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A senior Conservative MP has called for Tory peer Dido Harding, the boss of NHS Test and Trace, to be removed from her post.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, an ally of Boris Johnson and chairman of the parliamentary Liaison Committee, said the “immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace”, and suggested that Baroness Harding “could be given a well-earned break”.
The intervention, in an article for the Telegraph, comes after the Prime Minister said he shared “people’s frustrations” with the beleaguered system, which posted another round of poor results on Thursday.
Elsewhere, the Sunday Times reports that the Government is planning to cut self-isolation and quarantine requirements from 14 days to as little as seven, after the majority of people refused to comply.
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Scottish bishop calls for Xmas day truce with Covid
The Bishop of Paisley has called for an easing of restrictions on Christmas Day amid warnings of a “digital Christmas”.
Earlier this week, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said large family gatherings were unlikely to be held on the holiday due to the prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland.
John Keenan, who also serves as the vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said strict restrictions on Christmas gatherings run “the risk of destroying all hope”.
While he conceded that Prof Leitch was trying to manage expectations, Mr Keenan wrote in the Sunday Times: “No one wants a digital Christmas.
“Squashing false expectations is one thing, but no one wants to dampen people’s hopes.”
The bishop asked if there could be a 24-hour “circuit-breaker” put in place on December 25, comparing it with the ceasefire on the Western Front during the First World War.
He said: “Perhaps we should consider a Christmas ‘circuit-breaker’. A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on Covid, just like the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man’s land to celebrate Christmas.”
He added: “Couldn’t we allow for one day of normality in the midst of our relentless war against the virus?
“Think of the hope and happiness that would give. A moment of joy in the midst of so much despair.
Slovakia sees record infections
Slovakia reported 3,042 new coronavirus cases in past 24 hours, the third record daily tally in a row, Health Ministry data showed on Sunday.
The total number of cases grew to 43,843 in the country of 5.5 million.
Return of students could be staggered in Scotland
The return of students to university after spending Christmas at home could be staggered, according to the Education Secretary.
The beginning of the academic year saw thousands of students enter halls of residence before hundreds of them were forced to isolate due to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
John Swinney said that the Scottish Government is “learning lessons” from the return of students which will impact measures in place after the Christmas break.
The Education Secretary also said it was a “priority” that students are able to go home for Christmas and he was working with other UK nations to ensure that does not result in a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Lack of uniformity led to coronavirus spiral in US, Dr Fauci claims
A lack of “uniform adherence” to public health measures lead to the “precarious” coronavirus position in the US, the country’s top infectious disease specialist said.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dr Anthony Fauci said the US had “inconsistency” in its response to the Covid-19 outbreak among individual states.
He said: “One of the situations that we’ve had in the United States was a bit of an inconsistency in the response to the outbreak in the sense of getting all 50 of our states of our very large country to actually abide by the guidelines that we set forth.
“Then, when we try to reopen our country, as it were, in the sense of economically, there was an inconsistency in different states of what they did and adhering to the guidelines.
“It’s a question of a uniform adherence to the public health measures, which we did not do that well here in the United States.
“We’re in a very precarious position, as we’re entering into a time when climate will dictate that we’ll have to do things more indoor versus outdoor.”
Dr Fauci added he was “sorry to see” that in the UK “after getting hit pretty badly the way we did, you went down to a pretty low level, but now you’re starting to escalate in the same manner that we are here”.
UK ‘four weeks behind France’
If the UK can contain the Covid-19 epidemic in a “localised” way, it would compare better to other countries, the UK’s national statistician has said.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that it was “incredibly difficult” to make international comparisons but his officials had looked at small European regions and examined excess mortality – “the deaths over and above the last five-year average”.
“What we showed there is that the highest peaks … were in the first wave in Italy and Spain, in regions in Italy and Spain,” he said.
“If I look now at what is happening across Europe, if I compare us with France and with Spain, it is remarkable how close our second wave is to the curves we are seeing in France and in Spain.
“We are just four weeks behind France and seven weeks behind Spain.
“Having said that, Spain, which went up very, very quickly, has seen a little flattening of late.”
North-south divide in focus during pandemic, says former powerhouse minister
Former northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry MP said the coronavirus crisis had brought the north-south divide in “real focus”.
Mr Berry told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that he wanted to see a “clear route out of Tier 3” for the north of England as well as a “northern Covid recovery plan” and a reprofiling of northern infrastructure projects that were previously committed to by the Conservatives.
“I don’t think the Government has anyone with a strong relationship with the northern mayors … I think they started at a disadvantage,” he said
Mr Berry added that, going forward, the Government needed to treat the relationship with northern leaders as a “partnership of equals”.
Work being done on cutting isolation period, national statistician confirms
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK’s national statistician, was questioned about reports that officials are examining whether to cut the required length of coronavirus self-isolation.
Appearing on the BBC Andrew Marr Show, he said: “I know that there is work going on to look at the length of isolation and certainly it has been discussed at various times, and I know that in the four nations there is work.”
He said survey work from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) would inform such discussions.
Sir Ian highlighted a King’s College study that found about 70% of people said they would self-isolate if they had symptoms, but a “very much lower proportion” who had had symptoms isolated for the full period.
He added: “I do think really continuing to learn about the virus, continuing to learn about infectivity and continuing to identify the optimal times for self-isolation is important … it’s critical, because self-isolation is an incredibly important part of the way in which we will control this virus.”
University students returning home at Christmas could be ‘moment of danger’
If nothing was done to prepare for university students returning home at Christmas it would be “a moment of danger”, the UK’s national statistician has said.
Asked about the issue on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Professor Sir Ian Diamond said: “If we did nothing … it would be a moment of danger.
“That’s why I know all universities and the Department for Education, working closely with them, are putting in plans to minimise that danger and to mitigate against it.”
No question UK is in second wave, top statistician says
There is “no question” that the UK is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases, the UK’s national statistician has said.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I think there is no question we are in a second wave. We are seeing infections rise very quickly.”
He said that in England about one in 130 people have the virus, with estimates for Scotland and Wales being “a little lower” and in Northern Ireland “a little higher”.
Asked if recent data suggesting a slowing growth in cases meant the country would leave a second wave earlier than previously expected, he said: “I’d very much like to hope so. However, I am extremely nervous about taking just initial data and pushing things forward, and say ‘it’s fine’.
“Because, let’s be clear, we might see the rate of increase slow a little as we get further data over the next few weeks, but we’re still at a relatively high level. What we really need to do is to bring that level down.
“Even if we were to get R in the north to around about one, it would continue to have infections at a high rate.
“I really do think it’s too early to say on slowing down.”
What happens at Christmas will be decided by what happens now, expert says
British Medical Association (BMA) council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said what the Government does now in terms of infection control will determine what happens at Christmas.
Asked if the Government should temporarily relax restrictions at Christmas or if that would risk a rise in infections, he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I think the most important thing is what the Government does today, now.
“If the Government can have a coherent approach to ensure that there is proper infection control measures in society when people go out to work, when people go outside.
“At the end of the day there is actually a very simple message here – this virus cannot spread if people don’t mix and it is possible – we’ve shown during the first peak – that it is possible to bring the infection down.”
He said a return to normality around that time “won’t be normal as usual, it will be a new norm where we have to work and mix within infection control parameters”.
He added: “What the Government does today will determine what happens at Christmas and what the public behaviour is today will determine the infection in the weeks and months to come.”
Lithuania goes to the polls amid growing winter health crisis
Polling stations opened Sunday across Lithuania for a parliamentary runoff election in which the winner will have to tackle a growing health crisis and high unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The election is widely expected to bring about a change of leadership in the southernmost Baltic nation, which has been governed by a centre-left coalition for four years. In the first round of voting on Oct. 11, three centre-right opposition parties finished with a combined lead.
In the second round, 68 of the 141 seats in Lithuania’s legislative assembly, the Seimas, are up for grabs. The other seats were allotted after the Oct. 11 first round of voting.
The first round resulted in the conservative Homeland Union party winning 23 seats, or 24.8% of the vote, while the ruling Farmers and Greens party only grabbed 16 seats, or 17.5%.
“If the conservatives are successful on Sunday, they would very likely try to form a new ruling coalition with other two center-right partners — the Freedom Party and the Liberal movement,” Vilnius University political scientist Tomas Janeliunas told The Associated Press. “Yet this would be a rather fragile majority.”
Schools closed in northwestern China after one case found
Kashgar in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region are closing schools for a week and carrying out a city-wide coronavirus test, officials said on Sunday after one person was found to have the virus that causes COVID-19.
A 17-year-old girl was found on Saturday to have the virus but no symptoms of the pandemic disease in a village in Kashgar after being tested during a regular inspection, the Xinjiang health commission said.
The discovery marks mainland China’s first local infection since Oct. 14, when one was detected in Qingdao. Xinjiang was the site of a local cluster in August, but no new cases had been found in the region since Aug. 15.
All close contacts of the infected person have been isolated for medical observation and local authorities are carrying out epidemiological investigations, Xinjiang officials said.
Kashgar has launched a nucleic acid test covering the city’s 700,000 people. As of Sunday morning, more than 300,000 people had been tested and the rest would be covered within two days, the city government said in a statement.
Just 59.6% of close contacts traced last week
It comes after Test and Trace – headed by the Conservative peer Baroness Harding – last week hit a record low with just 59.6% of the contacts of people who tested positive for the disease being successfully contacted and told to self-isolate.
In a further sign of the unrest at Westminster, senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin launched a scathing attack on the performance of the system, saying public consent and co-operation was “breaking down”.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said there was a “vacuum of leadership” at the top of the organisation and called for a change that was “visible and decisive” with a senior military figure being put in charge.
“There is a spaghetti of command and control at the top, which is incapable of coherent analysis, assessment, planning and delivery,” he wrote.
“The immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace, which is destroying cooperation and compliance.
“Government harnessed the military to regain control in the foot and mouth crisis; the Prime Minister should follow that example today, by installing a single leader, a three or four star military commander with a reputation for handling complexity under stress.
“Test and trace should then be tasked with generating and sustaining a campaign targeted at achieving behaviour change by consent.”
Self-isolation may be reduced to seven days
Contacts of people infected with coronavirus may have to self-isolate for as little as seven days amid concerns in Whitehall about the levels of public compliance with the Test and Trace system.
Officials on the Government’s Covid-19 taskforce are understood to be examining the case for reducing the current fortnight period of isolation to between 10 days and a week.
The move – which would not apply to those who test positive for the disease – comes amid growing dissatisfaction with the performance of the system from ministers and MPs.
Boris Johnson was said to have become “disillusioned” with statistics provided by the service after they proved to be wrong, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
At the same time, there were said to be concerns that the prospect of a lengthy period indoors if they are contacted by Test and Trace is deterring people from co-operating.
The Telegraph quoted a No 10 source as saying: “Compliance is not as high as we would like and self-isolation is key if we are going to beat the virus.”
Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s UK coronavirus blog for Sunday, October 25.
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