UK coronavirus LIVE: Boris Johnson says Covid lockdown ‘road map’ will come next month as hotel quarantine confirmed
Boris Johnson said he was “hopeful” that schools can start to reopen from March 8 but warned that lockdown restrictions were still necessary to drive down Covid-19 infections.
The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference that it was the “earliest” date that was “sensible” and safe for children to go back. “I’m hopeful, but that’s the earliest that we can do it and it depends on lots of things going right,” he said.
Nicola Sturgeon has launched an astonishing attack on Alex Salmond after she was accused of behaving like a “tin pot dictator” who risked bringing UK politics into worldwide disrepute. The First Minister accused her former mentor of inventing an “alternative reality” around claims of sexual assault and suggested it was his behaviour towards women, rather than a grand conspiracy, that were the "root" of the allegations against him. Ms Sturgeon was also forced to deny leaning on Scottish prosecutors to censor damning evidence put forward by Mr Salmond, following a fiasco that saw large chunks of his written testimony deleted. The episode over the written evidence, which saw Holyrood quickly back down to the Crown Office which is run by a member of Ms Sturgeon's government, has been seen as a major humiliation for the legislature.
European Union leaders challenged Emmanuel Macron over his inaccurate claims that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffectual”, it emerged on Wednesday. The French president said the jab did not appear to work on the over 65s in late January just hours before the EU’s medicines regulator approved it for use on all adults. A senior EU official revealed that Mr Macron was asked about his comments, which have been linked to a reluctance in some European countries to take the AstraZeneca jab. EU leaders have held regular video summits, including one on Thursday where they will call for coronavirus restrictions to continue, since the pandemic. “The point was raised by some leaders indeed. I cannot say who and when it was raised,” the official said. “There are in some countries some doubts and I think that the question was more to get clarification on if it was true or not and since then I think the commission has reacted to this."
Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer faced each other across the despatch box at PMQs on Wednesday. The Labour leader challenged the prime minister on financial support for people who are required to self-isolate, and argued against tax rises for families and businesses in next week’s Budget.
Nicola Sturgeon has backtracked over her controversial lockdown plan by conceding that parts of Scotland could move in April to a lower tier of restrictions that allows domestic travel and pubs to serve alcohol. The First Minister faced a barrage of criticism over her blueprint after stating that the entire mainland would initially move to Level 3 of her five-tier system when full lockdown formally ends on April 26. The beleaguered tourism and hospitality industries said many of their businesses would have to remain shut, with alcohol and travel outside council areas banned under the Level 3 restrictions that operated last year. Ms Sturgeon has conceded that parts or all of the country could instead speedily move to Level 2, which previously allowed restaurants and pubs to serve alcohol and open later. In a second about-turn, she said she hoped that travel restrictions within Scotland could be lifted from the end of April. The previous day she said they needed to continue "for some time yet" and her blueprint gave no indication of when they would be eased. Adopting a markedly more optimistic tone, after she was accused of failing to give people hope, she predicted that Scotland "could move to lower levels of restrictions fairly quickly over May and June."
Summer holidays face a new threat after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Covid vaccinations should not be used to determine whether people can enter a country. The WHO said there were still "critical unknowns" about the efficacy of vaccinations in reducing transmission and preventing the virus even as governments work on vaccine certificates as a way to kickstart travel. It said that, as a result, national authorities, airlines and travel operators "should not introduce requirements of proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry". Vaccination should not exempt travellers from having to undergo other "travel risk-reduction measures", such as testing or quarantine, it added. Vaccination documents are seen as critical to enable holidaymakers to travel abroad this summer. In his roadmap out of lockdown, announced on Monday, Boris Johnson signalled that international travel could restart as early as May 17.
Vaccine distribution in the second phase should be decided by age because prioritising teaching or other occupations would slow down the rollout, a leading government adviser has said. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chairman of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), said there "isn't a strong scientific argument" to immunise teachers, telling MPs on the science and technology committee that workers in meat processing factories would have a better case to jump the queue. Prof Harnden said deviating from the age-based approach at all could lead to "harm" by slowing down the overall number of doses administered each day. The committee has submitted its recommendations to ministers, who are expected to make a final decision on the second stage of the rollout in the coming days. All adults aged 50 and above, as well as patients of all ages over 16 with underlying health conditions, are expected to have been offered a first vaccine dose by the end of April.