The Scottish Conservative party has immediately suspended one of its candidates for May’s Scottish parliament elections after reports that he suggested people queuing for food banks in the UK during the pandemic were overweight.
The Daily Record this morning reported comments made by Craig Ross, the candidate for Glasgow Pollok constituency, last year in his podcast, which he advertises as including “reaction to the Guardian newspaper from the centre-right”.
Referring to interviews with food bank users he had watched on Channel 4 news, Ross said:
I’m not saying that every single person who claims to be really hungry and is reliant on charity is also very overweight, but what I am saying is if Channel 4 News is having a reasonable go at showing the reality of food bank usage, then we know that the people that they film are far from starving. If anything, their biggest risk is not starvation, it’s diabetes.
He also complained about anti-poverty campaigner and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, saying: “Has Marcus Rashford stood for election to anything? Not that I’m aware of.”
A Scottish Conservative party spokesman said: “We have suspended this candidate and an investigation is under way. These unacceptable comments do not reflect the views of the party.”
Wales introduces mandatory testing for international arrivals
Passengers planning to travel into Wales from abroad will have to prove they have tested negative for coronavirus before their departure, the country’s health minister has said.
Vaughan Gething said the requirement, which comes into effect from 4am on 18 January, would help protect against new strains of Covid-19 circulating internationally.
The rule applies to inbound passengers arriving by boat, plane or train from countries outside the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Tests must be taken up to 72 hours before departing the country they are in, with proof of a negative result presented to carriers as well as a passenger locator form.
A mandatory 10-day quarantine for arrivals will remain in place for passengers arriving from countries not on the Welsh government’s travel ban list, regardless of their pre-departure test result.
On Friday, Gething said:
We are doing everything we can to slow down the spread of the virus. These new measures will help ensure we prevent new strains of the virus developing internationally from being imported into Wales.
Wales remains in its alert level 4 lockdown restrictions, travel for a holiday into the country is not permitted, and people must stay at home unless travelling for essential reasons.
The weekly infection survey from the ONS due at noon will no longer be published today, following what the statistics body said were delays in receiving laboratory test results. It will now be published “as soon as possible”, the ONS said.
Critically ill patients with Covid-19 are being transferred from overstretched London hospitals to intensive care units almost 300 miles away in Newcastle, Sarah Marsh and Denis Campbell reveal.
The crisis engulfing the capital’s hospitals is so severe that in recent days patients have also been moved 67 miles to Northampton, 125 miles to Birmingham and 167 miles to Sheffield.
It is the latest dramatic illustration of the increasingly difficult situation confronting the health service. Hospitals across the UK are battling to provide care for 36,489 people with coronavirus, an increase of 5,872 in seven days. There were a further 48,682 confirmed cases reported on Thursday but Public Health England said that UK deaths data had been delayed due to a “processing issue”. Late on Thursday it said there had been 1,248 deaths recorded in the previous 24 hours.
Dr Claudia Paoloni, president of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, said the long-distance transfers put patients at risk, and the huge number planned showed that the NHS was “on the ropes” after years of underfunding and staff shortages.
The number of Covid-19 infections across England is falling as a whole, with the reproductive rate – the R – below 1 in some regions, University of Cambridge researchers have said.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit Covid-19 Working Group said the current estimate of the daily number of new infections occurring across England is 60,200.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is due to release its own figures later, while government scientists will release their own R rate, which refers to the number of people an infected person will pass the virus on to.
The Cambridge researchers said regions with a current R rate below 1 are the East of England, London, the South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber. They say it is above 1 in the South West, North West, North East and East Midlands.
The team suggests the proportion of the population who have ever been infected could stand at 30% in London, 26% in the North West and 21% in the North East, dropping to 13% in the South East and 8% in the South West.
The growth rate for England is now estimated to be -0.02 per day. This means that, nationally, the number of infections is declining but with a high degree of regional variation. Infections are still increasing in the South West and North East, whilst plateauing in the West Midlands and East Midlands.
It comes as Public Health England (PHE) released data on Wednesday showing infection rates had fallen in most regions of England across all age groups apart from the over-80s.
At the same time, however, the PHE surveillance report noted that there were more people being admitted to hospitals and intensive care units. NHS England data shows that around one in five major hospital trusts in England had no spare adult critical care beds on 10 January.
Elsewhere, the Zoe Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey from King’s College London put the UK R rate at 0.9. It said cases have also plateaued in most age groups.
Tim Spector, who is leading the study, said:
It’s great to see case numbers falling in most regions but numbers are still worryingly high and hospitals will stay under pressure for some time yet. With such high numbers and growing evidence new strains are highly transmissible, things can still take a turn for the worse. We need numbers to keep falling before we make any changes to current restrictions.
Plan to discharge Covid patients to care homes in England is ‘madness’
Robert Booth reports that plans to discharge Covid patients from hospitals into care homes without tests have been branded “madness” by care home providers who warned the move risks a repeat of last spring’s crisis, which was partly fuelled by pressure to relieve the NHS.
The Department of Health and Social Care issued guidance that Covid positive patients in England who have been in isolation in hospital for 14 days “are not considered to pose an infection risk” and do not have to be retested. If they are not showing new symptoms or have had fresh exposure to the virus they can be moved directly to care homes from hospital.
Care homes are demanding to see evidence to support that assessment in the light of rising cases of the new more transmissible strain of the virus. About 1,200 care home residents died from Covid-19 in England in the first week of January and on Wednesday the NHS ordered GPs to rapidly accelerate vaccination of England’s approximately 400,000 care home residents to deliver all first doses by the end of next week.
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in North Yorkshire, told the Guardian:
I can’t quite believe the government is thinking of doing this. How do we know [people being discharged] haven’t been exposed especially with this new virulent strain? It seems we haven’t learned from the first wave. We want to help the health service but people will be reluctant to accept discharges without the comfort of a test … It seems madness.
The UK economy is heading for a double-dip recession after official figures confirmed a renewed slump in November as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Richard Partington reports.
The Office for National Statistics said GDP fell by 2.6% month-on-month in November, when the government launched the second national lockdown in England and amid tougher controls in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. City economists had forecast a steeper fall of 5.7%.
The impact of renewed restrictions took GDP in November down to 8.5% below its pre-pandemic level, in a setback for Britain’s economic recovery from the first wave of the crisis.
For more, head to our business live blog:
Ban on arrivals from South America and Portugal over Brazilian variant in force
A ban on travellers from more than a dozen countries across South America entering the UK came into force early this morning because of growing concerns about a variant that has emerged in Brazil. The ban, which took effect at 4am this morning, also covers Panama, Cape Verde and Portugal because of its travel links with Brazil.
Scientists analysing the variant believe the mutations it shares with the new South African variant seem to be associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where there have already been large outbreaks of the disease.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps described the ban as a “precautionary” move to ensure the vaccination programme rolling out across the UK was not disrupted by new variants of the virus. He said:
We don’t want to trip up at this late stage. We don’t have cases at the moment but this is a precautionary approach. We want to make sure that we do everything possible so that vaccine rollout can continue and make sure that it is not disturbed by other variants of this virus.
British and Irish nationals and others with residence rights are exempted from the measure, which was backed by the Scottish government, though they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households on their return.
There is an exemption also for hauliers travelling from Portugal to allow the transport of essential goods.
The shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the ban was a “necessary step” but accused ministers of incompetence and “lurching from one crisis and rushed announcement to another”.
Good morning. The prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans for daily testing of millions of school students a week are in disarray after the UK regulator refused to formally approve the scheme, my colleague Josh Halliday reports.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told the government it had not authorised the daily use of 30-minute tests because of concerns that they will give people false reassurance if they test negative. This could lead to pupils staying in school and potentially spreading the virus when they should be self-isolating. Mass testing with lateral flow tests is already in place in some secondary schools and was due to be expanded next week for children who are in school. The regulator’s decision is another setback for Johnson’s mass testing plan (which experts remain divided on) and raises questions about the proposed full return of schools after the February half-term, which is partly dependent on the availability of serial testing.
Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph (paywall) reports on the latest Public Health England (PHE) data revealing that outbreaks in care homes have more than trebled in a month, with levels of infections now similar to the peak of the first wave. The figures show that in the week to 14 January, there was the second highest weekly total since records began in April.
The paper has been told the care home vaccine rollout is taking longer than the government had anticipated. Sources said only 100 residents could be vaccinated in the time it took to administer jabs to 1,000 people in the community. The same lateral flow tests that the MHRA warned against using for schools are currently being used in care homes and experts have repeatedly raised concerns they are unreliable. Adam Briggs, a senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said the rise in reported care home incidents is “deeply concerning”. He told the Telegraph:
Care homes cannot be neglected again.
I’ll be bringing you all the latest UK developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share – your thoughts are always welcome!