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Covid UK: Patrick Vallance says death rate won’t ‘reduce quickly’

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Britain is in for a ‘pretty grim period’ for Covid deaths which won’t fall for ‘some weeks’, the Government’s top scientist warned today – after the UK recorded its deadliest day yet with 1,564 confirmed fatalities. 

Department of Health figures show the daily laboratory-confirmed death toll has risen 50 per cent week-on-week, with data suggesting the total number of coronavirus victims — both suspected and confirmed — has now passed the 100,000 mark.   

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance today stressed Britain will experience a ‘period of high death numbers’ which will not ‘come down quickly’ following Wednesday’s grim milestone for fatalities.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston programme, he said: ‘The daily numbers jump around a bit but I think we are in a position now – when you look at the number of infections we’ve had over the past few weeks and how this is likely to continue, so I don’t think they’re going to drop very quickly – that I’m afraid we’re in a period of high death numbers that’s going to carry on for some weeks.

‘It’s not going to come down quickly even if the measures that are in place now start to reduce the infection numbers. So we’re in for a pretty grim period, I’m afraid.’ 

The three deadliest days of Britain’s Covid crisis have all been recorded in 2021, with today’s figure topping the 1,325 last Friday. But deaths always lag weeks behind cases, meaning fatality counts won’t begin to drop until at least a fortnight after infections fall.  

Public Health England bosses said there had now been ‘more deaths in the second wave than the first’.

But Government statistics also suggest the UK’s outbreak is finally starting to slow. Another 47,525 positive tests were declared today, down 23.7 per cent on last Wednesday’s toll of 62,322. It is the fourth day in a row that infections have dropped week-on-week. 

Sir Patrick did not rule out the need for tougher restrictions to help bring infection rates down further across the UK, but said current rules are clearly having some impact on the numbers.

He explained: ‘I think we follow these [rules], the evidence we have so far is this is beginning to work, holding it flat, beginning to potentially push it down. We need to monitor it and you know it may be that we need more on top of this at some point, I’m absolutely not ruling that out.

‘It may be that we need more on top of this, and I think those obviously are decisions that ministers would need to make. But I think at the moment the evidence is that this is having an effect.’  

The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured) today said Britain is in a 'period of high death numbers' which will not 'reduce quickly' following Wednesday's grim milestone for fatalities

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured) today said Britain is in a ‘period of high death numbers’ which will not ‘reduce quickly’ following Wednesday’s grim milestone for fatalities

 

On another brutal day for the UK as Covid runs rampant:

  • Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has played down the idea of a three-metre social distancing rule, saying the distance would probably not make a difference as the new variant does not make people cough harder; 
  • Matt Hancock has admitted some hospital patients might be taken to hotels amid pressure on the NHS;
  • Ministers are finally going ahead with round-the-clock coronavirus vaccinations after bowing to immense pressure to speed up the scheme; 
  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he was ‘disgusted’ when footballer Marcus Rashford exposed the state of the government’s free school meal parcels for poorer children;   
  • Diplomatic tensions with China have escalated again after the PM blamed its ‘demented’ traditional medicine for the pandemic, and the UK announced sanctions over human rights abuses; 
  • New figures showed more than half of virus patients in intensive care are in their 50s or 60s;
  • Major supermarkets united in formally banning customers without face masks.

Earlier on Wednesday Boris Johnson also refused to rule out tightening the third lockdown further — but he hailed ‘early’ signs that the brutal restrictions are bringing coronavirus under control.  

The Prime Minister insisted the measures in England were being kept ‘under constant review’ as Keir Starmer demanded to know why they were looser than last spring despite cases being higher. Mr Johnson warned that the NHS was at ‘substantial risk’ of being swamped, and the ‘only way’ of protecting it was to follow the ‘current rules’. 

But despite the latest death toll, Mr Johnson sounded a notably optimistic tone about the emerging impact of the restrictions. He said the country was ‘now starting to see the beginnings of some signs’ that the crackdown was having an effect in parts of the country, while stressing it was ‘early days’ and urged people to ‘keep their discipline’.       

MailOnline analysis suggests the outbreak in England may have started slowing before the blanket lockdown on January 4, with infection numbers peaking in the worst-hit regions at the start of the year. The tide appears to have turned in parts of the country experiencing the worst outbreaks – London, the South East and the East of England – in the first week of 2021, with cases coming down since then. 

Coronavirus hospital admissions have also started to fall in London and the South East, although the numbers of patients are still rising on wards after surging above the peaks recorded in the first wave.

The latest figures bolster claims that Tier 4 – which kept schools open – thwarted the spread of the super-infectious mutant strain of the virus. But it appears the measure did not drive down infections fast enough for ministers, who instead opted for further curbs to daily life.

Boris Johnson

Keir Starmer

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clashed bitterly over the handling of the coronavirus crisis at PMQs in the Commons today

Did England pass its peak BEFORE lockdown? Covid outbreaks started to slow at start of 2021 in Kent and other Tier 4 areas 

England’s coronavirus outbreak could have started to slow down before the national lockdown started on January 4, data suggest as infection numbers appeared to peak in the worst-hit regions at the start of the year.

The tide appears to have turned in parts of the country experiencing the worst outbreaks – London, the South East and the East of England – in the first week of 2021, with cases coming down since then.

Millions of people living in those areas were forced into gruelling Tier 4 restrictions the weekend before Christmas, ordered to stay at home for two weeks to try and control the new variant before the national lockdown started. 

Infection rates fell in most parts of the country at the start of January, suggesting local lockdown rules in place in December were having an effect but it wasn’t fast enough to satisfy ministers, who called a drastic national shutdown just days into the new year. 

National figures paint a similar picture, with the 45,533 new positive tests announced today marking a 25 per cent fall on this time last week and representing the third day in a row that the country’s infection rate has come down.

It’s still too soon for the effects of national lockdown to show up reliably in data but cases starting to come down in some of the worst-affected places suggests that Tier 4 rules were working before they were abandoned. 

Data from Kent, at the heart of the most recent outbreak, showed that cases were still fluctuating even in Tier 4,  coming down in all of the 13 local authorities put into Tier 4 before Christmas, then spiking again in January before declining again around the time when lockdown was announced.

In Liverpool, meanwhile, which was the only part of the country to be downgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in December after officials claimed a mass-testing programme had got the city’s outbreak under control, cases skyrocketed at the end of the year and are still rising, although the increase has slowed in lockdown.

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The PM was grilled at PMQs and then by the cross-party Liaison Committee today as he faced another barrage of demands for the national clampdown to be tightened even further – something that Nicola Sturgeon has announced is happening in Scotland.

Speaking to MPs this afternoon, the Prime Minister said he was ‘concerned’ about the new Brazilian variant of the virus.

‘We already have tough measures, as you know, to stop from new infections come from abroad. We are taking steps to do that in response to the Brazilian variation.’

It is still yet to be identified in the UK, and there is no evidence that it causes a more severe infection than other strains – although there are fears it may be as transmissible as the Kent strain.

It is normal for viruses to mutate and early signs don’t suggest that any of the new variants of coronavirus are more deadly than others, but in some places it is evolving to be able to spread faster.

If the virus is faster spreading it will inevitably lead to more cases which will in turn lead to a higher death count, even if the strain itself isn’t more dangerous.

During the Committee, the Prime Minister also warned parents he still wasn’t sure whether schools would be allowed to re-open after the February half-term.

When asked if they would re-open next month, he said: ‘The priority is obviously to get schools open as soon as possible, whether we can do that after the half term depends on a number of things. The success of the vaccination process, depends on us not finding out the South African or Brazilian variants are vaccine resistant.

‘We have no evidence that they are, but that’s got to go well. But the crucial thing is the lockdown measures have to go well. What we are seeing today is some early signs of progress in containing the virus, but it is far, far too early to say if we can see any relaxation in February.’ 

Downing Street is considering options ranging from limiting takeaways and click and collect, to closing more workplaces and nurseries and banning people from exercising with friends. Matt Hancock said this morning that the ‘next few days’ would be key to understanding whether the lockdown is working, with the PM set to wait until the weekend to make a final decision on new measures.

However, scientists have cautioned that critical capacity in the NHS will still be under enormous strain into March due to the lag between infection and people getting ill, with up to 250,000 people a day said to be catching the virus.   

London Councils and Mayor Sadiq Khan today appealed for Mr Johnson to bring in new measures such as closing places of worship immediately, or risk putting an ‘unsustainable strain’ on services.

Mr Khan lamented a ‘heartbreaking’ coronavirus milestone as it was confirmed more than 10,000 Londoners have fallen victim to the virus.

The latest data from Public Health England shows a total of 10,353 people in London have died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test. 

A further 7,606 people across the capital are currently in hospital with the disease – 35 per cent higher than the busiest day of the pandemic in the spring.     

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament this afternoon that from Saturday she is banning drinking outdoors and non-essential click-and-collect, as well as going inside eateries to pick up a takeaway. 

Earlier, Mr Hancock defied mounting Tory calls to guarantee that the draconian restrictions will be eased from March 8 – around three weeks after the government is due to have vaccinated the 14million most vulnerable.

But in a glimmer of hope data from the Department of Health suggests England’s outbreak may have started to slow down before the national lockdown started on January 4, as infection numbers appeared to peak in the worst-hit regions at the start of the year.

Millions living in London, the South East and East of England were forced into gruelling Tier 4 restrictions the weekend before Christmas, scuppering festive plans for millions as ministers tried to get a grip on the new variant of the virus.

From Saturday people picking up takeaway meals will be barred from entering eateries, instead having to wait outside, she told the Scottish Parliament

From Saturday people picking up takeaway meals will be barred from entering eateries, instead having to wait outside, she told the Scottish Parliament

And in the first week of January the region’s infection rates began to drop, suggesting the highest level of measures may have been enough to thwart the spread of the super-infectious mutant strain.

It can take up to two weeks for someone who is infected with the virus to start showing symptoms, get a test and then receive a positive result, meaning there is a lag before the impact of restrictions shows up in the data.

In another positive sign the second wave may be waning, data also shows hospital admissions in London and the East of England peaked in the days after lockdown was imposed.

Department of Health statistics appear to show London’s hit their peak on January 6 – on day two of the shutdown – when the seven-day average stood at 864. It dropped to 845 the following day. In the South East, hospitalisations also peaked on January 6 when they reached 662.

And in the East of England – which was plunged into the highest bracket of restrictions at the same time – they had started to level off by January 4.

It can take weeks for someone infected with the virus to suffer symptoms severe enough to be admitted to hospital, meaning there is a delay between a drop in cases and hospitalisations. But the early downturn adds to claims that Tier 4 – which kept schools open – was enough to control the mutant variant.

Security checking people are wearing masks at a supermarket in Peckham, South East London this morning. Some people have exemptions from the mask rule

Security checking people are wearing masks at a supermarket in Peckham, South East London this morning. Some people have exemptions from the mask rule

The shopper angrily told the guard in Morrisons today that he did not have to wear because he had a medical condition

The shopper angrily told the guard in Morrisons today that he did not have to wear because he had a medical condition

Tube services on the Jubilee Line were still busy in London this morning despite the brutal lockdown restrictions in force

Tube services on the Jubilee Line were still busy in London this morning despite the brutal lockdown restrictions in force 

Sturgeon gazumps PM again by tightening lockdown in Scotland  

Nicola Sturgeon banned Scots from drinking outside and making non-essential click-and-collect orders today as she tightened Scotland’s lockdown still further. 

From Saturday people picking up takeaway meals will be barred from entering eateries, instead having to wait outside, she told the Scottish Parliament.

And new laws will be brought in to put a legal requirement on businesses to force them to allow staff to work from home if they can do so. 

Addressing MSPs at Holyrood she said new lockdown restrictions appear to be having an effect, with the rise in new daily cases seen around the turn of the year slowing down.

However, she said there is ‘no room for complacency’, adding: ‘It is too soon to be entirely confident that the situation is stabilising.

‘Even if it is, this will only be because of lockdown – it is not, unfortunately, an indication that it is safe to ease it yet in any way.’

Pressure on the NHS, Ms Sturgeon said, was likely to continue ‘for some time’ as she urged people to continue to adhere to the new regulations.

Ms Sturgeon’s decision is likely to pile the pressure on Boris Johnson who is also thought to be considering tightening the rules in England. 

Only retailers selling essentials, such as clothing, baby equipment and books, will be able to offer collection services in Scotland from this weekend.

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Even as they slowed across the capital and in regions first plunged into the toughest bracket, however, the number of patients in hospital continued to rise because the number of new cases needing treatment each day is still high.

And hospital admissions for patients suffering from the virus are also continuing to rise in the South West, North West, North East and Midlands.

Despite the drops, hospital admissions remain above the highest levels seen during the darkest days of the first wave and in the final month of last year – in a warning sign health care staff could yet be overwhelmed. 

In London they stood at 150 at the start of December before soaring upwards, and never went above 750 in April. For the South East, they stood at 165 in December, and never moved above 323 in the first wave. 

It’s still too soon for the effects of national lockdown to show up reliably in data but cases starting to come down in some of the worst-affected places suggests that Tier 4 rules were working before they were abandoned.  

Some Government scientists fear, however, the true case rate is still running at more than 250,000 a day. They have warned the Prime Minister that, even with the rollout of the vaccine, the death rate may not start to fall until the middle of next month.

Despite the more positive news on infections, Sir Keir goaded Mr Johnson that he was already too late toughening the rules.  

‘The next big decision is obvious, the current restrictions are not strong enough to control the virus,’ he said.

‘Can the Prime Minister tell us when infection rates are much higher than in March, when hospital admissions are much higher than last March, when death rates are much higher than last March, why on earth are restrictions weaker than last March?’

Mr Johnson responded: ‘We keep things under constant review and we will continue to do so.

‘And certainly if there is any need to toughen up restrictions, which I don’t rule out, we will of course come to this House.’

But he also highlighted the ‘serious damage that is done by lockdowns’. 

‘The lockdown measures we have in place combined with tier four measures that we were using are starting to show signs of some effect and we must take account of that too,’ Mr Johnson said. 

Sir Keir took the premier to task for being ‘slow to act’ when infection rates began to surge in December.

‘The last PMQs was on December 16,’ the Labour leader said. ‘The Prime Minister told us then that we were seeing, in his words, a significant reduction in the virus. He told us then that there was no need for endless lockdowns and no need to change the rules about Christmas mixing.

‘Since then, since that last PMQs, 17,000 people have died of Covid, 60,000 people have been admitted to hospital and there has been over a million new cases. How did the Prime Minister get it so wrong and why was he so slow to act?’

But a clearly infuriated Mr Johnson shot back: ‘Of course, what (Sir Keir) fails to point out is that on December 18, two days later, the Government was informed of the spread of the new variant and the fact that it spreads roughly 50-70 per cent faster than the old variant, and that is why it is indeed correct to say that the situation today is very troubling indeed.’

No 10 pins hopes on us following the rules… but keeps the big stick in reverse 

HOW RULES MAY CHANGE 

End exercise meetings

Ministers are considering removing the exemption that allows two people to meet outdoors to exercise.

The exemption, which did not exist in the original lockdown, was included as a lifeline for the lonely. But scenes of crowded parks have led to concerns it is being abused.

Increase mask wearing

Health officials are examining plans to make masks mandatory in crowded outdoor areas such as supermarket queues and markets. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said this week that masks were not necessary in most outdoor settings but there ‘might be some logic’ to wearing them in crowded spaces.

Close more businesses

Some ministers are pushing for the closure of more businesses, such as estate agents and click and collect retail operations – many of which were shut in the first lockdown. Supporters of the move say it would help limit the spread of the virus and reduce the reasons for people to go out. No10 has not ruled it out.

3m social distancing

Some Government scientists are pushing for the two-metre social distancing rule to be extended to three, but officials say the idea is on the back-burner for now.

Shut churches and nurseries

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for places of worship to close while Labour wants nurseries shut. But ministers insist neither move is being considered for now.

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He added: ‘This is the toughest of times, but we can see the way forward.’

Mr Johnson also sounded bullish about the vaccine rollout, accusing Sir Keir of failing to give the programme enough credit.

He said the UK was in a ‘comparatively favourable position’ compared to other countries. 

No10 sources have indicated that ministers were ready to tighten the lockdown further unless the situation improves by the weekend. 

‘The compliance data is mixed,’ an insider said. ‘We should have better data by the weekend and at that point we will have to decide whether we need to go further.’

Another source told MailOnline that Ms Sturgeon was acting because of ‘escalating’ cases in Scotland, albeit from a lower level. 

Extra measures being considered in England include removing the exemption that allows two people to meet outdoors to exercise.

Some ministers have been pushing for more businesses to be closed, including estate agents, outdoor markets and click-and-collect retail. 

Scientists are also arguing for the two-metre social distancing rule to be increased to three metres.

SAGE member Prof Andrew Hayward told Sky News that ramping up controls now could be the only way of ensuring the lockdown can end in March.

‘We could see faster decreased in those numbers of hospitalisations and deaths if we were to tighten those lockdown measures, and particularly focus on whether all of the people who are going into work really need to be going into work,’ he said. 

After a major incident was declared in the capital last Friday due to rising Covid-19 cases, Mr Khan and London Councils chair Georgia Gould have written to Mr Johnson demanding tougher measures.

Aside from the closure of places of worship, they have called for the PM to make mask-wearing mandatory outside the home – including in supermarket queues, on high streets and in other possibly crowded outdoor settings.

Also among four major demands is for the Government to provide greater financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and are unable to work, backed by improved asymptomatic testing for key workers.

The two leaders also called for the the rollout of vaccines across London to be accelerated, and for the provision of daily vaccination data by borough and ethnicity.

‘We recognise how difficult these decisions are and how they will impose further tough restrictions on Londoners,’ the letter says. 

‘With new levels of infection remaining high we are left with little choice but to ask that you implement them.’

Mr Khan and Ms Gould said places of worship were ‘crucially important for communities’ and that ‘we wouldn’t be making this request if the situation wasn’t very serious’.

The letter also urges four other temporary measures: an urgent review of what constitutes essential and non-essential retail, stricter guidance on how retailers can prevent unsafe queues and crowding, prohibiting click and collect services at non-essential retail chains, and stronger guidance on size restrictions for weddings, funerals and similar gatherings.

In a round of interviews, Mr Hancock told Sky News that it was ‘impossible to know’ when restrictions could be eased.

‘We will keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than they are necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they are necessary,’ he said. 

He added: ‘I am looking to see the case rate just starting to level off. I hope that is what we start to see over the next few days. The few days ahead of us is the critical period to know whether this national lockdown is working.’ 

Asked if the NHS could end up overwhelmed, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’re going to do everything we possibly can to give the NHS the support, the resources it needs. 

Rates of coronavirus have continued to surge in Liverpool, which was only in the unusually lenient Tier 2 before Christmas

Rates of coronavirus have continued to surge in Liverpool, which was only in the unusually lenient Tier 2 before Christmas

Cases in Kent appear to have come down as a result of Tier 4, at first over Christmas and then again in early January, but they spiked in the middle around new year, suggesting the restrictions weren't working well enough to satisfy the Government

Cases in Kent appear to have come down as a result of Tier 4, at first over Christmas and then again in early January, but they spiked in the middle around new year, suggesting the restrictions weren’t working well enough to satisfy the Government

A commuter on a Jubilee line train this morning. Some people don't have to wear a mask if they have a valid exemption

A commuter on a Jubilee line train this morning. Some people don’t have to wear a mask if they have a valid exemption

Commuters wearing face masks wait for an Overground train this morning at Canada Water station in East London

Commuters wearing face masks wait for an Overground train this morning at Canada Water station in East London

A security guard on the door at Morrisons in Leeds watches customers arrive today to ensure they are wearing masks

A security guard on the door at Morrisons in Leeds watches customers arrive today to ensure they are wearing masks

Matt Hancock defied Tory calls to guarantee that the draconian restrictions will be eased from March 8 - around three weeks after the government is due to have vaccinated the 14million most vulnerable

Matt Hancock defied Tory calls to guarantee that the draconian restrictions will be eased from March 8 – around three weeks after the government is due to have vaccinated the 14million most vulnerable

Sadiq Khan and councils demand tougher curbs 

London Councils and Mayor Sadiq Khan have implored Boris Johnson to immediately implement tougher coronavirus measures – including closing places of worship – or risk putting an ‘unsustainable strain’ on the NHS and public services.

After a major incident was declared in the capital last Friday due to rising Covid-19 cases, Mr Khan and London Councils chair Georgia Gould have written to the Prime Minister calling for measures similar to those in place last March and April.

Aside from the closure of places of worship, they have called for the PM to make mask-wearing mandatory outside the home – including in supermarket queues, on high streets and in other possibly crowded outdoor settings.

Also among four major demands is for the Government to provide greater financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and are unable to work, backed by improved asymptomatic testing for key workers.

The two leaders also called for the the rollout of vaccines across London to be accelerated, and for the provision of daily vaccination data by borough and ethnicity.

‘We recognise how difficult these decisions are and how they will impose further tough restrictions on Londoners,’ the letter says. ‘With new levels of infection remaining high we are left with little choice but to ask that you implement them.’

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‘That includes, for instance, opening the Nightingale hospitals and the London Nightingale hospital is now receiving patients for the first time since April.’

He said sending some patients to hotels was a ‘further back-up plan’ only done if appropriate for the patient but ‘it’s not something we are actively putting in place’. 

Mr Hancock added this would be for ‘step-down’ patients only. 

‘I can’t see that being the major factor, because most people want to get vaccinated in the daytime, and also most people who are doing the vaccinations want to give them in the daytime, but there may be circumstances in which that would help,’ he said.

‘We’re absolutely up for that.’

Mr Hancock dodged saying whether the government will change any rules, saying it ‘always keep these things under review’.

‘What I’d say is that what really matters now is the degree to which everybody follows the existing rules,’ he told BBC Breakfast. 

‘Of course you can always make changes at the margin, but we brought in a very significant restriction, the stay-at-home measures … It is possible then to make further restrictions but what I’d say is that the most important thing is compliance with the existing measures, that’s the thing that is going to make the difference.’

He repeated his warning that some people were ‘stretching’ the exemption for people to take exercise outdoors with one friend.

‘What I’d rather see is everybody follows that rule and doesn’t stretch it or flex it … people should not take the Mickey out of the rules and they shouldn’t stretch the rules, people should respect the rules, because they’re there for a reason and that’s to keep everybody safe,’ he said. 

Mr Hancock also hailed the move by John Lewis to end click and collect services. ‘I’m grateful to John Lewis for the change they’ve made, and I’m grateful for the supermarkets for the increased compliance they’re going to require; that is by far and away the best way to get this under control,’ he said. 

The Prime Minister told the Cabinet yesterday it was ‘more important than ever that the public stay at home’.

But shoppers and commuters travelling through London during rush hour this morning were pictured not wearing face masks.

Priti Patel said last night that a minority of the public are ‘putting the health of the nation at risk’, adding that officers are moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations.

Some people don’t have to wear a mask if they have a valid exemption, such as it causing them severe distress or because of a physical or mental illness, impairment or disability – and they do not have to carry proof.

But concerns are mounting that others are simply breaking the law because they don’t want to wear one – and Ms Patel revealed that nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued in the UK since March. 

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt warned those caught not wearing a mask on a bus or train ‘can expect a fine’ unless they are exempt – and police would no longer ‘waste time’ trying to reason with people such as those who disagree with the rules.

He said: ‘Not wearing a face covering on a bus or a train is dangerous. It risks the lives of other travellers including those critical workers who must continue to use public transport to do their important work.’ 

A string of supermarkets including Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have now pledged to get tougher with customers who refuse to wear face coverings by denying them entry to their stores. 

Police and ministers discussing tighter exercise rules 

Police are in discussions with ministers that could see the rules on exercise and travel tightened, MPs were told today. 

Owen Weatherill,  from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, who is leading the policing response to the pandemic in England and Wales, said the rules around exercise are ‘a real challenge’.

He told the Home Affairs Committee that more detail should be added to health guidance and lockdown laws to make them clearer to the public.

The Assistant Chief Constable said there was an ‘active discussion’ between police, the Home Office and the Department of Health on how to improve the rules ‘to give greater clarity to the public and also to our officers’.

‘There was a deliberate effort to try to make it flexible initially so there was a degree of freedom of choice for people …. but that clearly is presenting other problems,’ he said.

He added that travel restrictions were ‘a real challenge when it comes to exercise’.

‘That challenges some forces more than others. If you happen to operate in an area which has got natural beauty spots, that will attract people in,’ he said.

‘But the regulations are constructed in such a way as to not be constrictive on the type of exercise an individual might want to take, so there is a balance here between trying to allow people to exercise some free will in the type of exercise they do, and why there is no physical restriction on how far you can travel to do it.’ 

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Britain’s most senior police officer, Dame Cressida Dick, said Metropolitan Police officers would be prepared to assist shop staff if customers became ‘obstructive and aggressive’ when told they must wear a face covering.

One incident this morning at a Morrisons store in Peckham, South East London, saw a construction worker clash with a store security guard when he was refused entry to the store for not wearing a mask.

The shopper angrily told the guard that he did not have to wear because he had a medical condition. But the guard said he was not wearing a certificate exempting him around his neck and refused to allow him in.

During the stand-off, the shopper pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket, insisting it was a Government-issued exemption certificate. After examining it, the guard told the man that as he was not wearing it around his neck, he would not be allowed into the store.

The disgruntled construction worker, who was trying to buy some breakfast, told MailOnline: ‘It’s quite ridiculous. How am I supposed to wear this certificate around my neck every time I go into a shop? 

‘I’ve never had this problem before but clearly the supermarkets are getting a lot tougher about imposing the mask rule. I’ve got a medical reason for not wearing a mask and always make sure that I carry my exemption certificate with me.’ 

In an illustration of the problems being caused by the surge in cases, there were claims today that the NHS is planning to discharge Covid patients into care homes without a negative test for the virus — despite the virus ripping through homes and sparking thousands of deaths during the first wave.

Documents say the patients won’t be swabbed but will need to have been isolating for 14 days and not be suffering symptoms of the virus. Care homes have already warned it would be a ‘grave mistake’ to use their empty beds as overflow for packed hospitals.

Trusts are also reportedly considering discharging Covid patients to hotels — under plans dubbed ‘home and hotel’ — after exhausting critical care capacity and facing barriers to utilising the Nightingales.

Patients suffering from the virus are already being transferred from King’s College hospital, London, to a nearby Best Western hotel in Croydon, The Guardian claims.

Mr Hancock admitted the government is looking at ‘all options’ to ease mounting pressure on the NHS, which is now treating 35,000 Covid patients — compared to 21,000 during the darkest spell of the first wave last spring.

‘There are huge pressures on the NHS and we are looking to all different ways that we can relieve those pressures,’ he told Sky News.

‘We would only ever do that if it was clinically the right thing for somebody. In some cases, people need sit-down care, they don’t actually need to be in a hospital bed.’

It comes amid fears hospitals could be overwhelmed by the surging admissions of Britons suffering from the virus, with health bosses warning the crisis won’t peak until February. It can take infected patients several weeks to become severely ill, meaning any fall in cases won’t be seen on NHS wards for at least a fortnight.

At a press conference yesterday, Priti Patel was asked why the lockdown rules were laxer than those introduced last March.

The Home Secretary initially said the regulations were ‘tough enough’ and simply needed to be followed more closely.

But she then confirmed ministers were looking again at whether the restrictions need to be tightened.

‘These issues are live within government,’ she said. ‘Rules are always under review. We are constantly, right now, looking at where we are at.’ 

Ms Patel also revealed that police had handed out 45,000 Covid fines – and warned that a minority were ‘putting the health of the nation at risk’.

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘If we need to take further action we will. But the important thing now is we are asking people to stay at home.’

Ministers are growing alarmed by the emergence of a Covid hotspot on Merseyside, which has overtaken London as the area where the virus is increasing fastest.

A surge in cases there could be embarrassing for the Government, which made great play of the decision to move the region into Tier Two at the end of the second lockdown while most of the rest of the North West stayed in Tier Three.

The highest overall case rate in England remains Barking and Dagenham in London.

Boris Johnson ‘WILL trial 24/7 Covid vaccinations’ as Matt Hancock admits GPs in parts of the UK are having to PAUSE vaccinations because of a lack of supply  

Ministers will trial round-the-clock Covid vaccinations after bowing to immense pressure to adopt the 24/7 roll-out, according to reports.

A senior Government source claimed this morning that Number 10 is considering a ‘pilot where vaccinations are offered for longer hours’ to gauge whether there is enough demand to keep jab hubs open through the night. 

It marks another U-turn for the Government after Boris Johnson claimed earlier this week there was ‘no clamour’ for appointments after 8pm. The comments sparked fury among elderly Brits and critical workers who said they would happily come day or night to speed up the rollout.

There will now be serious doubts about whether ministers are capable of delivering a round-the-clock operation because of issues with supply. This morning it emerged GPs leading the rollout have been forced to pause vaccinations to allow other parts of the country to catch up.

Practices that have already inoculated every patient over the age of 80 and are now looking to dish the jabs out to the over-70s have had their deliveries cancelled because minsters want to avoid a postcode lottery, according to The Telegraph

Matt Hancock hinted this morning that a lack of supply was behind the decision to delay jabs despite the vaccination programme desperately needing to get up to speed.

Rita Passey receives a Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre at Millennium Point centre in Birmingham on Tuesday

Rita Passey receives a Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre at Millennium Point centre in Birmingham on Tuesday

Ken Hughes is also given the injection at the mass-vaccination hub in Birmingham on Tuesday

Ken Hughes is also given the injection at the mass-vaccination hub in Birmingham on Tuesday

Mavis, 87, is pushed by her daughter out of the Covid-19 vaccination centre at ExCel London after receiving her jab

Mavis, 87, is pushed by her daughter out of the Covid-19 vaccination centre at ExCel London after receiving her jab

Quizzed about the reports, the health secretary told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: ‘The rate-limiting step on the rollout is the supply of the vaccine itself. 

‘We are now managing to get that supply more than we have done before and it will increase over the next few weeks,’ he said.

‘We have the capacity to get that vaccine out. The challenge is that we need to get the vaccine in.

How the Government’s vaccine plan breaks down 

PHASE 1 (FEB 15 TARGET)

CARE HOME RESIDENTS – 300,000

CARE HOME WORKERS – 500,000

AGE 80+ – 3,300,000

HEALTHCARE WORKERS – 2,400,000

SOCIAL CARE WORKERS – 1,400,000

AGE 75-79 – 2,300,000

AGE 70-74 – 3,200,000

CLINICALLY EXTREMELY VULNERABLE (UNDER 70) – 1,200,000

PHASE 2 (SPRING)

65-69 2,900,000

AT-RISK UNDER 65 7,300,000

60-64 1,800,000

55-59 2,400,000

50-54 2,800,000

PHASE 3 (AUTUMN)

REST OF ADULT POPULATION 21,000,000 

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‘What I know is that the supply will increase over the next few weeks and that means the very rapid rate that we are going at at the moment will continue to accelerate over the next couple of weeks.’

Britain’s vaccine drive has started to pick up pace following the approval of the Oxford vaccine but has still only seen 2.43million people immunised against the disease since launching at the beginning of December.

It is far short of the 2million a week needed to deliver on Number 10’s ambitious promise to hit a target of 13.4 million jabs by mid-February and end the most draconian lockdown curbs. 

Pressure to adopt a 24/7 scheme peaked yesterday as Nicola Sturgeon today hinted Scotland was considering the tactic.

She said: ‘We will look at anything and everything that allows us to get this vaccination programme done as quickly as possible’. 

Ms Sturgeon said supplies of the vaccine were still ‘relatively limited’, and that with the focus currently on getting jabs to care home residents and those aged over 80, these groups did ‘not lend themselves to out-of-hours vaccination’. 

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Commons that military personnel can ‘do more to assist’, as he suggested that the hold-up was due to a lack of stock and problems in the supply chain.

He added: ‘I could deploy all 100,000 soldiers tomorrow ready to vaccinate but if the stock isn’t there then we’ll have people not… we could employ them better off.

‘We are very, very clear that we can do more to assist, the Prime Minister knows that and the Prime Minister has indicated that we will be called on as the NHS requires it.’

It comes after Boris clashed with NHS chiefs over the pace of Britain’s mass vaccination programme as he blamed the ‘excessive bureaucracy’ for slowing down the national roll-out.

Officials have said the PM read NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens the riot act in a series of ‘tough’ exchanges last week as the Government comes under pressure to halt the cycle of lockdowns. 

Downing Street and the NHS said relations had since improved as the No10 now tries to accelerate the roll-out by approving 24/7 vaccine centres.

Tensions between Sir Simon and Mr Johnson had been simmering since before Christmas when the PM was concerned that some non-frontline NHS staff had been vaccinated before people aged 80 and over.

One person briefed on the clash claimed Mr Johnson had invited Brigadier Phil Prosser, who is leading the Army’s vaccine taskforce, to a Downing Street press conference last week to warn Sir Simon that the military would be given a bigger role in the programme unless the roll-out was sped up.

But NHS insiders told the Financial Times that Sir Simon had proposed Brig Prosser’s attendance at the conference and rejected claims of tension with the PM. No10 called reports of tension ‘completely untrue’, adding: ‘It’s a really good relationship.’  

No mask, no shopping! Supermarkets’ crack down – amid fears of attacks on staff

Britain’s biggest supermarkets have united in formally banning customers without masks.

The stores have also urged customers to shop alone in an effort to help combat increasing infections.

Wearing masks will now be strictly enforced at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and Lidl.

The move follows pressure from the Government, with some ministers suggesting that retailers have not been doing enough to protect the public.

Many industry leaders are privately furious, however, that shops are being treated as scapegoats for soaring infections.

Read my lips? Security guard remonstrates with woman entering a Morrisons without a mask in London

Read my lips? Security guard remonstrates with woman entering a Morrisons without a mask in London

Asda shopper in Swindon  has full trolley but no coverage

Asda shopper in Swindon  has full trolley but no coverage 

There are concerns the clampdown will trigger flashpoints at supermarket doors, with staff facing abuse and even violence.

Tesco explained its tough line, saying: ‘To protect our customers and colleagues, we won’t let anyone into our stores who is not wearing a face covering, unless they are exempt in line with Government guidance.

‘We will have additional security in stores to help manage this.’

Waitrose said: ‘Marshals will be positioned at the entrances of all supermarkets. They will have disposable masks for customers who do not have their own and will deny admission to anyone refusing to comply.’

In contrast, both the Co-op and Iceland have refused to enforce wearing masks for fear it will lead to attacks on employees.

The two stores and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) insist the police are responsible for enforcing the rules – not shop workers. The penalty is £200 for a first offence.

The Co-op has seen an 80 per cent rise in attacks, including swearing, spitting and physical assaults, during the pandemic.

Cover-up in Aisle Three: Shopper at Morrisons in Thamesmead has brought along her face mask – but failed to utilise it correctly

Cover-up in Aisle Three: Shopper at Morrisons in Thamesmead has brought along her face mask – but failed to utilise it correctly

It said: ‘We have strict policies about ensuring our colleagues are not placed in harm’s way.’ Iceland said: ‘In view of the rising tide of abuse and violence directed at our store colleagues, we do not expect them to confront the small minority of customers who aggressively refuse to comply.’

It has been suggested the Government could increase the social distancing rule for shops from 1m to 2m, and also ban non-essential stores offering ‘click and collect’.

The majority of retail industry bosses argue both plans would be a disaster – particularly for small shops. BRC director of business and regulation, Tom Ironside, said: ‘The ability for non-essential stores, from florists to toy and book shops, to offer click and collect services has been a lifeline.’

John Lewis has already decided to partially suspend its click and collect service from department stores, although it will still be available through Waitrose.

DailyMail Online


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