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Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Navigate Politics ‘Weekly Coronavirus Update’ of 2021. The last three weeks have seen the introduction of Tier 4, the moving of much of England into Tier 4, and then the replacement of Tier 4 with a third national lockdown for England, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all entered into varying forms of lockdown as well.
Weekly UK coronavirus statistics
The Department of Health and Social Care announced:
- 56,003,851 tests have been conducted (+3,020,006 in the last 7 days)
- 2,957,472 people have tested positive (+415,408 in the last 7 days)
- 79,833 people have died (+5,665 in the last 7 days)
- 1,296,432 people have been vaccinated (1st dose)
- 21,313 people have been vaccinated (2nd dose)
See online here
Prime Minister announces national lockdown following rapid rise in COVID-19 cases
On 4 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP announced a national lockdown in England due to the stark rise in coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country, withdrawing the previous guidance on local restriction tiers by area. The increasing rate has been attributed to the new variant of the virus which is between 50% and 70% more transmissible. From 5 January, people have been instructed to stay at home and only leave home for a number of limited reasons permitted in law including to shop for essentials, work “if you absolutely cannot work from home”, exercise, to seek medical assistance or to escape domestic abuse. Primary schools, secondary schools and colleges must move to remote learning, except for children of key workers and vulnerable children. The clinically extremely vulnerable have also been advised to begin shielding again.
The restrictions are expected to last until the middle of February if the situation in hospitals improve, with the four UK Chief Medical Officers recommending that the COVID threat level should change from Level four to Level five, indicating that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days. However, the Prime Minister said that if by mid-February “things go well with a fair wind in our sails”, they expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. This includes all care home residents, everyone over the age of 70, frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is extremely clinically vulnerable which would remove “huge numbers of people from the path of the virus” Johnson said. New guidance with further details on the lockdown can be found here.
Chancellor announces further £4.6bn of support for businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure sectors
Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP has announced one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 per property to help them through to the Spring. The additional £4.6bn of support is expected to benefit over 600,000 business properties, and comes following the Prime Minister’s announcement that these businesses will be closed until at least the middle of February to help control the virus. Businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under will receive £4,000; £6,000 for those with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000; and £9,000 for those whose rateable value is over £51,000. The grants are available to any business that is ‘legally required to close, and which cannot operate effectively remotely’. As part of the new relief package, £500m of discretionary funds have been made available to local authorities in England to support other impacted businesses, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive £375m, £227m and £127m respectively.
Moderna vaccine becomes third COVID-19 vaccine approved by UK regulator and first people receive Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the Moderna vaccine after meeting the required safety, quality and effectiveness standards, marking the approval of a third vaccine for use in the UK. The vaccine consists of two doses, with the second dose recommended 28 days after the first, and has been approved for use in people 18 years and over. It is also 94% effective in preventing disease, including in the elderly and can be stored at -20C for up to six months. The Government has ordered an additional 10 million doses of the vaccine which takes the total to 17 million, with supplies to be made available in the Spring.
The Moderna vaccine follows the approval of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine on 30 December. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was also approved for use in people 18 years or older and consists of two doses, with the second dose administered 4-12 weeks after the first dose. Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the transportation and storage requirements mean that it can be kept at temperatures of 2C to 8C which is similar to a conventional fridge for up to six months. The UK has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, with the first people having received their first dose on 4 January.
In line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine will be rolled out to the priority groups including care home residents and staff, people over 80 and health and care workers, then to the rest of the population in order of age and risk, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. The UK Chief Medical Officers highlighted that for both the Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, ‘data provided to MHRA demonstrate that while efficacy is optimised when a second dose is administered, both offer considerable protection after a single dose, at least in the short term. For both vaccines the second dose completes the course and is likely to be important for longer term protection’.
On 5 January, the Prime Minister announced that over 1.3 million people across the UK had now received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, including 23% of the over-80 population. He underlined that there were expected to be around 1,000 sites carrying out vaccinations by the end of this week, and revealed that daily statistics on the number of people who had received a vaccine dose would be published from 11 January onwards. On 7 January, the PM also stated that every elderly care home resident will have been offered a vaccine by the end of January, adding that the Government was aiming to ensure that everybody had a vaccination centre within 10 miles of where they lived.
800 people admitted to London hospitals each day with COVID-19
Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP addressed a Downing Street press conference on 7 January in which he called on those who called COVID-19 a hoax and stood outside hospitals shouting to “grow up”, while Chief Executive of NHS England Simon Stevens said that they were “liars”. Stevens also revealed that there were 800 people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 each day in London, and that there were 50% more coronavirus patients in hospitals now than at the peak of the first wave in April.
See online here
House of Commons recalled to pass new COVID-19 regulations
The House of Commons was recalled on 6 January, the day the new England-wide lockdown was introduced, in order for MPs to debate, vote on, and pass the new COVID-19 regulations. Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP delivered a Ministerial Statement to update the Commons on what the restrictions entailed, and said that there was “no choice” but to introduce a third lockdown, as the new variant of COVID-19 was spreading rapidly throughout society and was not being contained by the Tiered system. He explained that the regulations would run until 31 March in order to allow a “steady, controlled and evidence-led” easing and unwrapping of restrictions, and concluded that the UK was now in a “sprint” to vaccinate the most vulnerable before they were infected with COVID-19.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson MP has come under a lot of pressure in recent weeks over his handling of the impact of COVID-19 on educational settings, and he also made a Ministerial Statement in which he said that the shutting down of schools was “the last thing” that he wanted to do, and set out the contingency plans in place to mitigate its impact. He outlined how numerous mobile network operators had agreed to provide free data for key educational sites, confirmed that A Levels, AS Levels and GCSEs would not be going ahead in the Summer, and that the Government were “going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP opened the debate on the new COVID-19 regulations, where he stated that if a national lockdown was not introduced, there was a ‘material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed’. The regulations were passed overwhelmingly by 524 to 16, with the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats voting in support.
Labour call for vaccination efforts to be stepped up
Labour leader Keir Starmer MP delivered a televised address to call on the Government to implement a “round the clock” vaccination programme, urging them to deliver “millions of doses a week by the end of the month”. Starmer also used his speech to argue that there were “serious questions for the Government to answer” over the timing of the new England-wide lockdown, but insisted that “the country now needs to come together”.
Labour have also launched the #LetsVaccinateBritain campaign, along with the TUC and the Daily Mirror, with the campaign working to ‘sign up tens of thousands of people to NHS vaccination efforts.’ The Party revealed statistics showing that the COVID-19 pandemic had cost the UK economy £5.3bn and 23,000 jobs each week. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said that the “shocking figures show how every week that goes by, the damage is getting deeper and deeper”, and that this was why Labour were “doing everything we can to support this national effort: to secure the economy, protect the NHS and then rebuild our country.”
All arrivals in England to be required to have negative COVID-19 test result
The Department for Transport announced that all international arrivals into England, including UK nationals, will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours prior to departing for England. A £500 fine will be issued to passengers who fail to comply with the new regulations, while all arrivals will still be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form, and to also self-isolate if they are arriving from a destination not on the travel corridor list. There are a limited number of exemptions to this requirement, including hauliers, children under 11, crews, and those arriving from countries without adequate testing infrastructure. The Scottish Government also announced that this requirement would be introduced ‘as soon as practicably possible’.
New travel restrictions to tackle COVID-19 variant from South Africa identified in UK
Two cases of a new coronavirus variant, which originated in South Africa, were identified in the UK on 22 December. The new variant named B1.351 (also referred to as 501Y.V2) was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay in samples at the beginning of October. However, molecular dating suggests that it could have been in circulation from the end of August. On 23 December, PHE stated that it had followed up both cases and contact tracing was underway, adding that there is currently no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. Epidemiological and virological investigations are also ongoing in South Africa and PHE will share its findings in due course.
Following the identification, the Department for Transport announced that passengers travelling from South Africa into England from 24 December would not be permitted to enter. British and Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents arriving from South Africa will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for 10 days along with their household.
A limited number of changes have been made to the travel corridors lists of the UK nations this week, with Israel and Jerusalem removed, meaning that those arriving after 4am on 9 January will be required to self-isolate. Due to the new COVID-19 strain identified in South Africa, entry into the UK from people who have travelled from or through ‘any southern African country in the last 10 days, including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola – as well as Seychelles and Mauritius’ will be banned, other than for English and Irish nationals.
Two new treatments that reduce COVID-19 mortality to be used “without delay”
The Department of Health and Social Care announced that patients who are admitted to intensive care units due to COVID-19 will receive new ‘life-saving treatments which can reduce the time spent in hospital by up to ten days’. The Government-funded REMAP-CAP clinical trial found that tocilizumab and sarilumab could reduce the relative risk of death by 24%, when they were administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care. These drugs are typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and patients who received them left intensive care between 7-10 days earlier on average than those who did not. Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP said that the results were “yet another landmark development in finding a way out of this pandemic”, and that the Government had “worked quickly to ensure this treatment is available to NHS patients without delay”.
See online here
Testing arrangements for hauliers travelling between UK and France to continue
Before Christmas, France closed its borders with the UK due to the discovery of a new strain of COVID-19 that is up to 70% more transmissible than the original. This caused huge problems for freight and hauliers, with the UK and French Governments eventually agreeing a protocol to reopen the French border. This protocol required all hauliers to take a lateral flow test, and to test negative, before they were permitted to travel to France.
Numerous testing centres for hauliers have been set up across the country since then, with the Army also having been deployed to offer support. The Department for Transport is also offering support to ‘any business to set up a testing centre at its own premises to ensure trucks heading for France depart COVID ready.’ It was announced on 7 January that the testing arrangements for hauliers travelling between the UK and France would be continuing ‘until further notice’, following a decision by the French Government.
£149m to support increased care home testing
Care homes in England will be supported by a further £149m to fund the costs associated with testing staff and to safely support family visits. In addition to the weekly PCR test, care home workers will be asked to take rapid tests twice a week and in the event of a positive test, all staff will be tested daily for 7 days. Minister for Care Helen Whately MP said that “now in the face of this new strain, which spreads much more quickly, we are increasing testing in all care homes to help protect those most at risk”.
See online here
Eviction ban extended, and Councils asked to further support rough sleepers
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced additional protections and support for rough sleepers, while confirming that the ban of bailiff enforced evictions would be extended ‘until at least 21 February’. Councils in England are being backed by an additional £10m of funding and have been asked to ‘redouble their efforts to help accommodate all those currently sleeping rough and ensure they are swiftly registered with a GP, where they are not already. Councils have also been asked to reach out to those who had previously refused support, due to the rising infection rates and the cold weather. Chief Executive of Crisis Jon Sparkes welcomed the announcement, stating that the “renewed efforts to protect people who are homeless in the pandemic will save lives.”
See online here
£830m from the Future High Streets Fund to help 72 areas recover from impact of COVID-19
As part of the Government’s aims to ‘protect jobs, support the most vulnerable, and ensure no-one is left behind as we tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head on’, the latest areas to benefit from the Future High Streets Fund were announced. Up to £830m will be invested in 72 areas across England, with this funding used to support the areas ‘transform their high streets into vibrant hubs for future generations and to protect and create thousands of jobs.’ Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said that the coming year “will be a big one for the high street as it seeks to recover”, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP added that the Government were “supporting our high streets to get through this pandemic through business grants, paying people’s wages and tax deferrals.”
See online here
COVID-19 vaccines could be administered every 6-12 months, according to Health Secretary
Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP gave evidence to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, where he predicted that the new English lockdown would be the last full lockdown. He admitted that there was some uncertainty over how long the COVID-19 vaccines would last for, and suggested that people may need to be re-vaccinated every 6-12 months. He said that there was “absolutely no doubt that vaccines and testing will still be a feature next year”, and that there was a “good case” for teachers, police and other key workers to be included in the next stage of prioritisation for the roll-out of the vaccine.
See online here
Record uptake of flu vaccine in England
Public Health England revealed that over 80% of those aged 65 and over in England had received the flu vaccine so far, which is the ‘highest uptake ever achieved’. This figure is a little under 10% higher than at this stage last year, and above the WHO uptake ambition of 75%. In addition, uptake in 2-and 3-year-old children is also the highest ever recorded, at 54.0% and 56.5% respectively. As of 1 December 2020, all 50-64-year olds were eligible for the flu vaccine, with 26.1% having taken up this offer so far.
See online here
PHE confirms that lateral flow tests can detect new COVID-19 variant
The Department of Health and Social Care announced that targeted community testing has been extended to 10 more areas, including Bristol and Coventry. Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP said that around 1 in 3 people with coronavirus show no symptoms so community testing enables positive cases to be identified earlier in order to break the chains of transmission. Moreover, scientists at PHE Porton Down have evaluated the performance of the lateral flow device (LFD) tests against the new variant of the virus that has been identified across the South East, finding that LFD tests successfully detected the samples with the variant. Senior Medical Advisor to PHE Dr. Susan Hopkins said this was “good news as it means they can continue to be used to find people who have COVID-19 without symptoms who might be unknowingly passing it on”.
International regulatory authorities, including the MHRA, to work together to tackle COVID-19
The MHRA announced that Access Consortium, a ‘medium-sized coalition of regulatory authorities that work together to promote greater regulatory collaboration and alignment of regulatory requirements.’, was collaborating to advance the ‘regulatory science needed to support the rapid development of diagnostic tests, as well as vaccines and treatments against COVID-19’. The Consortium’s members, which include regulatory authorities from Australia, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland and the UK, are ‘committed to sharing vital information as we all investigate and evaluate medical products for quality, safety and efficacy, and strive to ensure that the benefits of any new medical product outweigh its risks.’
See online here
UK Government “serious about taking scientific advice” according to Commons Committee
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report containing its analysis of the way that the UK Government has received and applied scientific evidence and advice during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to the Autumn of 2020. The report makes a series of conclusions and recommendations, including stating that ‘the Government has been serious about taking scientific advice’, and encouraging it to continue to do so. The report also highlights the importance of allowing senior scientists to communicate directly with the public, emphasises that there needs to be transparency around the scientific advice that is provided, and states that the ‘fragmentation of data across different public bodies needs to be resolved to allow the most effective response to the pandemic.’
See online here
ONS estimate that 1-in-50 people in England had COVID-19 in last week of 2020
The latest results from the ONS study into COVID-19 infection rates has estimated that there were around 1,122,000 people with COVID-19 in the community population in England in the week 27 December 2020 – 2 January 2021, equivalent to 1 in 50 people. London had the highest proportion of people testing positive, with it estimated that 1 in 30 people in London had COVID-19 during that week. In addition, the percentage of people testing positive has decreased in Wales; is no longer decreasing in Northern Ireland; and increased in Scotland
See online here
Latest NHS Test and Trace statistics released
The latest statistics from NHS Test and Trace have been released, covering the period 24-30 December 2020. During that week 311,372 people in England tested positive for COVID-19, with this figure being 202,205 higher than between 3-9 December. Of the 269,886 people who were referred to the contact tracing system during this time period, 84.9% were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts. 96% of the 493,573 identified as close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate. Taken together, 684,747 people who tested positive and their close contacts were reached by Test and Trace and asked to self-isolate over the Christmas week, which is a record number. The Department of Health and Social Care announced that a new London University partner laboratory operated by Queen Mary University of London has come online, with this hoped to increase testing capacity ‘by tens of thousands over winter’.
Extra £800m to support Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in response to COVID-19
HM Treasury announced that an extra £800m was guaranteed for the Devolved Administrations to support people, businesses and public services with the ongoing disruption of coronavirus. The new funding increases the UK Government’s upfront guarantee to at least £16.8bn on top of the funding outlined in the Spring Budget 2020. The funding can be spent on priorities including the NHS and business support, meaning a further £400m for Scotland and £200m each for Wales and Northern Ireland. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay MP said “this extra funding will provide the nations with the certainty they need to plan through these difficult months”.
See online here
Scotland’s First Minister announces lockdown for mainland Scotland
Ahead of the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4 January, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP delivered a statement to the Scottish Parliament to announce the introduction of a new legal requirement for people in Scotland to stay at home except for essential purposes. From 5 January, anyone who is able to work from home has had to do so; outdoor gatherings were restricted from six people to a maximum of two from two households, excluding children under the age of 11; places of worship were closed; and schools will remain closed to the majority of pupils until 1 February, including nurseries. The new regulations apply to all of mainland Scotland currently in level 4. The island areas currently in level 3 will remain there, but will be kept under review. The restrictions are expected to be in place for at least four weeks.
£104m for tourism and hospitality businesses in Scotland, and community testing to begin
Tourism and hospitality businesses across Scotland are to receive a £104.3m package of support as part of the short-term response to the Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce recommendations. The funding is part of the £185m package previously announced by the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP and further work is said to be undertaken to establish what additional support is required. Businesses required to close by law are currently able to claim up to £3,000 every four weeks through the Strategic Framework Business Fund.
Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman MSP announced that community testing in areas with high coronavirus rates will begin this month following successful trials in December. Local authorities have therefore been asked to submit proposals for the programme, which will be delivered in partnership with NHS Boards and supported with additional funding and resources, including mobile testing units and asymptomatic test sites.
Scotland uses new app to support vaccine rollout
The Scottish Government announced that a new app for health and care home staff carrying out coronavirus vaccinations will provide ‘rapid access’ to relevant patient information and collect data on how many people have received the vaccination. The Vaccination Management Tool can be used in any setting where the vaccine is being administered, allowing vaccinators to see whether it is an individual’s first or second dose and which vaccine has been administered. It also means that data can be sent to GP systems and over time, ‘the information collected on the app will help demonstrate how effective each vaccine is by linking with testing data’.
See online here
Wales begins lockdown, with restrictions tightened to contain new strain of COVID-19
Before Christmas, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford MS had confirmed that Wales would be entering ‘Alert Level Four’ restrictions on 28 December, after the end of the Christmas Bubble period. However, on 19 December he announced that the ‘Alert Level Four’ restrictions would instead be coming into effect from 20 December, with the Christmas Bubbles reduced to just two households on Christmas Day itself. Making the announcement, which included the reintroduction of ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions and the closure of all non-essential retail and services, Drakeford said that “our economy will recover, Christmas will come again, but lives which are lost, are lost for ever”.
Drakeford issued a New Year’s message to the people of Wales, where he said that “2020 has been one of the most difficult years we have faced”, and thanked people for the “huge collective effort” that had taken place. He concluded that while “there will be more challenges in 2021”, the Welsh Government “will be with you every step of the way”
A formal review of the Alert Level was undertaken on 8 January, with it decided that ‘all the measures will remain in place’, and that the restrictions ‘will be strengthened in some key areas to prevent the new, highly-infectious strain of the virus spreading from person to person in those shops and workplaces which remain open.’ All showrooms will now be closed, while the Welsh Government is reviewing ‘whether major supermarkets and retailers need to put additional measures in place to protect people in store and what else employers need to do to protect people in the workplace and support people to work from home.’ Schools and colleges in Wales have also been told to move to online learning for all but vulnerable children and children of key workers until 18 January, with the Welsh Government to use the time until then to ‘work with local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for rest of term’.
Northern Ireland enforces Stay-at-Home order as COVID-19 measures are tightened
The Northern Ireland Executive announced a strengthening of COVID-19 restrictions, which came into force on 8 January. Remote learning for students has been extended until the half-term break in February, outdoor exercise is only permitted with one person from another household, and people are only permitted to leave their homes for a limited number of reasons. These restrictions will stay in place until 6 February, with a review to take place on 21 January.
The Department of Finance announced that it had paid £113m to over 10,000 businesses under the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme, with top up payments also having begun and will cover the six-week period of restrictions that begun on 26 December 2020. Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA approved adjustments to public transport services for the lockdown period, with Translink Bus and Rail services to operate a reduced timetable. The roll-out of the Wet Pubs Business Support Scheme, available to pubs forced to remain closed when the rest of the hospitality sector was open, will begin on 11 January, with £10.6m allocated for this. £3.64m has also been allocated for childcare providers who were temporarily closed between 1 September – 31 December 2020
Table of UK COVID-19 Measures as of 8 January
|Region||Restriction Level||Implemented||Current End Date|
|Scotland (Mainland)||Stay-at-Home other than for a limited number of reasons; online learning for schools and colleges; outdoor gatherings limited to two people from two households.||5 January||31 January*|
|Scotland (Island Areas)||Maximum of 6 people from 2 households can meet indoors in a public place and outdoors, but meeting in somebody’s home is prohibited; 6pm curfew for all venues; Only essential shops to be open; No non-essential travel outside local area.||5 January||31 January*|
|Northern Ireland||Stay-at-Home order, with people only allowed to leave home for a limited number of reasons; online learning for schools and colleges; outdoor exercise allowed with one person from another household.||8 January||6 February|
|Wales||Stay-at-Home other than for a limited number of reasons; online learning for schools and colleges; no mixing of households, other than support bubbles.||24 December||14 January†|
|England||Stay-at-Home other than for a limited number of reasons; online learning for schools and colleges; outdoor exercise allowed with one person from another household; places of worship remain open, but people only allowed to visit with their household.||6 January||20 January^|
*Nicola Sturgeon MSP said they would remain in place for the whole of January, that they would be kept under review, and that she could not rule out keeping measures in place for longer or making further changes.
†Welsh national measures are to be reviewed ‘at least every three weeks’.
^There is a statutory requirement to review the regulations every two weeks, however the legislation passed runs until 31 March.