Early evening summary
- Double-vaccinated travellers from the US and most of Europe will have their jab status recognised, meaning they can avoid quarantine when arriving in England. Scotland has confirmed that it is adopting the same policy (see 5.50pm), and the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has said his government will do the same. (See 3.49pm.) Here is the UK government’s news release. And here is an explainer by my colleague Aubrey Allegretti.
- The UK has begun exports of coronavirus vaccine doses to poorer countries, announcing that 9m will be delivered this week around the world as its domestic programme slows.
- The daily number of Covid cases reported in the UK has risen for the first time in eight days. (See 4.15pm.)
- Boris Johnson has said it is “far, far too early” to conclude that the pandemic crisis has passed. (See 9.37am.)
- Johnson has rejected claims that the government’s review of the Officials Secrets Act poses a threat to journalists. (See 10.39am.)
- Simon Stevens’ deputy, Amanda Pritchard, is replacing him as the head of the NHS after months of speculation that the job could go to the head of test and trace, Dido Harding.
That’s all from me for today. But our coronavirus coverage continues on our global live blog. It’s here.
Scotland follows England in lifting quarantine for fully-jabbed US/EU arrivals
The Scottish government has said that it will match what England is doing and let fully vaccinated people from the US and the EU enter the country without quarantining from Monday. But, unlike the Welsh government (see 3.49pm), it is not saying that it is following the UK government with some reluctance. Instead, in his statement confirming the decision, Michael Matheson, the cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, said this was possible because of Scotland’s successful vaccine programme. He said:
This has only been made possible due to the overwhelming success of our vaccination programme here in Scotland when coupled with successful rollouts of vaccination schemes in the EU and US.
Fully vaccinated travellers will be able to travel to Scotland under this significant relaxation of international travel measures, providing a boost for the tourism sector and wider economy while ensuring public health is protected.
The Scottish government says the exemption will cover not just EU countries, but Efta members too, and the European microstates – Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. Arrivals will be required to show either a EU digital Covid certificate and or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s white card, known as a CDC card.
Amanda Pritchard is the new chief executive of NHS England, Boris Johnson has announced. Pritchard was deputy to Simon Stevens, who has just left the post with a peerage, and she will seen as something of a continuity appointment. She is a career NHS manager and her appointment is likely to be welcomed by some NHS chiefs who were worried about the job going to an outsider.
Why Cabinet Office has welcomed court ruling against it over sign language interpretation at Covid briefings
Earlier I posted PA Media copy about the government losing a court case about lack of British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation at Covid briefings. (See 2.22pm). But the Cabinet Office has put out a statement saying it is “pleased” about the ruling. This sounds confusing, and to explain why it is necessary to go into the case in a bit more detail.
The Downing Street Covid press conferences have never included an in-room BSL interpreter, in the way that Nicola Sturgeon’s regular briefings in Scotland have. But the government says it raised this with the BBC and from March 2020 the BBC News channel reports included on on-screen BSL interpreter. In May the BBC started making a feed of this available to other broadcasters, and it was also available on social media.
The government lost this case because this on-screen interpretation was not available for two particular data briefings.
But the government feels vindicated because the complainant tried to get the court to accept that on-screen BSL interpretation was not sufficient, and that there should have been an in-room interpreter for all the briefings. The court rejected this argument.
In its statement the Cabinet Office said:
We are pleased that the court ruled our policy of using on-screen British Sign Language interpreters was lawful during the pandemic.
Our priority has always been to reach the largest possible audience with important public information and we will continue to ensure that British Sign Language interpretation is made available during Covid 19 briefings.
What are the most recent test positivity figures?
Here is a question from below the line worth addressing.
This is a good question. Test positivity is the proportion of tests that turn out positive. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, was fond of quoting WHO guidance saying that anything above 5% suggests an outbreak is not under control.
Positivity figures for England are included in the UK government’s Covid dashboard, but that are quite hard to find. You need to go into the page for testing, and set the tab to England. That will pull up this chart.
The most recent figures go up to the seven-day period ending on 23 July.
The Scottish figures are shown on a chart on its dashboard, and the actual numbers are in the data files. (See table 5, and one of the columns under the heading additional statistics (v) towards the end of the chart.)
Wales has a positivity chart on the front page of its dashboard.
And Northern Ireland has this positivity chart on its dashboard.
The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Heather Stewart and Rafael Behr discuss “crime week”, as the government attempts to shift the narrative to domestic policies. Plus, Katy Hayward, Daniel Boffey and Jess Sargeant look at what’s behind the latest tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Daily Covid cases in UK rise for first time in eight days, to 27,734
The UK government has just updated its coronavirus dashboard and, after falling for seven days in a row, the daily number of new cases is starting to rise again. It says 27,734 have been recorded, up from 23,511 yesterday. But that is still well below the figure for this time last week, 44,104. And the total number of new cases over the past week is down 36.1% on the total for the previous week.
The dashboard also says 91 further deaths have been recorded. Yesterday the equivalent figure was 131. But the total number of deaths over the past week is still up on the total for the previous seven days, by 36.1%.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told the BBC that countries like Norway and Switzerland (which are not in the EU but which are both in Efta, the European Free Trade Association) would also be covered by the exemption from quarantine for arrivals who are fully vaccinated.
He also said that once this scheme was up and running, the government would decide what it could do for fully-vaccinated people from other parts of the world.
UK decision to lift quarantine for fully-jabbed US and EU travellers creates risks, says Welsh first minister
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, has warned that there are “risks” from the government’s decision to let fully-vaccinated people from the US and the EU visit England.
Speaking to BBC News, he said that if it had been up to the Welsh government, it would probably have not agreed to this move. He said:
We have said all along as the Welsh government that we would have taken a different approach to international travel. I still think this is the year when international travel is best avoided. We do not want to see in Wales a situation which we faced in September of last year, when the virus was reimported into Wales by people who have visited other parts of the world.
We would have rather a more precautionary approach by the UK government and have done our best to persuade them of that.
Given that they are making decisions that we probably wouldn’t have made for ourselves, it is very important that the UK government is able to offer us assurances that the risks that will be run - and there are risks whenever people visit from other parts of the world where the virus is in circulation, and where new variants of the disease may be emerging - that proper precautions are in place.
Drakeford said that, for practical reasons, it would be very hard for Wales not to follow the UK’s government’s move, which technically only covers England. That was because most people coming to Wales from outside the UK would be travelling through English airports not Welsh ones, he said.
But he also said that he would be challenging the UK government to show how it could be confident that people being allowed in were properly vaccinated. He went on:
In the United States, for example, there are no vaccine certificates, as I understand. So, how will the UK government know that somebody travelling from the United States has been doubly vaccinated and that it has been done to the same sort of protocols and standards that we would expect in this country?
We need to understand a little better than we do at the moment as to how that evidence will be collected and how that evidence can be provided in a way that we can all rely on.
Drakeford is a Labour first minister, and earlier today Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the UK Labour party, said opening up the borders in this way was “reckless”. (See 11am.) When that was put to him, Drakeford said that his approach to international travel had been more cautious than the UK government’s all along.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said the changes to quarantine rules for fully vaccinated people from the US and the EU decided today will come into force from 4am on Monday.
The FDA is the Food and Drug Administration, the US regulator, and the EMA is the European Medicines Agency, the European regulator.
UKinbound, a trade association representing companies working in the inbound tourism sector, has welcomed the news that fully vaccinated travellers from the US and the EU will not have quarantine when visiting England. Joss Croft, CEO of Ukinbound, said:
Today’s announcement that quarantine will be removed for vaccinated US and EU visitors to England is a fantastic step forward that will allow the £28bn inbound tourism sector, which supports over 500,000 jobs across the UK, to finally restart.
However, businesses that are reliant on international visitors still face substantial barriers to recovery, having had virtually no business since March 2020. Even with reciprocity, the valuable 2021 summer season is all but lost for inbound tourism, meaning thousands of businesses and jobs will continue to be at risk over winter.
I have updated the earlier post about Newmarket town council passing a motion of no confidence in Matt Hancock to include information about the political composition of the council and about the affiliation of the councillors voting for and against the motion. See 1.05pm.bYou may need to refresh the page to get the update to appear.
UK to send 9m vaccine doses to poorer countries this week, Raab says
The government has announced it is sending nine million doses of coronavirus vaccine to poorer countries around the world, including Indonesia, Jamaica and Kenya, as the first stage in its commitment to donate 100m doses. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said:
We succeeded in double-vaccinating 70% of the adult population, the UK economy is bouncing back but we know we’re not going to be safe in the UK until everyone is safe.
That is why we have been leading the [international] vaccine rollout to give enough doses to get the world vaccinated by the middle of next year, rather than the current trajectory, which is the end of 2024.
The first 9m doses will be going on Friday to countries from vulnerable countries in the Indo-Pacific, such as Laos, Cambodia, key partners like Indonesia, right the way through the Commonwealth countries from Kenya to Jamaica.
Government loses court case over lack of sign language interpretation at Covid briefings
A deaf woman who took high court action after complaining about a lack of British Sign Language interpreters at government Covid-19 briefings in England has won a compensation fight, PA Media reports. PA says:
Katie Rowley, who is in her 30s and from Leeds, took legal action against Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
Rowley, a self-employed actor and writer, said the government had breached obligations to make broadcasts accessible to deaf people under equality legislation.
Ministers disputed this and lawyers representing Gove said Rowley’s claim should be dismissed.
A judge based in London made a ruling in Rowley’s favour.
Mr Justice Fordham said the absence of any British Sign Language interpretation for “data briefings” on 21 September 2020 and 12 October 2020 constituted “discrimination” against Rowley.
He said damages would be assessed by a judge in a county court and added that the government was not “in present or continuing breach”.
Similar briefings by the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, his Scottish counterpart, Nicola Sturgeon, and from Stormont in Northern Ireland included British Sign Language interpreters on screen.
UPDATE: See 5.22pm for the Cabinet Office’s response, and an explanation as to why it feels vindicated by this decision.
Double-jabbed US and EU travellers can avoid England quarantine, ministers decide
Here is my colleague Aubrey Allegretti’s story about the decision by ministers to allow fully-vaccinated travellers from the US and the EU to have their jab status recognised, meaning they can avoid quarantine when arriving in England from amber list countries. But he says a date for the rule change has not yet been set.
In his interview on the World at One Prof Sir John Bell also said he had been urging the government to move to a “test and release” system as an alternative to isolation for people who have been in contact with someone testing positive for months. He said:
I have encouraged the government to go in that direction for some time.
We knew by January we had a number of tests that were highly effective at this and that they should have been more widely used in this space.
If I was the one making the decisions I would have thought to move much more aggressively from January to make that happen but obviously there is a complex set of issues that lead to political decision making and I am not involved in any of that. I just give advice.
Just to be clear: the data was there in January that showed you could probably do this.
Prof Sir John Bell, the regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, also told the World at One that, given the effectiveness of the vaccines against serious illness, he was also in favour of opening up travel for the fully vaccinated.
Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP, has just told Radio 4’s The World at One that the decision about lifting quarantine for fully-vaccinated arrivals from the US and the EU (see 1.23pm) is a huge boost to the travel industry.
Asked about concerns that US documentation showing people have been fully vaccinated might be hard to verify, he conceded this situation was “not ideal”. But he said something had to be done to save the travel industry.
Gale is president of the all-party parliamentary group on aviation.
Ministers 'have decided to lift quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from US and EU'
According to the BBC, ministers have decided that they will allow fully vaccinated people from the US and the EU to enter England without having to quarantine.
We do not have further details yet, but will report them as we get them.
Newmarket town council has passed a vote of no confidence in Matt Hancock, the local MP, PA Media reports. PA says the mayor, Michael Jefferys, who is a Labour member, used his casting vote to pass the motion at a meeting of the council this week, with five voting for, five against and four abstentions.
The resolution that was passed said Hancock had “neglected the best interests of his constituents” and, as health secretary, “demonstrated hypocrisy and hubris in the pursuit of his own interests”.
UPDATE: Newmarket town council is a council with no party in overall control. There are nine independent councillors, six Conservatives, two Labour councillors, and one vacant seat.
Of the five councillors who voted for the motion of no confidence in Hancock, two were Labour and three were independent. (Two of those independents were former Conservative supporters.)
The five who voted against were all Conservative.
Scotland has recorded a further weekly increase in deaths related to Covid-19, with 56 fatalities reported in all settings in the week to Sunday 25 July.
An increase of nine on the previous week, the National Records of Scotland said that took the total number of Covid-related deaths registered in Scotland, where the virus was mentioned on the death certificate, to 10,324.
This is the highest weekly figure since early March, but remains far lower than the 663 weekly deaths reported at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April 2020 or the 452 recorded in the second wave, in January this year.
NRS said 15 of those deaths were among people aged under 65, 14 in the 65-74 age bracket and 27 deaths among those over 75.
This smaller peak in deaths follows a sudden and significant rise in infections due to the more infectious and prevalent Delta variant; in early July, Scotland reported up to 4,234 new cases a day and a test positivity rate of 10%.
That has since fallen sharply to 1,000 new cases a day and a positivity rate of just over 6%. In line with the normal lag between infections and hospitalisations, the number of patients in intensive care in Scotland rose this week to peak at 65 on Monday. Overall numbers in hospital have fallen slowly from a peak of 543 on 15 July, to 472 yesterday.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has confirmed that ministers are considering letting fully vaccinated people from the US and the EU avoid quarantine if arriving from amber list countries. He told Sky News:
We do know that the double vaccination hasn’t just protected us domestically. [It] has also opened up possibilities for us to look again at international travel, and I know, whether it’s businesses or individuals that want to go on holiday, that would be an important step. But the decision will be taken shortly.
On Monday night the government announced a significant extension of its plan to set up workplace testing centres, so that workers doing essential jobs can use daily testing as an alternative to isolation if they have been in contact with someone testing positive. It said a total of 2,000 sites would be set up.
But the Independent’s Andrew Woodcock is reporting that only 200 of those centres are operational now – and in his story he says “hundreds of them will not be in place until the end of next month – two weeks after the 16 August date when the requirement to self-isolate will be lifted”.
Prof Mike Tildesley, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling advisory group (SPI-M), told Times Radio this morning that one reason for the recent fall in new Covid cases might be people choosing not to get tested ahead of going on holiday. Asked about the reasons for the decline, he said:
Because schools in England closed last week, we haven’t got secondary school pupils doing regular lateral flow testing and so we’re not necessarily detecting as many cases in younger people.
It’s also been suggested by some that, possibly, because of a high number of cases, because of the summer holidays approaching, people might be less willing to ‘step up’ to testing when they have symptoms.
What we really need to do is monitor hospital admissions, because at the moment of course they’re still going up. Now, of course there is a lag when cases go down, it always takes a couple of weeks before hospital admissions turn around. But if we start to see as we get into August hospital admissions going down as well, then I think we would have much stronger evidence to suggest that this third wave is starting to turn around.
Dame Carolyn McCall, chief executive of ITV, has revealed the group has asked the government for exemption from isolation rules for its news and daytime television crews, PA Media reports. PA says:
McCall said the UK’s so-called pingdemic is proving a “difficult situation” for the broadcasting giant’s production operations.
She said ITV has been holding discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) over possible exemptions for workers on certain productions - in particular news and daytime programmes.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a difficult situation from a production point of view, because clearly it is,” she said.
“We have people on set - we’ve got crews and cast - and don’t want to lose anybody to self-isolation.”
She added: “We have been in talks with DCMS about exemptions for certain aspects of production for television, because we do some vital services as a public service broadcaster.”
While the government is considering the request, a decision is unlikely until mid-August, according to ITV.
Johnson dismisses Dominic Cummings as one of 'many' aides who have now left No 10
And here are some more non-Covid lines from Boris Johnson’s LBC interview.
- Johnson dismissed Dominic Cummings, his former chief adviser, as just one of many former aides who have passed through Downing Street. Asked about Cummings’s claim that Johnson’s wife Carrie is the person who “pulls the strings” in No 10, Johnson said:
I don’t wish to comment on any of the sayings of any of my former advisors, who are now many ... I looked at it the other day; in the last year I think we’ve had about 220 people arrive in Number 10. I don’t know how many have left, quite a few, and I’m sure they’ve all got something interesting to say, but I have no intention of commenting on it.
- He failed to express firm support for Dame Cressida Dick staying as commissioner of the Metropolitan police. Asked if she was the right person to lead the fight against county lines drug gangs, he just said she was a “formidable police officer”. Pressed on this again, he said her future was a matter for the home secretary and the mayor of London. Dick’s contract is due to end next year, and it has been reported that, if she wants to stay in post, Priti Patel, the home secretary, won’t allow it.
- He defended the plan to commission a replacement for the royal yacht. He said he preferred to call it the new national flagship. He went on:
It is a project that will ... help to revive the ship building industry in this country, drive immediate jobs and growth for young people in a sector in which this country used to lead the world.
When you consider the opportunity for the UK, as we compete now for inward investment in the UK, we need a place where the best of British business and industry can come together to showcase what we have to offer.
As my colleague Dan Sabbagh reports, Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has said the yacht could cost up to £250m - £50m more than initially indicated.
- Johnson stressed his support for the police, describing fighting crime as for him the “basic number one job, hygiene, of government”. And he defended the government’s decision not to give officers a pay rise. He said:
No one would want to pay our fantastic police more than I would. We’re just going through a tough time financially for the government and I think most people do understand that.
Labour says ending amber list quarantine now for people vaccinated in US and EU would be 'reckless'
Labour has described the plan to let people who have been fully vaccinated in the US and EU avoid quarantine if arriving from amber list countries, which are expected to be approved by ministers today, as “reckless”. This is what Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, told Sky News this morning when asked about the proposals. She said:
At the moment, everybody wants to go on holiday and get back to normal as quickly as possible, but this is reckless.
We know that the Delta variant came into this country and delayed the lifting of some of the restrictions and caused infections here. We need to make sure that we’ve got proper data-driven analysis, and that we look at an international passport for vaccines.
And we also know that people who have had the vaccine, of course, can still get the virus, so a testing regime is very important and crucial as well.
Rayner also said it was not clear how the vaccine status of people who have been vaccinated in the US would be checked. And she said travellers from abroad could be bringing new variants to the UK.
So therefore we believe that at the moment the government hasn’t done enough to safeguard our borders, and we haven’t got an internationally recognised vaccine passport, which is what the government said they were working towards. So it does feel reckless.
Johnson rejects claims review of Official Secrets Act poses threat to journalists
For journalists, perhaps the most interesting part of Boris Johnson’s LBC interview was what he said about the threat posed to the media by the government’s revierw of the Official Secrets Act.
- Johnson rejected claims that the government’s review of the Officials Secrets Act posed a threat to journalists. Journalists have been warning strongly about the possible consequences of the review (pdf) because it proposes treating the disclosure of secret information by the press as the same or worse than spying, and it is not including proposals for a specific public interest defence. In the interview Johnson said that he did not want to do anything that would interfere with the “normal process” of journalism. He said:
I don’t want to have a world in which people are prosecuted for doing what they think is their public duty ...
What we want to do is make sure that we don’t do anything to interrupt the operation of good journalism and bringing new and important facts into the public domain ...
I do not for one minute believe [the Official Secrets Act review] is going to do anything to interrupt the normal process by which ... the search light of the British press will continue to shine on every crevice of [life].
Johnson also said that he was “full of admiration for the way journalists generally conduct themselves” and he did not think there was a general problem with journalists putting national security at risk. He said:
I think, actually, editors and journalists, on the whole, do behave with great responsibility when it comes to stuff that they think should not be put into the public domain because of the damage it could do to national security or to public health or for any other reason.
He also defended the right of journalists to obtain information from what he described as “tainted sources”. He said:
A lot of the best and most important stories, whether they’re Watergate or Thalidomide or whatever, come from tainted sources, let me put it like that. Or come from a source that has no business in putting that out into the public domain ... One man’s treacherous betrayer of confidences and irresponsible leaker is another man’s whistleblower.
However Johnson also failed to explain why, if these are his views, the Home Office is going ahead with a review that journalists believe would pose a threat to some of the normal reporting that they do. He was not challenged on the detail of the Home Office plan, which at one point he referred to as “whatever this thing is”. At another point in the interview, when asked generally about it, he stressed that it was a “consultation” and that the proposals relating to journalists were part of a “general review of the Official Secrets Act”.
For a good account of what is proposed by the review, do read this Guardian comment article - which also enjoys a wonderful byline, by Duncan Campbell and Duncan Campbell.
Johnson says it is ‘far, far too early’ to say pandemic has passed
Good morning. Boris Johnson has recorded a proper interview with Nick Ferrari from LBC, and it has been running this morning. Ferrari did not manage to get the PM to commit any conspicuous acts of hard news, but that is relatively normal when senior political figures are interviewed, and there were plenty of lines that were relatively interesting. Here are the main points from the interview on Covid.
- Johnson said it was “far, far too early” to conclude that the pandemic crisis had passed. Asked if he shared the optimism of Prof Neil Ferguson, who said yesterday that by the autumn “the bulk of the pandemic” would be behind us, Johnson replied:
We’ve seen some encouraging recent data. There’s no question about that. But it is far, far too early to make, to draw any general conclusions ...
The most important thing is for people to recognise that the current situation still calls for a lot of caution and for people just to remember that the virus is still out there, that a lot of people have got it.
The interview was recorded yesterday, and so Johnson was not asked about the unnamed minister whose gung-ho optimism has provided the Daily Mail with its splash. But his comments do serve as a rebuttal to his anonymous colleague. The minister had told the paper:
It is all over bar the shouting, but no one has noticed. Of course we have to guard against the emergence of some terrible new variant. But otherwise Covid is on the point of becoming something you live with.
It drops into the background, but it does not change anything terribly – maybe you have to take a test once in a while ...
Factually we are [at the point where herd immunity has been achieved]. We are there. It’s just a fact, as around 90% of adults have had a first dose of a vaccine. We are there.
- Johnson said there was no chance of the government postponing plans to end isolation for fully vaccinated people who have been pinged from Monday 16 August. The government has already said that, from the 16th, fully vaccinated people will no longer have to isolate for 10 days if they have been in contact with someone testing positive. Instead they will be advised to take a test instead to check they are negative. When cases were still rising sharply there were suggestions that this date might get put back. But Johnson firmly ruled that out. He said:
August 16 is nailed on – there has never been any question of a review date for August 16.
I’m very pleased that this is a country that now has the highest proportion of vaccinated adults of any country in the world – that is enabling us to make the economic progress we are.
- He said that the UK could see a “very, very strong recovery”. He said:
Jobs are coming back and you’ll see this data from the IMF today. It is clear that, if we’re sensible and we continue to take a cautious approach, we can see a very, very strong recovery ...
You are seeing the job numbers increasing and I think that the rest of this year – there will still be bumps on the road – but I think you will see a story of steady economic recovery.
Essentially, in making this point, Johnson was just echoing the conclusions of the IMF report yesterday that said Britain is expected to have the joint highest growth, with the US, of all G7 countries in 2021.
- He said he did not agree that people who refuse to get a vaccine are “selfish”, as Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, claimed yesterday. Asked if he thought that, Johnson replied:
No, I think that I would put it the other way round and say that if you get one you are doing something massively positive for yourself, for your family.
There is very little formally on the agenda for the day. But, as my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports, ministers are meeting today and may agree plans to let people who have been fully vaccinated in the US and EU avoid quarantine if arriving from amber list countries.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.
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