UK Covid live: Boris Johnson says cancelling Christmas is ‘very much not the plan’ as Hancock to have emails searched

·15 min read
Construction workers march through the streets in Melbourne on Tuesday  (Getty Images)
Construction workers march through the streets in Melbourne on Tuesday (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson insisted that it was “very much not the plan” to cancel Christmas for a second year after he ordered Brits to avoid family get-togethers as the Kent variant of Covid-19 sent cases soaring last December.

The Prime Minister faces the trifecta of a potential Covid spike, lorry driver shortages, and gas price hikes causing disruption to Christmas 2021.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock will have his personal WhatsApp and emails searched as part of a High Court battle over millions of pounds’ worth of antibody test contracts.

Meanwhile, US chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci suggested that British travellers who have been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca (AZ) jab will be allowed into the US.

He made the comments after the White House confirmed it will scrap its ban on fully vaccinated UK travellers.

The news has sparked a surge in bookings, with British Airways saying the number of potential customers searching for holidays to key US destinations after the announcement was more than seven times higher compared with the same period last week.

In Australia, hundreds of people demonstrated in locked-down Melbourne on Tuesday after authorities shut down construction sites in the city for two weeks, saying the frequent movement of workers was spreading the coronavirus into regional areas.

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Joe Biden tells world leaders it is a ‘decisive decade for our world’

Joe Biden praised as ally on Covid and climate change

21:10 , Laura Sharman

US President Joe Biden was cited as a key ally on tackling climate change and Covid-19.

Micheal Martin praised Mr Biden’s speech to the UN General Assembly.

The Taoiseach, speaking to reporters in New York, called him a “committed multilateralist at heart”.

President Joe Biden (AP)
President Joe Biden (AP)

On Tuesday, the US president used his first address before the UN General Assembly to declare that the world stands at an “inflection point in history” and must move quickly to act on the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and human rights abuse.

Mr Martin praised Mr Biden, who has frequently cited his own love of Ireland and his own Irish ancestry.

Iran to ‘buy two million doses of Pfizer vaccine'

20:13 , Lizzie Edmonds

Iran is reportedly considering buying two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The country is one of the worst-hit with Covid in the Middle East having recorded nearly 118,000 deaths.

Mohammad-Reza Shanehsaz, head of Iran’s food and drug administration, said Iran was drawing up a deal to buy two million doses of the Belgium-produced Pfizer vaccine “within one to two months.”

In a country of about 83 million people, more than 30 million have received a first vaccine dose and 14.1 million people both.

More than 100 military staff to ease ambulance crisis in Scotland

19:42 , Laura Sharman

More than 100 military personnel are set to come to the aid of the Scottish Ambulance Service, with drivers possibly in place by this weekend, Scotland’s Health Secretary has said.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last week she would request help from the military to ease a backlog in the ambulance service which was causing long waits for patients.

On Tuesday, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf - who has been under fire as a result of the backlog - announced 88 drivers and 15 support staff could be called in, as well as a boost of £20 million to the ambulance service budget.

But an announcement from the UK government just minutes after Mr Yousaf made his statement said 114 drivers and support staff would be deployed in Scotland, along with a further 111 to operate mobile testing units.

The announcement from Westminster also confirmed the staff would be deployed from Saturday, after the Health Secretary said in his statement a starting date was subject to final approvals.

Concerns raised over Scotland’s nightclub definition ahead of vaccine passport scheme

18:36 , Laura Sharman

The Scottish government’s definition of a nightclub “goes far beyond what any reasonable person would consider to be a nightclub”, the head of a hospitality body has said.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday what would be considered a nightclub and thus included in the forthcoming vaccine passport scheme.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that, as of 5am on October 1, those over the age of 18 attending a club, events of more than 500 people, live outdoor unseated events of more than 4,000 people or to any event of more than 10,000 people would have to show proof of vaccination.

Defining what would be considered a nightclub, Ms Sturgeon said a venue open between midnight and 5am, serves alcohol after midnight, provides live or recorded music for dancing and has a dancefloor which is in use would be considered as such.

Businesses will have to take “all reasonable measures” to check certification, while larger events will be able to conduct spot checks for a pre-set proportion of attendees that will be decided before the scheme goes live.

Nightclubbers (PA)
Nightclubbers (PA)

Cambridge University: 96% of students vaccinated before term, poll shows

17:57 , Laura Sharman

The majority of Cambridge University students said that they had received a Covid-19 vaccination, or intended to get one, before arriving in the city for the new academic year in a recent survey.

More than 12,000 students, just over half of the student body, completed the poll and 96% of the respondents indicated that they were already vaccinated or intended to be before returning for the new term in October.

A further 2.4% indicated they would need either one dose or two of a vaccination on their return to Cambridge.

Just 0.5% said they were not planning to be vaccinated at all.

Professor Graham Virgo, senior pro-vice-chancellor for education, said: “We’ve been hearing in the media for some time about concerns about the university age group being vaccinated, so we were really pleased with that level of return, 96%.

University of Cambridge graduation ceremony (PA)
University of Cambridge graduation ceremony (PA)

“Internally I’m always adding the caveat that we realise this is not a return from the whole student body, but at least extrapolating from the evidence we’ve got we are very pleased with that response.”

The survey was sent to both continuing and new students. Those who indicated that they did not plan to get vaccinated were not asked to state a reason why.

Cutting universal credit will result in people dying, MPs warn

17:52 , Laura Sharman

People will die as a result of ending the £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit, ministers have been warned.

The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman highlighted the “reality” of the government’s policy, arguing it will be “far more damaging and cost far more” than the £6 billion estimated to be saved by not continuing with the uplift.

Ministers in Westminster are pushing ahead with plans to phase out the UC boost from the end of September.

It was initially introduced as a temporary measure to help people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kirsty Blackman (PA)
Kirsty Blackman (PA)

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Blackman said: “Half of people who go to Trussell Trust foodbanks are in debt to the Department of Work and Pensions because the Universal Credit system is so rubbish that people are in that level of debt because they have had to take crisis loans because of the Universal Credit system.

“And that’s before we talk about the £20-a-week cut.”

UK has ‘missed the boat’ on relaxing travel rules, claims easyJet

17:49 , Laura Sharman

EasyJet has claimed that ministers ‘missed the boat’ by delaying the latest easing of travel rules until after the summer.

The government announced last week that fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England would no longer need to take a pre-departure test from Monday, and the post-arrival day-two test can be a cheaper lateral flow rather than a PCR from the end of October.

EasyJet chief commercial officer Sophie Dekkers said the airline was “surprised and delighted” by the change in policy, but said it was made too late.

EasyJet (PA)
EasyJet (PA)

“In terms of sales over the weekend, they did pick up but not to the extent that we’ve seen in previous announcements because we’ve missed the summer,” she told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee.

“October half-term is probably the only big opportunity for people in the near term, so although we saw a good uplift in trading and sales over the weekend, we’ve missed the boat unfortunately with the summer holidays.”

Ms Dekkers urged the government to go further and scrap the day-two test and “the UK is lagging behind Europe” and “nowhere else in Europe do they have testing like this”.

Meghan and Harry to urge world leaders to share vaccines

17:01 , Laura Sharman

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are to take part in a worldwide event urging leaders to adopt a vaccine equity policy to help end the Covid pandemic.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will join the 24-hour broadcast Global Citizen Live being staged in New York’s famous Central Park and around the world on Saturday, organisers announced.

It will be part of a number of shows being held in cities as varied as London to Lagos by the organisation Global Citizen, with artists like Ed Sheeran, Sir Elton John, Kylie Minogue, Metallica and Coldplay scheduled to perform.

The Global Citizen Live campaign is calling on G7 countries and the European Union to share at least one billion Covid vaccine doses with those most in need and support calls for a waiver on vaccine intellectual property rights.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (PA)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (PA)

15:01 , Tom Ambrose

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced what her government defines as a nightclub, ahead of plans to require vaccine passports to enter the venues.

According to the First Minister, a nightclub is open between midnight and 5am, serves alcohol after midnight, provides live or recorded music for dancing and has a dancefloor which is in use.

According to the First Minister, from 5am on October 1, businesses will be asked to “take all reasonable measures” to ensure they are checking vaccination status.

Spot checks of a smaller number of attendees at larger events will also be allowed, the First Minister said, with the Scottish Government currently consulting on what would be considered a minimum number of checks to ensure the safety of large events, such as football games.

14:37 , Tom Ambrose

The Scottish Government has “real concerns” about changes to testing requirements for international travellers arriving in the country, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Changes to travel rules were announced last week and are due to take effect from October 4, but the Scottish Government has yet to make a decision on the requirement for testing before and after travel.

The First Minister stressed the importance of testing in blocking new variants of the virus entering the country.

“We do have real concerns about easing the requirements on test,” she said.

“That’s because we still need to guard against new variants of the virus being imported into the country – and also have a way of identifying quickly if a new variant does enter the country.

“Testing – both before someone’s departure to travel to Scotland, and soon after their arrival – can help us to do that. Without that, we will have much less ability to pick up the presence of new variants.

“We also believe that the PCR tests – and other highly sensitive tests – currently required for testing, are more effective at guarding against the risk of new variants than alternative tests.”

More than 122,000 children in England out of school last week over Covid-19

14:19 , Tom Ambrose

More than 122,000 children in England were out of school for Covid-19 related reasons last week, Government figures show.

About nine in 10 pupils were in class on September 16, according to the first analysis of attendance figures since schools fully reopened this month.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates 1.5% of all pupils – around 122,300 children – were not in school for Covid-19 related reasons on Thursday last week.

The figures include 59,300 pupils with a confirmed case of Covid-19, 44,600 with a suspected case and 15,900 absent due to isolation for other reasons.

A further 2,000 pupils were off due to attendance restrictions being in place to manage an outbreak and 500 did not attend as a result of school closures due to Covid-related reasons.

Hancock to have WhatsApp and emails searched in test contracts court battle

13:59 , Barney Davis

Former health secretary Matt Hancock will have his personal WhatsApp and emails searched as part of a High Court battle over millions of pounds’ worth of antibody test contracts.

The Good Law Project has brought legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), claiming that more than £80 million in contracts for antibody tests were awarded unlawfully.

The bid covers three contracts awarded to Abingdon Health which the group claims were given in April, June and August 2020 but were not published until October 2020.

“The contracts were awarded directly, and secretly, without any advertisement or competition,” the Good Law Project’s barrister Joseph Barrett said in written arguments.

The group also argues that the contracts “comprise very substantial unlawful public subsidies”.

BMA urges Sajid Javid to tackle ‘abuse’ of GPs

12:15 , Barney Davis

The British Medical Association has written to the Health Secretary urging him to step in and tackle “the wave of growing abuse” against GPs.

In the letter to Sajid Javid, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said there needed to be a change in legislation to increase the maximum prison sentence for assault against emergency workers from 12 months to two years.

He also said the Government must publicly support the profession by condemning “the onslaught of abuse and media scapegoating of GPs and their staff”.

It comes after four members of staff suffered injuries at the Florence House Medical Practice in Openshaw, Manchester, on Friday afternoon.

Two of the victims were taken to hospital with head injuries and a 59-year-old man was arrested and charged with assault.

£1billion furlough handed back to HMRC

11:25 , Barney Davis

Businesses have handed back more than £1 billion claimed through the Government’s furlough scheme, the Treasury has said.

In the past three months alone, firms returned £300,000 because the funds had been overclaimed or they no longer needed the cash.

It takes the total returned to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) since July 2020 to £1.3 billion.

With the furlough scheme due to close at the end of the month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was “heartening” that so much had been paid back.

120 more care home Covid deaths

10:03 , Barney Davis

Some 120 care home resident deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales were registered in the week to September 10, up from 89 the previous week.

The week-on-week change will have been affected by the bank holiday on August 30, when register offices were likely to be closed, the ONS said.

In total, 43,156 care home residents in England and Wales have had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate since the pandemic began.

The ONS figures cover deaths of care home residents in all settings, not just in care homes.

Covid deaths surpass 160,000 mark - ONS

10:02 , Barney Davis

A total of 160,374 deaths have occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.

The highest number on a single day was 1,484 on January 19.

During the first wave of the virus, the daily toll peaked at 1,461 on April 8 2020.

Demand for US-UK flights soars after quarantine-free travel announced

09:15 , Barney Davis

Demand for flights from the US to the UK has surged since the Government announced the scrapping of the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers.

Virgin Atlantic said it received more than three times as many bookings for flights from New York to London compared with a week earlier, while total bookings across all its US to UK routes more than doubled.

The time period analysed is from when the new policy was announced on Wednesday afternoon until 9am on Thursday, and the same period last week.

Fully vaccinated travellers from the US, the EU and a handful of other European countries will no longer need to self-isolate for 10 days when entering Britain from 4am on Monday.

New plans to allow workers to request flexible working from day one

08:17 , Barney Davis

Employees will reportedly be able to put in a request to work from home from their first day in a job under plans due to be announced later this week.

Laws which will protect flexible working first put forward before the pandemic will be confirmed, according to a report in The Times.

The current rules mean employees have to accrue 26 weeks – or half a year – of continuous service before they have a legal right to request flexible working which employers are able to decline on business grounds.

It is reported ministers will confirm the proposal on Thursday as part of a consultation, The Guardian said in a separate report.

This will allow anyone to make a request from the start of their job, with the move aimed at enabling women, disabled people and carers to balance their work and life commitments.

Builders riot in Melbourne as construction sites closed

08:16 , Barney Davis

Hundreds demonstrated in locked-down Melbourne on Tuesday after authorities shut down construction sites in the city for two weeks saying the frequent movement of workers was spreading the coronavirus into regional areas.

The decision to halt building activities comes after an anti-vaccine mandate protest in the city turned violent on Monday. The Victorian government requires all construction workers to have at least one vaccine dose by end of this week.

“The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue to work with the sector over the next two weeks to improve compliance ... and slow the spread of the virus,” state Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters.

Footage on television and social media showed protesters marching through the city’s streets, setting up flares and chanting, with mounted police and officers in riot gear following them.

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s coverage of the latest Covid-19 developments

08:13 , Barney Davis

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