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Matt Hancock blames argument with Greater Manchester leaders for how new tier system will be decided

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Matt Hancock has explained the row between local leaders and government members in Greater Manchester influenced minister’s decision to take away the possibility negotiations in the new tier system.

The revised tier system will come into force on December 2nd when the national lockdown ends, with ministers imposing Tier 3 restrictions in the highest risk areas.

In the previous tier system, ministers entered discussions with local leaders over the appropriate measures in the area as well as having conversations on how they will be funded. 

Mayor Andy Burnham led several days worth of intense talks over the measures as he attempted to negotiate a financial package to help those most affected in our region.

Speaking yesterday at the Health and Social Care Committee in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said those talk with Mr Burnham were part of the reason the government had scrapped the negotiations this time around.

He told MPs: “The reason we are doing it differently is whilst in most cases when we negotiated with most areas in the previous tiered arrangement, we had a high quality discussion which led to better outcomes – a case in point is Liverpool, where the case rate has fallen by over two-thirds in the last three weeks.

“Unfortunately that wasn’t the case in all local areas.”

When asked if he was talking about Greater Manchester by MP Graham Stringer, Hancock replied: “That would be one example but not the only one.

“Sadly, in the case of Greater Manchester, cases carried on going up whilst we were trying to put in place the measures that were necessary, so instead we’ve proposed a set of measures within the tiers which are fixed, also financial support which is agreed by formula rather than negotiation.

“We will have engagement but what we won’t have is a two-week long negotiation while the cases still go up, that is bad for public health.”

In the new system, it is understood that more areas will be placed under tighter restrictions to keep the virus under control.

The decision of what tier is placed on a region will be made by the government based on cases numbers in all age groups, case numbers specifically in the over 60s, rates by which cases are falling or rising, infection rates per 100,000 people and the projected pressures on the NHS.

Mr Burnham accused the government yesterday of wanting to ‘punish and blame’ him. It comes following transport secretary Grant Shapps comments on the negotiations in mid October that led to rates not being ‘gotten on top of as quickly as possible’ in Greater Manchester.

Speaking to Kay Burly on Sky News, Burnham said: “It just seems to me that they can’t leave it alone now and they want to come back and they want to punish me and blame me for everything.

“Can’t we just agree there was a difference of opinion, it was resolved and now we all must look forward to getting things right going forward.”

The decision on which tier each region in England will be place in is set to be announced on Thursday.

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Schools will not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson confirms

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Schools will not open after February half-term, the prime minister has confirmed.

Boris Johnson has announced that schools will not reopen after February half-term, but has promised a route out of lockdown.

The prime minister says ‘we don’t have enough data to judge the full effect of vaccines in blocking transmission’.

Adding: “What we do know is that we remain in a perilous situation.”

He goes onto explain that the government will be in a better position to chart a course out of lockdown by mid-February. 

A review and plan for taking the country out of lockdown can be expected when parliament is back from recess in the week commencing February 22nd. 

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Mr Johnson explained that the ‘first sign of normality’ will be schools returning, however, it will not be possible for this to happen immediately after the February half-term. 

He explains that if the vaccine target is hit by mid-February, and those groups developed immunity from the virus around March 8th, schools could reopen.

The prime minister acknowledged the ‘huge impact’ of school closures and pledged £300m of new money for tutoring and extra initiatives for summer schools.

Finishing his speech, the PM says: “As we inoculate more people hour by hour, this is the time to hold our nerve in the endgame in the battle against the virus.

“Our goal now must be to bide the extra weeks we need to immunise the most vulnerable and get this virus under control, so that together we can defeat this most wretched disease.”

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Teacher dies on her 25th birthday after contracting coronavirus

‘Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher’

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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.”

Her mother has set up an online fundraising page for the two charities which has already raised £16,495.

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Opening schools is a national priority, government says

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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,”

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“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.

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“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.

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