Coronavirus 1) New curbs may be days away

“Downing Street insisted today the focus was on better compliance with existing Covid regulations. But sources warned ministers were ready to tighten the lockdown further unless the situation improved by the weekend. ‘The compliance data is mixed,’ an insider said. ‘We should have better data by the weekend and at that point we will have to decide whether we need to go further.’ Extra measures being considered include removing the exemption that allows two people to meet outdoors to exercise. Another source said some ministers were pushing for more businesses to be closed, including estate agents, outdoor markets and click-and-collect retail. Scientists are also arguing for the two-metre social distancing rule to be increased to three metres. A Downing Street source said Boris Johnson would need clear data showing problems before he ordered further damaging closures. The Prime Minister told the Cabinet yesterday it was ‘more important than ever that the public stay at home’.” – Daily Mail

  • New cases mean peak pressure for NHS in February – The Times
  • Retail giants clamp down in bid to halt coronavirus growth – The Times
  • Nearly half of NHS critical care staff report PTSD, depression or anxiety – The Guardian
  • Hospital patients to be sent to hotels to free up beds for critical Covid-19 cases – The Guardian

Coronavirus 2) Patel says police have ramped up enforcement in the current lockdown

“Priti Patel said on Tuesday night that the lockdown rules are tough enough as it emerged that the weekly number of people testing positive for Covid had fallen for the first time in two months. The Home Secretary said ministers and police were focused on improving public compliance with the regulations rather than any immediate toughening of measures. It comes amid signs of lockdown fatigue and concerns about people exploiting loopholes over exercise. A new analysis revealed that lockdown laws have changed 65 times since March, prompting warnings by lawyers and police of confusion among the public and even officers charged with enforcement. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Ms Patel said police had ramped up enforcement in the current lockdown with 1,000 people a day being fined since December 30, bringing the total to 45,000 since the start of the pandemic.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Public figures should lead way in obeying Covid rules, says police chief after Johnson bike ride – The Times
  • Police under fire for outdoor coronavirus clampdown – The Times
  • ‘Empty hospital’ activist fined £200 – The Times
  • Home workers drive rush hour to brink of extinction – The Times
Coronavirus 3) Chinese medicine ‘demented’, says Johnson

“Boris Johnson earned a stiff rebuke from Beijing yesterday after he called Chinese traditional medicine “demented” and blamed it for unleashing the pandemic. The prime minister made his comments to a virtual gathering of world leaders for the One Planet Summit on the protection of biodiversity. He scoffed at those who “grind up the scales of a pangolin” to make a potion reputed to enhance virility — one of the main reasons for the trafficking, mostly to China, of the mammals. “The coronavirus pandemic was the product of an imbalance in man’s relationship with the natural world,” he said. “Like the original plague which struck the Greeks I seem to remember in book one of the Iliad, it is a zoonotic disease. It originates from bats or pangolin”.” – The Times

  • Millions of Chinese in lockdown after coronavirus outbreaks near Beijing – The Times

Coronavirus 4) Doctors ordered to make elderly wait for 12 weeks for second Covid-19 vaccine dose

“Doctors have been instructed to cancel any scheduled second doses of the Pfizer vaccine for their elderly patients until 12 weeks after their first jab. Amid confusion over guidance issued last month detailing changes to the vaccine schedule, NHS bosses have written to all primary care networks, GPs and hospital chief executives to clarify the position. “There has been a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in December and January, resulting in a large increase in hospitalisations,” the letter reads. “Together with the emergence of a new variant, [it means] we must now do everything we can to maintain and step up the pace of vaccination, including extending vaccinations to frontline health and care workers.” – The Times

  • Johnson ‘clashes’ with NHS chiefs over the pace of the Covid-19 vaccination roll out… FT
  • …as he’s accused of delaying local elections to secure ‘vaccine bump’ – The Times
  • GPs leading the way in Covid vaccine rollout are forced to slow down – Daily Telegraph
  • Tory MPs say Johnson’s future rests on a successful vaccine programme – The Guardian
  • Steve Brine, former Tory health minister, calls for MPs and core parliamentary staff to be considered for priority in the vaccine queue after the most vulnerable have received it – Daily Telegraph
  • ‘Vaccine passports to be trialled by thousands of Britons’ – Daily Telegraph
Coronavirus abroad:
  • Israel uses state-of-the-art digital messaging to execute vaccine drive – Daily Telegraph
  • Southern Africa’s Covid cases rocket – but there are no vaccines to roll out – Daily Telegraph
  • Covid lockdown panic as food shops close in Lebanon – The Times

Coronavirus 5) Laptops for all pupils at only one in ten schools

“Only one in ten teachers say that all their pupils have adequate access to laptops despite 700,000 being handed out by the government. A leading social mobility charity says the situation has not improved since the first lockdown and that the gulf between rich and poor is as wide as ever. It came as Ofsted backed down on conducting in-person inspections this term after inspectors voted overwhelmingly against going into schools. Government figures published yesterday showed that the number of children at school fell in the week before the Christmas holidays. Secondary schools had 72 per cent attendance, down from 80 per cent, while attendance at primaries fell from 89 to 86 per cent. Overall attendance decreased from 84.6 to 79.2 per cent.” – The Times

  • Rashford condemns ‘unacceptable’ free school meal boxes – The Times

Fines for UK firms buying goods linked to Chinese slave labour camps

“Companies trading in Britain will face hefty fines and be barred from public sector procurement unless they can prove their supply chains are free from forced labour under new measures intended to pressure Beijing over human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, laid out measures to prevent British businesses participating in supply chains involving the use of slave labour by imprisoned Uighur Muslims in the western Chinese province. Beijing is accused of human rights abuses against Xinjiang’s indigenous Uighur population, including forced sterilisation, torture and mass internment, which some Conservatives say amounts to genocide. Human rights groups warn that cotton picked by enslaved Uighurs and PPE made in Xinjiang factories may already have reached consumers in Britain.” – The Times 


Brexit puts paid to speeding fines for holidaymakers

“Brexit really could put the country in the fast lane after it emerged that British drivers will escape most speeding fines in the European Union because the UK’s departure has ended deals governing many motoring offences in the bloc. The EU’s cross-border enforcement directive no longer applies, ending arrangements for sharing information about drivers caught on speed cameras, according to French officials. In practice this means that owners of British-registered vehicles will no longer be sent fines. Hundreds of thousands of Britons have been fined in recent years, with penalties in France, Europe’s most popular destination for British drivers, ranging from €135 to €1,500. Equally, British police will not be able to dispatch fines to European motorists caught by speed cameras or committing other offences in the UK.” – The Times


Hoey: The Tories have betrayed Northern Ireland with their Brexit deal

“Is it time for the Conservative and Unionist Party to admit that the “and Unionist” no longer applies? Northern Ireland has been abandoned post-Brexit. The Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, who has repeatedly stated that there is no trade border down the Irish Sea, puts in mind the joke about the Emperor with no clothes. Disappointment among Unionists at the involvement of Michael Gove, once seen as the standard bearer for friends of the Union, is turning to anger. It is apparent that he has not guarded their interests. The constitutional position of Northern Ireland has changed despite not a single citizen having a say. The 44 per cent of people in Northern Ireland who voted for Brexit voted for the UK to leave as it stated on the ballot paper, not for some of the UK to leave and certainly not to find the Province left to the diktats of Brussels. Even among Remainers, most did not want economic and societal barriers within their own country: the UK. Bluntly, the Northern Ireland Protocol signed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement has shown that, when it suits the Government, Northern Ireland can be sacrificed.”


‘Treasury North’ leads march of civil servants out of London

“Thousands of UK civil servants from the Treasury and other London-based government departments are set to move to northern England and the Midlands under plans by Boris Johnson to shake up the Whitehall machine. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister is seeking to accelerate his efforts to decentralise the UK government and “level up” the country by tackling regional inequalities. He wants to relocate 22,000 civil service jobs from central London to the regions by 2030. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is proposing a new northern campus for the Treasury — dubbed Treasury North — that could be located in Leeds, Newcastle or Teesside, according to people briefed on the plans.” – FT

Far right Trump supporters ‘will greet Biden with armed show of force’

“Members of the US Congress have been warned that “4,000 armed patriots” are planning to descend on Washington to disrupt Joe Biden’s inauguration amid anger among President Trump’s supporters over attempts to remove him. Democratic politicians were told that plots were being discussed on right-wing internet sites to prevent them from attending the swearing-in a week today despite 15,000 national guardsmen being called up to defend the ceremony and the city. There were at least four plots involving potential assaults on the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court, they were told. The threats are being taken seriously after warnings went unheeded about last Wednesday’s mayhem —including specific intelligence from the FBI in Virginia that agitators were planning to wage “war” on the Capitol. Mr Biden has vowed to be sworn in on the steps like his predecessors.” – The Times

  • Stage set for impeachment after Pence dismisses House call to invoke 25th amendment – The Guardian
  • Pence rules out using 25th amendment to remove Trump as Democrats prepare to impeach – FT
  • Trump could declassify top-secret intelligence linking Covid to Wuhan research lab – The Sun

News in brief: