After an exciting evening we are now closing the blog, thank you for following developments with us.
BBC’s Newsnight’s take on the reported acrimony between Boris Johnson and his advisers.
Boris Johnson accused Dominic Cummings of briefing against him and Carrie Symonds, his fiancee, during a tense 45-minute showdown before the adviser’s departure, according to sources.
The prime minister’s senior adviser left Downing Street with his belongings in a cardboard box on Friday evening. Lee Cain, Downing Street’s director of communications, was also told to leave.
Interesting musing from veteran political journalist Michael Crick.
Tomorrow’s Guardian front page.
Saturday’s Times front page.
Tomorrow’s Telegraph front page.
A selection of Saturday’s front pages now, starting with the FT.
Downing Street have insisted that Cummings’s departure would not impact Brexit talks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman James Slack insisted that suggestions the Government could compromise on key principles in the wake of Cummings’s decision to leave were “simply false”.
Cummings was widely perceived as the mastermind behind the victorious Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum.
Talks on a free trade agreement between the UK and EU have been continuing this week in London and are due to “pause” over the weekend before resuming next week in Brussels.
London and the EU are trying to hammer out a post-Brexit trade deal after the current transition period finishes on December 31.
Nigel Farage has insisted the exit of Boris Johnson’s top aide from Downing Street means a “Brexit sell-out” is looming.
The Brexit Party leader tweeted: “It is well documented that I have never liked Dominic Cummings but he has backed Brexit.
“Seeing him leave Number 10 carrying a cardboard box tells me a Brexit sell-out is close.”
The BBC is reporting that Cummings will continue to work from home, on issues such as mass coronavirus testing, until the middle of December.
The prime minister is said to want to “clear the air and move on”.
From the FT’s Sebastian Payne.
Whitehall officials think Cummings will turn his fire on Boris Johnson: “Dom is going to have to face up to the fact that after spending years writing millions of words in his blogs, he has achieved nothing in government,” said one ministerial adviser.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell told Sky News: “I’m worried that it might signal a sell-out on the Brexit deal, but I also feel that Dominic Cummings needed to move on as its all becoming too chaotic in Number 10. Boris needs a big relaunch for 2021.”
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron gives his reaction.
The FT’s Jim Pickard has tweeted:
“I’m told there is a blog coming. Spads [special advisers] are preparing about how to respond,” said one official who witnessed the day’s dramatic events. “It’s really the last days of Rome in here.”
Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, president of the European Movement UK, said: “In an interview in March, I forecast Dominic Cummings would be gone by Christmas.
I can think of no man who has done so much harm to this country in so short a time.
“He has left a generation to pay the price of Brexit.”
Guti Harri, former adviser to Boris Johnson said, Cummings had to go.
He told ITV: “Most of the public should have never heard of Dominic Cummings but they do because he imposed laws on the rest of us that he ignored himself.
And went on then to treat us as idiots giving the most preposterous excuse for his behaviour and thinking we were mad enough to take it.
You can’t have someone at the heart of public life who treats the public with contempt.”
A Labour source on Cummings’ departure.
Dominic Cummings is back at his London home after leaving Downing Street and appeared at his side door to receive a package.
He was holding his young son and asked journalists not to film as he opened his door.
Senior MP Sir Roger Gale welcomed the news of Dominic Cummings’ imminent departure.
I would like the Prime Minister to see this as an opportunity to muck out the stable and get in the team of people he really needs and deserves behind him,” he told the BBC.
Reports are emerging that Cummings and Cain may have been placed on gardening leave until mid-December.
On the big political story in town, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “Boris Johnson’s most senior advisers are abandoning the Prime Minister like rats on a sinking ship - just as the UK faces a devastating extreme Brexit, a second wave of coronavirus, and a growing Tory unemployment crisis.
It tells you everything you need to know about this arrogant, incompetent and self-serving Tory Government that they are ditching their responsibilities - at the exact moment their reckless decisions are causing the maximum damage to people across the UK.
“If the Prime Minister had a shred of integrity he would pack his own bags and go with them. His tenure has been beset by abysmal failure, utter incompetence, and the alienation of Scotland and the other devolved nations.
“Scotland has been completely ignored by Westminster under Boris Johnson. We now face the prospect of an extreme Brexit, a Tory power grab, and the worst economic crisis in decades. It’s no wonder that the growing majority of people agree that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent country.”
Twitter has been a livelier platform than on a normal Friday night.
Gavin Barwell, former chief of staff to then-Prime Minister Theresa May, tweeted this:
Sir Edward Lister will take on the role of chief of staff for an interim period, succeeding Dominic Cummings, pending a permanent appointment to the post, a Number 10 spokesman said.
The former home secretary, Amber Rudd, has tweeted this.
Cummings’ rise to political prominence came as part of Michael Gove’s team, but it was his role as campaign director at the official Brexit group Vote Leave which boosted his public profile.
This may have been helped by the portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch in a Channel 4 drama about the campaign, which played up his role in covering a red bus with the hotly-disputed 350 million-a-week for the NHS claim.
After the Brexit vote, Cummings became a folk hero to many who voted to Leave, and he was hired by Boris Johnson as senior adviser at Number 10 when he became Prime Minister in the summer of 2019.
The appointment of the abrasive former campaign director raised eyebrows in Westminster, especially given he had been found to be in contempt of Parliament earlier in the year for refusing to give evidence to MPs investigating misinformation, and was a noted critic of the Whitehall machine.
He built a reputation as someone who did things differently, working on his goal of reshaping Whitehall, issuing a recruitment call for data scientists, economists and “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to shake up the Civil Service.
Cummings once described David Davis, the then-Brexit secretary, as “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus” in July 2017.
In April, Cummings was back in the headlines when it emerged he had been present at meetings of the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies co-ordinating the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Downing Street insisted there was nothing untoward about his attendance, but opposition MPs and some scientists suggested it risked political interference in science-based advice from Sage.
Cummings also drew criticism when he was accused of breaking lockdown rules by visiting his parents’ home in Durham while he was recovering from Covid-19.
There are reports emerging that Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain may continue to work for the prime minister for another month.
My colleague Peter Walker has the full story on Cummings’ resignation.
The FT’s Jim Pickard has tweeted that Sir Eddie Lister will be the temporary successor to Cummings.
Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said it is time to restore “respect, integrity and trust”, which he said have been “lacking in recent months” between No 10 and Tory MPs.
“It’s an opportunity to reset how the government operates and to emphasise some values about what we want to project as a Conservative party in government,” the chair of the Commons liaison committee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m not surprised in a way that it is ending in the way it is. No prime minister can afford a single adviser to become a running story, dominating his government’s communications and crowding out the proper messages the government wants to convey.
“Nobody is indispensable.”
Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, stepped down from his role with immediate effect, rather than waiting for the end of the year, the BBC is reporting.
The broadcaster said the aide had spoken to the prime minister earlier today where it was decided it was best for him to resign immediately.
#DominicGoing is currently trending on Twitter.
Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, has responded to the Cummings news by tweeting “Not before time.”
On Cumming’s reported departure, backbencher Sir Roger Gale told Sky News the former Vote Leave boss had “become a distraction” and a “malign influence at the centre of Downing Street for too long”.
It’s right that he should go,” he said, adding: “The sooner he leaves the better.”
Theresa Villiers, a former cabinet minister, welcomed the “good opportunity for a fresh start” that will also be marked by Lee Cain relinquishing his role as Downing Street’s head of communications.
Dominic Cummings 'leaves Downing Street role'
Dominic Cummings has left Downing Street this evening for good, a government source told Sky News.
The government adviser was seen carrying boxes away from Downing Street as the BBC reported he had left his role with immediate effect.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said: “Let’s move a little bit away from EastEnders and more to the West Wing.”
It follows reports that Cummings was expected to leave his position by the end of the year.
He had insisted “rumours of me threatening to resign are invented”, adding his “position hasn’t changed since my January blog” when he said that he wanted to make himself “largely redundant” by the end of 2020.
- The government’s science advisers have suggested that, after the English lockdown ends on 2 December, new restrictions will be needed that are stricter than those that were in place before it started. That’s because, if England just returns to the tier regime in place before 5 November, the virus will start spreading again, they say. (See 2.08pm.)
- The rate of increase of new coronavirus infections in England appears to be slowing, data suggests, although the death toll is expected to remain high for weeks to come.
- Conservative MPs have hailed news of Dominic Cummings’ departure from Downing Street, saying they hope it could mark a change of approach in No 10.
- A standoff in the Brexit negotiations has been blamed on the factional infighting in Downing Street, as Dominic Cummings confirmed he will leave the government by Christmas.
- The number of prisoners to have tested positive for coronavirus in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic more than doubled in the space of a month in October, figures reveal.
- The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has urged fellow Hindus to “follow the rules” during Diwali as he lit small clay oil lamps on the doorstep of his official residence at 11 Downing Street to mark the beginning of the five-day festival of lights.
- Sonia Khan, the special adviser who was escorted out of Downing Street by police on the orders of Dominic Cummings, has been given a five-figure payoff by the government.
That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog.
Here is a better version of the picture of Dominic Cummings leaving No 10 with a large cardboard box.
From ITV’s Robert Peston
There has been a mixed reaction to the plan drawn up by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and the Metropolitan police requiring the force to hire 40% of new recruits from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, formerly in charge of overseeing the Met when Boris Johnson was London mayor, could not resist pointing out the Labour successor had lifted a policy from the Conservative administration.
The plans include new recruits to Britain’s biggest police force having to live in London – a requirement which under Khan had been dropped. Malthouse said:
I have consistently pushed for the return of Boris’ London residency requirement so I welcome this change.
The former Met police chief Leroy Logan, said:
As usual, Cressida Dick fails to acknowledge institutional racism. However, she appears to be realising the problems the Met is suffering from under her leadership and appears to be coming out of a state of total denial.
Andrew George, the president of the National Black Police Association, said:
The NBPA welcome the admission from the commissioner that racism and discrimination exists in the service. We believe that the majority of officers in London do all they can to keep all communities safe. However, we believe that the force remains institutionally racist which manifests in the systems and processes which work to the detriment of black communities.
Sian Berry, a Green party member of the London assembly, said Dick had been slow to realise there had been a problem. She said:
The commissioner has consistently taken an attitude that there isn’t a problem in the Met when I’ve challenged her in the past, so I’m glad she is fully signed up to this action plan.
I would warn, however, that there is a real risk this action plan becomes a PR exercise aimed at improving people’s perception of the police, without real changes on the ground that make sure every Londoner has true equality before the law.
We need to see a real reduction in discrimination and a new respect for human rights, especially for those of Black Londoners. I will wait to see outcomes we can measure and will be scrutinising the evidence at City Hall.
UK records 27,301 further coronavirus cases - second highest daily total
The government has updated its coronavirus dashboard. Here are the latest key figures.
- The UK has recored 27,301 further coronavirus cases. That is well below yesterday’s record high (33,470), but it is still the second highest daily figure on record. As a result of the figures over the last 48 hours, the number of positive cases in the past week is now 9% up on the number in the previous week. A few days ago positive case numbers seemed to be levelling off. Today’s figures will reinforce other findings (see 10.32am) suggesting there was a rise in the number of people being infected in the period just before the lockdown – perhaps because people were making the most of their last chance to go out.
- The UK has recorded 376 further coronavirus deaths. That is the lowest daily total this week since Monday (194). But there have been 2,829 deaths in the last seven days – a 26% increase on the previous week.
A major Covid outbreak at Barlinnie prison has raised serious concerns both for prisoner and staff health, and for prison service transparency, says the Howard League Scotland.
The Scottish Prison Service confirmed that 400 prisoners – a third of the jail’s population – were self-isolating, while 205 staff are reported to be on sick leave or isolating.
But Howard League Scotland points out that information about the numbers of prisoners testing positive – which leapt to 116 this afternoon – had not been updated on the prison service website for 42 days.
The campaigners also point out that, in the midst of a second wave of infections, the prison population has already returned to 93% of its pre-pandemic levels.
And in Northern Ireland there have been 607 more coronavirus cases. That is up from 548 yesterday and 595 last Friday.
And there have been 11 further deaths, down from 15 yesterday but up from eight last Friday.
Public Health Wales has recorded 797 further coronavirus cases. That is down from 867 yesterday and 1,352 a week ago.
And there have been 29 further deaths, down from 34 yesterday but up from 13 a week ago.
These are from Sky’s Beth Rigby.
Labour has suspended a number of members who passed a motion criticising the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn for his reaction to the damning report into antisemitism within the party during his leadership. As PA Media reports, the group from the Bristol West constituency Labour party face disciplinary action over the motion which branded the former leader’s treatment as a “politically motivated attack against the left” of the party.
Scotland has recorded 1,357 further coronavirus cases. That is up from 1,212 yesterday and 1,072 last Friday.
There are 1,228 people in hospital. That is up from 1,207 yesterday, but slightly down from 1,237 last Friday.
And there have been 56 further deaths. That is the second highest daily death figure during this wave of the pandemic, after Wednesday, when 64 deaths were announced. On Friday last week, 31 deaths were announced.
NHS England has recorded 246 further coronavirus hospital deaths. The details are here.
That is down from 317 yesterday, but up from 218 a week ago.
School reopening may have higher impact on Covid transmission than previously thought, report says
The Welsh government’s technical advisory group (TAG) has said there is new evidence that schools being open is associated with higher rates of Covid infection in the general population.
It calls for other measures, such as older pupils wearing face coverings in classrooms and mass testing in schools and colleges, to be considered.
Additional modelling and empirical data ... indicates that there is now evidence of higher levels of infection and transmission in school-based age groups than previously recognised, a higher rate of asymptomatic transmission, and children are more likely to be the first case in a household.
This new evidence indicates that schools being open is associated with higher rates of infection in the population, although the mechanism for this remains unclear (potentially including many factors such as reopening of workplaces, parents returning to work, shops and hospitality, social mixing outside schools).
But it also says there is a positive case for schools staying open.
There is strong evidence that continuing preschool, school or college attendance is important to support the wellbeing of children and young people in terms of physical, psychological and social needs, to access additional support such as free school meals and SEN support, as well as being instrumental in reducing inequalities in educational outcomes.
The report suggests further measures should be considered to reduce transmission in schools.
Additional mitigations should be considered including ways of reducing daily face to face contacts to reduce exposure risk, and the possibility of wearing face coverings for older age groups in more circumstances, including on public and dedicated transport. This could even include in the classroom on a risk assessed basis.
Consideration should be given to exploring the feasibility of mass asymptomatic testing programmes in school and college settings to enhance infection control and maintain confidence of students, parents and staff.
The ONS weekly infection survey (see 12.29pm), which is seen as one of the most reliable guides to the prevalence of coronavirus, now covers all four nations of the UK. Here are the four-nation figures from today’s report which covers the week ending 6 November.
In England around 1 in 85 people had Covid, the ONS said. That amounted to 654,000 people, according to the central estimate.
That is an increase from 1 in 90 the previous week.
In Wales the rate was also 1 in 85, the ONS said. That amounted to 35,300 people, according to the central estimate.
That was an increase from 1 in 110 people the previous week.
In Northern Ireland around 1 in 105 people had Covid, the ONS said. That amounted to 17,800 people, according to the central estimate.
That was a decrease from 1 in 75 people the previous week.
And in Scotland around 1 in 135 people had the virus, the ONS said. That amounted to 39,700 people, according to the central estimate.
That was a decrease from the figure for the week before, 1 in 110, although that was the figure for a two-week period (because the ONS Scottish data came later, and so it did not have a week-only figure last week).
And here is a chart showing different infection rates for the English regions.
Covid cases in prisons in England and Wales double in October
The number of prisoners who have tested positive for coronavirus in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic more than doubled in the space of a month in October, my colleague Jamie Grierson reports.
This slide shows the number of coronavirus cases falling back in most parts of Wales.
In Merthyr the rate per 100,000 people is around 420, down from a peak of almost 770. The rate in Wrexham has almost halved to around 150 cases.
The only place the trend is up is Ceredigion in west Wales – this is largely due to care home cases.
Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, said: “We need to keep building on this.”
Post-lockdown rules in England will need to be stricter than before it started, Sage suggests
The government has just released a new batch of papers from Sage, its Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies, and one document shows that Sage wants restrictions in England after the lockdown ends on 2 December to be stricter than what was in place when it started.
Here is the report (pdf), a consensus statement from SPI-M-O, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which is effectively a Sage sub committee. It is dated 4 November, the day before the lockdown started.
At that point SPI-M-O said R, the reproduction number, for England was between 1.1 and 1.3 - meaning the virus was still growing. And it said the growth rate was between 2% and 4% per day.
Here are the key quotes.
- SPI-M-O said that, if England just went back to the restrictions in force pre-lockdown after 2 December, the virus would start growing again. It said:
The longer-term outlook depends on both the nature of non-pharmaceutical interventions that are implemented in England after 2 December and policies over the festive period. If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before 5 November, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.
- It said tier 3 measures on their own might not be enough to drive R below 1. In a passage assessing the impact of the three-tier system in place before the lockdown started, it said:
Initial analysis shows a clear effect from tier 3 interventions and much less from tiers 1 and 2. It is not yet clear whether tier 3 measures alone are sufficient to reduce the reproduction number below 1.
Tier 3 measures were the strictest, involving, among other restrictions, pubs only be allowed to open as restaurants and people in tier 3 areas being advised not to travel outside them.
- But it said the lockdown should drive R below 1. It said:
If well-adhered to, the lockdown measures due to start in England on 5 November are likely to reduce R to less than 1. 24.
If this is sustained until 2 December, the number of hospital admissions and deaths would be expected to fall until at least the second week of December.
The report also includes projections showing what would happen to hospital numbers and deaths without the lockdown, and what would happen to the figures if the lockdown got R down to 0.6 (purple line), 0.8 (blue line), 0.9 (green line) or 1.1 (yellow line).
More than 50 people who attended a student party in Cardiff have been issued with fixed-penalty notices, South Wales police have said. A spokesperson said:
South Wales police was alerted to the large gathering at a halls of residence on Friday night [6 November] and on arrival officers found music blaring and dozens of individuals inside.
The details of each person were taken on the night, and officers have since worked closely with Cardiff Metropolitan University to retrospectively issue 52 fixed-penalty notices.
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said those caught needed to think about the risk they were posing to each other and to everyone else they might come into contact with. “I hope they think again about the choices they make in the future,” he said.
Theresa Villiers, the former environment secretary and a Vote Leave supporter, has said the departure of Dominic Cummings from No 10 will be “a good opportunity for a fresh start”. She told PA Media:
Clearly there are concerns about the dismissive attitude sometimes shown by Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings towards people in government and MPs on the backbenches.
And this is an opportunity to move on from that and to have a more collaborative approach.
Leading Scotland’s coronavirus briefing, deputy first minister John Swinney began by welcoming “a real piece of bright good news”. He was, of course, referring to the national team’s nail-biting win over Serbia last night, qualifying for a major tournament after more than 20 years, and not the personnel changes at Downing Street.
Asked about some concerning scenes posted on social media of relieved fans crowding together, Swinney said he acknowledged that “we are all missing the chance to embrace, to hug”. He went on:
We all understand the natural desire to celebrate but the virus is a very real threat to all of our lives and our communities. Although we’re all frustrated and fed up with restrictions and when something comes along like a magnificent football team victory we all want to celebrate ... but we all have to understand that following social distancing rules and facts guidance is critical.
Responding earlier to scenes of football fans in an Aberdeen beer garden, Susan Webb, director of public health at NHS Grampian, said:
While I cannot comment on these specific circumstances, I can say this: this virus does not rest. It does not take a minute off, much less 90 minutes, extra time and penalties.
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman refused to say anything more about the departure of Dominic Cummings. He would not even say whether Cummings had handed in his notice. All he did was refer to the blog that Cummings wrote in January alluding to his future.
For the record, here is the key section. I’ve highlighted the key sentence in bold.
We want to improve performance and make me much less important – and within a year largely redundant. At the moment I have to make decisions well outside what Charlie Munger calls my ‘circle of competence’ and we do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed. This must change fast so we can properly serve the public.
Cummings also flagged up this passage when he spoke to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg about his future. If you are leaving a job, it always less embarrassing if you can say that you were always intending to go anyway.
Cummings, of course, has got form for citing previous blog entries to show that events haven’t taken him by surprise. However, unlike in a previous example, in this case he has not had go back to quietly edit his previous work to make him seem more prescient than he was.
Pilot scheme using tests to allow relatives to visit care homes in England to start on Monday, No 10 says
And here are some more lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
- The prime minister’s spokesman said that a pilot project to test selected visitors to care homes in England for coronavirus will begin on Monday. He said:
From Monday we are launching testing pilots across 30 care homes. That will be using various PCR tests and the new lateral flow tests to allow specific families and friends to undertake indoor visits to residents.
- He said the UK-EU trade talks would resume in Brussels next week after a “pause” this weekend. He said:
In terms of where we are, as I’ve said consistently this week, the negotiating teams are working very hard to try to bridge the significant gaps between us.
For our part we continue to seek solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty but the familiar difficult issues remain, including on the so-called level playing field and fisheries.
- He insisted that the post-Brexit transition would definitely end on 31 December. There has been some media speculation about a possible extension. But the spokesman said:
Time is in very short supply. The transition period will end on December 31, there is no doubt about that whatsoever.
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, has said there are “positive but early signs” that coronavirus rates are starting to fall.
He said it was still too soon for the full impact of the Welsh 17-day firebreak to be felt but flagged up sharp falls in areas that had been hard hit, such as Merthyr Tydfil, in south Wales, and Wrexham in the north.
Gething urged people not to “bend the rules” when they went on nights out – for example, by booking two tables and pushing them together.
He acknowledged rugby fans would be meeting tonight to watch the Wales v Ireland international but urged people to be cautious, saying: “If we try to go back to normal, we will lose the progress we have made.”
Gething confirmed there had been talks between the government and the military over testing the whole of Merthyr – but said no decision had been made on this.
On Christmas, Gething said the hope was there could be “common travel arrangements” covering the whole of the UK.
No 10 insists Cummings' departure does not mean PM softening his stance on Brexit
Downing Street has rejected suggestions that the departure of Dominic Cummings means the government will soften its stance in the UK-EU trade talks. The Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts suggested this earlier. (See 12.15pm.) But, when asked if this was correct, the PM’s spokesman said:
Absolutely not. That is simply false. The government’s position in relation to the future trade agreement negotiations is unchanged.
R between 1.0 and 1.2 in the UK, down slightly from last week, government says
The government has released its latest estimate for R, the reproduction number, revealing it to be between 1.0 and 1.2 for the UK, down from between 1.1 and 1.3 last week.
For England, the latest estimate puts R at between 1.1 and 1.2. Last week the R number for England was between 1.1 and 1.3.
The number of new cases is growing by between 1% and 3% per day in the UK, the government says. Last week that growth was estimated to be between 2% and 4% a day.
As always, the estimates reflect the situation over the preceding couple of weeks, given time lags in the range of data used.
Nonetheless, they suggest a slight slowing in the growth of the pandemic.
Indeed, while R remains at or above 1 in most regions of England, the latest estimates suggest it is between 0.9 and 1.1 in the north-west.
One person in 85 in England has Covid, latest ONS survey suggests
The rate of increase of new coronavirus infections in England continues to slow, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.
The findings join other datasets in suggesting the spread of the disease is now slowing across the country, although prevalence remains high.
The latest results reveal that around one in 85 people in the community in England – around 654,000 people – had coronavirus between 31 October and 6 November, with around 50,000 new cases per day.
The previous week the survey suggested 618,700 people, or one in 90, had the virus.
While a potential slowdown in the increasing infection rate is good news, there are reasons for concern. The ONS data reveals that while the percentage of those testing positive is decreasing in older teenagers and young adults, and levelling off in other groups under 35 years, it is increasing in those aged 35 and above.
The suggestion of a slowdown chimes with data from the Covid symptom study, led by researchers at King College London, that yesterday put the reproduction number below one in all regions of the UK.
However, other data suggests the situation may be more complex: yesterday new results from the React-1 study led by Imperial College, London suggested there was a large rise in prevalence in mid-October compared with the month before, followed by a sharp fall and subsequent sharp rise before lockdown began. The team said that meant they were not yet confident that infections had levelled off, or might continue to grow.
Wales to hire more than 1,000 extra contact tracers to prepare for future Covid spikes
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, has announced an extra £15.7m to nearly double the contact-tracing workforce in Wales for the winter.
The funding will increase the number of contact-tracing staff in Wales from 1,800 to 3,100 in time for an expected rise in demand in December and through to the end of March. A new all-Wales team is also being set up to support local teams when they have a surge in cases.
Contact tracing is a vital element of our test, trace, protect strategy to stop the spread of the virus.
The contact-tracing system in Wales has performed well so far, with over 90% of contacts being traced successfully since it started. We have used the firebreak period to review test, trace, protect to enable us to maintain and improve performance as we head into what we expect will be a difficult winter, with the possibility that cases will increase.
This extra funding will allow local contact-tracing teams to increase the number of contact tracers and advisers for the busy winter period. We are also creating a new all-Wales tracing team to help our local teams manage surges on days when there are particularly high numbers of new positive cases.
Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian MEP who has been a member of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, has said he thinks the departure of Dominic Cummings means Boris Johnson is preparing to accept EU conditions for a trade deal. These are from Agence France-Presse’s Alex Pigman.
Nobody should get fixated on getting hold of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, because others are coming along that may be better for some groups than others, said Sir Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust, and a key member of the Sage group of government scientific advisers.
What is important is to build up public trust and understanding of the vaccines and work out how best to use them, he said in an interview for a series from the Royal Society of Medicine. He said:
What’s important at the moment is that countries don’t get fixed on only going to be delivering this one vaccine, because they are all still in development. We will learn other things, I believe in the next month, of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, probably the Moderna vaccine, maybe other vaccines, that we’ll learn the results of, including from China, between now and the end of the year.
I think the important thing is we set up the logistics, and the communication strategy. And we start to build, I hope, the degree of trust in the public in these vaccines, [so] that we don’t become narrow-minded, and think it’s all about the Pfizer vaccine, or it’s all about one of the others. There may be advantages in cold chain and logistics. Some vaccines may work better in senior people, others may work better in certain communities. We’ve got to retain the idea of a portfolio here rather than get fixed on any one.
The departure of Dominic Cummings has inspired the FT columnist Robert Shrimsley to dig out his copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince.
From the Times’ Steven Swinford
90,000 people now tested in Liverpool, mayor says
Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, told BBC Breakfast this morning that around 90,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in the city’s mass testing regime introduced last Friday - with 430 testing positive and going into isolation. He said:
Four hundred and thirty people are not spreading the virus, it means that we can break the chain of infection.
Since we’ve been into tier 3 we had 680 people per 100,000 that were positive in the city, we’ve now got that down ... to around 300 per 100,000, so that’s a positive move and a positive step for us.
Anderson also said of the 430 who tested positive, only around 200 showed any symptoms.
Liverpool, which has has a population of around half a million, currently has 38 test centres, but Anderson said he hoped that would increase to around 45 from Monday.
He also said he hoped to get people tested twice during the next month.
From Sky’s Joe Pike
The former Financial Times editor Lionel Barber has been tweeting about Dominic Cummings this morning. (See 8.43am.) That seems a good excuse to flag up a revealing reference to Cummings in The Powerful and the Damned, Barber’s recently published and highly readable diaries from his 14 years as editor.
It’s from March 2016, when Cummings and Vote Leave colleagues had lunch at the FT ahead of the referendum. Barber suggests that saving £350m a week (the Vote Leave Brexit claim), even if true, would be a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of Brexit. The diary goes on:
Cummings says he has no idea what damage such a shock might do. The figure is unknowable and the ordinary person in the street would have little understanding anyway.
The enormity of the faux pas sinks in. Cummings, momentarily flummoxed, says: “This conversation is off the record, right?”
I could throw him overboard but offer a lifeline of sorts. “That’s okay, Dominic, we have lots of people come to the FT and show contempt for ordinary people.”
The Scottish National party says Dominic Cummings has done “irreparable damage” to the Conservative government. This is from Kirsten Oswald, its deputy leader at Westminster. She said:
Boris Johnson’s partnership with Dominic Cummings has caused lasting harm to the UK, and irreparable damage to the Tory government – regardless of whether he finally resigns amid the Downing Street civil war.
The Tory prime minister has always been deeply unpopular in Scotland – but his decision to bring the Vote Leave campaign to the heart of the UK government, and impose an extreme Brexit against our will, has completely alienated Scotland.
Here’s an interesting question from BTL.
Very good question. I can’t say for sure that Biden’s election did not have some impact, perhaps on the timing, but it won’t have been the main reason for the decision to sideline Dominic Cummings/Lee Cain/Vote Leave. I can think of at least three reasons why.
1) It’s been obvious to everyone that No 10, and the government generally, has not been functioning well recently. If you and I can spot that, Boris Johnson can too.
2) The parliamentary Conservative party has for a long time been unhappy with the Cummings regime and there has even been talk recently about letters going to the 1922 Committee chairman demanding a leadership contest. At the moment that is just idle talk. But ultimately MPs can get rid of a prime minister, and their views cannot be ignored for ever.
3) The appointment of Allegra Stratton as press secretary was a clear sign that Johnson no longer wanted to be defined as a rightwing Brexiter. Allegra used to work for the Guardian. I have not asked her what Johnson told her when he asked her to do the job, because I would not expect her to tell me, but my guess is that he said, after Brexit, he wanted to govern in the manner he did as London mayor (when he was a one nation, liberal Tory). I have no inside knowledge on this, but I don’t think she would have taken the job if she thought she was going to spend all her time as press secretary attacking the BBC and the judiciary, defending harsh asylum measures and cheerleading for a no-deal Brexit.
So, pressure for Cummings to go had been building up. But would it have happened this week if Trump had won and rightwing populism was looking a better electoral bet? I don’t know, but quite possibly not.
Yesterday the UK recorded 33,470 further coronavirus cases – a huge leap on the figure for the previous day, and by far the biggest daily total on record. At the No 10 press conference Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS England medical director, was not able to offer an explanation for the sudden increase.
One theory has been that this was related to the leak of the government’s plans for a national lockdown. On the Today programme this morning Prof Steven Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that the leak theory was “not a good explanation” for the rise in coronavirus cases at the very start of November.
Referring to the latest Imperial College React survey, published yesterday, which charts the prevalence of coronavirus in England, and which found an “uptick” in cases at the very end of October and start of November, Riley said:
We do observe a slightly unexpected trend of a kind of fall, then a rise, but it’s difficult to ascribe that to any specific factor.
I think on that point [the supposed link to the lockdown leak], that’s too late, the day that that news came out is probably too late in the sequence of data we have for it to be a primary driver of the uptick at the end of our study. Based on what we see at the moment, that’s not a good explanation for the pattern we see.
But he said it could be that cases rose because people were going out more anyway, guessing that a lockdown was coming. He said:
[The increase] could have been ahead of that time [ie, the lockdown leak], so during that week, if people were anticipating lockdown and started to change their behaviour earlier than the day of that event, then that’s possible.
In a statement last night, the Department of Health and Social Care did admit that infections went up before the lockdown (implying the rise in positive cases was not just caused by more testing, or more testing in high-Covid areas). Asked for an explanation for the sudden increase, a DHSC spokesperson said:
As we have seen throughout this pandemic, there can be daily fluctuations in data so it is important to avoid drawing conclusions from one day’s figures. We must instead focus on the wider trend, which is increasing, particularly in those at highest risk of disease.
There was a rise in infections prior to national restrictions being brought in place and it is vital everyone continues to follow the guidance and takes care to wash hands, wear face coverings and reduce social contact – all of which proved to be highly effective in bringing down transmission rates earlier this year.
Scotland’s health secretary wanted to suspend freedom of information legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to internal government emails obtained by the investigative website the Ferret.
Jeane Freeman made the request as the government was preparing emergency legislation to deal with the pandemic, in response to a request for ministers to suggest items they felt were “urgently required”.
In an email sent on behalf of the cabinet secretary, obtained by the Ferret, Freeman requested the “suspension of FoI legislation in order to allow staff (NHS and local government, but potential to extend more widely) to focus on essential activities”.
Emergency legislation passed at the start of lockdown significantly extended the deadlines for public bodies to respond to FoI requests from the public from 20 to 60 working days. In some circumstances the Scottish government could extend deadlines for bodies other than itself for another 40 working days. But a month later, in May, Holyrood scrapped the controversial proposals, with the second wave of emergency legislation reverting the rule back to the original 20-day deadline after opposition MSPs joined forces.
The Ferret notes that the emails were revealed after its FoI request was returned more than six months late. It also points out a number of high-profile health stories that have used FoI revelations recently, including a BBC Disclosure investigation into care homes and a Sunday Post exclusive that hospitals had discharged patients to care homes despite them having tested positive for coronavirus.
Here are three leading Conservative commentators on Dominic Cummings.
Paul Goodman at ConservativeHome says Cummings is “the greatest British right-wing campaigner of our age” but that his achievements in government have been limited.
Cummings is right-wing. But he has never as far as we know been a member of the Conservative Party. And he is certainly not a Tory: that’s to say, a believer in the collective wisdom of institutions.
Indeed, he can’t see one without savaging it, probably in a blog several thousand words long, as an emperor with no clothes. There is a seething side to his energy and brains – a restlessness, an impatience. He is not in politics, as some MPs of all parties are, for business as usual.
Cummings is sometimes thought of as preoccupied with levelling-up. This is not quite right. Rather, he seems to be in the tradition of Corelli Barnett, the military historian who argues that the cult of the gifted amateur among Britain’s governing classes failed the nation in the last two centuries, and helped to collapse British power ...
Political campaigning has a single aim: winning. In a modern democracy, governing does not. Rather, it must seek to resolve clashes between different interests. Indispensable to this task is the work of a civil service which was there before you came into government and will still be there when you leave.
James Forsyth in the Spectator says Cummings “bent the arc of history”. He says:
Dominic Cummings is one of those rare individuals who has bent the arc of history. He has been crucial, if not indispensable, to several key moments in this country’s recent past. His work at Business for Sterling is one of the things that put Tony Blair off attempting to take the UK into the Euro. Even more importantly, it is hard to believe that Leave would have won the 2016 referendum without the brilliant, heterodox campaign that Cummings devised.
Forsyth also says that later flow tests (the rapid-result ones) are only being rolled out now in the way they are because Cummings pushed the issue in government.
And Fraser Nelson in the Daily Telegraph (paywall), in a column filed before it was confirmed that Cummings was leaving, says he the “Vote Leave model of government – whatever its merits in Brexit negotiation – is failing”.
The Tories who have always loathed Dominic Cummings know that they had best be careful what they wish for. As one puts it, “the only thing worse than Boris with Dom is Boris without Dom”. Johnson is no micro-manager and needs someone with incredible work ethic and ability. He’d like his No10 to run as smoothly as Rishi Sunak’s Treasury – and would certainly like his team to include Cummings. But not necessarily run by Cummings. The era of Vote Leave dominance, in other words, is over.
Shapps says failure to strike UK-EU trade deal won't disrupt imports of Covid vaccine
Turning away from Dominic Cummings for a moment, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, gave an important commitment on coronavirus when interviewed on the Today programme earlier.
At the Downing Street press conference yesterday Alok Sharma, the business secretary, repeatedly failed to give a clear assurance that supplies of the coronavirus vaccine to the UK would not be affected by a no-deal Brexit (ie, no trade deal).
But this morning, when asked if he could rule out any possibility of vaccine imports being disrupted by the failure to strike a UK-EU trade deal, Shapps said he could. He replied:
Yes, I can rule that out, for two reasons.
First of all, we’ve done an immense amount of work on border readiness, and making sure that we’re able to keep goods flowing.
And, even as a back-up to the back-up, as it were, we’ve also signed a freight contract, which is upwards of £100m, to make sure that we are able to get category one goods in, which it won’t surprise you to hear, include things like vaccines.
So, even if there are [problems], which we very much hope that there won’t be – and we’ve planned for there not to be – we still have a back-up.
And this is from Sarah Wollaston, the former pro-remain MP who defected from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems (via Change UK) over Brexit.
'Bullying, deception, hypocrisy and hubris' - Labour on Cummings' legacy
Here is some Labour reaction to the departure of Dominic Cummings.
From Angela Rayner, the deputy leader
From David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary
From Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary
Downing Street has not formally confirmed that Dominic Cummings will leave his job by the end of the year. But, unofficially, No 10 sources are saying that the story is true, and that he is going.
Here is some response from journalists and commentators to the news that Dominic Cummings will be leaving No 10 by the end of the year.
From my colleague Gaby Hinsliff
From Mirror’s Pippa Crerar
From the Independent’s John Rentoul
From ITV’s Paul Brand
From the Mail on Sunday’s Dan Hodges
From David Skelton, the one-nation Conservatism commentator
From Lionel Barber, the former FT editor
From Joey Jones, a former Sky deputy political editor and former aide to Theresa May
From PoliticsHome’s Alan White
From Steve Hawkes, the former Sun deputy political editor
From Michael White, the former Guardian political editor
The Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale has told Sky News that Dominic Cummings was a “malign influence” who was at the centre of power for too long.
Jill Rutter, a former Treasury civil servant who now works for the Institute for Government, says the Conservative party should pay for Sonia Khan’s payoff (see 8.05am), not the taxpayer.
Jenkin says Boris Johnson needs to appoint “substantial people” to the government.
Ministers are very young and inexperienced, he says.
Q: Should the PM have a chief of staff?
Jenkin says he is sceptical of that idea. He says Margaret Thatcher never had one.
But the PM does need people around him who support him and understand what he wants to do. He says Johnson needs someone like the late Sir Simon Milton, Johnson’s deputy for three years when he was mayor of London and someone widely respected as an administrator.
Cummings' departure 'opportunity to reset how government operates', says senior Tory
On the Today programme Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative backbencher, says the depature of Dominic Cummings offers an opportunity for a “reset” in No 10.
It’s an opportunity to reset how the government operates and to emphasise some values about what we want to project as a Conservative party in government.
Looking ahead, he says three watchwords are crucial: respect, integrity, trust.
Asked if he is making a point about Cummings, Jenkin says he does not want to talk about Cummings personally. “In many ways I’ve got a great deal of respect for him,” he says.
He says they worked together at Vote Leave.
(They did - although Jenkin was also involved in the failed attempt by the Vote Leave board to get rid of Cummings, an episode dramatised in Brexit: The Uncivil War, the film staring Benedict Cumberbatch.)
UPDATE: Jenkin also said he was not surprised Cummings was having to leave.
I’m not surprised in a way that it is ending in the way it is. No prime minister can afford a single adviser to become a running story, dominating his government’s communications and crowding out the proper messages the government wants to convey ... Nobody is indispensable.
Special adviser sacked by Cummings to receive payoff
The news about Dominic Cummings’s departure coincides with the revelation that Sonia Khan, who was sacked as a special adviser to the then chancellor, Sajid Javid, by Cummings, has been given a five-figure payoff by the government.
My colleague Rajeev Syal has the story here.
And here is the statement that Khan has issued this morning following the settlement.
Following 14 months of negotiation, I have today reached a settlement with the Treasury, my former employer, and as a result I am no longer pursuing my employment tribunal claim which was due to be heard in London in December.
I would like to thank the FDA [the civil servants union] who have supported this action and were instrumental in finding a settlement, alongside their legal advisers Slater and Gordon.
I would also like to thank the Metropolitan police service for their support during intense scrutiny and pressure for myself and my family, and my current employer, Cicero/AMO, for their wholehearted backing in the last year.
Having reached a settlement of these issues I am now moving on with my life and career. I have a fulfilling job as a consultant, I maintain great affection for the Conservative party and remain a committed Conservative. The party took me under its wing when I was a teen and I feel hugely privileged to have served as a special adviser under the last two prime ministers.
Grant Shapps says government moving to 'different phase' with Dominic Cummings' departure
Good morning. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, is set to leave No 10 by the end of the year. The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, got the story last night. As always with Cummings, nothing is ever straightforward and he has not said yet on the record that he is going. He just said, for quoting, that his position had not changed since he said in January that he wanted to make his position largely redundant by the end of the year. But Kuenssberg has also had a conversation with a “senior No 10 source” who said Cummings would be out by Christmas, and this news is being widely reported this morning, including by journalists known to be close to Cummings.
Why does this matter? Well, when Boris Johnson ran for the Conservative party leadership, he ran as a relatively mainstream Tory. The only real policy difference between himself and Jeremy Hunt, his main rival, was that Johnson said the UK would leave the EU on 31 October 2019. (It didn’t.) Johnson said nothing about hiring Cummings, the combative and controversial Vote Leave campaign director. Indeed, some MPs were even told that Cummings would not get a job in a Johnson administration.
But, then, when he became PM, Johnson promptly installed Cummings as the most powerful aide in No 10, and appointed a large number of Cummings’ Vote Leave colleagues to run policy, and everything else, in Downing Street. In many respects it was a Vote Leave administration more than a Conservative administration.
This worked brilliantly for Johnson in the 2019 general election, which he won handsomely with Cummings’ “Get Brexit Done” campaigning focus. But, in administrative terms, the Vote Leave record has been rather different. Even its supporters admit the team has struggled at times to govern effectively. Its critics say it has been a disaster.
Which is why the departure of Cummings, following the announcement of his ally Lee Cain’s resignation on Wednesday night, is important; it is likely to mark a reset moment for the government, transforming it into something quite different. Or you could call it “shapeshifting”, as they say in the US.
Here is our story on Cummings’ departure.
And this is what Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told Sky News about it this morning.
As [Cummings] wrote right at the beginning of the year in his own words, he planned to make himself largely redundant this year with the big thing that he worked on, of course, which was Brexit, coming to an end at the end of the transition period, which is 31 December.
Of course, the other big thing is helping to ensure we have the rollout mass testing to defeat this virus. Both these things are on the near-term horizon now.
He will be missed but then again we’re moving into a different phase and Brexit will be, we’ve already left Europe, but the transition period will be over, and things move on and advisers do come and go.
I will be covering all the reaction to Cummings’ departure this morning.
But it’s an important day for coronavirus news too, and I will be covering that as well here. At 12pm we will get the ONS’s latest Covid surveillance survey, and we will also get the government’s latest estimate of R, the reproduction number, and the growth rate.
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