‘Operation bleach’

Telegraph
Boris Johnson has secretly ordered civil servants to strip references to the European Union from tens of thousands of laws to stop Labour reversing Brexit after the next general election in a plan known by some in Whitehall as “Operation Bleach”. Officials have been tasked with leafing through regulations and statutory instruments (SIs) covering the UK’s 40 year membership of the EU so that Brexit is cemented in UK law and cannot be easily unwound by a future government. The news comes just days after the European Research Group of Conservative MPs, in its verdict on the UK-EU post Brexit trade deal, warned that ministers would have to be “robust” in ensuring that Britain is not gradually reassimilated back into the influence of Brussels by future administrations.

Phone roaming

Sun
MOBILE phone operators will not bring back roaming charges for Brits travelling in Europe. Remain campaigners had warned Brexit would lead to an end of the EU “Roam Like At Home” rules. These were introduced in 2014 and meant Brits could travel throughout Europe and not pay extra for calls, texts and data. The Sun contacted each of the UK’s main providers to find out if any are planning to reintroduce roaming charges — and all pledged they will not do so. Vodafone, BT, EE, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, O2, Three and Virgin all said they have no plans to reintroduce them. However, the Brexit trade deal with the EU does not include arrangements to continue the ban on roaming fees.  It means there is no guarantee charges will not be reintroduced later and some MPs have called on Ofcom to bring in rules to prevent that from happening.

Labour Party

Times
A Labour government would not try to restore freedom of movement with the EU, Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday, ditching a promise he made during the party’s leadership election. The Labour leader committed to the trade treaty negotiated by Boris Johnson if he takes over in No 10 after a 2024 general election as he seeks to move on from the issue that split the party from many of its traditional voters.  “Whether we like it or not that is going to be the treaty that an incoming Labour government inherits and has to make work,” Sir Keir told the BBC. “It is not being straight with the British public to say you come into office in 2024 and operate some other treaty.

Yahoo News
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has dropped his pledge to bring back freedom of movement with the EU if elected Prime Minister. The Brexit trade deal signed by Boris Johnson, which came into effect on December 31, would be the “treaty that an incoming Labour government inherits and has to make work,” he told Andrew Marr. Asked about freedom of movement, he said: “I don’t think there’s an argument for reopening those aspects of the treaty. “We have a treaty, it’s a thin treaty, it’s not what was promised. But I’m very conscious of the fact that everything I’m doing, everything the Labour Party is doing is focused on winning an election in 2024.” He also said that he did not think “there is a case for rejoining the EU”, and that the British people would expect a Labour government to make Mr Johnson’s trade deal “work”.

Lockdown rules

Telegraph
Tighter coronavirus restrictions are being considered by ministers, The Telegraph understands, amid concerns the latest lockdown is not being followed strictly enough. Rules banning people from different households who are not in a support bubble from exercising together are under discussion, in a move which would bring the restrictions more closely in line with the first lockdown in March. The introduction of rules on face coverings in offices is also being mooted in Government circles, as some businesses are feared to have become lax. Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a meeting with Cabinet colleagues on Sunday evening at which they discussed whether the current lockdown rules were working to reduce spiralling coronavirus cases at a sufficient rate.

Yahoo News
The current nationwide lockdown should be extended by 12 weeks to halt the soaring infection rate, an expert has said. Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of public health at Edinburgh University, described the nationwide restrictions as “crude” and “catastrophic” for the economy and mental health. But she said the measures were needed to protect the public and the NHS as she argued that a “three-phase strategy” of measures lasting “for the next 12 weeks” was needed. “With the numbers we’re at, there’s no other choice,” Sridhar told Times Radio. “For me, it’s a three-phase strategy – first is right now, it’s crude, it’s catastrophic for the economy and for people’s mental health, but a lockdown. Get those numbers down, protect the NHS for the next 12 weeks,” she said

Evening Standard
Pubs and restaurants could be shut for another four months as Boris Johnson looks at extending England’s national lockdown, it is reported. The Prime Minister plunged the country into its third national shutdown on January 6 in response to surging coronavirus  infections and hospital admissions across the UK. Mr Johnson did not offer a concrete end date at the time, instead saying that the “prospect” of Britain’s mass vaccination programme  could enable restrictions to be progressively eased from mid-February. However, Number 10 officials currently view March 23 as a more realistic point at which restrictions can be lifted, according to the Sunday Times. This would mark the one year anniversary of Mr Johnson’s first “stay at home” speech.

Sun
TIGHTER Covid restrictions are reportedly being considered by ministers because the public aren’t adhering to lockdown rules as strictly as they should be. A ban on exercising with one person outside of your household and wearing face coverings in offices are among the rules which could be reviewed as infections continue to spiral. The Government fear that people have become too lax and restrictions may need to move more closely in line with the first lockdown in March. A source told the Telegraph that the rule allowing two people to mix during exercise is “being used as an excuse for people to go for a coffee in the park with their friend,” adding “It may be we tighten up on things like that.”

Guardian
Ministers were under pressure on Sunday night to escalate the current lockdown in England amid warnings that current measures may not be tough enough. They came as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said about 2 million people – including about a third of people over the age of 80 – had already been vaccinated, and the opening of the mass vaccination sites is intended to accelerate the process. More than half a million people over the age of 80 are to receive letters inviting them to attend one of seven large coronavirus vaccination centres opening in England, where they will be able to book an appointment online or over the phone.

Mail
Pubs and bars in England could be closed until the start of May under draconian plans being examined by officials. No10 is said to be privately gloomy about the prospects of an end to the third lockdown next month. March 23 – the year anniversary of the start of the first lockdown –  is being touted as a more realistic end date. Boris Johnson has already warned that lockdown measures are unlikely to all be lifted at once, in favour of a gradual lifting of restrictions as rising numbers of vaccinations take place. But today it was suggested that the bank holiday on May 3, is a more likely date for boozers to re-open their doors to a thirsty public.

Times
Supermarkets face being legally required to enforce mask wearing and social distancing as part of a wider crackdown on compliance with the lockdown. Boris Johnson told senior ministers last night that the situation in the NHS was “parlous and perilous”. He was speaking at a meeting to review attempts to prevent the service from being overwhelmed as the number of hospital patients with Covid-19 in England passed 30,000 for the first time. Ministers had agreed earlier to toughen enforcement of the rules amid fears that poor compliance will mean the lockdown failing to bring infection rates under control.

Mail
Boris Johnson met cabinet colleagues last night to discuss an even-tougher lockdown with limits on exercise, compulsory mask-wearing outdoors and a ban on social bubbles all being considered by ministers, sources claim. The Cabinet Office refused to deny that draconian new laws were coming – and instead pointed to Matt Hancock’s vague statement earlier today.  The Health Secretary refused to speculate when directly asked if harsher measures – including curfews and nursery closures – might be brought in, and instead said Britons should ‘follow the rules that we’ve got’. One Whitehall source told MailOnline that the changes discussed today even included introducing a ban on people leaving their homes more than once a week. Under current rules, Britons can exercise with one other person or with their household or support bubble.

Vaccination

Mail
The first of seven mass vaccination hubs for those aged 80 and over open their doors to the public today.  The centres – which are also open to health and care staff – offer an alternative to receiving the jab at GP surgeries and in hospitals. They cover all seven NHS regions in England, including – as these pictures show – the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Each can inoculate a patient every four minutes which means someone is given a jab every 35 seconds across all seven of the hubs.  The others are the Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London, Ashton Gate in Bristol, Epsom Racecourse in Surrey, Millennium Point in Birmingham, Robertson House in Stevenage and Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester. The hubs will be staffed by trained volunteers from both St John Ambulance and the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme alongside NHS staff.

Times
Every adult will be offered a vaccine by autumn, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, promised yesterday, on the eve of the first mass vaccination centres opening their doors this morning. Boris Johnson will visit a site in the southwest of as it begins to inoculate people over 80 and health and social care staff. Mr Hancock claimed that the inoculation programme was on track to meet its first target by February 15. However, in London nurses offered the vaccine to friends before it spoiled when patients missed appointments. Writing in The Times Red Box Mr Hancock and Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of Astrazeneca, wrote that it was “important to remember that the manufacture of vaccines is a biologic process that is subject to variability”.

City AM
Health secretary Matt Hancock has said every UK resident over the age of 18 will be offered a Covid vaccine by autumn and that 2m people have now been immunised. Hancock said the government had 350m doses on order across the different vaccines and that he was confident they could be rolled out before next winter. The health secretary also told the BBC that 2m people have now been immunised, with a third of over 80s given the vaccine. He said the rollout has hit 200,000 people a day and that this is set to increase dramatically from next week as seven mass vaccination centres open and as more GP surgeries and NHS hospitals start to offer jabs.

Oxygen

Mirror
Southend Hospital’s oxygen supply has “reached a critical situation” due to high demand from coronavirus patients, the BBC reports. Hospital bosses reportedly said they are working to manage the situation. Less than two weeks ago local authorities in Essex declared a “major incident” as the number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm health services in the county. The announcement was made in response to a “significant growing demand” on hospitals across the county and enabled local leaders to seek further support from the Government, the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said. The ERF – which is made up of members of the NHS, emergency services and local authorities – said the number of patients in Essex receiving treatment for coronavirus had increased to levels exceeding those seen at the peak of the first wave.

Social care

Mail
Frail residents in the nation’s care homes have been betrayed by the slow rollout of the vaccine, it was claimed last night. Care providers say they have been ‘left in the dark’ and hit by outbreaks while waiting for jabs. Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised on December 10 that care home residents would be vaccinated by Christmas.  A month on, Boris Johnson admitted just one in ten residents had received the vaccine. But the Mail spoke to 28 providers – which together run 556 homes with around 30,000 residents – and 17 said not a single resident had been vaccinated.  Managers described ‘haphazard and confusing’ communication, with eight claiming they have had no details of when to expect vaccines. Worryingly, almost half – 13 – said they are currently battling coronavirus cases in their homes.

Sky News
Care homes risk being overwhelmed by the coronavirus once again, the government has been warned, with the number of outbreaks having tripled in the past month. Public Health England figures reveal they went up by 60% in one week alone, as the UK as a whole battles a major surge in COVID cases and growing concerns about staffing levels. A survey by the National Care Forum found care homes were operating staff absence rates of up to 50%, with increased testing revealing more positive cases and forcing staff to isolate. Others are having to shield or look after children during lockdown. Northfield Nursing Home in Sheffield is among those now in crisis mode.

Education

Mail
Confused messaging by the Government has been blamed for fuelling the large numbers of children in school during lockdown. As attendance rates reached 60 per cent in some schools, experts have said teachers will be considered for special status when a plan to distribute millions more vaccines is published next month. Head teachers have complained about being left in an ‘impossible situation’ by being forced to stop some children from attending school in order to comply with social distancing rules. Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared to muddy official guidance yesterday, saying that if only one parent in a household is a key worker then children should not go to school. Last weekend the Department for Education (DfE) updated its guidance to clarify that ‘children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required’.

Mail
Dozens of university bosses have taken no pay cut since the pandemic struck despite students suffering huge disruption, a Daily Mail analysis has revealed. At least 46 vice-chancellors still have the same generous salaries they received before Covid-19 led to potentially months of lost learning.  Another eight who agreed to reduce salaries in the spring as staff were furloughed and lectures cancelled have now returned to full pay. Only 22 university leaders are taking home smaller wage packets as a result of the pandemic.  It comes after UK universities asked for a £2billion bailout from the Government and a survey of 100,000 students found 65 per cent had no face-to-face teaching in November. Those now back on full pay include Imperial College London’s Alice Gast – the UK’s best-paid university boss – who gets more than £500,000 a year and who recently apologised for bullying a colleague.

EU

Times
Germany has upset other EU member states by securing a disproportionately large share of the bloc’s common pool of vaccines, according to a report. Brussels has ordered roughly two billion doses in total, which are theoretically to be divided up according to each member state’s population. However, Germany is in line to receive nearly 30 million more doses than this principle would suggest, according to an EU document obtained by Der Spiegel magazine. The bloc’s vaccine strategy was already under fire from critics who claimed that it had, in effect, backed the wrong horses in the scientific race, buying too few doses of the jabs that are available now and too many of those that are still in the testing phase.

Telegraph
Germany has come in for criticism over a bilateral vaccine deal with Pfizer/Biontech to secure an extra 30 million doses of its vaccine at a time when talks between Brussels and the pharma firms were still ongoing. Berlin ordered the extra doses of the vaccine back in September at a time when it was trumpeting the virtues of a common EU purchasing strategy during its role as rotating president of the European Union. German Health Minister Jens Spahn confirmed last week that he had purchased an extra 30 million doses of the vaccine in a separate bilateral agreement with the company. The terms of the EU’s vaccine strategy, published in June, state that the 27 member states agree “not to launch their own procedures for advance purchase of that vaccine with the same manufacturers.”

Express
BREXIT and Boris Johnson have saved lives, a Tory MP has claimed, as the UK pushes forward with its coronavirus vaccine strategy. Speaking to Express.co.uk, Tory MP for Dudley North, Marco Longhi, has claimed the UK’s independence from the EU has allowed the Prime Minister to implement his vaccine strategy much more smoothly than on the continent. While the UK approved the Pfizer/BioNtech on December 2, the EU only began its own programme on December 27. Since then, the bloc has not only been accused of being too slow to approve the Pfizer drug but also for its poor implementation strategy.  According to the latest figures, Germany had managed to vaccinate 477,000 people as of Thursday, while France had only carried out 45,500 jabs as of Friday.

Immigration

Times
Border patrols intercepted about 150 migrants attempting to cross the Channel in freezing fog at the weekend. The Home Office said last night that UK border officials dealt with four small boat incidents involving 57 people yesterday. The French authorities prevented 12 people departing their territory and four boats carrying 38 people were stopped entering UK waters. The Border Force’s coastal patrol vessel Hunter suffered engine problems during the rescue operation. A spokesman said the problem was “quickly resolved and she adhered to all maritime safety requirements”. Six small boats were caught by Border Force patrols and taken into the harbour on Saturday.

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