The mood of the Brexit negotiations appears to be improving, with chatter about a path to a deal growing in Westminster.For what it’s worth, a well-placed source tells me that James Forsyth’s excellent Times column declaring a Brexit trade deal “within touching distance” was a “bit too positive” and that the “difficult stuff is still difficult” - namely state aid and fish.But Forsyth is extremely well connected and things do appear to be shifting, with “some progress” being made and better “atmospherics” around the talks, according to my source.As we revealed earlier this week, the EU has also backed away from its hardline stance on granting the UK the automatic right to export food into the continent.And I am told the UK will be willing to drop its law-breaking clauses from the controversial Internal Market Bill if a deal can be reached on Northern Ireland between Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic on the so-called joint committee, which meets again on Monday.That said, a breakthrough is not imminent, and there are still huge changes to come for Covid-hit businesses and the economy from January, highlighted this week by the revelation that Gove plans to draw a de factor border around Kent for lorries.As well as warning of the potential for queues of 7,000 lorries in the county under a “reasonable worst case scenario” no deal situation, Gove also revealed that a government survey suggests just a quarter of companies are ready for changes. The industry says that it is being ‘fitted up’ to take the blameIt sparked concerns among Labour MPs that businesses, like the public on coronavirus, are being set up to get the blame if things go belly up when the transition period finishes on December 31. Firms argue that they cannot possibly be ready when the government is behind on so many fronts.They point out that key IT systems like the smart freight service that will oversee the so-called “Kent access permit” are not ready, that physical infrastructure is not in place, that customs officials have not been hired, and that there is uncertainty over the rules given the unresolved statuses of Northern Ireland and the trade deal.Businesses struggling with the impact of Covid-19 might also reasonably have expected an extension to the transition period, even if only for a few months. “The industry says that it is being ‘fitted up’ to take the blame for the government’s failure to grasp, in the words of one logistics expert involved in the talks, ‘real-world complexities’, as Commons Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn said earlier this week. A Whitehall official described the claims as “total rubbish” and point out that everyone has a responsibility to prepare for Brexit, while recognising the government has “more to do”. They also highlight the fact that the government has delayed import controls by six months and that it is the EU proposing to impose checks from January 1.And in any case whether there is a deal or not, they insist many business preparations are “no regrets” actions that would apply in either scenario.But given Boris Johnson’s refusal to acknowledge failings in test and trace, and the government’s willingness to blame the public for the surge in coronavirus infections while failing to acknowledge the potential impact of Eat Out To Help Out or telling people to go back to work, it is difficult to avoid a sense of blame shifting.And there is the chance that firms could already be in the public’s bad books with furlough ending and bosses being forced to choose between keeping staff on part-time or making them redundant under chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough replacement plan.Anand Menon, director of the UK In A Changing Europe think-tank (which published an excellent report on no deal this week), thinks such an approach might even work.He told me earlier: “When it comes to the politics of this, what I think would be really damaging for the government is if loads of businesses said ‘they are talking rubbish, they weren’t ready, they didn’t have the systems in place, all this stuff about giving us notice is rubbish because we didn’t know what we were preparing for and they could have delayed it but they chose not to’.“ButI think we’re not not going to get many business leaders doing that and it’s partly down to  the fact that business leaders are also engaged in begging the government to help them out.”The question for those Labour MPs like Benn and Keir Starmer is whether they can make the charge of incompetence stick to this government.Related... Second Covid Test Centre 'Shut Down Overnight' To Make Way For Brexit Lorry Park ‘I Can’t Help It’ – 5 People Reveal Why They’re Still Stockpiling EU 'Tells UK It Will Not Block Food Imports' After Brexit Transition
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The “politicised” appointment of “crony” Baroness Dido Harding to run England’s coronavirus test and trace service risks “denigrating” the NHS, a shadow cabinet minister has suggested.Steve Reed told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that hiring the Tory peer amounts to a “deskilling” of the civil service and is partly to blame for the problems plaguing NHS Test and Trace. The service is falling short of key targets, with just one in 10 Covid tests being processed within 24 hours last week, despite Boris Johnson wanting a 100% completion rate by the end of June.With the public complaining of huge delays in even booking a test, the total number of results processed decreased by 19% compared to the previous week. But despite being a Tory peer, Harding is not a minister and is not compelled to answer questions about the service in parliament.The system is also largely managed by outsourcing giant Serco and call centre company Sitel. Last week, the British Medical Association (BMA) told HuffPost UK that test and trace is “not an NHS service” but a “largely outsourced programme that sees numerous private companies given billions of pounds to run testing sites, process samples and manage contact tracing call centres”. Reed told HuffPost UK that the politicisation of the service was leading to failures, blaming the prime minister’s top adviser Dominic Cummings. “It’s part of a bigger story I think,” the shadow communities secretary said.“One of the great things about this country is we have a non-party political civil service but they are trying to politicise it.“So it’s extraordinarily unusual, well it’s unprecedented, that you would appoint a Conservative peer to a civil service job, and yet that’s what is happening.“We’ve all seen some of the leaked reports coming out of No.10 about Dominic Cummings, about his desire to politicise the civil service.“Well I think that’s really damaging.“Senior civil servants are appointed because of their expertise, not because they are cronies of whoever happens to be in 10 Downing Street at that particular moment.“And the more that we move towards a politicised model the more we are deskilling it and the more that will go wrong, and I think that’s what we’re seeing with Dido Harding.“But it’s not only Dido Harding now.” Asked if Labour could call for the acronym NHS to be stripped from the title of the test and trace service, Reed said: “I’m happy to pick you up on that one.“The brand of the NHS is one of the country’s greatest institutions, we can’t let it be denigrated.” Related... Has Rishi Sunak Done Too Little Too Late To Prevent The Unemployment Tsunami? Second Covid Test Centre 'Shut Down Overnight' To Make Way For Brexit Lorry Park NHS Test And Trace App Needs Seven Million Users To Be Effective
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Stress and anxiety-related absence among NHS staff soared after the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, new analysis shows.More than half a million (510,281) days were lost to absence due to anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses in May 2020, the month that followed the worst of the pandemic so far in terms of death rates.Those issues accounted for more than a quarter (28.3%) of all absences, and represented a 37% increase on the days lost in the previous year, when 371,242 full-time equivalent days were lost.The Liberal Democrats said official figures showed thousands had “endured life-altering trauma and immeasurable excess stress” while working under strict Covid protocols and watching many patients die.The party, which analysed the figures, urged the government to respond with proposals to provide “world class” mental support for health and care staff.Lib Dem members are expected to pass a motion at the party’s conference on Friday pushing to strengthen services for “under pressure and overstretched” staff, including ancillary workers such as porters and cleaners.They will demand that the Covid-19 support hotline is available 24/7, to scrap HR practices which encourage staff to work when they are not feeling up to it, and to introduce an “occupational health passport” so workers do not have to relive mental health traumas when they change jobs.Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “This dreadful pandemic has taken more than just a physical toll. “It has had hugely negative consequences for people’s mental health too. “As these figures make clear, this has been especially true for health and care workers, who have been on the front line of the crisis. “Thousands have endured life-altering trauma and immeasurable excess stress.  “Even before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of days were lost each year due to absence related to mental health conditions.“To ensure our health and care service is resilient going forward, we need to expand the support available.“These dedicated staff keep our healthcare system running 24/7 and we need to make sure they have 24/7 support too. “As well as a hotline that operates all day, every day, the Liberal Democrats want to see effective signposting to mental health support and the scrapping of HR practices that penalise people seeking treatment for mental ill health.” Related... 'Simplistic' To Blame 'Eat Out To Help Out' For Covid Resurgence, Says Rishi Sunak Here's Where We're At With A Covid-19 Vaccine In The UK Brit Holidaymakers Jetting Off To Cyprus Are Clogging Up NHS Testing System
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Brits who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 are taking advantage of the already overstretched NHS testing service so they can jet off on holiday to Cyprus. The island in the Mediterranean, which has recorded less than 2,000 cases of coronavirus, requires travellers from the UK to hand over a negative Covid-19 test result upon arrival. The government has explicitly told Brits not to use up NHS tests to get the green light to go on holiday, with the Test and Trace system already so backed up that sick people are being asked to travel hundreds of miles to be swabbed for the virus. Guidelines say that Brits looking for some Cypriot sun should instead fork out for their own private Covid-19 tests, which usually cost between £100 and £200 – and many are. But a number of people are actively fiddling the system in order to get the negative result they need to guarantee their trip to Cyprus. In a Facebook group about travelling to Cyprus, one man described how he and his partner had used the NHS testing service in Scotland to go on holiday. “The tests centres are empty at the moment and the results were received after 25 hours only,” he wrote. “Yes it’s true you are not supposed to be using these tests for travel purposes but in many cases like ours we had no choice. Get a free test and get the results quickly or lose £1,800.“The price for private tests in the UK right now is nothing but a joke. £150 a head in most cases where Cyprus offer tests at 60 euros each and guarantee results in 24 hours.”  Meanwhile, a second person tweeted: “I’m in Cyprus, had a free test on NHS, great service. Finally repaid some of the thousands I invest in it.” Another wrote on Facebook: “I did use the NHS for a test when I went in September but now I’m going back in October I have booked a private test.“If people want to use the NHS it’s up to them and people should keep their nose out of other people’s business, especially when they have done exactly the same thing. Maybe some people are on a very tight budget and can not afford a private test.” The High Commission of Cyprus in the UK has also confirmed that the country will accept NHS test results from British travellers. In an update on its website, the commission wrote: “NHS for #covid19 will be accepted in order to travel from UK to Cyprus.“Travellers with negative NHS test need to have both their NHS test appointment booking and the NHS COVID-19 negative result notification. Result not more than 72 hours before departure.” But the government has warned that holidaymakers should not be taking advantage of the NHS system.A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told HuffPost UK: “Only people with symptoms should be requesting a test – we all need to play our part to protect the NHS Test and Trace service for those who really need it.“If you’re not eligible to get a test you can continue to protect yourself, loved ones and the public by washing your hands, wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces, practicing social distancing and self-isolating if you may have come into contact with the virus.”Related... Just 10% Of Covid Tests Now Get Results Within 24 Hours Workers Can Have Wages Topped Up If Hours Cut, Announces Rishi Sunak Students May Be Told To Stay On Campus For Christmas, Confirms Matt Hancock     
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It would be “simplistic” to blame the Eat Out To Help Out scheme for the resurgence of Covid-19 in the UK, Rishi Sunak has said. But the chancellor, whose cut-price meals plan saw people flood into restaurants over the summer, refused to say whether ministers explored what impact it would have on people’s behaviour. The programme was aimed at swerving job losses in pubs and restaurants, which were forced to close when Boris Johnson imposed lockdown in March. But some scientists have claimed people rushing out to take advantage of the scheme could be linked to the second spike in positive cases that the country is seeing.Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Sunak said the UK was “following similar paths to other countries in Europe”, such as France, Spain and Belgium, who are all battling an uptick in coronavirus cases.  Asked added: “I think it’s probably simplistic to look at any one thing. What’s happening here is similar to what’s happening in many other countries, and of course, there are lots of things going on at the same time. “Towards the last few weeks, and as we get into a season for respiratory illnesses, there’s going to be lots of different factors at play as to why the virus is acting in the way that it is.” Asked about whether the government commissioned or was presented with behaviour modelling which could have predicted the impact Eat Out To Help Out risked, Sunak did not answer. He went on to say it was right that the government should “strive for normalcy” amid the pandemic.  He said: “But more broadly, I don’t think it’s the wrong thing for the government or indeed people to want to try and get their lives back to normal. “I said in the summer that we’ll have to learn to live with the uncertainty of the moment and that’s what we will all have to do.” Earlier this week, Sage adviser Professor Calum Semple said that the restaurant discount scheme had not helped to contain Covid.“Speaking purely as a scientist, I think it was bordering on experimental. I don’t think it was particularly helpful as far as virus control goes.”Expert in outbreak medicine and SAGE adviser Prof Calum Semple says it's a "very positive move" for the government to adopt the 'stay at home if you can' message and adds the Eat Out to Help Out scheme was "bordering on experimental".#KayBurleyhttps://t.co/I0Ya5YFTvZpic.twitter.com/qLxMjLNYks— SkyNews (@SkyNews) September 22, 2020Prof Semple did say however that pubs and clubs were the main worry in terms of a lack of social distancing.Sunak today unveiled a new job support scheme aimed at protecting “viable” roles rather than all posts which have been kept going as a result of state support under the furlough programme.Under the terms of the new scheme, the government will top up the wages of people working at least a third of their normal hours, with companies which did not take part in the furlough scheme allowed to apply.Related... Rishi Sunak’s Furlough Replacement ‘Will Lead To Job Losses’, Experts Warn Workers Can Have Wages Topped Up If Hours Cut, Announces Rishi Sunak Has Rishi Sunak Pulled Back From The Furlough Cliff-Edge?
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Keir Starmer has called for a “plan B” for the UK’s economy after Boris Johnson imposed fresh coronavirus restrictions which are predicted to threaten jobs.The Labour leader used a televised address to the nation on Wednesday to say “it makes no sense to bring in new restrictions at the same time as phasing out support for jobs and businesses”.“We need a ‘plan B’ for the economy,” he stressed.It came as chancellor Rishi Sunak scrapped the autumn Budget and prepared to make an emergency economic statement on Thursday.Sunak has faced widespread calls to replace the furlough scheme that runs out in October given the impact the new restrictions, including advice to work from home and 10pm closing times for hospitality, are likely to have on businesses.The Treasury said work on a scheme to replace furlough had been taking place in parallel with Budget preparations.Its focus will be on saving jobs to avoid the expected three million unemployed.The Treasury said: “We will always be honest with people about the difficult trade-offs that are involved here.“Not between health and the economy, but between keeping people in jobs and helping them find new ones. And between help in the here and now and rebuilding in the future. That’s what people deserve.”The chancellor initially announced his move via Twitter, with a graphic titled “Winter Economy Plan”.As our response to coronavirus adapts, tomorrow afternoon I will update the House of Commons on our plans to continue protecting jobs through the winter. pic.twitter.com/eP6aqcocxd— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) September 23, 2020No further details were provided and it came as the government confirmed more than 6,000 new coronavirus cases by 9am on Wednesday – the highest daily number since May 1.A Treasury source said: “No-one wanted to be in this situation but we need to respond to it.“The chancellor has shown he has been creative in the past and we hope that people will trust us to continue in that vein.“Giving people reassurance and businesses the help they need to get through this is uppermost in his mind.”The move followed comments by prime minister Boris Johnson about a “creative and imaginative” action plan to protect jobs, with unions and business leaders pointing to schemes used in other European countries.Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said on Tuesday it was time to “stop and rethink” the furlough scheme in favour of a targeted approach.The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which outlined its furlough replacement proposal last month, said the government must “fast-track a new plan” to protect jobs.The mooted plans would reportedly see the government and firms share the cost of topping up wages for employees only able to work part-time due to the pandemic.One option reportedly being considered to replace the furlough scheme is Germany’s Kurzarbeit, or shorter work-time policy, under which firms can cut working hours in economic downturns with the state replacing part of their lost income.Another proposal put forward by the CBI business group would see subsidies for firms that can offer staff at last 50% of their normal hours, with the cost for non-working hours shared equally by the company, the Treasury and the employee.Related... Starmer Admits Sturgeon Has Mandate For Indy Ref 2 If SNP Win Holyrood Elections No, 90% Of Coronavirus Tests Are Not 'False Positives' And This Is Why UK Daily Coronavirus Cases Hit 6,000 For First Time Since Start Of May
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Belgian waffle?For a man who loves having his cake and eating it, there was something delicious about the timing of Boris Johnson’s latest TV address to the nation on coronavirus. Serving as an hors d’oeuvre for the return of Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off, the PM’s recipe felt awfully familiar: a reheated mix of blithe optimism, cod Churchillian rhetoric and verbal blancmange.His signature dish included “moonshot” rapid testing and a healthy portion of U-turns (go to the office, no don’t go to the office). But there was a missing ingredient: any sense of regret at failures made earlier this year, or even earlier this month. Had he over egged the pudding of EatOutToHelpOut, the Rule of Six (which relaxes rules for six households) or the back to work drive? We didn’t find out, because no questions were allowed.‌Perhaps what will stick in the throat of many of his critics was the suggestion that the new curbs would succeed because “we have succeeded before”, as if having one of the world’s worst death tolls from Covid was somehow a footnote rather than a damning indictment of his government.‌There was even the characteristic dollop of military talk, with the PM saying again that the Army would be deployed as “backfill” to help the police enforce the new rules. This, despite the National Police Chiefs Council saying earlier that “no military involvement is necessary, nor do we anticipate this will be needed”.‌Still, those warlike allusions were irresistible for the PM. When he said “Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour…” the intended echo was of his great political hero. Sadly, given his indulgence of Dominic Cummings’ own individual rule breaking, he sounded more like a poundshop Winston Churchill.Bizarrely linking lockdown “breaches” with the UK’s history as a “freedom-loving country” only furthered the impression that Johnson somehow felt an absence of civic duty was not to be condemned, but excused. Which was all the more strange given he had new penalties for breaking existing rules like mask wearing.‌One real irony is that the UK is taking lessons on Covid from the ‘enemy’ itself, the home of the forces that Johnson has made a career out of attacking. Yes, Belgium is being used by Britain as a template for three key measures unveiled or refined today: the 10pm curfew, the Rule of Six itself, and the ‘work from home’ edict were all pioneered in Brussels and its nearby cities.‌Belgium did have some success with strict curfews (they went much further than just pubs closing early) and socialising with five others, and that’s what led health secretary Matt Hancock to sing its praises. But the unfortunate fact is that Belgium too has had a sharp increase in cases over the past couple of weeks. Its cases per capita have also been among the highest on the planet.Only today, we learned the EU summit has been postponed a week because European Council President Charles Michel has had to go into self-isolation.‌Earlier in the Commons, Johnson’s statement to MPs was as undercooked and underwhelming as his TV address. His line about the mental health problems of home isolation being a good reason to go into work seemed made up on the hoof, rather than included in any guidance. His defence of test and trace turned a bizarre claim that the system had “very little or nothing to do with the spread and transmission” of the virus. Waffle was the main item on the menu.‌Crucially, the emphasis on “six months” of new rules, on what he called “tough enforcement” with military support, felt like a distraction from what was ultimately a light-touch response to the September surge. The economic “hawks” in the Cabinet have stopped a genuinely tough move to stop households mixing indoors, or at least to go back to just two households mixing outdoors (which was the case until last Monday, and the BMA wants it to return).‌While the nation was treated to Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance’s scary presentation yesterday, the Cabinet had a different backdrop. On Saturday, it was “economic advisers” who also delivered a presentation to ministers as well as the scientists. And in a whole new meaning to ‘alternative Sage’, Johnson has been advised in No.10 by lockdown sceptics Prof Carl Heneghan and Prof Sunetra Gupta to give effectively a second opinion.‌It was noticeable today that at no point was there any attempt to reveal any scientific basis or evidence for the impact on the spread of the virus of either a 10pm curfew or the ‘work from home if you can’ switcheroo. We certainly haven’t been told what impact a ban on mixing households indoors could have, from Sage’s modelling.‌At least Nicola Sturgeon today created her very own lab experiment on such a tough restriction. If Scotland’s drastic curb (which actually is currently experienced by 14 million people in lockdown areas in the UK) fails, the PM may privately breathe a sigh of relief.‌Yet if Scotland’s cases and deaths rise slower than England’s, or even fall, there will be huge pressure on Johnson to follow suit - with all the political damage of being seen to have done “too little, too late”, for a second time in the pandemic. For some voters, that really would be a showstopper. And proof they’ve been victim to another Great British fake off, courtesy of their PM.Quote Of The Day“The tragic reality of having covid is that your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell.” - Boris JohnsonTuesday Cheat SheetAnother 4,926 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, the highest daily figure since 7 May. Hospitalisations rose too.Keir Starmer has declared that Jeremy Corbyn“deserved” to lose the last general election because the public didn’t trust Labour with their security, jobs or their money.A YouGov snap poll found that 78% of Brits support the new Covid curbs, with 45% saying they should go even further. Yet Labour hasn’t itself called for tougher curbs.Rishi Sunak is weighing up plans to replace the furlough scheme with German-style wage subsidies, the Guardian reports.The government has confirmed that it will not allow trans people to change their legal gender via self-identification.The firm behind last year’s tax credits scandal as well as companies linked to debt collection services are among those who have been handed contact tracing roles by Serco, PoliticsHome revealed.What I’m ReadingEven The Italian Mafia Is On TikTok - ViceGot A Tip?Send tips, stories, quotes, pics, plugs or gossip to [email protected] Subscribe To Commons PeopleEach week, the HuffPost UK Politics team unpack the biggest stories from Westminster and beyond. Search for Commons People wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe. Related... Did Boris Johnson’s Summer Policies Hasten A Second Wave? Are Ministers Spreading The Covid Blame Again, This Time To The Public? Boris Johnson Can Fudge His Brexit Bill, But He Can’t Fudge Covid’s Rise
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Michael Gove revealed on Tuesday morning that the UK government was ditching its push for people in England to return to work.
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Deja flu, all over again?“There’s no question that we are now seeing a second wave coming in...It’s been inevitable we’d see it in this country.” Boris Johnson’s words on Friday, made almost in passing during a visit to Oxfordshire, were clearly a kind of pitch-rolling for fresh national Covid restrictions this week.The PM’s remarks stood in stark contrast to his own optimism just a few weeks ago in July, when he made no mention whatsoever of the “inevitability” of another coronavirus surge and in fact blithely raised hopes of a return to “normality” by November or Christmas. Restrictions could be tightened but only at a local level, not nationwide, he had told us.Although Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty were not allowed to stand next to Johnson during that “road map to recovery” speech in the summer, within hours Vallance told the Lords that actually it was “highly likely” the virus would return this year. The small print of the roadmap even had a line about being “as ready as possible for the risk of a resurgence in the virus between November and March”.Well, it was confirmed today that the second wave hasn’t waited for November. In fact, Vallance made clear today that’s the month when we could be looking at 200 deaths a day in the UK if action isn’t taken now. All this, as one senior Tory backbencher, Sir Edward Leigh, said his “authoritarian” government was “increasingly incompetent”.Of course, the whole concept of a second wave stems from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, when a repeat outbreak claimed more lives than the first. Some experts query whether ‘second wave’ is the right term, and obviously Covid is very different from flu. And second waves are spreading across Europe, suggesting lots of governments relaxed their restrictions too early or ineptly.‌It’s worth pointing out we have also learned lessons from the Covid first wave. There is more PPE, more testing, drug treatments mean mortality rates are lower, and as of Friday it’s now government policy that there will be no admission from anywhere (not just hospital) into any care home without a test. Schools and more workplaces should be ‘Covid-secure’. New childcare exemptions have been announced. All of which should prevent us from feeling like it’s deja vu all over again.But what hasn’t changed is a sense of a government feeling like it’s being caught out by events, rather than planning properly for them. Some will wonder whether government policy actually inflated the sombrero rather than flattened it. Yet when the PM’s spokesman was asked today if there had been any assessment of the EatOutToHelpOut scheme’s impact on the social spread of Covid, he could only reply: “I haven’t seen anything specific on that.” Whitty hinted that all this extra socialisation was to blame when he said today “we have to break unnecessary links between households”. “We have, in a bad sense, literally turned a corner, although only relatively recently.” What happened ‘recently’ then? Was it the cumulative effect of lax quarantine from abroad in July, discounted meals in August, schools returning in September without sufficient testing?The fact that just 20% of the public with symptoms are fully self-isolating for two weeks is clearly a big worry. Individual super-spreaders failing to quarantine after holidays abroad is another. In both cases we now have new carrots and sticks that critics have called for for months. And the failure to build an even bigger testing capacity for the return of the schools in England this month is also down to ministers, not the public.The new Rule of Six could possibly have made things worse too, even for just a week. Why? Because, as I’ve written before, it actually involved a relaxation of the rules: individuals from six different households could get together in pubs and restaurants for the first time in months. The lengthening delays for ‘satellite’ test kits for care homes is yet another huge concern. Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth put it well today: “We don’t want a second wave of ministerial mistakes.”The sense of a government lurching from one line to another may well be confirmed if the planned ‘office return’ PR campaign is abandoned too. In August, the PM changed the advice to ‘go to the office if you can’, a shift from the previous ‘work from home if you can’ guidance. There was even a government target to get 80% of civil servants back at their desks by the end of the month, but it may now be that the numbers go into reverse.Will Boris Johnson eat some humble pie when he announces the new restrictions on Tuesday? Will he in any way admit he got things wrong or show a shamelessness that his enemies think is his defining political credo? There is some good news in the shape of the tracing app finally arriving this Thursday and more testing labs opening. Crucially, during the first wave, many voters were willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt.However, if that second wave crashes over our shores and leaves many more dead, they may be very unforgiving indeed. As the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The next election is four long years away, but if the British public feel they’ve been made fools of in entrusting Johnson with their lives and livelihoods, the shockwaves could last for quite some time.Quote Of The Day“If the potential consequences of the Withdrawal Agreement were so bad, why did the Government sign it?”Theresa May announces she can’t support the Internal Market Bill’s tearing up of international lawMonday Cheat SheetThe UK’s coronavirus alert level has been upgraded from 3 to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”, all its chief medical officers declared.Sir Patrick Vallance warned that country’s Covid cases were doubling ‘roughly every seven days’ and could see 50,000 new cases every day by mid-October.Dido Harding suggested at a CBI meeting that “moonshot” instant Covid tests may not be available on the NHS and would have to be paid for by businesses, the ‘i’ newspaper reported.Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds accused Rishi Sunak of being “cavalier” with taxpayers’ money as she fleshed out Labour’s plans to replace furlough with part-time working, expand retraining and offer new business loans.Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the end of rail franchising, the 25-year-old system brought in by John Major. Emergency support will be given to firms but after that a flat-fee concession system will be introduced.Perugia Airport retracted its claim that Boris Johnson flew into Italy earlier this month - and said staff had him muddled up with Tony Blair.What I’m ReadingHow America Could Survive The Winter - The AtlanticRelated... Are Ministers Spreading The Covid Blame Again, This Time To The Public? Boris Johnson Can Fudge His Brexit Bill, But He Can’t Fudge Covid’s Rise Why The Buck Stops With Johnson And Hancock On Covid Testing Failures
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With the government encouraging us all to get back into the office, disabled people are rightly anxious about returning to work. This week, as part of Scope’s We Won’t Be Forgotten campaign, the disability equality charity is delivering an open letter to Boris Johnson signed by 30,000 disability campaigners calling for a “new deal for disabled people to show they won’t be forgotten in the Government’s recovery plan, and beyond”. This is something I cannot welcome too much, as throughout the pandemic I’ve had to watch with frustration and anger as the government have done nothing to help those left most vulnerable by the virus. As the world went into lockdown – when the government should have been doing everything to ensure disabled people weren’t left without support, food, care, health care and money – to many it felt like we were instead just shut up inside for five months.Back in February, before coronavirus crisis hit the UK, Johnson wrote to his Cabinet and said he wanted his government, through a National Disability Strategy, to transform the lives of disabled people. As a disabled person who’s lived under a Conservative government for my whole adult life, I was sceptical but held out hope. The pandemic would’ve been the perfect time to provide more care for disabled people – we were at our most vulnerable after all. But that didn’t happen.The pandemic would’ve been the perfect time to provide more care for disabled people... But that didn’t happen.When the government promised help to get us back out into the world I expected then that Johnson would announce some support for disabled people – maybe extra money to get specialists into health centres into the community after we’ve had next to no health care for the last six months? Instead he gave people money off eating out at restaurants.Thankfully, Rishi Sunak is pledging to help businesses return “back to normal”. Great! Does this mean more provisions to allow disabled people like me to work from home where possible and more funding and funding for those who need to shield? Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it. Instead he’s pushing people to return to the office to support city centres.I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones – I already worked from home pre-Covid. But the only way I could was by working freelance. When lockdown came, it honestly hurt to see how easily the working from home conditions I had been told weren’t possible could be applied en masse to whole industries. I failed university three separate times because staff were unsupportive of my mental health needs and wouldn’t allow me to work from home when I needed to – yet home schooling has quickly become the norm. As for home working, when I made the switch to writing and journalism I wasn’t able to hop from newsroom to newsroom like other freelancers due to my low immune system and chronic fatigue. As a result it’s taken me a lot longer to get to the same point in my career as my able-bodied peers. One of my favourite things about being a freelancer in the ‘before times’ was being able to work from my favourite coffee shop or the library. It seems like a silly significant thing in the grand scheme of things but being shut in with just my dog and husband has really affected me mentally – and it must be even worse for disabled people who live alone. Disabled people have been fully cut off from others, and just because everyone else is in a rush to get back to normal doesn’t mean we feel safe to do so.Amid speculation that the country could be at risk of a second lockdown, many are anxious about returning to work. New research by gov.uk reveals just 14% of disabled workers feel safe about returning to work. Despite this, many may be forced to risk their health as they are worried about losing their jobs if they don’t return to work.If Johnson really wants the country to get back to normal, he needs to include everyone in his plans and be doing his utmost for disabled people.Some 51% of disabled workers said they were “concerned about going back to work, but need to get paid”. A third of disabled workers also feel under pressure to return to work – with employers and the government cited as main sources of pressure. And 25% of disabled workers are concerned about losing their job because their employer can’t make it safe for them to go to their workplace. This gives a clear message that we shouldn’t force people to return to the office until they are ready and can be certain that it’s safe for them to do so. If Johnson really wants the country to get back to normal, he needs to include everyone in his plans and be doing his utmost for disabled people.The open letter from Scope calls for the government and employers to embrace flexible working to create more job opportunities for disabled people in the future. The letter states: “The commitment to tackle the disability employment gap set out in the Conservative manifesto must be upheld. For those unable to work, the Government must guarantee a safety net which supports rather than punishes, without fear of ineffective sanctions.”Nobody should have to choose between their job and their health. If the government doesn’t start prioritising the needs of disabled people, coronavirus will not be the only killer in this pandemic.Rachel Charlton-Dailey is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelCDailey Related... These Simple Charts Explain The Latest On Covid-19 Right Now London Curfew Possible Amid Surge In Covid Cases, No.10 Hints Angela Rayner Blasts Boris Johnson For Making Hunting A 'Priority'
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Covid-19 is “worse than any of the science fiction” about pandemics and “we’re still at the beginning” of the global crisis it has sparked, a leading expert has said. Dr David Nabarro, one of the World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoys on the disease, said the coronavirus will “probably double the number of poor people” and destroy opportunity for young people. He painted the startlingly gloomy picture of the crisis while appearing before MPs on the Commons’ foreign affairs committee on Tuesday. Asked by Labour MP Chris Bryant what he made of those who sought to play down the threat of the virus, Nabarro said he would “be straight” in his reply, adding: “None of us find the present situation, anything other than horrible grotesque, really embarrassing. “It’s a terrible situation, a health issue has got so out of control it’s knocking the world into, not just a recession, but a huge economic contraction which would probably double the number of poor people, double the number of malnourished, lead to hundreds of millions of small businesses going bankrupt.”He added there was also a risk of the pandemic would ruin life chances for young people all around the world. Nabarro said: It’s awful. And we really, really are, all of us, deeply saddened and troubled by it.“But that applies to most people in our world who are all having to make sense of something that they couldn’t imagine.“It’s much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics.“This is really serious – we’re not even in the middle of it yet. We’re still at the beginning of it.“And we’re beginning to see what damage it’s going to cause the world.“And it’s getting nastier as we go into this particular phase in Europe of watching the thing come back again.”Pressed further on what he made of conspiracy theorists, who wrongly blame 5G for the disease, and the anti-face mask movement, Nabarro had an equally direct response. He said: “I think we’ve got to entertain the fact that everybody everywhere is looking for an explanation, and we need to level with them and say: ‘We quite understand it’.“We know how absolutely awful this is for so many hundreds of millions of people.“Based on my understanding this virus was visited on us at the very end of last year, and we’ve been learning to live with it for this year, and we will make sense of it, and we will be able to work out how to do it, but it’s going to take us quite a bit longer.”Nabarro also rejected the claims of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who claimed while in the UK speaking to MPs that officials on the WHO had been “bought” by China and was a “political, not a science-based organisation”. Nabarro said: “I would like to really accentuate that since the end of January WHO has given out one – one – pattern of advice: it’s a coronavirus, it’s not flu. You need to contain it quickly, robustly, if you don’t, it builds up exponentially and it becomes deeply entrenched in your country and you will find it extremely difficult to get rid of. Speed is of the essence. He added: “I want to really, really stress that this is an organisation whose values are global, for equity and for justice. The people working there are all in that vein. “I have seen absolutely no evidence, particularly in the emergencies programme, because they are such amazingly committed people showing any of the kind of bias you have shown. “I don’t recognise what the secretary of state said when he made those comments to MPs.” Related... Trump Audio Shows He Freaked Out Over A Sneeze Even As He Downplayed Covid-19 Rishi Sunak's Coffee Cup 'Worth Same As Two Weeks Of Sick Pay' Covid Tests To Be Rationed As Matt Hancock Told System In Chaos
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Boris Johnson is facing a fresh row over his new coronavirus “rule of six” curbs after it emerged that the government has exempted grouse shooting and other “hunting” with guns from the restrictions.Pro-hunting and shooting groups can continue to hold gatherings of between six and 30 people because they are covered by a loophole that permits licensed “outdoor activity”.New regulations published by the government for England just before midnight on Sunday have a string of exemptions for sports clubs, wedding receptions and even political protests.But they also have an exemption for when “a gathering takes place outdoors (whether or not in a public outdoor space)” for the purpose of “a physical activity which is carried on outdoors”, where a licence, permit or certificate is held by the organiser.HuffPost UK has learned that the Cabinet Office’s special Covid-19 Operations ministerial committee – chaired by Michael Gove – scheduled a meeting on Saturday, with one agenda item titled: “Exemption: hunting and shooting.”The meeting was abruptly cancelled just hours beforehand, with cabinet ministers and officials told that this issue would be discussed later or via ministerial correspondence.Insiders believe that the meeting was axed to avoid any ministers raising objections.Instead, the “outdoor activity” wording was inserted into the regulations, opening the way for an exemption for so-called “country sports” such as grouse and pheasant shooting and hunting.One source said the entire issue held up the publication of the regulations until shortly before the new law was due to kick in at midnight on Sunday.Brand new government guidance published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Monday lists “shooting (including hunting and paintball that requires a shotgun or firearms certificate license)” as a “sport or organised outdoor activity”.It appears that foxhunting may not be exempted, but the current position is unclear.When asked by HuffPost UK if the reference to “shooting (hunting)” included foxhunting, a spokesperson said “the exemptions are as listed in the guidance”.Former minister Tracey Crouch said: “Many will find this topsy-turvy prioritisation from government.“I’ve had queries about choirs, community bands, addiction therapy groups, all of whom would be worthy of an exemption and instead we are scrabbling around prioritising shooting animals. It’s bonkers.”Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard added: “Across the country, people are struggling to get COVID-19 tests anywhere near their homes.“But the Conservatives are distracted with trying to exempt the bloodsport passions of their big donors from coronavirus regulations. It shows where this government’s priorities really lie.“It is clear there’s one rule for the cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us.”Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The Government is giving the shooting industry carte blanche to continue its murderous activities despite the threat posed by gatherings during this awful pandemic.“The recent Government People and Nature Survey for England found that an increasing number of people (42%) are saying that nature and wildlife are more important than ever for their wellbeing – this government exemption flies in the face of that and condemns many animals to being shot for ‘sport’.“Lockdown offered animals a respite from the activities of hunters so we think the Government’s move to allow shooting is a backward step.”Much of the Tory party has long been proud of its links to hunting and shooting, believing it boosts rural communities with vital income, and has received donations from its advocates.Former Countryside Alliance chairman Simon Hart is now in Johnson’s cabinet as Welsh Secretary.Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who sits on the Covid-19 Operations committee, was this summer praising the work that grouse shooting can do for moorland.Delighted to recently join Rishi Sunak MP at Bolton Castle to show the many benefits of moorland mgmt for grouse. Rishi Sunak MP: “I learnt a huge amount about the importance of moorland mgmt & how it contributes to the astonishing range of wildlife that thrives on these moors." pic.twitter.com/pHvW4FjItC— Amanda Anderson (@MoorlandAssoc) July 17, 2018Johnson himself has written in the past that he “loved” foxhunting with dogs, once writing in the Spectator magazine of the “semi-sexual relation with the horse” and the “military-style pleasure” of moving as a unit.Sir Humphry Wakefield, father-in-law of the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who has shoots on his Chillingham Castle estate in Northumberland, has said “I love shooting, hunting”.The party’s fundraising balls have frequently auctioned pheasant shooting events in Scotland. In 2017, one supporter handed over £15,000 for an eight-person excursion to shoot pheasants on a Scottish estate.However, several Tory MPs have long campaigned against foxhunting and other “blood sports”.Shooting – including grouse, pheasant and pigeon shooting and “recreational deer stalking” – was one of several activities permitted when lockdown was eased this summer, with no restrictions on how far people could travel to do so. Mask-wearing shooters were out in force for “the Glorious 12th”, the first day of the grouse shooting season in August.A UK Government spokesperson said: “We have exempted over thirty types of sport, exercise and physical activity such as football, rugby and other outdoor pursuits“Outdoor activity is safer from a transmission perspective, and it is often easier to social distance. Where such activities take place, safety measures must be taken including conducting a risk assessment and compliance with COVID-19 Secure guidance.”The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said in a statement last week: “The latest guidance says that there will be exceptions where groups can be larger than six, including work or voluntary services as well as outdoor sport and physical activity events.“BASC continues to press ministers for further detail but believes that these exemptions encompass shooting where shoots operate in accordance with Covid secure guidance issued by representative shooting organisations, including BASC.”The Countryside Alliance also said last week: “From our understanding at present businesses and organised sports operating in England to Covid secure standards will be exempt from the new restrictions on social gatherings.“Details to follow, but we are confident rural activities will be able to continue with current safeguards in place.”Related... 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"The UK economy is still 11.7% smaller than it was in February before the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic hit," the ONS said.
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