Early evening summary

  • A government document intended to win over Tory MPs reluctant to vote for the three-tier coronavirus restrictions in England tomorrow has failed to impress backbenchers. They wanted a cost-benefit analysis of the restrictions. But the assessment published this afternoon does not provide that. (See 5.56pm and 6.08pm.) Mel Stride, the Conservative chair of the Commons Treasury committee, said:

On a number of occasions, I’ve requested from the chancellor and Treasury officials that they publish an analysis of the economic impacts of the three tiers.

With little over 24 hours until MPs vote on the new tiered system, this rehashed document offers very little further in economic terms other than that which the OBR published last week.

It’s frustrating that there is little here that sets out how the different tiers might impact on the specific sectors and regions across the country.

Those looking for additional economic analysis of the new tiered system will struggle to find it in this document.

  • Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has claimed that some areas of England could be moved into a lower tier before Christmas. Speaking at a No 10 conference, he said:

We will look at the data on December 16 and will announce the results of that review on December 17.

Of course you’ve got to take into account that Christmas is coming up, but, nevertheless, with the case rates coming down as they are - coming down by almost third in the last week - then we will be absolutely looking at each area and seeing what is the right tier for that area.

I want to see areas that have pulled together, followed the rules, got the case rate down - like Liverpool has over the last month, which has led to it going into Tier 2 - I want to see that happening more broadly.

That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog. It’s here.

Updated

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, caused some confusion during his press conference when he said that there was “specific provision” in the rules for England that would allow people living in a tier 2 area, who are in a relationship but not living together, to meet up. As the Mirror explains, the rules seem to say the opposite.

Hancock may have been referring to the support bubble exemption.

Here is some more comment on the government’s analysis of the health, economic and social effects of the restrictions. The commentariat is not impressed. That may not matter to No 10, but if Tory MPs in the Covid Recovery Group are disappointed too, then Boris Johnson will face a bigger rebellion in the vote tomorrow. (See 11.06am.)

From the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves

Govt 'analysis' says it's 'not possible' to spell out detailed economic impact of Covid tiers. But Boris Johnson vetoed Tier 3 for London last week after being told it would cost 500,000 jobs. Where's that analysis for the rest of the country?

— Jason Groves (@JasonGroves1) November 30, 2020

From the Spectator’s Kate Andrews

This is remarkable. The 'economic assessment' is posing questions MPs were expecting to have answered by this document. 'Impact of the tier will depend on a range of things' - that's what this analysis was supposed to take a stab at! pic.twitter.com/sUsPAbSzWX

— Kate Andrews (@KateAndrs) November 30, 2020

From Sky’s Beth Rigby

This table being shared by MPs. Shows pre-pandemic morbidity & mortality of certain conditions in 2019. You can see from this table the huge impact lockdown is having on mental health. pic.twitter.com/VTEQ69OFPj

— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) November 30, 2020

Uh-oh. Just spoken to one leading member of the Covid Recovery Group who tells me this impact assessment is “rather less substantial than we were hoping for”

— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) November 30, 2020

Turning back to the government’s coronavirus analysis (see 4.46pm and 5.04pm), if you are looking for better example of how to do a cost-benefit analysis of lockdown options, Ian Mulheirn, head of policy at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, produced one earlier this month. It is here.

Mulheirn is not impressed by the government’s version, as he has been explaining on Twitter.

This is the entire question. But HMT says 'don't know' pic.twitter.com/fvrvURXZg5

— Ian Mulheirn (@ianmulheirn) November 30, 2020

Gov says it's 'not possible' to assess the impact of the virus on the economy.

But by enforcing tough restrictions they indicate that they have made such an assessment. Odd that they won't tell us what it is... https://t.co/midYbXndFE

— Ian Mulheirn (@ianmulheirn) November 30, 2020

Two strange things about this: 1) despite para 3.20 being *the* question, the exec summary of the doc makes no reference to the impact of the virus on the economy 2) there have been numerous attempts to make assessment of that effect. Take this from the IMF for eg https://t.co/nNNWB3oqpO pic.twitter.com/56S0wWc1Kh

— Ian Mulheirn (@ianmulheirn) November 30, 2020

Q: Are Tory MPs thinking of voting against the government tomorrow being irresponsible?

Hancock says he would urge all MPs to vote for the government tomorrow. He says the tiering system is not as strict as lockdown. But measures are needed to keep the virus down.

Powis says, without further restrictions, there will be further deaths.

Q: There are 23m people living in tier 3 areas. How many of them are likely to get access to community testing?

Messenger says he cannot say. Planning is still underway. It will vary from area to area, he says.

He says this is an offer that will extend over time.

He says areas will get prioritised according to their infection rate, the length of time they have been under restrictions, and their preparedness for the programme.

That’s it. The press conference is over.

Q: How to you respond to claims the mass testing programme could detract from the vaccine programme? And is this an admission that test and trace has no worked?

Hancock says he does not accept either claim.

The community testing programme is an expansion of what was available before, he says.

And he says a testing programme needs to run alongside a vaccination programme. They are designed to be symbiotic.

The rollout of the community testing programme shows how successful test and trace has been in building up capacity, he says.

Messenger says he has only been in the job for three weeks, but agrees with what Hancock says. He says test and trace has been very supportive.

Hancock says the government does not plan to making having the vaccine mandatory. It thinks there will be a very high take-up without compulsion being needed.

Hancock claims there is realistic chance of some areas moving down a tier before Christmas

Q: Is there any realistic chance of any part of England moving down a tier before Christmas?

Hancock says he does not accept that. They will look at the data on 16 December, and announce the results on 17 December. But case rates are coming down, he says. He wants to see what happened in Liverpool, which pulled down cases and went into tier 2, happen more broadly.

Q: How will you have the same success you had in Liverpool in other places where councils are not getting the same support Liverpool did?

Hancock says the plan being published this afternoon will offer councils extra money – £14 per test done, he says. He says that is equivalent to what happened in Liverpool.

Gen Sir Gordon Messenger, who is in charge of the programme, says they are calling it community testing not mass testing. It is about communities, he says.

He says the Liverpool programme was delivered by the military. But in other places it will have to be delivered locally – albeit with military support.

Updated

Q: How effective will testing for students be given it is voluntary?

Hancock says the government wants as many students as possible to be able to have access to testing.

And he says he thinks the government decided it was best to keep this voluntary.

Q: How worried is the NHS about Christmas leading to a new wave of cases in January?

Powis says it is very important for the NHS to get infection rates down. He says the NHS is always at its busiest in January, February and heading into March. There are more chest infections then. And there are more slips and falls too.

Updated

Q: What rules apply to couples who live in tier 2, but do not live together. Are they only allowed to meet apart?

Hancock says the rules are on the website.

He says there is specific provision for people in a relationship. But generally people in tier 2 should only be mixing indoors with people in their household.

UPDATE: See 6.22pm for further explanation of what Hancock may have meant.

Updated

Prof Stephen Powis, the medical director for NHS England, is now presenting this slide.

Hospital inpatient numbers
Hospital inpatient numbers Photograph: No 10

Hancock says the government now has the capacity to do more with its mass testing programme.

It is rolling out its university testing programme from today.

In Liverpool, where mass testing has been used, the case rates have been reduced by three-quarters, he says.

He says he is publishing a community testing prospectus, which will tell local authorities how they can use mass testing to “come down the tiers”.

Many councils have already expressed an interest, he says.

Updated

Matt Hancock's press conference

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is speaking now at the No 10 press conference.

He says the virus is now “back under control”.

He says there are now on average 14,778 positive cases per day. But on 16 November the seven-day average was 25,331.

He says today there are 15,712 patients in hospital in the UK. A week ago that figure was 16,612, he says.

And he says before the lockdown in England cases were going up 11% per week. Last week they fell 30%, he says.

If you are interested in what a proper cost-benefit analysis of lockdown measures might look like, do take a look at this report (pdf) from the Centre for Economic Performance published in April. It sought to compare the impact of long and short lockdowns on overall “wellbeing years”. There is a summary here.

Updated

Mark Harper, the chair of the Covid Research Group, which represents anti-lockdown or lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, has criticised the government for releasing its analysis so late. In a statement he said:

I welcome the fact that the government has at last published some cost-benefit analysis and data in support of its proposals. I am disappointed MPs, journalists and the public have been given so little time to digest information of this magnitude. We are, after all, talking about imposing some of the most severe restrictions on our constituents and the way they lead their lives and run their businesses. This information is what ministers should have been insisting on before they made their decisions so it surely could have been made available earlier.

As I have said before, I and a number of colleagues are particularly keen to understand the likely impact of the restrictions on Covid and the full extent of some of the non-Covid health implications they have, as well as the undoubted impact on livelihoods.

So we will read and analyse this data tonight and report back on our findings later tomorrow.

In truth, much of the information in the analysis was “made available earlier” because a lot of it has been published before. For example, large chunks of it have come straight out of the Office for Budget Responsibility report published last week.

Preventing NHS from being overwhelmed is key policy priority, government analysis confirms

Here is an extract from the summary in the government’s coronavirus restrictions analysis (pdf).

The Covid Research Group wanted a cost-benefit analysis, but this document does not provide an assessment in quite those terms. Instead it confirms that the government’s overwhelming priority is to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed. It says:

The challenge of balancing the different health and societal impacts, and taking a long-term perspective on these, is not straightforward but the government has and will continue to pursue the best overall outcomes, continually reviewing the evidence and seeking the best health, scientific and economic advice.

Within this, there is one property of Covid-19 that has unfortunately been stark throughout: without taking these tough measures across the country to control Covid-19, the reproduction number would move significantly above 1 and transmission would escalate rapidly. We have observed as much over periods where we have tried to relax restrictions, but we are now in a position where hospital admission and occupancy rates are already much higher than in the summer. It is an inescapable fact that exponential growth leads to a situation where the NHS would become overwhelmed and there would be insufficient capacity for those patients must critically in need of it, whether Covid-19 or non-Covid-19 patients. The corresponding cost to society of higher death rates is not one that any government or country would willingly tolerate.

Against an alternative of allowing the NHS to be overwhelmed, the introduction of the tiering measures delivers very high health benefits across three of the four categories of health impact (with the fourth being unclear). It is the government’s intention and belief that the situation will finally change during 2021, as vaccines and community testing yield benefits, but until then such measures are considered vital in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

And at another point the document says:

A stable and fully functioning health system is one of the pillars that underpins our society and our economy. The government’s view is that the severe loss of life and other health impacts of allowing the NHS to be overwhelmed would be intolerable for our society.

Updated

And the UK government has just published its assessment (pdf) of the health, economic and social impact of the new restrictions. This is meant to be the cost-benefit analysis that Tory lockdown-sceptics in the Covid Recovery Group have been demanding. (See 9.28am.)

I will post a summary once I’ve taken a look.

The UK government has just updated its coronavirus dashboard. Here are the key figures.

  • The UK has recorded 12,330 further cases. That is up from 12,155 yesterday, but down from 15,450 a week ago today. Week on week, new cases are down 24%.
  • The UK has recorded 205 further coronavirus deaths. That’s down from 215 yesterday, and just one lower than the total for Monday last week (206). Week on week, the death numbers are still rising, but much more gradually than they were earlier in the month. There have been 3,222 deaths in the last seven days - an increase of 4.5% on the total for the previous week.

The UK government has just published the text of the regulations that will apply in England from Wednesday if they are approved by MPs tomorrow. They run to 70 pages.

Sturgeon is now winding up.

In the hardest of times, the pandemic has taught us much about ourselves and our country.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that we must have confidence in each other.

We have a tough winter yet ahead of us.

I pledge today that I will dedicate every ounce of my energy to steer us through it as safely as I possibly can ...

Wherever we come from - and whoever we vote for - we all care for Scotland.

So let’s get to it with hope, love and compassion.

Let’s continue to support each other through these turbulent times.

And then, together, build that better Scotland we know is possible.

Nicola Sturgeon delivering her speech.
Nicola Sturgeon delivering her speech. Photograph: AP

Sturgeon announces one-off £500 thank you payment to NHS and adult social care staff in Scotland

Sturgeon said the Scottish government was in the early stages of negotiating a pay increase for NHS staff.

But she said she was giving them a one-off thank you payment first.

Those who have worked in our hospitals and care homes - caring for the sick and dying, at the sharpest end of the Covid trauma - deserve recognition now.

So I can announce today that, on behalf of us all, the Scottish government will give every full time NHS and adult social care worker £500 as a one-off thank you payment for their extraordinary service in this toughest of years.

Those who work part time will get a proportionate share.

The money will be paid in this financial year and it will be separate from any negotiations about pay for the longer term. There are no strings attached.

Sturgeon said the Scottish government did not have the power to make this tax-free. But Westminster did, she said. Addressing the prime minister, she said:

Please allow our health and care heroes to keep every penny of Scotland’s thank you to them.

Do not take any of it away in tax.

Sturgeon accused Boris Johnson of using Brexit to undermine devolution. She said:

Having - in their minds - taken control back from the EU [the Tories] now want to take it back from Scotland too.

Boris Johnson is using Brexit – which people in Scotland voted overwhelmingly against – to fundamentally undermine the Scottish parliament – which people in Scotland voted overwhelmingly for.

That’s turning democracy on its head.

When Johnson called devolution a “disaster”, that was no slip of the tongue, she said.

From the perspective of Boris Johnson and those with his world view devolution has has been disastrous.

Disastrous for them.

It has loosened Westminster control.

And given the people of Scotland a voice.

And it’s meant Tory prime ministers having to pretend to listen to first ministers like me.

Believe me, they really, really don’t like that.

Sturgeon said she could understand why some people would like more devolution for Scotland as an alternative to independence.

But the hard truth is this.

A stronger Scottish parliament is not on offer from Westminster.

Far from it. They intend to take away powers our parliament already has.

Updated

As an example of how devolution showed how policies created in Scotland could be better than those drafted in Westminster, Sturgeon referred to the SNP proposal to offer free lunch and breakfast to every primary school child in Scotland, which she described as “a truly landmark commitment”, and her plan for families on low incomes in Scotland to get a £100 winter payment. (See 9.33am.)

She also announced a plan to pay employers £5,000 for every new apprentice they take on between the ages of 16 and 24.

Sturgeon says Covid crisis has made case for Scottish independence even stronger

Sturgeon said the case for Scottish independence was powerful.

Who do we want to be in the driving seat of shaping Scotland’s future?

Should it be Scottish governments - of whatever party - elected by the people of Scotland and with the priorities and interests of Scotland at heart?

Or Westminster governments that time and again we have rejected?

And the Covid crisis made the argument for independence even stronger, she claimed.

The Scottish government hasn’t got everything right - far from it.

But I doubt there are many people in Scotland who would have wanted Westminster to be more in charge of our pandemic response.

In the depth of crisis, we have looked to and trusted our own government and Parliament to steer us through.

Sturgeon said people should use the Covid crisis as a catalyst for change.

The pandemic has highlighted and deepened inequalities that have existed in our country for generations.

And, in so doing, it has laid down a challenge.

The challenge of no longer accepting problems as inevitable or insoluble.

This must be a moment - if I can paraphrase the late Bobby Kennedy - not to look at the challenges our country faces and ask why.

But to imagine instead how we overcome these challenges and ask why not?

And she said it should people should harness the “can-do spirit” triggered by the pandemic.

Covid has caused incalculable grief and suffering.

But just maybe we can draw something of value from it too.

A determination to never again take for granted something as simple as giving another person a hug.

And a renewed belief that what we once thought impossible, can be done if we put our minds to it.

In the face of crisis, we’ve shown that.

We created new domestic supply lines for PPE.

Within days, whole new systems were built to deliver support to the vulnerable.

Rough sleepers were given homes.

Armies of volunteers sprung into action.

And in a matter of weeks, a brand new hospital was ready to open its doors.

As we emerge from crisis, we must harness that same can-do spirit.

Updated

Sturgeon said her government had made mistakes during the crisis.

I’ve done my best to get these decisions as right as I can.

And I’ve had the support of an outstanding team of ministers and advisers.

I can never thank them enough.

But I know we’ve made mistakes.

And the responsibility for that is mine and mine alone.

I feel it deeply, and I always will.

But I feel immense gratitude, too.

I want to thank everyone across the country for bearing the sacrifices asked of you with such strength and patience, and for the love and care you have shown each other.

Sturgeon says at times she has felt 'completely overwhelmed' by Covid crisis

Turning to coronavirus, Sturgeon said at time she had felt “completely overwhelmed” by the crisis.

The challenges we’ve faced, and the sacrifices we’ve all been asked to make, would have been unthinkable this time last year.

If you feel utterly exhausted by it all, believe me, you’re not alone.

Politicians usually run a mile from admitting human frailty.

But these aren’t normal times.

I don’t mind saying that these last nine months have been the hardest of my life.

I’ve had many dark days and sleepless nights, struggling with the horrendous choices the pandemic has forced upon us.

At times I’ve felt completely overwhelmed - as I’m sure many of you have.

And I feel a deep sadness for the lives that have been lost.

Not a single day passes that I don’t think of families who are grieving.

Updated

Sturgeon's speech to SNP conference

Nicola Sturgeon has just started delivering her speech to the SNP’s online conference.

She started by addressing Brexit.

In just a month’s time, Scotland will be forced - against our will - into a much more distant relationship with our friends across the European Union.

So, before we go any further, I want to send this message to our European friends and neighbours.

You are - and always will be - part of who we are.

You are not distant to us.

To those of you who have come from other countries to live here in ours, thank you.

Lib Dems says they won't vote for new three-tier restrictions for England

The Liberal Democrats have announced that they will not support the government’s new coronavirus tier system in a Commons vote on Tuesday, with the party’s leader, Sir Ed Davey, calling it “arbitrary, confused and chaotic”.

Davey has written to Boris Johnson seeking clarity on elements of the system, including its evidence base, more support for hospitality firms, and a reform of test and trace. The party will decide later whether its MPs will abstain or vote against the measures.

The Lib Dems, like Labour, supported the government in the vote over the soon-to-end four-week Covid lockdown across England. Labour has not yet said how it will vote.

In the letter, Davey wrote:

As it stands, we cannot in all conscience vote for this unsafe plan. The government has failed once again to put together a plan to bring the virus under control and keep people safe.

The new tier system is arbitrary, confused and chaotic and the government has failed yet again to deliver the test, trace and isolate strategy to beat this virus and end this pandemic.

And Scotland has recorded 369 further cases and three new deaths. But the death figures are always very low on a Monday, because registration offices are closed at the weekend, and the Scottish government says today’s case numbers may be unduly low because of a data processing issue.

But the figure for the number of people in hospital in Scotland with coronavirus should be reliable. It’s 1,041. That’s down from 1,049 yesterday, down from 1,208 a week ago today and down from 1,227 two weeks ago today.

In Northern Ireland 290 further positive cases and 10 further deaths have been reported. A week ago today the equivalent figures were 280 and three.

The Department of Health #COVID19 dashboard has been updated with latest data.

290 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. A further 10 deaths have been reported.https://t.co/YN16dmGzhv pic.twitter.com/Q1VDL8bXIo

— Department of Health (@healthdpt) November 30, 2020

Updated

Here are the latest case numbers and death figures from Public Health Wales. There have been 802 new cases and three further deaths.

A week ago today there were 892 new cases and nine deaths.

The rapid COVID-19 surveillance dashboard has been updated.

💻https://t.co/zpWRYSUbfh
📱https://t.co/HSclxpZjBh

Read our daily statement here: https://t.co/u6SKHz0zsG pic.twitter.com/fOF0UIkXHr

— Public Health Wales (@PublicHealthW) November 30, 2020

NHS England has announced 183 further coronavirus deaths. There were 57 in the north-east and Yorkshire, 55 in the Midlands, 19 in the north-west, 16 in the south-east, 13 in London, 12 in the south-west and 11 in the east of England. The details are here.

A week ago today the figure was 178.

Plaid Cymru has accused the Welsh government of easing restrictions after the 17-day “firebreak” lockdown too quickly. In response to the new ban on pubs and restaurants selling alcohol, Plaid’s economy spokesperson, Helen Mary Jones, said:

This is going to be incredibly challenging for the hospitality sector and it is deeply regretful that we’ve found ourselves in this position. Plaid Cymru called for stricter measures as we came out of the firebreak – including a more gradual easing of restrictions and optimising Wales’s own testing capacity to reach the 24-hour turnaround timescale target. The Labour Welsh government failed to do that and now hospitality is paying the price.

Here is my colleague Steven Morris’s story about the new restrictions.

Updated

Tory West Midlands mayor tells Sunak tier 3 hospitality needs more help

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, has warned the chancellor Rishi Sunak that the hospitality sector faces a “crippling” Christmas period unless he provides urgent financial support in areas under the strictest coronavirus restrictions.

In a letter to Sunak, Street said many bars, pubs and restaurants would “go to the wall” without more help from the Treasury. He wrote:

Our wet-led venues are experiencing particular difficulty, with the industry expecting around 80% of pubs and bars to be put into a ‘perilous position’ over the coming months.

Many of these businesses will also have made extensive outlays to adapt their venues to accommodate prior tiering restrictions. They now face a Christmas period with no prospect of recouping this investment, let alone making up for all the custom lost since March.

More than just commercial enterprises, these venues are often anchors for the communities they serve. Their loss would be keenly felt.

For larger and medium-sized businesses in the sector (including restaurants and hotels), the size of their overheads and remaining staff costs is such that they cannot survive on monthly grants capped at £3,000. Without the prospect of a support package that scales to meet their size, many will go to the wall, as will the suppliers that depend upon them.

Street, who is arguably the most influential Conservative leader outside Westminster, suggested the Treasury announce an improved grant scheme and an extension of business rates relief and VAT cuts beyond March 2021.

Our region’s hospitality sector is facing crisis because of Tier 3, & the restrictions are set to be a crippling blow to many businesses unless urgent financial support is provided. The Chancellor responded to our calls for more support in the Autumn & I’m hopeful he will again. pic.twitter.com/WvtJpWljkJ

— Andy Street (@andy4wm) November 30, 2020

Vaccination minister says venues may decide not to admit people who haven't had jab

At the weekend Nadhim Zahawi, a business minister, was put in charge of the vaccine rollout. He is now a minister jointly serving the business and health departments.

In his first interview in his new role, Zahawi told the World at One that the government was looking at the idea of issuing people with “immunity passports”. But he said that he thought it would be service providers, not the government, that ended up asking for these. He told the programme:

We are looking at the technology. And, of course, a way of people being able to inform their GP that they have been vaccinated.

But, also, I think you’ll probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system - as they have done with the app.

I think that in many ways the pressure will come from both ways, from service providers who’ll say ‘look, demonstrate to us that you have been vaccinated’.

But, also, we will make the technology as easy and accessible as possible.

Asked if that meant people without a vaccine might be limited in what they could do, he replied:

I think people have to make a decision. But, I think you’ll probably find many service providers will want to engage with this in the way they did with the app.

Zahawi also confirmed that the government would not make having the vaccine compulsory.

Nadhim Zahawi.
Nadhim Zahawi. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

The Scottish National party is continuing to use a freelance television presenter, Hayley Matthews, as the host of its online conference today after it emerged she had endorsed and circulated anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Matthews, a former BBC Scotland and STV presenter who has acted as the face of the SNP conference this weekend, deleted her Twitter account after the Record newspaper quoted her saying she would never give her child “a flu jab or have any covid shite” among a number of anti-vaccination tweets, some of which reportedly reflect QAnon conspiracies.

Matthews is still expected to introduce Nicola Sturgeon’s keynote speech later today. Sturgeon was questioned whether Matthews’ views made her the right choice to host the SNP conference and indicated she would remain in that role. Sturgeon replied:

The views that I have seen attributed to her in the media today are absolutely emphatically not the views of the SNP and obviously not the views of the Scottish government.

I have seen a comment from her this morning saying she will absolutely get the vaccine when it is available ... Clearly these are not views I would share or endorse in any shape or form.

Privately SNP officials are furious, and admit the conference organisers had failed to screen their recruits; one source said it had been a struggle organising a complex online conference due to the constraints of coronavirus. He added: “It’s far from good.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “Hayley is a working presenter and was hired to do that job. She’s not an anti-vaxxer, as her newspaper column made clear.” It provided a quote from her saying: “I’m not an anti-vaxxer and I’ll be getting vaccinated just as soon as offered it.”

Updated

Father Christmas will not need to wear a mask in grottos but children will be barred from sitting on his knees under coronavirus rules in England, Downing Street has said. The topic came up at the No 10 lobby briefing and the prime minister’s spokesman told journalists:

We know that meeting Father Christmas is a magical experience for children which is why he will be taking safety precautions including ensuring that he is operating in a Covid-secure way, but it won’t be required for Santa to wear a mask.

A student takes a swab for a lateral flow test on the first day of operation of new asymptomatic testing site in the University of Hull’s Allam Sport Centre in Hull.
A student takes a swab for a lateral flow test on the first day of operation of new asymptomatic testing site in the University of Hull’s Allam Sport Centre in Hull. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

It is possible that Boris Johnson may not be the only party leader to see some of his MPs rebel tomorrow in the vote on the new restrictions for England. Labour has not yet said how it will vote, but yesterday Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said the party was “not in favour of rejecting public health measures”. That means Labour won’t vote against, and it suggests the party is more likely to vote in favour than to abstain.

But Richard Burgon, secretary of the Socialist Campaign group, has released a statement on Facebook this morning saying he won’t vote for the measures. Here’s an extract.

The new tier system will not only fail to drive the virus levels down, but there’s a real risk that taking the foot off the brake over the coming weeks will undermine the gains made by the current lockdown. That will make a third wave and yet another lockdown much more likely in the new year. A sustained economic recovery simply isn’t possible if we’re having to constantly move in and out of restrictions.

Instead, I think it would be better to carry on driving the virus levels down now and get it to much more manageable levels by extending the current lockdown until Christmas. That way the test and trace system, which is clearly not up to the job, would have a much better chance of succeeding.

But Burgon does not commit to voting against the measures in his Facebook post, and if he (and others) were to abstain when whipped to vote in favour, that would only count as the most vanilla form of parliamentary rebellion. There is almost nothing in his Facebook post that Sir Keir Starmer would actually disagree with.

The Welsh Conservatives have described the ban on pubs and restaurants in Wales from selling alcohol as “unnecessary and unfair”. These are from Andrew RT Davies, the shadow health minister in the Senedd (Welsh assembly).

The First Minister's announcement is a hammer blow for many people's livelihoods & businesses across Wales, especially as they were promised by Labour ministers that the firebreak lockdown would secure them the vital trading window to the New Year.

— Andrew RT Davies (@AndrewRTDavies) November 30, 2020

Such severe blanket nationwide measures are unnecessary & unfair, particularly in areas where incidence rates are relatively low in Wales. Ministers need to be far more targeted & they also have many questions to answer on what actions they took (or didn't!) during the firebreak.

— Andrew RT Davies (@AndrewRTDavies) November 30, 2020

Jenrick urges councils to let retailers extend opening hours in December and January

Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, has confirmed that the government is seeking to make it easier for retailers in England to extend their opening hours from Monday to Saturday in the run-up to Christmas and in January. In a news release he said:

None of us entirely enjoy navigating the crowds, especially now when social distancing is so important for controlling the pandemic. So with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.

But the news release, and the written ministerial statement issued alongside it, make it clear that Jenrick is not actually changing any law to facilitate this. Local authorities generally determine opening times for shops. What Jenrick is doing is just making it clear to councils that government wants them to “take a positive approach when engaging with retailers who wish to extend their retail opening hours”.

Bristol city council has confirmed the army is at Ashton Gate Stadium to prepare for a mass Covid vaccination programme. (See 11.30am.) A spokesperson said:

The work at Ashton Gate is being co-ordinated by the army in preparation for the NHS-led vaccination programme. Whilst the council is providing public health advice and guidance the roll-out is something the local CCG [clinical commissioning group] is leading on.

Updated

Here is the news release from the Welsh government about the new restrictions just announced by Mark Drakeford, including a ban on pubs and restaurants serving alcohol.

The release also contains further detail of the economic support being provided. In total the Welsh government is announcing measures worth £340m, coming from two funds.

Restrictions business fund - £160m

This is what the government says about this fund.

The restrictions business fund will enable eligible businesses in the hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors which pay non-domestic rates (NDR) to access grants of up to £5,000.

It is estimated around 60,000 businesses, with a rateable value of under £150,000 will receive this support.

Businesses not on the NDR system, will be able to continue to apply to local authorities for the lockdown discretionary grant of up to £2,000.

Economic Resilience fund - £180m

This is for the hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses. This is what the government says about how it will work.

Small and medium sized businesses meeting the criteria could receive up to £100k. Larger Welsh-based businesses could receive up to a maximum of £150k.

This part of the package is expected to support up to 8,000 businesses in these sectors and a further 2,000 in the related supply chains.

Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she could take legal action if the UK government failed to authorise an independence referendum if the Scottish National party wins a majority in next year’s Holyrood election. (See 10.10am.)

Sturgeon is under heavy pressure from some activists in her party to plan for an unofficial or wildcat referendum next year, since Boris Johnson has repeatedly ruled out agreeing to a new vote even if the SNP wins most seats in May.

Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP championing calls for a harder line, tweeted that Sturgeon should use her keynote speech later today, which is also St Andrew’s day, to “get off bended knee.”

Wise words from @ruth_wishart - St Andrew’s Day #indy vow should be to get off bended knee https://t.co/hW35XNWBmJ

— Joanna Cherry QC (@joannaccherry) November 30, 2020

On Sunday, Cherry said the party had to consider what it would do if Johnson maintained the “Trumpian” stance of refusing to accept an election win as a mandate for that second referendum.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Sturgeon insisted the best, legitimate route was by pressing home that mandate with the UK government, and asking for a mutually-agreed process very similar to the Edinburgh agreement between the Scottish and UK governments in 2012 which set up the 2014 referendum.

That was signed after her predecessor Alex Salmond won an overall Holyrood majority in 2011, leading to a legally-based referendum using temporary powers under section 30 of the Scotland act. That remains Sturgeon’s preferred route: that would command popular and international legitimacy, she said.

However, if that was blocked by Westminster next year, she may launch a legal challenge. “Whether the Westminster government has to agree to that as was agreed was the case in 2014, that’s never been tested in court. And I hope it never has to be tested in court but I don’t rule anything like that out,” she said.

Pressed on Cherry’s complaints, Sturgeon retorted that it was for critics of her strategy to produce a viable alternative route.

I believe that the plan to say this is a matter that should be determined democratically is actually the right one and why should those who are arguing that democratic route be the ones who have to come up with plans to deal with those who are arguing against democracy?

At his press conference, when asked why the new restrictions are being imposed in parts of Wales where case rates are low, Drakeford quotes an extract from the article that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, published in the Times (paywall) on Saturday justifying what is happening in England, where areas with low rates of coronavirus are also covered by tough restrictions. Gove wrote:

Why is it that we did not take an even more localised approach, and carve up local authorities? Because we are a small, densely populated country where this virus has proven it can spread with ease — so casting the net wide is more effective.

Drakeford says he agrees with Gove.

Updated

Q: What will success look like with these measures? Will it reduce the number of new cases, or just slow the rate of increase?

Drakeford says his priority is to ensure NHS in Wales does not get overwhelmed.

Q: If pubs are closing at 6pm anyway, why not allow people to drink at lunchtime. Does drinking at lunchtime pose a risk?

Drakeford says you have to look at the impact of measures cumulatively, in the round. You can always find a reason for a particular exemption. But this will reduce the effectiveness of the package as a whole, he says.

Q: Is your aim to bring R, the reproduction number, below 1?

Drakeford says his aim is to stop the health service being overwhelmed.

Q: Do you think the Welsh firebreak should have lasted longer?

Drakeford says the advice the government was given was that, if the firebreak went early and went deep, it would be effective. So he thinks 17 days was the right length.

But he says it is a more open question as to whether the restrictions were eased too much once it was over.

Updated

Q: You are spending a significant amount on supporting business. What does the evidence say about what impact these measures will have on the spread of coronavirus?

Drakeford says the measures come as a package. He says it is hard to say exactly what impact one particular measure will have. But he says the Sage assessment was that tier 3 measures in England did work. He says what was different in Wales was that it had a much more liberal approach to hospitality. That is why pubs have been targeted, he says.

Pubs and restaurants in Wales to be banned from selling alcohol as restrictions tighten, Drakeford announces

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, is holding his briefing now.

He says the Welsh government has been told further restrictions are needed to control the epidemic. Without them, he says the government has been told there would be 2,200 coronavirus patients in hospital in Wales by 12 January.

And he says there would be between 1,000 and 1,700 preventable deaths over the winter without further restrictions.

Cases are continuing to rise, he says. He says on Friday there were 187 new cases per 100,000 people in Wales. Today the figure is 210 new cases per 100,000 people.

Cases are rising particularly amongst the over-60s, he says.

He says, as a result, the cabinet has decided to impose new restrictions.

  • Pubs, bars and restaurants will be banned from selling alcohol, Drakeford says. The new rule will come into force from 6pm on Friday. They will also have to close regularly at 6pm, and after that they will only be allowed to serve takeaways.
  • Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, bingo halls, soft play areas and casinos will also have to close under rules coming into force from 6pm on Friday, he says.

Drakeford says a £180m support package will be available for the tourism, leisure and hospitality sector, in addition to the help available from the UK government.

Mark Drakeford
Mark Drakeford Photograph: Welsh government

Updated

Nottingham University has said students could be “fast-tracked” to exclusion after police broke up a 200-strong gathering at a hall of residence, PA Media reports. Officers were called to a courtyard outside a student block at the university on Saturday evening and Nottinghamshire police said investigations are ongoing into the incident. The university echoed the force’s words after they broke up the party, saying there was “no excuse” for flouting the coronavirus regulations.

Updated

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is going to take the Downing Street press conference at 5pm this afternoon, No 10 has said. He will give details of how councils in tier 3 areas can apply for support for mass testing.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, being confronted by the anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray (right) in Westminster today.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, being confronted by the anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray (right) in Westminster today. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Just 18 local areas in England are currently recording a rise in Covid-19 case rates, according to an analysis by PA Media. Everywhere else - 297 out of 315 areas across the country - is recording a fall, PA says.

Of those 18 areas where rates are increasing, eight will be placed in tier 3 of the government’s Covid-19 restrictions from December 2: Ashford, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe, Maidstone, Medway and Tonbridge & Malling in Kent, plus Boston in Lincolnshire and South Ribble in Lancashire.

The other 10 areas where the rate is increasing will be going into tier 2.

Here is the PA guide to what is happening in the English regions. Covid rates are for the week ending November 25 and have been calculated by PA using data published by Public Health England

North-east England

This is the only region in England to be entirely in tier 3. Rates are dropping in all local areas. The biggest week-on-week fall is for Hartlepool, down sharply from 523.2 cases per 100,000 people to 265.8.

North-west England

Most of the north-west has been put in tier 3, with some notable exceptions: the six local authorities within the Liverpool city region; Warrington; Cheshire East; Cheshire West & Chester; and the county of Cumbria. All of these are in tier 2. There is just one local area in the region currently recording a rise in rates, however. This is South Ribble, where the rate is up very slightly from 224.8 to 232.9.

Yorkshire & the Humber

Almost the whole of this region is going into tier 3, save for the city of York and the county of North Yorkshire, which will be in tier 2. Rates are falling right across the region, however.

West Midlands

Every area in the West Midlands is currently recording a fall in rates. The biggest week-on-week drop is in Lichfield in Staffordshire, where the rate is down from 370.4 to 194.7.

East Midlands

Rates are falling in every local area in the East Midlands except one: Boston in Lincolnshire, where the rate has risen from 428.9 to 515.9. The biggest week-on-week drop in the region is in Blaby in Leicestershire, down from 423.5 to 236.4.

Eastern England

The whole of eastern England is going into tier 2. Five of the 18 areas of England currently recording a rise in rates are in this region: Basildon, Harlow, Ipswich, North Norfolk and Peterborough.

London

London is another region that will be entirely in tier 2 from 2 December. Rates are down in every local authority within the capital except one: Waltham Forest, where they have risen very slightly from 208.7 to 210.8. Havering has recorded the biggest week-on-week fall, down from 386.8 to 284.7.

South-east England

Eight of the 67 areas in this region are recording a rise. Six of these will be placed in tier 3 from December 2: Ashford, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe, Maidstone, Medway and Tonbridge & Malling. The other two - Surrey Heath and Woking - will be in tier 2.

South-west England

Just two local authority areas in south-west England have recorded a rise in the latest figures, but both are very small increases: Mendip, up from 109.9 to 116.8, and Torridge, up from 90.8 to 92.3. Both of these areas will be in tier 2.

Three areas in the south-west are going into tier 3: Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Bristol currently has the highest rate in the region (208.5) while Cotswold has the lowest (36.7).

Updated

Army personnel have been spotted at the Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol, which has been earmarked by health chiefs as a potential site for mass Covid vaccination.

Plans for the vaccination programme for Bristol and some of the surrounding areas have appeared in a report to one of the local health boards.

It describes the stadium, home to Bristol City FC and the Bristol Bears rugby team, as a “potential large scale site” for vaccinations.

The vaccination programme would be overseen by North Bristol NHS trust and be available to people from Bristol, north Somerset and south Gloucestershire, all areas due to go into tier 3 this week.

Updated

Here is a question from BTL worth flagging up - a) because I actually have an answer, and b) because this will become a big story next year.

@Andrew. Any idea what happened to the fixed term parliament act review? Have any findings been published by the set up committee (assuming one was set)?

The Prime Minister also has a legal duty to arrange a review of the FTPA in 2020.
Between June and November 2020, the Prime Minister has to arrange for a committee to carry out a review of the Act. He has to publish the committee’s findings. The committee may recommend that the Act is repealed or amended. A majority of members of the committee have to be MPs.

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/the-fixed-term-parliaments-act/

Yes. A joint committee has been set up to look at the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. It’s website is here. Patrick McLoughlin, the former transport secretary and former Conservative party chairman, is the chair.

The committee has to report by 26 February 2021. It has just invited interested parties to make submissions, with the deadline for those set for 4 January 2021.

Updated

Two anti-lockdown Conservatives have been giving interviews this morning explaining why it is so important for them to see a cost-benefit analysis of the restrictions being introduced this week before they decide how to vote.

Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham in West Sussex, told Sky News:

If the government cannot produce the data, and the logic, for me to be able to convince my constituents, I cannot vote when the vote is put before us tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. It’s not about rebellion; it’s about doing what is best for our constituencies.

Tim Loughton
Tim Loughton Photograph: Sky News

And Adam Afriyie, who represents Windsor in Berkshire, told the Today progamme:

In the absence of a cost-benefit analysis, and a health and harms analysis, then my default position is I cannot look my constituents in the eye, shut down their businesses, drive unemployment up by another million or two, without the proper understanding, or sight even, of the data. So, yes, it’s very, very important.

Loughton and Afriyie were among the 32 Tories who voted against the November lockdown for England. But the Covid Research Group is not just opposing the government at all costs, and it is keen to use its leverage to obtain maximum concessions. (See 10.30am.) Afriyie said that he hoped that, having read the government’s cost-benefit analysis, he would be able to say that “this is categorically the best way forward for the country”.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, arriving with his team for today’s UK-EU trade talks in London, followed by anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray holding pro-EU placards.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, arriving with his team for today’s UK-EU trade talks in London, followed by anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray holding pro-EU placards. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

Up to 10 extra police cars will be on patrol in the far south-west of England to respond to Covid-related issues as Cornwall gears up to re-open.

There are concerns that visitors may this week head to Cornwall, one of only three areas in England that have been placed in tier 1, for a taste of freedom.

Devon and Cornwall police confirmed:

As part of the Covid surge funding that the force has received from the government, Devon and Cornwall police have made up to 10 additional dedicated double-crewed units to be available to patrol at various locations across the force area.

Their sole purpose will be to respond to Covid-related matters and these vehicles are additional to current response levels.

Our policing approach from those working within these vehicles is the same as our wider approach, and that is to engage, explain and encourage people to comply, and as a last resort consider enforcement via a fixed penalty notice.

The force is refusing to say when and where the vehicles will be on patrol.

Updated

Rebel Tories welcome reports Treasury planning extra support for pubs and restaurants

Today the Daily Telegraph is reporting that the government is planning to announce extra support for pubs and restaurants affected by the restrictions coming into force on Wednesday. In their splash Gordon Rayner and Charles Hymas quote a government source saying:

There are already grants of £2,000 and £3,000 for businesses in tiers 2 and 3, but we recognise that we need to do more.

This news has been welcomed by the Covid Recovery Group, which represents 70 or more anti-lockdown or lockdown-sceptic Tories and which is coordinating the potential revolt on tomorrow’s vote on the new restrictions. In a statement the CRG chair Mark Harper said:

I welcome the fact that the government has recognised our concerns about the enormous impact that its proposals will have on the hospitality industry and has suggested further support.

We look forward to seeing the detail of the support proposed being set out before the vote on the restrictions tomorrow evening, along with the cost-benefit analysis we’ve been asking for. I am particularly concerned about some of the non-Covid health implications these restrictions have been having. This needs to be published as soon as practically possible, so that MPs have a chance to digest it ahead of tomorrow’s vote.

The report has not been denied by the Treasury, but it will be embarrassing for Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, to have to effectively supplement what he announced in the spending review only five days or so after it was delivered. But it won’t be the first time Covid has resulted in economic plans being rewritten within a week of a big Treasury statement. This happened in a far more dramatic fashion in March.

Mark Harper.
Mark Harper. Photograph: PRU/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has also been giving interviews this morning. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, she said that if the UK government refused to allow the Scottish government to hold a second independence referendum (which it wants to to if, as expected, it wins a majority in next year’s Holyrood elections), she was not ruling getting the supreme court to rule on whether that was constitutional. She said:

I have never ruled out having a situation where this question, which has never been determined in courts - of does the Scottish parliament have the power to have a referendum regardless of what Westminster says, or not? That’s never been tested. I have never ruled that out.

But I don’t think that should be the preference.

Me and Boris Johnson can argue the toss over whether Scotland should be independent or not - it’s entirely legitimate for him to argue against it.

What’s not, in my view, legitimate or acceptable is for him to say that’s not for the Scottish people to decide and he can somehow stand in the way of democracy.

(The Westminster government is certain that it does have the final say on whether or not a lawful independence referendum should go ahead, but the law evolves and a case like this would be unprecedented, so a legal challenge might produce a surprise result.)

Sturgeon also told the programme that she would not be having an “indoor Christmas dinner” with her parents this year. Asked about her own Christmas plans, she said:

Normally, Christmas, my husband and I would have both our families here in our own home. We will not be doing that this year.

I’ve not seen my parents since July and I would dearly love to see them today and at Christmas, but I don’t want to put them at risk when a vaccine is so close.

We might go and have a family walk somewhere, but the idea ... of an indoors Christmas dinner is something we will not do this year.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, was doing the morning interview round on behalf of the government this morning. He was out to talk about the government’s plans for a post-Brexit subsidy regime for farmers, but he was taking questions on coronavirus too. Here are the key points.

  • Eustice refused to rule out a third national lockdown for England being announced in January. He told Sky News:

Provided we maintain the tiered approach for as long as necessary I don’t think it will be necessary to go back into another full lockdown.

But, when asked if he could rule one out, he replied: “You can’t rule anything out because this is a rapidly developing situation.”

  • Eustice confirmed that the government was planning to allow shops to stay open for longer, including on Sundays, in the run-up to Christmas, to reduce the risk of over-crowding, but he played down the prospect of this leading to 24-hour opening.
  • He dismissed claims that food prices might rise as a result of the new subsidy regime being introduced for farmers. He said:

We think prices for food will remain stable, and what we are actually doing is making grants available to farmers so they can invest in new equipment and technology so they can reduce their costs.

If you remove this area-based subsidy that you see now, there is likely to be a reduction in land rents, which cuts costs again for farmers.

  • He said the new system for farmers would be introduced gradually. He said:

We are very mindful of the dependency on these subsidy payments; that is why we are not going to do this overnight. This will be an evolution, not a revolution; we are going to change things over seven years.

George Eustice on ITv’s Good Morning Britain this morning.
George Eustice on ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

Families on low incomes in Scotland will be given a £100 winter payment before Christmas to help cushion the costs of winter energy, clothing and meal costs, Nicola Sturgeon will announce today.

In advance of her speech to the Scottish National party’s annual conference later, the first minister said the funding was part of a £100m fund for people struggling with the impacts of the Covid crisis.

About a quarter of the fund will go to around 150,000 poorer families whose children receive free school meals; the Scottish government had been due to introduce a £10 a week payment to families with children under six this winter but that had been delayed until February.

The rest will be targeted at other groups including older people unable to access digital services and the homeless.

The Scottish Tories said the money being used by Sturgeon came from significant levels of extra funding from the UK government worth £9.5bn to cope with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including its affects on the poorest.

Sturgeon said the £100 payments was a “bridge” between now and the introduction of the £10 a week payment. “The money will be paid before Christmas and families can use it for whatever will help them through the winter,” she added.

That could be food, new shoes or a winter coat for the kids. Families will know best what they need. That’s not for government to decide.

Initiatives like this are not just about providing practical help to those who need it most - they are an expression of our values and of the kind of country we are seeking to build.

Nicola Sturgeon on ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning.
Nicola Sturgeon on ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

No 10 to publish analysis in bid to persuade Tory rebels to back England tiers

Good morning. With MPs due to vote tomorrow on the three-tier coronavirus restrictions for England due to come into force when the lockdown ends on Wednesday, Downing Street is continuing its efforts to contain the revolt planned by Tory lockdown-sceptics in the Covid Recovery Group who have been angered to discover that their constituencies, unexpectedly, are in tiers 3 or 2.

On Saturday night Johnson wrote a letter to all MPs offering a string of concessions relating to parliamentary scrutiny of the rules, including a hint that some areas could be moved into a lower tier just before Christmas. Last night he wrote a letter to the CRG appealing for “unity”. And today the government is due to publish a cost-benefit analysis of the health, economic and social impact of the restrictions - a key CRG demand.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, told Sky News this morning that up to 100 MPs had concerns, but that the government wanted to assure them that it had a “clear route” back towards normality. He said:

The chief whip, obviously, will be talking to those MPs who have got concerns. I’ve seen suggestions that there could be up to 100 or so people that have got concerns. I think there is great frustration with the emergency measures that we have had to take to deal with this pandemic.

We haven’t taken them lightly. We have had to take these to get the virus under control. What we need to show to those MPs and to the country at large is that we have got a clear route towards fixing this problem and turning the corner.

Here is the agenda for the day.

12pm: Downing Street is due to hold its daily lobby briefing.

12.15pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, holds a briefing where he is expected to announce changes to coronavirus restrictions.

12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, holds her regular coronavirus briefing.

3.30pm: Sturgeon delivers her speech to the SNP conference.

At some point today the UK government is also due to publishes its cost-benefit analysis of economic, health and social impact of the three-tier lockdown restrictions for England. Boris Johnson has also got a visit to north Wales.

And, for about the fourth time this month, the UK-EU trade talks enter what is being billed as the final, make-or-break week that will determine whether a deal is struck etc etc.

Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Updated

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