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Covid news — live: Variant cases falling says Hancock as PM prepares to unveil lockdown exit plan

Cases of South Africa and Brazil Covid variants in UK are falling, Matt Hancock says

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that cases of the South Africa and Brazil coronavirus variants are falling in the UK due to enhanced contract tracing measures and stricter border rules.

The minister told Sky News on Sunday that there was evidence that measures to control the spread of the concerning variants, which have been found to reduce vaccine efficacy, were working.

It came after Boris Johnson promised to offer all adults in the UK a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of July as he prepares to unveil his road map for relaxing lockdown restrictions in England on Monday.

The prime minister has spent the past week considering data on deaths, cases, hospital admissions and the effect of the vaccine rollout with his scientific advisers.

The road map will also include a more ambitious target for vaccinating all adults aged over 50, as well as those with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk, by 15 April.

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Surge testing in Essex after South Africa variant found

Surge testing is being rolled out in an area of Essex after a case of the South Africa coronavirus variant was found, the government has announced.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Working in partnership with the local authority, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to the CM13 postcode in Brentwood, Essex, where a single case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.”

They added that people living in the postcode area were “strongly encouraged” to take a test when offered, whether or not they have any symptoms of the virus.

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 12:16
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Covid ban on outdoor sport can end, top scientist tells Johnson

Speaking to The Observer, Professor Mark Woolhouse suggested that a major drop in cases meant that the government’s ban on outdoor sports was no longer necessary.

Our reporter, Chantal da Silva, has the full story below:

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 12:08
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Covid has ‘stripped paper off cracks’ in society, Archbishop says

The coronavirus pandemic has “stripped the paper off the cracks” in society and people need to have confidence that the government’s “road map” out of lockdown will be delivered, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that there was a “schools crisis”, with children either having missed a year of education or seen it disrupted.

“There’s a housing crisis which is being revealed in its full extent,” he said.

“The health service is desperately tired. There is a huge need for a clear road map and I’m sure the government is working on that and will produce that.”

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 11:50
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Labour’s Lammy condemns Hancock for ‘refusing to apologise’ over Covid contracts

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy has criticised Matt Hancock for “refusing to apologise” for acting unlawfully over the handling of coronavirus contracts.

“Once again this government is treating the law with contempt,” Mr Lammy wrote on Twitter.

“The damage this does to public trust is permanent.”

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 11:25
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Hancock dismisses ruling that he broke law over Covid contracts as ‘delayed paperwork’

Matt Hancock has dismissed a court ruling that he broke the law by failing to publish details of lucrative coronavirus contracts in line with transparency rules, insisting that the breach was just “delayed paperwork”.

The health secretary also rejected the idea that he should resign over the issue, arguing his team had done a “phenomenal job” during the pandemic.

Our deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, has the full story below:

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 10:59
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Restrictions will be eased with ‘weeks between steps’, Hancock says

Coronavirus restrictions will be eased with “weeks between the steps”, with some measures likely to remain in place for a long time, Matt Hancock has said

The health secretary told Times Radio that it would take a few weeks for the impact of lifting measures to be seen.

“Hence there will be weeks between the steps so that we can watch carefully,” the minister said.

He added that social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings were likely to remain for a while.

“I want to see it more about personal responsibility over time as we have vaccinated more and more of the population,” Mr Hancock said.

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 10:45
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Hancock clashes with BBC’s Marr over Covid contracts ruling

Health secretary Matt Hancock has clashed with the BBC’s Andrew Marr over a High Court ruling which found the government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts.

Mr Marr asked the health secretary on Sunday if he would apologise for acting unlawfully last year, when his department failed to publish details within 30 days of contracts being signed.

“Look, people can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the frontline,” Mr Hancock replied.

“You tell me that that’s wrong. You can’t – and the reason you can’t is because it was the right thing to do.”

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 10:28
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Cases of South Africa and Brazil variants falling in UK, Hancock says

Covid-19 cases linked to the South Africa and Brazil variants of coronavirus are falling in the UK due to enhanced measures to control spread, Matt Hancock has said.

Our reporter, Tom Batchelor, has the full story below:

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 10:13
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Lockdown-sceptic Tory calls for all restrictions to be lifted by end of April

Senior Conservative lockdown-sceptic Mark Harper has called for all legal restrictions put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic to be lifted by the end of April.

The Tory MP, who is the leader of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic backbenchers, told the BBC that this represented “a fairly cautious approach” because it would mean that the top nine priority groups had received a first dose of the vaccine by then.

He added that restrictions should not remain in place simply to prevent the emergence of new variants, warning that such a policy would result in curbs being in place indefinitely.

“The way you protect against variants is our fantastic genomic sequencing programme and the fact that all of our vaccine developers will respond to changes in the virus by altering the vaccine – that’s the way you protect against variants,” Mr Harper told the Andrew Marr Show.

“If we are going to say we are so worried about a future variant that might not be susceptible to the vaccine, that’s a recipe for never unlocking our economy and our society, and I don’t think that’s really an acceptable proposition.”

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 10:08
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Vaccinate children ‘as fast as we can’ to keep schools open, top adviser says

Children should be vaccinated “as fast as we can” to keep schools open, a leading government scientific adviser has said.

Professor John Edmunds warned there would be a “significant risk” of outbreaks until almost all people, including children, had been vaccinated.

Our deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, has the full story below:

Conrad Duncan21 February 2021 10:01