No 10 does not rule out PM having to self-isolate if Alok Sharma tests positive for Covid-19
The Downing Street lobby briefing has finished. Here are the main points.
The spokesman played down the likelihood of Boris Johnson being asked to self-isolate if Sharma does test positive – even though the two men attended a meeting together yesterday – but did not rule it out. The 45-minute meeting, which was also attended by Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, took place in the cabinet room at No 10. The spokesman said that the meeting, like all meetings at No 10, was “properly socially distanced” and that the participants stayed more than two metres apart. The spokesman said that the test and trace guidance was “not as simple as saying if you have been in a room with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus you are required to self-isolate”. People have to self-isolate if they have had face-to-face contact, at a distance of less than one metre, with someone who tests positive, or if they have spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of that person. But the spokesman did not go as far as saying that he was confident that Johnson would not be asked to self-isolate if Sharma tested positive. Asked if Johnson would comply if he were asked to self-isolate, the spokesman said: “We would follow the advice given by the medical experts.” The spokesman also said that the cabinet room was “vigorously cleaned” yesterday, but that that was usual practice and happened every day.
Downing Street is not reconsidering the government to abandon virtual sittings of the House of Commons and to ask MPs to attend in person in the light of Sharma’s illness, the spokesman said.
The position of the government is that herd immunity has never been its policy.
But the spokesman did not deny that Johnson had said the words attributed to him in the programme and, when asked if he was willing to clarify this directly with the PM, he suggested there was no need because he had made the position clear.
The spokesman said 171,829 tests were carried out in the 24 hours to 9am yesterday. But the government had the capacity to carry out 220,213, he said.
The spokesman confirmed the Telegraph story (paywall) saying that tens of thousands of coronavirus tests were returned void after being sent to a US laboratory for analysis. He said 67,000 tests had been sent to the US, and 29,500 were returned void. The laboratory was not being used again, he said. He said in total 4.2m tests had been carried out.
The spokesman denied a Telegraph report (paywall) claiming hairdressers in England could be allowed to open as early as 15 June. He said the ambition was to reopen them from July at the earliest.
The spokesman did not challenge a Guardian report saying that in some areas up to 90% of primary schools remained closed this week, even though schools in England are meant to be reopening for some year groups. One survey suggests 44% of English primaries remained closed. The spokesman said that what happened this week was “broadly … in line with expectations” and that “we expect that attendance will grow over time”. He said official attendance figures would be published next week.
The spokesman said the government has ruled out running the school meal voucher system in England over the summer holidays. But there will be a £9m programme offering some pupils activities and meals, said the spokesman, who also hinted it might be expanded.
The spokesman said the government did not agree with the suggestion from Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, that the Covid-19 virus was man-made. Dearlove made the claim in an interview with the Telegraph. “We have seen no evidence that the virus is man-made,” the spokesman said. But the spokesman did not rule out Dearlove’s theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory. He said an independent inquiry was needed to establish where it came from.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, will take the afternoon press conference, the spokesman said. The questions will come from regional media, not national media.
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In case you missed it … In this week’s episode of the Bafta-nominated Anywhere But Westminster series, the team return to Middlesbrough, which has had one of the highest infection rates in the UK.
Far away from ministerial briefings and political intrigue, Covid-19 has worsened already ingrained problems: biting hardship, precarious work and the feeling that government has left people to sink or swim. There is hope and energy at the grassroots but can things really change?
Life in lockdown: Britain’s hidden social crisis and the people trying to fight it – video
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Beginning her daily briefing, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announces that there have been nine deaths from coronavirus registered in Scotland over the past 24 hours – the first time since 27 March that the number of daily deaths has been in single figures – bringing the total there to 2,395.
As of 9am this morning there were 15,553 positive cases confirmed, an increase of 49 since yesterday, but a decrease of six in intensive care and a decrease of 21 confirmed cases in hospital.
Sturgeon also emphasised that, ahead of a weekend of “more traditionally Scottish weather”, it was still imperative not to go into other people’s houses, and to continue to meet only outdoors and at a two metre distance.
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A scientific adviser to the government has cast doubt over the effectiveness of a blanket quarantine for visitors to the UK.
Prof Robert Dingwall, a member of a sub-group of Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), made the comments after the home secretary, Priti Patel, came under pressure from MPs over the plans which come into force in England on Monday legally requiring most people arriving in the UK to self-isolate for 14 days.
She insisted the idea was “backed by science”, was “essential” to save lives and crucial to make sure gains made in fighting the virus were not lost.
But Prof Dingwall told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
We are not seeing new clusters that are taking off from people who have been travelling abroad. I think we would really need to get the level in this country significantly further down before quarantine started to become a useful measure.
Even then, we would have to see something that is targeted on countries with a significantly higher level of community transmission than ourselves – and there aren’t too many of those around, I’m afraid.
Prof Dingwall, a Nottingham Trent University academic who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which reports to Sage, added:
If you’re a holiday destination in Europe in a country that has worked really hard to get its levels of community transmission down and you’re perhaps looking forward to seeing the end of the virus circulating, apart from in isolated outbreaks, then you have to wonder would they really want to welcome a load of British tourists from a country which hasn’t fully got this virus under control yet?
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Extra work by firefighters in response to the Covid-19 crisis, including helping to deliver health supplies, has been extended until July and could last until the end of August, it has been announced.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said an agreement reached in March allowing firefighters to assist ambulance services, deliver vital supplies to the elderly and vulnerable and move the bodies of the deceased would continue.
A number of other activities have been agreed, including assembling personal protective equipment and training care home staff in infection, prevention and control.
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The government’s track and trace programme could be illegal, privacy campaigners say. The Open Rights Group has filed a legal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office over the programme, which it says breaches GDPR.
The complaint notes that, almost a week after it was launched, the government has still not filed a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) for the programme with the ICO. The document, legally required before “high risk” data processing can begin, would explain the government’s view of the risks it faces, and explain how it hopes to mitigate them.
“Given the system is experimental and the sensitive nature and scale of the data being processed, a DPIA was required before processing commenced,” the ORG said in a statement. “[Public Health England] and the NHS confirmed that a DPIA has not been conducted, in breach of those GDPR requirements.”
Jim Killock, the ORG’s executive director, said:
The ICO must act to enforce the law. The government is moving too fast, and breaking things as a result. If they carry on in this manner, public confidence will be undermined, and people will refuse to engage with the track and trace programme. Public health objectives are being undermined by failures to get privacy and data protection basics in place.
When the government began trialling the Covid contact tracing app in the Isle of Wight, it was similarly late in filing the DPIA, which drew criticism from the Information Commissioner.
When eventually published, the impact assessment drew further criticism for what many perceived as a lax approach to the risks inherent in such a scheme. When judging the severity of being wrongly forced to quarantine for two weeks, for example, the impact assessment claims it is merely a “moderate” harm.
NHSX state that malicious or hyperchondriac self-reporting, with the consequence of causing self-isolation of a target, is of ‘medium’ impact and is ‘possible’. Personally, I think it’s hard to imagine risks to rights or freedoms of higher impact than quarantine. pic.twitter.com/qO1acrDXVz
May 12, 2020
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Those who can, should go back to work, Boris Johnson has said. But how will people get to work safely? If we take public transport, will there be enough space to physically distance? If we take the car, will the roads cope with all the extra traffic?
In this Guardian explainer, Josh Toussaint-Strauss tries to figure out some answers to the UK’s transport problem in the time of coronavirus, with the help of Peter Walker and Matthew Taylor.
How to solve the UK’s transport problem in the time of coronavirus – video
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Tens of thousands of aerospace and aviation workers are set to lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis, industry experts have warned.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of the ADS Group, said redundancies will be made in the coming weeks and months because of the collapse in demand for flights.
He told the business, energy and industrial strategy committee it was “very difficult” to see demand return quickly, so airlines and other companies will be forced to restructure or “resize”.
Everitt said the government’s controversial decision to press ahead with its quarantine plans for people arriving in the UK would lead to a further period of uncertainty for the sectors his group represents.
Summer is incredibly important for airlines, so the fact that they are not able to sell tickets with confidence in July and August is a clear worry and will only mean the recovery will take longer and be more painful.
The industry believed the right approach would be to put in place measures to minimise the risk of anyone getting on to an aircraft who might be affected by the virus, he added.
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, also told MPs that one in four manufacturers were planning to make redundancies in the next few months.
He voiced fears about the loss of skills in the industry, saying he had spoken to the education secretary about the need to tackle the issue.
And Gareth Stace, director general of UK Steel, told the committee that the steel industry was in a “difficult position” before the current crisis, with falling prices for its products and rising costs for raw materials.
UK steel companies also faced higher electricity charges and business rates than competitors in other countries such as Germany, he said, adding:
The government needs to build a bridge to help us through this crisis. There is no point in the government saving the steel sector from going out of business now, if it is not going to work with us and trade unions to develop a brighter and sustainable future. It is totally within the government’s gift to do that.
When Suella Braverman, the attorney general, posted her tweet on Saturday 23 May (see 10.34am), she was one of several senior ministers using the platform to defend Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser. At that point the Guardian and the Daily Mirror had published a story saying Cummings and his family travelled to Durham to self-isolate during the lockdown, and No 10 had only given a limited explanation for his conduct.
Subsequently the Guardian and the Daily Mirror revealed that Cummings and his family went to Barnard Castle while they were in Durham. Durham police subsequently said that, if they had stopped him at the time, they would have treated this as a breach of the law.
Although Tory whips were asking ministers to tweet in support of Cummings, several refused to do so, including Robert Buckland, the lord chancellor and justice secretary. In an email to constituents sent out on Thursday 28 May, after Durham police gave their view, he adopted a tone that was very different from the one taken by Braverman a few days earlier. He said that, given his constitutional role, it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the merits of an individual case. He said:
After the revelations emerged over the weekend, I was glad to see Mr Cummings give an explanation as to why he acted as he did, and this has been rightly questioned by the media.
Durham police have investigated the situation and have concluded that whilst there might have been a minor breach, they will take no further action. You will appreciate that owing to the operational independence of the police and my constitutional duty as lord chancellor to uphold the rule of law, it would not be appropriate for me to give a view on the merits of an individual case.
I am, however, acutely conscious as to the strength of feeling on this issue, which I completely understand. This has left a deep impression on both me and colleagues in parliament and the government.
The urgent question on Covid-19 disparities is now over. That’s it from me (Aamna). I’ll be handing the blog over to Andrew and Lucy.
When asked why the Public Health Review failed to factor in the occupational discrimination faced by BAME staff, Badenoch says: “Public Health England didn’t necessarily have the data … That was something I really wanted to see because it goes somewhere to explain the gaps.”
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Badenoch says: “We’re not rushing to take into account what one specific report saying, we’re looking at what all the different reports have said like the one from Public Health Scotland to make sure we find out exactly what is going on.”
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