Covid UK news LIVE – Hotel quarantine shambles as govt fails to sign a SINGLE contract for scheme starting next week

THE government has failed to sign a single contract ahead of the hotel quarantine scheme next week.

Brits returning from 33 "red list" countries where new Covid variants are circulating must isolate for 10 days in specially guarded hotels from February 15 – three weeks after the plan was announced.

But despite the delay, Boris Johnson's official spokesman admitted today that the government still hasn't managed to sign a single contract with a hotel firm to secure the places required in time for next week.

The news comes as Britain's hopes of lockdown easing were dealt a fresh blow with Boris Johnson warned not to lift measures anytime soon.

The head of NHS Providers Chris Hopson warned the PM not to risk a major coronavirus setback by racing to unlock before test and trace systems are in place to prevent another massive surge in deaths.

Follow the live blog below for the very latest news, updates and analysis of the coronavirus crisis…

  • Ben Hill

    DEATHS SLOW

    Covid daily death figures have fallen to their lowest in six weeks after 333 more people died.

    The lockdown and the jabs roll-out have forced cases down by a quarter in a week to 14,104.

    The positive tests recorded overnight are a dramatic plunge on yesterday's figure of 15,845.

    Government officials said a further 333 people had died – down on yesterday's 373 – within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday.

  • Ben Hill

    NURSES CONTINUED…

    And of the nursing staff who had not received a vaccine, 55 per cent had not been offered it – around 8 per cent of all respondents.

    Overall, 35 per cent of agency workers and 19 per cent of temporary staff had not been offered a vaccine yet, compared to six per cent of permanent staff.

    The Government is aiming to have offered a vaccine to everyone in the top four priority groups, which includes all health and care staff, by February 15.

    With the deadline nearing, the RCN is calling on the Government to redouble its efforts to reach those working outside the NHS and in agency or temporary roles.

    The survey found that 71 per cent of non-NHS staff had received at least one vaccine, compared to 91 per cent of nursing staff working in the NHS.

  • Ben Hill

    NURSES LEFT BEHIND

    Nursing staff who do not work directly for the NHS are being left behind in the vaccination programme, according to a survey.

    The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found that 85 per cent of 24,370 nursing staff members polled between January 29 and February 2 had received a coronavirus vaccine.

    Of the 15 per cent who had not, 70 per cent work in non-NHS settings – either in local communities, social care settings such as care homes, or employed by agencies.

  • Ben Hill

    TRIBUTES TO 'LOVING AND KIND' PORTER

    Tributes have been paid to a "loving and kind" porter who died from Covid-19 at the hospital where he worked.

    John Jackson, 52, known as Adam, had worked in theatres at Royal Stoke University Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, where he was employed by Sodexo.

    Mr Jackson, from Trent Vale on the outskirts of Stoke, died on February 7.

    Tracy Bullock, University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) NHS Trust's chief executive, said: "It is with deepest sadness that I announce the death of John Jackson, a porter at University Hospital of North Midlands, from Covid-19."

  • Ben Hill

    DATE FRIGHT

    A lockdown Romeo was slapped with a £200 fine after a 200-mile round trip to see his girlfriend "for a peck in a Peugeot".

    He travelled from Lancashire to Leicestershire to pick up his partner before they drove to a reservoir in Derbyshire on Saturday, police said.

    The courting couple were interrupted by cops who asked why they were at the Staunton Harold Reservoir beauty spot, which closes to the public at 4pm.

    Officers hit both of them with a £200 fixed penalty notice.

    Lockdown rules ban mixing with people from other households unless you live alone and have formed a support bubble with another household.

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  • Ben Hill

    CAUGHT OUT

    A naked driver was the butt of jokes today after getting a £200 Covid fine when caught near a beauty spot.

    He gave no reason for being nude but told cops he had "stumbled on the car park after taking several wrong turns."

    He was issued with the fine and an anti-social behaviour notice which underlines the need to go out fully clothed.

    The man was sitting in a Mazda in a car park near Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

    Cops said: "Naturally officers challenged the nude male, asking him why he was in a closed carpark."

  • Ben Hill

    BORIS IS CONFIDENT

    Boris Johnson said he is "very confident" in the coronavirus vaccines after concerns were raised that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab may be less effective against the South African variant.

    But the Prime Minister did not rule out the strain could delay the relaxation of lockdown restriction, instead insisting he has "no doubt that vaccines generally are going to offer a way out".

    Experts warned on Monday it is "very possible" the strain is already quite widespread in the UK after a study of around 2,000 people suggested the Oxford jab only offers minimal protection against mild disease of the South Africa variant.

    The study, due to the young age of participants, could not conclude whether the vaccine worked against severe disease.

  • Ben Hill

    VAX FACTS

    Home Secretary Priti Patel has warned that "lives will be lost" if online disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines is not tackled.

    In response to Labour MP Kate Hollern, Ms Patel told the Commons: "The Government is absolutely focused on literally zapping down the disinformation, the misinformation, that is circulating around the vaccine because… lives will be lost.

    "We cannot allow for people to basically be duped into believing that this vaccine is not safe and I would urge everyone – Labour councils, Conservative councils, everyone, basically, in positions of authority – to get that message out to take the jab.

    "It is safe and it will protect individuals and their family."

  • Ben Hill

    COVID SLUMP

    Britain's economy will grow by little more than 3 per cent in 2021 after a 10 per cent slump last year and – with the hit from Covid and Brexit likely to be felt for years – finance minister Rishi Sunak should offer more emergency support, a leading think tank said.

    The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) cut its growth forecast for 2021 to 3.4 per cent from a previous estimate of 5.9 per cent, reflecting the impact of the country's third coronavirus lockdown which began this month.

    Britain's economy was only expected to return to its pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, it said.

  • Ben Hill

    GIVE ME A BREAK

    A dad smoking in his car during a 'five-minute breather from the kids' was challenged by a cop.

    Zia Khan began filming when he was accused of breaching lockdown rules by a PCSO in Birmingham.

    He then posted the footage on TikTok, where it's gone viral.

    The 31-year-old could be heard raging in the video as he told the officer, who was on patrol in a marked car, the stop was "taking the p**s".

  • Ben Hill

    NEW THREAT

    More young women are being hospitalised with Covid than before, Sage has warned.

    The underlying reasons are yet to become clear, but experts said it could be because women tend to do the food shopping and take children to school.

    It comes amid the spread of new coronavirus variants, which are said to have an advantage for entering cells.

    In a meeting on January 21, Sage – the scientists advising the Government – discussed rising rates of women in hospital.

  • Ben Hill

    NASAL SPRAYS MAY BE MORE EFFECTIVE

    Nasal sprays me be more effective than jabs at stopping Covid spread, according to a leading scientist.

    Government adviser Peter Openshaw said injecting vaccines up the nose rather than in the arm could better help stop future cases.

    The professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London said developing nasal immunisations was the “rational way to go”.

    Prof Openshaw, who also sits on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the key aim was to stop “replication in the nose and therefore prevent spread.”

    Speaking on the BBC Today programme, he said: “We really need to develop vaccines which are based on say nasal sprays and induce, what we call a mucosal immune response.

    “The initial vaccines given to us as an injection induce a very good response in your bloodstream and also protect the lungs pretty well….in terms of antibodies.

  • Chiara Fiorillo

    FORCING AN EMPLOYEE TO HAVE COVID VACCINE IS 'DISCRIMINATORY', SAYS NO 10

    Forcing an employee to have a coronavirus vaccine in order to keep their job would be "discriminatory", Downing Street has said.

    Some care home staff are reportedly refusing to have a Covid jab – with some providers said to be considering not hiring staff who have refused the vaccination on non-medical grounds.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing on Monday: "Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one."

  • Chiara Fiorillo

    SCOTLAND ON TRACK TO HIT ONE MILLION VACCINATION MILESTONE

    Scotland is on course to hit the one million vaccine milestone this week, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

    She told the Scottish Government's daily coronavirus briefing that 866,823 people have received their first dose of a vaccine, an increase of 27,557 on Sunday.

    This is three times the number vaccinated last Sunday, the First Minister said.

  • Chiara Fiorillo

    UK COVID-19 CASE RATES DROP TO PRE-XMAS LEVELS

    Covid-19 case rates for the four nations of the UK have dropped to their lowest level since before Christmas, with some regions of England recording rates last seen in early December, new analysis shows.

    In London the seven-day rate has fallen to its lowest since December 8, while the figure for south-east England is at its lowest since December 7.

    While a handful of local areas across the UK have recorded a week-on-week rise in the latest figures, most of the increases are small.

    The national rate for Wales is now at its lowest since early October.

  • Chiara Fiorillo

    MATT HANCOCK TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE TODAY

    Matt Hancock will hold a press conference from Number 10 this evening at 5pm.

    He will update the nation from Downing St after the UK topped more than 12 million doses delivered, with the NHS now jabbing a thousand people every minute.

    Credit: Parliament.tv
  • Chiara Fiorillo

    PFIZER JAB IS EFFECTIVE AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA VARIANT

    The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is effective against the coronavirus variant that emerged from South Africa, according to a new study.

    In a US study of 20 vaccine recipients, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that the vaccine neutralises the virus with the N501Y and E484K mutation.

  • Ben Hill

    GRIM REAPER

    Coronavirus patients with gum disease are nine times more likely to die from the killer bug, a new study has warned.

    Researchers also found that patients with gum disease were 4.5 times more likely to require a ventilator.

    The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology revealed that patients with the oral condition were 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care.

    Dentists across the country had to close as part of the very first lockdown restrictions early in 2020, except for emergencies.

  • Ben Hill

    CASH DEPOSITS PLUNGE

    The amount of cash deposited by businesses using Post Office branches plunged by 40 per cent in January compared with a year earlier.

    Business cash deposits were down by 40.7 per cent to total £582 million in January, the Post Office said.

    This compared with £981 million in January 2020, before any UK coronavirus lockdowns.

    Personal cash deposits in January totalled £931.6 million.

    This was £47 million lower than in December, which tends to be the busiest month for deposits, although it was still up by 4.6 per cent compared with January 2020, when personal deposits totalled £890.3 million.

  • Ben Hill

    VAX REASSURANCE

    Ministers have sought to reassure the public over the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as experts warned it was "very possible" the South African variant is already quite widespread in the UK.

    A study of around 2,000 people has shown the jab only offers minimal protection against mild disease of the South Africa variant and, due to the young age of participants, could not conclude whether the jab worked against severe disease.

    Health minister Edward Argar said on Monday that Oxford researchers remained confident their vaccine could prevent severe disease for those affected by the variant and that booster jabs to tackle new strains are already in the pipeline.

  • Ben Hill

    COVID POSITIVE ALLOWED TO FLY

    A Covid-positive passenger was allowed to fly to the UK after a rapid 30-minute swab tested negative.

    He took two tests at the same time before leaving New York – and the 24-hour test revealed he had the virus.

    By the time he was made aware of the result he had returned to London on a busy British Airways flight.

    The flyer, who asked not to be named, said: “I have watched the government and scientists admit they don’t know how the coronavirus variants are entering the UK. Well I am an example of how this is happening.

  • Ben Hill

    WHO DECIDES

    The World Health Organization's vaccine experts were deciding Monday on their usage recommendations for the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine — including for older adults.

    The 15-member Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (Sage) was spending the day in a virtual extraordinary meeting discussing the two-shot vaccine.

    The WHO said the recommendations on who it should and should not be used for would be made public later this week.

    The regulatory authorities in several European nations have not authorised the vaccine for use among the over-65s — by far the most vulnerable age group for serious Covid-19 disease.

    According to the SAGE meeting's agenda, "assessment of the critical evidence, including data and draft recommendations related to vaccine use in older adults" will form a key part of Monday's talks.

  • Ben Hill

    HOLA-DAYS

    Spain will bounce back to becoming a first-choice sun and sand destination for British holidaymakers this summer, the country’s tourism chiefs have predicted.

    Tourism minister Maria Reyes claimed a fortnight ago the country would begin to open up to international travellers at the end of spring.

    Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism yesterday reinforced the idea Britain’s favourite holiday destination will be back on the road to recovery by summer.

    Fernando Valdes told Costa Blanca-based Spanish daily Informacion: “We’re putting all our efforts into making sure we have a decent summer from a health and tourist point of view."

  • Ben Hill

    VAX VOW

    Brits must not be forced to get a Covid vaccine before they can return to work, the health minister warned business bosses today.

    Edward Argar said jabs have to remain voluntary and there are other ways firms can make their offices secure from the virus.

    He was commenting on reports that companies could use existing health and safety laws to try and force their staff to get vaccinated.

    Mr Argar said there are no plans to introduce vaccine passports or immunity certificates that would give those who have been jabbed greater rights.

  • Ben Hill

    TAXPAYERS FORKING OUT FOR RENT

    Taxpayers have forked out more than £5.7million for the Government to rent land for a temporary Brexit lorry park.

    The site handles customs checks and hauliers' paperwork.

    Waterbrook Park in Kent is being used while work continues on the purpose-built Sevington lorry park nearby.

    But construction has been delayed by heavy rain and it is not due to become operational until the end of the month.

    An HMRC spokesman said: "We will continue to monitor spends associated with the inland border facilities."

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