he government has appointed a Christmas travel tsar in a bid to avert transport chaos during the festive period.
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy has been tasked to scrutinise whether train, air and road networks are ready for millions of people making trips over the five-day window when coronavirus restrictions are eased.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove has warned every hospital in England could be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases if the new tier restrictions are not introduced.
The Cabinet Office Minister delivered the stark message as the government faces a Tory backbench rebellion over the measures.
He urged MPs to “rake responsibility for difficult decisions” to curb the spread of Covid-19 amid reports that up to 70 could rebel and vote against the plans in the Commons on Tuesday.
Writing in the Times on Saturday, he said it was necessary to “pull the handbrake” and avoid the “disaster” of NHS hospitals – and private sector and newly-built Nightingale hospitals – becoming filled to capacity with only Covid patients and emergency cases.
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1606567966Police make arrests at anti-lockdown protest in London
Police have led people away in handcuffs from an anti-lockdown protest in London’s Hyde Park.
A large crowd of demonstrators chanting “freedom” left the park near Marble Arch and marched along a road parallel to Oxford Street.
Police officers walked alongside the protesters who carried placards reading “stop controlling us” and “no more lockdowns”.
1606567153 Nadhim Zahawi appointed as vaccine deployment minister
Boris Johnson has appointed Nadhim Zahawi as a health minister responsible for the deployment of coronavirus vaccines.
Downing Street announced on Saturday that the Stratford-on-Avon MP, who already serves as a business minister, would take on the role until at least next summer.
He will temporarily relinquish responsibility for most areas of his brief at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis).
But, under the interim arrangement, he will serve as a joint minister between Beis and the Department for Health and Social Care.
His appointment follows calls from Labour for the Government to appoint a minister to oversee the vaccine rollout, who would provide accountability and avoid repeating mistakes made over PPE procurement and Test and Trace.
The UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It also has orders for 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, and five million doses from US firm Moderna.
1606559885Michael Gove warns all hospitals could be ‘overwhelmed’ unless Tory MPs back new tier system
Hospitals in England could be overwhelmed with Covid cases if MPs do not support the new tier system, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove warned today.
( Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove / REUTERS )
The government faces a potential rebellion from some of its own MPs opposed to the system which starts on December 2, but Mr Gove said MPs need to “take responsibility” for tough decisions.
Some MPs argue the tiers are too broad and have demanded a more localised system. The chairman of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, is among critics of the restrictions, accusing the Government of infringing people’s “fundamental human rights”
But writing in The Times, Mr Gove said the new system was needed to slow the spread of the virus which otherwise could leave hospitals “physically overwhelmed”.
1606554782Network Rail chief Sir Peter Hendy appointed as Christmas travel tsar to avoid transport chaos
A Christmas travel tsar has been appointed in a bid to avoid transport chaos during the festive period.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy will scrutinise whether train, air and road networks are ready for millions of people making trips over the five-day window when coronavirus restrictions are eased.
( Sir Peter Hendy has been tasked with averting travel chaos over the festive period / Nigel Howard )
Cheaper advance train tickets for Christmas travel only went on sale on Friday, about eight weeks later than usual, due to delays in finalising timetables during the pandemic.
Capacity on board trains is restricted to allow social distancing, with some operators preventing passengers from boarding without a pre-booked ticket.
Strain on the network will also be increased by engineering work taking place over the Christmas period.
One of the most disruptive projects will be at London King’s Cross, which will be closed for six days from Christmas Day.
London North Eastern Railway, which normally uses the station for its Anglo-Scottish trains on the East Coast Main Line, is warning that alternative routes will be “very busy and should also be avoided”.
The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a temporary easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, allowing three households to mix in a bubble from December 23 to 27.
The DfT will publish measures aimed at easing travel disruption next week, taking into account analysis of demand for advance train tickets and public surveys.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We recognise that people will want to be with their friends and family over Christmas.
“And for those that choose to form a Christmas bubble, we’re lifting travel restrictions across the UK for five days for the purposes of seeing that bubble.
“Before you travel, plan your journey very carefully, and where possible book well in advance.
“Everyone must also follow the clear guidance to keep you, fellow passengers and staff safe.