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Lockdown easing could see shops open ‘in weeks’ and self-catered holidays at Easter

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to lay out dates for lockdown easing on February 22nd. 

Mr Johnson is set to lay out the ‘roadmap’ to leave lockdown a week from now, giving a light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking to broadcasters in Orpington, he said: “If we possibly can, we will be setting out dates.

“And just to help people think about what we’re trying to do on February 22nd, remember what we did around about this time last year, or a little bit later – we set out a road map going forward into the summer looking a little bit beyond, that’s what we’re going to be trying to do.”

The Daily Mirror reports that the reopening of non-essential shops could happen in a few weeks time and households could be allowed to take self-catered holidays by Easter.

The government is set to priorities the reopening of schools which looks to be on March 8th. 

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Mr Johnson added: “The dates that we will be setting out will be the dates by which we hope we can do something at the earliest, if you see what I mean – so it’s the target date by which we hope to do something at the earliest.

“If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, to lay it for a little bit, we won’t hesitate to do that.

“I think people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease.”

The Daily Mirror added that reports show that some socialising with other households and the reopening of pubs could be unveiled on February 22nd.

It is also reported that grandparents could be given the green light to socialise with grandchildren once again when provisions allow limited socialising between households.

The Times reports that ministers are examining plans that could allow people to take breaks as early as the Easter holidays. A government source told the paper: “There’s an active discussion about how soon we can do it and we’ll be guided by the data.

“There’s talk of April at the earliest, but a lot of things have to go right. It’s unlikely but it is being talked about as a possibility.”

Number 10/Flickr

According to the Daily Mail, high street shops could be ‘about to reopen’ if the rate of infection continues to fall. The paper said a source expected it to happen ‘towards the end of March, or the beginning of April at the latest’.

However, Boris Johnson said no decision had been made on whether year groups will return to schools in England together or staggered.

He said: “No decisions have been taken on that sort of detail yet, though clearly schools on March 8th has for a long time been a priority of the Government and of families up and down the country.

“We will do everything we can to make that happen but we’ve got to keep looking at the data, we’ve got to keep looking at the rates of infections, don’t forget they’re still very high, still 23,000 or so Covid patients in the NHS, more than in the April peak last year, still sadly too many people dying of this disease, rates of infections, although they’re coming down, are still comparatively high.

“So we’ve got to be very prudent and what we wanted to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible and I think that’s what the public and people up and down the country will want to see.”

The latest coronavirus figures show that the number of cases in the UK has risen by 10,972 and the number of deaths has increased by 258, a decrease from the week before.

NHS England has also announced that those aged between 65 and 69 are set to be invited to have their first dose of the vaccine. 15 million people have now been vaccinated. 

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Paralysed Manchester Arena survivor ‘walks’ for the first time since attack

Martin is also aiming to climb Mt Kilimanjaro next year to raise money for the Spinal Injuries Association

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@MartinHibbert / Twitter

A man left paralysed by the Manchester Arena bombing has taken his first steps four years on from the attack.

Martin Hibbert, from Chorley, was at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22nd 2017 with his daughter Eve, then fourteen, when a terrorist detonated a bomb, claiming the lives of twenty-two people and injuring hundreds more. 

Martin and Eve were stood just five metres away from the attacker when he detonated his device, with Martin being hit by twenty-two pieces of shrapnel, some of which severed his spinal cord. 

As a result of this, Martin was left paralysed from the waist down and was told by doctors that he would never walk again.

Martin Hibbert / Facebook

But now, thanks to revolutionary technology, Martin has been able to take his first steps since the devastating attack; using an Exoskeleton, a wearable machine that helps people with spinal cord injuries to move, Martin was able to stand up straight and walk for the first time in four years.

He shared the incredible footage of his first steps on Twitter, writing: “Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won and all the fears you have overcome.”

He later spoke to ITV Granada about his achievement, saying: “To be stood up straight was mentally amazing. I wanted that video to inspire people.

“That, actually, technology is changing on a daily basis and there are hopefully big changes coming in research for spinal cord injuries.”

But this isn’t the end of Martin’s journey; next year, he will be climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa, to raise £1M for Spinal Injuries Association, whom he is an ambassador for. 

He said on his mission: “They’ve helped me live a fulfilled life over the last four years so I wanted to give something back – and there’s nothing crazier than doing Mt Kilimanjaro!

“Hopefully, all the viewers in the North West, I want them to be behind me. I’m not going to be able to do it without their generous support.”

Martin is scheduled to set off for Tanzania next year on June 2nd, 2022. You can follow his journey and donate here.

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Work to transform Albert Square into ‘world class public space’ begins today

The council aims for the area to be ‘one of the finest civic spaces in Europe’

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Manchester City Council

Work to transform Manchester’s Albert Square area into a ‘world class public space’ and increase its size by around 20% has officially begun today.

The improvements are coming as part of the ongoing Our Town Hall project, which began in 2018 with the primary aim to fully restore the Grade 1 listed Town Hall in the largest heritage project in the whole of the UK.

The latest works to begin, however, are focusing on the area surrounding the Town Hall and have today closed the roads on two sides of the square to traffic by incorporating them as part of the pedestrianised public space.

Only the Princess Street side will remain open to traffic, considering that the fourth side of the square consists of the Town Hall itself.

Manchester City Council

The first phase of the development has been brought forward in efforts to reduce the impact of construction on local businesses following the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning it will be completed as early as next year, two years ahead of schedule.

The council has set out a number of objectives for the area’s transformation, one of the primary aims being to create an ‘enhanced destination and setting for the Town Hall that connects Albert Square with St Peter’s Square and Lincoln Square.’  

The council also aims to enhance the civic and heritage qualities of the square, provide a high quality safe space with appropriate security measures, improve the inclusiveness and accessibility of the public spaces and building entrances, provide green spaces to enhance quality of life and achieve carbon reduction objectives, and to improve the overall function and flexibility of the square. 

Councillor Bev Craig, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said on the transformation: “Albert Square is the civic heart of Manchester – a place where people come together to celebrate, socialise and commemorate. 

Manchester City Council

“These works will create a bigger and more flexible events space but also a more pleasant environment and cleaner air all year round. We believe that when it’s finished the transformed Albert Square will be one of the finest civic spaces in Europe, helping to create and support good jobs for Manchester people. 

“We’re already seeing the first of these benefits, with apprenticeships being created for local people during the construction phase.”  

Works on both the Town Hall and Albert Square are expected to be completed by 2024. For more information, visit the Manchester City Council website. 

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Marcus Rashford’s appeal to extend free school meals over Christmas rejected by Rishi Sunak

The Chancellor said the government has ‘transitioned to a more normal way of doing things’

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has rejected Marcus Rashford’s calls for free school meals to be extended over the Christmas period, recent comments on the matter have suggested.

Rashford, who famously forced the government into a U-turn after his historic campaign for free school meals throughout the holidays last year, recently joined forces with supermarket bosses and food industry giants to potentially prolong the scheme. 

However, while appearing on The Andrew Marr Show over the weekend, Rishi Sunak suggested that the scheme was not going to be extended over the winter, noting that if the furlough scheme was coming to an end, free school meals during holidays would be too. 

BBC

Sunak said: “So we put in place some measures to help families during coronavirus, that was the right thing to do, and in common with the other things that have now come to an end, whether it was furlough or other things, that’s right that we’ve transitioned to a more normal way of doing things.

“But we have replaced… But we have actually already acted, is what I’d say to Marcus and everyone else.”

He also detailed the new holiday activities program, which provides both meals and activities for children during holiday periods for those families that need extra help.

He explained: “That is a new programme, it was announced earlier this year, it’s being rolled out across the country, and I think that can make an enormous difference to people.”

This comes just weeks after the Man United star unsuccessfully called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to abandon its plan to cut the £20 universal credit uplift and instead tackle the ongoing ‘child hunger pandemic’.

He said, as per The Guardian: “Instead of removing vital support, we should be focusing on developing a long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic… Millions will lose a lifeline. It’s a move that Child Poverty Action Group says will raise child poverty to one in three.”

The £20 universal credit rise, which was introduced during the pandemic last year and impacted over 5.8 million universal credit claimers, was axed earlier this month on October 6th. The government’s argument is that as the economy opens back up, the focus needs to shift to getting people back to work.

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