Coronavirus latest news: School closures will see children pay long-term price, warns Ofsted boss

Closing schools will see children pay the long-term price, the head of Ofsted has warned as the Government faced a standoff with councils.

Three Labour-run local authorities, Greenwich, Islington and Waltham Forest, have written to headteachers urging them to shut schools amid growing coronavirus cases.

Gavin Williamson warned that he would seek a High Court injunction to keep schools open if they did not withdraw the letter before 10am on Tuesday.

As the row continued to grow, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, cautioned that it is children who will pay the long-term price for closures.

She said: “It’s so easy to call for closures and forget the long-term price that children pay. 

“Just to put it in context, one day of national school closure that works out at about 40,000 child years of education in total, and my concern really is obviously about children here.”

She has said that remote learning is “no substitute” for the classroom, and that the national lockdown combined with repeated bouts of self-isolation has put children six months behind where they should be.

Downing Street has said that keeping schools open is a “national priority”.

But the councils, alongside London mayor Sadiq Khan, are recommending that schools should close early for the Christmas holidays and move learning online.

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Avoid ‘camping out’ at granny’s house over Christmas

Professor Calum Semple, a member of Sage, warned against the “dreadful” effect of going round to” camp in Granny and Grandpa’s house for five days” over Christmas.

The professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool told BBC Breakfast: “If you do go round and camp in Granny and Grandpa’s house for five days, that’s going to be dreadful.

“If they go round for the Christmas meal, then perhaps the family should be doing the cooking and the washing up and treating Granny and Grandpa like the king and queen.

“But if they do do lots of hugs and kisses, then the virus will spread.

“So this is about meeting your friends and family, ideally doing the best you can to wash your hands, maintain some social distancing, meeting outside when you can, and trying to stay safe.

“But clearly lockdowns work because lockdowns reduce social interaction and that reduces the virus.”

It came after Sadiq Khan said that relaxing restrictions during the festive period was not “mandatory” and told Britons that “you don’t need to give your grandparents a hug and a kiss”.

Threatening schools with legal action is ‘squalid’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders expressed outrage that some headteachers had been threatened with legal action over refusing to keep their schools open.

“It’s pretty squalid, don’t you think, that here we seem to have turf wars between the national and local government, and in the middle of it the people I represent – headteachers,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“I think we want to look back and think we did the right thing for our schools and college communities.

“Who is placed to decide what kind of online learning we can provide?

“How dare we treat our public servants who are trying to do their best in difficult circumstances to keep education going – how dare we have them treated like that?”

Robot helps patients celebrate their birthday

A robot in India is helping people in hospital see family and friends on their birthdays.

 The “Mitra” robot can connect patients with their loved ones, and can assist healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic by minimising the risk of infections caused by close contact. 

The Yatharth Hospital, which is treating Covid-19 patients in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, is one of a handful of hospitals in India that has started to use robots.

Viruses mutate ‘all the time’

People should not necessarily worry about the new variant of coronavirus that has been detected, Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool said.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Semple, who is also on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Breakfast: “People should not be losing sleep about this, they really need to leave the virology to the scientists because we’re at the very early stages of understanding what’s going on here,” he said.

“What I can say is that coronavirus, like many other viruses, mutate all the time. And without the presence of community immunity – that’s because we don’t have herd immunity and won’t have for many, many months – the virus essentially is free to change and become more comfortable with the humans with which it is living.

“That’s what the virus is doing – it is learning how to become slightly better at living with us and becoming slightly more infectious. But that does not mean it’s harming us more or causing more severe illness in people.”

Look again at Christmas rules, Sadiq Khan says

The Government must take another look at the relaxing of rules over Christmas, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We heard from Matt Hancock yesterday that it appears the Government is looking at this again. I would encourage them to do so if they are.

“The concern is this – the rules have been relaxed for five days, allowing household mixing for up to three different households and inevitably when people are in their own households, they tend to be less vigilant.

“And my concern is that many people may have the virus and not realise it. They could pass the virus on to older relations.”

London’s mayor said that despite ‘fatigue’ over regulations at Christmas, people should still be aware of coronavirus risks 

He later said that despite “fatigue” over regulations at Christmas, people should still be aware of coronavirus risks and the rules around it.

“It’s really important that we continue to follow the rules whether we like them or not,” he told Good Morning Britain.

Mr Khan said that relaxing restrictions during the festive period was not “mandatory” and suggested that people should wear face coverings whenever possible.

Do not ‘misinterpret’ relaxing of rules over Christmas

Relaxations in coronavirus rules over the Christmas period should not be “misinterpreted”,  Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay has said.

“It’s not that the restrictions are being lifted in their entirety – we’re not going from Tier 3 to some sort of tier zero,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“What we’re saying, in a limited sense, is that many families who have not been together all year, who will want to see each other, three households can come together for that Christmas period.

“It’s not that all restrictions are being lifted.”

Mr Barclay acknowledged that it had been a “very difficult” year for families and that many would want to meet up to celebrate Christmas together.

“I want to see my own parents over the Christmas period,” he said.

“I won’t see my parents over Christmas, but I will see my parents-in-law and those are the decisions many families will take.”

LoveHolidays to refund over £18 million for cancelled holidays 

Travel company LoveHolidays has committed to pay out over £18 million to customers waiting for money back after their holidays were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation after receiving hundreds of complaints that people were still awaiting refunds.

When customers contacted LoveHolidays to request a refund for a cancelled holiday, they were told they would only receive money back for their flights once the firm had received refunds from the respective airlines.

Under the Package Travel Regulations, online travel agents are legally bound to refund customers for package holidays cancelled due to coronavirus, regardless of whether or not the agent has received money back from suppliers, for example airlines.

Following CMA intervention, LoveHolidays has now signed formal commitments – known as undertakings – that ensure these customers receive all their money back.

In total, over £18 million will be refunded to 44,000 LoveHolidays customers. Of this, so far £7m has been refunded to 20,000 customers.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “Travel agents have a legal responsibility to make prompt refunds to customers whose holidays have been cancelled due to coronavirus.”

New coronavirus strain already in Wales

A new strain of coronavirus which could be behind the steep rise in cases in the south of England is already present in Wales.

There are at least 10 confirmed cases in the country and more are expected to be identified.

The Welsh Government said: “It is natural for a virus to mutate over time and we have seen a range of mutations in Wales.

“In relation to this particular mutation, we have identified 10 confirmed cases and five probable cases through sequencing that took place during November. Further sequencing is under way and we expect to identify further cases.

“Public Health Wales is actively looking for this variant and will be tracking any other Welsh cases as they emerge. Our findings will be feeding into the work being undertaken across the UK.”

The main concern about the new variant is that it appears to spread more quickly than the existing virus, with more than 1,000 cases found so far in 60 local authorities, predominantly in the South of England.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said there was “nothing to suggest” it caused worse disease or that vaccines would no longer work.

Read more  about the new strain:  ‘Covid mutation comes as a stark reminder that this disease is not beaten yet’ 

Business travel lanes for Singapore

Singapore will open a new segregated travel lane for a some business, official and high economic value travellers from all countries, its Government said.

The country, which has spent billions of dollars in a bid to shield its economy from its worst-ever downturn, is trying to reopen international travel as it prepares to host the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of political and business leaders next year.

The first travellers will be able to arrive from the second half of January through the new lane, which will be open to those who are coming for short-term stays of up to 14 days, the ministry of trade and industry said in a statement.

It will complement other arrangements that Singapore has for business travel including with China, Germany and Indonesia.

Travellers under the latest arrangement will have to stick to strict health and testing protocols, and will need to stay within a “bubble” at segregated facilities.

Unemployment rises in Britain

Britain’s unemployment rate rose to 4.9 per cent in the three months to October, up from from 4.8 per cent in the three months to September, official data shows.

Overall the number of UK workers on payrolls has fallen by 819,000 between February and November due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “Overall we have seen a continuation of recent trends, with a further weakening in the labour market.

“The latest monthly tax numbers show over 800,000 fewer employees on the payroll in November than in February, with new analysis finding that over a third of this fall came from the hospitality sector.

“In the three months to October, employment was still falling sharply and unemployment was rising, but the number of people neither working nor looking for work was little changed.

“Average hours per worker were continuing to recover, though this was before the second lockdown in England.

“While there was another record rise in redundancies in the latest three months as a whole, they began to ease during October.”

Japan sees record number of intensive care patients

A record 558 people are in a critical condition in ICUs in Japan, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

Japan recorded 1,677 new cases and 58 additional virus-related deaths on Monday. That brings the national total to 182,582 infections and 2,656 fatalities.

In response to the surge in cases and hospitalizations, local governments have strengthened their anti-Covid-19 procedures. 

Tokyo announced late Monday it has requested the 10 p.m. closure of restaurants and bars to be extended through to Jan 11, while and officials in Osaka also requested early closures for all restaurants and bars serving alcohol in Osaka city through Dec 29. 

Vaccine jabs start in Canada

Canada has kicked off its inoculation campaign against coronavirus by injecting frontline healthcare workers and elderly nursing home residents.

It is just the third nation in the world to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The first dose broadcast on live TV went to Anita Quidangen. The personal support worker at the Rekai Centre, a non-profit nursing home for the elderly in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, said she was “excited” to have been first in line.

Healthcare workers in masks and white coats applauded after she was injected.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “It’s a great relief. Clearly, it may only be the beginning of the end but we sense nevertheless that there will be an end to this pandemic.”

He also said he would not be pressing to have his shot immediately. adding: “We obviously have to give priority to the most vulnerable but the second I have a chance – like all healthy adults – I will do so very visibly and with enthusiasm.”

Warning over Christmas easing of rules

Scientists have warned that the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will cause a spike in infections.

There are fresh concerns over plans to allow up to three households to mix indoors from December 23 to 27 – with fears the country will “pay the price” in the new year.

David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy working on Covid-19, said the price of such a relaxation “could well be very high”.

Urging people to think carefully about their plans, he told Times Radio: “Just ask yourself, is there any way in which you can perhaps not have the family get-togethers this year?

“It’s much better not to do it when there’s this kind of virus about.”

Professor Stephen Reicher, of the University of St Andrews, said: “Right now we are heading towards disaster.

“Given high levels of infection across the country and the increasing levels in some areas (such as London) it is inevitable that if we all do choose to meet up over Christmas then we will pay the price in the new year.”

Singapore open for business

Singapore will open a new segregated travel lane for a limited number of business, official and high economic value travellers from all countries, the government said on Tuesday, as part of efforts to revive its key travel and hospitality sectors.

Singapore has spent billions of dollars in a bid to shield its economy from its worst-ever downturn and is trying to reopen international travel as it prepares to host the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of political and business leaders next year.

The first travellers will be able to arrive from the second half of January through the new lane, which will be open to those who are coming for short-term stays of up to 14 days, the ministry of trade and industry said in a statement.

It will complement other arrangements that Singapore has for business travel including with China, Germany and Indonesia.

Singapore has spent billions trying to rescue its economy


Sturgeon to outline changes to restrictions

The results of the final review of Scotland’s coronavirus restrictions before the new year will be announced by the First Minister today.

Nicola Sturgeon will tell the Scottish Parliament which of the Government’s five levels each local authority area will be placed in.

The majority of the Scottish population are currently in the second highest tier – Level 3 – which prevents alcohol being served in hospitality and requires all leisure and entertainment premises to close.

Seven areas are in Level 1 – including Scottish Borders and Highland – with the rest in Level 2.

Ms Surgeon previously said this week’s review was likely to be the last until January 5.

She told MSPs on December 8 that she was “reluctant to give 100% certainty” as “the virus is not going to take Christmas off”.

US launches vaccine as cases soar

The United States kicked off a mass vaccination drive Monday hoping to turn the tide on the world’s biggest coronavirus outbreak.

New York nurse Sandra Lindsay became the first person in America to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, live on television, six days after Britain launched the West’s vaccine campaign against Covid-19.

“It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” said Lindsay, a critical care nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, imploring all Americans to “do our part” by getting vaccinated.

It comes as new cases in the US rose again on Monday, and the number of Americans killed by Covid-19 passed the milestone of 300,000.

Read more: ‘We don’t use the word heroes lightly’: New York nurse is first to get Covid-19 vaccine in the US

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