Published:

UK suffers record number of Covid deaths

“The UK reported a daily record 1,564 deaths within 28 days of testing positive with coronavirus on Wednesday, as Boris Johnson warned that intensive care units in some hospitals could soon be overwhelmed. The prime minister told the liaison committee of MPs there was a “very substantial” risk of the NHS running out of ICU beds and no guarantee that schools would be allowed to reopen after the half term break in mid-February. But Mr Johnson said the numbers of people testing positive for the virus were falling, indicating that existing restrictions should be given a chance to work before tighter curbs are brought in. Hospital admissions for Covid-19 patients in England fell slightly from 3,967 on January 6 to 3,894 for January 11 — driven by a marked drop-off in London and the South East, although not elsewhere.” – FT

  • Deaths pass 100,000 after 1,564 reported in one day – The Guardian
  • Vallance: fatalities won’t reduce ‘for some weeks’ – Daily Mail
  • All the ways England’s lockdown could be toughened up – The Sun

More:

  • Covid hospital patients can be discharged to care homes without a test – Daily Telegraph
  • Recovered victims gain immunity from the virus – The Times
  • ‘More mutant Covid strains will hit Britain’ warns Van-Tam – The Sun

Prime Minister pledges 24-hour Covid vaccine service

“Boris Johnson pledged yesterday to launch a round-the-clock vaccination service despite a health minister warning that it would be impossible to implement on a large scale. The prime minister said during prime minister’s questions that “we will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can” but that at the moment the supply of the vaccine was limited. He appeared to be contradicted by two ministers, however. Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, told the science and technology select committee that rather than offering a 24-hour service the government had to focus on the most vulnerable. Lord Bethell, a health minister, said it would be impossible to run a vaccination service this way. He told the Lords: “Even NHS workers do have to sleep. It is impossible to run operations through the night on a mass scale.”” – The Times

  • Vaccines minister accused of secrecy as he refuses to reveal number of doses due for delivery – Daily Telegraph
  • Rollout constrained by manufacturing, say ministers – FT
  • Whitehall snubbing offers from local councils to help with vaccinations – The Times
  • Police to join teachers in being prioritised for Covid vaccine – The Sun

>Today: Izzi Seccombe in Local Government: Councils need simple and efficient public procurement to ensure the best value for public money

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Though the vaccines are here, we still need testing

Boris Johnson: Sign up to Jabs Army and help the country return to normal life again

“More than two million people in England have been vaccinated so far, including more than a quarter of care home residents and a third of over-80s. More than 1,000 vaccination sites are open across the country and we will soon be protecting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people every single day. We’re on track to offer 15 million of the most vulnerable people the jab by mid-February and then to all adults over 50 by spring. But this will be the biggest vaccination campaign in NHS history — and a monumental national effort such as this requires each one of us to do what we can to help. The Sun’s Jabs Army campaign is a brilliant example of the power of collective action. It has already inspired companies and workplaces up and down the country to join the call to arms.” – The Sun

  • The real reason my neighbours aren’t having the vaccine – Jenni Murray, Daily Mail
  • He can’t waste the chance to start again – Iain Martin, The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Disraeli’s Two Nations at a time of Covid – and, no, they’re not “the rich and the poor”

Lockdown measures are ‘ludicrous’ and ‘removing hope’ from the public, says Brady

“The third coronavirus lockdown has been accused of containing “ludicrous” measures which are “removing hope and aspiration” from the public by a senior Tory MP. Sir Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, lamented the measures which have restricted members of the public going for walks with friends or sitting on a park bench. In a wide-ranging interview with the Planet Normal podcast, which you can listen to easily on the audio player above, Sir Graham accused ministers of “infantilising people, refusing to accept they can make common-sense decisions for themselves.” Sir Graham, who is a leading member of the Covid Recovery Group which is calling for a roadmap out of the restrictions, said that the past ten months have seen  “an authoritarian attack” on the fundamental human rights of the British people. He said there has been no proper cost-benefit analysis to establish whether the cure is worse than the disease and added that “It’s not acceptable to set such little store by people’s lives”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson intervened to preserve outdoor exercise exemption – The Times
  • Britain in ‘Grand National race’ to beat Covid but ‘could be in lockdown until late spring’ – The Sun

South American flight ban to block Brazilian Covid variant

“Travellers from most of South America face being banned from the UK under new measures to prevent the import of a Brazilian coronavirus variant. The government is expected to confirm today that all direct flights between the UK, Brazil and neighbouring countries in South America will be scrapped. People who travel via other countries such as Spain and Portugal are likely to be banned from entering the UK if they have been in South America over the previous ten days. Concerns have also been raised that the variant may be prevalent in the US, raising fears that travel restrictions may ultimately be extended to North America. Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said last night that there was a “bit more of a risk” that the Brazil variant could be resistant to vaccines. Victoria Atkins, the safeguarding minister, said that the government was monitoring the variant “very carefully”.” – The Times

  • Over-50s fuel surge in late summer holiday bookings after being vaccinated – Daily Telegraph
  • MPs criticised the Prime Minister on Wednesday for failing to act fast enough – Daily Mail

Brexit 1) Fisheries minister did not read bill ‘as she was busy at nativity’

“Downing Street has said Boris Johnson maintains confidence in the fisheries minister after she admitted not reading the post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels when it was agreed because she was busy organising a nativity trail. Victoria Prentis faced calls for her to quit after the comments, but the prime minister is standing by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) minister. Asked if her jaw had dropped when she saw the deal with the EU on Christmas Eve, Prentis told the Lords EU environment subcommittee: “No, the agreement came when we were all very busy on Christmas Eve, in my case organising the local nativity trail. We had been waiting and waiting, it looked like it was coming for probably four days before it actually arrived. I, for one, had gone through, as I’m sure members of this committee had, a gamut of emotions over those four days.” A No 10 spokesperson told the PA news agency that the prime minister had confidence in Prentis, 49.” – The Guardian

  • Irish fishing crisis exposed as UK seizes quotas – Daily Express

Brexit 2) Britain will protect trade with Northern Ireland, EU warned

“The government will have “no hesitation” in taking unilateral action to protect trade between Britain and Northern Ireland if post-Brexit disruption to food supplies and trade continues, Boris Johnson warned the EU yesterday. The prime minister described the present difficulties, which have led to some supermarkets in the province being unable to stock their shelves, as “teething problems” that were being fixed. But he insisted that if they persisted or worsened the government was prepared to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This allows ministers to “unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures” if the way in which the protocol is enforced leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”. Mr Johnson’s comments appear to be a shot across the bow of the EU before further negotiations on the protocol in the coming weeks.” – The Times

  • Barnier says post-Brexit border friction is the new normal – FT
  • Europe’s petty revenge – Daily Mail

More:

  • Labour to educate members on history of Belfast Agreement – The Guardian

Comment:

  • The Government must do more to crack down on trade with China – Iain Duncan Smith, Daily Telegraph

Meagre school food parcels ‘an insult to families’, Prime Minister says…

“Boris Johnson said that food packages sent to disadvantaged children were “a scandal and a disgrace” yesterday as the government reversed its recommendation for schools to distribute parcels instead of vouchers. The prime minister said that the packages sent to pupils on free school meals were appalling and an “insult to the families that have received them”. He agreed to review the supply chain. Images of blackened bananas and cheese slices wrapped in clingfilm that families received instead of school meal vouchers circulated on social media. Labour said that the rations broadly matched the requirements set out in government guidance. Marcus Rashford, the footballer who has become a champion for children’s nutrition, said that Mr Johnson had assured him yesterday that he was “committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place”.” – The Times

…as he warns it’s ‘too early to tell’ if schools can reopen after February half-term

“Boris Johnson has warned it is “too early to tell” if schools can reopen after the February half-term. The PM said there are hopeful signs the lockdown is pushing the number of new coronavirus cases down, but kids could still have to learn from home. In a tough grilling by MPs in the Liaison Committee, the PM said reopening schools depended on how many people had been vaccined. And he said the new strains of coronavirus found in South Africa and Brazil could impact the efficacy of the vaccine… Earlier today, the Education Secretary also admitted there could still be hotspot areas where schools will have to stay shut. Speaking at the Education Select Committee, the Education Secretary said “contingency plans” were in place for schools in hotspots to stay closed after February half-term.” – The Sun

  • GCSE and A-level students in England could sit exams this year – FT

>Yesterday: Robert Halfon MP’s column: The levelling-up ladder risks being knocked away by Covid-inspired decisions on education

Pledge to level-up UK questioned after northern transport budget cuts

“The UK government is undermining its pledge to “level up” the country after it slashed the budget of the body planning a massive transport investment programme in the north, the region’s leaders have suggested. Transport for the North (TfN), a statutory organisation, will lose 40 per cent of its core funding and a fifth of its total annual funding for the next financial year, documents it published on Wednesday showed. As part of the cuts, the Department for Transport has shelved plans for contactless ticketing across the region and cancelled more than £100m of future funding for it… Northern mayors and council leaders expressed “concern at the impact that it would have on the ability of TfN and the North in general to effectively contribute to the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda”, according to the document prepared for a TfN board meeting on Thursday.” – FT

  • Ministers should scrap plans to build 300,000 homes a year, say countryside groups – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Profiles: Kwarteng Unchained. The rise, wobble and rise of the big, bold, bright new Business Secretary

Taxpayers foot £55,000 bill to ‘prepare’ civil servants for Salmond inquiry hearings

“Nicola Sturgeon’s government has spent more than £50,000 “preparing” civil servants to give evidence about the Alex Salmond affair at hearings where they suffered “collective memory loss”, it has emerged. Information obtained by The Daily Telegraph shows that by early November, £54,378 of taxpayers’ money had been spent on external assistance to help senior civil servants get ready for appearances at a Holyrood inquiry. The Scottish Government refused to say which organisation or individual had been hired, but members of the committee branded the cost “astonishing” and said it raised questions over whether witnesses had been “coached”. Staff logs released in response to a Freedom of Information request also show that witnesses spent several hours preparing for sessions, only to then face criticism for “forgetting” crucial details, giving misleading evidence, or dodging questions.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Scotland’s first citizens’ assembly calls for more powers for Edinburgh – FT
  • Sturgeon announces six changes to Scotland’s lockdown – The Sun

>Today: Douglas Ross in Comment: No more excuses. No more evasion. Sturgeon’s position is untenable if Salmond is telling the truth.

News in Brief:

  • The Government needs a new slogan: ‘Hands. Face. Space. Aerate’ – Ryan Bourne, CapX
  • The fight for student rent refunds – Caitlin Allen, Reaction
  • Silicon Valley can no longer conceal its power – Niall Ferguson, The Spectator
  • Unionists should back Johnson over Gove on strategy – Henry Hill, UnHerd
  • The triumph of the Trump doctrine – Bartle Bull, The Critic