Coronavirus cases have surpassed 50,000 for six days in a row prompting Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to call for a nationwide lockdown. Health Secretary Matt Hancock today refused to rule out a third national lockdown, claiming it is “down to people’s behaviour frankly”. More than 44 million people are currently under Tier 4 restrictions, but thus far experts claim these measures are failing to curb the rise in infection rates.
- Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person to receive the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, NHS England said.
- Schools in England reopened today – with some schools across the country remaining closed.
- Sir Keir Starmer has called Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis “chaotic” calling on his Government to implement a nationwide lockdown.
- The Prime Minister put the country on notice for a third national lockdown, as it emerged the Government is drawing up plans for the return of shielding.
Britons across the country are braced for Tier 5 restrictions or another lockdown similar to the first one implemented in March as scientists admit tougher measures are needed to stop the rising rates of coronavirus.
New Covid cases have surpassed 50,000 for the past six days, with 54,990 positive tests confirmed on January 3.
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READ MORE: School closures: Unions unite demand Boris keep all children home
12.02am update: Boris Johnson admits to having “misgivings” over closing primary schools
Mr Johnson said he had “misgivings” after shutting primary schools during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on a visit to a hospital, the PM said: “It’s very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it’s so important for young people to get an education.
“That’s why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort.
“That’s why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.
“I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small.”
11.56am update: Testing kits have started arriving at secondary schools around the country
Testing kits have started arriving at secondary schools around the UK.
A mass testing programme is being executed in schools and colleges across England to safely accept pupils back into the classroom.
11.49am update: Mr Johnson meets chemotherapy nurse receiving the vaccine
Chemotherapy nurse Christiana Omodara, 62, met the Prime Minister while waiting for her vaccination at Chase Farm Hospital.
She said: “He just said are we excited while we were waiting and we said we were.”
Ms Omodara said the vaccination was reassuring because of her work with cancer patients.
She added: “Because I am working with cancer patients, my worry is if I don’t know I have it, I can transfer it.
“Having the vaccine reassured me that at least I was safe and I won’t transfer anything to them.”
11.36am update: Primary schools facing closure despite advice to stay open
Primary schools around England are facing the prospect of closure despite local advice to open as teachers inform heads they will not teach full classes.
A primary school in Tier 3 Leeds has been forced to shut to most children indefinitely after 16 staff signed a letter saying they are “exercising their right not to teach full classes”.
In a letter to parents on Sunday evening, headteacher of Gildersome Primary School, in Leeds, Caroline Hoyle said: “This morning I received an email signed from 16 staff, the majority of staff whom are teachers stating that they are exercising their right not to teach full classes as from tomorrow.”
Mrs Hoyle said the school would be closed to all children on Monday as keyworker families and vulnerable children were identified.
11.33am update: Nurse receives vaccine in front of Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Nurse Susan Cole received the Oxford vaccine at Chase Farm Hospital in north London in front of Boris Johnson.
She admitted to being surprised to see the Prime Minister there but had known a VIP would be visiting.
The 60-year-old said: “It was just really surreal, I knew there was going to be a VIP, but I just thought it would be a local MP.
“My husband was joking it would be the PM and I said ‘don’t be daft’, so it was a surprise.
“He (Mr Johnson) asked how I felt about having the vaccine and we talked a little bit about how important it was not just for the person but to protect other people.”
11.30am update: Poll – do you think there should be tougher punishments for “covidiots”?
Express.co.uk readers can vote in our poll on whether harsher punishments should be given to “covidiots”.
Police have the power to issue Fixed Penalty Notices and in some cases arrest rule-breakers.
But what do you think?
11.24am update: Boris Johnson says “tougher measures” set to be announced “in due course”
The Prime Minister has said “tough, tough” weeks are ahead as the UK ramps up efforts in the fight against the outbreak.
He said: “If you look at the numbers there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course.”
Mr Johnson added: “If you look at the numbers there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course.”
11.20am update: Army to assist with Covid-19 testing efforts in Manchester
Around 800 Army personnel will be deployed to work across 10 local authority areas across Manchester to help with asymptomatic testing.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The new year will see new levels of Armed Forces support to overcoming this pandemic. Thousands of service personnel are working throughout the United Kingdom, wherever they are needed to assist the civil authorities.
“Manchester is the latest of those tasks and will be an important contribution to protecting the highest risk groups as the city seeks to recover.
“As a North West MP, I am acutely aware of the considerable time many of us have been labouring under some form of lockdown and I hope our soldiers will help us get to the day when these restrictions will start to lift.”
11.01am update: Several schools across the UK have remained closed despite Government pleas to reopen
Dozens of schools across the UK have stayed closed despite the Government calling on them to reopen.
Many have cited staff do not feel it is safe to reopen given the surge in coronavirus cases.
NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The NASUWT is completely committed to ensuring that children can return to school as quickly as possible.
“However, it is now abundantly clear that the pandemic is seriously impacting on the ability of all schools and colleges to continue to operate normally.
“The NASUWT is calling for an immediate nationwide move to remote education for all pupils in primary, secondary and special schools and colleges.”
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10.46am update: NHS director announces plan to get the vaccine out as soon as possible
The NHS England director Professor Stephen Powis said: “We are going to get this out as quickly as possible.
“We need to get the supplies through. This is a new vaccine.
“AstraZeneca are ramping up producing and batches will be coming through. We have half a million to come.
“If we get two million per week, our aim is to get two million into people’s arms a week.
“We have been preparing in the NHS for months to deliver the biggest vaccination programme in out history and I am confident we will be able to do that Assuming the supply is there, we do have the workforce available.
“We want to minimise the bureaucracy people will go through, to ensure people volunteer.
“We want people to come forward. We are still looking for people because we want to get this into people’s arms very quickly.”
10.34am update: Sir Keir Starmer has called for a national lockdown within the next 24 hours
He said the outbreak is “clearly out of control” and a nationwide lockdown is “the first step” in getting control of the pandemic.
He said: “It’s no good the prime minister hinting that further restrictions are coming into place in a week or two or three. That delay has been the source of so many problems.
“So I say bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions within the next 24 hours. That has to be the first step to controlling the virus.”
He added: “We can’t allow the prime minister to use up the next two or three weeks and then bring in a national lockdown which is inevitable. Do it now.”
10.15am update: Health Secretary Matt Hancock refuses to rule out a national lockdown
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out another national lockdown as the new variant causes cases of Covid to rise rapidly.
He told Sky News: “We don’t rule anything out, and we’ve shown repeatedly that we will look at the public health advice and we will take the public health advice in terms of what is needed to control the spread of the disease.
”This new variant is much easier to catch, it is much more transmissible, and we’re now seeing the effect of that in lots of different parts of the country, unfortunately.
“And it means that, whereas the old Tier 3 was able to contain the old variant, that is proving increasingly difficult in all parts of the country.”
10.12am update: Persistent hiccups could be a symptom of the new Covid-19 variant according to research
The new highly transmissible contagious strain of Covid-19 first emerged in the southeast of England and now a report published by scientists at Imperial College London has found it was already spreading rapidly during the nation’s second lockdown in November.
Unlike the first strain, the new virus has shown increased infectiousness across all age groups.
In a recent 2020 case study, a 64-year-old man was found to have persistent hiccups as the only symptom of COVID-19.
The patient experienced hiccups for 72 hours.
10.03am update: Boris Johnson expected to roll out national lockdown TODAY
The Prime Minister is expected to decide today (Monday, Janaury 4) whether tighter restrictions will be enforced today or not.
These measures are likely to include a nationwide lockdown as pressure mounts on the Government to implement tougher measures.
9.50am update: Which areas in the UK are most at risk of going into Tier 5?
Speculation about Tier 5 lockdown restrictions are mounting with experts expecting an imminent announcement about more restrictive measures.
Mr Johnson addressed the speculation about Tier 5 restrictions on Sunday, January 3.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC, Mr Johnson said: “It may well be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in some parts of the country… I am reconciled to that and I think people around the country are reconciled to that too.”
Express.co.uk has compiled a guide to show you the 25 most likely areas to move into Tier 5 according to the latest Covid-19 infection and prevalence rates.
9.35am update: Nicola Sturgeon expected to announce tougher Covid-19 measures
The Scottish First Minisrter is expected to unveil tougher Covid controls in Scotland later today, with her government considering plans to keep schools closed for the rest of January.
Ms Sturgeon asked for the Scottish parliament to be recalled for an emergency session at 2pm on Monday, after the number of Covid cases continued breaking records over the weekend, with 2,464 confirmed cases on Sunday.
On Sunday, she tweeted: “All decisions just now are tough, with tough impacts.
“Vaccines give a way out, but this new strain makes the period between now and then the most dangerous since the pandemic’s start.
“So the responsibility of government must be to act quickly and decisively in the national interest.”
9.28am update: Health Secretary shares concerns about South African variant
Mr Hancock said he is “incredibly worried” about the South African Covid-19 variant.
The Health Secretary told the BBC Today programme: “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant.
“That’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa, and movement from South Africa, and to insist that anybody who’s been to South Africa self isolates.
“This is a very, very significant problem.
“In fact I spoke to my South African opposite number over Christmas, and one of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability, to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the UK new variant.”
9.11am update: Teachers Union general secretary Frances O’Grady condemns decision to reopen schools
Ms O’Grady said: “The Government’s own advice from Sage makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That’s in no-one’s interests.
“Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the Prime Minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-secure.”
9.08am update: Teachers unions release statement about risk of infection to teachers
The statement, signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite, said: “The Government’s chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike.
“Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.
“Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed.
“All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the Prime Minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils to have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed.”
8.51am update: Second patient receives Oxford coronavirus vaccine
The UK’s Oxford vaccination programme is officially underway as the second patient receives the new Oxford vaccine.
The vaccine was given to Trevor Cowlett, 88, by nurse Sam Foster.
8.34am update: Mr Hancock discusses plans to reduce “bureaucracy” involved with vaccinator volunteers
The Health Sectretary today said the “bureaucracy” involved in signing up to be a volunteer vaccinator is being reduced.
Mr Hancock said he is working to reduce the level of bureaucracy involved to make it easier to sign up to volunteer.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We’re going to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that is needed there, and I’ve been working with the NHS on that.
“For instance, there’s one of the training programmes about needing to tackle terrorism. I don’t think that’s necessary, we’re going to stop that.
“And we’re going through the different parts of that process to streamline it as much as possible but again that isn’t the rate-limiting step.
“Because at the moment the NHS, with the people that it has got already, is able to deliver the vaccine as it can be produced, but obviously I want to make that easier.”
8.11am update: Health Secretary says teachers “no more at risk” than public
Mr Hancock has urged the public to follow official health advice about schools reopening.
He added teachers are at no more risk than the rest of the population.
He told Sky News: “It is also clear that the proportion of teachers who catch coronavirus is no higher than the rest of the population.
“So there is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people’s long-term health.”
8.03am update: An 82-year-old retiree becomes the first person to receive the new Oxford vaccine
Brian Pinker, 82, made history on January 4 when he became the first person to receive the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Mr Pinker, a patient at Churchill hospital on dialysis for kidney disease, was given the vaccine at Oxford University Hospital on Monday morning.
In a statement issued by NHS England, Mr Pinker said: “I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford.
“The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year.”
Sam Foster, chief nursing officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who administered the vaccine to Mr Pinker, said: “It was a real privilege to be able to deliver the first Oxford vaccine at the Churchill Hospital here in Oxford, just a few hundred metres from where it was developed.
“We look forward to vaccinating many more patients and health and care staff with the Oxford vaccine in the coming weeks which will make a huge difference to people living in the communities we serve and the staff who care for them in our hospitals.”
7.44am update: Matt Hancock addresses the new Oxford vaccine rollout
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be rolled out across England from today.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight.”
He urged everyone to continue to follow the coronavirus restrictions while the vaccination programme is under way to “keep cases down and protect our loved ones”.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, which means the UK now has enough doses to vaccinate most of its population.
7.29am update: Covid has prompted a boost in healthy habits for 2021 according to survey
An England-wide survey of more than 5,000 adults found 43 percent of people feel more motivated to make healthy changes in 2021 than last year.
Since the pandemic began, 35 percent of people said they tucked into an unhealthy snack or drink at least once a day which increased from 26 pecent this time last year,
In total 29 percent agreed they smoked more since the second national lockdown and around 23 percent of adults noticed they were drinking more alcohol, the Public Health England (PHE) survey reveals.
Covid-19 is behind the reason that 68 percent of adults are trying to step towards a healthier lifestyle this year, while overall 80 percent said that changes need to be made in 2021.
7.13am update: Scottish pupils are struggling amid the pandemic a teaching union claims
Young people from poorer backgrounds continue to face worse consequences due to the pandemic, according to teaching union the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS).
The EIS has called for intervention as it claimed the consequences of coronavirus could further deepen the disadvantage experienced by youngsters currently living in poverty.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a damaging impact on the education of young people right across Scotland, and it is young people already facing disadvantage who have felt this most acutely.
“Young people from less affluent backgrounds are far less likely to have access to the types of resources that are available to young people in other areas, which has clearly had an impact during the pandemic.
“Young people living in poverty were far more likely to disengage from education during the lockdown period for a wide range of reasons – including lack of access to IT equipment or suitable access to the internet.
“This has the potential to further entrench, or even widen, the poverty-related attainment gap that persists in many parts of Scotland.”
6.58am update: Wales confirms rollout of new vaccine to begin today
The second coronavirus vaccine available in the UK will be rolled out across Wales from Monday, the Welsh Government announced.
At least 40,000 doses of the newly approved AstraZeneca jab will be made available within the next two weeks.
Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething said: “Today marks a key milestone in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been called a ‘game changer’ and this is true – its potential should not be underestimated.
“In less than a month Wales’ NHS has mobilised the largest vaccination programme our country has ever seen and so far more than 35,000 people have received their first dose.
“Now, only five days since regulatory approval of the new vaccine for use in the UK, a second vaccine is here and ready for use, significantly adding to Wales’ defences in the face of coronavirus and protecting our most vulnerable.”