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Britain’s second wave continues to shrink as PM prepares to unveil ‘roadmap’

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Britain’s second Covid wave is continuing to shrink as a further 445 people died after testing positive – down 28 per cent on last Saturday.

In a positive boost for Boris Johnson‘s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, today’s daily death toll has plunged by more than a quarter from the 621 recorded on this day last week.

And today’s daily case total has dropped too, with a further 10,406 people testing positive for Covid. The figure is 21.8 per cent lower than the 13,308 seen last Saturday. 

The PM is set to reveal how England will leave its third national lockdown on Monday, likely announcing that families and friends will be reunited by Easter. 

In other Covid news: 

  • Doctors say ambulance delays during the surge in the number of coronavirus cases before Christmas led to ‘secondary Covid victims’ as people died of other illnesses such as heart attacks and strokes;
  • A London-based GP has vowed to phone every patient from her surgery who has been offered but not accepted a coronavirus jab, as part of a campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy; 
  • A five-minute Covid test made in the UK could be the key to kick-starting the return of clubs, live sporting matches and concerts;
  • The co-founder of Leon has called for an end to lockdown and revealed his firm is losing £200,000 per week and could fold if the current shutdown drags on for months;
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been urged not to end the stamp duty holiday which is due to finish next month; 
  • More than a million hospitality jobs could be lost if the Government’s furlough scheme is not extended, Labour is warning;  
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to allow pubs to reopen as soon as possible as he prepares to reveal his road map out of lockdown; 
  • Care home residents will be allowed to hold hands with a loved one again from March 8 under the Government’s roadmap for easing coronavirus restrictions;  
  • Britain recorded another 12,027 coronavirus cases and 533 deaths yesterday, as an array of official data confirmed the second wave is still firmly in retreat.

Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday, hosting a virtual meeting of G7 leaders) is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren

Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday, hosting a virtual meeting of G7 leaders) is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren

The Midlands recorded the most hospital fatalities in the country today with 69 deaths, followed by the north-west at 59, the north-east and Yorkshire at 53 and London, which reported 45 deaths. 

The ticket to a return of clubs, gigs and football matches? Five-minute coronavirus test made in the UK is touted as ‘game-changer’ in unlocking live events 

A five-minute Covid test made in the UK could be the key to kick-starting the return of clubs, live sporting matches and concerts.

Yorkshire firm Avacta have developed a new super-fast lateral flow test which is understood to be in its last testing stage at the Government’s top-secret Porton Down lab.

The test’s developers say it is more accurate and faster than the US devices currently in use – and it could be announced in Boris Johnson‘s highly-anticipated  ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown plans on Monday.

The PM is poised to allow pubs to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May – with two households of any size able to meet outside.

But for the live entertainment industry, the road to normality is set to be much longer due to the risk of transmission that comes with large crowds.

It is hoped that five-minute rapid testing – which is much shorter than the 30-minute option available currently – will be used on admission to large events. 

Chief executive of UK Music Jamie Njoku-Goodwin told The Mirror: ‘If approved and found to be effective, this test could be a game changer in the effort to rescue British live music and save our summer.’

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A 16-year-old with no known underlying health conditions was among those who died after testing positive for Covid in England, today’s figures show. 

Official statistics revealed another 307 people who tested positive for coronavirus died in hospital in England, aged between 16 and 100. All except four – aged between 16 and 68 – had known underlying health conditions.   

Scotland recorded a further 803 new cases of coronavirus, along with 29 new deaths. 

Wales recorded a further 363 positive tests and an additional 16 fatalities. 

Today’s data also revealed the UK has hit a grand total of 17,852,327 jabs. Of these, 17,247,442 were first doses – a rise of 371,906 on the previous day – data up to February 19 showed. 

Some 604,885 were second doses, an increase of 15,294 on figures released on Thursday.

A total of 1,412,643 Scots had received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, an increase of 26,491 from the previous day.

The Prime Minister is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren.

A Whitehall source said rules around how many people they can spend time with outdoors will be relaxed. Ministers are looking at the data and a final decision on when the restrictions will be eased will be taken at the weekend.

It means friends and family could be able to see each other again in time for the Easter holidays. The Prime Minister will spend the weekend putting the finishing touches to his long-awaited roadmap, before he announces it on Monday. 

It is thought the new plan could replace the ‘Rule of Six’ as entire families, regardless of size, are expected to be allowed to meet up in outside spaces.

From April, two households would be able to meet outdoors while gatherings of six people from six different households would also be acceptable.

Relatives who live further away from each other may have to wait a little longer for a reunion, as the future rules on travelling longer distances are still unclear. And in the case of those who do meet up, the two-metre rule is expected to remain in place for months to come.

Mr Johnson is set to meet senior ministers tomorrow to hammer out the final details. The committee will examine the latest data on the impact of lockdown and the vaccine rollout, so they can decide how quickly to lift restrictions.

Cabinet will then rubber stamp the plans on Monday morning, before they are revealed to the Commons that afternoon.

The blueprint is likely to see schools return on March 8 along with more relaxed rules on outdoor exercise; the return of outdoor sports like golf and tennis at the end of next month and non-essential shops opening soon after Easter. 

Pubs and restaurants may also be able to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May. 

Ahead of revealing his roadmap out of lockdown, Mr Johnson has also been urged to allow pubs to reopen as soon as possible. 

Beer sales in pubs dropped by 56 per cent in 2020, a decrease of £7.8billion, due to Covid-19 restrictions and the lockdowns, according to British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) figures. 

Emma McClarkin, BBPA chief executive, believes that pubs should reopen alongside non-essential retail once the most vulnerable in society have been vaccinated, as they have a community role.

An ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

An ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell

Public Health England data revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Public Health England data revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Education unions join forces to try to block the return of ALL pupils to school on March 8

Boris Johnson was warned today that it would be ‘reckless’ to send all children back to school in a fortnight’s time amid calls for the reopening of classrooms to be sped up.

Nine trade unions ganged up on the PM today to demand a ‘phased return’ only for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January. 

Mr Johnson is expected to unveil his roadmap out of lockdown on Monday, with a March 8 restart date anticipated for schools in England.

But how many children will go back straight away is still being debated by ministers. Schools in Scotland will reopen on Monday February 22, but only to a few primary and secondary years at first, with more returning later in March.

In a letter orchestrated by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), education union leaders said they were ‘increasingly concerned’ that the Government could go ahead with a full return of all pupils in England on March 8.

The joint statement said: ‘This would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.

‘The science around the role that schools play in the overall rate of transmission is uncertain. ‘

It adds: ‘What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one fifth of the population. This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step.

‘These factors necessitate a cautious approach with wider school and college opening phased over a period of time.’

 

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She said: ‘The Great British Pub has always been more than just a place to drink. It is where we go to connect. It is where we go to form community.’

There are also fears over workers being made homeless as tens of thousands of pubs are small family businesses which also double up as someone’s home, the BBPA said.

It comes as the Government was last night forced to deny that Chris Whitty feels ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8.

Downing Street knocked down claims the chief medical officer has concerns a full return – rather than a staggered approach call for by unions – will cause a spike in infections. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear his ambition for all 10 million schoolchildren and staff to return on March 8. The children would be tested for coronavirus twice a week in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

But education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with the plan. Some officials are concerned a mass return will both rise infection rates and pose problems with administering covid tests to pupils.

Both ministers and senior advisers want Mr Whitty to publicly back a full return, but he is said to be ‘lukewarm’.

A Department for Education source last night branded the claim ‘absolute b******t’. A government source also said the claim was ‘categorically untrue’. 

And today, the PM was warned today that it would be ‘reckless’ to send all children back to school in a fortnight’s time amid calls for the reopening of classrooms to be sped up.

Nine trade unions ganged up on the PM today to demand a ‘phased return’ only for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January. 

Mr Johnson is expected to unveil his roadmap out of lockdown on Monday, with a March 8 restart date anticipated for schools in England.

But how many children will go back straight away is still being debated by ministers. Schools in Scotland will reopen on Monday February 22, but only to a few primary and secondary years at first, with more returning later in March.

In a letter orchestrated by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), education union leaders said they were ‘increasingly concerned’ that the Government could go ahead with a full return of all pupils in England on March 8.

The joint statement said: ‘This would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.

ONS figures earlier showed Covid infections had dropped in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to the previous week

ONS figures earlier showed Covid infections had dropped in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to the previous week

And every region in England was also seeing infections continuing to fall in the week to February 12

And every region in England was also seeing infections continuing to fall in the week to February 12

Figures showed infections were lowest among those aged over 70. But it is not clear whether this is due to the vaccine, with scientists saying they are only starting to see early signs of the jabs 'doing their job' in some areas

Figures showed infections were lowest among those aged over 70. But it is not clear whether this is due to the vaccine, with scientists saying they are only starting to see early signs of the jabs ‘doing their job’ in some areas

‘The science around the role that schools play in the overall rate of transmission is uncertain. ‘

It adds: ‘What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one fifth of the population. This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step.

‘These factors necessitate a cautious approach with wider school and college opening phased over a period of time.’

As well as the ASCL, the statement was signed by the GMB, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), NASUWT, National Education Union (NEU), National Governance Association (NGA), Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA), Unison, and Unite. 

It came as a school leader warned mass-testing will mean some pupils won’t go back to school until April.

The comments by Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis multi-academy trust which runs more than 50 schools nationwide, comes as Mr Johnson is facing opposition to his plan for widespread, simultaneous returns from teaching unions and Matt Hancock

The academy chief is leading calls for a staggered return for pupils, insisting a secondary school with around 2,000 students would likely have to invite one year group back each week to carry out testing on such a scale.

All primary school pupils and those facing exams will return to classrooms in Wales by March 15 so long as the Covid-19 situation 'continues to improve,' Mark Drakeford said today

All primary school pupils and those facing exams will return to classrooms in Wales by March 15 so long as the Covid-19 situation ‘continues to improve,’ Mark Drakeford said today

Nine trade unions ganged up on the PM today to demand a 'phased return' for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January.

Nine trade unions ganged up on the PM today to demand a ‘phased return’ for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January.

Even if it did begin early next month as the Prime Minister proposes, such a process would not realistically be completed until the week of April 19, education bosses claim. 

Mr Chalke told the Telegraph: ‘You need a waiting area, a testing area, a holding area, an administrative area and an isolation area for people who test positive.

‘You need to have someone in charge of it all, someone to assist with the testing, someone in charge of the collation of the data, someone in charge of the hosting area, someone in charge of waste disposal, someone to oversee the isolation area – it is quite an operation.’

He added that schools would become ‘a medical centre’ if more than one year group was being brought in for testing at the same time.   

All primary school pupils and those facing exams will return to classrooms in Wales by March 15 so long as the Covid-19 situation ‘continues to improve,’ Mark Drakeford said today. 

The First Minister will announce no further changes to the country’s level four restrictions – which have been in place since December 20 – as stay-at-home rules are extended for at least another three weeks.

Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face classes from Monday, Mr Drakeford confirmed.   

There will also be returns for some vocational learners, including apprentices, to colleges so they can access training for their practical qualifications. 

‘I’ll be saying today that on Monday March 15, provided things continue to improve, all primary school children will be back in face-to-face education and those students in secondary schools who are facing examinations, we aim to get them back in the classroom as well,’ the Labour leader said.

‘And then we will carefully review as part of our deal with our teaching unions and local education authorities. We take a step, we collect the evidence, we decide what to do next.’

Government denies Chris Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ about schools reopening in March 

The Government was forced to deny last night that Chris Whitty felt ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8.

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections.

Boris Johnson has made it clear that he wants all ten million schoolchildren and staff to return on March 8.

But education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with this.

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections. Pictured, Chris Whitty

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections. Pictured, Chris Whitty

Some officials fear a mass return will increase infection rates and create problems administering pupils’ Covid tests.

Ministers and senior advisers want Mr Whitty to back a full return publicly, but he is said to be ‘lukewarm’.

Last night, a Department for Education source branded the claim ‘absolute b******t’, and a Government source also said it was ‘categorically untrue’.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach.

It believes the first option will lead to a bigger rise in the so-called ‘R value’ – which measures how quickly the virus will spread. But it insists ministers must weigh up the risks against pupils’ wellbeing.

Officials including Mr Whitty have repeatedly stressed the damage to children of being forced to stay at home.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

Unions want a phased return. Nine organisations representing teachers, heads, support staff and governors united to warn against the Prime Minister’s plan. They said getting all children back at once on March 8 seemed a ‘reckless action’ that could ‘trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus’.

In a statement, they called on the Prime Minister to only commit to the March 8 date if the scientific evidence was ‘absolutely clear that this is safe’, and he should ‘go no further than a phased return’.

Mr Johnson is due to set out a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday. But Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, wrote on the Times Educational Supplement website to urge caution rather than ‘risking a big bang that could blow up in our faces’.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Schools are the best place for young people’s education, development and wellbeing. Pupils will return from March 8 at the earliest.’  

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