UK coronavirus live: Boris Johnson admits government could have handled crisis differently in early months

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Boris Johnson admits government could have handled crisis differently in early months – as it happened” was written by Lucy Campbell, Jessica Murray and Aamna Mohdin, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th July 2020 18.09 UTC

6.49pm BST

Evening summary

  • Boris Johnson admitted the government could have handled the UK’s coronavirus outbreak differently and there were lessons to be learned, including on the timing of the lockdown. One year on from taking office, the prime minister told BBC News the government had underestimated the extent of asymptomatic transmission and didn’t fully understand the coronavirus in the “first few weeks and months” of the pandemic. It marked a significant departure from his previous insistence that the government took “the right decisions at the right time” based on scientific advice.
  • A lack of PPE, inadequate testing, and discharging people from hospitals into care homes were the key mistakes made by the UK government in its approach to England, MPs were told. The responses, seen exclusively by the Guardian, were given as part of a major coronavirus inquiry. Older people were “catastrophically let down” and many died before their time, according to the Age UK charity, and the BMA said the government’s testing and tracing capabilities at the start of the crisis fell “far short” of what was needed and left the infection to “spread unchecked”. The Unite union doctors group said the government had been slow and had “squandered” weeks of valuable time.
  • The Office for National Statistics estimates that 27,700 people had coronavirus in England last week, suggesting cases have either remained stable over recent weeks or have potentially started to rise. In the latest report, published on Friday, the number of new infections in the week of 13 to 19 July were estimated at 2,800 per day, compared with 1,700 per day the week before.
  • Separately, the government published its latest estimates of the R number, which reflects the number of people each infected person passes the virus on to. In England, R stands at 0.8 to 1, meaning the pandemic is stable and potentially in decline. Growth rates published alongside the latest R values suggest infections are falling by 1% to 4% per day.
  • The UK government’s tally of Covid-associated deaths rose by 123 to 45,677.

That’s it from me from the UK side. Thank you for reading along and to everybody who got in touch throughout the day. If you would like to continue following the Guardian’s coronavirus coverage, head over to the global live blog for the worldwide picture.

Updated at 7.09pm BST

6.17pm BST

University students returning home at the end of term could risk spreading coronavirus across the country if there are outbreaks on campus, government scientific advisers have warned.

Students who go home after falling ill with Covid-19 to avoid having to quarantine alone could also create an “issue” when British universities reopen their campuses in September, they say.

In a document published by Sage, scientists advising the government said student migration at the end of term warrants more attention as universities could “act as amplifiers”.

They warned:

If there is an outbreak at a university (even if not widespread transmission), then students returning home could pose a risk for spread across the UK.

This will be further exacerbated if people return infected but asymptomatic. Students are also more likely to be integrated with the wider community at their home address.

Updated at 6.45pm BST

5.54pm BST

The deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company has warned that the theatre world will become unable to support diverse communities if “the pain continues”.

Erica Whyman said there was “real risk” many theatre companies could close for a substantial length of time if they were not able to reopen before Christmas. She warned that young actors and those from diverse backgrounds would suffer most from the impact of theatre closures, especially in the regions.

Whyman told the PA news agency:

I think some we won’t see recover, that has to be said out loud.

There will be some that cannot find their way back from that crisis, because if they can’t get back open by Christmas that’s getting on for nine months they will be closed, and they will have lost the income from that critical Christmas period.

Last week, Boris Johnson announced that live indoor theatre and concerts would be able to resume with socially distanced audiences from 1 August – subject to the success of pilots.

Whyman added:

In the main we are charities – not all of us, some of us are in the commercial sector – but most of us are charities. We are driven by a mission to share theatre and theatre-making with the widest possible community. And we just won’t be fit to do that if the pain continues.

She said she was “very worried about the most diverse talent in our industry”, adding:

Younger generations in the main who are more diverse in a number of ways, in their socioeconomic background, ethnic background, artists who identify as deaf or disabled.

We have seen many more people come into the performing arts in the last decade and that has been a very good thing. And we know from research we have already conducted that they are the most likely to leave, to not feel they can stick out in this kind of economic climate.

The government has previously announced a £1.57bn support package for the arts, with music venues, theatres, museums, galleries, independent cinemas and heritage sites eligible for emergency grants and loans.

Whyman said:

We were very glad and relieved to hear about the package of money that will be distributed to the performing arts but at this moment it’s really important to say we still don’t know when that will be.

Updated at 6.14pm BST

5.44pm BST

Responding to the BBC interview, Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

At last Boris Johnson has admitted what we have all known for some time – this government made fundamental mistakes in their handling of the coronavirus crisis.

However, to try and minimise this as there were some things they could have done differently is not only an enormous understatement, but it is an insult to all those who tragically lost loved ones to the virus.

This interview has given people more questions than answers.

With no remorse for the catastrophic mistakes such as the failure to protect our care homes or a refusal to put a comprehensive plan in place for a second wave, it is clear the prime minister has learnt nothing over the course of the last few months.

Boris Johnson’s comments today prove why an immediate independent inquiry is so essential.

The prime minister and his government must be faced with the reality of where they went wrong, so that they can learn from their mistakes which have led to tragic consequences.

Updated at 5.58pm BST

5.32pm BST

The free flu vaccination programme in Wales will be extended to citizens over 50 and to households of shielded people – subject to confirmation from the UK government that there will be enough vaccine to go round.

The Welsh government said existing eligible groups including those aged over 65 years, pregnant women and people with medical conditions should be vaccinated first. Increasing uptake in health and social care workers will also be a key priority this winter.

The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

This winter more than ever we need to protect the most vulnerable in our community and continue to protect our NHS.

By extending the flu vaccine to more people than ever before we can help prevent people becoming ill and reduce pressure on the NHS this winter. I would urge anyone who is eligible to have the vaccine.

Updated at 5.57pm BST

5.26pm BST

Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, has said the prime minister “has finally admitted the government has mishandled its response to the coronavirus”.

Responding to Boris Johnson’s remarks in an interview with the BBC, he said:

This finally puts to bed the prime minister’s previous claim his government ‘took the right decisions at the right time’.

He added:

It was too slow to acknowledge the threat of the virus, too slow to enter lockdown and too slow to take this crisis seriously.

The threat of a second wave is still very real.

It is imperative the government learns the lessons of its mistakes so we can help to save lives.

Updated at 5.56pm BST

5.23pm BST

It’s significant that Boris Johnson has reflected and acknowledged that the government could have handled things differently in the early stages of the UK outbreak; ministers have previously uniformly insisted that they took “the right decisions at the right time” based on the scientific advice at the time.

On the first anniversary of his taking office, Johnson also promised to go “further” and “faster” in changing the country.

Last week the prime minister promised an “independent” inquiry into the UK’s approach during the pandemic, but there have yet to be any details released on its scope or timing.

Updated at 5.35pm BST

5.17pm BST

The prime minister said the country was “vulnerable” to a resurgence of coronavirus, particularly in the winter.

But he denied, under questioning from BBC News, that ministers had been too slow to act during the initial wave, saying:

No, on the contrary, no if you look at the timing of every single piece of advice that we got from our advisers, from Sage, you will find that whenever they said that we needed to take a particular step, actually, we stuck to that advice like glue.

On his winter warning, he added:

Collectively, this country has done an incredible thing to get the disease down to the levels it’s at. But we all know that it can come back.

And we can see what’s happening in other countries – I won’t name them – but you can see the resurgence that’s happening. We know that we’re vulnerable there.

So that’s why we’re getting on now with our preparations for the winter … a massive flu vaccination programme, stockpiling PPE, making sure that we ramp up test and trace, and making sure that people get tested if they have symptoms.

Updated at 5.32pm BST

5.16pm BST

Johnson also said there were things his government “could have done differently” during the handling of the pandemic.

Maybe there were things we could have done differently and of course there will be time to understand what exactly we could have done, or done differently.

When you listen to the scientists, the questions that you’ve asked are actually very open questions as far as they are concerned.

And there will be a time obviously to consider all those issues.

5.15pm BST

In an admittance that the government didn’t understand Covid-19 sufficiently in its “first few weeks and months”, the prime minister told the BBC:

We didn’t understand [the virus] in the way that we would have liked in the first few weeks and months.

And I think probably, the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which it was being transmitted asymptomatically from person to person.

I think it’s fair to say that there are things that we need to learn about how we handled it in the early stages … there will be plenty of opportunities to learn the lessons of what happened.

Updated at 5.28pm BST

5.12pm BST

Boris Johnson has said he was “very lucky” to have survived his own brush with the virus, and said the UK needed to be serious about tackling “our national struggle with obesity”.

“Our great country tends to be a bit fatter than other countries in Europe,” he said. One of the lessons he drew from his own experience, he added, was that we all need to be fitter and healthier.

Updated at 5.28pm BST

5.09pm BST

Boris Johnson admits government could have done things differently in early months of pandemic

The prime minister has conceded that the government didn’t understand the coronavirus in the “first few weeks and months” of the UK’s outbreak, and admits there were things it could’ve done differently in its handling of the crisis.

In an interview with the BBC a year since he took office, Boris Johnson said there were “lessons to be learned” about how the virus was managed in the early stages of the outbreak. He also admitted there were “open questions” over whether the nationwide lockdown came too late.

The extent to which Covid-19 was being transmitted asymptomatically was underestimated at the time, he added.

Updated at 5.37pm BST

4.45pm BST

This is from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

It’s expected that Boris Johnson has been reflecting on what went wrong in the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis.

Updated at 5.02pm BST

4.36pm BST

Public transport will not have room for the majority of children who rely on buses, trains and trams to get to school in September, government scientific advisers have warned.

The space needed for social distancing means that public transport in England will quickly be overwhelmed at either end of the school day, with the pressure expected to be particularly severe in London, they say.

The warning, which appears in a document released on Friday by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Sage, highlights a difficulty many families may face under Boris Johnson’s plans for all children to return to school after the summer holidays.

Experts on the Children’s Task and Finish Group, a subgroup of Sage, raised their concerns after an assessment of public transport capacity by the Department for Transport (DfT). The document states:

Internal DfT modelling suggests that there is likely to only be capacity to accommodate a minority of children who use public transport to get to school in September, whilst maintaining social distancing.

The report suggests that separate transport for students, or staggered start times, could reduce the risk of infection on buses, trains and trams, but concedes this would require coordination with local employers. For those who live nearby, cycling and “walking buses”, both of which have health benefits, could be encouraged, though these may be less popular in the autumn and winter, it adds.

Travel surveys by the DfT show that about 5% of primary school children and nearly a third of secondary school children take the bus to school. While extra buses can be laid on fairly easily, students who use the train could face greater problems, the experts say.

The document urges schools to drop the term “bubbles” when referring to children who are allowed to mix together, amid concerns that it risks confusion with household bubbles. Instead, it says pupils should be “segmented” into smaller groups to reduce the risk of transmission, limit outbreak sizes, and make it easier to identify linked cases.

Updated at 4.58pm BST

4.21pm BST

This morning, the prime minister was promoting an expanded programme of flu jabs that ministers hope will ease pressure on the NHS if there is a second wave of coronavirus this winter.

The government is to expand the usual winter programme of free flu vaccinations this year to everyone over 50 to prevent a surge of flu cases coinciding with an increase of coronavirus cases.

Here is the moment Boris Johnson said anti-vaxxers were “nuts”.

4.10pm BST

UK death toll rises by 123 to 45,677

A further 123 deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 have been confirmed across all settings, bringing the UK government toll of Covid-associated deaths to 45,677.

Another 770 positive cases were also reported, bringing that total to 297,914.

You can read the full government data here.

Updated at 7.08pm BST

3.44pm BST

Grammar schools in England have been asked to delay this year’s 11-plus entry exams because of the impact of the coronavirus lockdown, the Department for Education said in new guidance that could create headaches for parents.

The exam for selective school entry is usually taken by year 6 pupils in September, to allow the results to be processed and families informed before state secondary school applications close at the end of October.

But the DfE said it now “strongly advised” authorities to delay 11+ exams until late October or November – meaning families will have to choose schools without knowing if their children have qualified for a grammar place.

The DfE guidance states:

No child is likely to perform to their utmost ability in a test at the beginning of September and all are likely to benefit from as much time back in education as possible before being assessed. The attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is likely to be magnified by their absence from school during the coronavirus outbreak.

To compensate for any confusion, the DfE said local authorities should allow families to name an additional school preference.

Where grammar school assessment results will not be provided until after 31 October, we recommend that local authorities advise parents to use their final preference for a local non-selective school.

Schools will also need to make special arrangements for some children, including those living in households where someone is clinically vulnerable, to take the exam in their own homes or another safe venue.

The DfE said:

In the interests of fairness, we also prompt admission authorities to identify any impact of the selection process which might prove a barrier to children from lower income backgrounds in light of the public health situation and take action to mitigate such impacts wherever possible.

Kent county council, one of the local authorities that retains a selective school system, has said it will delay its 11+ exams until mid-October. But Lincolnshire said it will only delay its exams by a week in September.

Updated at 4.34pm BST

3.41pm BST

From 28 July, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and St Vincent and the Grenadines will be added to the travel corridors list, and passengers arriving from these countries will not be required to self-isolate when arriving in England.

The full list and more information is here.

3.37pm BST

Luton council has issued a new warning amid fears of a local lockdown following a rise in coronavirus cases.

The town has been designated an “intervention area” by the government, leading to people being warned to stay at home as much as possible.

The infection rate in Luton is among the 10 highest in England at 709.5 per 100,000.

Gyms, pools and leisure centres will not reopen on Saturday as planned due to the rise, play areas will remain closed, and there will be increased enforcement against businesses that are not compliant with guidelines or that fail to show they are Covid-19 safe.

Testing capacity is being increased across the town.

The council said people should not make social visits to other people’s homes, should only meet up with others outside, and should not gather outside in groups of more than six people.

Luton North MP Sarah Owen told ITV News:

I really hope we can avoid a local lockdown in Luton. As our rate of infection increases locally, people are worried and need reassurance from government. When we look to Leicester’s local lockdown, the right support from central government has not been in place for local people.

The council said the effectiveness of the measures would be continuously monitored and further steps may have to be taken if necessary.

Updated at 3.53pm BST

3.17pm BST

About a third of England’s public leisure centres will remain closed on Saturday as a widespread picture of financial distress among community leisure operators overshadows the long-awaited reopening of gyms and indoor swimming pools, Zoe Wood reports.

While privately owned chains such as PureGym, David Lloyd and Virgin Active are eager to proceed with opening plans, the charitable trusts behind the country’s 2,116 council-owned sites are being circumspect as coronavirus restrictions tip their finances into the red.

Updated at 3.51pm BST

2.49pm BST

A further 16 people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died in England, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals to 29,247.

Updated at 2.57pm BST

2.28pm BST

There have been no new deaths of people who tested positive for coronavirus in Wales, with the number remaining at 1,548, Public Health Wales said. The total number of cases there increased by 45, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 17,075.

Updated at 2.41pm BST

2.16pm BST

Scotland has recorded 22 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in a day, according to the latest Scottish government figures.

A total of 18,520 people have now tested positive for the virus north of the border, after two cases previously classified as positive were reclassified as negative.

No deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 have been recorded for eight consecutive days, meaning the toll remains at 2,491.

The percentage of people testing positive remains at 0.4%, the figures indicate, which is no change from Thursday.

Updated at 2.41pm BST

2.02pm BST

The Greater Manchester mayor, and former Labour health secretary, Andy Burnham, has told the BBC:

I think we are heading here for a winter without a [coronavirus] vaccine.

And I think we have all got to face up to what that means.

It will probably be the most difficult winter in the National Health Service that it has ever experienced.

Updated at 2.35pm BST

2.00pm BST

Should you wear a mask in a coffee shop? What about a takeaway? If you’re finding it confusing, there is one simple approach to follow, writes Guardian columnist Zoe Williams.

A friend runs a bar that also sells records, and explains patiently when people go in that if they’re having a beer, they don’t have to mask up; if they’re buying a record, they do.

If they’re drinking a beer while browsing for records, they can remain face-naked until they buy a record, then they have to put a mask on, unless they want another beer.

I can easily imagine people going there deliberately to make some kind of mask statement, but then my friend will sell more beer, so what’s the harm?

1.54pm BST

Health minister Lord Bethell has said a “major national campaign” on obesity will be launched next week.

Replying to a debate on coronavirus regulations, he told the House of Lords:

[Lord Holmes of Richmond] is absolutely right that obesity has been a key driver of illness.

As you’ll have read, we’re launching a major national campaign next week, which I am personally participating in, and this will be a long-term campaign to change the health outcomes of the nation.

Updated at 2.11pm BST

1.38pm BST

Lack of testing and PPE among key England Covid-19 mistakes, MPs told

A lack of protective equipment, inadequate testing, and discharging people from hospitals into care homes were the key mistakes made by the government in its approach to coronavirus in England, according to the first responses given to a major coronavirus inquiry seen exclusively by the Guardian.

Older people were “catastrophically let down” and many died before their time, according to a damning submission from the Age UK charity.

It also described the initial policy of discharging elderly people from hospital into care settings without a Covid-19 test as a “terrible mistake”.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the government’s testing and tracing capabilities at the start of the crisis fell “far short” of what was needed and left the infection to “spread unchecked”, while the Unite union doctors group said the government had been slow and had “squandered” weeks of valuable time.

Their perspectives on the government’s management of the crisis are among the first submissions to an inquiry run by the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, which has received 900 submissions from individuals, charities and public bodies in two weeks.

Updated at 2.00pm BST

1.35pm BST

ONS figures suggest cases in England stable or potentially rising

The Office for National Statistics estimates that 27,700 people had coronavirus in England last week, suggesting cases have either remained stable over recent weeks or have potentially started to rise.

Test results from the previous week pointed to about 24,000 total infections, but uncertainties in the data mean it is impossible to determine whether cases are flat or are starting to rise as a result of lockdown restrictions easing.

The estimates are based on test results from nearly 25,000 households across England and provide a weekly snapshot of the number of people who have Covid-19 and how many new infections are occurring each day.

In the latest report, published on Friday, the number of new infections in the week of 13 to 19 July were estimated at 2,800 per day compared with 1,700 per day the week before.

Prof Sarah Walker, who works on the survey at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield department of medicine, said the numbers were consistent with no change or a rise in cases, and that more data was needed to clarify the picture.

Separately, the government published its latest estimates of the R number, which reflects the number of people each infected person passes the virus on to.

In England, R stands at 0.8 to 1, meaning the pandemic is stable and potentially in decline.

Growth rates published alongside the latest R values suggest infections are falling by 1% to 4% per day.

Updated at 1.47pm BST

1.05pm BST

As the quest for a coronavirus vaccine continues, a UK-based endeavour has announced it is expanding testing in humans.

The Imperial College vaccine, developed by Prof Robin Shattock and his team, has yielded promising results in mice, and has so far been given to 92 people, and counting, out of a cohort of 120 at a west London facility.

Now the team have announced the trial is to expand to cover a further 200 adults aged 18-75 across six additional sites, including Chelsea and Westminster hospital NHS foundation rrust, St George’s University hospital NHS foundation rrust, and University College London NHS foundation trust. Each participant will be given two immunisations, four weeks apart.

Shattock said:

The early results from pre-clinical data have been promising, and the expansion of our trial to additional centres will provide further data on the safety of the vaccine, and the immune response.

The Imperial vaccine involves introducing into the body fat droplets containing the genetic instructions, as messenger RNA, that gives rise to the virus’s spike proteins – proteins found on the surface of the virus that help it to enter our cells. The vaccine is designed to trigger the production of these spike proteins by the body’s own cells.

The team hope this will stimulate an immune reaction so that, should the body subsequently encounter the virus itself, it will be primed to fight it off.

The Imperial vaccine is one of many currently under development around the world. In promising news this week a vaccine developed by a team at the University of Oxford was shown to trigger an immune response. This vaccine takes a different tack to the Imperial approach, incorporating genetic instructions for the coronavirus spike protein into the DNA of a harmless, non-replicating adenovirus.

But despite the positive news, there is a long way to go before a coronavirus vaccine is available: as experts have pointed out, it remains unclear what immune responses to these vaccines mean for immunity, how long any protection would last, and whether the vaccines will bring the same level of protection to older people as younger ones.

In the UK at least, it seems the government is hedging its bets. This week it was announced it is aiming to secure stocks of up to 12 different vaccines.

Updated at 1.45pm BST

12.57pm BST

Protect the NHS by getting a flu jab, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has urged the public to get a winter flu jab, saying it will help to protect the NHS.

The prime minister spoke as he promoted the expansion of the flu vaccination programme across England, in which up to 30 million people could receive the jab.

The government is aiming to double its winter flu vaccination programme, with free jabs for those aged 50 and over, and for 11-year-olds. This is on top of at-risk groups, such as people with asthma, heart disease and diabetes, and anyone living with somebody on the Covid-19 shielded list.

Johnson told Sky News:

We want everybody to get a flu jab in the run-up to this winter and that’s why we’re rolling out the biggest-ever programme of flu immunisation.

And we’re aiming first of all for schoolchildren up to year seven, for pregnant women, for people over 65, for people who are shielded, but then we will be extending it to people who are 50 to 65.

Now the reason for doing this is to protect the NHS in the winter months because obviously we have still got Covid, we have still got the threat of a second spike on Covid, and it’s vital therefore to keep that pressure off the NHS by everybody getting a flu jab and I really hope everybody will.

The British Medical Association said the expanded flu vaccination programme is “sensible given the current health climate” but said the government will need to “ensure vaccination supplies reach practices quickly and in sufficient quantities”.

Prof Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, also welcomed the move but added:

It is likely that Covid-19 will present challenges to delivering the flu programme. We will need to take measures to ensure all patients are safe when they come to get their vaccination, and we will need to ensure people, particularly in at-risk groups, are confident in doing so. If a Covid-19 vaccination is available for use then this will also need to be factored in.

This morning, Dr Dylan Watkins, a GP in Totnes, Devon, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme his practice would struggle to administer the extra jabs.

The concern is that for our practice we’ve got 15,000 patients and the addition of the cohort of patients in the 50- to 64-year-old age group is going to approximately double the number of flu vaccines we’re going to be asked to provide this year.

[This is] at a time when we’re going to struggle to administer the vaccines effectively because of coronavirus limitations and we reckon with five clinical rooms running – each with administration staff with a nurse or doctor – that in a day we could probably administer 420 vaccines safely, according to the current guidelines. Add in an extra 2,000 patients for us that fall into this age category.

Let’s estimate, maybe half of them might decide to have a flu vaccine this year … we’re looking at the full two days’ extra work while we’re also trying to play catch up on the clinical work we’ve been missing because of the coronavirus situation.

He said it was a “huge guess” how many vaccines would be needed and who would take them up, adding that 2,000 extra vaccines “sat in the fridge gone off” would cost £15,000.

Updated at 1.43pm BST

12.46pm BST

The Scottish football club St Mirren is in lockdown after seven coaches and backroom staff tested positive for Covid-19.

Following the news, Scottish Premiership clubs have been ordered to revert to two coronavirus tests a week rather than one.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Rangers faces an investigation by the Scottish Football Association into whether the club breached testing protocols as it emerged that as many as nine of Steven Gerrard’s first-team squad played against Dundee United on Wednesday without having been given the mandatory all-clear in time.

The SFA has emphasised the importance of sticking to new testing and hygiene procedures ahead of the new season kicking off on 1 August.

Updated at 1.44pm BST

12.22pm BST

My colleague Jason Rodrigues has been on Oxford Street this morning in London, where enforcement of England’s new face coverings rule has been “patchy” and “surprisingly casual”.

11.58am BST

Major high street names including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Co-Op have said they will not enforce a new law making the wearing of face masks compulsory in shops in England, my colleague Zoe Wood reports.

The new rule carries a £100 fine for non-compliance. Police leaders are urging shops to refuse entry to people not wearing face coverings after the high street chains said they will not penalise customers who fail to do so.

Jo Whitfield, the chief executive of the Co-op, which has 2,600 grocery stores, said staff – who already received abuse from shoppers on a daily basis – would not challenge people who refused to toe the line.

We’ll have in-store signage on the new rules around face coverings but we are clear that shop workers should not enforce the new legislation.

On a daily basis they face abuse, threatening behaviour and even physical assault. Our own figures show that during the Covid-19 crisis such instances have risen and enforcing the wearing of face masks could be another flashpoint.

Sainsbury’s also tweeted that staff wouldn’t be challenging customers without a mask as they could be medically exempt:

Earlier this morning, the care minister Helen Whately told BBC Breakfast she doesn’t believe enforcement from the police will be needed to ensure people wear face coverings.

She also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that some people are exempt from the regulations due to health conditions and she expected people to be “reasonable” about this.

What we are saying is that we are not expecting people to carry proof that they are exempt. There are some people who are exempt from this. We are expecting people to be reasonable about this. And we don’t want to see members of the public accosted for not wearing a face mask. We absolutely want the vast majority of people to be wearing face masks when they are going into shops.

Updated at 12.14pm BST

11.49am BST

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its list of countries and territories exempt from advice against “all but essential” international travel. These destinations are no longer considered to pose an unacceptably high risk for British travellers. You can find the list here.

It is different to the list of countries you may be able to return from without self-isolation – travel corridors – for England. You can find that list here.

Updated at 12.01pm BST

11.21am BST

Boris Johnson has said people opposed to vaccinations are “nuts” as he promotes an expanded programme of flu jabs that ministers hope will ease pressure on the NHS if there is a second wave of coronavirus this winter.

It comes after several polls have suggested some Britons are feeling apprehensive about having a Covid-19 vaccine. A coronavirus jab is seen by many experts as a key route out of the pandemic. Last year, the World Health Organization identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 health threats to the world.

Boris Johnson wears a face mask as he visits Tollgate medical centre in Beckton, London.
Boris Johnson wears a face mask as he visits Tollgate medical centre in Beckton, London.
Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Our political correspondent Peter Walker reports that the prime minister added that while he was worried about a second wave of Covid-19, he believed the UK would be through the crisis by mid-2021.

The government is to expand the usual winter programme of free flu vaccinations this year to everyone over 50 in an attempt to reduce the level of flu infections and prevent the NHS potentially becoming overwhelmed if coronavirus returns more significantly.

You can read the full story here.

Updated at 12.02pm BST

11.17am BST

In the Liverpool One shopping complex on Friday, signs telling customers to wear masks were up in many of the stores and a vending machine selling face coverings had been installed, PA Media reports.

The machine had packs of five three-ply masks for £4.75, packets of two for £1.95 or fashion coverings for £5.95.

Susan Green, 57, from Liverpool, was wearing a clear visor, which she had bought from a nearby shop, as she waited for HMV to open. She told PA:

I think it is a little bit late to have introduced this and lots of people I’ve seen this morning are not even wearing one. It won’t put me off coming to the shops because I’ll be out anyway but it does seem a bit unnecessary.

Another shopper, Judith Molloy, 72, from St Helens, was wearing a mask as she did some shopping in Liverpool One but said she had started using a face covering to go to the shops some time ago.

I’m vulnerable and so is my husband. I think this should have started from day one. I was on the bus this morning and people were getting on with no masks. If you go into a shop without a mask I don’t think anyone is going to say anything. I think people are more relaxed now.

Loryn Fortune, a trainee department manager at the clothing store & Other Stories in Liverpool One, said people would not be asked to leave their shop if they weren’t wearing a face covering.

We have signage on the window, we’ve got signage up as you enter the shop and then it’s just a polite nudge from us at the door. We can’t enforce it and we don’t want to cause a big scene so we’ll just politely remind people. We’re also aware that people have invisible illnesses.

She said customers had been cooperative since the store reopened post-lockdown and around half of shoppers were already wearing coverings before today’s tighter guidance was introduced.

I’m sure we’ll have a few people who won’t want to wear them but I’m hoping people realise they have got to look after each other and not just themselves.

Updated at 12.04pm BST

11.11am BST

People wearing masks in Leicester city centre as face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.
People wearing masks in Leicester city centre as face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.
Photograph: Jacob King/PA

11.01am BST

Good morning! I’m Lucy Campbell, taking over the blog for the rest of the day. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have news tips and stories to share.

Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

Updated at 12.04pm BST

10.59am BST

The local neighbourhood in England with the highest number of deaths involving Covid-19 is still the area of Crabtree & Fir Vale in Sheffield, which has recorded a total of 67 deaths. These figures cover the four months from March to June.

It is followed by:

  • Bishop Auckland Central & West in County Durham (38 deaths),
  • Church End in Brent (36 deaths),
  • Nascot Wood in Watford (34 deaths), and
  • Cramlington Town & Beaconhill in Northumberland (34 deaths).

Last month, I did an in-depth report on Church End, a small, deprived estate in north Brent with a large British-Somali population. You can read more below.

Or listen to the Today in Focus podcast episode.

Updated at 12.11pm BST

10.53am BST

Boris Johnson said he wants people to “stop thinking of coronavirus as something that makes it impossible to do things”, as he outlined an ambition to speed up the running of government services, PA Media reports.

He told reporters:

There are aspects of the way government works, the whole of government, that really need to be faster and more responsive to the needs of the people.

And if you look at particularly what’s happening now, you’ve got this problem of ‘backlog Britain’. You’ve got people not getting their passports on time, their birth certificates, huge problems of backlogs, cases not going through the courts fast enough.

That’s something that I think that we as a country, with the fantastic civil servants that we have, now that’s something that we should really be bending our wills to solving.

I want to see a massive effort now by the country to psychologically, to stop thinking of coronavirus as something that makes it impossible to do things and start really looking at tackling the problems of the British people – how to get the things that they want in double time.

So that’s why we’ve set up Project Speed. So one of the things I’ve learnt is sometimes government can be slow and unresponsive and sometimes we need to go faster.

Updated at 12.12pm BST

10.33am BST

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been doing the media rounds today. He has called on “everybody to get a flu jab in the run-up to this winter”.

Speaking to Sky News, he said:

We want everybody to get a flu jab in the run-up to this winter and that’s why we’re rolling out the biggest-ever programme of flu immunisation.

And we’re aiming first of all for school children up to year 7, for pregnant women, for people over 65, for people who are shielded, but then we will be extending it to people who are 50 to 65.

Now the reason for doing this is to protect the NHS in the winter months because obviously we have still got Covid, we have still got the threat of a second spike on Covid, and it’s vital therefore to keep that pressure off the NHS by everybody getting a flu jab, and I really hope everybody will.

Johnson said the length of time that social distancing measures will need to stay in place will depend on how well the UK manages to control the spread of Covid-19, PA Media reports.

Speaking to the media during a visit to a GP surgery, the prime minister said:

‘The use of face masks, the use of all the social distancing measures, really does depend on our ability collectively to get the pandemic right down and to keep it down.

‘I’m not going to make a prediction about when these various social distancing measures will come off.

‘Obviously we have been able to reduce some of them. We no longer ask people to stay at home, we’re trying to get back much closer to normal but our ability to dispense with the social distancing measures will depend on our continued ability to drive down the virus.’

Updated at 10.54am BST

10.28am BST

Ashford was local authority in England with highest Covid-19 mortality rate in June

The borough of Ashford, in Kent, was the local authority in England with the highest mortality rate involving Covid-19 in June, with a rate of 36.5 deaths per 100,000 people, PA Media reports. The rate was broadly unchanged from 36.7 in May.

It was followed by:

  • Tameside (23.9 in June, down from 38.1 in May)
  • Dover (21.7, down from 25.5)
  • Folkestone & Hythe (21.7, down from 31.9)
  • Nuneaton & Bedworth (19.9, down from 38.3)

The rate in Hull, the local authority that recorded the highest rate in May, dropped from 51.3 to 18.0 in June.

Updated at 10.56am BST

9.19am BST

Longstanding under-investment in the NHS will hamper its ability to tackle the backlog of tests and required treatments that built up during the Covid-19 pandemic, research shows.

A new 31-country study found patients in the UK will face long waits for care and the rationing of treatment because the health service has so few staff and beds.

The research, by the Nuffield Trust health thinktank, found that the UK is near the bottom of the league table for health resources – staff, equipment and buildings – on a list of comparable countries. Staff shortages in particular will lead to patients facing long delays for care, it said.

Ministers have insisted since May that, after coping with the peak of the pandemic, “the NHS is open” and ready to provide its usual full range of services, such as A&E and cancer care. However, hospital bosses have warned that it will take up to four years to again provide diagnostic tests and surgery within usual waiting times.

Updated at 9.31am BST

9.03am BST

A shopper wearing a face mask in a supermarket in east London as face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.
A shopper wearing a face mask in a supermarket in east London as face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

The national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales has urged shops to refuse entry to anyone not wearing a face covering, PA Media reports.

John Apter said:

As face coverings become a mandatory requirement in stores, police officers are yet again adapting to a new set of unprecedented laws and guidelines which they wouldn’t have even dreamed of before lockdown.

It is our members who are expected to police what is a new way of living and I would urge retail outlets to play their part in making the rules crystal clear: if you are not wearing a face covering then you are not coming in.

Officers will be there to help stores if needed – but only as a last resort, as we simply do not have the resources.

The vast majority of the public have complied with the lockdown rules so far and I would hope they will continue to do the right thing and wear face coverings in stores to help protect fellow citizens to minimise the spread of the virus.

Updated at 9.12am BST

8.58am BST

What kind of face mask gives the best protection against coronavirus? Here’s an explainer from science correspondent Hannah Devlin.

8.21am BST

Retailers saw a major boost in sales last month as spending rapidly rebounded after the coronavirus shutdown.

PA Media reports:

Sales volumes jumped by 13.9% in June compared with the month before, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It brings total sales across Britain close to the levels they were at this time last year, after two months of double-digit growth. An average of what analysts were predicting, compiled by Pantheon Macroeconomics, had expected an 8% rise.

However, all is not good news, as some types of shops were left behind by the apparent boom last month.

Richard Lim, the chief executive of Retail Economics, said:

“The retail sector bounced back as the reopening of shops released pent-up demand for some retailers.

“But the recovery is being felt unevenly across the sector, with clothing retailers remaining under significant pressure.

“Some consumers searching to break the monotony of being at home headed for the high street, but numbers remained considerably lower than pre-Covid levels.”

Updated at 9.03am BST

7.40am BST

Cinemas, museums and beauty salons to reopen from Monday in Wales

Cinemas, museums and beauty salons can reopen from Monday in Wales, the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has confirmed.

Tourist accommodation with shared facilities, such as camping sites and all hotels will be able to reopen from tomorrow (25 July) as will underground tourist attractions.

New rules making it compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport, including taxis, will also come into effect on Monday (27 July).

The next review of the regulations and easing of lockdown restrictions will be next Friday (31 July).

Updated at 7.57am BST

7.34am BST

Scotland’s education secretary, John Swinney, told Holyrood yesterday that the final decision would would be announced next Thursday, giving parents limited time to prepare alternative work and childcare arrangements if there are further delays.

Johannah Bisset, an organiser for Us for Them Scotland, said: “Many parents need to plan shifts, organise childcare and plan their lives generally to accommodate whatever decision the Scottish government makes. These are decisions which should have been made already, and it’s disappointing that those parents will have to wait longer for certainty.

“We are also worried at the suggestion that some councils may not return to normal and instead go for the phased approach which was so heavily criticised before”.

Swinney also confirmed that, while primary school pupils will now not be required to socially distance at school, older pupils will be asked to take “practical” steps to avoid contact with others.

Updated at 7.57am BST

7.21am BST

Face coverings will be compulsory in takeaways, banks and post offices as well as shops, supermarkets, indoor shopping centres and stations in England from today.

The new guidelines state coverings, such as cloth masks or bandanas, must be worn when buying food and drink to take away, but if sitting down and consuming their purchase in the same premises, a customer can remove their face covering in order to eat and drink there.

Police will have powers to enforce the rules and those who do not do so could face fines of up to £100, in line with the rules for wearing face coverings public transport. Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

While shoppers must wear face coverings, it will not be compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear them. The government only says “we strongly recommend that employers consider their use where appropriate”.

The rules say it will not be compulsory for customers to wear masks or similar coverings in hairdressers, gyms, dine-in restaurants and pubs or cinemas, concert halls or theatres.

You can read more on face masks below.

For those wondering how exactly these new regulation will affect you, here’s an informative Q&A by Sarah Butler.

Here’s the parliamentary schedule for today, from PA Media:

House of Commons

Not sitting.

House of Lords

  • 1100: Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020; Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
  • A private notice question on Covid-19 lockdown: domestic abuse victims
  • Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2020
  • Insolvency Act 1986 Part A1 Moratorium (Eligibility of Private Registered Providers) Regulations 2020

Updated at 7.58am BST

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