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Government to scrap plan for all primary age kids to return to school before summer

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Matt Hancock has hinted that schools may not fully reopen until after September amid concerns from educators that it may be impossible to practise social distancing once classrooms are filled. 

In England, primary schools have already been given the green light to reopen for some year six, year one and reception aged-children to return to education, although reports this morning say the government is about to scrap plans to reopen them to all ages before summer.

A number of councils have already refused to ask schools in their area to reopen, due to the concerns raised from unions that teachers and students wouldn’t be able to be kept safe from the virus that has killed more than 40,000 people in the country.  

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, is set to update the House of Commons later, but it is being widely reported that proposals to get all primary school pupils back to school before the start of the summer holidays will be scrapped.

According to the Department of Education, it was still the ‘ambition’ to get all primary school kids back into school before summer holidays, but it also wouldn’t deny reports that Mr Williamson accepts this plan might not be possible.

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The health secretary has said that the ‘current working plan’ for education is to resume in September, but has hinted that even that might not be possible when the next academic year begins.

When asked at the Downing Street press conference if schools would be reopen fully at the start of the next academic year with social distancing in place, Mr Hancock said: “That is our current working plan – that secondary schools won’t open until September at the earliest.

“I very much hope that they can because the impact on children’s education is so significant.

“But what we have to do – not only in schools, but right across the board – is work out how we can get the other things that matter going.

“Like schools, like hospitality – especially outdoor hospitality, like retail. And get them going safely and carefully, in a way that doesn’t lead to the spread of the virus, and that is going to require ingenuity.”

It comes after schools were urged to reconsider their reopening when the R rate had risen beyond one in areas like the north west, meaning it was increasingly spreading across the community. 

Mr Hancock also unveiled plans for pupils and teachers across England to receive coronavirus testing, with approval from parents and guardians.

They are aiming to have up to 100 schools tested across England by the end of the summer term, totalling to around 200 staff and pupils.

The Department of Health and Social Care recorded the lowest total daily death figure since March 23rd, before the lockdown began, on Saturday, with 77 people dying on the day. 

Many people are still concerned that lockdown was eased too early, however Mr Hancock said that the R rate of transmission of COVID-19 remains below the crucial level of one in the country.

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Energy bills set to rise even higher in worrying new prediction

Households will soon be faced with annual bills of over £4,000

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Energy bills are set to rise even higher than previously predicted, according to worrying new figures released today.

Energy consultancy firm Cornwall Insight has forecasted that the average household will be paying £3,582 a year, £200 higher from the £3,359 originally predicted earlier this month.

And from January, the amount is expected to rise even higher to £4,266 before continuing to rise in April to £4,427.

The previous forecast for April was £3,729 – that’s a rise of £650.

Cornwall insight said it had increased its forecast due to the continuing rise in wholesale prices and an expected change in methodology for how the energy price cap is calculated.

Dr. Craig Lowrey, principal consultant at Cornwall Insight, described the predicted increase in January as a ‘fresh shock’.

Read More: Ofgem boss issues warning to people planning energy bill boycott

He said: “The cost of living crisis was already top of the news agenda as more and more people face fuel poverty, this will only compound the concerns.”

However, Dr. Lowrey explained that without the more frequent changes to the price cap, more energy suppliers might be in danger of collapse.

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He said the change in how the price cap is calculated was necessary to prevent suppliers going bust, but added: “Rather than critiquing the methodology of the cap, it may be time to consider the cap’s place altogether.

“After all, if it is not controlling consumer prices, and is damaging suppliers’ business models, we must wonder if it is fit for purpose – especially in these times of unprecedented energy market conditions.

“It is essential that the government use our predictions to spur on a review of the support package being offered to consumers.

“If the £400 was not enough to make a dent in the impact of our previous forecast, it most certainly is not enough now.”

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Avanti West Coast slashes timetable and suspends ticket sales to Manchester ‘until further notice’

The disruption is expected to last for the rest of the month

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Avanti West Coast

Avanti West Coast has slashed its timetables and suspended ticket sales to Manchester ‘until further notice’.

The company said severe staff shortages caused by ‘unofficial strike action’ by ASLEF members is the reason for their reduced services, which are expected to be impacted for the rest of the month.

As a result of this, services will run on a reduced service, with trains between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly being the worst affected.

Train frequencies between the capital and Manchester will be reduced to as few as one per hour, rather than the usual three.

There will be just four Avanti West Coast trains per hour from Euston travelling to Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

Avanti West Coast said that many passengers have experienced short-notice cancellations in recent weeks and they hope the reduced timetable will allow them to run a reliable service.

Ticket sales and closed reservations have also been suspended from August 14th to September 11th ‘to minimise the number of people disrupted’.

A statement from the company said: “From August 14th, until further notice, we will be introducing a reduced timetable on our services. This is due to the current industrial relations climate which has resulted in severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as unofficial strike action by ASLEF members.

“As a result of the above, including the majority of drivers declaring themselves unavailable for overtime, our customers have faced multiple short-notice cancellations on our network which has had a severe impact on their plans.

“The reduced timetable is being introduced to ensure a reliable service is delivered so our customers can travel with greater certainty. This decision was not taken lightly, and we are sorry for the enormous frustration and inconvenience this will cause.”

The company went on to urge rail unions to ‘engage in meaningful industry reform talks around modernising working practices and developing a railway fit for the 21st century’.

Their statement concluded: “If you’ve already booked to travel with us from August 14th onwards and your train is cancelled, your ticket will be accepted on the Avanti West Coast service before or after your original booked train.”

Alternatively, passengers can claim a full, fee-free refund from their point of purchase if they can no longer travel due to the amended timetable.

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‘Grease’ star Dame Olivia Newton-John has died aged 73

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Grease actress Dame Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of seventy-three.

A representative for the Cambridge-born actress confirmed the news tonight, saying Olivia ‘died peacefully at her ranch in Southern California Monday morning, surrounded by family and friends’.

Her death comes after a thirty-year-long battle with breast cancer.

Her husband John Easterling confirmed the news in a Facebook post on her official page, writing: “Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends.

“We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over thirty years sharing her journey with breast cancer.

“Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.

“In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund (ONJFoundationFund.org).

“Olivia is survived by her husband John Easterling; daughter Chloe Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; nieces and nephews Tottie, Fiona and Brett Goldsmith; Emerson, Charlie, Zac, Jeremy, Randall, and Pierz Newton-John; Jude Newton-Stock, Layla Lee; Kira and Tasha Edelstein; and Brin and Valerie Hall.”

Olivia was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and again in 2013, though she chose to keep her diagnosis private the second time around.

When she was diagnosed for the third time in 2018, she was informed the cancer had spread to the base of her spine. However, she remained optimistic and was determined to beat the disease with the help of her husband. 

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