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Matt Hancock delivered a statement updating the House of Commons on coronavirus (PA)


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The local lockdown restrictions on household mixing will be eased where it is necessary to provide childcare, Matt Hancock has announced.

The health secretary said he hoped the exemption would provide “clarity and comfort” to those living under the stricter coronavirus measures after MPs lobbied for the move.

In a statement to the Commons he revealed the new rules, which will affect millions of Brits, will ban interactions such as playdates or parties but will allow for a “consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed”.

The new policy comes ahead of a statement on new nationwide restrictions by the Prime Minister tomorrow morning, where he is due to announce a 10pm closing time for pubs.

Boris Johnson will put a curfew on the hospitality industry as well as patrol venues to make sure they are obeying the “rule of six” as part of a plan to tackle soaring Covid cases.

And it comes as the Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended the Covid-19 alert level for the UK be increased to level 4, meaning transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.

It has been at level 3 – meaning “a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation” – for several months, but the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland said in a joint statement this evening: “After a period of lower Covid cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations.

“If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly.

“We know this will be concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this.”

On childcare Mr Hancock said to MPs: “I’ve heard their concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements

“For many, informal childcare arrangements are a lifeline without which they couldn’t do their jobs.

“So today I’m able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults, where that is necessary for caring purposes.

“This covers both formal and informal arrangements.

“It does not allow for playdates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship, that is vital for somebody to get to work, is allowed.”

He added: “I hope this change will provide clarity and comfort to many people who are living with these local restrictions.”

The cabinet minister also confirmed people on low-incomes forced to self-isolate will be eligible for a £500 payment from next Monday.

“Self-isolation can be tough for many people especially if you’re not in a position to work from home,” he said.

“I don’t want anyone having to worry about their finances while they’re doing the right thing.

“So we will introduce a new £500 isolation support payment for people on low incomes who can’t work because they have tested positive or are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.”

Mr Hancock said as well as “strengthening our support for those who self-isolate”, the government is toughening up the sanctions for those who do not, with new fines of up to £10,000.

In his statement to the Commons he also confirmed his department had published the list of who will be prioritised for tests while the issues with capacity and processing continue.

“First to support acute clinical care, second to support and protect people in care homes,” he said.

“Third NHS staff including GPs and pharmacists, fourth targeting testing for outbreak management and surveillance studies, fifth testing for teaching staff with symptoms so we can keep schools and classes open, and then the general public when they have symptoms, prioritising those in areas of high incidents.”

He added: “The system relies on people coming forward for tests if and only if they have symptoms of coronavirus or have been specifically advised to by a health professional.”

Mr Hancock was speaking hours after the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty had delivered a dire warning about what could happen if the virus is not reined in.

The minister began his statement saying:  “This deadly virus continues to advance across the world. The World Health Organisation has confirmed that the number of new cases in Europe is now higher than during the peak in March. 

“Here the latest figures indicate 6,000 new infections a day, almost double the previous week. As the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser said earlier today, we’re seeing a rise in cases across all age groups. This pattern is emerging across the entirety of our United Kingdom. 

“And earlier this afternoon the Prime Minister held discussions with the first ministers of the devolved administrations and the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, to make sure that wherever possible, we are united in our efforts to drive this virus down.

“We know that the epidemic is currently doubling around every seven days and that if we continue on this trajectory we could see 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, so there can be no doubt that this virus is accelerating.”

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Democrats elect Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney to lead campaign arm

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As incoming DCCC chief, Maloney will have one of the trickiest jobs in Washington after the Democrats’ down-ballot trouncing at the polls last month that left Republicans between five and seven seats away from the majority. He will have to convince dozens of new candidates to run in a potentially unfavorable environment and in districts that have yet to be drawn.

Maloney will be immediately inserted into the center of an ideological debate that has gripped House Democrats since Nov 3., with the caucus’s warring factions pointing fingers at each other over exactly why they’re staring down a shrunken majority come January.

Many moderate Democrats — who largely supported Maloney for his ability to win in a Trump-won district — are demanding a new party message that veers starkly away from the GOP’s attacks on socialism and progressive slogans like “defund the police.”

Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are dissecting the internal gears at DCCC, arguing that the operation needs to rely on more diverse staff and consultants, devote more resources to get-out-the-vote efforts and completely rethink its digital operations.

Many progressives, particularly lawmakers of color, had flocked behind Cárdenas, who proved to be a prolific fundraiser and organizer as he built the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, BOLD Pac, from the ground up. And he staked his campaign on a vow to Democrats’ increasingly apparent struggles with Latino. The party suffered surprising losses in heavily Latino seats in Florida, Texas and California.

Cárdenas was vocal about reforming some of DCCC’s practices, including ending a contentious policy that banned the organization from hiring any consultant that has helped a primary challenger of a sitting Democrat — a practice that enraged progressives.

Maloney has acknowledged concerns with messaging and said he would reconsider the DCCC blacklist, though he has been mostly restrained — both publicly and privately — in his assessment of DCCC’s miscalculations.

“The smart thing for the DCCC chair to do is to say, I don’t know what happened until I’ve really had a chance to dig into the numbers,” Maloney said in a recent interview.

As chair, Maloney will have an additional task of shepherding members through the decennial redistricting process, which is fraught with politics and internal bickering, particularly in states that are on track to lose a seat. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the Census Bureau will almost certainly not be able to release its reapportionment data in December, delaying states ability to draw new maps.

It’s entirely possible that redistricting alone creates enough red-friendly seats to place Republicans in the majority in 2022. The GOP has total control of the process in many key states, including Texas, Florida and North Carolina, which could have a combined total of 82 seats.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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Students May Not Be Allowed To Return To University For Five Weeks After Christmas To Prevent Spreading Coronavirus Round Campus

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Many students can only begin to return to campus at the end of January, and some not until 5 week into the spring term


3 min read

Students who go home for Christmas may have to wait five weeks into the spring term before they can return to campus.

That is according to new government coronavirus guidance, which says the measure “is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students”.

The plan says those on practical or medical courses should be allowed to come back on a staggered basis over three weeks from 4 January.

But for those who do not have work, clinical or practical placements or on “courses requiring access to specialist or technical equipment”, they should not begin to go back until 25 January at the earliest, and should be spread out over a fortnight until 7 February.

As most universities plan to end their spring term after 12 weeks on 26 March, some students may be away from campus for almost half of that time.

And with the education department guidance on going home for Christmas stating people should return between tomorrow and 9 December, some students may be off-campus for more than two months.

Professor Glen O’Hara, who teaches modern and contemporary history at Oxford Brookes university criticised the plans, tweeting: “It is a total joke and an insult to hard-working lecturers and students. 

“It is badly-written, badly-planned and a complete mess. Disgusting.”

The document to higher education providers, published this afternoon, states: “The government is committed to prioritising education and wants to enable all students, including those who have travelled home for the winter break, to return to university and resume blended learning. 

“While we are confident that the face-to-face teaching element of blended learning can be done in COVID-secure environments, the mass movement of students across the country poses a greater risk for the transmission of infection between areas.

“It is important that measures are taken to manage the return to university carefully, to protect students, staff and local communities, while reducing disruption to education. 

“This guidance sets out how we will support HE providers to enable students to return as safely as possible following the winter break, by staggering this process and to facilitate testing for all.”

Providers are advised that: “The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students.”

It also states universities must offer “asymptomatic mass testing to all students on their return”, and says if they are using lateral flow tests then they should be tested twice, the second one three days after their arrival.

The guidance on who can return says “from 4 January to week commencing 18 January 2021 HE providers should allow those students on practical courses to return to campus in line with their planned start dates”.

It adds: “The remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term so that students can continue their studies from home. 

“HE providers should plan for students to return gradually from 25 January, over a 2-week period.”

Students are also told to “use private transport wherever possible and only use public transport if they have no other option”, and universities should encourage people to “avoid car sharing with anyone outside their household or support bubble”.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:   “The health and wellbeing of students, staff and local communities is always our primary concern and this plan will enable a safer return for all students. But we must do this in a way which minimises the risk of transmission.

“I know students have had to make sacrifices this year and have faced a number of challenges, but this staggered return will help to protect students, staff and communities.

“It is so important students have the support they need to continue their education, which is why we are providing up to £20m funding for those facing hardship in these exceptional times.”

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Joe Biden: Covid vaccination in US will not be mandatory

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Mr Biden, and state governors who would be on the front lines of any such mandate, might prefer to target only certain segments of the population more at risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19. For instance, employers could be encouraged to require healthcare and nursing home workers to be immunised, and most children already must have up-to-date shot records before attending public or private schools.

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