Boris Johnson has said he is “very optimistic” he will be able to fully relax all of England’s coronavirus restrictions on 21 June.
He said the vaccination programme had made “all the difference” though added that successfully hitting his target would require the government to “follow the guidance” at each of the four stages announced yesterday and warned “nothing can be guaranteed”.
Earlier, business leaders warned financial support will be “imperative” if the hospitality and entertainment sectors are to survive as restrictions are lifted.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove was appointed to lead a review of Covid vaccine and testing certification, which will report by 21 June, by when the programme for the lifting of restrictions set out by the prime minister yesterday is expected to be complete.
It comes as Scotland’s economy will begin a “phased reopening” from the last week of April, as the country moves to a regional level system of coronavirus restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Liam James23 February 2021 08:10
Government hopes roadmap ‘irreversible’, says Hancock
The government hopes the plan for lifting lockdown restrictions will be “irreversible”, the health secretary said this morning.
He said the aim was to turn away from social distancing laws and put the responsibility on individuals, adding that some form of vaccination programme is likely to become a “regular feature” of life in the future.
“What we want to do is get rid of the social distancing-type laws that get in the way of normal life and move to personal responsibility, rather than laws dictating how all of us live our daily lives,” he told Times Radio.
“But, it is also clear that eradication is unfortunately not possible with this disease, so we are going to have to learn to live with it.”
Liam James23 February 2021 08:21
Financial support is ‘imperative if hospitality is to survive’
Business leaders warned financial support is “imperative” if the hospitality and entertainment sectors are to survive as restrictions are lifted to allow their partial-reopening.
Jonathan Neame – boss of Shepherd Neame brewery, which owns more than 300 pubs – welcomed the plan for a full reopening in June, but warned it will be “almost impossible” for the sector to be profitable with only outdoor opening in April. Others said indoor opening in April would have been preferred.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry representatives UKHospitality, said the sector was “obviously devastated its reopening will be so far away” and that a major package of financial support was “imperative if hospitality is to survive”, while others urged chancellor Rishi Sunak to include measures in next week’s Budget.
Read more on this from Chiara Giordano here:
Liam James23 February 2021 08:38
Care home staff could require proof of vaccination to stay in their jobs, Matt Hancock says
Care home staff could require proof of vaccination to carry on in their jobs, Matt Hancock said after Boris Johnson announced a surprise inquiry into so-called ‘Covid status certificates’ . The health secretary acknowledged vaccination could become compulsory, saying: “We’re not at that point yet. And I think it’s important that we do we take all of the points of view into consideration.”
Mr Hancock pointed out that Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, had already said he regarded accepting a jab “as a professional duty”, adding: “I want staff in the NHS and care homes to be vaccinated.
Our Deputy Political Editor Rob Merrick has more on this:
Liam James23 February 2021 08:54
Covid roadmap based on ‘dodgy assumptions’, says lockdown-sceptic Tory MP
Mark Harper MP, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, has claimed the the government’s lockdown easing plan is based on “dodgy assumptions”, particularly over vaccine uptake among the public.
Noting analysis for the government estimating 91,300 more people could die if restrictions were lifted at the end of April, the date by which Mr Harper suggested restrictions would no longer be needed due to mass vaccination, LBC host Nick Ferrari asked: “Why would you want to go faster?”
Mr Harper replied: “The government seems to have looked at some models with dodgy assumptions and have effectively delayed opening the country by two months.”
He claimed the “biggest flaw” in the government’s plan was they assumed 15 per cent of the country would not take the vaccine.
Boris Johnson said on Monday that a “significant minority” of people would have refused a vaccine, which could allow the disease to “rip through those groups”.
Liam James23 February 2021 09:20
Scotland lockdown: What time is Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement today?
Nicola Sturgeon will later set out more detailed plans for the lifting of Scotland’s lockdown restrictions as new cases and deaths continue to fall and pressure on NHS hospitals and staff eases.
The first minister is expected to address the Scottish parliament at around 2:15pm today.
For more on what to expect from Ms Sturgeon’s announcement, here’s Matt Mathers:
Liam James23 February 2021 09:36
Holiday bookings up by as much as 600% after Boris Johnson’s lockdown lifiting announcement
Airlines and travel firms have experienced a surge in demand following Boris Johnson’s announcement that foreign holidays could be permitted by the end of May.
EasyJet said holiday bookings from Britain surged by more than 600 per cent week on week while flight bookings jumped over 300 per cent after the announcement, while Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, said it had its busiest day in more than a month as holiday bookings surged 500 per cent.
In the hours after the announcement, easyJet said bookings by UK customers for the summer season were more than four times higher than during the same period last week.
The most popular destinations for this summer so far are beach resorts in Spain and Portugal, including Malaga and Alicante, along with the Greek island of Crete.
August was the most booked month, followed by July and September.
Liam James23 February 2021 09:53
Face-masks may be needed next winter, chief scientific adviser warns
Face-coverings may be necessary in certain situations next winter, even after all the UK’s adults have been vaccinated, the government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance has warned.
Sir Patrick’s comments came a day after US president Joe Biden’s medical adviser Anthony Fauci said it was “possible” Americans would still be wearing masks into 2022.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick said mask-wearing was among a set of measures which can be expected to be a “baseline” requirement during winter months.
Both he and Prof Whitty made clear at a Downing Street press conference that they do not expect coronavirus to be entirely eradicated from the UK.
But they said they expect the disease to become a manageable problem comparable to winter flu.
Liam James23 February 2021 10:08
Hancock urges people to get vaccine amid warnings of infection ‘clusters’
Matt Hancock has issued a renewed appeal for people to get the coronavirus jab amid warnings that the virus may persist in deprived inner city communities where uptake is low.
“We want to see that vaccine uptake go as high as possible. But it’s absolutely on all of us to come forward and get the vaccine. It’s the right thing to do,” the health secretary told the Today programme.
Speaking on the same programme, Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the University of Warwick and member of a Sage sub-group, warned about lower vaccine uptake in deprived communities, particularly in inner city areas.
He said: “This is a real concern … that we may end up in a situation where we have the ‘vaccine rich’, as it were, who are able to access the vaccine, who have taken up the vaccine and are at much lower risk, and maybe the people in society who have not taken up the vaccine.
“Potentially these individuals could be clustered in particular parts of the country, and there is increased risk there.”
Liam James23 February 2021 10:27
Number of universal credit claimants doubles since start of pandemic to 6 million, figures show
The number of people claiming universal credit in the UK has doubled to 6 million since the start of the pandemic, new figures show.
The biggest monthly surge was in April, when the figure rose by 40 per cent. But claimant numbers have continued to increase month-on-month, rising by 2 per cent — or around 90,000 people — in each of the past three months.
Around 446 people were still making new claims for universal credit every hour in the first week of 2021, and a total of 4.5 million people have made a claim for the benefit since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the UK last March.
The figures have renewed concern over the government’s plan to remove the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, which is set to end on 31 March.
More on this from Social Affairs Correspondent May Bulman here:
Liam James23 February 2021 10:44