Sir Keir Starmer promises to shift power from Westminster

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to commit his party to delivering the “boldest devolution project in a generation”.

In a key policy speech he will say the Covid pandemic has put “rocket boosters” under the case for decentralisation of power.

He will promise “a positive alternative to the Scottish people” which aims “to preserve and renew the United Kingdom”.

Recent polls have indicated a majority in favour of independence in Scotland.

The SNP dismissed the plans as “constitutional tinkering” while the Scottish Conservatives said he was offering nothing new to challenge the SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics.

Sir Keir will use his speech on Monday to confirm the setting up of a constitutional commission, advised by former prime minister Gordon Brown, to deliver a “fresh and tangible offer” to the Scottish people.

“It is Labour’s duty to offer a positive alternative to the Scottish people. To show that you don’t have to choose between a broken status quo and the uncertainty and divisiveness of separatism,” he is expected to say.

“Boris Johnson isn’t Britain just as Nicola Sturgeon isn’t Scotland.

“The United Kingdom is much more than that, more than any individual. It has been before – and can be again – a great force for social justice, for security and for solidarity.”

Labour sources said the speech would set the tone for the party’s campaigning for next year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament as well as more broadly across the UK.

The party has not held power at Holyrood since 2007 and struggled to hold Westminster seats after being all but wiped out by the SNP in the 2015 general election.

With support for independence on the rise, Sir Keir will argue that the shared “history, values and identity” of the people of the UK mean there should be no place for internal borders.

The constitutional convention will also examine the wider balance of powers within the UK and how best to empower communities.

A letter last month signed by a group of leading Labour mayors in England called for more powers and funding for them to deal with Covid recovery.

In his speech, delivered remotely because of Covid restrictions, he will say he wants decentralising power from Westminster to be one of the hallmarks of the next Labour government.

He will insist his plans amount to more than shifting powers from one parliament to another, or transferring “a few jobs out of London”.

“There’s a yearning across the United Kingdom for politics and power to be much closer to people,” he will say.

The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald dismissed Labour’s plans, saying the system was “broken” and “not working for Scotland”.

“No amount of constitutional tinkering of the kind proposed by Labour will protect Scotland from Brexit or the Tory power grab being imposed upon us against our will,” she said.

She said that even Labour supporters doubted their ability to oust the Conservatives from Westminster for another decade at least.

“It’s clear that only with the full powers of independence will we be able to properly protect our interests and secure our place in Europe – and that decision lies solely with the people of Scotland, not an out-of-touch Westminster system,” she said.

The Scottish Conservatives insisted they were the only party capable of taking on the SNP and championing the union.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “This isn’t leadership from Labour on the Union, this is the same old, tired argument that they’ve made before, and they’re offering nothing to challenge the SNP.

“Scottish Labour won’t work with unionist parties to stop the nationalists, and they won’t stand up to Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for another independence referendum as early as next year.

“Only the Scottish Conservatives have the strength to take on the SNP right across Scotland and the determination to stop their push for indyref2 again.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, however, said they are willing to work with Labour on a “third way” forward.

Scottish leader Willie Rennie said: “Liberal Democrats support a new federalist settlement that means we can find a better way to agree a common future across the United Kingdom.”

Covid-19: Dover port halts exports to France for 48 hours

France will stop lorry movements from the UK for 48 hours in the wake of fresh concerns over the spread of a new strain of coronavirus in the UK.

The move means outbound traffic from Dover will stop.

Ministers and officials will discuss the move at the government’s COBRA emergency committee on Monday.

Freight from France to the UK will be allowed, but there are fears lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being stuck in the UK.

The Port of Dover is closed to traffic leaving the UK “until further notice” due to border restrictions in France, port authorities said in a statement.

“Both accompanied freight and passenger customers are asked not to travel to the port,” it said. “We understand that the restrictions will be in place for 48 hours from midnight.”

“Tonight’s suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies – and exports of UK food and drink,” Food and Drink Federation (FDF) chief executive Ian Wright warned.

“Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned.

“The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.”

French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbarisaid France was suspending all traffic from the UK from midnight for at least 48 hours.

A number of countries have banned or are considering stopping flights from the UK following the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus.

Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium are all halting flights, and other nations are considering the move.

Trains to Belgium are also stopping.

Eurotunnel is suspending access to its Folkestone terminal from 22:00 GMT for traffic and freight heading to Calais in France.

Coronavirus cases in the UK have risen by 35,928 – nearly double the number recorded last Sunday, figures show.

Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle said the “sharp” rise in cases was of “serious concern”.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that a new variant of the virus was “getting out of control”.

Covid: Christmas lockdown kindness sees gifts of trees and dinners

Lockdown has left many families’ Christmas plans in tatters – but donations of free trees, presents and turkey dinners is keeping the festive spirit alive.

Following Saturday’s lockdown announcement, well-wishers turned to social media to offer help to those spending Christmas alone.

Volunteers are helping charities deliver Christmas hamper donations.

And closed pubs are giving away food that “would have gone in the bin”.

Donations have been flying in to foodbanks across Wales, with more than 500kg of food and bags of children’s presents donated to the Wrexham Foodbank this Christmas.

Roy Fyles, of Anglesey Foodbank, who will be 82 on Boxing Day and is helping to deliver 260 festive hampers up to Christmas Eve, said: “We are doing very well and are very busy. Next week will be the busiest week of the year for us.”

He added the public response has been “rather fantastic” in terms of donations.

“We’ve had donations from supermarkets and the general public – food and shoebox presents,” he added.

“We’ve not been short of volunteers. The next two months are going to be quite challenging.”

With so many older people spending Christmas alone this year, Claire Crump-Bound, from Cardiff, offered to prepare extra Christmas dinners for those missing out.

She posted on Facebook: ” I am happy to cook extra and put a dinner up for them. Nobody should go without.”

As businesses prepared to close their doors at midnight on Saturday, one garden centre in Taffs Well, Rhondda Cynon Taf was giving away unsold Christmas trees.

Richard Morgan, of Garden Plants South Wales, posted on Facebook: “Due to the earlier announcement of tier 4 lockdown being brought forward we at Garden Plants South Wales has decided to give all our gorgeous Welsh fresh cut Christmas trees away tonight.

“Feel free to come and get a free tree whenever you like… They will be outside in the open for everyone’s safety. We will be unable to unwrap them but all our trees are gorgeous. Thank you and please stay safe.

“We would rather someone have some enjoyment from them.”

A pub in Maesteg, Bridgend, spent the morning giving away stock that “would have gone in the bin”, in exchange for donations to a local children’s cancer charity.

Steffan Jones, the owner of the Old House 1147, said Saturday’s announcement about hospitality closing due to new restrictions came as a shock.

“We’d ordered all our stock in for the weekend and were stuck with it. We sat down last night and decided to give it away and raise money for charity.”

Mr Jones was surprised by the response after posting on Facebook about the giveaway, with people queuing outside.

“We had a better response than we ever expected. Everyone was very upbeat this morning, people preferred to come and put the stock to good use rather than go to a big supermarket,” he said.

“It’s a silver lining in the clouds, there’s a positive side to it, we’ve managed to move stock that would have got wasted and raise money for a local charity.”

New coronavirus variant: What do we know?

The rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus has been blamed for the introduction of strict tier four mixing rules for millions of people, harsher restrictions on mixing at Christmas in England, Scotland and Wales, and other countries placing the UK on a travel ban.

So how has it gone from being non-existent to the most common form of the virus in parts of England in a matter of months?

The government’s advisers on new infections have “moderate” confidence that it is more able to transmit than other variants.

All the work is at an early stage, contains huge uncertainties and a long list of unanswered questions.

As I’ve written before, viruses mutate all the time and it’s vital to keep a laser focus on whether the virus’ behaviour is changing.

Three things are coming together that mean it is attracting attention:

All of these come together to build a case for a virus that can spread more easily.

However, we do not have absolute certainty. New strains can become more common simply by being in the right place at the right time – such as London, which had only tier two restrictions until recently.

But already the justification for tier four restrictions is in part to reduce the spread of the variant.

“Laboratory experiments are required, but do you want to wait weeks or months [to see the results and take action to limit the spread]? Probably not in these circumstances,” Prof Nick Loman, from the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, told me.

It was first detected in September. In November around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.

You can see how the variant has come to dominate the results of testing in some centres such as the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Laboratory.

Mathematicians have been running the numbers on the spread of different variants in an attempt to calculate how much of an edge this one might have.

But teasing apart what is due to people’s behaviour and what is due to the virus is hard.

The figure mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was that the variant may be up to 70% more transmissible. He said this may be increasing the R number – which indicates if an epidemic is growing or shrinking – by 0.4.

That 70% number appeared in a presentation by Dr Erik Volz, from Imperial College London, on Friday.

During the talk he said: “It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than [a previous variant] ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this.”

There is no “nailed on” figure for how much more infectious the variant may be. Scientists, whose work is not yet public, have told me figures both much higher and much lower than 70%.

But there remain questions about whether it is any more infectious at all.

“The amount of evidence in the public domain is woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has truly increased transmission,” said Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.

It is thought the variant either emerged in a patient in the UK or has been imported from a country with a lower ability to monitor coronavirus mutations.

The variant can be found across the UK, except Northern Ireland, but it is heavily concentrated in London, the South East and eastern England. Cases elsewhere in the country do not seem to have taken off.

Data from Nextstrain, which has been monitoring the genetic codes of the viral samples around the world, suggest cases in Denmark and Australia have come from the UK. The Netherlands has also reported cases.

A similar variant that has emerged in South Africa shares some of the same mutations, but appears to be unrelated to this one.

Yes.

The virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, is not the same one you will find in most corners of the world.

The D614G mutation emerged in Europe in February and became the globally dominant form of the virus.

Another, called A222V, spread across Europe and was linked to people’s summer holiday’s in Spain.

An initial analysis of the new variant has been published and identifies 17 potentially important alterations.

There have been changes to the spike protein – this is the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway to our body’s cells.

One mutation called N501Y alters the most important part of the spike, known as the “receptor-binding domain”.

This is where the spike makes first contact with the surface of our body’s cells. Any changes that make it easier for the virus to get inside are likely to give it an edge.

“It looks and smells like an important adaptation,” said Prof Loman.

The other mutation – a H69/V70 deletion, in which a small part of the spike is removed – has emerged several times before, including famously in infected mink.

Work by Prof Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge has suggested this mutation increases infectivity two-fold in lab experiments.

Studies by the same group suggest the mutation makes antibodies from the blood of survivors less effective at attacking the virus.

Prof Gupta told me: “It is rapidly increasing, that’s what’s worried government, we are worried, most scientists are worried.”

The variant is unusually highly mutated.

The most likely explanation is the variant has emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system that was unable to beat the virus.

Instead their body became a breeding ground for the virus to mutate.

There is no evidence to suggest that it does, although this will need to be monitored.

However, just increasing transmission would be enough to cause problems for hospitals.

If the new variant means more people are infected more quickly, that would in turn lead to more people needing hospital treatment.

Almost certainly yes, or at least for now.

All three leading vaccines develop an immune response against the existing spike, which is why the question comes up.

Vaccines train the immune system to attack several different parts of the virus, so even though part of the spike has mutated, the vaccines should still work.

“But if we let it add more mutations, then you start worrying,” said Prof Gupta.

“This virus is potentially on a pathway for vaccine escape, it has taken the first couple of steps towards that.”

Vaccine escape happens when the virus changes so it dodges the full effect of the vaccine and continues to infect people.

This may be the most concerning element of what is happening with the virus.

This variant is just the latest to show the virus is continuing to adapt as it infects more and more of us.

A presentation by Prof David Robertson, from the University of Glasgow on Friday, concluded: “The virus will probably be able to able to generate vaccine escape mutants.”

That would put us in a position similar to flu, where the vaccines need to be regularly updated. Fortunately the vaccines we have are very easy to tweak.

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Covid: Nations impose UK travel bans over new variant

European nations have begun to apply travel bans with the UK after it reported a more infectious and “out of control” coronavirus variant.

Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium are all halting flights and travel. The measures vary and are initially generally short-term.

An EU meeting will be held on Monday morning to discuss a more co-ordinated response.

The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday introduced a new tier four level of restrictions for those areas, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.

Top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly, or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70% more transmissible.

Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 06:00 (05:00 GMT) on Sunday until 1 January.

Pending “greater clarity” on the situation in the UK, the Dutch government said that further “risk of the new virus strain being introduced to the Netherlands should be minimised as much as possible”.

The country on Sunday reported a daily increase of more than 13,000 cases – a new record, despite tough lockdown measures being applied on 14 December.

Belgium is suspending flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight on Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours as a “precautionary measure”, adding “we will see later if we need additional measures”.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on his Facebook page that the government was about to sign a measure to suspend flights from the UK.

The first case of the UK variant has also been detected in Italy, the Italian health ministry reported on Sunday. The patient is in isolation in Rome.

In Ireland, the government announced that flights arriving from the UK would be banned for 48 hours at least from midnight, and “in the interests of public health, people in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or sea”.

Ferry crossings for freight would continue.

In Germany, an order from the ministry of transport said planes from the UK would not be allowed to land after midnight on Sunday, although cargo would be an exception. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the UK variant had not yet been detected in Germany.

France has suspended all travel links with the UK for 48 hours from midnight. It said the period should be used to provide a co-ordinated European response.

Austria is also planning a ban on flights from the UK, with details currently being worked out, local media reported.

Bulgaria has suspended flights to and from the UK from midnight but, unlike the short-term measures in many other nations, its ban lasts until 31 January.

A European Council meeting will be held at 10:00 GMT on Monday on co-ordinating EU actions.

In the UK, it was first identified in the middle of October from a sample taken in September.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday said the new strain “was out of control. We have got to get it under control”, admitting that this was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the same mutation has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

Dr Catherine Smallwood, of WHO Europe, said that as of 20 December, the numbers in those countries were small, nine in Denmark and one each in the other two nations. But she said other countries had notified WHO of other variants “that also carry some of the genetic changes seen in the UK variant”.

The new UK variant has been shown to spread faster than the original virus – up to 70% more transmissible based on modelling figures – but scientific details on the genetic changes, and how they could affect the behaviour of Covid-19, remain unclear.

Although there is no indication the variant will be more resistant to already-developed vaccines, the mutation does involve the spike protein of the virus.

This is the part that helps it infect cells – and also the part the vaccines have been designed to target. So although scientific experts have warned against an alarmist response, they also say it is essential to track the variant and try to stay ahead of the virus.

You may be interested in watching:

Leicester Cathedral carol concerts go ahead after Covid tests donated

A cathedral choir is performing together at its first service since the pandemic after a university donated spare coronavirus tests to the singers.

Leicester Cathedral’s Choir is singing for three carol concerts on Sunday after members took lateral flow tests.

Loughborough University donated the kits as all students have now been tested before returning home.

David Monteith, dean of Leicester Cathedral, said: “It’s a great gift to us.”

He added: “We could never afford to do that ourselves and of course we don’t have the kits.

“It was a gift that dropped from the heavens to us, just a bit like the Christmas story itself in a sense.”

Prof Robert Allison, vice chancellor of the university, said: “We are delighted to put our Covid-testing facility to good use in the wider community as our university serves our city and county.”

The services feature 35 choristers and socially distanced congregations, who cannot join in with the singing this year.

Chorister Cerys Rogers, 17, from Hamilton, said she was “very glad” the tests were donated.

“I have been singing in the choir for eight years so I have not enjoyed not being able to sing for nine or 10 months,” she added.

Speaking after the first concert, she said it was “very surreal and different… but it felt completely right as soon as soon as we started singing”.

She added: “I feel very lucky to be able to do this again with the best people.”

Cerys said in the run-up to the concert there had been socially distanced rehearsals where they sat two metres apart and wore masks until they reached their places.

The cathedral said additional safety precautions were also in place, including singing screens purchased with the help of a grant from the Arts Council Covid Cultural Recovery Fund.

Covid in Scotland: Businesses warn they need extraordinary support

Business leaders have called for an “extraordinary” package of support” to keep businesses afloat as Scotland faces a looming lockdown

The Scottish Retail Consortium said closing shops could see retailers lose out on £135m per week in lost revenue.

Tourism and hospitality leaders warned more support was needed urgently for business and their supply chains.

One leading health expert, however, insisted the best way to help businesses was to “crunch” the virus.

Prof Devi Sridhar, of Edinburgh University, urged the rest of the UK to use Scotland’s “harsh lockdown” as a model.

From Boxing Day, mainland Scotland will be under level four restrictions – which mean the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms – for at least three weeks.

The changes follow the revelation that a new strain of Covid could be 70% more transmissible than previous strains.

So far 17 cases of the new strain had been identified in Scotland through genomic sequencing, but public health officials believe this is an underestimate of its true prevalence.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance – in a letter to the first minister co-signed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, UKHospitality and Scotland Food & Drink – said it understood a “decisive response” was needed.

But chief executive Marc Crothall continued: “The ask of the industry is that the Scottish government now delivers a similarly swift and committed response to the economic consequences of this action.”

He said much of the industry had already been “decimated” by the pandemic, and that for businesses to survive an “additional upweighted extraordinary package of funding must urgently be identified from within the Scottish and UK budgets”.

Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) director David Lonsdale earlier warned that the lockdown would come “slap bang in the middle of peak trading – which so many are depending on to power their recovery and tide them over”.

“The government will need to offer additional financial support to help these businesses get back on an even keel,” he added.

SRC data indicates that over recent months non-food stores are consistently trading about a fifth down on last year.

The retailers’ trade association claimed many scientists thought closing non-essential retail would only have a “very minimal impact” on R values and reducing transmission of the virus.

Stephen Leckie, of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, told Good Morning Scotland closing hospitality again would have a knock-on impact to the supply chain, with Christmas food and drink orders being cancelled.

Mr Leckie, who owns the Crieff Hydro Hotel, said he now had to work out what he could offer guests on Christmas day, given that they would not be allowed to stay over on Christmas night.

“We had 30 or 40% bookings for the festive period about a month ago. That’s dropped down to 10% now and we’re likely to receive further cancellations this week if we remain open in any form.”

Some of Scotland’s leading health experts, meanwhile, have defended the strict measures as necessary to stop the new variant spreading rapidly.

National Clinical Director Prof Jason Leitch said that while people from three households would still be allowed to meet indoors for Christmas Day, people should think carefully about whether it was worth the risk.

Christmas bubbles should be used to “help with social isolation and caring” but not as an excuse to party at Christmas with people who you have missed, he said.

While three households will remain the legal maximum, the official recommendation is that you should only join up with one other household if it is essential in order to reduce loneliness and isolation.

Prof Leitch said the new and more transmissible strain of Covid appeared to have a higher reproduction rate than previous strains.

He said: “We think the R number for this version is 0.4 more than the R number for the other one if you just let it run wild.

“So imagine you have an R number right now of 0.9 – you think you are doing well, numbers are falling, everybody is transmitting to fewer than one other person, you are on the right path, then you get this dominant strain and your R number overnight goes to 1.3 and you get exponential growth and you are in big trouble.”

Prof Devi Sridhar, chairwoman of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University and a Scottish government adviser, said measures to “really crunch” down on the virus were the best way to help the economy.

“We have got to eliminate as much as possible to the lowest level of this virus because that is how we will reopen our economy,” she told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

“Scotland was already running a lower infection rate but to go into quite a harsh lockdown over the holiday period, to extend the school holidays, to really try to get those numbers low, I think, I would hope the rest of the UK would follow that model, which is we have got to really crunch this.”

Scotland’s interim chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, disclosed new details of why the new variant was able to spread more rapidly.

In response to a tweet asking if current hygiene advice was adequate, he replied: “From what we know so far, it appears that the mutations may allow it to bind to cells and gain entry more easily when we come into contact with it.

“But all the other advice on distancing, coverings and hand hygiene still stands and still offers protection.”

Covid-19: Stormont Executive to meet over new coronavirus variant

The Stormont Executive will meet on Sunday evening to discuss the coronavirus variant and Christmas rules.

Four of the five main Stormont parties had asked for an urgent executive meeting.

It comes as Sunday’s figures show 13 Covid-19 related deaths were recorded in NI, bringing the Department of Health’s death toll to 1,196.

There were also a further 505 cases of the virus recorded in Northern Ireland.

In a post on social media on Sunday, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed the executive would meet at 21:00 GMT.

The World Health Organisation is in “close contact” with the UK government after a mutation of the virus was detected in England.

Large parts of south-east England, including London, are now under a new, stricter level of restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of this more transmissible variant of coronavirus.

On Sunday Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance sent a joint letter to the first and deputy first ministers asking to meet.

It is understood health minister and UUP member Robin Swann also sent a separate letter with similar concerns.

In the joint letter from Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance, the parties say they must satisfy themselves that the regulations and restrictions over Christmas and the six-week lockdown from 26 December are “sufficiently robust” to safeguard public health.

The planned relaxation of Covid-19 rules in England, Scotland and Wales already been cut from five days to just one.

But there is currently no change to Christmas restrictions in NI.

It is understood the health minister has also called for further development by the executive to strengthen the “stay at home” messaging and give it legal force.

In the Republic of Ireland, RTÉ are reporting that travel restriction on flights and ferries arriving in Ireland from Britain will come into effect from midnight.

The Irish broadcaster is reporting the restrictions will remain place for 48 hours before being reviewed. Further details of the restrictions are expected to be released on Sunday evening.

Heath officials have said Northern Ireland is unlikely to avoid the new variant of coronavirus.

Dr Gerry Waldron, from the Public Health Agency, told BBC Radio Ulster’s Steven Rainey show that it would be “absolutely astonishing” if there were not already cases of it here.

But he added he was not aware of any cases currently.

Dr Waldron said: “I think the important thing to remember about new strains of the virus is that all viruses will produce new strains from time to time, it’s part of the evolutionary process of the virus.

“I don’t think we should get to hung up on the fact that there is another strain, it doesn’t change how we respond to Covid-19.”

A new six-week lockdown in Northern Ireland is coming into force at 00:01 GMT on 26 December, in a bid to suppress the spread of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the education minister is expected to make a statement to the Assembly on Monday about the return of schools and exams.

Peter Weir is facing criticism for his plan for school to restart in January and refusing to cancel transfer tests.

In a post on social media Chris Lyttle, the chair of Stormont’s Education Committee, said he understood Mr Weir had “accepted the need” to give an update, adding speaker confirmation was “pending”.

Covid: We organised our wedding in two hours to beat tier 4

A couple rearranged their wedding in just two hours to ensure they tied the knot before London went into tier four.

Chloe Collins, 31, and Jamie Collins, 29, were due to marry on 6 September, but had reorganised three times due to changing coronavirus restrictions.

Mrs Collins said “our hearts sank” when Boris Johnson announced on Saturday a new tier-four lockdown across south-east England would start on Sunday.

The couple were married at 22:00 GMT on Saturday at Edgware United Synagogue.

“I’ve never in my life felt so much love and felt so grateful,” Mrs Collins, a lettings negotiator, said.

The couple were allowed 15 guests but “over 100 people logged on to Zoom to watch us”.

“We felt the love, and it felt like they were there,” Mrs Collins said.

Estate agent Mr Collins said their wedding had been planned with 130 guests at a country estate-turned-hotel in Watford.

When coronavirus restrictions meant only 15 guests could attend weddings, the couple moved venue and planned for a wedding on 22 November.

They then rearranged for 20 December, after a four week-England wide lockdown came into force through November.

Mrs Collins said she “felt physically sick” as the prime minister announced new tier-four restrictions on Saturday afternoon.

“Our rabbi had the idea to bring the wedding forward,” Mr Collins said.

“We just started calling people to see what we could do, and the more calls we made the more people said ‘yes’.

“It was a miracle that it just kind of came together. It felt like a dream. Some people take years to plan a wedding, but we did it in two hours.”

Mr Collins’s best man drove more than two hours to attend the wedding, before “getting back in his car and driving home”, the couple said.

Under tier-four guidelines, weddings and civil partnerships are only allowed under “exceptional circumstances”, such as if one partner is seriously ill and not expected to recover.

Since the wedding, the couple, from Watford, have been inundated with messages.

“I’ve been welling up with messages from people who aren’t my close friends saying it was amazing,” Mrs Collins said.

“I think it’s just nice to hear nice news for a change.”

Armed police respond to Swindon town centre gun alert

Armed police were called to a busy shopping street following reports of a man carrying a gun.

Officers went to The Parade in the centre of Swindon just after 12:30 GMT.

A 31-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of having a firearm in a public place and an air rifle was recovered from the scene, Wiltshire Police said.

The force said there was no need for the public to be alarmed.

Det Sgt Justin Downes said: “The public may have seen lots of police officers around the town today responding to this incident.

“I want to reassure people that this was dealt with quickly.

“As this took place in the middle of the day, in a busy part of Swindon, I would like to appeal to anyone who may have seen or heard anything suspicious to contact us.”