Early evening summary
- The north-west of England will not accept being treated “as canaries in the coal mine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy” that even the government’s own medical advisers don’t think will work, the mayor of Greater Manchester has said.
- London is to be formally moved up to the second tier of coronavirus restrictions later this week, a decision backed by the mayor, Sadiq Khan, but which prompted protests from a number of Conservative MPs in the capital.
- Italy is being removed from the UK’s travel corridor in a fresh blow to holidaymakers who will have to quarantine for a fortnight on their return from the country.
- The Welsh government’s plan to ban people entering Wales from coronavirus hotspots in other parts of the UK risks stirring “division and confusion”, Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary, has claimed.
- The Metropolitan police has said it will not charge the MP Margaret Ferrier with breaching Covid travel restrictions, because her positive test took place three days before the legal requirement to self-isolate came into force.
- France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has led EU leaders in sending Boris Johnson an uncompromising message at a summit in Brussels – that the UK must swallow the bloc’s conditions or expect to face a no-deal outcome in the ongoing trade negotiations. As Daniel Boffey reports, far from seeking to sugar-coat the EU position as the prime minister considers whether he should walk out on the Brexit talks, Europe’s heads of state and government called on Downing Street to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”. In a summit communique issued on Thursday afternoon, the leaders noted “with concern that progress on the key issues of interest to the union is still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached”. David Frost, the UK’s negotiator, has responded on Twitter.
- Sir Keir Starmer has faced a series of resignations as he suffered a major rebellion over the so-called “spy cops” law. As PA Media reports, the Labour leader ordered his MPs to abstain on the third reading of the covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) bill. But 34 decided to oppose the legislation, including former leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. Margaret Greenwood tendered her resignation as shadow schools minister and Dan Carden quit his post as a shadow Treasury minister so they could vote against the bill.
That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog. It’s here.
NHS Test and Trace getting slower at telling people to self-isolate, latest figures show
In the Commons Matt Hancock, the health secretary, had to defend the performance of NHS Test and Trace in response to repeated complaints about it from MPs. They have been infuriated by revelations that some consultants working on it have been paid as much as £6,250, despite the fact it’s not meeting its targets. A document from the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies published on Monday said test and trace was only having a “marginal impact” on reducing the spread of the virus.
Hancock stressed that the weekly performance figures published today (pdf) showed improvement or positive developments in some areas. And there are some pluses in the 45-page document. But, overall, it shows that the service is still failing to meet its key targets.
Here are the key points.
- The number of people testing positive rose by 64% in the week ending 7 October, the document says. Some 89,874 people in England tested positive that week.
- The proportion of people with a test who were positive was 6.3% in the week ending 7 October. The week before the figure was 4.3% and in Scotland the latest positivity rate is 17.6%.) The positivity rate for England has been rising sharply in recent weeks, as this chart shows.
- More than 1.4m people were tested in the week ending 7 October, an increase of 12% on the previous week.
- The percentage of in-person test results received within 24 hours has gone up slightly since the previous week - but the figures are still well down on what they were in July, and nowhere near the target Boris Johnson set in June for all results to be delivered within 24 hours. Here are the figures.
- The median distance travelled for an in-person test has fallen from the previous week. This means people are not having to travel so far for a test, Here are the figures.
- The service reached 76.8% of people who were referred to it because they tested positive. It has to speak to these people so it can get details of their close contacts and ask those contacts to self-isolate. Dido Harding, head of the test and trace, told MPs last month, that its target on this measure is 80%. The figure for the week ending 7 October is slightly up on the previous week, but below the 80% target and below the 78% average since May. Here are the figures.
- The service is failing to reach more than a third of the close contacts of people who test positive. It is supposed to reach 80% of them (a second 80% target, as Harding told MPs last month). But in the most recent week it only reached 62.6%, down from 69.5% the previous week. Here are the figures.
- Only 60.5% of close contacts in non-complex cases were reached by test and trace within 24 hours of the person testing positive giving their names. (Non-complex cases are ones outside an institution like a school or hospital.) There has been a “notable decrease” on this measure in the last two weeks, the report says. This metric is important because, if close contacts are not reached quickly, there is more chance of them spreading the virus. Test and trace also measures how many of these people are reached within 24 hours of the case entering the system (ie not just within 24 hours of test and trace speaking to the person who tested positive), and this number is also going down. Only 38.5% were reached this quickly in the most recent week. Here are the figures.
And this chart presents the data in another form.
UK records 18,980 more coronavirus cases, with English hospital admissions up 15% in a day
The UK government has just updated its coronavirus dashboard. Here are the key figures.
- The UK has recorded 18,980 further coronavirus cases. That’s down by more than 700 on yesterday, but still higher than any other figure on recorded (excluding the Sunday when the figures were inflated by the inclusion of previous figures).
- The UK has recorded 138 further deaths. That is one more than yesterday (137), but lower than the figure for the day before (143). However, week on week, the numbers are rising sharply. A week ago today the equivalent figure was 77.
- There are 4,379 coronavirus patients in hospital in England, up from 4,156. And the number of patients on mechanical ventilation in England is 482, up from 468 yesterday.
- Hospital admissions in England have gone increased by 100 - or 15% - in a day. On Tuesday, the last day for which admissions figures are on the dashboard, there were 764 coronavirus hospital admissions in England - up from 664 the previous day.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has asked scientists to examine the potential benefits of taking vitamin D to combat Covid-19.
It comes after Labour MP Rupa Huq has been pushing for the government to include vitamin D as part of its strategy to fight the coronavirus.
Huq is campaigning alongside Tory MP David Davis, with the pair last week holding talks with Hancock over the issue. A recent Spanish study has shown that a high dose of a vitamin D drug can significantly reduce the number of Covid patients needing intensive care.
Questioned by Huq in the Commons on Thursday, Hancock told the Commons:
On the point about Vitamin D, I have asked the scientists to look once again at the impact of vitamin D ... There has been some updated evidence that’s come to light in the last few weeks and I want to make sure this is fully taken account.
And I can also tell her that we will be increasing the public messaging around vitamin D to make sure that people get the message that vitamin D can help with your broad health and that there is no downside to taking it.
Andy Burnham's press conference - Summary and analysis
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, is one of the relatively few UK politicians who has seen their reputation enhanced during the coronavirus crisis. The Economist recently claimed that he had had “a bigger impact on the government’s Covid policy than any other Labour politician, including Sir Keir Starmer”. Now Burnham has taken things one step further, putting himself at the front of a full-on regional/northern revolt against Boris Johnson’s Covid strategy.
The analysis he set out in his new conference this afternoon was much the same as Starmer’s. But he delivered it with a rhetorical passion probably beyond Starmer’s range. It was impressive to watch, although whether it will make any difference or not remains to be seen. No 10 says it might just impose tier 3 restrictions on Greater Manchester unilaterally and if it does, it is not obvious what Burnham can do to stop them. (He has threatened legal action on the grounds of discrimination, but the prospects of this succeeding are are from guaranteed.)
Here are the main points from the press conference.
- Burnham accused No 10 of treating the north of England as a “sacrificial lamb” for a flawed regional lockdown policy. He said that the UK government knew that regional lockdowns, involving places like Greater Manchester going facing tier 3 restrictions, would not work. The only thing that would work was a national lockdown, he said. In his opening statement he said:
But the government told us this morning it is unwilling to do that because of the damage it will do to the national economy.
And yet that is what they want to impose on the North West.
So that was our conclusion from the No10 meeting this morning: they are willing to sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere.
Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City-Region and Lancashire are being set up as the canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed.
In the Q&A he said:
We have to protect the health the nation. But let’s do it as one nation, and not make the north of England the sacrificial lamb for an ill-thought-through Downing Street policy which doesn’t make sense in the real world.
And he also accused the government of treating the north “with contempt”. He said:
People are fed up of being treated in this way, the north is fed up of being pushed around. We aren’t going to be pushed around any more.
- He said Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer (DCMO) for England, told Greater Manchester leaders on a call last night that the baseline tier 3 restrictions proposed for the region would not bring the virus down. He said the only thing that would work, according to Van-Tam, was a national lockdown. He said:
Last night, the deputy chief medical officer told Greater Manchester Leaders that to bring the infection rates down any regional lockdown would require widespread closures way beyond pubs to stand any chance of working and would have to be done in tandem with other neighbouring regions. And, even then, it would not be certain to work ...
While this is not necessarily Greater Manchester’s view, the only thing certain to work, as the DCMO told us last night, is a national lockdown.
Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, went even further. He said:
What we were told last night by the deputy chief medical officer - and I will go a bit further than Andy - was that what we’re asked to do is accept a proposal which the Government’s own advisers say won’t work. Why would we accept a proposal that their own advisers say won’t work?
- Burnham said that he personally favoured a national circuit break (ie, a short, hard lockdown - the plan backed by Sage and Keir Starmer). Burnham said:
I’ve said it may be that we need to look at a national circuit-break as preferable to this unfunded, risky regional lockdown strategy.
- He said that that the financial support offered to Greater Manchester if it went into tier 3 was not enough. As an example, he said it would not do anything for freelance workers. So tier 3 would result in “certain hardship, job losses and business failure”.
- He set out the level of support he was demanding if Greater Manchester were to go into tier 3. He said:
The very least they should be offering the people of Greater Manchester who will be affected by these closures is: a full and fair 80% furlough for all affected workers; 80% income support for people who are self-employed; and a proper compensation scheme for businesses.
- He said Greater Manchester would “stand firm” against the government. He said:
This is an important moment. Greater Manchester will stand firm.
We are fighting back – for fairness and for the health of our people in the broadest sense.
Q: Are new restrictions for Greater Manchester a matter of when not if?
Burnham says he does not know. The ball is in their court, he says.
But the government is trying something that its own expert say will not work.
Leese says there is no need for tier 3 restrictions to be imposed on Greater Manchester.
But what should be introduced are the package of measures proposed by local leaders, he says.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
Burnham says north mustn't be 'sacrificial lamb' for flawed No 10 lockdown policy
Burnham says freelance workers will get nothing from the package offered by the government. What happens to them? Who is speaking for them?
He says he and Richard Leese and Bev Hughes are speaking for them. Lives are on the line, he says.
We have to protect the health the nation. But let’s do it as one nation, and not make the north of England the sacrificial lamb for an ill-thought-through Downing Street policy which doesn’t make sense in the real world.
Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, and Bev Hughes, the deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, have also been speaking alongside Andy Burnham at his press conference.
They are now taking questions.
Q: What else will you do about the Covid crisis?
Burnham says they cannot accept the way the government wants to treat Greater Manchester. If there is a lockdown without support, people will suffer.
He says the authorities are already working to protect people. “We will take every step necessary,” he says.
But they cannot be treated like second-class citizens, he says.
Leese says there is a risk of the hospitals being overwhelmed. The elderly are most at risk.
If they want to stop hospitals being overwhelmed, there are things you can do to support the elderly, he says.
Burnham says: if the government are calling for a lockdown, they have to finance it properly. They cannot do it on the cheap.
Q: Did they say why they could not?
Burnham says the government said money was not available.
But he does not believe that, he says. He says just look at the amount of money being spent on consultants.
He says it will cost less to support people now than it would to let people struggle.
From Andy Burnham
Burnham accuses government of treating northern areas as 'canaries in mine' for regional lockdowns
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, is making a statement now about Covid regulations.
He says it would be wrong to take measures that would push people into poverty.
Last night Greater Manchester leaders were told by the government’s health experts that Greater Manchester would need to introduce measures going beyond the closure of pubs.
But there would be no government support to support the businesses affected.
Burnham says the deputy chief medical officer told Greater Manchester leaders last night that the only thing that would definitely work would be a full lockdown.
But the government is not willing to do that, he says.
Instead it wants to treat Greater Manchester, Liverpool city region and Lancashire as the “canaries in the coal mine” for regional lockdowns.
He says a regional lockdown would only work if it were accompanied by proper compensation, including an 80% furlough scheme.
He says Greater Manchester will stand firm. It is fighting back for its people, he says.
Scotland Yard says SNP MP Margaret Ferrier won't be fined over Covid train trip because law not then in force
Scotland Yard says it will not impose a fine on the MP Margaret Ferrier (now suspended from the SNP) for breaking coronavirus rules when she travelled on a train after testing positive because her test took place before the relevant law came into force. In a statement today:
Detectives tested the MP’s account including obtaining and reviewing CCTV and undertaking inquiries to establish the dates of the tests, results and travel arrangements.
Officers considered possible offences including those under Reg 11(2) of the Health Protection Regulations 2020 which relates to self-isolation requirement.
However, on detailed examination of this new legislation, and following legal advice, it was concluded that this regulation is applicable only after the 28th September 2020.
In this case the test occurred prior to the 29th September 2020 and therefore the regulation does not apply.
The force said it was taking no further action but has referred the matter to Police Scotland for consideration.
Under the rules that came into force in England on 28 September people ignoring a legal duty to self-isolate can be subject to a £1,000 fine.
Boris Johnson has appointed Keith Stewart QC as advocate general for Scotland. He will replace Lord Keen of Elie, who resigned around a month ago because he could no longer support government policy on the internal market bill. Stewart is also being made a peer.
This is from Charles Michel, president of the European council, on the UK-EU trade talks.
The University of Durham became the sixth higher education institution in England with more than 1,000 Covid-19 infections, after it reported 964 new cases in the last seven days.
The university said in the week until Wednesday 958 students and six staff had been infected, adding to the 222 recorded the previous week.
Durham joins Nottingham, Manchester, Northumbria, Sheffield and Newcastle universities with an estimated 1,000 or more cases, while Leeds has around 900.
These are from Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, who is covering the EU summit in Brussels. She says the French president, Emmanuel Macron, arrived sounding uncompromising on fisheries (which now seems to be the key obstacle to a UK-EU trade deal).
Downing Street has rejected claims from Dame Louise Casey that people face “destitution” because its coronavirus support schemes are not generous enough. (See 9.30am.) Asked about her comments, a No 10 spokesman said:
We’ve made sure the most vulnerable in our society are the ones that are being protected the most and that’s something we will continue to do. The job support scheme is generous by international standards and that scheme is one element of our package of support for low earners who will be supported with two-thirds of their salary but also the drop of earnings will be covered by the welfare system.
Moving up to tier 2 won't be enough to stop spread of Covid in York, says local MP
In the Commons the Labour MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, said that moving York up to tier 2, from tier 1, would not be enough. She said:
While we’re in tier 1, there are areas of the country in tier 3 with a lower infection rate.
And certainly I do not believe the measures in tier 2 are going to be sufficient to stop the spread of the virus in our city which, as he will know, is rising incredibly sharply and in the older population as well.
York experiences real challenges every single winter because of the capacity issues at our hospital, and without taking more acute action now, I am concerned we’re going to be in serious difficulty in just a few weeks’ time.
Stewart Young, the Labour leader of Cumbria county council, has welcomed the decision to move Barrow-in-Furness into the high alert level tier 2, where it will be subject to tighter restrictions. He said:
This is the right decision and ideally would have come sooner. The infection rate in Barrow is continuing to rise and it is so important that people follow the new rules which are coming into force.
And Ann Thomson, the Labour leader of Barrow council, said:
The number of infections has continued to grow across Barrow since the request for action from the government was made last week. We are in an extremely concerning situation. Coronavirus is a deadly virus and lives are at stake.
Commenting on the decision to include London in the stricter high alert level tier 2, Siân Berry, the Green party co-leader and candidate for London mayor, said:
The rapid rise in virus cases is incredibly worrying. I support the mayor’s call for a short circuit breaker lockdown, but I am also asking for these measures to come with a universal basic income as the simplest, most effective way to protect lives and guard against a new wave of poverty ...
For the new restrictions to be effective, we also need the government to get in place a properly-funded local test and trace service, without the failures of the privatised and centralised system that has let down so many people. For months, the Greens have been warning that government measures are not going far enough to halt a second wave.
The Department of Health and Social Care has sent out its news release about the decision to expand the number of areas subject to high alert level tier 2 restrictions.
The new places entering tier 2 on Saturday from tier 1 (medium alert, with England-wide restrictions only) are: London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London), Elmbridge Essex (area covered by Essex county council only), Barrow-in-Furness, York, north-east Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield.
And this is what the DHSC says about infection levels in these areas.
In London, infection rates are on a steep upward path, with the number of cases detected through NHS test and trace doubling over the last ten days. The seven day average case rate today stands at 97 per 100,000 people, rising sharply. In 13 boroughs the rate is now above 100 per 100,000 people, with Hackney at 134, Richmond upon Thames at 138 and Ealing at 144 ...
The seven-day average case rate per 100,000 people today stands at: London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London) 97; Elmbridge 144; Essex (area covered by Essex county council only) - district rates range from 50 to 101; Barrow-in-Furness 292; York 260; north-east Derbyshire 174; Erewash 165; and Chesterfield 140.
The Matt Hancock Commons statement is over. He faced considerable criticism from MPs from Greater Manchester, with one of the most damning questions coming from a fellow Conservative, William Wragg, who represents Hazel Grove. Wragg said:
News from Greater Manchester where the impossible has been achieved - all of the members of parliament, the leaders of the councils, and indeed the mayor, surprisingly, are in agreement with one another.
The meeting we had earlier today [see 12.16pm] was entirely pointless. You may as well talk to a wall.
When are we going to be properly consulted, learn about measures via the right channels, rather than the media ...
The closure of hospitality [which would happen if Greater Manchester moved to tier 3] would drive people into private dwellings where they will mix. We do not, thank goodness, live in a police state, for that would be the only way to police it. Can they please listen to common sense and think again?
In reply Hancock said closing hospitality did bring Covid case numbers down. It happened in Bolton, he said.
Wragg was followed by Mike Kane, the Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East. He said that on Monday Hancock had briefed Greater Manchester MPs and told them the region would be in tier 2, with the decision being reviewed after four weeks. He said MPs from the area were united in wanting it to stay in tier 2.
Hancock says he has launched leak inquiry into source of reports about plans for Greater Manchester
In the Commons Matt Hancock says he has started a leak inquiry into the leaks about the government’s plans for Greater Manchester.
He says further action is necessary. He hopes cross-party agreement can be reached, he says.
The mandatory rules requiring people to wear face masks in Scottish shops and cafes have been extended to workplace canteens and communal areas, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The first minister said face coverings now had to be worn in canteens, except when people are eating, and in communal workplace areas like corridors in Scotland, under new regulations coming into force on Friday.
At the same time, couples getting married or entering civil partnerships would be exempted from the face coverings rules during the ceremony, Sturgeon told MSPs during a virtual sitting of the Scottish parliament.
She disclosed that 13 more people had died overnight, taking the total number of people who had died following confirmed Covid-19 tests to 2,585, with 31 new admissions to hospital overnight, taking the total being treated in hospital to 601. There were 51 people now in intensive care.
Sturgeon confirmed she was considering travel restrictions to bar people from Covid hotspots from entering Scotland; the Welsh government is legislating to bar travellers from English, Scottish and Northern Irish hotspots from entering Wales, to slow down virus transmission.
The Scottish government also plans its own three or four tier restrictions system, mirroring that introduced by Boris Johnson for England earlier this week, in consultation with other parties. “This is a critical moment and our position is precarious, and that demands tough decisions from government,” Sturgeon said.
In the Commons Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative former cabinet minister, asks why the government has not applied a borough-by-borough approach in London. He says a constituent has been in touch asking whether the whole of London is being placed in tier 2 so the government cannot be accused of penalising the north and favouring the south.
Hancock says that is not the case. He says London has been treated as one place because that is more practical.
Italy poised to be removed from England's travel corridor
Italy is poised to be removed from England’s travel corridor in a fresh blow to holidaymakers, who will have to quarantine for a fortnight on their return from the country, my colleague Simon Murphy reports.
Hancock told MPs the government considered applying a borough-by-borough approach to London when deciding what alert levels should apply. But, because of the “integrated nature” of the city, it was decided to act on a London-wide basis.
On the subject of test and trace (see 12.36pm), the Labour MP Sarah Owen has just told Matt Hancock that the joint health and science committee hearing this week on lessons to be learnt from coronavirus heard from a care home manager who said a member of her staff had to wait nine days for her test result. Owen went on:
If I was in charge of that shambles, I would struggle to look at my self in the mirror, let alone get up at that dispatch box and have the gall to tell the public that testing is anything other than a failure.
In reply Hancock said the turnaround times for tests had come down “very significantly”, including for care homes, and that even when the system was under particular pressure, weekly testing for care home staff carried on.
The latest test and trace statistics for England make for a sobering read: between 1 October and 7 October 89,874 people tested positive for coronavirus – a rise of 64% on the week before. And while turnaround times for in-person testing have fallen, they have increased for home tests and satellite tests (this includes care home testing).
Contact tracing is also a matter of concern: “Taking into account all contacts identified, 62.6% were reached,” the report notes.
However, the data reveals only 56% people asked to give details of contacts were reached within 24 hours, with over 17% taking three or more days to be reached – precious time in which infectious contacts could have unwittingly been out and about, spreading the virus.
From the Labour MP Bill Esterson
Council leaders in England’s north-east have met and agreed they will oppose the government’s plans to place the region in tier 3 restrictions, Gateshead council leader Martin Gannon has said.
As PA Media reports, the leaders of Northumberland, Newcastle, South and North Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham held a meeting at 10am and agreed their opposition, stating that the current set of measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus were working and needed more time, Gannon said. He went on:
There’s a bit of confusion about what the government is looking at, we think it is based on the number of cases in over-60s. It would be helpful if they would clarify that. If we are forced into tier 3, we would like to know the criteria so we would know the criteria to remove us [later].
In the Commons Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said retired NHS staff were “on standby” to help in the event of a surge in demand for hospital beds. He said:
In London, we have not yet had to stand up the NHS Nightingale again, which is at the ExCeL Centre. We stand ready to do so if necessary.
We now have a huge quantity of ventilators, we have the Nightingales for bed capacity and we have brought more people back into the NHS over the last six months and we have people on standby, retired NHS staff.
More on Helen Whately’s conference all with the Greater Manchester MPs. (See 12.16pm.) This is from the FT’s Andrew Bounds, quoting the Labour MP Andrew Gwynne.
From the Daily Mail’s John Stevens
Back in the Commons Matt Hancock says areas in tier 2 are reviewed every two weeks. But if London can be brought out more quickly, Hancock says, he would like to do this. He says that ultimately he would like everywhere to get down to tier 0 - normal life.
'Shitshow doesn't begin to summarise' - How Labour and Tory Manchester MPs expressed fury in call with minister
Greater Manchester MPs worked together to present a united front against the imposition of tier 3, which meant Matt Hancock was unable to announce the measure in the Commons.
One Labour MP in the telephone briefing said:
Shitshow doesn’t even begin to summarise that meeting with [care minister] Helen Whately. We let the Tory MPs go first and they piled into her saying: what’s the point of this meeting if you are just going to brief to the media that you’ve already made a decision?
The Conservative MPs - who represent nine of the region’s 27 constituencies - were “united on opposing tier 3” said the Labour MP.
For them it’s more about the libertarian aspect, whereas for us it’s about the support package on offer. For us, tier 3 is guaranteed destitution. It’s not just the fact that you will have minimum wage earners seeing their income drop two-thirds to £5.60 an hour, but there’s also a question of eligibility for support.
No one understands why the government is only offering extra resources for local test and tracing to tier 3 areas, said the exasperated MP: “Local test and trace is exactly what you need to avoid going into tier 3.”
The meeting ended with Whately saying: “I can see there are opposing views here.” Apparently she was then “shouted down by everyone saying: no there aren’t, we all agree we don’t want tier 3”.
In his response to Matt Hancock, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, asked why some contractors were being paid more than £6,000 a day to work on the much-criticised NHS test and trace. He said:
Today, new figures show just 62% of contacts reached, that’s the equivalent to 81,000 people not reached circulating in society - even though they’ve been exposed to the virus. This is another record low.
And yesterday we learnt that consultants working on test and trace are being paid over £6,000 a day to run this failing service. In a single week this government is paying these senior consultants more than they pay an experienced nurse in a year.
So can the secretary of state explain why such huge sums of money are being paid to consultants to run a service that is only getting worse?
In his response Hancock ignored the question about the sums being paid to consultants, but he claimed that figures out this morning (pdf) showed that the performance of the service was improving.
In the Commons the Manchester MP Lucy Powell said there were was “unanimous fury” from local MPs earlier when they were being briefed on the situation by one of Matt Hancock’s ministerial colleagues.
In his opening statement Matt Hancock also said that things would get worse before they got better. He said:
Things will get worse before they get better. But I know that there are brighter skies and calmer seas ahead. But the ingenuity of science will find a way through.
David Finch, the Conservative leader of Essex county council, has welcomed Matt Hancock’s announcement that the county will move to the tier 2 high alert level. He said:
We think the government has decided correctly, guided by the science and the fact is that the number of cases in Essex is rising exponentially.
We understand that the move to the high local Covid alert level may affect people’s lives and businesses and understand the very strong feelings about this. However, we have a duty of care to the people of Essex, and we firmly believe that this is the best route to minimise disruptions, to save lives - not just for those with the virus, but for other patients as well - and to protect businesses.
If you need a reminder as to what the different rules are for different alert tiers, there’s one here.
Barrow-in-Furness, York, north-east Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield also moving into stricter tier 2
Hancock says the changes to the alert levels will come into effect at one minute past midnight on Saturday morning.
And he says that Barrow-in-Furness, York, north-east Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield are also moving into tier 2, where they will face tougher restrictions. He says cases in these places are doubling in less than fortnight.
Hancock says Essex and Elmbridge joining London in moving up to tier 2
Hancock confirms that London is moving from medium alert level tier 1 to the high alert level tier 2.
And he says Essex and Elmbridge are also moving from tier 1 to tier 2.
Hancock says no decisions yet taken about moving Greater Manchester and Lancashire into tier 3
Hancock says “no further decisions” have yet been made about moving any areas from the high alert level tier 2 to the very high alert level tier 3.
Hancock says he did not come into politics to introduce restrictions.
I want people to have as much freedom as possible, subject to not harming others. But the nature of this virus means that any one of us can inadvertently pass it on without even knowing. That is the liberal case for action.
Hancock says we have controlled the virus before.
He says he knows people want to do that again. “From the bottom of my heart” he says he knows we can do that again.
Delaying action will mean more deaths from Covid, more non-Covid deaths, and more economic pain - because the virus goes down more slowly than it goes up.
Hancock says the threat from Covid is serious.
In Europe cases are up 40% over the last week.
We must act to prevent more deaths, he says.
He says local action is at the centre of the government’s response.
Through the JBC, and test and trace, we have a detailed picture of where the virus is spreading.
Matt Hancock's Commons statement
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is making his statement now.
From the BBC’s Fergus Hewison
From the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton Jim McMahon
The Hancock statement will start in three minutes.
London Tory MPs expressed fury on the call with health minister Helen Whatley this morning about being “shut out” of discussions about new restrictions on the capital, saying they felt the government “failed to make the case” for the new restrictions.
One MP said the government was “making Keir Starmer’s case for him” and questioned why the capital was not having restrictions on a borough-by-borough basis if the government’s aim was targeted local action.
Another said it was a “national lockdown by stealth” by putting millions of people under localised restrictions. The MP said ministers were also looking at restrictions on areas where there were significant commuters into the capital. “That is called the whole of the south-east of England,” one MP said.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will be making a statement to MPs about coronavirus regulations shortly.
Here is more on the stand-off between the government and Greater Manchester.
From the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar
From the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves
There is some confusion as to why Lancashire has apparently escaped going into tier 3, the “very high risk” category, which shuts pubs and bars (see 11.05am) - particularly given the county has some of the highest infection rates in England, with Burnley now the third worst affected local authority in England, after Nottingham and Knowsley in Merseyside, with 554.4 cases per 100,000 people. The lowest rate in the county, Fylde, is still pretty high, at 200 cases per 100,000.
A few possible explanations:
1. Most MPs in the county are Conservative - 11 to Labour’s four (it would be five if Sir Lindsay Hoyle wasn’t the neutral speaker). Generally, but not exclusively speaking, Tories are inherently opposed to anything which imposes restrictions on people’s freedom. Some of them carry considerable clout, such as the former Northern Powerhouse minister, Jake Berry, and the HS2 minister, Andrew Stephenson.
2. Lancashire county council’s leader, Geoff Driver, is on the right of the Conservative party.
3. Lancashire leaders have not been nearly as vocal in opposing the government’s approach, whereas Andy Burnham has been on telly from dawn til dusk in the last week. The government will be very reluctant to be seen to “give in” to him and Greater Manchester’s Labour leaders.
And these are from ITV’s Daniel Hewitt.
From the Telegraph’s Cat Neilan
Turning away from Covid for a moment, this is from the BBC’s Faisal Islam on what is happening at the EU summit in relation to the UK-EU trade talks.
And these are from the Times’ Bruno Waterfield.
From the Sun’s Kate Ferguson
More from Jennifer Williams from the Manchester Evening News
Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North and a shadow Treasury minister, says the new restrictions for London will keep businesses open “in name only”. He told PA Media:
The big challenge we’ve got is that it is the nature of tier 2 restrictions - the fact that different households cannot mix - means that businesses will be open in name only.
There are lots of restaurants, pubs, bars and other venues whose doors will be open but customers will just not be walking through the door.
That’s why the government’s economic support for businesses needs to live up to the reality of the lockdown restrictions.
And the government overall I think should be looking at the fact that so many different parts of the country are going into lockdown in a totally haphazard way and recognise that a circuit-breaker approach - whilst causing immediate disruption to our normal way of life - will actually be better in the long run both for saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
A Merseyside gym which remained open despite new coronavirus restrictions has been fined by police, PA Media reports. Officers attended at Body Tech Fitness in Moreton, Wirral, twice on Wednesday as new tier 3 measures, including the closure of gyms, bars and betting shops, came into force.
After the new rules for the Liverpool city region were announced, owner Nick Whitcombe said on his Instagram page the gym would be staying open. Merseyside police said officers were called to the gym on Pasture Road on Wednesday morning after a report from a member of the public that it was contravening new legislation. Officers ordered the gym to close but when they returned later that day and it was still open, the owner was issued with a fixed penalty notice ordering him to pay a £1,000 fine.
A Gofundme page set up to help the gym with any legal costs has raised more than £24,000.
This is from Jennifer Williams from the Manchester Evening News on the government call with Greater Manchester leaders. (See 10.49am.)
The meeting with Greater Manchester’s 10 leaders (nine Labour, one lone Tory in Bolton) is ongoing, with a joint statement expected from them at 11.
It does not sound like a happy discussion. “I don’t know how they could expect us to do this jointly when they have brought nothing to the table. This is about saving Boris Johnson’s face because he declared there wouldn’t be another national lockdown,” one person at the meeting says.
The government likes to maintain it is working with local leaders to agree on further restrictions. But Sir Ed Lister, the prime minister’s chief strategic adviser, apparently told one meeting of Greater Manchester leaders this morning: “We either do this jointly or it’s imposed on you.”
Greater Manchester’s position is that it would not accept tier 3 restrictions, which shut pubs and bars, on the grounds that it would “kill us” (Andy Burnham’s words) and the two-thirds furlough is not enough to keep minimum wage hospitality workers afloat during winter.
Expect complaints later of a Whitehall imposition.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, told BBC Breakfast this morning that holiday providers in Wales should not accept half-term bookings from people in areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus. Wales is banning visitors from high-Covid parts of the UK. Asked about existing bookings, he said:
I’m afraid those bookings will no longer be able to be honoured.
It’s why we’re taking this action now to give people a good period of time to understand that, if you did book a holiday in those parts of Wales, I’m afraid that holiday will now no longer be able to take place.
Khan says health crisis and economic crisis 'inextricably linked' - and it's 'false' choice to say otherwise
Here are some extracts from Sadiq Khan’s opening statement to the London assembly.
On why he backs London moving to tier 2
We’re at a critical moment in our fight against Covid-19 in London.
The virus is spreading rapidly in every corner of our city.
We’ll soon reach an average of 100 cases per 100,000 people – with a significant number of boroughs already over that threshold.
Hospital admissions are up.
More patients are going into intensive care units.
And – sadly – the number of Londoners dying every day is increasing again.
It’s my expectation that the government will today announce that London will shortly be moving into tier 2 – or the ‘high alert’ level of restrictions.
On his support for a short national lockdown
Given how far the virus has already been allowed to spread - and given the government’s complete failure to get a working test, trace and isolate system in place - I believe we also need action on a national scale - just as the government’s own scientific advisers have recommended.
That’s why I’ll continue to call for a short national circuit breaker.
This could save thousands of lives, drive the virus down to manageable levels, and give the government more time to finally get a grip on its failing test and trace system.
On the ’false’ choice between saving lives and saving jobs
The supposed choice between saving the economy and saving lives – between restrictions and freedoms – is an entirely false one.
Because the later we take the necessary steps to slow the spread of the virus, the more severe these steps will have to be and the longer they’ll have to last in order to drive down infection rates.
No matter how much some people want to pretend otherwise and bury their heads in the sand – the truth is that the health crisis and the economic crisis are inextricably linked.
That’s why getting this virus under control is the only way we can both protect lives and our economy.
There’s simply no other option.
More from my colleague Jessica Elgot
Sadiq Khan calls for short national lockdown as he confirms London moving to tier 2
Sadiq Khan is speaking now.
He says we are at a critical moment in the fight against Covid.
It will soon reach an average of 100 cases per 100,000 people, he says.
He says he expects the government to announce today that London will move to tier 2. He has had a meeting with Matt Hancock, the health secretary. Decisions are being finalised, but an announcement will be made to parliament.
He says moving to tier 2 would stop households mixing indoors.
No one wants to see this, but it is necessary to protect Londoners, he says.
He says he is also calling for action on a national scale, as Sage has recommended. That is why he backs a short national circuit breaker. That would save lives, and allow the government to get a grip on its test and trace system.
He says the supposed choice between saving the economy and savings lives is a false one. That’s because, the longer you delay restrictions, the more severe they will eventually have to be.
This is from my colleague Jessica Elgot, showing the data presented to London MPs this morning as the health minister, Helen Whately, told them the capital was being moved into tier 2.
Sadiq Khan's question time at London assembly
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is starting a question time session at the London assembly.
You can watch it here.
From the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, will shortly make a statement about the new rules to the London assembly.
Earlier he posted on Twitter the text of a four-page letting he has sent to Boris Johnson requesting additional support for London.
These are from the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar.
London to face ban on indoor household mixing from midnight on Friday as it moves to tier 2
London is going to move from the medium alert tier 1 restrictions (the England baseline) to the high alert tier 2 at midnight on Friday, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.
People face 'destitution' unless Covid support increased, says former welfare tsar
Good morning. Boris Johnson only announced his new three-tier system for coronavirus restrictions in England on Monday, but three days later it looks as if another 4m people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire are going to find themselves re-assigned to the very high risk tier 3, subject to new rules that could put some people out of work. Under tier 3 pubs can only serve alcohol as part of a proper meal, wedding receptions are banned, and people are advised not to leave the area. There is a summary of the rules here.
Here is a preview story by my colleague Jessica Elgot.
London also faces being moved up from the medium risk tier 1, where the current England-wide rules apply, to high risk tier 2, where indoor mixing with other households is banned.
Interestingly, government ministers want to tighten the rules in Greater Manchester against the wishes of local leaders. But in London it’s the mayor, Sadiq Khan, who is pushing for more stringent restrictions, with central government reportedly less keen.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, and council leaders in his region are resisting the move to tier 3 not because they don’t accept the need to contain the surge in Covid, but because they believe the support package available to firms and workers affected is inadequate. And this morning they received powerful backing from Dame Louise Casey, the former senior civil servant who has performed a series of high profile social welfare roles under every prime minister since Tony Blair. Rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour, troubled families - she’s been a “tsar” for more or less everything. Today, in an interview with the BBC, Casey says the UK faces an unprecedented outbreak of “destitution” because the support available to people affected by local restrictions is inadequate. In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg she said:
We are looking at a period of destitution. I can’t impress upon you enough that I think we are heading into an unprecedented period. We’re already in it and it’s going to get worse. And it needs a more cross-government cross-society response.
Do we want to go back to the days where people can’t put shoes on the children? Are we actually asking people in places like Liverpool to go out and prostitute themselves, so that they could put food on the table?
I am not a dramatic person. I have been in Whitehall for over 20 years, I’ve worked in the voluntary sector. And this is unprecedented. I remember the Thatcher era right through to now and I have never worked in a situation where I’m so concerned about what’s going to happen.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Helen Whately, the health minister, holds a private briefing with London MPs. Later, at 10.15am, Jo Churchill, another health minister, holds a briefing with Lancashire MPs and at 10.45am Whately holds a briefing with Greater Manchester MPs. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, is also expected to have a call with No 10. All these calls are taking place ahead of Matt Hancock’s statement later.
9.30am: The ONS publishes its regular report on coronavirus and the economy.
11am: The UK government is due to publish its latest test and trace statistics.
Around 11.30am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, makes a statement to MPs, with Greater Manchester and Lancashire likely to be added to the very high alert tier 3, meaning they would be subject to greater restrictions, and London likely to be moved up from the medium alter tier 1 to the high alert tier 2.
12.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, makes a virtual statement to the Scottish parliament about coronavirus.
2.15pm: Simon Case, the new cabinet secretary, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee.
Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time 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.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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