COVID-19: Number of positive tests in England down 17% to lowest number since 23 December, Test and Trace figures show | UK News


The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in England is down 17% and is at its lowest level since the week to 23 December, new Test and Trace figures show.

A total of 274,898 people tested positive for coronavirus at least once in the week to 20 January, following a decrease the previous week.

Some 2,813,445 people were tested at least once between 14 January and 20 January – that figure is down 5% on week before.

The stats show that 470,950 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive in that period.

For those where communication details were available, 96.5% of close contacts were reached and told to self-isolate in the most recent week. Taking into account all contacts identified, 93.2% were reached – the highest ever figure.

Health minister Lord Bethell also said turnaround times for tests “have improved consistently since the start of the year”, and are now back to the levels seen at the beginning of December.

And people are travelling shorter distanced to testing sites, as more are set up.

The median distance travelled for a test was just 2.1 miles, the lowest since Test and Trace was launched.

It comes after the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the country could be at the plateau of cases and coronavirus-related deaths.

But he cautioned at a Downing Street news conference on Wednesday that pockets of areas have yet to hit their peak, and are still seeing numbers rise.

Lockdown was ordered across almost all of the UK at the start of 2021 as infections and fatalities hit record high levels, in a bid to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that on 22 February he will lay out a roadmap for removing some restrictions, with schools able to open from 8 March at the absolute earliest.

Nicola Sturgeon to seek ‘legal referendum’ on Scottish independence | Politics News


Nicola Sturgeon has accused Boris Johnson of being “frightened of democracy” and said she will seek a “legal referendum” on Scottish independence.

Scotland’s first minister claimed the prime minister “fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people” over his refusal to agree to another independence vote.

It comes after the Scottish National Party revealed a “roadmap to a referendum”, setting out an 11-point plan on how they intend to take forward their plans for a second vote.

The party wants a “legal referendum” to be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May’s Scottish parliamentary elections.

The “roadmap” also states any attempt by the UK government to challenge the legality of the referendum in the courts will be “vigorously opposed”.

Scottish independence supporters march through Edinburgh in 2019
Image: Scotland voted to stay in the UK in 2014

Mr Johnson has previously said there should be a 40-year gap between the last Scottish independence vote in 2014 and any future one.

Asked about the prime minister’s comments on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Ms Sturgeon said: “He’s frightened of democracy. The polls now show a majority of people in Scotland want independence.

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“If the SNP win the Scottish election in a few months’ time on a proposition of giving people that choice then what democrat could rightly stand in the way of that.

“Boris Johnson clearly just fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people.”

Asked whether she would seek an advisory “home-made Scottish referendum” even if one is refused by Mr Johnson’s government, Ms Sturgeon replied: “I want to have a legal referendum. That’s what I’m going to seek the authority of the Scottish people for in May.

“If they give me that authority, that’s what I intend to do – have a legal referendum, give people in Scotland the right to chose.

“That’s democracy. It’s not about what I want or what Boris Johnson wants.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks at a petri dish in the quality control laboratory, where batches of vaccine are tested, during a tour of the manufacturing facility for the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine at Oxford Biomedica in Oxfordshire
Image: Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated his opposition to a second Scottish independence referendum.

Ms Sturgeon also told Marr she believed there was “no reason” to delay the 6 May elections despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“We might have to do the election differently, with postal voting for example, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t go ahead at this stage,” she said.

“Many countries have had elections over the course of the pandemic.”

A Section 30 order – part of the Scotland Act 1998 – allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster. It was granted by the UK government ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

A series of polls commissioned by The Sunday Times revealed more voters across all four UK nations expected Scotland to be out of the UK within 10 years than thought it would still remain.

The surveys also found 49% of people in Scotland backed independence compared to 44% against – a margin of 52% to 48% if the undecideds are excluded.

Opposition parties have accused the SNP of putting the push for independence ahead of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: “Scotland is deep in turmoil with thousands facing a cost of living crisis and thousands more people being lost to the virus.

“It is inexcusable that at this time of acute crisis the SNP seeks to put its plan for independence above everything else.”

Mike Russell, the Scottish government’s constitution secretary, is presenting the SNP’s 11-point document to the party’s policy forum on Sunday.

COVID-19: Nine police officers who had breakfast together inside cafe fined for breaching lockdown | UK News


Nine police officers who had breakfast together inside a cafe have been fined for breaching COVID lockdown rules on duty.

The officers, from the Metropolitan Police, were fined £200 each and told to “reflect on their choices.”

They were spotted by IT manager Brian Jennings walking past the cafe near their base beside the River Thames at 9am earlier this month, a week into the latest lockdown.

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Hancock backs police enforcing rules

Mr Jennings, who reported the breach, told MailOnline: “We noticed in the first lockdown and again today that regularly, first thing in the morning, there will be half-a-dozen squad cards outside and every table full of police officers having breakfast in there.

“You read about people getting fined and it seems hypocritical as it looks like there is little social distancing in the cafe.

“I find the regular and continued flouting of social distancing and lockdown regulations by the police hypocritical and foolish at this time when the infection rates in Greenwich borough are among the highest in the UK.”

Photographs of apparent uniformed officers sitting inside the Chef House Kitchen, with several marked police cars parked outside, were published by MailOnline.

Their bosses launched an investigation and chose to fine them without any other disciplinary action.

They may be the first on-duty emergency workers to be given fixed penalty notices since the first pandemic lockdown began in March last year.

Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin, South East Commander, said: “Police officers are tasked with enforcing the legislation that has been introduced to stop the spread of the virus and the public rightly expect that they will set an example through their own actions.

“It is disappointing that on this occasion, these officers have fallen short of that expectation. It is right that they will pay a financial penalty and that they will be asked to reflect on their choices.”

The fines come after the force’s commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, launched a clampdown on COVID rule breakers.

Over the past weekend, the force handed out nearly £40,000 worth of fines for COVID breaches in east London alone.

It is not known if the cafe owner has been fined, which, according to police, is a matter for Greenwich Borough Council.

Sky News has approached the council for comment.

Archie Lyndhurst: CBBC star died from brain haemorrhage, mother confirms | Ents & Arts News


Archie Lyndhurst, the son of Only Fools And Horses actor Nicholas Lyndhurst, died from a brain haemorrhage, his mother has confirmed.

The 19-year-old died in his sleep at his home in Fulham, west London, on 22 September.

Lucy Lyndhurst shared the results of her son’s second post-mortem on Instagram, writing: “He died from an Intracerebral Haemorrhage caused by Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma/Leukaemia.”

Calling the details of the report “harrowing”, she said it was “not leukaemia as we know it” and that in medical terms, acute meant “rapid”.

An intracerebral haemorrhage is caused by bleeding on the brain, causing a stroke.

She also explained that the doctor had found “numerous bleeds on the brain” and that “Archie wouldn’t have been in any pain as it happened in his sleep”.

As Archie had shown no signs of illness, and his death was due to natural causes, she said there was nothing that could have been done to prevent his death.

Early reports following his “unexplained” death said he had died following “a short illness”.

His mother described the effect of Archie’s death on the family as “catastrophic”, calling him “an extraordinary magical human being”, “an old soul” and “incredibly advanced for his years”.

An only child, she said that she and Nicholas Lyndhurst were “grateful and privileged to have been chosen to be his parents”.

Archie’s father famously played Rodney Trotter, the hapless younger brother of Sir David Jason’s Del Boy, in Only Fools and Horses.

Archie had been dating his So Awkward co-star Nethra Tilakumara, whom his mother called “the love of his life”, and had celebrated her birthday with her just days before his death.

Lucy also shared a series of photos of Archie, showing him as a child, and later as a successful actor, as well as relaxing with his girlfriend.

Calling life “fragile, precious and sometimes incredibly cruel”, his mother said “to lose a child is every parent’s nightmare”, adding that she “wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone”.

She signed off her post: “Our darling boy, we love you forever and ever and thank you every day, for every beautiful memory we have. We will celebrate you always. All our love. Mama and O.M.”

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Archie’s funeral took place in a “tiny chapel” in November, his mother confirmed in an earlier message.

Archie trained at the Sylvia Young theatre school, and was best known for playing Ollie Coulton in CBBC comedy So Awkward.

He had also appeared in hospital drama Casualty and in Jack Whitehall comedy Bad Education.

COVID-19: How far can you go for exercise during lockdown? Clarity urged after Boris Johnson’s bike ride | UK News


Boris Johnson was spotted cycling seven miles from Downing Street, raising questions as to how far you can go for exercise under lockdown rules.

Government guidance states that people in England should “stay local” when leaving home, which is only allowed for a few essential reasons, including exercise once a day and shopping for basic necessities.

It adds: “Stay local means stay in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.”

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What was the PM seen doing?

The PM was seen cycling at the Olympic Park in east London on Sunday, the Evening Standard reported – seven miles from his home in Westminster, and three boroughs away.

Number 10 has refused to reveal whether he cycled there or was driven to the park to cycle.

A spokesman added: “The PM has exercised within the COVID rules and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.”

CREDIT - - Pic: Shutterstock

Boris Johnson cycling in London, Britain - 05 Oct 2006
Boris Johnson

5 Oct 2006
Transport, Politician, Alone, Personality
Image: Boris Johnson, here in 2006, was often seen on his bike around London before he became PM

Does this mean everyone can exercise seven miles from home?

Cycling seven miles and back would not be too long a ride for many cyclists.

But, without a specific distance limit in the rules, this appears to have allowed for different interpretations.

Derbyshire Police were criticised over the weekend for fining two women £200 for driving five miles from home, separately, to go for a walk.

They have now dropped the fine and apologised to the women, but that – and now the PM’s cycling – has led to a debate over the guidance.

Jessica Allen (left) and friend Eliza Moore were fined by police in Derbyshire. This picture was taken near to their homes in Ashby de la Zouch
Image: Jessica Allen (left) and friend Eliza Moore were fined by police in Derbyshire

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said Mr Johnson’s bike ride was not against the law.

However, she told the BBC “local” is a “relative term” and, for her, means “if you can, go for your exercise from your front door and come back to that front door”.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron’s constituency is in the Lake District, where he said police are reporting that people have been travelling hundreds of miles to reach the beauty spot – but he also has constituents asking if they will be fined for driving five minutes to a local park.

He said he has written to the PM calling for clearer guidance on exercise.

Police presence before a proposed anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London.
Image: Police presence before a proposed anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London

‘Shouldn’t he stay in Westminster?’

With the rules stating you should stay in your village, town, or part of the city, the PM’s seven-mile trip has come under fire.

However, with villages being smaller than towns and parts of cities, does that mean people living in villages have a smaller radius of where they can exercise?

Labour has criticised Mr Johnson’s cycle ride, with Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter saying: “Once again it is ‘do as I say, not as I do’, from the prime minister.”

And a woman who said she saw the PM in the Olympic Park, said she was “shocked to see him cycling around looking so care-free”.

She told the PA news agency: “Also, considering he’s advising everyone to stay at home and not leave their area, shouldn’t he stay in Westminster and not travel to other boroughs?”

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PM: ‘Now is the moment for maximum vigilance’

What are the rules in the UK’s other nations?


The country is under Level 4 – equivalent to England’s lockdown – with the guidance saying there are no limits on the distance you can travel during exercise, “though the nearer you stay to home, the better”.

It says you should start and finish from your home.

But, like in England, there have been incidents where people have been fined for exercising too far from home.

On Saturday, a mother was fined for driving 17 miles to Aber Falls in Snowdonia National Park, where she said there were hardly any other people.

She said she believed she had been following the rules and thought it was better than walking down to the beach near her home, where she said there were about 40 families the following day.

Snowdonia is a popular place for hiking but rules in Wales state you should start and finish exercising from home. File pic
Image: Snowdonia is a popular place for hiking but rules in Wales state you should start and finish exercising from home. File pic


The mainland and Skye are under a Level 4 lockdown, which states that you can travel for exercise that starts and finishes at the same place.

But the rules are more specific as they say the place where you start and finish “can be up to five miles from the boundary of your local authority area”.

So, as long as you know exactly where the boundary of your local authority area is, you are within the rules if you remain five miles from there.

A man taking his daily exercise while walking his dog alone in an empty Scottish park.
The public park is in Dumfries and Galloway, south west Scotland.
Since the outbreak of Coronavirus members of the public must social distance and only go out to exercise once a day.
Image: People in most of Scotland can travel five miles out of their local authority boundary to exercise

Northern Ireland

The rules are slightly more clear in Northern Ireland, which is under a six-week lockdown that started on Boxing Day.

It says you should not travel more than 10 miles from your home to exercise.

If there are crowds when you arrive at the place you want to exercise from, you should find an alternative place, the rules add.

However, it does not say how far you can walk or cycle from that place.

UK weather: Met Office issues warnings as more snow forecast and temperatures plunge | UK News


The Met Office is warning of more snow as people across the country woke up to overnight flurries and temperatures plunged.

The yellow weather alert for snow and ice this evening covers Wales and most of England, except for London and the south east.

Most of Scotland – with exception of the west – put a yellow warning in place this morning, meaning travel disruption was expected.

A postbox among snow-covered trees in Hollow Meadows, near Sheffield.
Image: A postbox among snow-covered trees in Hollow Meadows, near Sheffield

With temperatures falling across the UK – and as low as -9.5C in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – people took to social media to share their images and videos of the snowfall.

While most of the snow fell further north, there were people as far south as Gravesend, in Kent, reported a dusting.

Sledgers have fun in the snow surrounding the Angel of the North near Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.
Image: People were spotted with sledges at the Angel of the North near Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Police also issued a warning about driving conditions following the showers overnight.

Scotland’s North East Police said: “Driving conditions across the North East are challenging this morning following heavy overnight snow.

Snow blankets the roads and fields in Midhopestones, in the borough of Sheffield.
Image: Police have put out warnings to drivers over the wintery conditions

“Motorists are reminded to allow extra time for their journeys, to drive according to the conditions and ensure windows and lights are clear of snow and ice before setting off.”

Snow also fell across the Midlands, including in Warwickshire and Shropshire.

A dog walker in the snow-covered St Nicholas' Park, in Warwick.
Image: A dog walker in the snow-covered St Nicholas’ Park, in Warwick

There was a light covering around the Angel of the North – prompting some people to take out their sledges.

Sheffield also saw snow before the sun rose, with icy conditions stretching into the Peak District.

While the snow is expected to clear in southern parts of the UK, more is forecast over the weekend in other areas including Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Temperatures are expected to drop as low as -6C in parts of Scotland on Friday evening, although this could feel as cold as -9C with factors like windchill taken into account.

The cold patch will move south overnight into Saturday, with parts of northern England waking up to a brisk -3C – which could end up feeling more like -7C.

John H said on Twitter: “First slight dusting of the winter in Gravesend, Kent only lasted around 10mins from a light flurry.”

Liam James said: “Some more #UKsnow overnight Snowflake #Carlisle #Cumbria can’t complain this winter.”

Police from Bakewell in the Peak District shared a photo of one unfortunate car that ended up on its roof in the icy conditions.

They also advised drivers to take extra care in the inclement weather.

The Met Office is forecasting that Saturday will be sunny for most of England and Wales, with some low cloud in the south.

Scotland and Northern Ireland will also be cloudy with some rain and more snow.

More yellow weather warnings – for ice – have been put into place for the north of Scotland and most of England for overnight into Saturday.

COVID-19: Boris Johnson says ‘tougher measures’ set to be announced ‘in due course’ | Politics News


Tougher measures are coming in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, the prime minister has said.

Boris Johnson said there were “tough, tough” weeks ahead in the UK’s fight against COVID-19.

He added: “If you look at the numbers there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course.”

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Matt Hancock: ‘We don’t rule anything out’

The PM said the government “will do everything we can to keep the virus under control”, but also added: “I must stress at this critical moment it is so vital that people keep disciplined.”

Mr Johnson said large numbers of people were following the rules and that he recognised some were becoming frustrated with the continuing restrictions.

“I think the public have been fantastic in the way they have tried to follow the guidance,” the PM added.

His comments about further measures, made as the national rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine got under way, come in the wake of significant new restrictions already being introduced in recent weeks.

Mr Johnson cancelled a planned relaxation of COVID-19 rules for large parts of the country over Christmas and significantly curtailed it in others after a new variant of the virus was identified in the UK.

He also announced new Tier 4 restrictions.

The measures, similar in many ways to England’s previous lockdowns, have been extended to 75% of the country.

But with fears about the spread of new variants of the virus – the one first detected in the UK and another identified in South Africa – and daily cases now regularly topping 50,000, the PM is facing calls to go further.

The latest figures available show there has been a 33% rise in the number of patients with coronavirus in hospital in England between Christmas Day and 2 January.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Sunday that the government must impose a national lockdown within 24 hours because COVID-19 is “clearly out of control”.

And ministers are coming under pressure from education unions to “pause” the return of pupils to the classroom until their safety, and the safety of teachers, can be guaranteed.

The GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite unions said in a joint statement that there is a “serious risk” of staff falling ill while the rate of infection is so high.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News it is safe for primary schools to reopen in all but the worst-affected areas of England.

He said teachers are at no greater risk of getting the virus than the rest of the population.

With the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine now being rolled out alongside the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, there is hope that the situation will improve in the weeks and months to come.

The government has said the NHS has the capacity to inoculate two million people a week using the Oxford vaccine once the health service receives supplies from the manufacturers.

Mr Johnson promised a “massive ramp up” in the number of people vaccinated as the jab is delivered.

“We have the capacity, the issue is to do with supply of the vaccine,” he said during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London to meet some of the first people to get the Oxford vaccine.

“It’s not so much a manufacturing issue although that’s part of it.

“Each batch needs to be properly approved and quality controlled.”