Covid: How will Scotlands new five-tier system work?

Greater Manchester is now living with the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, and South Yorkshire is to follow from 00:01 BST on Saturday.

The areas are moving from tier two (high risk), to tier three (very high risk) status, joining the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire.

Wales will move into a national circuit-breaker lockdown on Friday evening, while Scotland will announce details of a five-tier system of restrictions later on Friday.

Every area of England is now in one of three categories – medium (tier one), high (tier two) or very high (tier three), depending on the local infection rate.

Areas with the most rapidly rising transmission rates are placed in tier three.

You cannot meet anybody who is not part of your household or support bubble:

However, you can meet other people in parks, beaches, countryside or forests, in groups of up to six people.

Other rules include:

Extra measures can be introduced for individual areas.

In Lancashire, car boot sales are not allowed, while gyms in the Liverpool City Region initially closed but have now reopened. Gyms in South Yorkshire will stay open, but gym classes will not be allowed.

The Greater Manchester restrictions will be reviewed by at least 11 November.

Areas in tier one are subject to the basic national rules previously in force.

From 18:00 on Friday 23 October until the start of Monday 9 November, Wales will go into a ”short, sharp” circuit-break, a mini lockdown in which:

Adults living alone or single parents will be able to join with one other household for support from anywhere in Wales.

Northern Ireland has introduced four weeks of restrictions. Schools have closed for a two-week extended half-term break and will reopen on 2 November.

Other measures include:

Scotland is planning to introduce a five-tier system of restrictions in early November.

In the meantime, restrictions, which were due to run until 25 October, have been extended by another week.

This includes the tougher rules imposed on 3.4 million people in central Scotland.

The region affected covers 18 local council and five health board areas (Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian, Forth Valley).

In these areas, all licensed premises – except hotel bars for residents – must close indoors and outdoors, though takeaways are permitted.

Cafes can stay open until 18:00 daily, as long as they don’t serve alcohol.

People living in these areas have been told to avoid public transport, unless absolutely necessary, and not to leave their local areas if possible (people from outside are encouraged not to visit).

Other measures include the closing of snooker halls, bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls, the suspension of non-professional contact sports and indoor group exercise for adults.

In the rest of Scotland, pubs and restaurants can only open inside between 06:00 and 18:00 daily, and are not allowed to serve alcohol.

They are only allowed to serve food and non-alcoholic drinks, although they can serve alcohol outdoors until 22:00.

Hotel restaurants can serve food after 18:00, but only for residents and without alcohol.

Throughout the nation, face coverings are compulsory in indoor communal settings, such as staff canteens and corridors in workplaces.

China warns UK not to offer citizenship to Hong Kong residents

China has told Britain to “immediately correct its mistakes” after the UK reaffirmed its plan to offer a route to British citizenship to almost three million people living there.

The offer was made in July when Beijing imposed a strict national security law on the former British colony.

Critics say it undermines the civil freedoms that China agreed to uphold when Hong Kong was handed back in 1997.

Beijing has previously warned the UK not to meddle in “domestic issues”.

Friday’s warning came from the Hong Kong arm of China’s Foreign Ministry.

The British offer is not for all residents of Hong Kong, but only those holding a British National Overseas (BNO) passport. Only those born before the 1997 handover of the territory to China have the right to hold one.

Around 300,000 people currently hold a BNO passport, while an estimated 2.9 million people are eligible for it, according to the British Consulate General in Hong Kong.

UK government analysts estimate that up to one million people could take up the offer to live in the UK when the new visa becomes available in January.

However, critics say the new visa law won’t protect young pro-democracy protesters who were born after 1997 and are primarily targeted by the security law.

The law which targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments of up to life in prison, was introduced in July, in response to repeated protests in Hong Kong demanding more democracy and less Chinese influence.

That same month, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said Hong Kong’s British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders and their immediate dependants would have the right to apply for a special UK visa from January.

BNO holders already have the right to visit the UK visa-free for six months.

The new offer however will allow them to remain in the UK for a longer period, and then eventually become full British citizens.

Electric goods should have repairability rating

The government must look at forcing manufacturers to put “repairability” scores on electric devices, opposition parties have said.

From next year, a scheme in France will label phones, fridges, lawnmowers and other items in this way to encourage more environment-friendly purchases.

The Liberal Democrats and Green Party want this to be tested in the UK, which has a higher level of electrical waste.

Ministers promised to “make it as easy as possible” to buy re-usable goods.

The government added that it was “seeking powers” to make companies more “resource-efficient”.

Environmentalists have long campaigned against electrical manufacturers employing “planned obsolescence” – limiting the lifetime of their goods so that replacements can be sold sooner.

A report published in the summer by the United Nations-backed Global E-Waste Monitor found the UK generated 23.9kg of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) per person.

This was the second highest recorded amount in the world, after Norway’s 26kg.

In an effort to cut its waste, from next year the French government will make manufacturers give smartphones, televisions, laptop computers, washing machines and lawnmowers a repairability rating of one to 10 – showing consumers how easily they can expect to get them mended.

Liberal Democrat environment spokeswoman Sarah Olney told the BBC her party would “welcome” a similar scheme being tested in the UK.

“This is not just about empowering people to make informed choices about what they buy, but also has the potential to create new skilled jobs as part of a green recovery from the Covid crisis,” she added.

The Health and Safety Executive says more than 40% of the UK’s WEEE is accounted for by large appliances such as fridges, washing machines and ovens. But households also discard “large volumes” of items such as toys, computers, kettles and watches, it adds.

Electrical goods can contain hazardous substances, including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, which have to be disposed of carefully, whether they go to landfill or recycling.

Ms Olney said: “It’s not surprising most people are forced to replace items that break when repairing them is near impossible.”

The Green Party is campaigning for “repair cafes” – where people bring goods to be mended – on every high street.

Deputy leader Amelia Womack argued the UK economy had “become reliant on a throwaway culture”.

“We would welcome government action to put a stop to this,” she said, adding that it should be a “legal requirement for companies to lengthen the life of their products and ban the practice of planned obsolescence”.

Last year, the EU adopted Right to Repair standards, which mean that from 2021 firms will have to make appliances longer-lasting and supply spare parts for machines for up to 10 years.

The UK government has pledged to “match and even exceed EU eco-product regulations” in the post-Brexit era.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “Replacing a damaged item with a brand-new one often feels like the easy option, even when getting it fixed or buying a second-hand replacement makes more sense.

“That’s why, through our landmark Environment Bill, we are seeking powers to place greater responsibility on producers to make their items more resource-efficient and easier to re-use and recycle – making it as easy as possible for people to reduce, re-use and recycle.”

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Covid: Bolton MP Yasmin Qureshi discharged from hospital

MP Yasmin Qureshi has been discharged from hospital where she was treated for pneumonia after testing positive for Covid-19.

The Labour MP for Bolton South East said she fell ill 10 days ago and immediately self-isolated, but then began to feel “much worse”.

She announced she was discharged from Royal Bolton Hospital on Friday, after six days of treatment.

Ms Qureshi, 57, thanked NHS staff for their “excellent care”.

Shadow international development minister Ms Qureshi was one of the Greater Manchester MPs who argued against tier three restrictions being imposed in the region.

She tweeted: “A quick message to say that, thanks to the excellent care I received at [Bolton NHS] over the last week, I have now been discharged from hospital.

“I am so grateful to the wonderful staff who looked after me and proud of the NHS.”

Covid: NHS Test and Trace needs to improve, PM concedes

England’s NHS test and trace system needs to improve to provide faster results, Boris Johnson has conceded.

At Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing he said “I share people’s frustrations” at the turnaround times for results.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said it was “very clear there’s room for improvement” in the system.

It comes as figures showed just 15.1% of people who were tested received their result within 24 hours.

The figures for the week ending 14 October are down from 32.8% in the previous week.

It is the lowest weekly percentage since NHS Test and Trace began.

Mr Johnson previously pledged that all tests would be processed within 24 hours – unless there were issues with postal tests – by the end of June.

The figures also show a drop to 59.6% in the proportion of close contacts reached of people who tested positive.

This is also the lowest weekly percentage since the system began and is down from 63% in the previous week.

Speaking at a coronavirus press conference at Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: “I share people’s frustrations and I understand totally why we do need to see faster turnaround times and we need to improve it.

“We need to make sure that people who do get a positive test self-isolate – that’s absolutely crucial if this thing is going to work in the way that it can.”

Covid: Community scheme launches to help at risk groups

The government is launching a community champion scheme to help “rebuild trust” and “reduce transmission” of Covid-19 within ethnic minority groups.

Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch set out the plan in the Commons after leading an inquiry into the disproportionate effect of the virus.

She also called for more people from those backgrounds to join vaccine trials, taking part in one herself.

But Ms Badenoch said these were only the “first steps” of action.

In June, a report by Public Health England suggested racism could be contributing to the increased risks of black, Asian and minority communities catching and dying from Covid-19.

The equalities minister said the findings of her latest report put it down to “a range of socio-economic and geographical factors”, including exposure at work, population density and household composition, as well as pre-existing health conditions.

However, Ms Badenoch said the risks “remained unexplained for some groups” and further analysis is planned for the coming months.

She will report back to MPs at the end of the next quarter with the latest evidence.

Labour’s shadow equalities minister, Marsha de Cordova, accused the government of “still lacking a forward looking strategy and action plan”.

She said: “The government has fallen short of what is needed… and [the plan] does not commit to much that is quantifiable or timed.”

On Thursday, the government’s Racial Disparity Unit published its first quarterly report on the key factors that put non-white people at high risk.

Dr Raghib Ali, who advises the government on ethnicity and Covid, said while studies often differed in their conclusions, the older people are, and where they lived, were two of the biggest factors behind the increased risks.

He added that much of the increased risk faced by ethnic minorities could be explained by these considerations as well as occupation, living in crowded housing and having a pre-existing condition.

But he agreed with the report authors that a “small part” of the excess risk remained unexplained for some groups.

A recent government review confirmed found that people of Bangladeshi heritage were dying at twice the rate of white Britons, while other black, Asian and minority ethnic groups had between 10% and 50% higher risk of death.

The community champion scheme will see £25m put into working with “grassroots advocates” who now how their communities are being impacted by the virus.

The government hopes this will contribute to their knowledge of the effects of Covid, as well as helping to better spread the message of precautions people need to take.

Other recommendations from Ms Badenoch’s report include:

The equalities minister told the Commons: “We must move away from seeing Covid-19 as something that affects discrete groups in society and towards helping individuals understand their own particular risk profile as the evidence base grows.”

Labour MP Afzal Khan warned people from ethnic minorities had accounted for nearly a third of Covid patients admitted to intensive care since September, and were “bearing the brunt” of a second wave of the virus.

He said it “appears no lessons were learnt or effective actions taken over the summer” and called on the government to “recognise this failure”.

Andy Burnhams profile shows success of new mayors, says George Osborne

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s impact on the coronavirus debate demonstrates the success of the new Northern mayors, says George Osborne.

The former chancellor introduced metro mayors in devolution plans for English regions while in government.

He told a conference of northern business leaders mayors were now part of the “national conversation”.

But Mr Burnham has said England has “devolution in name but not in reality”.

The Labour former cabinet minister has been at war with Prime Minister Boris Johnson over financial support for his region, which culminated in the PM imposing tier three coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Osborne, who among other roles now leads the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, called for more devolution during the Covid recovery.

Speaking to the Great Northern Conference, he said he could see “real representation in the North”.

“We now have a national political conversation where representatives of the North of England are heard on our national news.

“And that is a fantastic success story,” he added, referring to coverage of Mr Burnham’s clash with the government over financial support for Manchester.

“We need to be more courageous in giving many more powers to these local elected leaders,” Mr Osborne said, as “we’re beginning to see a much more balanced, healthy British society and state where not every decision is taken at Westminster and other voices are heard.”

“But we’ve got much more to do.”

But speaking at a parliamentary select committee meeting on Thursday, Mr Burnham said England had “devolution in name but not in reality”.

Mr Burnham rejected accusations he had been “posturing” during the failed negotiations with the government.

He accused ministers of operating a “divide and rule” strategy, which he said was “not the way to get a through a pandemic” which has had a “severe” impact on his region.

Mr Burnham was supported at the Commons business committee by Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, who said that “for far too long too many decisions have been taken with London centricity – not just the area of London, but the overall London culture that exists in Parliament”.

Mr Rotheram was the first regional mayor to make an agreement with the government for his area to adopt tier three restrictions.

Since 2017, eight English regions have appointed directly elected mayors. This means 12m people in England, over 20% of the population, now live in mayoral authority areas. Mayors have some powers over policy areas such as adult education and transport, but these vary from region to region.

The eight new regional mayors operate under a different system to London, which elected its first mayor in 2000.

Labour MP must apologise for letter to constituents

A Labour MP has been told to apologise for writing a letter to constituents ahead of the 2019 election containing a “personal campaign message” on Brexit.

Dr Rosina Allin-Khan broke the rules over the use of Commons stationery, and for using constituents’ contact details without consent, the standards commissioner found.

The commissioner said was the third time Dr Allin-Khan had broken the rules in three years.

She must reimburse the full costs.

Under the Commons rules, MPs can only use parliamentary stationery for their work as an MP, and are banned from using it for campaigning.

Parliament’s Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone conducted an inquiry following a complaint from a constituent that Dr Allin-Khan had misused stationery, and their contact details, which they had previously provided confidentially.

On 2 November 2019, Dr Allin-Khan sent 1,624 letters – entitled Brexit Update- three days before Parliament was dissolved ahead of the General Election.

Ms Stone said that the letter – that was written on House of Commons headed paper and used pre-paid Commons envelopes – was delivered during a period of “heightened sensitivity”.

The commissioner concluded that the letter used “public resources to highlight to a group of voters her position and record on an issue that was one of the key themes of the imminent election” and “contained an important personal campaign message, which…had the effect of seeking to support Dr Allin-Khan’s return to office”.

Dr Allin-Khan, who is Labour’s shadow cabinet minister for mental health, was also found to have broken the rules about the use of personal data, after it was found that the complainant had received emails and a hard copy of a Labour party newsletter, having previously provided his contact details in an email to her about the General Election.

The commissioner concluded that the complainant “was entitled to expect that those details would be held securely and would not be used for another purpose without his consent”.

In its report on the commissioner’s findings, the Commons Committee on Standards noted that “this is the third time Dr Allin-Khan has been found to have breached the rules in three years; and that Dr Allin-Khan is an experienced Member of the House of Commons, and a frontbench spokesperson.”

The committee recommended Dr Allin-Khan should reimburse the full £1,142.52 cost for the improper use of the stationery, and apologise to the House of Commons in a personal statement.

The committee also added, “any further breach of the Code of Conduct by Dr Allin-Khan, where there is evidence of a lack of attention to the rules of the House, might call for a more serious sanction.”

Brexit: Michel Barnier heads to UK as trade talks restart

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will arrive in London later to resume talks over a post-Brexit trade agreement, after a week-long standoff.

The Frenchman will meet his UK counterpart Lord David Frost, after the pair agreed to restart face-to-face talks during a phone call on Wednesday.

Officials from both sides will hold “intensified” daily talks in the run up to December’s deadline for a deal.

No 10 warned that “significant gaps” remain in the most difficult areas.

Negotiations stalled last week after a summit in Brussels where EU leaders called on the UK to “make the necessary moves” towards a deal.

But the UK side agreed to resume talks after Mr Barnier said “compromises on both sides” were needed, in a speech on Wednesday.

Both sides are seeking an agreement to govern their trading relationship once the UK’s post-Brexit transition period ends in January 2021.

Key areas of disagreement include fishing rights, post-Brexit competition rules and how any deal would be enforced.

In a statement announcing the resumption of talks, No 10 spokesperson said it was “entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed”.

But, they added: “We are ready, with the EU, to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks.”

In line with a demand made by the UK, both sides will resume talks on all subjects based on proposed legal texts prepared by officials.

They have also agreed that “nothing is agreed” until progress has been reached in all areas – which has been a key demand of the EU.

You could be forgiven for thinking that what we’ve witnessed over the past few days is a bit of political theatre.

Cover for the government – post chest-beating- to return to the negotiating table where they know the time has now come for tough compromises to be made.

EU leaders also went out of their way to sound tough on Brexit at their summit last week. Privately, a number of EU figures now admit it was a misstep.

But EU leaders play to the domestic gallery too. They wanted to show they were “standing up to the UK” – that leaving the EU doesn’t pay and that EU interests would be defended.

Read more from Katya here

The two sides have been at odds over the issue of so-called “state aid” rules, which limit government help for industry in the name of ensuring fair economic competition.

The UK has rejected an EU demand made earlier in the year for it to continue following the bloc’s rules on such subsidies as part of a trade agreement.

Lord Frost has suggested the UK could instead agree “principles” for how subsidies are spent – something welcomed by Mr Barnier on Wednesday.

The two sides are also haggling over how much European fishing boats should be able to catch in British waters from next year.

The EU has so far resisted UK demands for annual talks to decide stock limits, as well as a reduction in access for its vessels to British fishing grounds.

By remaining in the bloc’s single market and customs union, the UK has continued to follow EU trading rules during its post-Brexit transition period.

This 11-month period is due to end in December, and the UK has ruled out seeking an extension.

Formal talks began in March and continued throughout the pandemic, initially via video link before in-person discussions resumed over the summer.

If a deal is not done, the UK will trade with the EU according to the default rules set by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization.

Conservative MP quits government job over free school meals

A Tory MP has quit her government job after voting for a Labour motion to offer free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021.

Caroline Ansell said vouchers were not a long-term solution – but they helped families struggling with the pandemic.

Footballer Marcus Rashford, who is leading a campaign on child hunger, urged MPs to “unite” and stop being influenced by “political affiliation”.

On Wednesday evening, MPs rejected the Labour motion by 322 votes to 261.

Home Office Minister Kit Malthouse insisted the government was helping low-income families through the welfare system.

He said the government had raised Universal Credit by £20 a week, adjusted housing benefit to help people with their rent and given £63m to councils to help with hardship funding.

He acknowledged the decision on free school meals was “a tough one” and praised Mr Rashford for his campaign to tackle child hunger.

Five Conservative MPs rebelled against their party by voting with Labour – including Ms Ansell who has now stepped down as parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Explaining her decision, she said: “In these unprecedented times I am very concerned to be doing all we can to help lower income families and their children who are really struggling due to the impact of the virus.”

She said that food vouchers were “not perfect” arguing that it is better to link meals to activities so children “can also benefit from extra-curricular learning and experience”.

However. she added that vouchers could help families in her Eastbourne constituency who were struggling as a result of the pandemic.

The government’s stance has also been criticised by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who tweeted: “If the government can subsidise Eat Out to Help Out, not being seen to give poor kids lunch in the school holidays looks mean and is wrong.”

Children of all ages living in households on income-related benefits may be eligible for free school meals.

In England, about 1.3 million children claimed for free school meals in 2019 – about 15% of state-educated pupils.

Analysis by the Food Foundation estimates a further 900,000 children in England may have sought free school meals since the start of the pandemic.

In Scotland, the government has made £10m available to local councils to continue to fund free school meals over the Christmas, February and Easter breaks. Local authorities that offered provision over the October school break can apply to be reimbursed.

The Welsh government has also pledged to extend free school meal provision to every school holiday until Easter 2021, spending £11m on doing so.

In England and Northern Ireland, however, the scheme will only run during term time.