Britain’s most senior police officer today said she has ‘no interest in interrupting family Christmas dinners’ to catch coronavirus rule-breakers as Matt Hancock suggested people will still be banned from hugging their relatives.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said ‘the police have lots of other things to be doing’ and she will not be ‘encouraging my people to be barging through people’s doors or knocking on people’s doors’.
However, she warned officers will be prepared to intervene if they are made aware of flagrant breaches of the restrictions which are ‘causing lots of concerns with the neighbours’.
Her comments came as Mr Hancock poured cold water on the prospect of a major loosening of curbs over the festive period as he said he wants a UK-wide set of rules ‘if at all possible’.
The Health Secretary said negotiations are ongoing between the four home nations as they try to hammer out proposals which would allow people to travel to see their family.
There had been hopes of a massive easing of draconian restrictions to allow people to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.
But Mr Hancock dampened those hopes as he said ‘it of course won’t be like a normal Christmas’ and ‘there will have to be rules in place’.
He also insisted people will still be required to adhere to social distancing regardless of what other measures may be changed.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a leading statistician at the University of Cambridge, said any easing of rules will undoubtedly come with extensive Government guidance which he suggested could include a ban on singing as he also joked: ‘Maybe they will try to make a rule against family rows at Christmas.’
It came as Office for National Statistics data showed England’s coronavirus outbreak slowed down in the first full week of the national lockdown, with daily infections dropping from 47,700 to 38,900.
The numbers showed there was an 18 per cent decline in the number of people infected with the virus between November 8 and November 14. The ONS said the rate of new infections ‘appears to have levelled off in the most recent week’ but that there are now ‘substantial differences’ between different regions.
Public sector debt hits new high of £2.08trillion as ministers borrow £215bn to pay for the coronavirus crisis
Data published this morning by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the UK’s overall debt has now reached 100.8 per cent of gross domestic product.
That is the highest it has been since the early 1960s when Britain was still wrestling with the economic fall out from the Second World War.
The numbers represent a major headache to Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he prepares to announce the Government’s spending review next week.
The coronavirus crisis has seen Government borrowing surge in every month since March, and October was no different.
The latest numbers showed the Government borrowed £22.3billion last month, almost £11billion more than it borrowed in October 2019.
That represents the highest borrowing in the month of October ever recorded and the sixth-highest borrowing in any month since records began in 1993.
Borrowing for the first seven months of the financial year has been estimated at some £214.9billion.
That is the highest amount of borrowing ever recorded in any April to October period and almost £170billion more than in the same period last year.
Public sector net debt has increased by £276.3billion in the first seven months of the financial year, reaching £2.076trillion at the end of October.
Experts said it leaves the Chancellor facing a difficult balancing act ahead of the Spending Review on November 25, with the end of the post-Brexit transition period also looming at the end of the year and the UK and the EU yet to agree a trade deal.
Mr Sunak stressed the UK’s public finances will need to be put on a ‘sustainable path’ over time.
He said: ‘We’ve provided over £200 billion of support to protect the economy, lives and livelihoods from the significant and far-reaching impacts of coronavirus.
‘This is the responsible thing to do, but it’s also clear that over time it’s right we ensure the public finances are put on a sustainable path.’
Boris Johnson is under pressure from Tory MPs to loosen rules over the festive period but the Prime Minister’s scientific advisers are warning that could result in a drastic spike in infections and deaths.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has predicted that for every day of rules being eased there would have to be five days of tough restrictions.
But ministers are now distancing themselves from the SAGE modelling, with Department of Health sources telling The Telegraph that ‘preliminary Sage modelling should not be taken as guidance for possible decisions not taken yet’.
The England-wide lockdown is due to end on December 2 and the PM is expected to set out his post-shutdown plans next week.
Ministers believe it is inevitable that many people will travel to be with their family over the festive period regardless of what the rules are, raising questions over how restrictions will be enforced.
Dame Cressida told LBC Radio she had ‘no intention’ of telling her officers to knock on people’s doors to make sure families are complying with the measures.
She said: ‘We have no powers of entry, I have no intention anyway of encouraging my people to be barging through people’s doors or knocking on people’s doors unless you have got, as we sometimes do and then they can’t barge they may knock, a huge party going on which is clearly very, very dangerous and causing lots of concerns with the neighbours.
‘Then we might be knocking on the doors saying you need to stop this.’
Asked whether the police could look the other way if they were aware of minor breaches of the rules, Dame Cressida replied: ‘Well, we don’t know of course what the rules will be at Christmas. Let’s see what the rules are.
‘But I have no interest in interrupting family Christmas dinners. The police have lots of other things to be doing.’
Her comments came as Mr Hancock this morning warned against any expectations of a significant easing of rules at Christmas.
Asked on Sky News what the rules over the festive period could look like, he said: ‘Again, on this we don’t know yet. I know how much, how important Christmas is, it is important to my family, it is important to people right across the country.
‘We want to have a set of rules, if at all possible, that is UK-wide, not least because so many people travel between different parts of the UK.
‘So we are working with the devolved authorities to try to get an agreed set of rules for Christmas.
‘It of course won’t be like a normal Christmas. There will have to be rules in place. But we hope that they’ll allow for a bit more of that normal Christmas that people really look forward to.’
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hancock dismissed calls for families to be allowed to make their own decisions on gathering at Christmas.
He said: ‘I believe in people having as much freedom as possible, subject to not harming others and the problem is that you can harm others even though you don’t know you are doing it because this disease passes on asymptomatically.’
Coronavirus vaccinations could start in the UK within weeks, Matt Hancock says as he vows to take ‘personal control’ of the crucial operation
Vulnerable Britons could start to be vaccinated against coronavirus within weeks, Matt Hancock suggested today as he promised to take ‘personal control’ of the biggest immunisation drive in British history.
The Health Secretary raised hopes last week when he said it could be possible to dish out Pfizer’s vaccine – which looks most likely to be approved first – to high risk groups from December 1.
But officials are waiting for the jab to be given the green light from the UK’s drugs watchdog, which is poring over data from Pfizer’s studies to make sure the vaccine is safe enough to give to millions of people.
Mr Hancock said today he’s ‘still holding out hope’ this process will be wrapped up in weeks and that vulnerable Brits could start getting their hands on a jab sometime next month as part of the first wave of the crucial operation.
He added that he was taking ‘personal control’ of the roll out that could see NHS England administering an unprecedented one million doses every day.
Though the Health Secretary – who is still failing to live up to his promise of 500,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of October – admitted it was going to be ‘one of the biggest civilian projects in history’.
He also appeared to rule out hugging relatives as he said people will still have to ‘respect social distancing’.
He told Times Radio: ‘It’s about getting the balance right and about allowing people to have a Christmas which undoubtedly will be different this year but still try to have that cherished Christmas with your family as much as is possible.
‘We haven’t agreed yet a set of rules and a set of arrangements for Christmas but I’ve got no doubt that people will continue to respect social distancing throughout because we know that that is so important for the control of the virus.’
Prof Spiegelhalter said any rule changes will likely be accompanied with extensive guidance from the Government.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I am sure if we do get relaxed measures over Christmas there will be a lot of guidance about what to do: Good ventilation, keeping distance, not raising voices.
‘I wonder if they will sort of ban singing. Maybe they will try to make a rule against family rows at Christmas.’
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman would not be drawn on what the Christmas rules could be but said: ‘I would point back to what the Prime Minister has said previously, that while he accepts Christmas is not going to be the same as normal this year, he intends to make sure that people can spend Christmas with their families as we have said throughout this week.
‘It is obviously important that the public continue to maintain the current guidelines to ensure that we can drive down the rate of transmission which then drives down the rate of admissions into hospitals and we have been clear that we will set out our plans for post-December 2 next week.’
Despite the gloomy forecast by the Health Secretary he did raise hopes of a mass coronavirus vaccination programme being rolled out potentially within weeks.
He said: ‘That is the hope. Nothing is guaranteed yet. Actually the big numbers in terms of if it comes through are more likely to be in the new year rather than before Christmas because we are absolutely determined that any vaccination programme will be safe.
‘But nevertheless we have had really encouraging news over the last two weeks on the main vaccinations.
‘In the meantime it is so important that people keep following those rules and the social distancing rules.
‘There are encouraging signs that the number of cases is starting to flatten and the lockdown that we brought in earlier this month is working.
‘But in the meantime everybody has got to keep following the rules. However, we have all been looking for the way out, the exit strategy, of the difficult circumstances this pandemic has necessitated and with the increasingly encouraging news on the vaccine, we can start to see that but we are not there yet.’
Boris Johnson is expected to set out his post-lockdown plans for England next week. The national shutdown is due to end on December 2
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today said he hoped the four home nations would at the very least be able to agree to one set of travel rules for Christmas
Rishi Sunak to announce pay squeeze blow for FIVE MILLION public sector workers
Millions of public sector workers face a pay squeeze to help pay for the pandemic.
Rishi Sunak will use next week’s spending review to unveil a new era of ‘pay restraint’ to plug the black hole in the public finances.
The Chancellor believes it would be ‘unfair’ for more than five million public sector workers to keep getting inflation-busting pay rises while many private sector counterparts face wage freezes or redundancy, Government sources said.
He is expected to unveil a cap on wage increases set at or below inflation. It would hit workers such as teachers, police, civil servants, NHS managers and members of the Armed Forces.
Only Britain’s half a million frontline NHS nurses and doctors would be exempt, in recognition of their heroics during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock also said there are ‘promising signs’ that the England-wide lockdown is working and ‘we have seen a flattening of the number of cases’ since the shutdown was implemented.
He added: ‘I’m calling it a flattening rather than a fall because one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but there are promising signs that lockdown is working to get the number of cases under control.’
Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford this morning said he hoped the four nations would at the very least be able to agree one set of travel rules for the festive period.
He said he had held discussions with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the other first ministers of the devolved administrations on Wednesday about a UK-wide approach to Christmas restrictions, with another meeting planned for next week.
He told the BBC: ‘We agreed some broad parameters on Wednesday and remitted officials of all four administrations to work now on the detail, so I remain hopeful that it will be possible to reach a four-nation approach to Christmas.
‘I certainly think that is the right thing to do – if it is achievable – and certainly Wales will be at the table next week looking to find an agreement.’
Mr Drakeford said an agreement on permitting travel across the UK during the Christmas season was ‘top of the list of things to agree’, even if a wider agreement was not possible.
‘I really do hope we can have a common approach to travel,’ he added.
‘It is very important for people in Wales, so many families here will have families in England and elsewhere and will be hoping to have visits from family members who live outside Wales. On travel, I am more hopeful than I was even on other aspects of our discussion.’