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Sir Keir Starmer says he would back Boris Johnson on second national lockdown (Credit: PA)

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Labour would back Boris Johnson on imposing a second national lockdown if it was deemed necessary, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The opposition leader said he would support “whatever measures the government takes” as it battles to regain control of spiralling coronavirus cases and a buckling test and trace system. 

“One of the very important things in a pandemic is the clarity of communciations,” Sir Keir told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. 

“It’s the reason I’ve said I’ll support the government…the government have got their scientific advisers and they will make their decisions…we will follow that and we will reinforce their communications. 

“Because in the end this is not about party politics. This is about getting the nation through this virus, so if the government takes action I will support that, we will support it and I will support their message.

“Because what I want, like the government, is for this virus to come back under control.”

But the Labour leader said the “biggest problem” the UK currently faces is a lack of capacity within the testing system, which has left thousands across the country unable to access tests near their homes.

“If I was the prime minister I would apologise for the fact that we are in this situation with testing,” he added.

“Throughout the summer we were saying prepare for the autumn and instead we had the exams fiasco.

“I would make fixing testing the number one priority and reinstate the daily press conferences, so we all know what’s going on. Because up and down the country people are concerned about the fact the testing system is near collapse.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock was expected to meet City Hall officials on Sunday, after London Mayor Sadiq Khan wanted the capital is on the brink of needing further intervention.

Mr Hancock said the government’s network of local lockdowns had helped to bring down case numbers in areas where there were spikes, but that the UK stood at a “tipping point” where people’s willingness to follow the rules would determine whether stricter national measures were needed.

“[We have] got the cavalry coming over the next few months; the vaccine, the mass testing and the improvement in treatments,” he told the BBC.

“But we’ve got to all follow the rules between now and then to keep people safe.” 

Sir Keir said he backed new legal powers to hit those who fail to self-isolate when ordered to do so with £10,000 fines and that the government’s new “rule of six” restrictions in England provided “clarity”.

“I think it is necessary to take measures against the very few people who are frequently and repeatedly breaking the rules,” he added.

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House Democrats elect DeLauro as next House Appropriations chair

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As chair, DeLauro will work closely with the White House in future funding negotiations, charged with executing President-elect Joe Biden’s spending priorities and packing annual appropriations bills with long-held Democratic prerogatives.

If Republicans keep their majority in the Senate, DeLauro will have to navigate the appropriations process alongside Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who boasts a good working relationship with Lowey. Republicans in the next Congress will likely start raising more concerns about an exploding federal deficit after historic pandemic spending, as Congress looks to deliver more coronavirus relief amid a worsening global health crisis before a vaccine is widely available.

DeLauro’s win comes after she was endorsed by wide margins on Tuesday by the House Steering and Policy Committee, the panel that recommends committee assignments from which DeLauro recently relinquished her position as co-chair. She is the second-most senior of the three candidates who fought for the gavel.

Her ascension to chair of the Appropriations panel amounts to the pinnacle of 30 years in Congress representing Connecticut’s 3rd District. The purple-haired Democrat — who currently controls the largest portion of nondefense spending as the chair of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee — will be the second woman ever to lead the panel, behind long-time friend Lowey.

DeLauro has pledged to reform the appropriations process and make it more transparent and accessible to members, while better targeting federal investments to underserved and marginalized communities. She has vowed to dispatch with the Hyde Amendment, a provision tucked into annual spending bills for decades that bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion. And she supports bringing back earmarked spending next Congress with increased transparency — a priority for many House Democrats and even some Republicans who think that annual spending bills should present more opportunities to secure cash for pet projects at home.

Her win comes despite a race that once appeared to be narrowing with Wasserman Schultz, who picked up strong support from members eager for generational diversity within the leadership ranks — especially after a disappointing 2020 election in which Democrats unexpectedly lost more than half a dozen seats.

Wasserman Schultz, who stepped down as DNC chair after an embarrassing trove of emails leaked, had backing from freshmen, moderates and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who typically respect seniority when it comes to leadership elections. Many members also pointed to her prolific fundraising for Democrats and willingness to assist the party, in addition to serving as a mentor for many lawmakers about the appropriations process.

Wasserman Schultz, who leads the subcommittee that oversees funding for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, also had support from members who’ve seen DeLauro’s style as abrasive at times. The Connecticut Democrat is known as a firebrand who doesn’t shy away from confrontation, sometimes to her detriment within the caucus.

Still, DeLauro has a reputation for working across the aisle with senior Republican appropriators like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and she has been lauded by the public health and education advocates as a passionate champion for their causes. Major organizations like the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers publicly endorsed her in the race for Appropriations chair.

“Our support for Rosa DeLauro comes from working together on appropriations over the course of the last decade or so,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, who also has a long-time relationship with former DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz, in an interview last month. “She has been a fierce, fierce advocate for working families and for education.”

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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)

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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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