.
The latest figures from the National Records of Scotland show there were 6,701 excess deaths in Scotland between March 16 2020 and January 3 2021, while there were 1,929 excess deaths in Northern Ireland between March 14 2020 and January 1 2021, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency.
Together, these totals mean that so far 88,369 excess deaths have taken place in the UK since the outbreak of Covid-19.
11:30am: Matt Hancock answers questions in Commons
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, will answer questions in the Commons today from MPs about the Government’s coronavirus response.
We will have a live stream of the debate from 11:30am and you can follow along all the latest here.
‘Test, test, test’– a crucial but confounding element of the pandemic response
The roll out of vaccines across the UK is fantastic news, yet we will not be able to return to normal with inoculations alone, Geoff Twist writes:
As Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, I received a call from Downing Street. It was an invitation to meet the UK Government, Public Health England, the Office for Life Sciences and other industry leaders to help craft the UK’s response to the crisis.
It was a sign of the scale of collaboration needed to meet one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.
The plea from Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, to ‘test, test, test’ set the tone for the meeting. He was right: the first priority with a novel virus has to be diagnostic testing. Only testing can isolate and track the virus to prevent its spread…
Read the full comment piece here.
Covid-19 deaths in England approaching 100,000
New figures show that more than 98,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have now occurred in the UK.
According to the latest reports from the UK’s statistics agencies, a total of 93,030 deaths have so far been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
This figure is significantly higher compared to countries of a similar population in Europe.
For example, there have been 68,060 reported Covid-19 deaths in France, 41,799 in Germany and 79,203 in Italy, which was a country particularly hard hit at the start of the pandemic.
New figures show that almost half of the hospital deaths in England and Wales registered during the last week of 2020 involved coronavirus.
Since the UK statistics were compiled, a further 4,869 deaths have occurred in England, plus 117 in Scotland, 245 in Wales and 118 in Northern Ireland, according to additional data published on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard.
Together, these totals mean that so far 98,379 deaths involving Covid-19 have taken place in the UK.
Russia extends UK travel ban
Russia has extended its ban on flights to and from the UK until at least February, after Moscow reported its first case of the new British variant of coronavirus, writes Theo Merz in Moscow.
Russia closed its borders to all but essential travel at the outbreak of the pandemic last year but reopened to a handful of countries, including the UK, in the summer.
This week Anna Popova, the head of the country’s health watchdog, said a Russian citizen had tested positive for the new strain after returning from a trip to the UK.
Russia’s Federal Coronavirus Control Headquarters said it would extend the flight ban, which was brought in at the end of December, “to protect public health”.
The country is continuing to report upwards of 20,000 coronavirus cases and hundreds of deaths a day. After locking down hard in the spring, Moscow has eased all but a few measures and authorities insist there are no plans for another shut down.
Instead, focus has turned to the roll-out of the Russian produced Sputnik V vaccine. The producers of the drug say more than one million people have already been vaccinated but have not released a breakdown of those figures.
Almost half of hospital deaths Covid-related
Almost half of the hospital deaths in England and Wales registered during the last week of 2020 involved coronavirus, new figures show.
There were 3,144 deaths registered in the week ending January 1 which mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Of the 4,956 deaths registered which occurred in hospitals, 47.7% involved coronavirus, up from 40.2% the previous week.
Increase in Covid-19 deaths reported in five regions
Five regions of England recorded an increase in registered Covid-19 deaths in the week to January 1, the Office for National Statistics has said.
The ONS warned that the number of registrations will have been impacted by the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day bank holidays.
In south-east England, 523 deaths were registered in the week to January 1, the highest since the week to May 15.
London had 492 Covid-19 deaths, up from 299 and the highest since the week to May 1.
North-west England had 359 deaths, up from 343; eastern England 325, up from 301; and south-west England 158, up from 155.
Key workers in LA told to wear masks at home
Essential workers in Los Angeles are being told they should wear their masks even inside the home, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in their households.
The Californian county is enduring what officials say is its worst disaster in decades as hospitalisations and deaths soar.
“Right now, because there is so much spread, we’re recommending that people wear their face coverings on while they’re inside the home. It will add a layer of protection while we get through this surge,” public health director Dr Barbara Ferrer said at a news conference, according to CNN.
“We strongly recommend you keep your face covering on if you’re a worker who is leaving every day or in fact you’re somebody who has to run the essential errands in your family,” she added.
South Africa clamps down on border control
South Africa has clamped down its borders to stop the spread of a new variant driving a surge in cases.
Some 20 land border crossings are to be closed until February 15, with exemptions for medical emergencies and the return of South African nationals.
“The pandemic in our country is now at its most devastating,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The number of new infections, the number of hospital admissions, and the deaths that continue to take place come far higher than it has ever been since the first case was recorded in our country in March of 2020.”
From the Red Zone: ‘The link between people flouting the rules and deaths is abundantly clear’
In a new diary entry from the Covid-19 frontline, a critical care medic reveals the fear and frustration behind Britain’s second wave
I don’t pretend to be clairvoyant but there was no doubt in my mind that the UK would experience a second wave and that, based on historical evidence, it would be more devastating than the first.
And that is being borne out by what we’re experiencing… The lull between the first and second wave has allowed hospitals to accumulate PPE materials and medicines, so that anxiety about having adequate protection is no longer there – in my hospital at least.
Nevertheless, the threat of staff being vulnerable to community infection (as we all are) and at work is still an ongoing concern for the healthcare workforce. In the meantime, me and my colleagues are working longer hours in overtime and significantly more intense on-call hours.
Read the full story here.
Hospitals now dealing with consequences of many weeks of cases
Chief executive of NHS Confederation, Danny Mortimer, said that hospitals were dealing with the effects of many weeks of cases.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think what we’re seeing right now is the fact that actually the steps that were taken in the autumn and before Christmas weren’t effective.”
“Our following of the rules in November time was much, much weaker than it was in March.
“Christmas may well only have exacerbated that position.
“We’re dealing with the consequences now of many, many weeks of the spread of the virus.”
He said the NHS felt the benefit of the March lockdown within a few weeks and current advice to the NHS “is that it will be another week or two until we feel the full benefit” of current measures.
Here is how the national lockdown has impacted cases:
And here is the state of play in London
This chart was released by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan this morning.
Almost a third of weekly deaths Covid-related
A total of 3,144 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending January 1 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is up from 2,912 deaths in the week to December 25 and is the highest weekly figure since the week ending May 15.
The ONS said the number of registrations will have been affected by the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day bank holidays.
Nearly a third (31.2%) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to January 1 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.
Police ‘won’t barge through your door’
House parties have been reported in the capital, blatantly breaching Covid lockdown rules.
Asked about powers of entry to break up house parties, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told the BBC: “We don’t have the power of entry. From my point of view, I think we can deal with most of these things without that power.
“And, secondly, I don’t think the general public want to know, or fear, that the police are going to come barging through their door for what might, potentially, be a misunderstanding, or a very minor infringement.”
Government to investigate food parcels
The Government has promised to investigate after images shared online showed “woefully inadequate” free school meal parcels sent to families.
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said she would be “urgently” look into the matter after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel which was estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.
Footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford tweeted another image criticising the scheme.
The Department for Education wrote on Twitter: “We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed.
“Parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food.”
Chartwells, the company which she said provided the parcel, responded to say they would investigate.
They said: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, this does not reflect the specification of one of our hampers.”
When is takeaway coffee allowed?
Policing minister Kit Malthouse listed scenarios in which buying a takeaway coffee would be allowed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
He urged people to use their “common sense” when following lockdown rules.
He said: “If you’re getting coffee on your way to do exercise, or as part of your acquiring food, or one of those reasons you’re allowed to be out of the house, then that is legitimate.
“This is one of those Scotch egg moments, where it’s very hard for us legislators to legislate for every single nuance of human behaviour.
“What we are relying on is people having a common sense of themselves of what they think is appropriate.”
Watch him explain the acceptable scenarios below.
‘Wrong messaging’ over lateral flow tests
Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham and lead of the Cochrane Review of Covid-19 diagnostic tests, told Sky News the messaging about the lateral flow tests has “not been done well”.
He said: “Just before Christmas schools were given a template letter, which had the wording in it, and it went to parents saying ‘This test is as good at detecting cases as the PCR’.
“Now, frankly, that is completely incorrect, and that is the sort of wrong messaging which we have to make sure the Government doesn’t continue to put forward.
“This weekend the Business Minister was quoted as saying ‘This will make workplaces completely safe’. It’s not the right way to tell people about this.”
He added: “I think there’s an anxiety that if we tell people the truth as to how bad this test is people won’t bother getting it. But we have to do the truth – we can’t tell people that the test is better than it is.”
Starmer attacks free school meals parcels
Here’s what the Labour leader has to say.
And here are said parcels – which is meant to be 10 days worth of food for one child.
Government should define what local means, says Cressida Dick
Britain’s top police officer suggested it would be helpful to her officers if the Government set out a clear definition of what it means to stay local.
Met Police gifting 75 officers to London Ambulance Service
Met Police is handing over 75 officers to the London Ambulance Service to help lift the burden on the NHS.
They are being trained up in the next few days as ambulance drivers.
What is local?
Asked what staying local meant to her, Cressida Dick said: “I would just stay local.
“A reasonable [definition of staying local] – if you can, go for your exercise from your front door and end at your front door.
“But I appreciate some people will need to get in the car to get over a dual carriageway.”
The Met Police Commissioner refused on multiple times to be drawn on Boris Johnson’s bike ride.
‘This is not dictatorial policing’
Cressida Dick said: “We will talk to people in the street. If it appears to the officer that there might be a breach, they will talk to them.
“That’s just policing.
“I don’t want people to get the idea that this is dictatorial policing. It’s not.”
Met issue 300 fines in 24 hours
The Met Police now use an app to track Covid breaches.
Cressida Dick said: “Over the weekend we now use an app to make the process more simple and in flagrant breaches – in a 24-hour period – we issued 300 notices.”
Protests are not essential
Cressida Dick said that protesting is not an essential act, which is why arrests were made last week outside Parliament.
“Gathering in groups like that isn’t essential,” she said.
Cressida Dick: More people on streets than in April
The Met Police’s Commissioner told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “It’s only a small minority that aren’t [following the rules].
“It’s really important everybody tries as hard as they can to follow the rules.
“What we’re seeing in footfall is that we’re seeing more people on the streets than in April.”
She added that the most of the people had a legitimate reason to be out.
No definition of ‘local’ on the way
Police officers are hoping the public will recognise what “local” means for exercise, said policing minister Kit Malthouse.
When asked whether “local” should be defined in England, he told Times Radio: “What we are hoping for is that most people will recognise that local, while it’s open to personal interpretation, does have some implications, ie can you get there under your own steam?
“We are trying to strike a balance between maintaining compliance with the rules and elements of public consent to what’s happening.
“I think most people would think that was reasonable.
“Where there are unreasonable people who are breaking that rule, police are intervening.”
Ambulances waiting five hours to hand over patients
Will Broughton, trustee of the Royal College of Paramedics, said that paramedics were attending to less patients as a result of ambulance queues outside of hospitals.
The London-based paramedic told BBC Breakfast: “In some cases we’ve heard of ambulances waiting up to five hours to hand over their patient at hospital. On a number of occasions over the Christmas and New Year period I was waiting between two and three hours in some cases to hand over patients.
“The unseen part of that delay is that for all the time that an ambulance is at hospital waiting to hand over, then there is a patient, or a number of patients, in the community that are waiting for ambulances to come and attend them. We’re attending less patients per day because of the time that we’re waiting at hospitals.”
He added: “There’s certainly a risk that people will deteriorate and the people will become more unwell because they’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive or waiting for a space to become available in the hospital.”
Minister defends Johnson cycle
On reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was seen cycling in an east London park seven miles from his home, Mr Malthouse said: “What we are asking people to do is when they exercise to stay local.
“Now, local is, obviously, open to interpretation, but people broadly know what local means.
“If you can get there under your own steam and you are not interacting with somebody … then that seems perfectly reasonable to me.”
No herd immunity this year, WHO warns
Mass vaccinations will not bring about herd immunity this year WHO warns.
Chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned it would take time to produce and give enough shots to halt the spread.
“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” she said, stressing the need to maintain physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.
Joe Biden gets Covid vaccine
The president-elect has joined the millions of people worldwide to be vaccinated for coronavirus.
Three gorillas contract Covid at San Diego Zoo
Three gorillas at the San Diego Zoo have contracted the coronavirus, marking the first known instance of infections among great apes.
The animals were tested after they began coughing, and are believed to have contracted the virus from an asymptomatic staff member.
Tightening lockdown will depend on effectiveness of Christmas restrictions
Mr Malthouse said: “Whether there are going to be greater restrictions or not very much depends on the numbers. We are tracking the infection rate.
“We are all, frankly, on tenterhooks to see how the impact of the restrictions that came in on Boxing Day will impact on numbers, particularly in London and the south east.
“This virus is moving so quickly that government is having to make very, very agile decisions about the way we live our lives.
“But, as I say, if we are going to make sure that this is the last lockdown – please God it is – we all need to stick by the rules and take it really, really seriously.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that in some parts of the country from a minority of people who are, frankly, letting the rest of us down.”
UK in perilous stage of Covid battle, says minister
Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse has said the UK is at a “perilous stage” in the battle against coronavirus.
Asked about the possibility of increased Covid restrictions, Mr Malthouse told Sky News: “We are at a very, very perilous stage in the progress of this virus through our country.
“If we are going to get through this in good shape, and if we make sure that this is the last, big lockdown of the country, it’s very important that we all stick to the rules, and we see very high compliance.
“The vast majority of people are complying happily, well, not happily, miserably, but complying, and recognising the emergency that we face.
“But we do have a small number who aren’t.”
Taiwan’s first locally-transmitted case since Dec 22
Taiwan on Tuesday reported its first locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 since Dec 22.
They are a doctor in a hospital, who was treating an already infected patient, and a nurse.
Until last month’s domestic transmission the island had not reported any local cases since April 12, with the vast majority of infections in people coming to Taiwan from overseas.
It’s ‘preposterous’ anyone could be unaware of Covid rules, Met chief says
Britain’s most senior police officer has warned coronavirus rule-breakers they are “increasingly likely” to face fines as forces move “more quickly” to enforce lockdown restrictions.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said it is “preposterous” that anyone could be unaware of the need to follow the stringent measures designed to curb Covid-19 cases.
Writing in The Times, she said: “It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus.
“We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines.”
Dubai added to travel quarantine list
The United Arab Emirates has been added to the UK’s travel quarantine list.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that anyone who arrives in England from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after 4am on Tuesday will need to self-isolate.
Travellers who are heading to England, Northern Ireland, and Wales from the UAE on or after 4am on January 12 will have to self-isolate on their return, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office website states.
Scotland has already announced that similar measures will be imposed for anyone arriving from the UAE on or after 4am on January 12.
It had already confirmed that anyone returning to Scotland from Dubai on or after 4am on January 11 would have to self-isolate.
Mr Shapps also reminded the public that people were not allowed to travel abroad “other than for specific reasons”.
Japan analysing new variant
Japan is working to isolate and analyse a new variant of the coronavirus detected in four people who arrived from Brazil, a health ministry official said on Tuesday.
Japan announced the detection of the new variant on Sunday, but officials have been at pains to emphasise there is no evidence yet that it is any more transmissible or dangerous than others.
“In order to further analyse the variant, we need to isolate it first,” a health ministry official told AFP.
“It’s hard to say right now when we can release the details,” he said, adding the process could take weeks or months.
The variant was found in two adults and two children who arrived in Japan on January 2 from Brazil.
The health ministry said one of the four, a man in his forties, has been hospitalised with breathing difficulties, while a woman and male child developed mild symptoms and a female child was asymptomatic.
The World Health Organisation said Monday it has been notified by Japan about the new variant, warning “the more the virus spreads, the higher the chance of new changes to the virus.”
Met chief: Police should be priority for jab
Frontline police officers should be “properly recognised” in the prioritisation list for Covid vaccines, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said.
Britain’s most senior police officer added her colleagues were “not immune to the virus” and has asked the Government to consider the case for inoculating frontline workers earlier than planned.
Her views echo with those of John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who has said rank and file officers urgently needed the “protection they deserve”, and asked for officers to be prioritised after society’s most vulnerable groups and NHS workers have been given the jab.
Writing in the Times, Ms Dick said: “By necessity, frontline police officers and staff interact with many people every day and are sometimes inevitably in close contact, whether helping injured victims or detaining offenders.
“I have been asking the government to consider that the unique environments in which frontline colleagues work are properly recognised in the prioritisation process for vaccines.”The case for frontline officers so they can continue to keep others, as well as themselves, safe is very strong. I am delighted to hear this is being actively discussed.”
Japan ‘to expand state of emergency’
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a meeting of ruling party executives on Tuesday he would declare a state of emergency for the three western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo to stem the spread of COVID-19, Kyodo news reported.
Responding to pressure from Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures in eastern Japan, Suga last week declared a one-month state of emergency for that region until Feb. 7.
But the number of coronavirus cases has also climbed in the west, prompting Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo to seek a state of emergency too. The government is finalising plans to do so on Wednesday, and could also consider adding the central prefectures of Aichi – home to Toyota Motor Corp – and Gifu, Kyodo reported, citing government sources.
Adding those five prefectures would mean a state of emergency for about half of Japan’s population of 126 million people.
Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, did not confirm the report, saying only that the government would “swiftly” consider the measures for the Osaka area.
Portuguese president tests positive
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has tested positive for coronavirus and cancelled all public engagements, his office announced on Monday, just two weeks before a presidential election he is expected to win.
The 72-year-old head of state was “asymptomatic” and isolating in the presidential palace in Lisbon, his office said in a statement.
Last Wednesday, he had spent a few hours in “administrative isolation” after a member of his entourage tested positive, but the president then tested negative and had not been placed in quarantine because his contact with the person concerned had been considered “low risk”.
Portugal is facing a new lockdown after a record 122 deaths in the past 24 hours and nearly 4,000 people in hospital on Monday.