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 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”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.”