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Marcus Rashford’s petition for school meals nears 300,000 signatures, piling pressure on government

Well done Marcus!

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Pressure is mounting on government to provide free school meals throughout school holidays in England due to Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford’s campaign.

Campaigning for the government to tackle food poverty among children by extended the free school meals through the half-term and Christmas holidays, Marcus Rashford’s petition has now been signed by 296,000 people. 

Labour is now writing to every backbench conservative MP to press home the issue. Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee and conservative MP plus some others, have also called for vouchers to be provided at half term. 

Rashford successfully campaigned for the ‘Covid food fund’ causing the government to U-turn their decision during the spring lockdown. He is now campaigning for food stability for all children, including the 1.5 million children who are receiving no support.

The shadow children and early years minister, Tulip Siddiq, has sent a letter to each Tory MP to set out the number of children on free school meals in their consistency.

She wrote: Families across the country are worried about how to make ends meet but the prime minister is ruling out giving over a million children food support over the holidays.

“Every Conservative MP now has an opportunity to make it clear that they will support the families in their constituency who are worrying about how they will put food on the table in the weeks ahead.”

Labour has promised to use an opposition day debate in Commons on Wednesday to vote on the issue if ministers have not changed their minds.

The vote would force MPs to make a choice on extending the scheme or not. 

Halfon said he does not support every aspect of Rashford’s current campaign but he wants to see ministers come up with a plan to eliminate child hunger.

He said: “What the government should have done is say: ‘We’ll sit down with you and we’ll set up a long-term plan to deal with child food poverty,’”

He added that part of the plan could be an expansion of breakfast clubs and holiday camps which provide meals alongside other activities. He also said that food vouchers for the poorest households should continue temporarily ‘while we’re in the middle of a pandemic and 32% of families have seen a drop in their income’.

Since the pandemic hit, a further 900,000 children have registered for free school meals, according to a survey carried out by Food Foundation thinktank. 

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said on Monday that the Prime Minister’s view remains the same, that extra help for poorer pupils is not needed anymore.

They added: “We are making sure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected, and we have put in place a strong package of support to ensure children and their families don’t go hungry during this pandemic,”

“We are in a different position now, with schools back open to all, and the vast majority of pupils back in school. Free school meals have only ever been intended to support eligible pupils attending school during term-time. We think that it’s important these arrangements return.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools are working incredibly hard to help children catch up with lost learning amid the ongoing disruption caused by rising Covid infection rates, and the pupils who need the greatest degree of support are often those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“To then have a situation where they are potentially going hungry through holiday periods is very obviously detrimental to both their welfare and educational progress.”

Sign the petition.

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New Covid-19 Rules: Everything you need to know as masks become compulsory in shops and on transport

The new rules will come into place tomorrow at 4

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Mika Baumeister / Unsplash & Nickolay Romensky / Flickr

From tomorrow, November 30th, the use of face masks and coverings will once again be compulsory in shops and on public transport.

The government made the decision as part of its response to the new Omicron variant, which is said to be ‘more transmissible and have more mutations which could weaken the effect of vaccines and natural immunity.’ 

The change in rules was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after cases of the new variant were detected at several locations across the UK. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave more detail yesterday, November 28th, saying the masks rule would apply from 4am on Tuesday

Here’s everything you need to know:

Where will face masks be compulsory after November 30th? 

Face masks and coverings will be mandatory in all shops and on all forms of public transport.

A statement from the Government says: “From 4am Tuesday November 30th, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport unless individuals are exempt from doing so.”

However, all hospitality will be exempt from the rule change, with the Prime Minister saying further details would be outlined by the Health Secretary ‘in the course of the next day or so’. 

Will face masks be compulsory in schools?

While staff and secondary school students are being ‘strongly advised’ to wear face masks in communal areas from Monday, the rule won’t be mandatory in schools

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi recommends that staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above should wear masks in communal areas in schools, colleges and universities such as corridors, canteens and halls.

@arturorey / Unsplash

What other measures are being brought in?

Passengers arriving into the UK from Tuesday will have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. PCR tests must be purchased from private providers as free NHS tests are not valid for this purpose.

All close contacts of anyone who has tested positive for the Omicron variant must also self-isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also said during Saturday’s press conference that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will consider extending boosters from the over-40s to the over-18s.

Will more restrictions be brought in?

The Health Secretary said during Saturday’s press conference that it was ‘nowhere near’ the time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance, and was hopeful the mask mandate would be removed ‘within weeks’.

Also speaking on Saturday, Boris Johnson added that the measures are simply a ‘precaution’ and are in place to ‘buy time for scientists’ while more is learned about the Omicron variant.

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Iceland boss says shoppers won’t be forced to wear face masks

‘We need to continue to encourage people to shop in stores if they feel comfortable’

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Iceland supermarkets across the country won’t be forcing shoppers to wear face masks, despite new Covid rules being introduced this week.

The supermarket chain’s managing director Richard Walker has announced that he won’t be asking staff to enforce the new restrictions as they focus on the ‘long-term recovery of the high street.’

Walker told The Daily Mail: “We fully support the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in shops, however, we won’t be asking our store colleagues to police it.

Adcro / Wikimedia Commons

“Our store teams, alongside all retail workers, have shown heroic efforts in terms of ensuring safety for customers and building back consumer confidence and it’s crucial that we stay focused on the long-term recovery of the high street.

“We need to continue to encourage people to shop in stores if they feel comfortable, and I’m hopeful that the latest guidelines won’t discourage customers from doing so.”

Supermarket giant Co-op has also said that they would not be enforcing face coverings in their stores – nor would they refuse to serve a customer without one.

The British Retail Consortium has said it’s down to the police to enforce the measure, saying, as per The Sun: “Customers are asked to respect the rules and be considerate to their fellow shoppers and to hard-working shop staff.”

@arturorey / Unsplash

This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the return of face masks and self-isolation in a bid to tackle the new Omicron variant. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed yesterday that face masks will be once again made compulsory in shops and on public transport from tomorrow, Tuesday November 30th

While appearing on The Andrew Marr Show, Javid confirmed that people who refuse to wear masks will be hit with new sanctions, saying: “Yes, it will be a legal requirement by government regulations to wear masks in shops and public transport.”

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The key symptoms of the new Omicron Covid variant have been revealed

Here’s what we know so far…

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Annie Spratt / Unsplash & Nickolay Romensky / Flickr

As new measures are put in place to combat the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, speculation surrounding its symptoms are rife.

While little is still known about the latest variant of Covid-19, it is said to be ‘more transmissible and have more mutations which could weaken the effect of vaccines and natural immunity,’ and has already been detected in a handful of locations across the UK. 

Measures have been introduced to combat the new strain, which is believed to have originated in South Africa, such as making face masks compulsory once again in shops and on public transport. 

But what exactly are the Omicron symptoms, and how do they differ from regular Coronavirus?

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who spotted the variant when patients arrived at her practice in Pretoria, South Africa, says the new variant has presented some young people with intense fatigue and a six-year-old child with a high pulse rate.

Dr. Coetzee said symptoms didn’t include a sore throat, but more of a ‘scratchy’ throat, and a mild headache. She added there was also no cough.

The thirty-three-year-old GP also pointed out that none of the patients had the loss of sense of taste or smell which has become a common indicator of Covid-19.

Nickolay Romensky / Flickr

Dr Coetzee, who also chairs South Africa’s Medical Association, said: “Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before.”

She added that most of the patients she has seen so far are healthy men who are ‘feeling so tired’. 

As of 4am tomorrow, November 30th, face masks will be compulsory in all shops and on public transport. A statement from the Government says: “From 4am Tuesday November 30th, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport unless individuals are exempt from doing so.”

Find out more here.

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