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Families accused PM of breaking inquiry pledge as scientists warned over ‘lost’ messaging - as it happened

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Families of Covid victims accused Boris Johnson of breaking a pledge to involve them in choosing the head of the planned public inquiry, after weeks of silence.

In September, the prime minister finally met with the families – after refusing to do for almost 400 days – and agreed to give them a “clear role” in both the inquiry’s terms of reference and in selecting its chair.

But the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group says it has heard nothing from Downing Street in the eight weeks since, prompting mounting anger among its members.

Lobby Akinnola, the group’s spokesperson, said: “We met with Boris Johnson less than two months ago and he looked us in the eye and promised us that a chair would be appointed by Christmas and that we would be consulted.

Earlier, experts and scientific advisers claimed ministers in England have “lost the message” over Covid-19. The warning came on the same day that the devolved nations strengthened their own strategies against the virus.

One member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said that this advice needed to “be continually reinforced by the people in power”.

Kamlesh Khunti, a professor of primary care diabetes and vascular medicine, added: “We’ve lost the message; we don’t hear it as much now.”

Read More

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Key Points

  • Families accuse PM of breaking pledge on inquiry

  • Ministers in England accused of having ‘lost the message’ over Covid

  • Scotland and Northern Ireland issues stricter Covid advice

  • Another 700,000 more deaths in Europe forecast by spring

08:04 , Zoe Tidman

Good morning and welcome to our coverage of the latest news on the Covid pandemic.

‘We’ve lost the message’

08:05 , Zoe Tidman

Ministers in England have “lost the message” over Covid-19, scientific advisers and leading experts have claimed.

Their warning came on the same day that the devolved nations strengthened their own strategies against the virus.

Samuel Lovett and Anna Isaac have more:

Ministers have ‘lost the message’ over Covid, advisers and scientists warn

‘Worrisome’ projection of 500,000 more deaths in Europe by spring

08:16 , Zoe Tidman

A World Health Organisation official said 500,000 more Covid deaths in Europe was projected by next spring if things continue the way they are.

He made the comments to Sky News this morning:

95 per cent mask use ‘could save tens of thousands of lives’ in Europe

08:48 , Zoe Tidman

Robb Butler, the WHO Europe executive director, also told Sky News 95 per cent mask use could save more than 160,000 lives saved in Europe:

No plans for compulsory jabs, Raab says

09:02 , Zoe Tidman

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, has also spoken to media this morning about the Covid pandemic.

He told Sky News the government has no plans for mandatory vaccines - which Austria announced it would bring in next year:

Read more about Austria’s plans for mandatory Covid jabs here:

Austria to impose full lockdown, orders whole population to get vaccinated

Future pandemic threats ‘should be put on bar with defence'

09:24 , Zoe Tidman

Also this morning, the former head of the vaccine taskforce said future pandemic threats should be put on a par with potential defence threats.

Dame Kate Bingham urged ministers to ensure the country is better prepared for future disease outbreaks.


Scotland and Northern Ireland issues stricter Covid advice

09:47 , Zoe Tidman

Experts and advisors accused ministers of having “lost the message” over Covid on the same day that the devolved nations strengthened their own strategies against the virus.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon urged public to use Covid lateral flow tests before socialising and shopping in crowded places:

Nicola Sturgeon urges Scots to take Covid test before ‘any social occasion’

Northern Ireland urged people to work from home where possible in a bid to curb cases:

Calls for inquiry into care home deaths in Northern Ireland

10:05 , Matt Mathers

A public inquiry needs to be held into the handling of the Covid pandemic in care homes in Northern Ireland, the commissioner for older people has said.

Eddie Lynch said it was "time for answers" and urged the Stormont Executive to order the inquiry into why care home residents were "disproportionately affected" by the pandemic.

Mr Lynch said: "I have spoken to all political parties in recent weeks stating my clear position that a public inquiry into how care homes were managed throughout the Covid pandemic should take place.

"There has been a huge number of excess deaths in care homes with latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency revealing that deaths of care home residents account for 30 per cent of all Covid-related deaths.

"Covid has impacted us all, but for older people, and particularly care home residents, those impacts have been exceptionally arduous.

"Over the past year we witnessed the incorrect recording of care home deaths, families having no access to loved ones, personal protective equipment (PPE) supply problems, inappropriate use of do not attempt resuscitation orders, the slow introduction of testing, the transfer of Covid-positive patients into care homes - the list goes on."

Home schooling skyrockets amid Covid fears

10:20 , Matt Mathers

The number of children being home schooled in England has risen amid parents’ concerns over Covid-19, a survey suggests.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) estimated 115,542 children and young people were being home educated at some point during the 2020/21 academic year, up 34% from the previous year.


The ADCS said the most common reason parents decided to home-school children was due to concerns over Covid-19.

It added that local authorities said they had been notified by parents who were pulling children out of school because they had become concerned over their emotional health, anxiety and mental health needs.

‘Too much suspicion of business in government'

10:35 , Matt Mathers

Earlier this morning, a former vaccines chief warned that government should treat pandemics like defence threats.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Ms Bingham urged ministers to ensure the country is better prepared for future disease outbreaks.

In other comments, she warned that, while the vaccines taskforce was given freedom to do its job through the pandemic, there is generally “too much suspicion” of business in Whitehall.

Watch Ms Bingham’s comments below:

Antigen testing rolled out in Ireland’s schools next week

10:50 , Matt Mathers

Antigen testing will be available for pupils in schools from next week, the Minister for Education has said.

Norma Foley said on Wednesday that the programme of antigen testing, led by the HSE, will begin next Monday.

"The chief medical officer has now determined that there is a role for antigen testing in our schools as an additional tool in our schools. It has been led by the HSE and it will be operational, the HSE has informed, from the 29th," she said.

Ms Foley stressed that the Department of Education is doing all it can to increase the availability of substitute teachers, amid concerns about staff shortages.

Like several countries across Europe, Ireland is experiencing a surge in new Covid cases and hospitlisations are increasing.

Cases there have been steadily increasing since the beginning of October and the country’s seven-day average of infections stands at just over 5,000.

Is the government’s Covid strategy the correct one?

11:02 , Matt Mathers

Join Samuel Lovett, our science correspondent, and a panel of experts for a discussion on whether Boris Johnson’s government is pursuing the correct Covid strategy going into the winter months.

You can sign up to the free event by following this link.

Daily record number of infections in Hungary

11:15 , Matt Mathers

Hungary reported a record number of new daily Covid cases at 12,637, bringing their total number to 1.045 million with 33,519 deaths, a government tally showed on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, citizens across capital Budapest lined up outside the city’s hospitals to get their vaccines.


It was the first time shots had been offered without prior registrations being needed.

Infections in the central European nation are also surging, with the seven-day average at nearly 10,000 - up from around just 500 at the beginning of October.

WHO: Countries should consider mandatory vaccines

11:30 , Matt Mathers

It is time for countries to have a conversation about mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, a director at the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Robb Butler said "mandatory vaccines can, but does not always, increase uptake" but suggested countries - and individuals - should now be thinking about the issue.

Mr Butler told Sky News that mandates could come at the "expense of trust and social inclusion", but added: "We believe it’s time to have that conversation from both an individual and a population-based perspective. It’s a healthy debate to have."

Vaccines will become mandatory in Austria from next February, while German tourism minister Thomas Bareiss has called for his country to follow suit.

The UK has so far ruled out forcing people to get jab, aside from those working in health and social care.

Quarter of Brits skipping self-isolation, survey says

11:45 , Matt Mathers

One in four adults in England who test positive for Covid no longer follow the rules for self-isolating, a new survey suggests.

Some 75 per cent of respondents said they fully adhered to the isolation requirements for the entire10-day period after testing positive for coronavirus.

This is down from 78 per cent in September and 86 per cent in May, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which compiled the survey.

The latest figures are based on responses collected from adults in England between November 1 and 6.


The ONS described the drop from May to November as "statistically significant".

The survey also found one in four adults (25 per cent) said they carried out at least one activity during self-isolation that was against the requirements, such as leaving home or having visitors for reasons not permitted under the rules.

This is up from 22 per cent in the September survey.

Tim Gibbs, head of the ONS public services analysis team, said: "The latest results show that although the majority of those testing positive for Covid-19 are following self-isolation requirements, there has been a decrease since earlier this year.

"It’s important that we continue to self-isolate when necessary in order to help keep everyone safe and stop the spread of the virus, especially as we are moving into the winter months

Scotland suffers 94 more deaths

12:19 , Jane Dalton

A total of 12,028 people have died in Scotland with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, according to official figures.

The National Records of Scotland data shows 94 fatalities that mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate were registered in the week November 15-21, down 22 on the previous week.

Of the latest deaths, 17 were people aged under 65, 16 were aged 65-74 and 61 were 75 or older.

Glasgow City was the council area with the highest number of deaths.

Families accuse PM of breaking pledge over head of inquiry

12:34 , Jane Dalton

Families of Covid victims are accusing Boris Johnson of breaking a pledge to involve them in choosing the head of the planned public inquiry, after weeks of silence.

In September, the prime minister finally met the families – after refusing to do for almost 400 days – and agreed to give them a “clear role” in both the inquiry’s terms of reference and in selecting its chair.

Mr Johnson also vowed the chair would be in place by Christmas, a move seen as crucial to the probe getting under way next spring, when it will be two years since the pandemic struck. Rob Merrick reports:

Covid families accuse PM of breaking pledge to involve them in choosing inquiry head

New record infections in Europe amid fears of 700,000 deaths

12:50 , Jane Dalton

Infections have broken new records in parts of Europe, as the French government prepares to announce new Covid containment measures.

Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary all reported new highs in daily infections as winter begins and people gather indoors in the run-up to Christmas, providing a perfect breeding ground.

Health experts are thinking again about booster vaccination shots. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU public health agency, recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40, in a major shift of policy.

“Available evidence emerging from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and severe disease following a booster dose in all age groups in the short term,” the ECDC said in a new report.

Many EU countries have already begun giving booster doses to their populations but are using different criteria to make priorities and different intervals between the first shots and boosters.

The World Health Organisation said cases jumped by 11 per cent in Europe in the past week, the only region in the world where Covid-19 has continued to increase since mid-October.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic released on Tuesday, the UN health agency said cases and deaths globally have risen by about 6 per cent, with about 3.6 million new infections and 51,000 new deaths reported in the previous week.

WHO’s Europe director Hans Kluge warned that without urgent measures soon, the continent could suffer another 700,000 deaths by the spring.

“The European region remains in the firm grip of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Kluge said, calling for countries to increase vaccination and to take other control measures like masking and social distancing to avoid “the last resort of lockdowns”.

He noted that while more than one billion vaccine doses have been administered across WHO’s European region, which stretches to central Asia, the range in vaccination coverage varies from 10% to 80%.

Seven anti-vaccine doctors catch Covid

13:10 , Jane Dalton

Seven anti-vaccine doctors who attended a “summit” in the US touting alternative “treatments” for Covid-19 have contracted the disease.

The doctors gathered earlier this month to discuss “natural immunity”. Shweta Sharma reports:

Seven anti-vaccine doctors catch Covid at Florida ‘summit’ for alternative treatment

PM ‘disappointed’ Vaneva jab was not approved

13:20 , Jane Dalton

Boris Johnson said he was disappointed that Valneva’s Covid vaccine had not gained approval in Britain, two months after the government cancelled a supply deal for the shot.

In September, health secretary Sajid Javid said it was clear Valneva’s shot would not get approval in Britain. His statement was later corrected to say that the shot had not gained approval and may not gain it.

“I was personally very disappointed when we couldn’t get approval for the Valneva vaccine in the way that we had hoped,” Mr Johnson told MPs when he was asked in parliament about the vaccine.

“What we are doing is investing massively in this country’s vaccine capability across the country so that we are prepared for the next pandemic and I very much hope that Valneva will be part of that,” he added.

Will there be another lockdown in the UK?

13:35 , Matt Mathers

As Covid cases rise in the UK heading into winter, questions continue to swirl as to whether the government is following the correct strategy to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with seriously sick patients.

Are we likely to enter another lockdown in the coming months? My colleague Joe Sommerlad reports:

Will there be a new UK lockdown before Christmas?

Further 94 deaths in Scotland

13:50 , Matt Mathers

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in Scotland last week fell compared to the week before, new statistics show, but the number of overall fatalities is more than 10 per cent higher than the five-year average.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 12,028 deaths have been registered in Scotland where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate, according to statistics published by the National Records of Scotland on Wednesday.

Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services, said: "The latest figures show that last week there were 94 deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. This is 22 fewer deaths than the previous week.

"The number of deaths from all causes registered in Scotland in this week was 1,265, which is 126 - or 11 per cent - more than the five-year average.”

Full approval for J&J vaccine in Canada

14:05 , Matt Mathers

Johnson & Johnson said on Wednesday Canada gave full approval to its single-shot Covid vaccine for people aged 18 years and older, making it the first full approval for the vaccine globally.

Covid cases in Canada are relatively flat after spiking in August and September. The country’s seven-day average number of infections stands at around 2,500. Over the weekend, officials approved Pfizer’s jab for children aged 5-11.


Netherlands to impose stricter lockdown measures from Friday

14:16 , Matt Mathers

The Dutch government will impose even stricter lockdown measures from Friday to fight a record surge in coronavirus infections, as hospitals struggle to deal with the wave of Covid cases, health minister Hugo de Jonge said.

"The infection rate is higher than ever before", De Jonge said in a letter to parliament on Wednesday." Hospital admissions keep exceeding expectations and we have not seen the worst yet.”

Three consecutive nights of anti-lockdown protests in the Netherlands over the weekend descended into violence.

At least 130 people got arrested while four others were wounded and several police officers injured. Earlier this week prime minister Mark Rutte lashed out at those who caused the trouble, describing them as “idiots”.

Those who broke the law had “nothing to do with demonstrating” but were “a pure explosion of violence directed against our police, against our firefighters, against ambulance drivers,” he added.

Further four deaths in Northern Ireland

14:30 , Matt Mathers

There have been a further four deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Another 1,931 positive cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health.

On Wednesday morning there were 386 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 36 in intensive care.

Judges dismiss appeal over Covid support for self-employed new mothers

14:45 , Matt Mathers

A charity’s legal challenge over whether a Government Covid-19 financial support scheme unlawfully discriminated against self-employed recent mothers has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Pregnant Then Screwed brought legal action against the Treasury on behalf of self-employed women who have had babies in recent years, over the department’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (Seiss).

It argued that the scheme, introduced last year to help self-employed workers affected by the pandemic, was discriminatory and breached equality laws.

Seiss payments were assessed based on average monthly profits over the previous three tax years - effectively between 2016 and 2019 - and worth up to £2,500 a month.

In a ruling on Wednesday, senior judges found that while there had been "indirect discrimination", this had been "justified".

Italy to ban unvaccinated from some indoor venues

15:00 , Matt Mathers

Italy is expected to restrict access to some indoor venues for people who have not been vaccinated against Covid, in an effort to avoid a surge in infections as Europe grapples with a new wave of the epidemic, according to two government sources.

The government will approve a decree allowing only those who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus to enter venues such as cinemas, restaurants and hotels as of 6 December, the sources said after officials met health experts.

People sit at a bar, as the government discusses more stringent rules for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health pass known as a Green Pass, in Rome (Reuters)
People sit at a bar, as the government discusses more stringent rules for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health pass known as a Green Pass, in Rome (Reuters)

The country is also likely to extend mandatory vaccination, already in force for healthcare workers, to teachers and police as of 15 December, one of the sources said. A cabinet meeting to ratify the new measures is scheduled for 3:30pm.

Thousands come forward for 1st jab in NI after certification scheme announced

15:15 , Matt Mathers

Northern Ireland has witnessed a surge in people coming forward for their first vaccination since the region’s Covid certification scheme was announced, the chief medical officer has said.

Sir Michael McBride said 10,000 people had presented for a first jab in the past week - a number he described as "quite remarkable".

The mandatory certification scheme comes into operation across the hospitality sector next week, though enforcement of fines for non-compliance will not begin until two weeks later, on 13 December.


Sir Michael, who received his Covid booster dose at a north Belfast vaccine centre on Wednesday, said access to pubs and restaurants was a key motivating factor among many people who were coming forward.

He said: "100,000 doses of vaccine have been given in the last week alone.

"We’ve seen 10,000 people come forward for first doses - that’s quite remarkable - and over 84,000 booster doses."

Cases break records across Europe

15:28 , Matt Mathers

Coronavirus infections broke records in parts of Europe on Wednesday, with the continent once again the epicentre of a pandemic that has prompted new curbs on movement and made health experts think again about booster vaccination shots.

Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary all reported new highs in daily infections as winter grips Europe and people gather indoors in the run-up to Christmas, providing a perfect breeding ground for the virus.

WHO: ‘False sense of security’ around vaccines as Europe again Covid epicentre

15:30 , Matt Mathers

Europe is once again the epicentre of the COVID-19 amid a "false sense of security" over the protection offered by vaccines, and "no country is out of the woods", World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Tedros, addressing a news conference, voiced hopes that a consensus can be found at World Trade Organization ministerial next week for an IP waiver for pandemic vaccines, already supported by more than 100 countries.

He was also encouraged about a ‘broad consensus’ being reached on an international agreement on preventing pandemics at his agency’s separate ministerial meeting next week.


France to tighten restrictions to ‘save’ Christmas but full lockdown not yet needed

15:45 , Matt Mathers

France will announce new Covid containment measures on Thursday as infection rates surge nationwide, but does not plan a new lockdown like some other European Union countries.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that the government wants to avoid major curbs on public life, preferring stricter social distancing, speeding up its vaccination booster campaign and tightening rules on using health passes.

"We must protect the French people by building on what we have, to save the end-of-year festivities and get through the winter as well as possible," Attal told a news conference.

France’s health pass - which allows entry to cafes, restaurants, museums, cinemas and other public places for people who are vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test - is a key reason why infection rates in France are lower than in neighboring countries, Attal said.

No 10 says PM ‘follows all Covid rules’ as picture shows him maskless in theatre

16:00 , Matt Mathers

Prime minister Boris Johnson "follows all Covid rules", Downing Street has insisted after reports emerged that he attended a performance of Macbeth without wearing a mask.

The Guardian said an audience member at the Almeida theatre saw Johnson without his mask on at all times during Tuesday’s performance, while another had seen him maskless in a public area of the north London venue.

On its website the theatre urges patrons to wear a face covering during their visit unless eating or drinking.

Mask wearing regulations in England were dropped by the government in the summer but some transport networks are continuing to enforce their use as a condition of carriage, while some venues and shops still recommend they are worn.

Asked by reporters on Wednesday why the PM was "not wearing a mask" during the performance, Johnson’s press secretary said: "The PM follows all Covid rules."

She repeated the answer when asked why the theatre’s request for patrons to have a face mask on was allegedly not complied with.

16:02 , Matt Mathers

We’re now wrapping up our Covid coverage for the day.

Thanks for reading and have a good rest of afternoon.

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