SUMMER holidays have been dealt another blow this year as it was claimed Spain and the US could be added to England’s high-risk red list of 33 countries.
This means all travel to and from the country would be banned, excluding British nationals returning home.
In addition, anyone entering England from these two countries would be required to self-isolate for ten days at a government-approved quarantine hotel, costing up to £1,750 per person.
According to The Telegraph, the Department Of Transport met with health officials yesterday to discuss the latest date on new variants in both Spain and the US.
A decision will be made on whether to add the countries to the red list at the Cabinet Covid operations committee this week.
Both countries have seen local transmission of new variants that are of concern to the UK.
Spain’s coronavirus cases is currently 3.1m, with more than 66,000 deaths – lower than the UK but one of the worst in Europe – while the US’s Covid cases are the highest in the world at 28m, and more than 500,000 deaths.
There are around 1,000 people arriving from the US each day and 500 from Spain.
Follow our live blog below for the very latest UK politics news…
PM TO MAKE VACCINES PLEDGE
Boris Johnson will pledge to donate the majority of surplus coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations as he tries to rally world leaders to work together on efforts to combat the pandemic.
The Prime Minister will chair a virtual gathering of G7 leaders on Friday, including US President Joe Biden in his first major multilateral meeting, to discuss the response to the crisis.
He will use the meeting to confirm that the UK will share the majority of its surplus Covid-19 vaccines with the international Covax initiative to support developing countries.
The PM will urge the G7, made up of the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Italy along with the UK, to increase funding for Covax.
SCHOOLS WILL BE FIRST TO REOPEN
The PM will set out the plans for easing lockdown on Monday.
Schools are set to be the first things to reopen from March 8 onwards – pending any dramatic shift in infections or hospitalisations.
However, it’s not yet clear whether it will be all pupils or they will stagger them.
It may be that some kids in key exam years will go back first, followed by others at a later date.
Professor Neil Ferguson backed the reopening of schools this week, adding he was “very surprised and encouraged by how quickly case numbers have been coming down in recent weeks”.
VACCINE PASSPORT MAY BE NEEDED FOR CINEMA TRIPS
Vaccine passports could be needed to go to the cinema and theatre under plans being pushed by some ministers to help get “dying” businesses open again faster.
Boris Johnson is being urged to reconsider his opposition to issuing jabs certificates, which inoculated people would be able to use to get their lives back to normal.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of firms are defying Government pleas and eyeing up “no jab, no job” policies for staff who want or need to physically return to work.
But the PM is instead pressing ahead with plans for a testing blitz of millions of people to help get the country out of lockdown and into “a new normal”.
Downing St is finalising the plan, which will run under the slogan “Are you ready? Get testing. Go.”
MAYOR URGES PM NOT TO END LOCKDOWN QUICKLY
Sadiq Khan has demanded that Boris Johnson ignores the pleas of business chiefs and Tory MPs to swiftly end the lockdown.
The Mayor of London insisted the PM must dismiss “shouting and hectoring” from his backbenchers who want a rapid rolling back of restrictions.
He insisted that he is “as impatient as the next person” to end the curbs but that No 10 must “learn the lessons of the mistakes made in the past”.
And he warned the number of people in hospital, which is six times higher than when the last lockdown was eased in June, shows now is not the time to drop restrictions too quickly.
VOTERS SET OT HAVE TO TAKE ID TO POLLS FROM 2023
Voters are expected to have to show ID to vote by 2023 under a crackdown on voter fraud.
Anyone without a form of photo ID such as a passport or driving license will have to contact their council before polling day to confirm their ID if they want to cast their ballot.
At the moment people simply turn up, give their name and address and are allowed to vote.
Meanwhile, Brits living abroad will see their right to vote in UK elections extended beyond the current 15 year cap – allowing them to take part in votes indefinitely.
The new plans will come as part of the Electoral Integrity Bill, which will be introduced to MPs in the next few months. No firm date has been set for when the new rules will come in yet, but it’s expected to be in place for the 2023 May elections.
NICOLA STURGEON ‘HOPES CURRENT LOCKDOWN WILL BE THE LAST’
Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants “if at all possible” for the current coronavirus lockdown to be the last.
But the First Minister stressed that to ensure no further lockdowns are required, the lifting of restrictions must be sustainable.
She warned: “If it is quick at the expense of sustainability, the danger is as we start to look at next winter again, we will be back in lockdown.
“I want, if at all possible, this lockdown to be the last one we need.
That means we need to make our recovery out of lockdown not just as quick as possible, but perhaps more importantly as sustainable as possible so we keep going in the right direction.”
PM TO DECIDE ‘ROADMAP TO RECOVERY’ BASED ON DOSSIER
Boris Johnson is believed to have been handed a dossier of data last night to help him decide the speed of his “Roadmap to Recovery” blueprint.
The PM will use the numbers to shape his official plan to ease lockdown, to be published on Monday.
Mr Johnson this week vowed to be driven by data not dates in his “cautious and prudent” lifting of Covid restrictions, starting on March 8 with reopening schools.
But The Sun understands the document will also mention other specific dates as the earliest possible opportunity for shops and pubs to reopen if cases continue to fall and vaccinations lead to a decline in deaths.
The PM is due to receive the up-to-date analysis by this morning at the latest. It will show for the first time how effective the Oxford jab has been.
NEW COVID STRAIN MAY NOT SHOW UP IN TESTS
A new Covid strain has been found in Finland that doesn’t show up in tests and could be fuelling its spread, experts have said.
According to research the Fin-796H variant is different from all of the previously found strains in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The discovery was made by Helsinki-based Vita Laboratories who say it’s unlikely the variant emerged in Finland, given the country’s low rate of coronavirus infection.
“Mutations in this variant make it difficult to detect in at least one of the WHO-recommended PCR tests,” said the lab.
“This discovery could have a significant impact on determining the spread of the disease.”
COVID CASES FALLING IN ALL REGIONS
Covid-19 case rates are continuing to fall in all regions of England, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.
In the East Midlands, the rate of new cases stood at 176.7 per 100,000 people in the seven days to February 14 – the highest rate of any region, but down from 228.4 in the previous week.
The West Midlands recorded the second highest rate: 170.4, down from 243.1.
South-west England recorded the lowest rate: 87.4, down from 123.1.
COVID VARIANTS MERGE TO CREATE HYBRID
Two coronavirus variants have merged, scientists say, raising concerns about the course of the virus’ evolution.
The hybrid formed when the Kent and Californian variants combined by infecting one person at the same time.
The Kent strain (B.1.1.7) is more easily spread and deadly, while the Californian variant (B.1.429) has some ability to escape immunity.
This new variant, which has not been named, was detected in a laboratory in New Mexico, according to a report from New Scientist.
It has not yet been found in a coronavirus case in the UK.
‘TRAGEDY’ NOT EVERYONE IS BENEFITTING FROM JAB, SAYS PRINCE
Prince Charles has said it is a “tragedy” that not everyone is benefitting from the Covid vaccine
He made the comment during an online conference aimed at encouraging take-up among minority communities.
Charles praised the “extraordinary achievements” of the medical experts who have produced the vaccines at short notice and whose efforts “must rank as one of the greatest scientific achievements of our time”.
After praising the “superhuman effort” of the medical experts Charles added: “Therefore, it is surely a tragedy that the benefits of such an extraordinary achievement should not be experienced by everybody.
BRITS MAY BE WELCOMED BACK TO GREECE THIS SUMMER
British tourists who have been vaccinated may be welcomed back to Greece this summer without having to have negative coronavirus tests.
The country joins Spain in offering hope for UK tourists returning by the summer with fewer travel restrictions if they have had the jab.
Greece Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told BBC’s Today programme that he was hopeful it would be a “normal summer” for vaccinated travellers.
He said: “Technical discussions [with the UK] are underway to see if that’s going to be feasible. I am very hopeful we can reach some kind of solution.
“We don’t want to limit travel to those who have been vaccinated of course, but since we are mandating that before travelling someone has to have a negative test result, this is a waste of resources if people are vaccinated, to be tested every time they travel, the need for this testing could be limited by the vaccination certificate.”
LOCKDOWN IS DRIVING DOWN INFECTION LEVELS
Major research shows lockdown measures are significantly driving down infection levels across the nation, but that they remain high and at similar levels to those observed in late September.
Imperial College London’s React study, which tested more than 85,000 people in England between February 4 and 13, suggested infections have dropped to just one in 200 people.
The study suggested infections are halving every 15 days, and the R number – which expresses how many people the average infected individual spreads the virus to – is at 0.72.
But, with the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals remaining higher than during the first wave last April, experts called for caution in easing restrictions.
Steven Riley, Imperial’s professor of infectious disease dynamics, said that “because prevalence is high, there essentially isn’t a lot of headroom – there isn’t a lot of leeway”.
LABOUR LEADER PROPOSES NEW SAVINGS SCHEME
Keir Starmer is proposing a new savings scheme to let people to “have a stake in our national recovery” as the UK emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
The Labour leader said a British Recovery Bond could raise millions for the public purse, while offering financial security to new savers.
He said: “There’s an opportunity to think creatively [and] build on the spirit of solidarity we’ve seen.”
The policy is a key part of Labour’s alternative to the Budget on 3 March.
STARMER PLEDGES TO ADDRESS INEQUALITIES
Sir Keir Starmer pledged to lead a “moral crusade” to address inequalities and injustices exposed by the coronavirus crisis, as he announced plans for recovery bonds to give savers a stake in Britain’s future.
The Labour leader used a major speech to call for a “new chapter” in the country’s history after the pandemic laid bare the nation’s “fragilities”, saying: “We have to seize this moment to address them.”
“We can go back to the same insecure and unequal economy that’s been so cruelly exposed by the virus, or we can seize the moment, and go forward to a future that’s going to look utterly unlike the past,” Sir Keir said.
Comparing the recovery from Covid-19 to the post-war period, he used the virtual address in central London to say there is an “opportunity” to think creatively and to “forge a new contract with the British people”.
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO PUBLISH VACCINE SUPPLY DATA WEEKLY
The Scottish Government is to publish data on vaccine supplies following talks with UK ministers and jab providers.
The UK Government has previously asked Holyrood ministers not to publish such data due to security concerns.
But speaking at the coronavirus briefing on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said her Government has held discussions with ministers in London, the other devolved governments and vaccine suppliers on the issue for weeks.
She said: “As a result, the Scottish Government is publishing information today about the supplies we’ve received so far and from next week onwards will publish this data initially on a weekly basis.”
HOME OFFICE ‘MORAL FAILURE’ OF ASYLUM SEEKER HOUSING
A doctor has accused the Home Office of “moral failure” over the continued housing of asylum seekers at an ageing and virus-hit military barracks.
Napier Barracks in Kent has been used as “emergency” accommodation since September last year, despite significant welfare concerns.
But even before any residents had moved in, Public Health England (PHE) gave warnings that the dormitories on the military site were “not suitable” for use, according to court documents.
In the months since it opened, coronavirus has surged behind the barbed wire fences with at least 120 residents testing positive.
Despite this, the Home Office has continued to defend its use of the Ministry of Defence-owned barracks and last week Home Secretary Priti Patel said the site is “Covid-compliant” and “has been from day one”.
DEPRIVED COMMUNITIES HIT BY A ‘PERFECT STORM’
England’s most deprived communities were hit by a “perfect storm” of wage, housing and testing-and-trace issues that led to high coronavirus rates, according to reports of an unpublished government analysis.
The Guardian said it had seen a report by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) which concluded people in poorer areas were less likely to be able to self-isolate due to being unable to afford lost income.
The study found that in Blackburn-with-Darwen and Leicester, areas badly affected by the pandemic, more people had been rejected than accepted when they sought financial help to self-isolate, increasing the likelihood they could not follow self-isolation rules.
MASS TESTING IN 19 AREAS
Surge testing is being deployed in 19 areas to tackle new cases of Covid variants.
Locals are urged to take up any offer of a test and book themselves in to get checked.
‘WE MUST MAKE THIS LOCKDOWN THE LAST’
Sir Keir Starmer today urged Boris Johnson to make sure this lockdown is the last as he called for a new post-war style spirit to rebuild the battered economy.
The Labour leader praised the PM’s handling of the vaccine rollout and said there’s a “mood in the air” similar to when Britain needed to rise again from the ashes of WW2.
In a keynote virtual speech he echoed Boris’ calls for the country to be “cautious and careful” when easing lockdown, and said a bigger state will be needed to get the country back on its feet.
And he said he was “really pleased” to see rates of Covid coming down across the country, which “shows these restrictions are working”.
Sir Keir said: “The PM is right. We’ve got to make sure this lockdown is the last lockdown, not make the mistakes we’ve made before which is to come out too quickly.”
KEY WORKERS WITH LONG-COVID ‘SHOULD GET COMPENSATION’
Key workers who are suffering from long Covid should be given compensation, MPs have said.
It is thought that more than 390,000 people in the UK have been left with debilitating symptoms such as muscle ache and fatigue after overcoming the virus.
Now a total of 65 MPs have penned a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to recognise the illness as an occupational disease.
Liberal democrat MP, Layla Moran, who chairs a committee of MPs looking into coronavirus said patients suffering from long Covid are finding it “close to impossible” to return to work.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme she said many long Covid sufferers are the “true heroes of the pandemic”.
SURGE TESTING IN ANOTHER AREA AFTER SOUTH AFRICAN VARIANT FOUND
Surge testing has been deployed to areas in Leeds to tackle new cases of the South African variant.
Locals are urged to take up any offer of a test and book themselves in to get checked – to nip any spread of the variant in the bud.
A Department of Health statement said: “Working in partnership with the local authority, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to targeted areas in Leeds LS8, including parts of Harehills and the area just north of Easterly Road where the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.
“Extra testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing, and in combination with following the current lockdown rules and remembering Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus. “
Earlier this week the Government announced surge testing in spots in Manchester, Norfolk, Southampton and Surrey.
COVID CRISIS HAS SEEN ‘BEST OF BRITAIN’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the response to the Covid crisis had seen the “best of Britain” but also exposed the country’s “fragilities”.
In a speech delivered virtually, Sir Keir said: “I believe there is a mood in the air that we don’t detect often in Britain.
“It was there in 1945 after the sacrifice of war and it is there again now – it is there in the determination that our collective sacrifice must lead to a better future.”
He said next month’s Budget presented a “fork in the road” and offered the potential to “seize the moment” and create a future that looks “utterly unlike the past”.
Sir Keir added: “We can’t return to business as usual, certainly not to an economy rooted in insecurity and inequality.”
ONE IN FOUR UK FIRMS PLAN TO FIRE STAFF IF FURLOUGH ENDS SOON, SAYS BCC
A quarter of British businesses expect to fire staff if finance minister Rishi Sunak does not extend a job furlough programme that is due to expire at the end of April, the British Chambers of Commerce said on Thursday.
Sunak is due to deliver his annual budget on March 3 and has promised to provide more support for jobs hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
But he is also mindful that COVID-related spending has already pushed Britain’s budget deficit to its highest since World War Two.
Britain entered a third national lockdown last month, which forced schools and most businesses to close their doors to the public, although staff can continue to work on site if there is no good alternative.
COVID CASES DROP ACROSS ENGLAND
Official data from Public Health England (PHE) states that cases have fallen in 95 per cent of areas (298).
The latest data from PHE comes as a major study revealed that infections have dropped two thirds since January.
Scientists hailed the plummeting cases as “really encouraging” yesterday, but warned pressure on hospitals must ease before we unlock the country.
Britain’s biggest virus infection survey found the R rate is down to 0.7, even as low as 0.6 in London.
The React study, by Imperial College London, carried out swab tests on 85,000 people across England between February 6 and 13.
— to www.thesun.co.uk