The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has urged people to “play our part by showing compassion for our most vulnerable”, amid high coronavirus hospitalisation rates in the country.
A Christmas travel tsar has been appointed in an effort to avoid transport chaos during the festive period.
Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail, will scrutinise whether train, air and road networks are ready for millions of people making trips over the five-day window when coronavirus restrictions are eased, the Department for Transport said.
There are concerns that transport systems could be overwhelmed as people travel for Christmas, with services reduced due to social distancing measures.
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A petition calling for the government to reverse a pay freeze on civil servants has garnered more than 100,000 signatures.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union called for a parliamentary debate in light of the public support, demanding that civil servants receive a decent wage rise after a “decade of pay restraint”. According to the union, Civil Service pay has fallen in value by around 20% over 10 years, while government workers have been “overpaying” to their pension contributions.
The calls follow an announcement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak there would be a pay freeze across the public sector, except for doctors and nurses, because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that the number of signatures was “a fantastic achievement” and showed that there is “real appetite amongst the public to see the pay freeze lifted.”
“Civil servants and government workers deserve to be rewarded properly for all their professionalism and dedication throughout Covid-19,” he said. “Government attempts to play private sector and public sector staff against one another is doomed to failure and we demand they reverse their pay freeze immediately.”
Hospitals have been told to prepare for the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in as little as 10 days’ time, with NHS workers expected to be at the front of the queue, the Guardian has learned.
NHS bosses said hospitals in England could expect to receive their first deliveries of a vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech as soon as Monday 7 December, with regulatory approval anticipated within days.
According to sources at several hospitals across the country, NHS England said they should expect to get stocks of vaccine on 7, 8 or 9 December.
Read the full story here from the Guardian’s health editor, Denis Campbell:
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Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original lockdown in the UK back in March, said “individual judgment” would be important in deciding whether to see elderly relatives this Christmas.
While Ferguson said that celebrating with family would “increase transmission compared with everyone staying at home not mixing at all”, he said the real question was that if everyone was told to stay home, “what proportion of the population would actually go along with it?”
“I think you have to bring the population with you,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
“I think the measures at Christmas, they do pose some risks and I think individual judgment is important in deciding whether to see elderly relatives. But I think they strike a balance – expanding the bubble system limits the extent to which if people adhere to that transmission can really take off,” he said.
“Then what happens in January will depend on what the data is showing, and we don’t have the ability to predict precisely what the impact of both the tier system which will start next week and activity over Christmas.”
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The University of Surrey has announced that it will reduce its entry requirements by one grade for most undergraduate courses next year, in recognition of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education.
The university said the lowering of grade requirements aimed to help “relieve the pressure and anxiety”, faced by young people whose learning has been disrupted by the pandemic across two academic years.
The reduction in grade requirements will not apply to applicants for Veterinary Medicine, foundation year courses, four-year integrated masters programmes and audition-based performance courses.
Earlier this month, the University of Birmingham also revealed it planned to reduce entry requirements for 2021 by one grade in recognition of the impact of Covid-19 on A-level students.
One of the rebel Conservative MPs that Michael Gove was trying to pacify on Saturday is Craig Mackinlay, who said he will vote against the tiered system on Tuesday.
Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, questioned whether the measures were working: “given that we’ve been through this before, we have to ask ourselves, is this the cure, is this actually working?”
He told BBC Breakfast that instead of tiered restrictions, he would favour natural “self-regulation” which he claimed happens when people see the R-rate in their local area starting to rise.
“There was a report out on Friday that was suggesting there were 40,000 less cancer diagnoses this year than there were last year,” he said. “I don’t suppose for one minute there’s less cancer out there, but what it means is we are building up in the system, a lot of people who are too fearful to go into a medical arena, possibly struggling to see their GP for the first appointment.”
“These are going to be built up for the future, with more intensive treatment required… or indeed death,” he added.
Mackinlay has previously voted to block coronavirus legislation including the 10pm curfew for the hospitality industry in October and England’s second lockdown in November.
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Germany’s partial lockdown measures could go on until early Spring if infections do not reduce, economy minister Peter Altmaier has said, warning that the country had “three to four long winter months ahead of us.”
Altmaier told Die Welt newspaper that it was not possible to end the measures while there were incidences of more than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in large parts of Germany.
Germany imposed a “lockdown light” in early November, which closed bars and restaurants but saw schools and shops stay open. While the measures have stopped exponential growth in cases and the number of infections has stabilised, this is at a high rate.
On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states on to extend and tighten measures against the coronavirus until at least Dec. 20.
The chief executive of NHS Providers has urged the government to “take precautions now” to ensure hospitals are not overwhelmed in January, which is the busiest time of the year for the healthcare service.
Chris Hopson said that “winter emergencies” like slipping on ice and breaking bones caused massive demand on the NHS in January, and that if there is “a cold snap, there will be a danger that the NHS gets overwhelmed.”
“So what we’d say to MPs is, just think forward, think what it might be like in January, and you need to take the precautions now to ensure that the NHS doesn’t get overwhelmed at what is always it’s busiest time of year,” Hopson said.
He also urged people to follow coronavirus regulations over Christmas, saying that if “people go beyond the rules”, “we could trigger a third phase” of coronavirus.
However, there was some cause for hope.
Hopson said that while the NHS was still under heavy strain, infection rates were “definitely dropping” in areas like Manchester and Liverpool, which had been under sustained and strict lockdown measures.
He also said he expected the Pfizer vaccine to reach regulatory approval by “early to mid December”.
“This a huge logistical task that we’re doing at real pace, so I can’t believe there won’t be some bumps in the road,” he said. “But look how brilliant the NHS is in terms of being innovative and adapting to ensure it can fight this coronavirus, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing to ensure that we can deliver the vaccine.”
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‘Every hospital in England’ could be overwhelmed without tier measures, says minister
Every hospital in England could be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases if new tier restrictions are not introduced, cabinet minister Michael Gove has warned.
Gove said the decision to impose the restrictions was necessary to “pull the handbrake” and avoid the “disaster” of NHS hospitals reaching capacity with coronavirus patients.
The move was an apparent attempt to prevent a Tory backbench rebellion, amid a backlash from some Conservative MPs against the stringent measures introduced in parts of the country. Cornwall, the Isle of Weight and Isles of Scilly will be the only areas under Tier 1 restrictions when the national lockdown in England ends on 2 December, with the rest of the country under stricter tier 2 and 3 restrictions.
The chairman of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, was among the critics. He accused the government of infringing people’s “fundamental human rights”.
But Gove urged MPs to “take responsibility for difficult decisions”.
“Keeping our hospitals open, available and effective was not just crucial to dealing with Covid-19. It was imperative for the health of the whole nation,” Gove wrote in an article for The Times. “But the only way to ensure we can take care of cancer patients, administer radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and help stroke victims and treat heart attacks is by protecting the NHS.”
“And just as we want to reduce Covid-19 infections to save lives, so reducing them is the key to saving the economy. Think for a moment what would happen to our economy if we allowed infections to reach such a level that our NHS was overwhelmed,” he added.
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