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New rules on prioritisation for testing will be unveiled by Matt Hancock focusing on key workers (PA)


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The Health Minister Edward Argar has admitted some people with coronavirus symptoms could be refused an immediate test under plans to ration them to deal with a processing backlog.

He said despite a “ramping up” of testing capacity by the government it would need to prioritise “frontline NHS care workers, teachers and similar”.

As a result, Mr Argar told the BBC: “It is possible there will be people who have symptoms who apply for a test who have to wait longer, because we are prioritising those key frontline workers who we need to keep our NHS and care system working.”

He insisted anyone with symptoms should still apply for a test, but admitted while the prioritisation plans are in place – which are due to be revealed formally by health secretary Matt Hancock later today, they may not be offered one.

“That’s not saying if you don’t fit into those groups and you’ve got symptoms, ‘don’t do it’,” the minister explained. 

“If you’ve got symptoms, apply for a test.”

He said the government was hoping that “Mr and Mrs Smith” would still be able to get a test “in a timely fashion”. 

Mr Argar also rubbished claims the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is pushing for a new national lockdown to deal with the surge in new coronavirus cases.

He echoed the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, who said the financial consequences of such a move would be “disastrous”.

Mr Argar said: “We are guided by the science but we’re not necessarily guided by the speculation in the press.

“It’s not something I’ve heard from Chris. And it’s something the prime minister clearly doesn’t want to see.”

He told Sky News: “I know there’s speculation in the press today. But it’s not something I’ve seen within the department.

“The Prime Minister has been very clear about this, he doesn’t want to see another national lockdown.

“He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work and get that infection rate down.”

The comments follow Mr Johnson’s evidence to the liaison committee in Parliament yesterday, where he said: “I don’t want a second national lockdown, I think it would be completely wrong for this country,” he told a group of senior MPs.

“We are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.

“Can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous.”

Mr Argar also claimed the sharp rise in coronavirus cases can be controlled through local measures, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We saw in Leicester it worked, we saw those rates come right down – it does work and it does control it at a local level.

“I don’t think we are at a place where we would wish to see or need to see a national level of restrictions.”

The shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said “nobody wants to see another national lockdown”, but to avoid it there needs to be a “functioning” test, track and trace system.

He told Sky News the government “is getting this wrong”, adding: “Now that we’ve got more people going out and about as the economy opens, people are being encouraged to go back to work, children are going to school, young people are going to university, the risk of infections spreading is greater.

“But we don’t have the test, track and trace system that could keep everybody safe. So we risk further local or even national lockdowns.

“The fault of this has to be laid squarely at the feet of the government.”

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Sports Stars, Actors And “High-Value” Business Travellers Returning To England Will No Longer Have To Self-Isolate

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From Saturday certain business travellers will no longer have to self-isolate when they arrive back into England (PA)


2 min read

Grant Shapps has revealed “high-value” business travellers are part of a new group of people who will not have to quarantine when they return to England after traveling to countries outside of coronavirus travel corridors.

The transport secretary said recently signed sports stars, performing arts professionals, TV production staff and journalists will also be exempt from the 14-day self-isolation period even if they have visited a destination where people are required to quarantine on return.

The move, which will come into force from 4am on Saturday, was recommended by the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce, which warned that business travel would be particularly slow to recover. 

Announcing the news on Twitter, Mr Shapps wrote: “New Business Traveller exemption: From 4am on Sat 5th Dec high-value business travellers will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to ENGLAND from a country NOT in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs. Conditions apply.

“From 4am on Sat 5th Dec certain performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed elite sportspersons will also be exempt, subject to specific criteria being met.”

The news follows the government’s ‘Test to Release’ plan to cut the 14-day quarantine period to five days .

It means anyone arriving in the UK from a high-risk destination after 15 December will be able to leave isolation if they pay for a Covid-19 test after the fifth day and it comes back negative.

But as most inbound business travellers spend fewer than three days here that policy was unlikely to help revive this type of travel, which accounted for 22% of inbound visits a year before the pandemic, and contributed £4.5billion to the UK economy.

The department for transport has also revealed a “high-value” business trip must be one that “creates or preserves 50+ UK jobs”, but further guidance will be revealed before the plan comes into force.

In a statement it said: “Public Health England do not anticipate these changes will raise the risk of domestic transmission, due to the protocols being put in place around these exemptions, however all exemptions will remain under review.”

Mr Shapps also confirmed this evening that no destinations have been added or removed from the UK’s existing travel corridors list.



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Covid: Are countries under pressure to approve a vaccine?

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The claim that Brexit allowed the UK to approve the vaccine faster than other European countries has been disproved but it does reflect once again a different path Britain is taking. All EU countries have the option to follow the UK example and let their domestic drug regulator issue emergency approval, but the bloc says it wants to wait for the European Medicines Agency to give the green light on all their behalf. Germany, backed by Denmark and others, believes this maximises safety, allows a co-ordinated rollout, boosts public trust in the vaccine and ensures no country is left behind.

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US bill that could remove Chinese firms from stock exchanges is now on Trump’s desk

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The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would prevent companies that refuse to open their books to US accounting regulators from trading on US stock exchanges. The legislation won unanimous backing in the Senate earlier this year, meaning it only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law.

The bill would apply to any foreign company, but the focus on China is obvious. Beijing has resisted such scrutiny. It requires companies that are traded overseas to hold their audit papers in mainland China, where they cannot be examined by foreign agencies. All US-listed public companies would also be required to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government, including China’s Communist party.

“US policy is letting China flout rules that American companies play by, and it’s dangerous,” Senator John Neely Kennedy said in a statement after the House vote.
The legislation would give Trump yet another way to put pressure on China before he leaves office in January. Washington has been ratcheting up its fight with Beijing this year as the two countries blame each other for starting and mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and clash over Hong Kong and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Trump administration has targeted TikTok and forced Huawei into a fight for survival, and banned Americans from investing in some Chinese firms.
Several Chinese companies have been preparing contingency plans in light of the heightened scrutiny from the United States. Earlier this year, gaming company NetEase (NTES) and e-commerce firm JD.com (JD), both of which trade in New York, acknowledged the tensions as they announced secondary listings on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Other companies that could be affected include Alibaba (BABA) and China Telecom (CHA).

“Enactment of any of such legislations or other efforts to increase US regulatory access to audit information could cause investor uncertainty for affected issuers, including us, the market price of our [US shares] could be adversely affected, and we could be delisted if we are unable” to meet requirements in time, JD said in filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Beijing has made its dissatisfaction with the US legislation evident. Asked Wednesday about the House vote, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said “we firmly oppose politicizing securities regulation.”

“We hope the US side can provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies to invest and operate in the US, instead of trying to set up various barriers,” Hua told reporters.

Should the bill become law, its immediate consequences aren’t entirely clear. Analysts at Goldman Sachs pointed out in a research note earlier this year that the legislation would only force businesses to de-list if they could not be audited for three consecutive years.

Still, even the potential for tighter regulatory scrutiny was likely to push more companies to dual list in Hong Kong, the analysts added.

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