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UK coronavirus live: Whitty says people should not hug elderly relatives as PM warns against easing up on virus fight UK coronavirus: Whitty says people should not hug elderly relatives as PM warns against easing up on virus fight – as it happened
(32 minutes later)
PM says now is not the time to ease up after backlash against new England tier systemPM says now is not the time to ease up after backlash against new England tier system
Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, has bluntly told people not to hug and kiss elderly relatives at Christmas. Only 48 hour after the government announced a temporary relaxation of rules intended to allow families to mix at Christmas, Whitty highlighted the risks. Speaking at a No 10 press conference, he said:
Boris Johnson has said that mass testing could allow individuals to escape particular restrictions - even if they are living in a tier 3 area. In his latest upbeat statement about the possibilities offered by mass testing (once described by No 10 as the Moonshot plan), Johnson told the press conference.
Johnson has defended the government’s decision to place large parts of England under tougher restrictions once the lockdown ends than they were under when it started, saying “taking our foot off the throat of the beast” now would be a mistake. He told the press conference.
Johnson is facing a backlash from Tory MPs ahead of next week’s Commons vote on the new post-lockdown restrictions announced for England today. Some of his MPs have already said they will vote against the government, but many more have expressed anger or disappointment about finding their constituencies unexpectedly in tier 3. Some are demanding the publication of better evidence from the government to justify the restrictions before deciding how they will vote. At his press conference Johnson said the allocation of tiers would be reviewed every fortnight. But in the Commons, in an attempt to mollify his Tory critics, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that, after the first review on 16 December, the system would be reviewed at least weekly. He told one MP:
And Hancock told another MP he was committing to regular reviews, rather than weekly ones, “simply because we sometimes have to do it more than weekly, especially if cases are shooting up in an area.”
Coronavirus infections are largely levelling off in England although prevalence remains high, the latest data suggests.
The Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine is coming under increasing scrutiny, with critics questioning the claim that trials showed it could protect up to 90% of people against coronavirus.
The pub companies Mitchells & Butlers and Fuller, Smith & Turner have reported heavy losses and said they had axed about 1,700 jobs, highlighting the impact of continued coronavirus restrictions on Britain’s hospitality sector.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has decided legislation is required to cut the aid budget since the current fiscal uncertainty means the government may feel obliged to miss the commitment to spend 0.7% on gross national income on overseas aid for longer than a year.
That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog. It’s here.
Here is a joint statement from two Conservative MPs with North Somerset constituencies: Liam Fox, the former international trade secretary and John Penrose, a former minister. North Somerset is in tier 3.Here is a joint statement from two Conservative MPs with North Somerset constituencies: Liam Fox, the former international trade secretary and John Penrose, a former minister. North Somerset is in tier 3.
They say this decision “isn’t right or fair” and they call for it to be reversed after a fortnight.They say this decision “isn’t right or fair” and they call for it to be reversed after a fortnight.
The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, has expressed disappointment over the city being put into tier 3. He told the Guardian he had hoped that a recent fall in the Covid numbers might have “earned” the city a place in tier 2.The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, has expressed disappointment over the city being put into tier 3. He told the Guardian he had hoped that a recent fall in the Covid numbers might have “earned” the city a place in tier 2.
The city council estimated the month-long lockdown will have cost the city around £54m. The tier status will add to the burden.The city council estimated the month-long lockdown will have cost the city around £54m. The tier status will add to the burden.
Rees said the impact on the hospitality and night-time economy - 23,000 jobs - was particularly worrying. He said:Rees said the impact on the hospitality and night-time economy - 23,000 jobs - was particularly worrying. He said:
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has announced the latest weekly changes to the travel corridor system.Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has announced the latest weekly changes to the travel corridor system.
A group of small countries are being added to the travel corridor list - meaning anyone arriving in the UK from these places will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days.A group of small countries are being added to the travel corridor list - meaning anyone arriving in the UK from these places will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days.
The total ban on travel to Denmark has been lifted, although quarantine rules still apply.The total ban on travel to Denmark has been lifted, although quarantine rules still apply.
And Estonia and Latvia are off the travel corridors list - which means people arriving in the UK from these countries will be subject to quarantine.And Estonia and Latvia are off the travel corridors list - which means people arriving in the UK from these countries will be subject to quarantine.
Q: Do you accept that in Liverpool some people are not getting tested because 80% of people do not qualify for support if they have to self-isolate? And Liverpool has had a poor relationship with the Tories. Will you reward their sacrifice?Q: Do you accept that in Liverpool some people are not getting tested because 80% of people do not qualify for support if they have to self-isolate? And Liverpool has had a poor relationship with the Tories. Will you reward their sacrifice?
Johnson says Liverpool has been fantastic. He says the government will continue to support it as part of its levelling up agenda.Johnson says Liverpool has been fantastic. He says the government will continue to support it as part of its levelling up agenda.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.And that’s it. The press conference is over.
Q: Is it really a good idea to travel hundreds of miles to see relatives over Christmas? And what will you be doing?Q: Is it really a good idea to travel hundreds of miles to see relatives over Christmas? And what will you be doing?
Johnson says this is an incredibly difficult decision. You have to strike a balance between letting people celebrate Christmas and keeping the virus under control.Johnson says this is an incredibly difficult decision. You have to strike a balance between letting people celebrate Christmas and keeping the virus under control.
We are not out of the wood yet, he says.We are not out of the wood yet, he says.
Whitty says he would want people to see their families. But he would not encourage people to hug and kiss elderly relatives. It is allowed; but that does not mean people should be doing it, he says.Whitty says he would want people to see their families. But he would not encourage people to hug and kiss elderly relatives. It is allowed; but that does not mean people should be doing it, he says.
Whitty says people should not hug and kiss elderly relatives at Christmas.Whitty says people should not hug and kiss elderly relatives at Christmas.
He says he will be on the wards himself.He says he will be on the wards himself.
Vallance also says people should not hug and kiss elderly relatives.Vallance also says people should not hug and kiss elderly relatives.
Whitty says the “extraordinary altruism” of the British public has been one of the best things about this crisis. He says people are sticking to the rules to protect other people. And he says there is no evidence that that spirit is going away. There are examples of people ignoring the rules, but the majority of people are complying.Whitty says the “extraordinary altruism” of the British public has been one of the best things about this crisis. He says people are sticking to the rules to protect other people. And he says there is no evidence that that spirit is going away. There are examples of people ignoring the rules, but the majority of people are complying.
Vallance says the vaccines are “looking really good”. But they have yet to go through the regulator, and there will be time between doses; most require two doses. So they are not going to provide protection soon, he says.Vallance says the vaccines are “looking really good”. But they have yet to go through the regulator, and there will be time between doses; most require two doses. So they are not going to provide protection soon, he says.
He says it would be wrong to assume that, because of vaccines and mass testing, we can relax now.He says it would be wrong to assume that, because of vaccines and mass testing, we can relax now.
Q: Is it fair that areas in tier 3 that close get support for firms that close, but not for firms that are dependent on them?Q: Is it fair that areas in tier 3 that close get support for firms that close, but not for firms that are dependent on them?
Johnson says, if that is a question about supply chains, they deserve protection as well. He says the furlough scheme will run until March, and he says the government has support schemes for businesses.Johnson says, if that is a question about supply chains, they deserve protection as well. He says the furlough scheme will run until March, and he says the government has support schemes for businesses.
The best option is to get the virus down so firms can reopen, he says.The best option is to get the virus down so firms can reopen, he says.
Q: How will you deliver mass testing to 40% of the population?Q: How will you deliver mass testing to 40% of the population?
Johnson says strong local leadership will be required, plus “real spirit” in the community. And mass testing is only part of the answer. People have to follow the guidance too.Johnson says strong local leadership will be required, plus “real spirit” in the community. And mass testing is only part of the answer. People have to follow the guidance too.
He says the government will not be imposing this. Local leaders will have to want to do this.He says the government will not be imposing this. Local leaders will have to want to do this.
He says the government will ensure adequate numbers of personnel are available.He says the government will ensure adequate numbers of personnel are available.
Q: Do these tiering decisions anticipate a rise in cases caused by Christmas?Q: Do these tiering decisions anticipate a rise in cases caused by Christmas?
Whitty says Christmas will increase the risk. Everyone knows that, he says. But it is not the only problem. He says January and February are always the busiest times of the year for the NHS.Whitty says Christmas will increase the risk. Everyone knows that, he says. But it is not the only problem. He says January and February are always the busiest times of the year for the NHS.
People need to take it seriously and consider the risks, he says.People need to take it seriously and consider the risks, he says.
Q: Aren’t you going to have to raise taxes?Q: Aren’t you going to have to raise taxes?
Johnson says the chancellor set out his case yesterday. He says he is very, very confident about the path the economy is on.Johnson says the chancellor set out his case yesterday. He says he is very, very confident about the path the economy is on.
There will have to be “fiscal prudence”, but you will get that from the government, he says.There will have to be “fiscal prudence”, but you will get that from the government, he says.
Q: Why did “whack-a-mole” not work?Q: Why did “whack-a-mole” not work?
Johnson says the tiered approach has been working.Johnson says the tiered approach has been working.
He repeats the point about the Liverpool mass testing approach offering a way forward.He repeats the point about the Liverpool mass testing approach offering a way forward.
Whitty says you have to remember the seasonality of this. In the summer it was possible to hold cases down. Now, as we go into winter, cases are going up. That is common for respiratory illnesses, he says.Whitty says you have to remember the seasonality of this. In the summer it was possible to hold cases down. Now, as we go into winter, cases are going up. That is common for respiratory illnesses, he says.
He says there are tiers that would work in the summer that would not work now.He says there are tiers that would work in the summer that would not work now.
He says, bit by bit, he hope parts of the country will be able to walk out of this, down from tiers. That could happen over the next few weeks or months.He says, bit by bit, he hope parts of the country will be able to walk out of this, down from tiers. That could happen over the next few weeks or months.
Q: Are you confident that enough places are in tier 3?Q: Are you confident that enough places are in tier 3?
Whitty says throughout this the government has had to do the least damaging thing. There are no ideal options.Whitty says throughout this the government has had to do the least damaging thing. There are no ideal options.
He says there will be adjustments - hopefully downwards.He says there will be adjustments - hopefully downwards.
Q: Are you confident about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine? (See 4.29am.)Q: Are you confident about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine? (See 4.29am.)
Whitty says the key thing is to leave this to the regulator. They are excellent. They have access to data not in the public domain.Whitty says the key thing is to leave this to the regulator. They are excellent. They have access to data not in the public domain.
Vallance agrees. He says the headline results are excellent, but the regulator, which is excellent, must decide.Vallance agrees. He says the headline results are excellent, but the regulator, which is excellent, must decide.
Q: What was the point of the lockdown if more people are moving into tougher tiers?Q: What was the point of the lockdown if more people are moving into tougher tiers?
Johnson says the lockdown is not continuing. Shops and places like hairdressers will be open. This will be a very different thing.Johnson says the lockdown is not continuing. Shops and places like hairdressers will be open. This will be a very different thing.
He says he is convinced that in a few months we will have the vaccine, and that by April things will be very much better.He says he is convinced that in a few months we will have the vaccine, and that by April things will be very much better.
But it is important not to “take your foot off the throat of the beast” now, he says.But it is important not to “take your foot off the throat of the beast” now, he says.
There is a “substantial relaxation across all tiers”, he says.There is a “substantial relaxation across all tiers”, he says.
He also says people should take heart from the possibilities offered by mass testing.He also says people should take heart from the possibilities offered by mass testing.
Q: Will the vaccines work when the Covid virus mutates?Q: Will the vaccines work when the Covid virus mutates?
Vallance says we will end up with lots of vaccine options. Viruses do mutate. But this one does not mutate as much as the flu virus. This virus mutates, but it has not done so so far in such a way as to make the virus ineffective.Vallance says we will end up with lots of vaccine options. Viruses do mutate. But this one does not mutate as much as the flu virus. This virus mutates, but it has not done so so far in such a way as to make the virus ineffective.
But in future that could happen, he says.But in future that could happen, he says.
He says he does not think the vaccines we have at the moment will necessarily be the ones we use for ever.He says he does not think the vaccines we have at the moment will necessarily be the ones we use for ever.
Whitty says sometimes you need new vaccines because of mutations. But other vaccines you need to top anyway, because immunity wanes.Whitty says sometimes you need new vaccines because of mutations. But other vaccines you need to top anyway, because immunity wanes.
Q: Will the government consider moving to remote learning for schools?Q: Will the government consider moving to remote learning for schools?
Johnson says he wants to keep schools open. He favours remote learning in some circumstances. But he says he wants children in schools and he wants exams to go ahead.Johnson says he wants to keep schools open. He favours remote learning in some circumstances. But he says he wants children in schools and he wants exams to go ahead.