Category Archive : UK

Covid-19: New three-tier restrictions come into force in England

It comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

called for a two to three week “circuit-breaker” lockdown in England to bring the rising infection rate under control.

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Newspaper headlines: Short lockdown 'on the cards' as pressure grows on PM

The front pages consider whether there could be a short “circuit breaker” lockdown in the UK.

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Coronavirus: Covid spike warning if schools and pubs stay open

NI’s leaders are in late-night talks on tightening restrictions, which may include a so-called circuit breaker.

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Covid: PM rejects English coronavirus hotspots travel ban again

Sign in FlintshireImage copyright
AFP

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Wales and England have different coronavirus restrictions

Boris Johnson has rejected a demand from the first minister of Wales for a travel ban in and out of Covid hotspots in England.

“There are no physical borders between Wales and England,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

On Monday Mark Drakeford threatened to take action if a ban is not imposed.

The UK government has given advice for people in Merseyside not to travel in or out of the area – but that has stopped short of a legal ban.

The prime minister’s spokesman said the guidance was “very clear”.

Plaid Cymru called for the first minister to act, but the Welsh Conservatives accused Mr Drakeford of relying on evidence drawn up on the “back of a fag packet”.

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford said a special Cobra meeting should be held to discuss a so-called “circuit-breaker” lockdown.

Welsh ministers have asked for travel from areas with high rates of coronavirus in England to be restricted, to prevent people visiting parts of Wales where lockdowns are not in force and where infection rates are lower.

It is the second time the UK government has said it would not agree to the Welsh Government’s request.

Seventeen places in Wales – 15 counties, one town and one city – are currently under local lockdown restrictions, effectively banning non-essential travel.

Mr Drakeford wrote to Mr Johnson on Tuesday saying efforts in Wales “are being undermined by travellers from high-prevalence areas in other parts of the UK travelling to Wales”.

He attached a scientific paper which he said “demonstrates the spread of infection geographically and supports the case for travel restrictions as a means of controlling the spread of the virus”.

The Welsh Labour leader wrote to the first ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland and asking them to regulate travel in a similar way.

“It would be better if all four nations were to act in concert, but in the absence of an agreed way forward, I will act to keep Wales safe,” he said.

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Mark Drakeford urged travel restrictions through English regulations

The paper, cited by Mr Drakeford and seen by BBC Wales, concludes that the “easing of lockdown rules into August has corresponded with an increase in cases [in Wales], which may partly be driven by imports from other parts of the UK and wider world”.

It adds that cases “in less urban areas” are “more likely to be imports from elsewhere and rarely lead to local onward transmission”.

But the paper also said the data “does not constitute definitive proof”.

UK government sources were told the paper had not been peer-reviewed enough to be published.

But Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said in the Senedd on Tuesday that the time it would take for a peer-reviewed paper “would mean that we would have to wait a very long period of time before we could take any action”.

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Cheryl Hall’s caravan park sits across the England-Wales border

What do people on the border between England and Wales think?

Tanat Holiday Park in Llanymynech sits on the border – with 90 caravans in England and 45 in Wales.

Owner Cheryl Hall said she had found it challenging keeping customers up to date on ever-changing regulations and who can and cannot visit.

“There is advice on non-essential travel,” she said of the advice in Merseyside, which will go into the very high tier of lockdown on Wednesday.

“But it’s only guidance, not law. It’s not up to me to police it.”

She said people from south Wales know they cannot come to the park.

“I had a customer who was here for most of the summer but when she left to go home, she knew she wouldn’t come back. We don’t know when we will see her again.”

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Janette Harrop said she felt safer in Wales, where she has lived for more than three months, than St Helens

Janette Harrop, from St Helens, in Liverpool, lives in a caravan at the park. She said: “We haven’t been home for over three months. We feel safer in the caravan.

“We are hoping they stop people coming into Wales, and those of us who are already here and have been here a while can stay.”

She said: “Where we are from in St Helens, our area Castle Heath is quite high as well, so we are better off here where it’s low, than going home and risking catching corona.”

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Getty Images

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Mark Drakeford has said he will take action in the absence of a common way forward

Analysis by Ione Wells, BBC Wales parliamentary correspondent

What UK ministers want to know is whether it can be categorically proven that people travelling from hotspot areas in other parts of the UK has led to an increase in Covid-19 cases in Wales.

It’s unclear whether evidence of cases being imported, without saying exactly where from or who by, will cut it.

Without this evidence, UK government sources say it is pretty unlikely ministers will budge and put this current travel guidance into law.

They also have questions about how laws would be enforced – something Welsh ministers insist is possible.

And without an answer from the PM or FMs of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Welsh ministers say they will have to introduce their own measures.

‘Time to act’

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said the UK government “has shown utter contempt for Wales, our people and our democracy.

“The time to ask is over. Now is the time to act.”

Welsh Conservative health spokesman Andrew RT Davies said it was “deeply embarrassing” for Mr Drakeford and Labour.

“He and his colleagues should hang their heads in shame, because pursuing such a controversial policy on back-of-a-fag-packet evidence is no way to run a government at any time, least of all during a pandemic and lockdowns that are crippling businesses and lives.”

It is not clear what the Welsh Government will do next.

BBC Wales was told there will be discussions across cabinet, with no timetable for an announcement.

Circuit-breaker

The first minister said in the Senedd he has asked the prime minister for a special Cobra meeting to discuss a “circuit breaker” system – imposing a short period of restrictions for everyone – for dealing with coronavirus.

The UK government’s Sage advice group called for a short lockdown three weeks ago.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) had not yet advised ministers to implement such a system in Wales “but I do take the arguments in favour of a circuit breaker period seriously”.

“I think it’s an idea that will need further examination and needs to be shared in perspective between the four UK nations,” he said, adding the request was in Tuesday’s letter.

Mr Drakeford added that his call for a travel ban was not “some sort of contest between Wales and England”.

“This is not about stopping people from England coming to Wales, nor should we ever fall into that sort of way of talking,” he said.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “What we have done is publish guidance which is very clear that people from very high risk areas such as Merseyside should avoid travelling in or out of the area.

“We have also made it very clear to the public that they should follow any local guidance which is issued by devolved administrations.”

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Covid-19: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer calls for circuit breaker

The government has lost control of the virus, with no credible plan to slow infections, says Starmer.

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Covid: New restrictions system ‘fundamentally flawed’ says Burnham

People wearing masks in Manchester city centreImage copyright
Getty Images

The new system of local coronavirus measures is “fundamentally flawed”, the mayor of Greater Manchester has said.

A three-tier system for England was announced on Monday, with the Liverpool region being placed in the highest level, with far stricter restrictions.

Andy Burnham told the BBC he “resisted” Greater Manchester being placed in the same category because it would cause “certain harm” to the economy.

Each level of restrictions is imposed after talks with local leaders.

Downing Street defended the system, which categorises every area in England as on medium, high or very high alert, as difficult but necessary “to protect the NHS and save lives”.

Meanwhile, Essex, which is currently in the medium tier, has become the first place to call for extra restrictions.

The county said it should be moved to high alert to prevent “further escalation” into the very high tier later, leading to damage to the economy.

And in London, the mayor Sadiq Khan has said that it is inevitable the capital will pass a “trigger point” in the next few days that should move the city from the medium level to the high level.

The move would see nearly nine million people banned from mixing with other households indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

‘Fragile economies’

Mr Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett Show, there was not “a proper economic support package” to help areas put into the highest tier.

He added: “And they’re trying to pressurise people into tier three, even though it will do certain harm to those economies, often quite fragile economies in the north.

“That is why tier three as currently constructed is fundamentally flawed and why we have resisted being pushed into it.”

Manchester does not have Covid hotspots to the same degree as Liverpool, which is the only area to be placed in the highest tier, and the number of people admitted to hospital is lower, Mr Burnham said.

And he said England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, had acknowledged he was not confident the base tier three measures “would be enough”.

Mr Burnham said that he would prefer a short “circuit-break” national lockdown to “reset things”, including putting the Test and Trace system under local control. It was revealed on Monday that the government’s scientific advisers had called for a short lockdown of this kind last month.

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Recommendations over which areas are placed in particular Covid alert levels are made at a series of daily and weekly meetings involving NHS Test and Trace, Public Health England, the chief medical officer, the Department for Health and Social Care and ministers, along with the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

A final decision is only made after consultation with local authorities and local leaders.

Under tier three, or the very high alert level, these talks also decide any additional measures that are deemed necessary to bring the infection rate under control.

But Liverpool mayor Steve Rotherham said it was “totally false” that the new measures had been agreed to locally – instead they had been “dictated to us by the government”.

Downing Street said talks were continuing with local leaders in the north of England to agree tier three restrictions in more areas.

“The PM said these are difficult steps – but we have to protect the NHS and save lives,” a Number 10 spokesman said.

But he said the government does have the power “to impose measures” if it deems them necessary.

What are the restrictions?

Most places are under the lowest tier, the medium alert level, with current restrictions continuing, including the 10pm hospitality curfew and the rule of six.

Areas already under additional local restrictions are automatically in the high alert level, which means bans on household mixing indoors are extended to include hospitality venues.

The very high alert level – at a minimum – sees pubs and bars close if they do not serve “substantial meals”, almost all household contacts banned and advice against travel. The rule of six will continue to apply in outdoor public spaces such as parks.

In Liverpool City Region, betting shops, gyms, leisure centres and casinos are also being closed as part of additional measures.

Essex is calling for its 1.4 million residents to be placed on the high alert level after its director of public health warned the increase in cases would continue to accelerate without urgent action.

Council leader David Finch said they wanted “above all” to avoid the economic damage of being placed in the highest tier of restrictions at a later stage.

“Making these painful decisions now will, we hope, bring dividends later,” he said.

Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees called for local authorities to be given the power to impose additional restrictions themselves, as well as the resources to support businesses that have to close.

He said the government is “lending its attention to the areas causing the most concern” so places such as Bristol, with lower infection rates, risked being overlooked, although their case numbers would have been considered “horrific” three weeks ago.

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A40 crash: Four family members die in Oxfordshire collision

  • Three children and woman from same family tragically killed in two-vehicle Oxfor…

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Newcastle Odeon cinema collapse: Two contractors charged

A bus shelter was crushed when the Newcastle Odeon cinema collapsed during demolition work in 2017.

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Scotland's unemployment rate remains steady over summer

The Scottish government says the figures do not reflect the “full impact” of Covid-19 on employment.

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Unemployment surges to 4.5% by August as pandemic hits jobs

Jonathan Athow, the ONS’s deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: “In the latest period almost half a million fewer people were in work than just before the pandemic, while almost 200,000 others said they were employed but were currently not working nor earning any money.

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