3.30pm Coronavirus UK news – Boris GRILLED by MPs over school Covid test CHAOS and ‘failure’ of test and trace system

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BORIS Johnson is being GRILLED by MPs over school testing chaos and the ‘failure’ of the test and trace system.

Schools are struggling to cope with the lack of Covid-19 testing for staff and students with the situation becoming “increasingly out of control”, a teaching union leader has warned.

With hundreds of pupils being sent home to self-isolate because of school outbreaks, officials are calling for a more robust plan for testing.

Meanwhile, MPs fear the hospitality industry could crash again as the warm weather dwindles.

Tory MP for St Austell and Newquay Steve Double addressed the Commons, saying: “August has been incredibly busy in Cornwall but we do face a big challenge as we head into winter for the hospitality sector.

“So could I ask (Sunak) if he would consider a similar sort of scheme to be run at some point during the winter to help as many businesses as possible survive the winter and be here for next summer?”

The idea for a winter Eat Out to Help Out scheme is said to be “under review”.

The news comes amid test chaos as up to 230,000 people wait for their test results which Matt Hancock admitted today said could last for weeks.

The Health Secretary said he would have to set out new rules for rationing tests and prioritising people in the NHS and social care settings to try and fight the chaos and shortages – as some sites reportedly ran out.

The Health Sec admitted there had been “operational” challenges to the testing system, blaming people who are not eligible to get swabbed, for delays, and the increased demand.

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NHS AND SOCIAL CARE STAFF URGED TO GET FLU JAB

NHS and social care staff are being urged to “do their bit” and have a flu jab as the health service ramps up its preparations for winter.

In a letter to all frontline workers in England, leaders including Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, and NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said it was “now more important than ever that we act to protect ourselves, our teams, our families and patients from getting flu”.

NHS chiefs want staff to have their annual free flu jab as soon as possible, as the first vaccine deliveries start to reach local employers this week.

Social care workers are also eligible to get a free flu vaccination from a GP or pharmacist, with pharmacists also visiting care homes to vaccinate staff.

BORIS BACKS TESTING SYSTEM

Boris Johnson has defended the troubled Covid-19 testing system amid mounting fears of a fresh coronavirus crisis in care homes.

The Prime Minister faced MPs as the Government was drawing up a list setting out who will be at the front of the queue for coronavirus tests after a “colossal spike” in demand.

Care home staff and residents are likely to be near the top of the list as Mr Johnson acknowledged ministers were concerned about the rate of infection.

He said a new “action plan” this week would involve tougher rules on the movement of workers between care homes.

MP URGES RETURN OF REMOTE VOTING IN COMMONS

An MP has called for the return of remote voting and virtual participation in debates in the House of Commons during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Labour’s Dawn Butler called it an “undemocratic decision” to end the so-called hybrid proceedings which allowed MPs to participate and vote virtually in proceedings.

Now, MPs can only participate virtually in the scrutiny proceedings – such as ministerial question times and responding to oral statements.

They are unable to contribute to debates on legislation but they can, however, use a proxy vote if they are unable to vote in person for health reasons.

HIGH RATE POSTCODES SHOULD GET PRIORITY TESTING, SAYS MANCHESTER MAYOR

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said those with a postcode in areas with the highest rates of coronavirus should be given priority when booking a coronavirus test.

He said: “On testing, we do need the Government to prioritise areas with the highest numbers of cases for bookings through the national system.”

Mr Burnham added: “What we have here are systems which are not sufficiently attuned to the needs of local communities, systems that don’t prioritise areas of greatest need for testing to available capacity.”

He said tests had still been taking place in Greater Manchester this week but probably at a reduced capacity and there was increased demand.

FURLOUGH SCHEME EXTENSION WOULD ‘SAVE 61,000 JOBS IN SCOTLAND’

Extending the furlough scheme for another eight months could save 61,000 jobs at a cost of £850 million, according to a Scottish Government proposal.

A paper published on Wednesday says an extension to the end of June 2021 could “pay for itself” through wider economic benefits by avoiding a rise in unemployment in Scotland.

The coronavirus job retention scheme has protected about 779,500 Scottish jobs, around a third of the workforce.

The UK Government scheme is due to end in October but Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said he will continue to consider “creative and effective” ways to protect jobs.

ELEVEN COVID DEATHS IN ENGLAND

A further 11 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths in hospitals to 29,687, NHS England has said.

Patients were aged between 69 and 98 and all had known underlying health conditions.

The dates of the deaths were between September 11 and September 15, with the majority on September 14.

Five other deaths were reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

TEACHERS NEED ‘PRIORITY ACCESS TO TESTS’

Teachers will need priority access to coronavirus tests if schools are to remain open, unions and school leaders have warned.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said keeping school open would not be sustainable unless current capacity is increased.

He added that more testing would “keep that maths teacher in front of 30 young people if their test is negative.”

COPS DIDN’T STOP 100-STRONG HOUSE RAVE

Police failed to break up a 100-strong house rave in Brighton at the weekend claiming they were too busy.

Youths flouted Covid rules and partied the night away in the house and garden and spilled out onto the street as desperate neighbours called cops only to be told it was not a priority.

Neighbours were shocked when “hundreds” of young people turned up to the party on Saturday night contravening all social distancing rules.

The party was organised on Saturday night as a “last hurrah” before the Rule of Six was introduced.

PM STANDS FIRM ON WEDDING NUMBER LIMIT

Boris Johnson has rebuffed demands to relax social distancing restrictions to allow more people to attend weddings.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Conservative Gagan Mohindra asked: “Would the Prime Minister consider changing the number of attendees from a blanket limit of 30 to a fairer system, which allows venues to hold a percentage – say 50% – of their usual licensed activity?”

Mr Johnson said he understood and appreciated the concerns raised by businesses facing restrictions.

But he added in the Commons: “The trouble is that in all these things there is an increase in the risk involved, an increase in the risk of contagion and we simply have to balance that risk with what we’re seeing now in the spread of the virus.

“So I must reluctantly say that we will work as fast as possible to get our whole economy open, to take all these restrictions off.”

NEW WELSH LOCAL LOCKDOWN IS ‘DISAPPOINTING BUT NOT A SURPRISE’

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru member of the Senedd for the Rhondda, said the local lockdown was “disappointing but not a surprise”.

“This was something we feared would happen due to the increase in transmission rates,” she said.

“I urge everyone to follow the guidance on social distancing, washing hands and only meeting other households outdoors.

“Wearing face masks inside shops is also essential. I also urge everyone who is contacted by Track and Trace to co-operate fully so we can shut this virus down.

“The sooner we get this under control, the sooner we can ease restrictions and the safer our loved ones will be.”

STAY AWAY FROM A&E, SAYS BOLTON HOSPITAL BOSS

A hospital boss in Bolton has urged people to stay away from its accident and emergency unit unless strictly necessary after nearly 100 turned up to request Covid-19 tests.

The plea came as admissions of patients with coronavirus increased over the weekend and the infection rate across the borough – the highest by far in England – continued to rise sharply.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, which is based at the Royal Bolton Hospital in Farnworth, said on Tuesday morning there were three coronavirus patients in critical care and a total of 20 on wards.

NO COVID TESTS AVAILABLE IN WORST HIT AREAS

Tests for Covid-19 were not available in some of England’s worst affected areas on Wednesday – with some people offered slots over 50 miles away.

It was not possible to book a test in Bolton – which currently has the highest infection rate in England – on Wednesday morning, the PA news agency found.

But those trying to book a test in Hyndburn were offered a walk-through in Bolton at Mere Hall car park, as well as a drive-through at Royal Blackburn Hospital, according to the Government website.

FREE MASKS FOR EVERYONE IN MIDDLESBROUGH

Every household in Middlesbrough will be given free masks with information leaflets as the elected mayor steps up the fight against Covid-19.

The town is on the Government register as an area of concern and the independent mayor Andy Preston is in the process of updating residents with 65,000 leaflets.

Re-usable face coverings will be handed out alongside the leaflets to help people follow the latest guidance.

People have been repeatedly warned that lockdown measures could return to some or all of the borough if the local infection rate is not halted.

MORE ON THE RHONDDA CYNON TAF LOCKDOWN

The Welsh Government said the new restrictions would apply to everyone living in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area.

They follow a “rapid increase” in the number of Covid-19 cases, which have been linked to people meeting indoors, not following social distancing guidelines and returning from holidays abroad, it said.

Further measures will be considered by the Welsh Government, working with Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and Public Health Wales, if cases do not fall.

Health minister Vaughan Gething said: “We have seen a rapid rise in cases in Rhondda Cynon Taf in a very short space of time, linked to people socialising indoors and not following social distancing guidelines.

“We now have evidence of wider community transmission in the borough, which means we need to take urgent action to control and, ultimately, reduce the spread of the virus and protect people’s health.”

SOUTH WALES: NEW LOCAL LOCKDOWN

The area of Rhondda Cynon Taf in south Wales will be placed under a local lockdown following an increase of coronavirus cases, the Welsh Government has announced.

Health minister Vaughan Gething announced that the measures, which will be reviewed within two weeks, would come into force at 6pm on Thursday.

Rhondda Cynon Taf, which has a population of around 240,000, has seen a rolling seven-day case rate of 82.1 per 100,000 people.

Under the measures, people must not enter or leave the Rhondda Cynon Taf council area without a reasonable excuse.

People will only be able to meet outdoors and will not be able to meet members of their extended household indoors.

All licensed premises will have to close at 11pm.

ONLY TEST KIDS THAT SHOW SYMPTOMS, SAYS EDUCATION SEC

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested families whose children are sent home due to a positive case in a school may not need to get tested if they have no symptoms.

Addressing concerns about testing, Mr Williamson told the Education Select Committee: “To emphasise, people only with symptoms are the ones that should be actually doing the testing.

“So if a child and their contacts have been sent home, it’s not that all those children that are sent home should be getting tested. It is only the child that is displaying symptoms as against the whole cohort.”

CORONAVIRUS CURFEW NOT OFF THE CARDS

Downing Street did not deny reports that curfews were being considered to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Asked about reports that a curfew could be introduced in London, a Number 10 spokesman said: “We will continue to keep the transmission rate under review.

“We’ve introduced the rule of six to try and bear down on the transmission rate given that it has risen recently.

“But as I say we will keep that data and the scientific evidence under review.”

ONE COVID DEATH IN SCOTLAND

One more confirmed coronavirus patient has died in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

It brings the total number of Covid-19 fatalities to 2,501.

The figures are lower than weekly statistics from the National Records of Scotland – which record people who have died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus – and show the death total stands at 4,236.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, the First Minister said 23,283 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland, up by 267 from 22,749 the day before.

This is 3.6 per cent of newly-tested individuals.

4,236 PEOPLE HAVE DIED FROM COVID IN SCOTLAND

A total of 4,236 people have died in Scotland with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, according to the National Records of Scotland.

A total of five deaths relating to Covid-19 were registered between September 7 and 13, two in a care home and three in a hospital.

The statistics are published weekly and account for all deaths registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

They differ from the lab-confirmed coronavirus deaths announced daily by the Scottish Government because they include suspected or probable cases of Covid-19.

COVID TESTING DRIVE THRU: NEAREST TO YOU

KEIR STARMER’S CHILD TESTS NEGATIVE FOR COVID

Sir Keir Starmer wrote on Twitter: “I’m very pleased and relieved that the test result for one of my children came back negative this morning.

“Thank you to the NHS hospital where my wife works for ensuring that their staff and family members have quick access to a test.

“However, I know the situation is desperate at the moment for thousands of families across the country who are struggling to get a test.

“They deserve answers and for this problem to be fixed.”

It is understood he will not question Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions later on Wednesday, with his deputy Angela Rayner taking his place as planned.

Sir Keir is out of self-isolation.

MOTOR-HOME SALES SOAR DURING THE PANDEMIC

Stay-at-home holidaying Brits have sent sales of motor-homes soaring by a staggering 71 per cent – and caravan deals by nearly 40 per cent – as Covid threatens overseas holidays.

Spurred on by problems and complications of flying abroad for holidays in the sun as the virus grips Europe – and getting back – people are increasingly opting to spend their leisure time here in the UK.

A National Caravan Council survey revealed that many of the new buyers were from the younger generation and that more than a third of registrations were from buyers who had never owned a touring caravan before.

A spokeswoman for the NCC said: “Newcomers to caravanning are distinctly younger, with 34 per cent under 45. Almost half of them have children living at home and it runs in the family as the majority claim they enjoyed caravan or motor-home holidays when they were younger.”

BORIS MUST ‘TAKE CHARGE’ WITH TESTING FIASCO

Boris Johnson must “take charge” of delays in obtaining Covid-19 tests to ensure schools remain open, organisations representing headteachers and governors have said.

The Association of School and College Leaders, school leaders’ union NAHT, and the National Governance Association have written to the Prime Minister to express concern about difficulties with the testing system.

The letter warns of a “deep sense of foreboding about the potential for the system to become ever-more riddled with delays as more cases emerge”.

“This would be increasingly disruptive to children’s education and make staffing unsustainable,” it adds.

LONDONERS PRETEND TO LIVE IN ABERDEEN TO GET COVID TEST

Staff at a coronavirus testing site in London have told people they can jump the queue – by pretending they’re from Aberdeen.

The apparent glitch allows residents to book a swab near their home if they enter a postcode 400 miles from the test centre at Twickenham stadium.

But locals who are honest about where they live have been told to travel hundreds of miles to another site to get tested.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged the public not to “game the system” by changing their postcode to try and get a local test.

Read the story here.

PEOPLE ARE ‘STILL AFRAID TO TRAVEL’ SAYS BA BOSS

The boss of British Airways told MPs people are “still afraid of travelling” as he defended the airline’s decision to cut up to 12,000 jobs.

Chief executive Alex Cruz said the coronavirus pandemic has “devastated our business” and the carrier is “still fighting for our own survival”.

He told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “Fewer passengers means fewer flights, and fewer flights means fewer people required to actually service them.

“As CEO of British Airways, I have to take responsibility. I cannot ignore the situation. I had to act incredibly fast.

“I deeply, deeply regret that way too many loyal and hardworking colleagues of mine are having to leave our business, and I understand why MPs are concerned.”

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