The prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the tier system is ‘probably about to get tougher’.
Rumours have circulated in the past week that the government is looking at a new, stricter ‘Tier 5’ to help stop the spread of Covid-19.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has today told Sky News that the government does not ‘rule anything out’ when asked if another national lockdown is being considered.
Over the weekend Mr Johnson spoke to the Andrew Marr Show, describing the current tier system as ‘very tough’ before warned it is ‘probably about to get tougher’ in order to ‘keep things under control’.
Mr Johnson added that the current situation is ‘very difficult’ and claimed that the government ‘could not have reasonably foreseen’ the arrival of a new variant in winter.
The BBC’s Andrew Marr told the prime minister ‘you were warned in advance’, referencing a report published in summer that outlined the potential dangers of Covid-19 mutations.
He said: “This report says the way to deal with this is to stop community transmission, to hold it back, which frankly this government has failed to do.”
Mr Johnson said the government has done ‘everything we can to urge people not to allow community transmission’.
Speaking on the matter of schools reopening, Mr Johnson told the BBC that while they were safe he would not rule out school closures.
He said: “In principle its a good thing to keep schools open if we can. We’ve got to be realistic about the pace at which this new variant has spread and is spreading.”
Speaking on Sky News this morning, Matt Hancock said: “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.”
When questioned on how well Tier 4 restrictions reduce spread, Mr Hancock said: “It is down to people’s behaviour, frankly.
“What matters is, yes of course, the rules that we put in place, but it is also about how people act.
“And frankly what I would say is this: it is critical that everybody in the country does all that they can to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Tier 4 is above the ‘very high alert’ level of Tier 3 and the guidance states ‘stay at home’. In Tier 4 areas, you cannot leave or be outside of the place you are living unless for a reasonable excuse. You can only meet one person from another household outside.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the government to impose a national lockdown immediately as the virus is ‘getting out of control’.
In the UK, the number of new cases passed 50,000 for the fifth day in a row yesterday. A further 445 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were confirmed on January 2nd.
Mr Starmer said: “The virus is clearly out of control. 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. That’s the necessary first step to get the virus back under control.”
Teacher dies on her 25th birthday after contracting coronavirus
‘Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher’
Recently-qualified teacher Claudia Marsh died with coronavirus on her 25th birthday.
Claudia’s death has been described as ‘sudden and unexpected’ by the charity that helped her recover from an eating disorder a few years ago.
She had gone on to volunteer at the organisation, becoming a ‘beacon of hope’ for others.
Her mother, Tina Marsh, said she was ‘very proud’ and ‘blown away’ by the number of tributes after Claudia died at Liverpool’s Royal University Hospital on Wednesday.
Posting on Facebook, Ms Marsh said Claudia was a ‘beautiful daughter and incredible sister’ who was selfless with her work at the Merseyside-based charities, Talking Eating Disorders (TEDS) and The Whitechapel Centre.
Her mother said: “She loved giving back to people less fortunate than herself.”
Founder of TEDS and family friend Leigh Best described the death as ‘heartbreaking’, adding: “Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher.
“She supported countless families across the UK. Claudia made her own little packs to give out to others with eating disorders with positive affirmations.
“She was full of positivity, kindness and hope, and had a smile that would brighten up the whole room.”
The Whitechapel Centre also released a statement where they said staff were ‘devastated’, adding she would leave behind a ‘legacy of care, dedication and enthusiasm’.
Throughout the pandemic Claudia spent her time providing food and clothing to those who need it, the centre said, adding: “Claudia always put others before herself and her memory will live on through the impact and contribution she made to our organisation.
“She was instrumental in bringing together our volunteer community.”
Opening schools is a national priority, government says
Schools Minister, Nick Gibb told the commons that schools in England will be reopen ‘as soon as possible’.
Responding to an urgent question brought by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, Mr Gibb said the government would ‘prioritise the reopening of schools as we begin the process of lifting lockdown restrictions’.
Ms Green went onto say that the government had ‘failed to give parents, children and staff the credible plan they deserve’.
Adding: “We simply don’t know what the government’s plan is for school reopening – other than what we read in the newspapers,”
“In recent days, we’ve had reports that the prime minister wants pupils back before Easter, the health secretary saying he wants pupils back after Easter, Public Health England saying overnight the primary schools are already safe to reopen – so which is it?
“What is the plan for full reopening? The schools minister mentioned some metrics but was vague about the required performance against them – can he give us some more clarity?”
Mr Gibb said it was the government’s ‘strong desire to reopen all schools, colleges and universities as soon as possible’.
“We are acutely aware of the damage to children’s education and development – particularly to the most disadvantaged pupils by being away from school and of the increased burdens placed on parents.
He added that the ‘government has been clear that education is a national priority’ throughout the pandemic.
“We had worked hard to keep all schools, colleges and universities fully open but scientific advice we received in January meant we had no choice but to close schools and colleges to all but vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.
“And to restrict in-person teaching in university to those studying to be future critical workers.” He said.
He added that there will be an announcement in the next few days as remote learning is no substitute for face-to-face learning.
“We want to give two weeks’ notice so parents can make arrangement for the care of their children and we will be making announcements in the next few days.” He said.
Chairman of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, told Mr Gibb that parents and children were suffering.
“We need to get our schools open again sooner rather than later,” he said.
All of Manchester’s care home residents have now received first vaccine dose
All residents of Manchester’s care homes have received at least one dose of their Covid-19 vaccination.
Among the first people to be prioritised for the vaccine rollout, the residents of the city’s 56 care homes for older people have now all received at least their first dose of the vaccine.
Carolyn Ball, general manager of Belong Morris Feinmann Care Village in Didsbury, said: “We are absolutely delighted that our residents have had this opportunity to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. This is the additional protection we have long been waiting for and it’s great to be starting the new year knowing that our residents are at reduced risk.
“The commitment of the NHS in Manchester to rolling the programme out promptly, and the team from gtd healthcare delivering it in our care setting in spite of the complex logistics, is really impressive. We’re so grateful as their well-organised approach meant our residents and colleagues were amongst the first in the UK to receive the vaccine.”
Manchester City Council’s executive member for adult health and wellbeing, Councillor Bev Craig said she was ‘so proud’ of the work gone into protection the most vulnerable people in the region.
She added: “We are already also seeing a really encouraging take up of the vaccine amongst care home staff, we cannot stress how important this is and we’d urge any staff member who is still unsure to talk to their colleagues who have already had it so they can see how easy and safe the process has been.
“They can book an appointment through their home managers and we really want to encourage them to take this opportunity as soon as possible.”
Across the country, 6.5 million people have been vaccinated so far with around 80% over over 80s in England.
Manchester’s care home residents can expect their second jab (if they haven’t already received it) no later than 12 weeks after their initial dose under the current scheduling.
This comes after the government changed the course of the rollout from two weeks after the first dose to six weeks to vaccinate more vulnerable people.
Chief medical officer, Chris Whitty described the change as ‘simple maths’ adding: “…if a vaccine is more than 50% effective, if you double the number of people who are vaccinated over this very risky period when there is a lot of virus circulating, you are overall going to get some substantial benefit.”
He said: “I think most people would agree that the risk that was identified was a relatively much smaller risk than the risk of not having people vaccinated, which essentially was the alternative.”