Boris Johnson has insisted that England’s new three-tiered coronavirus system will “drive down the virus” as he faces mounting pressure to impose a half-term “circuit-breaker”.

He defended a regional approach to restrictions at today’s session of PMQs after Sage advisers stressed that a two-week shutdown could save thousands of lives by the end of the year.

During this lunchtime’s Commons clash, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeated calls for a short and sudden lockdown, arguing that drastic short-term measures were both “in the national interest” and “unavoidable”.


Meanwhile Northern Ireland has become the first devolved nation to enforce a circuit-breaker, with the country’s pubs and restaurants set to close for four weeks from Friday. It comes as London and other areas are set to move into higher risk categories “within days” as Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the country.

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Circuit-breaker should be ‘minimum’ two weeks – Sage

A scientist studying the possibility of a circuit-breaker lockdown said it would help the UK control the “national narrative” around the pandemic.

Prof Graham Medley, a member of Sage, told a webinar: “They are a chance to build a national narrative about the way we handle the epidemic. Are we going to bump from epidemic to epidemic from enforced lockdown to enforced lockdown?

“Or are we going to say what we did was went into short periods of strict lockdown in order to keep the prevalence low and that’s how we got through it and I think it’s that kind of question that kind of level which it is useful to have a public discussion about.”

He added a two-week period was the minimum time because “that will prevent a whole generation of infection and prevent it transmitting onwards”.

“The whole point of them is to make them more bearable – to have less of an impact on economics and less of an impact on people and people’s lives and the mental health and other aspects of what’s happening.”


Wales death toll up by 10 with 946 new cases confirmed

There have been a further 946 cases of Covid-19 in Wales.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 32,316.

Public Health Wales said 10 further deaths had been reported, with the total number of deaths since the star of the pandemic rising to 1,688.


Liverpool mayor pleads with residents to take Tier 3 measures seriously

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said Tier 3 restrictions need to be adhered to or the area would become “overrun with sickness and death”.

But he stressed during a virtual press conference that the restrictions had been “done to us, not with us”.

The Labour politician said: “I realise that people are frustrated with the new measures.

“No one wants to curtail the freedoms or damage the economy or the sectors in our city region and cause hardship for anyone.

“But we have Tier 3 restrictions in place from today and they are the law.

“We have to all abide by them, just as we did in March, and everybody needs to take it as seriously as we did back then. We had no choice but the alternative is to see our city region overrun with sickness and death.”

Here’s a reminder of the region’s weekly infection rates:


Greater Manchester won’t accept Tier 3 move without furlough guarantee

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said he will resist the region moving into Tier 3 restrictions without a financial package that includes an 80 per cent furlough.

On accepting the harshest restrictions, the Labour mayor told a press conference: “We would be surrendering people here to certain hardship in the run up to Christmas, absolutely no doubt about it. Job losses certainly and of course business closures.

“In putting this pressure on council leaders in making them make these decisions, the Government is very much passing the buck and passing the bill to local areas and I don’t find that acceptable.

“We’ve gone from an approach that was about whatever it takes to get the country through this, to a penny-pinching approach to the pandemic where the cost will fall very much on people in the real world.

“We oppose the Tier 3 proposal and we will not cave in to all of the pressure that’s being applied to us unless we can be given clear evidence, but more than that, the substantial financial support that’s needed to protect our communities through this. We will not let them be levelled down by this Government through this pandemic.

“When I say substantial support, I’m talking about an 80% furlough guarantee across all of the sectors that would be required to close.”


Circuit-breaker ‘could take pandemic levels back to mid-September’

Scientists involved in modelling the efficacy of a circuit-breaker lockdown have warned they cannot give a precise estimate on the number of lives that might be saved.

Prof Matt Keeling, of the University of Warwick, said: “I think it’s almost giving us the time to react differently by resetting the number of cases to a lower level rather than just in terms of saving lives.”

He said realistically we could reset things by about a month – taking us back to the case number seen in mid-September – if a circuit-breaker was imposed.


Christmas is going to be ‘very difficult’, scientists warn

Scientists have warned that Christmas was going to be a very difficult period even if the Government does not decide to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown over the period.

Government advisers considering when to impose a short, sharp lockdown have suggested the coming October half-term or the Christmas holidays might be a good time as it would minimise disruption to education.

Prof Graham Medley told a webinar: “Christmas is going to be very difficult anyway.

“At the moment we have places that are in Tier 3 level lockdown, it’s quite likely that several level 2 places will go into Tier 3 level between now and the end of the year, if not a lot, and we don’t know that if the measures in Tier 3 are enough to move them down to Tier 2.

“So it’s not going to be an easy Christmas and in some ways we kind of missed the boat a little and they are certainly something to think about in terms of the future.”

He said the Government should be considering imposing short term lockdowns as far ahead as the spring half-term.


This graphic compares the UK’s official death toll with that provided by the ONS:

 


A herd immunity approach to tackling Covid-19 is “morally, ethically and scientifically flawed”, a leading clinician has said.

Lord Patel issued the warning as peers debated the Government’s new three tier alert system for England, amid criticism of Boris Johnson’s handling of the response to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

It follows opposition calls for a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown aimed at getting the virus back under control.

Others have urged the Government to ease the restrictions in switching to a herd immunity strategy, allowing most people to return to normal life while protecting the most vulnerable.

But independent crossbencher Lord Patel, a former professor of obstetrics and university chancellor, told the House of Lords: “Any policy, as suggested by some, of abandoning the suppression of the virus and adopting a policy of herd immunity is morally, ethically and scientifically flawed.”


Boris Johnson wants to form a consensus with local leaders about the toughest Tier 3 restrictions – but ministers could impose them if that is not possible.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to create the maximum possible local consensus behind what would be the most severe kind of local actions.

“We continue to work with local leaders on that.”

But the spokesman added: “The Government does have the ability to impose measures if it was felt that was what was needed to reduce transmission and to protect the NHS.”


Downing Street condemned the “irresponsible” behaviour by some people in Liverpool on Tuesday night ahead of the Tier 3 restrictions being imposed.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “In terms of what were the actions of a minority of people, I think you would have to judge it as irresponsible in the sense that we shouldn’t be doing anything that risks putting others in danger of catching the virus.”


A herd immunity approach to tackle Covid-19 is “morally, ethically and scientifically flawed”, a leading clinician has said.

Lord Patel issued the warning as peers debated the Government’s new three tier alert system for England, amid criticism of Boris Johnson’s handling of the response to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

It follows opposition calls for a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown aimed at getting the virus back under control.

Others have urged the Government to ease the restrictions in switching to a herd immunity strategy, allowing most people to return to normal life while protecting the most vulnerable.

But independent crossbencher Lord Patel, a former professor of obstetrics and university chancellor, told the House of Lords: “Any policy, as suggested by some, of abandoning the suppression of the virus and adopting a policy of herd immunity is morally, ethically and scientifically flawed.”


A scientist providing advice to the Government has said the idea of a circuit-breaker was to replace emergency lockdowns with precautionary lockdowns.

Professor Graham Medley, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told a webinar: “It is a benefit only if the damage to business is reduced by knowing when the break is going to be and how long it’s going to be and whether the impact on mental health is reduced by knowing when it’s going to happen and how long it will be.”

He said evidence suggested that impact on business and mental health is reduced if people know how long restrictions will be in place.

Prof Medley, who is part of Sage, said: “The challenge is really a communications one because essentially you are locking down to quite a high level of imposition of measures before you really need to.

“And it will mean releasing those measures before there has been any significant impact on hospitalisations and deaths.”

He said a newly-published study, which has yet to be peer reviewed, suggested that such a lockdown would have a significant epidemiological impact on the spread of the disease.


At least 180 people in Scotland who tested positive for Covid-19 in the last month had reported a recent trip to Blackpool, Sturgeon says

Sturgeon names Blackpool as Covid hotspot as cases spread to Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon has said that at least 180 people in Scotland who tested positive for Covid-19 in the last month had reported a recent trip to Blackpool. 

The First Minister voiced her support for calls made by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford over restricting people from areas of high prevalence travelling to other UK nations.


Liverpudlians advised against all non-essential travel. 

People in the Liverpool City Region are being advised against non-essential travel, so although open, restaurants will not be busy and need greater financial support, an MP has said.

Labour’s Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) said: “The Chancellor should also be very clear that there are very many other businesses in my area, like restaurants for example, that have not been forced to close, but whose business is severely impacted – they have to close at 10 o’clock, they have fewer tables.

“In my area there is advice against non-essential travel. It is not an essential travel to go to a restaurant. So people are advised not to go there but these people are not going to get any support to keep their restaurants open from the local scheme and many of them will go bust.

“But the point is that many businesses, many thousands of jobs are at risk and they will not be getting extra support – and I’m sorry that the Chancellor isn’t listening – they will not be getting extra support from any of his schemes in a Tier 3 area.

“Those jobs and businesses are going to go. Those people will be unemployed and the Government will still have to be paying towards their support.”


Just in… 

Students given Covid-19 swab tests that had already been used

Birmingham students were given coronavirus swab tests from the local authority that had already been used.

Around 25 used Covid-19 tests were reportedly given to students in the Selly Oak area on Tuesday. Birmingham City Council has said the incident involving their distribution service is being “reviewed”. The tests were handed out as part of their drop off and collect service to help tackle coronavirus cases.


Rishi Sunak warned a second national lockdown would be a “dramatic” measure which would create “significant damage” to people’s lives.

The Chancellor told MPs: “We can’t just let the virus take hold but nor can we blithely fall into another national spring-style lockdown as the party opposite now wants to do, rather than following our regional tiered and localised approach.”

Mr Sunak added: “We need a balanced approach, we need a consistent approach and we also want a co-operative approach. But any responsible party calling for a shutdown of our entire country should be honest about the potential costs – economic and social – of such a dramatic measure.

“At the very least they should have the integrity to acknowledge that what they’re proposing will create significant damage to people’s lives and livelihoods.

“I’ve never said there are easy choices or cost-free answers, this is the reality we face and it’d be dishonest to ignore that truth.

“So no more political games and cheap shots from the sidelines. The party opposite can either be part of this solution or part of the problem. It’s called leadership, but from them I’m not holding my breath.”


Rishi Sunak said the country is facing an “economic emergency” as he outlined Government support to help workers and businesses.

The Chancellor told the Commons: “Despite the significant support we’ve provided, the data is beginning to reveal the true extent of the damage coronavirus has caused our labour market.

“The latest statistics published just yesterday show employment falling, unemployment rising, welfare claims rising and the revisions the ONS (Office for National Statistics) has made to their previous estimates show that unemployment was higher than they thought over the summer.

“I’ve talked about facing up to the difficult truths clearly and we’re facing an economic emergency, but we’re acting on a scale commensurate with this emergency as we address my single biggest priority: to protect people’s jobs and their livelihoods.”

Mr Sunak said a “complex picture” will emerge over the winter in which some businesses can openly safely and others will be ordered to close in a bid to control the virus, adding the Government’s policies sought to protect them.


Ventilation unit at a Liverpool hospital now back to same capacity it had during peak of first wave:

The Liverpool Critical Care Unit at Aintree said the increased set-up was “rapid and needed”.

In response to a tweet from a respiratory doctor, it said:  “Sadly on the Aintree site now back to the set up at peak of first wave. Up to 30 CPAP beds with you, 40 ventilator beds on ICU. Look after your staff, without them the beds are just empty spaces.”

The Ventilation Inpatient Centre is now located at the Elective Care Centre, and is operating with an “expanded team”.


Situation is not question of health vs wealth – Sunak

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told the Commons a tiered approach to the lockdown “prevents rushing to another lockdown”.

Rishi Sunak said: “This is not about choosing one side or the other. It is not about taking decisions because they are popular. It is not about health vs wealth or any other simplistic lens we choose to view this moment through.

“The Prime Minister was absolutely right when he set out our desire for a balanced approach, taking the difficult decisions to save lives and keep the R-rate down while doing everything in our power to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people.

“And the evidence shows a regional, tiered approach is right because it prevents rushing to another lockdown.

“The entire country would suffer rather than targeting that support, preventing a lockdown in parts of the country where the virus rates are low.”


Labour ramps up calls for national lockdown

Labour would consider a regional coronavirus circuit-breaker but wants the Government to impose nationwide restrictions, a spokesman for Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “The proposal we’ve put on the table at the moment is that it needs to be a nationwide circuit-breaker.

“Because as the Government’s own scientists have admitted, the virus is spreading across the country and the infection rate is going up across all regions of the country.

“So the proposal we are putting at the moment is that it needs to be nationwide.”

But asked if a regional circuit-breaker would be considered, the spokesman said: “We’ll always look at whatever the Government puts forward and judge it on its merits but the arguments we’re making at the moment is for a national one.”

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