UK

Wales heads for ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown

Wales announced a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown today – with bars, restaurants and non-essential shops facing being closed down for two weeks.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the draconian move will take effect from 6pm on Friday to combat a coronavirus surge.

Describing the measures as a ‘firebreaker’, he warned that failure to act now would mean ‘more people will die’. 

He said everyone in Wales will be ordered to ‘stay at home’ unless they are critical workers or have no choice about going out to work. Households are being banned from mixing indoors or outdoors, and although there is no limit on exercise it must ‘begin and end at home’.

Primary schools will reopen after half-term next week, Labour’s Mr Drakeford told a press conference, but secondaries will only re-open years seven and eight, and for pupils doing exams.

The ‘sharp and deep’ lockdown – which echoes the national demands made by Keir Starmer – will end on November 9, wiping out Halloween and Bonfire Night, although Remembrance Sunday events will go ahead on November 8. 

The step was criticised by Welsh Tories, who said it was dooming Wales to an endless cycle of two-week lockdowns. But it will heap pressure on Boris Johnson, who has been desperately resisting the option in England despite backing from his own SAGE experts. 

Northern Ireland and Scotland have already introduce their own national crackdowns amid spiking cases, but the PM has been sticking to his plan for local ‘Tiers’.

In other whirlwind coronavirus developments today:

  • At least 26,000 more people than usual have died at home during the coronavirus pandemic in England and Wales because they couldn’t or didn’t want to go to hospital during lockdown, official statistics have found; 
  • A further 16,982 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK yesterday – a leap of almost a third compared to last week
  • Health chiefs reported 67 further deaths from Covid-19 – bringing the total number of fatalities to 43,646
  • England’s deputy chief medical officer has called for the nation’s 10pm pub curfew to be brought forward to 6pm 
  • A top government advisor said there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as he predicts a Covid-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of March 2021

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the draconian move will take effect from 6pm on Friday to combat a coronavirus surge

The step will heap pressure on Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today), who has been desperately resisting the option in England

The step will heap pressure on Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today), who has been desperately resisting the option in England

Do a deal on Tier 3 today or else, ministers warn Greater Manchester

Ministers sent an ultimatum to Andy Burnham and mutinous Greater Manchester MPs that they must do a deal on Tier Three lockdown today – or face being forced into tougher coronavirus curbs.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned that talks had gone on ‘too long’ and the government could force the issue as early as tomorrow unless the region accepts a package of funding to ease the impact, thought to be worth up to £100million. 

The threat came after doctors voiced alarm that Manchester is at risk of running out of hospital beds for COVID, with the bitter standoff now having delayed a clampdown by days. 

Haggling is also continuing with Nottingham and Yorkshire over the possibility of shifting to Tier Three, which could put a total of seven million people under heightened restrictions. 

But along with the war of words with Mr Burnham and Labour, the wrangling is also at risk of tearing the Conservative Party apart – as local MPs including 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady dismiss the need for the highest levels of restrictions. 

There was a brutal response from ‘Red Wall’ MPs on Tory WhatsApp groups after colleagues from Tier One sent a letter to Mr Burnham urging him to ‘engage’ with the Government’s regional approach in order to spare other areas ‘pain’.  

Mr Drakeford said it will not be clear whether the ‘circuit breaker’ has worked by November 9, but he insisted it will finish at that point. 

‘There will be no gatherings with people you do not live with either indoors or outdoors during this two-week period,’ Mr Drakeford said.

‘There will continue to be an exception for adults living alone and single parents will continue to be able to join with one household for support.’

Mr Drakeford said an extra economic resilience fund of almost £300 million had been created to support businesses.

Every business covered by the small business rate relief will receive a £1,000 payment.

Mr Drakeford admitted that the benefits of the policy could only be seen ‘in the weeks that follow’.

All non-food retail and hospitality businesses, including cafes, restaurants and pubs – unless they provide take-away or delivery services – must close.

Close contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians, and events and tourism businesses such as hotels, must also shut.

However, Local parks, playgrounds and outdoor gyms will remain open.

A ‘technical’ paper published by the Welsh government’s own experts says its aim is to ‘protect our most deprived population from the direct effects of Covid-19 in a potential second wave, and from the indirect effects of Covid-19 on the economy which will increase health inequalities in the longer term’. 

‘We will know we have succeeded in this if the gradient in Covid-19 mortality is less steep in future than in the first peak and if we see a reduction in the gradient in all-cause mortality in 2022, given that it is unlikely that inequalities will reduce in the next two years,’ the report said. 

Small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses that have to close will receive a one-off payment of up to £5,000.

But Paul Davies, Conservative leader of the opposition in the Senedd, said: ‘Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

‘The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns.

‘This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year.’

Wales risked the wrath of Westminster on Friday by pushing ahead with an ‘unenforceable’ ban on travellers from English coronavirus hotspots.

Mr Drakeford said the border restrictions were needed as Mr Johnson had ignored his plea to impose UK-wide legal limits on travelling from Tier Two and Three areas. 

However, they have been derided as impractical and anti-English by critics. 

The Welsh Government is also demanding more support from Westminster to protect jobs and businesses.

The news was announced as ministers sent an ultimatum to Andy Burnham and mutinous Greater Manchester MPs that they must do a deal on Tier Three lockdown today – or face being forced into tougher coronavirus curbs.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned that talks had gone on ‘too long’ and the government could force the issue as early as tomorrow unless the region accepts a package of funding to ease the impact, thought to be worth up to £100million. 

The threat came after doctors voiced alarm that Manchester is at risk of running out of hospital beds for COVID, with the bitter standoff now having delayed a clampdown by days. 

Haggling is also continuing with Nottingham and Yorkshire over the possibility of shifting to Tier Three, which could put a total of seven million people under heightened restrictions. 

But along with the war of words with Mr Burnham and Labour, the wrangling is also at risk of tearing the Conservative Party apart – as local MPs including 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady dismiss the need for the highest levels of restrictions. 

The Welsh ‘firebreaker’ 

  • Bars, restaurants and non-essential shops will be shut from 6pm Friday to November 9. 
  • Everyone in Wales will be ordered to ‘stay at home’ unless they are critical workers or have no choice about going out to work. 
  • Households are being banned from mixing indoors or outdoors, and although there is no limit on exercise it must ‘begin and end at home’.
  • Primary schools will reopen after half-term next week, but secondaries will only re-open years seven and eight, and for pupils doing exams.
  • Limited Remembrance Sunday events will go ahead on November 8. 

26,000 more people than usual die at home during pandemic 

At least 26,000 more people than usual have died at home during the coronavirus pandemic in England and Wales because they couldn’t or didn’t want to go to hospital during lockdown, official statistics have found.

Between March 20, the week that lockdown started, and September, a total of 86,000 people died in private homes rather than in hospitals or care homes, an Office for National Statistics report revealed today.

The number, which is a surge of 43.6 per cent on the average for that time of year, includes fatalities of any cause, with Covid-19 only linked to 3.3 per cent of them.

Deaths in private homes were almost double the average between April 3 and May 7, when Britain was overwhelmed by the virus, and they have remained ‘well above average’ since March.

Yet in hospitals and care homes the number of deaths slipped below average in June, once the first wave of coronavirus deaths had blown over. It has now risen back up in care homes, but remains low in hospitals. Statisticians said the change represented a ‘redistribution’ in where people die.

Heart disease was the biggest cause of the deaths, followed by cancers and dementia – it is normal for these to be the main killers.

Experts are not sure whether the statistics are necessarily bad – many people choose to die at home rather than in hospital – but warn people might have missed out on proper end-of-life care, which includes painkillers, and that some of the people may actually have been saved if they were in a hospital.

There was a brutal response from ‘Red Wall’ MPs on Tory WhatsApp groups after colleagues from Tier One sent a letter to Mr Burnham urging him to ‘engage’ with the Government’s regional approach in order to spare other areas ‘pain’. 

The intervention – which many believe was orchestrated by Downing Street – sparked furious private rows about an ‘all-round shafting’, with one MP reportedly jibing at another: ‘You just want a promotion and you’re happy to throw colleagues under a bus to achieve it.’ 

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Jenrick said: ‘I do think it is very clear that having now discussed this for well over a week this does now need to be brought to a conclusion.

‘I think everybody in Greater Manchester would agree with that.

‘So, I am hopeful that either today, or tomorrow, we will reach a conclusion, one way or the other.’

But Mr Burnham was still signalling defiance today, telling journalists: ‘It’s not about the size of the cheque, it’s about protecting low-paid workers, people who are self-employed and supporting businesses.’ 

Liverpool City Region received £30million in support for local businesses when it went into Tier Three, along with £14million for extra contact tracing capacity, and £7million when it entered Tier Two.

Adjusting the total package for the larger population in Manchester would give a figure of around £95million.

Although Mr Burnham has been pushing for furlough to be paid at 80 per cent rather than the two-thirds offered by the government, that is met centrally and separate from the bailouts. 

Health minister Vaughan Gething complained yesterday that the furlough scheme ends on October 31 and will be replaced by the UK Government with a ‘less generous’ Job Support Scheme.

He told the BBC’s Politics Wales show yesterday that the Welsh Government was ‘arguing’ with ministers in London that a ‘more certain and more generous package’ is needed.

From November 1 the UK Government will pay 67 per cent of wages – up to a maximum of £2,100 a month – for each employee in businesses forced to close. 

Staff must be off work for a minimum of seven days to be eligible, and their employer does not have to pay towards their salary.

Under the current furlough scheme workers get up to 80 per cent of their pay – 20 per cent from their employer and 60 per cent from the Government.

Mr Gething said the decision on a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown was is yet to be taken but the Welsh Government is having a ‘range of conversations with stakeholders’ to understand what the lockdown might look like.

‘Part of the challenge is that support for jobs and businesses is going to change on November 1 and it will be a less generous scheme and it will only be available if businesses are legally required to close,’ he said.

‘It is a matter of fact that the new support scheme available from November 1 is less generous than the furlough scheme.

‘That’s the reality we are having to deal with, while trying to argue with the UK Government that a more certain and more generous package is needed if we are going to have the desired effect of any national intervention of any kind to reduce transmission rates while protecting people’s livelihoods as far as possible.’

Mr Drakeford said last week that local lockdowns in force across 17 areas of Wales – affecting more than 2.3 million people – have not succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus enough. 

Meanwhile, there have been a further 950 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 35,628.

Public Health Wales said three further deaths had been reported, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,711. 

The Welsh Government has banned people from Covid hotspots in the rest of the UK from entering the country

The Welsh Government has banned people from Covid hotspots in the rest of the UK from entering the country

WHAT ARE THE THREE TIERS? 

TIER 1/MEDIUM: This is for areas where national restrictions continue to be in place. 

  • you must not socialise in groups larger than 6, indoors or outdoors 
  • certain businesses are required to ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and must close between 10pm and 5am 
  • businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is a take-out service 
  • places of worship remain open, subject to the rule of 6
  • weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers of attendees 
  • exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, or indoors with the rule of 6

TIER 2/HIGH: On top of restrictions in alert level medium:

  • you must not socialise with anybody outside of your household or support bubble in any indoor setting
  • you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 outside, including in a garden
  • exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors. These will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with or share a support bubble with, or for youth or disability sport 
  • you can continue to travel to venues or amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but should look to reduce the number of journeys you make where possible 

TIER 3/VERY HIGH: At a minimum, this means:

  • you must not socialise with anybody you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting or in any private garden
  • you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 in an outdoor public space such as a park 
  • pubs and bars must close and can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals 
  • places of worship remain open, but household mixing is not permitted  
  • weddings (but not receptions) and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees 
  • you should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if you are resident in a very-high alert level area

The government will also seek to agree additional interventions in consultation with local authorities.

Source: Gov.uk 


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