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Coronavirus 1) Johnson has “three-stage plan for reopening the economy”

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a three-stage plan for reopening the economy from lockdown that could allow pubs across England to serve customers again by Easter weekend at the beginning of April, i can reveal. A senior Government official has told this newspaper the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown will begin with the reopening of schools, already scheduled for 8 March. It is understood the Government will then assess the effect of pupils returning to lessons on the virus’s reproduction number – or R number – before moving to the next stage. If scientific data shows the R number, which fell below one on Friday for the first time since July, remains low and coronavirus infections remain at an “acceptable level”, then the Prime Minister will give the green light to non-essential shops reopening towards the end of March.” – The i Paper

  • England’s current lockdown could be the last, says Neil Ferguson – The Guardian
  • Pubs and restaurants ‘will serve customers food and alcohol outside from April’ as ministers plan route out of lockdown – Daily Mail
  • UK to smash Covid vaccine target today with all 15 million most vulnerable Brits expected to be jabbed before Monday – The Sun

>Today:

Coronavirus 2) Experts predict huge fall in English Covid patients

“The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals in England will more than halve over the next month, according to internal government projections seen by The Times. Hospital admissions and deaths are predicted to fall to October levels, according to estimates presented to No 10 by its scientific advisers. They said that infection rates were falling faster than anticipated and that they were increasingly optimistic about the reopening of schools on March 8 and the relaxation of other restrictions in April. The projections are likely to lead to more pressure on Boris Johnson from Conservative MPs to accelerate the reopening of the economy.” – The Times

  • Up to 40 per cent of first wave Covid cases could have been caught in hospitals – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 3) We hope to live with Covid like flu by end of the year, says Hancock

“Matt Hancock has said he hopes vaccines and treatments will have turned Covid into a disease we can “live with, like we do flu” by the end of the year. In an interview with The Telegraph – which you can read in full below – the Health Secretary said new drugs designed to tackle the virus should arrive in 2021, making it a “treatable disease”. The comments suggest Mr Hancock sees Britain living with Covid in the long-term rather than the Government pursuing a strategy of eliminating it, despite declining to explicitly endorse that at a press conference this week. On Saturday the Government will announce that the world’s most innovative Covid treatments will soon be fast-tracked through the UK’s clinical trial system. The move could see new treatments available to NHS patients in months rather than years as the approval process is streamlined.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Firms could demand staff have Covid vaccine passports – The Times
  • One person in 100 is turning down chance of Covid vaccine – The Times
  • Digital travel vaccine certificates backed by Cabinet ministers – and they could be used by travellers before the end of March – Daily Mail

Analysis:

  • Saviour or liability? The health secretary’s critics are split – The Times

Coronavirus 4) Sunak considers six-week extension of stamp duty holiday to save buyers from ‘completion trap’

“The Chancellor is looking at a limited extension through to mid-May which would help to alleviate fears that sales risk falling through after the March 31 deadline expires. He is said to oppose calls for a longer six month extension due to the “gratuitous” impact this would have on tax receipts, with the Exchequer desperate to recuperate revenues depleted by various tax breaks announced during the pandemic. “It is certainly the case that a lot of people would be caught in the completion trap if the holiday were to end when it is due to,” a source said. The move is likely to disappoint Conservative MPs and campaigners, who have been calling on Mr Sunak to consider abolishing stamp duty altogether.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Chancellor considers extending the stamp duty holiday to prevent buyers dropping out of home sales if they miss the March deadline – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 5) We can’t stop people dodging Covid quarantine, say border officials

“Border officials have attacked the government’s “shambolic” quarantine policy and say that the country risks becoming a “superspreader” because of how lax the rules are. Staff warned they would have no power to stop travellers “legging it” at airport terminals to escape the quarantine rules and had limited powers to detain people at the border. They said that they had been given no guidance on where to direct individuals once they have passed through the border, risking people mixing and spreading contagious variants. Scientists say the rules for those quarantined in hotels are too lax. Last night the government finally published the new rules for travellers arriving from 33 “red list” countries, barely 48 hours before they come into effect on Monday.” – The Times

  • European doctors shun Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid reports of side effects – The Times

Comment:

Army faces 10,000 cut to troops in defence review

“The army is set to be reduced to 72,500 as part of the government’s defence review published next month, sources have told The Times. General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, chief of the general staff, was asked by ministers to come up with a proposition for a new-look army to meet rising threats. It is understood that he suggested he could reduce the overall target size of the service by 10,000 personnel so that more money could be spent on technology. The army’s current target is 82,000 but its actual size is 80,040, with 75,310 at full-time trained strength, according to the latest statistics from October last year.” – The Times

Hard left and foreign activists try to topple Britain’s statues

“Anti-capitalist academics, hard-left groups and foreign activists are accused of fuelling campaigns to remove statues across the country despite public opposition, The Times can reveal. The groups include the Socialist Workers Party and a member of the new diversity commission set up by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London. The opposing campaign group Save Our Statues fears the erasing of history after the killing of George Floyd, which prompted global protests last summer by movements such as Black Lives Matter. More than a dozen schools and universities have changed their names or renamed buildings in the wake of the antiracist protests. A monument to Sir Robert Geffrye, a slave trader, outside the Museum of the Home, in Hackney, east London, is under threat after protests by Stand Up To Racism Hackney — which has 222 followers on Twitter.” – The Times

Charles Moore: The divisive agenda of woke activists is the very opposite of ‘anti-racism’

“The subject of today’s column furnishes so many examples that I am spoilt for choice. I think I’ll start with Winston Churchill, because everyone has heard of him. On Thursday, a conference was held on the “racial consequences” of Churchill. Its speakers condemned him. Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, said Churchill was the “perfect embodiment of white supremacy”. “The British Empire was far worse than the Nazis”, he added. No one defended Churchill. The conference was held at Churchill College, Cambridge, at that college’s instigation. The college was founded in 1964, with the great man’s blessing. It is also the home of the Churchill Archives, by far the most important collection of his papers.” – Daily Telegraph

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Row over EU shellfish ban escalates as ministers say new documents show Brussels said trade could continue

“A row over the EU’s ban on live British shellfish escalated on Friday as new documents emerged which ministers say prove Brussels had previously agreed the trade could continue. The Telegraph has obtained correspondence between Whitehall officials and the European Commission, which appears to show it previously advised that the export of live molluscs from Britain was still possible after Brexit. The ban affects unpurified oysters, clams, cockles, mussels and scallops, both wild and farmed, which are sourced from the UK’s class B waters, which account for the vast majority of the trade. It comes as Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure from Tory MPs to impose retaliatory measures on the EU over the ban, which the  Environment Secretary George Eustice has described as “indefensible.” Sheryll Murray, the MP for South East Cornwall, has asked the Prime Minister this week to meet a delegation of coastal MPs to discuss the financial harm being caused to local fishermen.” – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

Millions will be battered by £2,000 council tax as 25% of areas look at ‘sky-high’ levy to meet the soaring cost of social care

“Millions of families will be hit with ‘sky-high’ council tax bills in April as rates soar to meet the cost of England’s social care crisis. More than a quarter of districts are expected to set council tax of more than £2,000 for those in the average of Band D houses, analysis has found. Three years ago there was not a single area in England where the average council tax bill exceeded that level. Critics accused town halls of delivering a ‘kick in the teeth’ to residents already hit hard by the pandemic. Last year, Band D households in 36 districts across the country had to pay bills higher than £2,000 a year, or £4,000 for the most expensive Band H homes.” – Daily Mail

Sturgeon pushes for border checks after ‘deeply disappointing’ talks with Westminster

“Travellers crossing from England into Scotland face being questioned at the border over fears of a quarantine ‘loophole’. From Monday all passengers flying from abroad into Scotland will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for ten days. But in England people will only have to do this if they arrive from a ‘red list’ of 33 countries. There is therefore concern travellers from lower risk countries heading for Scotland will try to fly to England first – to avoid the strict hotel isolation rules – before continuing north over the border. Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, said UK ministers’ refusal to help track arrivals who then go on to Scotland was ‘deeply disappointing’.” – Daily Mail

Starmer: ‘You can’t choke off the recovery by raising taxes’

“Sir Keir Starmer became Labour leader at the height of the first wave of coronavirus. Ten months later he and his party are still attempting to “break through” to a nation that, he concedes, largely wants Boris Johnson to succeed in tackling the pandemic and restoring the economy. “We’ve had to conduct our opposition in a pandemic. That is difficult,” he says. “We took a decision early on to adopt a position of constructive opposition. What that meant was that we would support the government where necessary and challenge them where it was right to do so. Of course getting that balance right is difficult. In a pandemic most people understandably want the government to succeed in the health restrictions, because that affects them, their family and their friends.” – The Times

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