Covid latest news: Hundreds of pandemic fines issued in same week of Downing Street ‘garden party’

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Covid latest news: Hundreds of pandemic fines issued in same week of Downing Street ‘garden party’
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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Hundreds of fines for breaking the Covid rules were handed out by police in the same week No10 allegedly held a garden party in the first national lockdown.

Scotland Yard has said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the May 20 in 2020 allegations at Downing Street after a bombshell email leaked on Monday showed more than one hundred No10 staff were invited to a garden party.

ITV News reported 40 people were believed to have attended the event.

There were 807 fixed penalty notices issued for breaches of Covid rules in England and Wales in the week between May 15 and May 21 2020, the latest data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council shows.

A total of 118,963 fines were processed by police between March 27 2020 and December 16 2021, according to figures.

Lockdown fines increased to £100 in England on May 13 in 2020 which could be handed out to anyone believed to be in breach of the Covid restrictions.

20:32 , Lily Waddell

Thank you for following our coverage. That is the end of our reporting today.

No 10 ‘lockdown drinks’ are ‘smack in the face’ says Michael Rosen

19:13 , Josh Salisbury

Acclaimed children’s author Michael Rosen has said the alleged rule-breaking drinks party in Downing Street during the first national lockdown, when he was in a coma with Covid, is a "smack in the face".

The former children's laureate, who is still suffering the after-effects of the illness, said the alleged event showed "contempt" for others.

The allegations are being examined by senior civil servant Sue Gray as part of her investigation into claims of lockdown-busting parties in Whitehall and Downing Street.

Mr Rosen, who said he is struggling to see out of one eye and hear out of one ear, told BBC News: "My first thought is the stories that my wife and family told me, that they were at home trying to maintain contact with me, get contact with me, because they couldn't come in and see me, and of course, I could have died.

"We've just heard the awful stories all day of people who said goodbye to their loved ones from home on Zoom calls and phone calls.”

He called on those who attended the alleged drinks to come forward.

Boris must say whether he attended ‘party’ - Scottish Tory leader

18:18 , Josh Salisbury

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he felt “furious” at the latest allegations of a lockdown-busting party in Downing Street, as he called on the Prime Minister to say whether he attended or not “right now”.

Asked if Boris Johnson should resign, Mr Ross repeated his position that the Prime Minister could not continue if he is found to have misled Parliament.

Other opposition parties at the Scottish Parliament have called on Mr Ross to submit a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Ross said he was disappointed Mr Johnson has not revealed whether he had attended the gathering or not.

He said: “I'm angry. I think that reflects what people across Scotland and the UK are feeling right now."

UK reports highest daily Covid-19 deaths since February last year - latest data

17:15 , Josh Salisbury

The UK has reported its highest daily death toll since February last year in the latest government data, but cases have fallen.

Tuesday’s total of 379 further Covid-19 fatalities is the highest since February 24 last year when 442 fatalities were reported.

However, the increase in cases of 120,821 is markedly less than last Tuesday’s total of 218,724. It is the lowest daily increase in cases reported across the UK since December 27.

The data also reveals almost 20,000 patients were in hospitals across the UK with Covid-19 as of Monday, standing at a total of 19,828 people.

More voters think PM should resign after latest Downing Street party reports - poll

16:12 , Josh Salisbury

The proportion of voters who think Boris Johnson should resign has risen by 12 points since details of the Downing Street "bring your own booze" party emerged, according to polling.

A snap poll from Savanta ComRes found 66% of UK adults thought the Prime Minister should step down.

In Conservative voters, this figure was 42%.

While 62% of those polled felt the party in the No 10 garden in May 2020 was a worse breach of trust than the initial Christmas party revelations.

The survey of 1,040 UK adults on January 11 found the proportion of those who felt Mr Johnson should resign had risen by 12 points since December. Among Tory voters this was a nine-point rise.

NHS trust postpones non-urgent operations amid staff shortage

15:26 , Daniel Keane

A hospital trust in the south east is postponing some non-urgent operations and redeploying staff as it feels pressure amid the nationwide surge in Covid.

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (UHSussex) faces “unprecedented delays” in discharging patients as well as high numbers of staff off with the virus.

Chief Nurse Dr Maggie Davies said the trust is doing “everything we can to ease pressures” and said urgent operations and cancer treatment are being prioritised.

Dr Davies said: “Unfortunately, this does mean postponing some non-urgent operations and outpatient appointments to accommodate those patients with the most urgent clinical need.

“We will continue to prioritise cancer and our other most urgent operations and appointments and are in the process of contacting those patients whose appointments are being postponed.

“We know it is distressing for people when operations are delayed and we are doing everything we can to ease pressures.”

Covid campaign group for bereaved families demands apology from PM over partygate

14:59 , Daniel Keane

Campaign group Covid Bereaved Families for Justice has written to Boris Johnson urging him to “do the right thing” and say whether he attended a garden party at Downing Street during the first lockdown.

The letter was signed by Hannah Brady, who said her father’s death certificate was being signed on the day of the Number 10 gathering.

The letter stated: “It is now clear that whilst my dad’s death certificate was being signed and me and my younger sister were grieving alone, dozens of people were gathered, clutching a bottle they had been invited to bring, in the same place you told me you had done everything you could.

“You can only imagine the pain, anguish and anger this news has brought to me and those of us lost a loved one to Covid-19.

“To make matters worse, when asked about this event by Sky News you laughed, smirked and seemed to treat it as one big joke.”

Scotland ‘turning the corner’ on Omicron, says Sturgeon

14:36 , Daniel Keane

There are some signs Scotland is “starting to turn the corner” on the Omicron variant spike, Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs.

Speaking in Holyrood, the First Minister said: “The situation in Scotland just now is undoubtedly serious but perhaps less so than it might have been, and there are also some signs that we may be starting to turn a corner.”

But Ms Sturgeon added that there are still some uncertainties which are yet to be addressed.

“I have already explained the uncertainties in the data which mean that the picture is not yet as clear as we would like it to be,” she added.

“And, of course, we do not yet know what impact the post-Christmas return to work and school will have on the level of infection.”

Welsh health minister blasts PM during media briefing

14:15 , Elly Blake

Wales’ health minister Eluned Morgan has used a Welsh Government press briefing to slate Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his actions in May 2020, when he reportedly attended a drinks party at Downing Street.

Baroness Morgan said: “If we remember back to what was happening in May 2020, it was about the most acute time in the whole crisis.

“I just think about the sacrifices that so many people in Wales made at that time. Sacrifices of not being able to say goodbye face to face to loved ones in hospitals, sacrifices people made in terms of not being able to leave their homes to see loved ones, not being able to reach out for the support that so many people wanted at that time.

“To have that juxtaposed with a situation where within Downing Street a party was going on really defies belief.

“I do hope that the Prime Minister will do his duty and report to the House of Commons this afternoon. It is his responsibility to lead from the front and to lead through example.”

Lib Dems ask for emergency session of the Commons Liaison Committee

13:52 , Elly Blake

The Liberal Democrats have called for an emergency session of the Commons Liaison Committee to question the Prime Minister.

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to hide the truth from the public and Parliament any longer.

“He is using Sue Gray’s inquiry as a smokescreen and hoping this issue will just go away.”

Boris Johnson will face MPs at his routine session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

However, Ms Chamberlain said a meeting of the Liaison Committee – made up of the chairs of Commons select committees – was needed to “grill Boris Johnson, find out what role he had in organising this party and whether he attended”.

Ms Chamberlain has written to Bernard Jenkin, the Tory chairman of the Liaison Committee, to ask for the session.

DUP MP breaks down in tears after describing losing his mother-in-law to Covid

13:40 , Elly Blake

In an incredibly emotional speech, the DUP’s Jim Shannon spoke about losing his mother-in-law due to Covid-19.

Through tears, he asked whether there will be a “full and complete disclosure” of the results of the investigation.

“I’m sorry, Mr Speaker,” he said as he became overcome with emotion and could not continue.

In response, Mr Ellis said he was “very sorry for his loss” and the findings will be made public.

MP describes nearly missing birth of his child due to Covid restrictions in January 2021

13:38 , Elly Blake

Labour’s Chris Elmore told MPs he nearly missed the birth of his son in January last year due to rules around hospital visits.

He said asked the Prime Minister for an apology after describing how he had found his wife “in a freezing cold bath having uncontrolled contractions”.

“I and many parents would like an apology from the prime minister,” he said.

“As we followed rules to protect NHS staff, he partied.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said he was “very sorry” to hear this story and the purpose of the investigation will be to “establish the facts”.

PM ‘going nowhere’, minister tells MPs who are calling for his resignation

13:28 , Elly Blake

The Prime Minister is “going nowhere” and will not resign, a minister has said, describing calls for him to stand down as “entirely hypothetical”.

In the Commons, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) asked: “If the Prime Minster broke the law, he will resign, won’t he?”

Minister Michael Ellis said: “It is an entirely hypothetical position.

“The Prime Minister is going nowhere. He seeks to draw me into making a supposition about the result of any inquiry. But the Prime Minister retains the confidence of the people of this country and he did so two years ago with the biggest majority in decades.”

Watch: Minister responds to urgent question over partygate

13:22 , Daniel Keane

Rayner: ‘Boris Johnson sets the tone'

13:04 , Daniel Keane

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the “Prime Minister sets the tone” as allegations swirl that he attended a lockdown-breaking party on May 20, 2020.

She told MPs: “That day, the House heard from the Prime Minister himself that 181 NHS workers and 131 social care staff had died, many people made huge personal sacrifices and the minister, quite frankly, hides behind the Gray investigation.

“There’s no need for an investigation into the simple central question today: did the Prime Minister attend the event in the Downing Street garden on the 20 May 2020?

“It won’t wash to blame this on a few junior civil servants, the Prime Minister sets the tone.”

She added: “If the Prime Minister was there, surely he knew. The invitation was sent to 100 staff, many of them his own most personal senior appointees, this was organised in advance, so did the Prime Minister know about the event beforehand and did he give his permission for it go ahead?”

School staff absences rise in a week

12:42 , Daniel Keane

The number of school staff absent from the classroom has risen at the start of term, figures show.

The DfE estimates that 8.6 per cent of teachers and school leaders - around 44,000 - were absent from schools on January .

This is up from 8.0 per cent on December 16.

Meanwhile, around 8.9 per cent of teaching assistants and other staff were absent last week - a rise of 7.3 per cent on December 16.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said there is no doubt staff absence levels will rise in schools as pupils return to the classroom, as he warned the next two weeks will be “bumpy”.

Inquiry into partygate ‘would be paused’ if police launched own investigation

12:26 , Daniel Keane

An inquiry into parties would be “paused” if the police were to launch their own investigation, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think the Cabinet Office has been clear that they’re in contact with the police and obviously the police have the ability to start an investigation should they see fit to do so.

“That would then pause the work has been done by the Cabinet Office team.”

The spokesman could not confirm whether the Metropolitan Police had asked for any evidence from the Government.

Rayner granted urgent question over alleged Downing St party

11:57 , Daniel Keane

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has been granted an urgent question in the Commons on the row over the May 20, 2020 Downing Street party, the Opposition said.

The move means a minister will be required to respond to her in the Commons at about 1230.

Police are in contact with the Cabinet Office over claims that a senior aide to the PM organised a “bring your own booze” party in the garden behind No 10 during England’s first lockdown.

Boris Johnson refused to say whether he was at the event, when questioned by reporters on Monday.

Mogg says junior civil servants ‘unlikely’ to be named in Partygate report

11:37 , Daniel Keane

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said he would not expect junior staff to be named in Sue Gray’s investigation into gatherings across Whitehall during Covid restrictions, but suggested more senior officials or politicians could be.

Speaking on his Moggcast podcast, Jacob Rees-Mogg said “you wouldn’t expect the name of extremely junior people to be put into public highlights”.

He said: “I don’t know what’s happened, I have no idea what will be concluded.

“But if there is somebody on work experience, who happened to be there for a week, it would seem unfair that that person should be named publicly.

“If, on the other hand, the Pope had popped in briefly, somebody of that seniority, you would expect that His Holiness would be named.”

WHO warns against treating Covid like flu

11:10 , Daniel Keane

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday warned against treating Covid as an endemic illness like flu, rather than as a pandemic.

It comes after Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday it may be time to change how it tracks Covid’s evolution to instead use a method similar to how it follows the flu, because its lethality has fallen.

Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, told a press briefing: “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges.

“We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.”

Tory MP defends Downing St party

10:55 , Daniel Keane

Tory MP Michael Fabricant has defended the Downing Street drinks party organised during the May 2020 lockdown - claiming it “would not have increased the risk of contagion”.

Posting on Twitter, the MP, who represents Lichfield in Staffordshire, wrote: “Was the Downing Street Party a ‘flagrant breach of the rules’ as Labour are happily claiming? Sue Gray will decide, but here are the facts:

“1) There are 80/90 offices in the Downing Street complex with key workers who were all operating closely together indoors

“2) Only they were invited to relax in the open air (an enclosed garden) and would not have increased the risk of contagion

“3) No outside guests were invited at all

“4) These people had worked incredibly hard on all our behalves on the vaccine programme etc.”

64 care home deaths in a week

10:32 , Daniel Keane

Some 64 care home resident deaths involving Covid in England and Wales were registered in the week to December 31, down from 78 the previous week.

The week-on-week change will have been affected by the bank holidays on December 27 and 28, when register offices were likely to be closed.

In total, 44,608 care home residents in England and Wales have had Covid recorded on their death certificate since the pandemic began.

More than 176,000 deaths with Covid on certificate - ONS

10:13 , Daniel Keane

A total of 176,035 deaths have occurred in the UK where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.

The highest number on a single day was 1,485 on January 19 2021.

During the first wave of the virus, the daily toll peaked at 1,461 on April 8 2020.

Starmer says PM’s deflections on partygate are ‘absurd'

09:54 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir Starmer has weighed in on “partygate”, branding the prime minister’s excuses “absurd”.

The Labour leader tweeted: “Boris Johnson, your deflections and distractions are absurd.

“Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them.

“Stop lying to the British public. It’s time to finally come clean.”

‘Appropriate disciplinary action’ should be taken if Covid rules were broken in Downing St

09:36 , Daniel Keane

Health minister Ed Argar said “appropriate disciplinary action” should be taken if rules are found to have been broken at an alleged Downing Street drinks party in May last year.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.

“That’s why it’s right that [Sue Gray] is looking into the facts and will report, and she can go with this investigation where she needs to, without fear or favour.

“I hope that she will report swiftly, and depending on what she finds in that investigation - if people are found to have broken the rules in that context, it’s right that appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

Covid cases fall across London

09:14 , Daniel Keane

Covid cases have fallen in almost all London boroughs indicating that Omicron is in retreat in the capital, official figures have revealed.

Confirmed cases were down in 26 out of 32 boroughs in the week to January 5, according to the latest Government data.

Just four local authorities saw infection rates increase by any significant margin.

All boroughs recorded fewer than 2,000 cases per 100,000 people in the week to January 5, fuelling hope the Omicron wave may have peaked, but still a high level of disease.

You can read the full report from our politics team here.

‘People are furious’: Former Scot Tory challenges PM over ‘drinks party’

08:56 , Daniel Keane

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson condemned the alleged Downing Street drinks party in May 2020, saying “People are (rightly) furious.”

The Tory peer tweeted in response to health minister Ed Argar telling BBC Breakfast: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.”

Baroness Davidson said: “This line won’t survive 48 hrs. Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much - visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?”

PM ‘cannot run and hide from party allegations'

08:36 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson “cannot run and he cannot hide” from claims an aide organised a “bring your own booze” Downing Street drinks party during the first lockdown, Labour’s Ed Miliband has said.

The shadow climate change and net zero secretary described the revelations as “incredibly damning” and called on the Prime Minister to explain whether he was at the party.

Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The reason this is so damning is because it was an organised party, no ifs and no buts, because it was clearly the most flagrant violation of the rules.

“It was on the day that the cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said we were only allowed to meet one person outdoors, those were the rules in place. And, crucially, Number 10 has not denied that the Prime Minister was at the party.

“Now, it’s all very well that we are having Sue Gray’s inquiry, but the Prime Minister cannot run and he cannot hide. He’s got to answer. If I went to a party, I know I went to the party. He’s got to explain - was he at the party?

“How can he possibly justify all of the things he said in the House of Commons - that no rules were broken, that he did nothing wrong? He is going to have to answer.”

Minister ‘spent last May glued to Zoom screen'

08:19 , Daniel Keane

Asked if he would have accepted an invitation to an alleged Downing Street drinks party during the first lockdown, Mr Argar said he spent last May “glued to my Zoom screen”.

He told Sky News: “I spent my May last year talking to you on various occasions, and various other media outlets, but pretty much glued to my Zoom screen and making sure that I knew what the regulations were - not least because I was a health minister who’d helped draw them up.”

Pressed on whether he would have accepted such an invitation in light of this, he said: “I wasn’t invited to any parties and I’m not going to get into any hypotheticals.

“I was clear about what the rules were at the time and it’s right that Sue Gray is looking into this matter independently.”

‘We understand why people are upset,’ says minister after ‘BYOB No10 party'

08:02 , Daniel Keane

Health minister Ed Argar said he can understand why people are upset over claims the Prime Minister’s aide organised a “bring your own booze” Downing Street drinks party during the first lockdown.

He told Sky News: “I can understand that with these allegations people will be upset and angry, which is why it’s right that the Prime Minister asked for that independent investigation to be completed at pace, to get to the facts behind these allegations.”

He said he would not “pre-judge” an inquiry by Cabinet Office official Sue Gray.

“What actually happened or didn’t happen in Downing Street is a matter for Ms Gray,” he said.

“She will come up with her conclusions having interviewed the relevant people, having looked at the evidence and ... she will then conclude a) what did or didn’t happen, and then b) whether anything that did happen was consistent with the rules.”

Schools chief backs isolation cut

07:42 , Daniel Keane

Dame Maura Regan, chief executive officer of Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust, said she would be in favour of a move in England to decrease the Covid isolation period to five days.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Personally, I’d welcome it, because I think the most important thing is there are many staff that actually have no symptoms, many children that have no symptoms, and I think it’s important to get staff back as quickly as possible.

“I think the most important thing we have to remember is that while it’s significant for all children, it’s particularly significant for those students that are actually facing exams, and many of them have had two, two and a half years, of disruption and to then have a lack of quality teaching is actually greater disruption for them.”

She said “one of the biggest challenges” currently for schools is “effective supply cover”.

She added: “Many people can’t get supply in and, obviously, supply agencies are at something like 50% down on those that are available.”

Around the world

07:24 , Daniel Keane

- The United States reported at least 1.13 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, a Reuters tally showed, the highest daily total of any country in the pandemic so far

- An experimental monoclonal antibody treatment from pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co is effective against all known variants of the coronavirus, including Omicron

- Hong Kong will shut kindergartens and primary schools and start offering Covid vaccines for children from the age of five, the city’s leader said on Tuesday

- Japan will maintain its tight entry restrictions to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant until the end of February, the prime minister said on Tuesday

Covid has worsened outlook for people with least survivable cancers

07:10 , Daniel Keane

The Covid pandemic has made the outlook worse for people with the least survivable cancers, such as pancreatic, stomach and brain cancer, campaigners have said.

A quarter of cancers in the UK have an average five-year survival rate of just 16 per cent and are often diagnosed late in emergency departments.

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) has launched its first awareness day to ask for greater focus on early diagnosis and more research, as well as a Government commitment to increase survival rates for less survivable cancers to 28 per cent by 2029.

LSCT chairwoman Anna Jewell said: “We know that delays in diagnosis lead to much poorer outcomes for patients with these rapidly-advancing cancers.

“We also know the trauma associated with receiving a diagnosis in an emergency setting for both patients and families.

“These cancers are currently difficult or impossible to treat at later stages and the time from diagnosis to death is often brutally short compared to more survivable cancers.

“The situation is critical and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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