Emergency Covid powers are extended for ANOTHER six months

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Emergency Covid powers were extended for another six months yesterday. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid claimed extraordinary measures used to impose house-arrest, close businesses and schools, and restrict gatherings, were ‘still necessary and proportionate to help with the pressure’ as 223 Covid deaths were recorded on Tuesday – the highest since March.

Though lockdown-sceptic Conservative backbenchers called the Coronavirus Act ‘dystopian’, Labour refused to oppose the renewal of the law until March next year, saying it pays statutory sick pay from day one rather than day four under previous measures. The decision meant that the draconian regulations were approved without a parliamentary vote.

A review by the Government published last month outlined how seven of the remaining 27 temporary, non-devolved provisions in the Coronavirus Act would expire as part of the latest six-month review.

These included powers to prohibit or restrict events and gatherings as ‘most legal restrictions have been achieved under the Public Health Act, and so these powers have not been required’, according to the review.

But with 223 deaths recorded yesterday, the Government is facing calls to reintroduce mandatory facemasks and working from home orders. NHS bosses claim that the restrictions would prevent a ‘winter crisis’ of resurgent Covid as well as flu and other seasonal viruses.

Top scientists have repeatedly warned of a fourth wave this winter, prompted by the return of pupils to classrooms and office workers, as well as the colder weather and darker evenings driving people to socialise inside where the virus finds it easier to spread.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty claimed this winter will be ‘exceptionally difficult’ for the NHS, even if there is not a surge of infections. He warned the health service faces tough months ahead due to a resurgence of flu and other seasonal viruses.

Though Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed introducing another lockdown at Christmas, Downing Street has plans in place to bring back restrictions if the roll-out of booster vaccines and jabs to over-12s fail to curb the impact of Covid on hospitals. And Ministers have previously warned they could not rule out another lockdown as a last resort.     

It come as Office for National Statistics figures showed that Covid cases in England are now at their highest level since the darkest days of the second wave in mid-January, with one in 60 people infected on any given day last week.  

In other Covid developments: 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid claimed extraordinary measures used to impose house-arrest, close businesses and schools, and restrict gatherings, were ‘still necessary and proportionate to help with the pressure’ 192146083 It comes as 223 Covid deaths were recorded on Tuesday – the highest since March

All children between 12 and 15 will be able to book Covid vaccines online in half-term next week under NHS drive to drastically improve uptake rates 

Children will be able to book Covid vaccines online from next week as No10 tries to ramp up lagging vaccination rate in teenagers.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs today teenagers between 12-15 will be able to book appointments online from next week during the half-term break.

‘To make the most of half-term next week, we will now be opening up the national booking service to all 12 to 15-year-olds to have their Covid vaccinations in existing national vaccination centres, which will offer families more flexibility,’ he said.

The Government hopes making getting appointments easier while students are not at school will help address the slow roll out of the vaccine to this age group.

Only yesterday it was revealed that just 15 per cent of the age group in England have had their first dose, despite becoming eligible for a month.

But uptake was even worse in some areas of England, with some regions reporting as few as one in 30 having received the jab.

Cases also increased, with 43,738 new infections recorded – up 13.5 per cent on the 38,520 last week. And the number of people being hospitalised spiked to 921 on Friday, the latest date data is available for. It was an increase of 20.2 per cent on the previous week.

The troubling figures come as experts warned a subvariant of the Covid Delta strain could be more infectious than its ancestor on the back of data that revealed the proportion of cases linked to the strain has doubled in a month.

Mr Javid, opening a Commons debate on the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Review of Temporary Provisions) (No 3) regulation, told MPs: ‘We do certainly expect more pressure as we head into winter, we’ve been very open about that and that is why the vaccination programme, both the Covid vaccination programme, the boosters and the flu vaccination programme remain important.

‘But there are provisions in this Act which are still, I believe, still necessary and proportionate to help with the pressure… again that is for example the registration of healthcare and social care workers, also the power to discontinue healthcare assessments for people being discharged from the NHS.

‘I think it is wise especially heading into the winter when we don’t at this stage know just how significant the pressures will be to have that flexibility.’

Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis said: ‘This Act alone allows the Government to act without recourse to this House, not true of the Civil Contingencies Bill or indeed the 1984 Act. This is why it’s wrong, it’s because he doesn’t have to come back to the House every time he takes away another piece of British freedom.’

Mr Javid replied: ‘Now that this Act is in place, it is important that the Government acts properly and quickly at any time that it can retire measures under this Bill and expire them or in some cases suspend them and that there is regular scrutiny of this and the process and that ministers, myself and others come to the House whenever they can to expire provisions under this Bill and if they do continue, then to justify them.’

Health ministers also appeared to give differing commitments on whether MPs would have a vote prior to any implementation of vaccine passports.

The Government’s autumn and winter plan suggested that some measures including the mandatory use of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large events and face coverings could be required in England if cases were putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

Mr Javid initially confirmed said there it would be a ‘decision for the House’, adding: ‘We would have to, if that happened, justify that to the House.’

Conservative former minister Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, pressed the Government to commit to a vote on vaccine passports ahead of any proposed use.

Mr Harper said the Secretary of State ‘committed to the House having to make the decision about vaccine passports. And my question was about whether the House was going to be asked to make that decision in advance, not retrospectively.

© Provided by Daily Mail
© Provided by Daily Mail

Prof Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson calls for return of face masks and for teenagers to get TWO Covid vaccines

Face coverings should be brought back to remind people to be cautious in everyday interactions, one of the Government’s most influential scientific advisers suggested today.

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson said masks ‘remind people we’re not completely out of the woods yet’.

All legal Covid restrictions were lifted in England on ‘Freedom Day’ in July, bringing an end to mandatory coverings indoors. However, people are still required by some transport companies and in medical settings — and No10 still advises people wear them in crowded environments.  

Ministers are keeping masks, WFH guidance and controversial vaccine passports in their back pocket as part of the Government’s ‘Plan B’, if an expected surge in cases this winter heaps unsustainable pressure on the NHS. 

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, admitted some measures have to be rolled back, in the event of an uptick in infections. 

But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he ruled out another blanket shut-down. He said: ‘I doubt we’ll ever get close to [the] lockdown we were in in January of this year.’  

‘So can she confirm that the House will be asked to make that decision in advance of any move to implement vaccine passports, not asked to approve it retrospectively?’

Health minister Maggie Throup said: ‘The Covid certification we’ve brought in under the Public Health Act 1984, which as my right honourable friend is aware, is emergency measures, so we will do our utmost to bring forward the vote in Parliament before any enactment of that, of the need for Covid certification.’ 

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) said: ‘Today does really feel like Groundhog Day. The Government is again pushing through the Coronavirus Act with no scrutiny from this Parliament.’

She described the Act as ‘authoritarian’ and said ‘ultimately it isn’t fit for purpose’, although added: ‘I am pleased that some of the most draconian parts of this Bill have now been expired’.

The Labour MP added: ‘I am clear that we need to repeal and replace the Coronavirus Act, not just because it is dangerous in regards to our rights and our liberties, but because it’s served the purpose that it was meant to do 18 months ago, but because we must do better. We must learn the lessons.’

Conservative MP David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) also spoke out against the Act.

He said ‘some improvements have been made’, but said during the pandemic the Government has introduced ‘effectively house arrest for the whole population, schools shuttered, cancelled elections, lone doctors being allowed to section people – an astonishing removal of civil liberties’.

He mentioned the findings of a recent report from two select committees which he said ‘made the point that the Government has made mistake after mistake after mistake – mistakes that cost thousands of lives’.

He said: ‘Those mistakes might not have been made if the Government had to justify every element of its strategy throughout these last 575 days. The way to do this is to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.’

Conservative MP Steve Baker (Wycombe) criticised the Act as ‘dystopian’, but added: ‘Today I hope it just goes through because it is, as I say, relatively inoffensive legislation, but we are going to need to turn the corner, we are going to need to show the public that we do stand for freedom, that we have coped with the coronavirus crisis of course, but actually in the long run their rights are sacrosanct and we’re never ever going to do again to them what we have done over the past couple of years.’

Alba Party MP Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) said: ‘This Bill being brought forward is an indictment of the failure of this Government to manage Covid effectively.’

Health minister Maggie Throup said: ‘This pandemic is not yet over. And the steps we’re proposing would give us the support we need to continue our fight against the virus whilst restoring yet more of our precious freedoms.’

NHS boss says health service was NEVER overwhelmed in fight against Covid but warns ‘tough winter’ will see thousands more hospital treatments cancelled 

The head of the NHS today said the health service was never overwhelmed by Covid during the height of the pandemic.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, told MPs expanding critical care, introducing new treatments and rolling out the vaccine prevented wards from being overrun over the last year-and-a-half.

However, medics who worked on the frontlines during the first and second waves of immediately slammed their boss, accusing her of ‘gaslighting’.

Mrs Pritchard also warned the NHS is on course for a ‘tough winter’ and that a rise in Covid-infected patients would have a knock-on effect on how much other, planned care could be carried out.

She suggested pressures on the health service could see thousands more hospital treatments cancelled. More than 1.5million NHS ops were cancelled or delayed due to the chaos of the pandemic.

Her comments were echoed by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who told MPs there is ‘huge pressure’ on the health service in England.

Official figures have shown cases are also being fuelled by youngsters returning to classrooms last month, with as many as one in 12 being infected.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government is ‘keeping a very close eye on’ the subvariant. 

SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown’  Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, yesterday insisted it was ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding having to bring back curbs.

And Sir David King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, criticised the rollout for moving ‘extremely slowly’.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, insisted the health service has ‘plenty of capacity’ to vaccinate all eligible people immediately but said people are not coming forward quickly enough. She told MPs on the Health Committee: ‘It’s really important that we now absolutely do get the message out that is Covid is still with us.’

But some experts also say the booster programme is going slower because the UK is juggling administering first jabs to children in secondary schools and running the largest flu vaccination programme in history. 

Pictures today show clinics lying virtually empty, some of which are not open for booster jab walk-ins – further highlighting the complexity of Britain’s current rollout.

It comes against the backdrop of rising cases with 49,156 infections recorded on Monday – the highest daily figure in three months. Downing Street warned that Britons should prepare for a ‘challenging few months’ 

 Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were ‘currently’ no plans to reintroduce Plan B restrictions – which include face masks and working from home guidance – but that ministers were keeping ‘a very close watch on the latest statistics’.

Britain led the world in the initial vaccine rollout, but it has now slumped behind Italy, Spain and France in terms of the percentage of the population to be double-jabbed. 

This is because it delayed rolling out jabs to healthy children, whereas most EU members approved those plans much quicker.

All over-50s and the clinically vulnerable can get a booster jab from six months after their second dose. 

But experts have warned that at the current rate the most vulnerable will not all receive their third vaccination until the end of January.

Asked if Covid booster jabs are the answer to waning immunity, Professor Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Absolutely, and there’s data coming through now, which is not completely clear cut, but good data coming through from Israel, which shows that, if you’ve had the third booster dose of the vaccine, then you get very high loads, better than even you had after the second dose.

The graph shows the proportion of cases sequenced in England that are the new subvariant AY.4.2 (yellow) and Delta (blue). Delta became dominant in the UK in May, overtaking the previously dominant Alpha strain (purple) The map shows the proportion of cases caused by AY.4.2 in the fortnight to October 9, with darker colours equating to more infections caused by the subvariant. Data from the Sanger Institute shows 8.9 per cent of all Covid-positive nose and throat swabs sequenced in England were caused by AY.4.2. It statistics suggests the sub-lineage is most prevalent in Adur, where 61 per cent of all positive samples sequenced were linked with AY.4.2. The subvariant also seems to be highly prevalent in East Lindsey (46 per cent) and Torridge (41 per cent) The prevalence of the Delta strain, which was first detected in the UK in March and became dominant within two months, grew much faster than AY.4.2 has grown so far. Delta is still responsible for nine in 10 infections in England

‘And so I do think it’s critical we accelerate the booster programme.

‘The other thing is infection rates are highest in teenagers at the moment and most other European countries are ahead of us in vaccinating teenagers and giving them two doses, not just one dose.

‘Two doses really are needed to block infection and prevent transmission, so I think that’s the other problem, keep pushing on, getting coverage rates up higher in the teenagers who are driving a lot of this infection.’   

He also called for face coverings to be brought back to remind people to be cautious in everyday interactions and ‘remind people we’re not completely out of the woods yet’.

All legal Covid restrictions were lifted in England on ‘Freedom Day’ in July, bringing an end to mandatory coverings indoors. However, people are still required by some transport companies and in medical settings – and No10 still advises people wear them in crowded environments.  

Ministers are keeping masks, WFH guidance and controversial vaccine passports in their back pocket as part of the Government’s ‘Plan B’, if an expected surge in cases this winter heaps unsustainable pressure on the NHS. 

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, admitted some measures have to be rolled back, in the event of an uptick in infections. 

But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he ruled out another blanket shut-down. He said: ‘I doubt we’ll ever get close to [the] lockdown we were in in January of this year.’   

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