Early evening summary
- More than 100,000 people have died from coronavirus in the UK since the disease first appeared in the country almost a year ago, in what public health experts have said is a sign of “phenomenal failure of policy and practice”.
- Boris Johnson has told MPs that he is “concerned” about the new variant of coronavirus circulating in Brazil. (See 3.36pm.) But, in evidence to the Commons liaison committee, he refused to make it clear whether or not he was going to impose a ban on arrivals from Brazil. He told Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the home affairs committee, that the government was “taking steps to stop the Brazil variant being imported into this country, as we’ve taken steps to stop the South African variant being imported into this country”. But, when challenged, he was evasive as to whether he meant Brazil would be covered by the rule coming into force on Friday saying all international arrivals into England will have to have had a negative test, or whether the government is planning a Brazil-specific ban. Johnson also told MPs the risk of intensive care units being overwhelmed was “very substantial”. He said:
If you ask me when do we think that the ICU capacity is likely to be overtopped, I can’t give you a prediction for that.
But all I can say is that the risk is very substantial and we have to keep the pressure off the NHS and the only way to do that is to follow the current lockdown.
- The government is to roll out 24/7 vaccinations centres, Boris Johnson has confirmed, after days of pressure on ministers to step up the programme further.
- Shops in Scotland have been ordered to stop non-essential click-and-collect services and alcohol consumption is to be banned outdoors, in a further tightening of lockdown measures.
- The government has been forced into a U-turn over free school meal provision during lockdown, and it has emerged that its guidance on what should be in food parcels is strikingly similar to images circulating on social media that the prime minister described as “unacceptable”.
- NHS England has ordered a rapid acceleration of care home vaccinations in response to rising Covid outbreaks in which deaths of residents have risen to levels not seen since May.
- Second shots of coronavirus vaccine could be delayed even further amid growing evidence that spacing out the doses improves their effectiveness.
- Hospital admissions in London and south-east England have fallen for the first time after rising steadily throughout December, figures show.
- The UK coronavirus vaccine rollout is constrained by limited supply of the vaccines, but the government is on track to vaccinate the top four priority groups by 15 February, Matt Hancock has said.
That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog.
A total of 3,894 hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 in England were reported for 11 January, NHS England figures also showed. As PA Media reports, this is slightly below the record number of 3,967 admissions reported for 6 January , but up 9% on the equivalent figure a week ago on 4 January. During the first wave of the virus, admissions peaked at 3,099 on 1 April 2020.
The Liberal Democrats say Boris Johnson was wrong in what he said about the no recourse to public funds rule at the liaison committee earlier. (See 4.24pm.) Alistair Carmichael, the party’s home affairs spokesman, said:
It is outrageous and wrong for the prime minister to suggest that the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule is aimed at people who are in the UK unlawfully.
He should know that it’s a standard condition imposed on most people who come to live and work here on a visa.
The ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule is particularly damaging during the Covid crisis, preventing many families who have lost their livelihoods overnight from accessing the universal credit safety net.
Manchester city council has unveiled plans to help with workplace safety during the pandemic.
According to data collected by the council, 55% of those surveyed feel safe at work. 32% feel they are safe ‘to an extent’ at work, while 8% report not feeling safe at all.
A single email address has been created for people to complain about potential breaches of coronavirus legislation or to raise concerns about their working environment.
It comes as Greater Manchester police received 175 complaints about businesses potentially breaking coronavirus restrictions. This is separate to the reported number of 1,131 coronavirus-related breaches across Greater Manchester.
Alex Salmond turns down request to give evidence to Scottish parliament inquiry next week
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s former first minister, has turned down a request to give evidence next week to a Scottish parliament investigation into a controversial inquiry into his alleged misconduct, citing health concerns with the Covid pandemic.
A Holyrood committee has been investigating the Scottish government’s mishandling of an internal inquiry into claims by two female civil servants of sexual misconduct against Salmond after the court of session ruled procedural irregularities meant the inquiry was unlawful.
The government inquiry led to a deep rift between Salmond and his successor, and former close friend, Nicola Sturgeon, one that has become increasingly bitter.
About 14 months after the government’s internal inquiry was thrown out by the court, Salmond was cleared at the high court in Edinburgh of 14 sexual offences, including one alleged attempted rape, involving the same two officials and eight other women, including several in the Scottish National party.
After 11 previous oral evidence sessions involving some of Scotland’s most senior civil servants, including several with the permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, the committee has now called on Salmond to give evidence under oath next Tuesday.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, was expected to appear the following Tuesday but that is likely to be rearranged if Salmond’s appearance is delayed.
Salmond has rejected that date, arguing that an in-person appearance at Holyrood would breach current Covid lockdown restrictions, and asked to be quizzed instead on Tuesday 16 February.
Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie of Levy McRae, said that would allow more time for the committee to get key documents which came to light during Salmond’s prosecution last year to be released by Scottish ministers and prosecutors.
Manchester, like most regions above the M25, has recorded yet another significant increase in positive coronavirus cases.
Since 8 January, the seven-day rate for positive coronavirus cases in Greater Manchester has increased to 449.1 per 100,000, from 321.8 recorded on New Year’s Day.
In Trafford, it has increased from 366.1 to 492.2 per 100,000 people. In Wigan, it has increased from 356.3 to 490.2 per 100,000.
At a news conference Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester city council, said:
I think the view is that the number is still increasing, although the rate of increase may have slowed down. I suppose the only bit of good news within this is the England average is 630 per 100,000, so it’s still a way behind that, but this is not clearly good.
Over the last two weeks, there has been a significant rise in the change of infection in Greater Manchester, up 40%, compared with England overall at 11%.
138 people occupy ITU beds as of 12 January, an increase of 19 from the 5 January, at 119.
The total number of vaccines administered is approximately 87,697.
A Scottish seafood fisherman has warned Boris Johnson he and other fishers will dump tonnes of rotten langoustines and other seafood outside the House of Parliament unless the UK government solves the industry’s Brexit exports crisis.
Jamie McMillan, the co-owner of Loch Fyne Langoustines, a fishing business based in Tarbert, Argyll, tweeted that he and other fishers were on the brink of bankruptcy – a warning echoed by a major seafood exporter and haulier based in Eyemouth north of Berwick, DR Collin.
The industry has blamed expensive extra bureaucracy exporting to Europe, long delays in getting their consignments inspected by vets in Scotland, and clients in the EU cancelling contracts.
“It’s unbelievable the situation we’re in here,” McMillan said in a short film on Twitter. “The fishing industry has been made a fool of by the Westminster government. I’m dismayed, I’m angry. My blood is boiling.”
McMillan accused the prime minister of brushing off appeals from Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, to act during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. Blackford said one of his constituents, another shellfish exporter, had lost £40,000 with one consignment. McMillan said:
Prime minister and Michael Gove, I can assure you if Scottish exporters can’t get their product to market next week, we will be at the gates of Westminster and we will be dumping our shellfish on your doorstep, rotten. The same way the UK Westminster government is rotten to the core…. Get it sorted, and get it sorted now.
And that’s it. The liaison committee has just wound up.
Sir Bernard Jenkin ends with some quick questions.
Q: The trade committee want a minister to give evidence on free ports, but business and the Treasury both say the other should provide a minster. Who should it be?
Johnson says he will sort this out.
Q: Will the integrated defence and security review appear in February?
Johnson says he cannot commit to that.
From the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar