Statistics on COVID-19 cases:

  • The new variant of the virus is thought to be 50-70% more transmissible than the old variant.
  • In England alone, the number of COVID patients in hospital has grown by a third in the last week to almost 27,000. This is 40% higher than the previous peak in April.
  • On 28th December, over 80,000 people tested positive across the UK – a new record.
  • Deaths are up 20% in the last week.
  • The Prime Minister repeated the advice of the UK’s Chief Medical Officers in moving the UK to Level 5 COVID alert level, “meaning that if action is not taken, NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days”.

National Lockdown:
As a result of the rise in cases, from tomorrow (5 January) people across England must stay at home apart from five exceptions:

  • for work, if people cannot work from home, such as those in the construction sector or key workers
  • to shop for necessities such as food or medicines
  • to exercise once per day at a local location. This can include with one other person from outside someone’s household or support/childcare bubble
  • to provide care or help to vulnerable people
  • to attend medical appointments or medical care, or to flee the threat of harm or violence.

The government will also reissue shielding advice for the clinically vulnerable. The Prime Minister stated that the Government hoped to start cautiously relaxing restrictions at the end of the February half-term on 19 February.

Education:

  • All primary and secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
  • Exams this summer have been cancelled.
  • The Government will continue to provide meals to those that would normally qualify for free school meals
  • More devices will be distributed to support remote education.
  • For parents, everyone will still be able to access early years care settings (such as nurseries).

On the timing of the announcement, the Prime Minister stated that the government had been doing “everything in their power” to keep schools open. Despite the fact that schools are safe, they may act as “vectors of transmission”, causing the virus to spread between households.

Vaccine Rollout:
Turning to the UK’s vaccine rollout, Johnson stated that more people had now been vaccinated in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined, a process which will be accelerated by the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.  Furthermore, if everything goes to plan the Government expects to have offered a vaccine dose to the four top priority groups by mid-February, including all care home residents and workers, frontline health workers, everyone over 70 and the clinically vulnerable. However, the Prime Minister caveated that there remained a time lag of 2-3 weeks between vaccine doses and receiving immunity, and a further time lag before NHS pressures are lifted.

Rounding off the conference he stated it was vital “now more than ever” to work together to defeat this virus, as we enter the “last phase of the struggle”. The rules will become law on Wednesday morning and Parliament will meet later that day.

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In response to this latest announcement Chief Executive Ros Morgan, said: “We accept the overriding public health situation and we are all responsible for doing our bit to keep infection numbers down. But, if the Government must shut businesses in central London down, then the Government is also responsible for ensuring that every business gets the support that it needs, for as long as it needs it.

Businesses will need this continued support so that they can play a role in helping drive London and the UK’s economic recovery.  When London succeeds, so does the rest of the UK. A weakened London in no way supports the Government’s levelling up agenda. London’s status as a global city makes it a national asset which we should be doing everything in our power to support. Therefore, this Government needs to prioritise a clear roadmap that will lead London out of this crisis and help London’s businesses play their role in driving the UK’s economic recovery.

This roadmap must include, as a minimum, instant cash support to enterprises in hospitality and culture, an extension of the VAT cut to beyond March 2021 for hospitality, and an extension of the business rates holiday until at least March 2022. This will help businesses to plan their outgoings and mitigate the impact of loss of trade due to restrictions“.