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.
Supply issues blamed for lower vaccination numbers across UK
Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, said the reason for lower vaccination numbers across the UK in recent days was due to supply.
Asked about the UK-wide drop in the number of jabs administered, he told BBC Radio 4’s PM: “It is supply, is what is going on.
“I wouldn’t call it a supply problem – it is completely predicted, we knew it would happen. (For) Pfizer in particular, but also AstraZeneca, the supply is lumpy, forgive the expression.
“We don’t get nine million doses on a Tuesday – we get 15,000, then we get 150,000, then 7,500 – so it comes in dribs and drabs, so you have to adapt your demand to that supply.
“And Pfizer made a decision – the right decision – to close a bit of a factory in order to massively upscale their production … so the end product is still coming, the 110 million doses, but they are just coming in a lump over a period of time.
“So we will get back up to those big numbers – we can do 400,000 a week, we just need the supply.”
Samuel Osborne23 February 2021 17:54
Sunak’s economically illiterate’ plans risk ‘crushing’ pandemic recovery, Labour warns
Rishi Sunak’s “economically illiterate” plans risk “crushing” Britain’s pandemic recovery under a “mountain of debt”, Labour has warned.
The shadow treasury minister, Bridget Phillipson, said some firms face having to start paying back Covid loans before lockdown restrictions are fully lifted, putting them at risk of going bust.
Her comments came during a Labour-led Opposition Day Debate in which the party urged the government to extend and reform the furlough scheme while restrictions are in place, and give more “breathing space” for firms by extending business rate relief for at least another six months and temporarily extending reduced VAT rates.
Ms Phillipson told the Commons: “Only next month (this government) will demand businesses start paying back Covid loans. These economically illiterate plans risk crushing British business and our recovery under a mountain of debt.
“Not only do hundreds of thousands of businesses risk going bust but the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab if billions are lost in defaulted loans.
“The government should heed our calls to ensure that smaller businesses only start paying bounce back loans when they’re growing again to help secure jobs and our economic recovery.”
Samuel Osborne23 February 2021 17:21
One in five Covid survivors experienced hair loss, cohort study finds
One in five people hospitalised with Covid-19 experienced hair loss within six months of first being infected with the virus, a cohort study of patients found, Matt Mathers reports.
A team of Chinese experts looking into the long-term health consequences of the disease surveyed patients who had been discharged from Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan last year.
Of the 1,655 people who took part 359 – or 22 per cent – reported losing hair.
Samuel Osborne23 February 2021 17:03
Merkel ‘says Germany is in third wave of pandemic’
Angela Merkel has reportedly said Germany is in a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The German chancellor made the remarks to members of her conservative paty, two sources at the meeting told Reuters.
“We are now in the third wave,” they quoted her as saying and said she warned that any easing of lockdown measures introduced late last year and extended until 7 March would have to be done carefully and gradually.
The closure of all non-essential businesses and border controls with Austria and the Czech Republic, where there have been outbreaks linked to a more infectious variant of the virus, have helped Germany bring down new daily Covid-19 infections.
But a slow vaccination roll-out and the risk of major outbreaks of fast-spreading variants already identified in Germany could make any easing of restrictions more difficult.
“We cannot afford ups and downs,” Ms Merkel told participants, suggesting she wanted any return to normal life to be done carefully to avoid having to reintroduce lockdown measures if infections start to rise again.
She added that making rapid tests more available and boosting testing capacity could make a return to normality more durable, said the sources.
Samuel Osborne23 February 2021 16:43
Jo Whiley says sister is recovering from coronavirus
Jo Whiley has said her sister Frances “would like to say a huge thank you” to everybody who has helped her after she contracted coronavirus.
The broadcaster previously revealed that her sister, who has learning difficulties and diabetes, was admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
She tweeted: “It’s hard to believe we’ve gone from discussing palliative care on Friday night to sitting on her favourite bench drinking cups of tea.”
Whiley added: “Covid has brought with it further complications. We’re now dealing with worrying diabetes and high blood pressure issues and my parents are exhausted beyond belief.
“It’s so hard observing from behind a visor and mask, helpless doesn’t cover it.”
Alongside a video of Frances giving a thumbs up and a round of applause, Whiley said her sister “would like to say a huge thank you to everybody who has helped her, especially the amazing doctors and nurses of the NHS, and her many MANY well-wishers”.
Samuel Osborne23 February 2021 16:24
UK unemployment hits five-year high
New ONS figures show the unemployment rate hit a five-year high last month, rising to 5.1 per cent as Covid continued to inflict damage on the UK economy.
Our friends at Statista have prepared this chart to show how that figure has crept up during the pandemic.
Liam James23 February 2021 16:05
Music venues should be back in business this summer
The public should be able to enjoy a full programme of concerts and gigs this summer, according to the boss of the Music Venue Trust.
Mark Davyd, chief executive of the organisation representing grassroots venues, said people can be “very confident” the sector will restart, so long as no new virus variants emerge and the vaccine rollout continues as planned.
“We are on course to bring live music back, to revive live, by the summer,” Mr Davyd said.
Despite this, he said, it may be “two or three years” until music venues are “fully recovered” from the the effects of the pandemic, adding that an “enormous amount of debt” had accrued over the course of the pandemic.
Liam James23 February 2021 15:55
‘Incompetent and inconsistent’: Hospitality sector expresses doubts over Johnson’s lockdown lifting plan
Businesses from across the hospitality sector have voiced their alarm over the government’s timetable for easing coronavirus restrictions.
Leading industry figures, including Manchester’s night time economy adviser Sacha Lord, say delaying opening many indoor venues until at least mid-May will force some businesses to sack staff or even close down.
“I don’t know how businesses are going to make it,” Mr Lord said, “We now have 10 days of fear and anxiety among operators and among employees, because it is 10 days until the chancellor comes out and says how he is going to support them.
Tom Batchelor has the details:
Liam James23 February 2021 15:34
Sir David Attenborough says Covid has taught us ‘we are no longer separate nations’
Addressing the first ever meeting of United Nations Security Council leaders to discuss the climate crisis, Sir David Attenborough said the coronavirus pandemic had demonstrated that global cooperation is necessary to tackle humanity’s greatest challenges.
“Perhaps the most significant lesson brought by these last 12 months has been that we are no longer separate nations each best served by looking after its own needs and security”, the 94-year-old environmentalist told global leaders.
“We are a truly global species whose greatest threats are shared and whose security must ultimately come from acting together in the interests of us all.
“Climate change is a threat to global security that can only be dealt with by unparalleled levels of global cooperation.”
Liam James23 February 2021 15:14
More detail in mid-March, says Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has said she hopes to be able to give more detail in mid-March on the easing of restrictions in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon said she had hoped to give “as much clarity as possible” in today’s announcement but added added she wanted to avoid “giving false assurance or picking arbitrary dates that have no grounding at this stage in any objective assessment”.
She continued: “I am as confident as I can be that the indicative, staged timetable that I have set out today — from now until late April when the economy will start to substantially reopen — is a reasonable one.
“And in mid-March — when we have made further progress on vaccines and have greater understanding of the impact of the initial phase of school return — I hope we can set out then more detail of the further reopening that will take place over April and May and into a summer when we hope to be living with much greater freedoms than we are today.”
Liam James23 February 2021 14:50