COVID-19: Boris Johnson to focus on ‘data, not dates’ for easing England’s lockdown | Politics News

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Boris Johnson has said he will be focusing on data and not dates when it comes to the easing of England’s coronavirus lockdown.

The prime minister said Professor Dame Angela McLean was “absolutely right” to tell a committee of MPs earlier that the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions should hinge upon “data, not dates”.

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Mr Johnson said his “roadmap” out of lockdown, which he will unveil on Monday, will be based “firmly on a cautious and prudent approach” that ensures the unlocking will be “irreversible”.

“We want to be going one way from now on,” the PM added.

Speaking during a visit to a mass vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium in Cwmbran, south Wales, Mr Johnson said the easing would be done in “stages” and stressed: “We need to go cautiously.”

Asked about the reopening of hospitality venues, the PM said: “You have to remember from last year that we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.

“I know there’s a lot of understandable speculation in the papers and people coming up with theories about what we’re going to do, what we’re going to say, and about the rates of infection, and so on.

“I would just advise everybody just wait, we’ll try and say as much as we can on that.”

Mr Johnson praised the UK’s “outstanding” vaccine rollout, which has seen more than 15.5 million people receive their first jab.

Describing the drop in infection rates as “very encouraging”, the PM said there were “encouraging signs” that this was down to the vaccination programme.

“But it’s still early days,” he noted.

Mr Johnson has spoken in recent days of wanting to see “cautious but irreversible” progress as the lockdown is relaxed, suggesting a more tentative approach than the widespread unlocking of the economy seen last summer.

The PM has said his plan could include the earliest possible dates for reopening different sectors of the economy, but stressed these could be pushed back if the situation with the virus changes.

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“If we possibly can, we’ll be setting out dates,” Mr Johnson said on Monday, but he added: “If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right – delay it for a little bit – we won’t hesitate to do that.”

Meanwhile, one of the government’s scientific advisers has said ministers should consider quickening the pace at which lockdown is eased.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee it was important for the government not to be “overly focused on dates” when it comes to relaxing measures.

“We want to be focused on data. But the point I’d make about that is the data are going really well,” he said.

“The vaccination rollout is exceeding most people’s expectations, it’s going very well.”

The professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh added: “If you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now you should be looking at earlier unlocking because the data are so good.”

Professor Woolhouse made the comments in response to a question about whether it was necessary to close schools during the current lockdown.

He later said he did not expect there to be a surge in cases when schools reopen.

Appearing in front of the same committee, Professor McLean, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, said things are “moving in the right direction”, but cautioned that the number of people in hospital remained high.

“I share everybody’s optimism about how fantastic these vaccines are, but I would say we need to be optimistic and cautious,” she said.

Speaking about easing lockdown, she said “the timing is probably more important” than the UK’s R number, the number of people an infected person will pass COVID-19 on to.

“The important issue is to really watch very closely what is happening, so that if infections start to increase and that we do everything we can to decide whether it is a good moment to take another step in unlocking,” Professor McLean told MPs.

“Let’s use data, not dates.”

Asked about what lessons could be taken from the easing of the first lockdown last year, Professor McLean said: “The thing to learn from the first lockdown was that caution was our friend. We did actually ease it pretty slowly and I would say things went very well.

“Numbers started to increase, but very slowly through August, it was only in September that numbers started to increase quite quickly.

“I think from May until September, I would give a big tick to say that that was well managed.”

On the second lockdown, which was in force during November, Professor McLean said: “I think with hindsight we came out of the November lockdown too early, but that was really because of the new variant.”

UK weather: Big freeze nearly over as temperatures set to jump | UK News

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Milder weather is a few days away – after a freezing week that saw the UK record its coldest temperature in 25 years.

Saturday will still be bitterly cold, with wind chill making it feel below zero across the country – as low as -7C (19.4F) in northern England.

There could also be treacherous travel conditions this weekend.

Freezing rain – which freezes almost the moment it touches the ground – is possible in Scotland, Wales, northern England and the South West.

Yellow weather warnings for snow and ice are in force in those areas.

Temperatures will start to pick up on Sunday though, with 4 or 5C (41F) forecast in the east of the UK, around 9C (48F) in the South West, and 12C (54F) possible in Northern Ireland.

That warmer feel will take hold for the week ahead – the half-term break for many children.

Met Office chief meteorologist Neil Armstrong said milder air was moving in from the Atlantic to push the colder air into the North Sea.

“Where temperatures were close to freezing in many places last week, we could expect to see 11C or 12C next week,” he said.

The weekend will still be very cold for many - but next week will be much warmer. Pic: AP
Image: The weekend will still be very cold – but next week will feel noticeably milder. Pic: AP
Snowy conditions in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, which had an overnight temperature of minus 23.0C (minus 9.4F). The village, which is near Balmoral Castle, the summer residence of Queen Elizabeth II, recorded the lowest temperature in the UK in more than two decades, following an "extreme freeze". Picture date: Thursday February 11, 2021.
Image: Braemar recorded -23C this week – the coldest UK temperature since 1995

“There are still some wintry hazards to get through over the next few days, with low temperatures, strong winds and further snow especially in Northern Ireland.”

The UK recorded its lowest temperature since 1995 on Wednesday night when Braemar in Aberdeenshire plunged to -23C (-9.4F).

England also hit a record low for February, with -15.3C (4.5F) in Ravensworth, North Yorkshire, overnight on Thursday.

The fountains at Trafalgar Square in central London also froze this week, as did the Thames in some places.

The RNLI tweeted a picture of the frozen river at Teddington in the southwest of the capital.

Relatives and neighbours are being advised by Public Heath England to check on vulnerable people this weekend.

Dr Owen Landeg from PHE said elderly people and those with heart and lung problems are particularly vulnerable as the cold increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks and chest infections.

He said it was important these people heat their homes to to at least 18C (64.4F) and keep stocked up on food and medicine.

Conservative peer Lord Freud found to have attempted to influence judges over sex assault MP’s case | Politics News

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A former Conservative minister attempted to influence judges over the case of an ex-Tory MP jailed for sexually assaulting two women, a parliamentary watchdog has found.

Lord Freud breached the code of conduct for peers over his actions linked to the trial of Charlie Elphicke, the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards ruled.

In November last year, Lord Freud was among a group of six parliamentarians – including five MPs – who wrote letters to top judges to argue against the release of character references from Elphicke’s case, which had been requested by The Guardian newspaper.

Two months earlier, Elphicke had been jailed for two years for sexually assaulting two women.

Former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke arriving at Southwark Crown Court in London to be sentenced for three counts of sexual assault.
Image: Charlie Elphicke was jailed for sexually assaulting two women

The disgraced politician was MP for Dover from 2010 until last year’s general election, at which he was succeeded in the Kent constituency by his wife Natalie.

Lord Freud – a former welfare minister and the grandson of the famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud – along with the MPs wrote to Lady Justice Thirwall, senior presiding judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s bench division.

They also later wrote to Mrs Justice Whipple, the judge who presided over Elphicke’s trial, to express their concerns about “the harm and distress that is being suffered by vulnerable members of the public who provided references”.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the commissioner for standards, began an investigation into Lord Freud’s involvement in the letters following a complaint from a member of the public that the peer had breached parliamentary rules.

She ruled that “the only reasonable reading of that letter is that it was intended to persuade Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp to intervene”.

“Similarly, the letter to Mrs Justice Whipple was written in terms intended to influence her thinking,” she added.

As a result, the commissioner found Lord Freud to have breached the House of Lords’ code of conduct “by failing to act on his personal honour”.

“I find that by being a signatory to the letters of 19 and 22 November 2020, Lord Freud failed to meet the standards of conduct expected of individual members,” she said.

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However, in her report, the commissioner recognised that Lord Freud “has readily admitted that being a signatory to the letters was a mistake and one which he now regrets”.

“I have also recognised that his motives in acting as he did were to assist members of the public involved rather than for any personal advantage,” her report added.

The commissioner revealed Lord Freud had agreed to make a formal apology in the House of Lords as an “appropriate outcome”.

Lord Freud previously advised Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s Labour governments but, in 2009, was recommended for a peerage by the Conservative Party and went on to serve as a minister in David Cameron’s government.

He helped to oversee the introduction of Universal Credit.

Kilmarnock: Two women and a man died following ‘serious incidents’ in town | UK News

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Two women and a man died in a series of linked incidents in Kilmarnock on Thursday night, Police Scotland has said.

A 39-year-old woman was found injured in a car park outside Crosshouse Hospital in the town at 7.45pm. She received medical care but died at the scene.

In the second incident 20 minutes later in Portland Street, a 24-year-old woman was stabbed.

Emergency services attended and she was taken to Crosshouse Hospital, where she later died.

A map showing Kilmarnock and where the incidents took place
Image: A map showing Kilmarnock and where the incidents took place

The final incident, a fatal road crash, took place on the C50 – a road between the B7036 and the A76.

A 40-year-old man driving the car was pronounced dead at the scene.

Family relatives of the victims have been made aware.

Police Scotland said enquiries carried out so far have indicated that the incidents were linked.

An investigation is under way to establish the exact circumstances of what happened.

Officers are not looking for anyone else as part of the investigation and there is no ongoing threat to the public.

The lockdown at Crosshouse Hospital was later lifted
Image: A 39-year-old woman was found injured outside Crosshouse Hospital but later died

Chief Superintendent Faroque Hussain said: “A number of locations remain cordoned off as officers continue to conduct enquiries.”

He added: “Understandably, people will be shocked by what has happened. We are still in the process of establishing the full circumstances, however, I would like to reassure people that there is no wider threat to the community.

“Officers will be on patrol and anyone with any concerns can approach these officers.”

Local diversions are in place as a number of areas remain cordoned off in the town centre and ear on the road between the B7036 and A76.

Anyone who has any information which could assist this investigation should contact police on 101.

COVID-19: ‘Surge testing’ rolled out in parts of Surrey after South Africa COVID variant found in cases with no travel links | Politics News

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Residents in parts of Surrey will be offered coronavirus tests after two people with no travel links were found to have caught the variant discovered in South Africa.

Households in the Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas of Woking will be visited and asked to carry out a COVID-19 test – regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.

The scheme is expected to be extended to Egham within the next few days.

Surrey’s Local Resilience Forum said the “surge testing” programme was to “closely monitor any community spread of the new variant, and restrict further transmission”.

In a bid to reassure the public, it said there is “currently no evidence” that the variant known as VOC-202012/02 causes more severe illness or is more resistant to the coronavirus vaccines currently being rolled out.

Director of Public Health for Surrey Ruth Hutchinson said: “This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further.

“By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.

“It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry.”

Dr Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England South East, added: “I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.

“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”

A total of 105 cases of the South Africa variant have been found to date in the UK.

Just over a week ago, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said all cases identified so far were connected to travel from South Africa.

But the two people discovered to have contracted it in Surrey had no links to travel or previous variant cases.

Professor Anthony Harnden, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told Sky News at the end of January: “The new variants abroad are a real worry – the South African and the Brazilian ones.

“And there are hints that there will be vaccine escape but I think we’re going to have to get used to this.

“We are living in a world where coronavirus is so prevalent and naturally mutating that there are going to be new variants that pop up in all sorts of different countries.

“We may well be in a situation where we end up having to have an annual coronavirus vaccine much like we do with the flu vaccine.

“But the public want to be reassured that actually these technologies are relatively easy to edit and tweak and once we find strains that are predominant, the vaccines can be altered.”