B

oris Johnson today said there was “no choice” but to put England back into a nationwide lockdown as the country faces a “sprint” to vaccinate the most vulnerable faster than the virus can reach them.

Live updates

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Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green responds to Mr Williamson’s statement

She said: “He is failing to show leadership on the exams taking place in January. He is leaving it for schools to decide.

“Will he do the right thing and cancel this week’s BTEC exams as parents and colleges are calling for. 

“Too often the Secretary of State has refused to listen to [teaching staff’s] concerns or engage meaningfully in the expertise of professionals the front line. He can start to make it up to them today.” 

She said decision to close schools was right thing to do to save lives.

She adds: “Labour has always said schools are last thing to close and first to open. “

“Can the secretary of state tell us when children will be safely back  in the classroom. At every stage of the pandemic young people have been an afterthought for the Government and now we are back to where we were 9 months ago with schools closed and exams cancelled. 

“There is time to act but he must act now to ensure all pupils can learn remotely, that families are supported and the most vulnerable are safe-guarded.”

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GCSE, AS and A-level exams in England will be replaced by school-based assessments, says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

Exams are the fairest form of assessment but will be impossible to have them this year, Mr Williamson says.

“This year we’re going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.”

He added: “We will provide extra funding to supply food parcels and will ensure a national voucher scheme in place. Every school child can access free school meals whilst their school is closed.”

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1 million laptops and tablets with over half delivered says Gavin Williamson

More than 1 million laptops and tablets have been acquired and 560,000 have been delivered to schools and local authorities – by the end of next week it should be up to 750,000, Mr Gavin Williamson adds.

He added the Government are delivering 4G routers to families who need access to internet.

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Gavin Williamson says the last thing he wanted to do was close schools

The Education Secretary said: “I want to reassure everyone our schools have not suddenly become unsafe. We must curve escalating cases of Covid that is why I’m setting out a contingency plan I have worked on but hopefully never had to use.

“I want to thank all teachers…We are now better prepared for online learning. We will do what we can to help their parents. I want to thank parents and carers who will have to step up to the challenge of remote learning. It will be enforced by Ofsted.

“We expect schools to provide 3 to five hours of education a day depending on age.”

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Conservative former work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb calls for Universal Credit to be increased

He said: “Without question, one of the most important things this Government did in the first lockdown was to strengthen Universal Credit.

“And that’s been a lifeline, not just for people who’ve lost their jobs, but also for people who’ve kept going out to work during this pandemic, people on low wages in retail, delivery jobs, people doing cleaning jobs.

“Now our plan is still to cut that support back by £20 per week in less than three months time.

“I know the Prime Minister understands this issue, but does he agree with me that now is really not the moment to weaken our welfare safety net and that giving families on low incomes greater security for the year ahead by extending, rather than cutting, support is the right thing to do?”

Boris Johnson responded: “I fully understand the point that (Mr Crabb) makes and all I’ll say is that we’ll of course keep this under review.”

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Six hospitals in Wales were at Level 4, the highest level of emergency, and 10 were at Level 3

Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive of NHS Wales, told the Welsh Government briefing that six hospitals in Wales were at Level 4 – the highest level of emergency – and 10 were at Level 3.

“The NHS is working very hard to balance winter and emergency pressures, with the demands of looking after increasing numbers of people who are seriously ill with coronavirus,” Dr Goodall said. “The NHS is very challenged at the moment and faces a difficult period ahead.

“This is always the most challenging time of the year but the pandemic pressures means this is even more intense as a period with a health care system. The number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms has continued to rise over the last two weeks

“There are now almost 2,800 Covid-related patients in Welsh hospitals. This is 4% higher than the same point last week and it represents the highest number on record. If this trend continues, very soon the number of coronavirus-related patients in hospital will be twice the peak we saw during the first wave in April.

“More than a third of hospital beds are occupied by Covid-related patients. This varies across Wales and is close to 50% in two health boards. This has a significant impact on their ability to deliver local services.”

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Conservative chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee says “many” MPs are concerned at being asked to approve a lockdown which could last until the end of March

Sir Graham Brady told the Commons: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance that this House will be consulted on the lifting of restrictions, should it be possible before the end of March, but can I say to him that many of us are concerned at being asked to approve a lockdown which could continue until March 31.

“Can I ask (Mr Johnson) to reconsider and to offer the House a vote at the end of January and at the end of February as well, not on whether to lift restrictions, but on whether to continue them or not?”

Boris Johnson replied: “I can’t believe it will be until the end of March that the House has to wait before having a new vote and a new discussion of the measures we have to take.”

Asked by Labour’s Bambos Charalambous whether local elections will go ahead in May, Mr Johnson said: “Of course, that is what the law provides for – though, obviously we’ll have to keep it under review.”

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PM says new lockdown rules were “pettifogging” but not “malicious”, in response to criticism from a Conservative colleague

The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines pettifogging as “rules or details (that) are too small and not important enough to give attention to”.

Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne, a critic of the Government’s lockdown plans, told the Commons: “Notwithstanding the assault on liberty and livelihoods, why are these regulations pervaded by a pettifogging malice?”

Responding, Mr Johnson said: “Pettifogging, yes. Malicious, no. The intention – and I’m going to have to take the hit here – the intention is to stop the virus, to protect the NHS and to save lives.”

Earlier, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will he at the very least ensure that statutory sick pay is increased to £320 a week, that Universal Credit is not cut, the continuation of the protection of private tenancies goes on after the end of this lockdown and that, above all else, he ensures that every child in every school, and every student, has a chance to learn online?”

The Prime Minister replied: “I thank the right honourable gentleman seems to be recapitulating what his right honourable colleague (Sir Keir Starmer) has already asked me as though he was still doing his old job.”

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Mr Johnson says the important thing in Wales is that the Labour government spends Covid support funding “sensibly”

He told MPs: “I’m sure (Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts), for whom I have a keen regard, would not wish to accuse the Chancellor of wilful misrepresentation.

“But all the cash that we’ve announced obviously is passported on. The important thing is the Labour government in Wales spends it sensibly.

“But the UK Government is here to support businesses, jobs, livelihoods across the whole of the UK.”

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle added: “Can I just say while you’re (Ms Saville Roberts) online, I’m not over happy with ‘wilful’.

“I think we’ve got to think about the language which we use within the Chamber. These are times which are unprecedented but I really do think members ought to be careful on the language they use.”

Ms Saville Roberts had accused the Government of “wilful misrepresentation” over Covid support funding announced for Wales during her contribution to the debate.

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European health officials have recommended the use of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended granting a conditional marketing authorisation for jab for adults.

British regulators – the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency – are still conducting a review on the vaccine.

Emer Cooke, executive director of EMA said: “This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency.

“It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO.

“As for all medicines, we will closely monitor data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to ensure ongoing protection of the EU public.

“Our work will always be guided by the scientific evidence and our commitment to safeguard the health of EU citizens.”

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