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Coronavirus 1) Whitty moves to head off GPs’ rebellion over vaccine doses

“The chief medical officer on Thursday night attempted to head off a growing rebellion by GPs over delaying the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine as he insisted the new strategy was the “right decision.” In a letter co-signed by his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Prof Chris Whitty told medics that the “public will understand and thank us” for administering as many first doses as possible, rather than giving people a second jab within the recommended three or four weeks. It came as GPs across the country vowed to defy the Government’s new strategy, branding it a “huge gamble.” Doctor’s leaders said the decision to cancel appointments for elderly patients due to have their second Pfizer coronavirus vaccination next week was “grossly unfair”, and encouraged GPs to press ahead with the planned jabs in defiance of the Government’s new strategy.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Fury over ‘grossly unfair’ plan to cancel second dose for thousands of elderly patients – Daily Mail
  • Vaccine shortages will last months, Whitty says – The Times
  • Masks in class to combat new strain, SAGE experts advise – The Sun
  • UK declares record-high 55,892 cases and another 964 deaths – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 2) Key London hospital preparing for Covid-only care as cases surge

“One of London’s biggest hospitals has warned it is on track to become virtually Covid-only amid a surge in cases in the capital that has left it scrambling to convert operating theatres, surgical recovery areas and stroke wards into intensive care units for the very sick. As the daily coronavirus case numbers in the UK continued an apparently inexorable rise, hitting a record 55,892, with 23,813 people in hospital and 964 reported deaths, the chief executive of University College London hospitals trust (UCLH), Prof Marcel Levi, said admissions were already spiralling beyond the first wave in the spring. Every hospital in London was facing the same demands on beds and staff, and University College hospital was taking admissions from other hospitals that were less well able to cope, he told the Guardian. At the hospital, whole floors are having to be dismantled and rebuilt to the standards required for intensive care wards. As they did in March, they have had to convert five floors and equip them with oxygen and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines that help people breathe.” – The Guardian

  • Treatment centre warns it is in ‘disaster mode’ – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Farewell, Sweden

Coronavirus 3) Medics fume over the red tape strangling UK’s vaccine rollout

“A million people in England have now been given a Covid-19 jab. But serious questions remain about the race to vaccinate the rest of the nation – with retired medics trying to volunteer tied up in red tape. Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the milestone, which was hit hours before the start of 2021. It marked a hopeful end to the year after the UK became the first country to approve the vaccine made by pharmaceutical firm Pfizer. But with health workers set to start giving people a second jab developed by Oxford University on Monday, less than a month into the vaccine drive, serious problems are already starting to emerge. Only 530,000 doses of the Oxford jab will be available from Monday – despite experts suggesting two million a week are needed. And retired doctors and nurses offering their time and skills face mountains of red tape. Some have been asked for 21 documents proving they are trained in subjects such as counter-terrorism and racial equality.” – Daily Mail

  • Sign up for Britain’s vaccination volunteer force – The Sun

Comment:

  • Why do you need diversity training to give a jab? – Professor Martin Marshall, Daily Mail

Coronavirus 4) Williamson under fire over schools ‘mess’ as councils threaten to ignore rules

“Gavin Williamson was under fire on Thursday night as the system for deciding school closures in the New Year threatened to descend into chaos. Council leaders vowed to ignore new rules as figures showed that schools would close despite being in areas of lower Covid case rates than their immediate neighbours. Ministers insisted the decisions had been in part informed by the capacity in local hospitals to stop them being overwhelmed by surging numbers of Covid-19 patients. Mr Williamson, the Education Secretary, faced criticism over his handling of the latest raft of school closures, which Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the biggest classroom union, the NEU, described as “a mess”. A battle is understood to have broken out between the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Care as Mr Williamson sought to keep as many schools open as possible.” – Daily Telegraph

  • More schools must close to keep Covid controlled, say health chiefs – The Times
  • Schools could remain closed until mid-February – Daily Telegraph
  • Leaders and councils demand clarity on primary closures – The Guardian

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: U-turn of the year – A Level results and the Government abandoning the Ofqual algorithm for predicted grades

Boris Johnson: This New Year really is one of change and hope

“We are still fighting the devilish virus. We still have large parts of the country in some sort of lockdown, because the new variant is spreading at worrying speed. And as a result we still have government-imposed restrictions on where you can go, what you can do, who you can meet, and we are all following government guidance on how long to spend washing your hands and what to sing while doing so. As you gaze out at this January of continuing plague and privation you may be tempted to give way to despair. But before you shoot your head back under the covers – let me offer some grounds for thinking that this New Year really is a year of change, and hope. I am absolutely confident that with the right energy and determination we can this year seize opportunities to transform our country – opportunities unknown to modern memory.” – Daily Telegraph

  • With a Jabs Army we can consign killer Covid to the dustbin of history – Matt Hancock MP, The Sun
  • Welcome to the year of the vaccine. What could possibly go wrong? – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Video: WATCH: Johnson – “This is an amazing moment for this country. We have our future in our hands.”

Prime Minister calls for Britain to be a ‘science superpower’

“Britain is at an “amazing moment” in its history, Boris Johnson declared as he pledged to realise the promises of Brexit and rebuild prosperity after Covid. The prime minister marked the end of formal ties with the European Union at 11pm last night with an upbeat new year message saying the country could now do things differently and better. He promised to “turbocharge” his aim of making Britain a science superpower, leading the world in tackling climate change, and to create millions of high-skilled jobs. “This is an amazing moment for this country,” he said. “We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.” He praised Oxford scientists for delivering “a beacon of hope” in a vaccine that is cheap and quick to produce. The country would return to normality, he promised, “bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia, going to the pub, concerts, theatres, restaurants, or simply holding hands with our loved ones”.” – The Times

  • He says Britain will not leave Europe “in the lurch” and will continue to be the second-biggest contributor to NATO – Daily Telegraph

Ministers fear port disruption in January as formal ties with EU end

“Britain’s formal ties with the EU end at 11pm UK time on New Year’s Eve, with ministers fearing that the historic break in trade relations could lead to disruption at ports in the first week of January. In spite of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “zero tariff, zero quota” trade deal with the EU, there will still be a wave of new bureaucracy and checks facing any company wishing to do business between Britain and the EU. The UK’s exit from the bloc’s customs union and single market means that new “non tariff barriers” will add what HM Revenue & Customs estimates will be £7bn of bureaucracy to the costs of doing business with the EU… Ministers hope that months of government preparation will minimise disruption, but there have been estimates that as many as 50 per cent of SMEs are not ready for the new paperwork involved in trading with the EU.” – FT

  • Three-month customs grace period for parcels into Northern Ireland from rest of UK – The Guardian
  • Spain and UK agree deal to keep Gibraltar land border open – FT
  • Government axes VAT on sanitary products – The Guardian
  • Sturgeon urges the EU to ‘keep the light on’ – Daily Mail
  • How will Boris Johnson use Britain’s hard won ‘freedom’ from Brussels? – FT

Comment:

  • Free from the rules of the EU Empire, it is time to unleash our great innovators – Matt Ridley, The Sun
  • There’s no point continuing to pick fights with Brussels – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Ranil Jayawardena MP in Comment: The trade deals keep coming. And today, as the new EU agreement takes effect, we look forward to more.

>Yesterday: Anthony Browne MP in Comment: Post-Brexit Britain. Now we’ve taken back control, here’s what we can do with our new powers.

Conservative MPs form group to expand ‘proud British tradition’ of veganism

“Conservative MPs have formed a new vegan pressure group in order to expand the “proud British tradition” of the philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. The Vegan Conservatives were launched on Thursday to promote a meat-free diet and “prevent dangerous climate change, reduce pandemic risk, and protect animals”. To mark the launch of the new caucus, 10 Tory MPs pledged to take part in Veganuary – adopting a plant-based diet for the month of January. The group includes Crawley MP Henry Smith who gave up meat three decades ago because of what he described as “animal welfare concerns during the meat production process and its impact on our global environment”. Other Parliamentarians taking part include deputy chairwoman of the European Research Group Andrea Jenkyns and MPs Christian Wakeford and James Daly.” – Daily Telegraph