Virus Restrictions Tightened In London
The health secretary has confirmed that London will enter tier two coronavirus restrictions from Saturday. In a statement to the Commons on Thursday, Matt Hancock said several areas in England would increase their virus alert from “medium” to “high” – including London, Essex, York, Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire. Under this tier, households cannot meet indoors, including in bars and restaurants. “I know that these measures are not easy but I also know that they are vital,” Hancock said. The decision to impose tier two measures in London has been welcomed by the capital’s mayor. Following the news on Thursday, Sadiq Khan said there was “simply no other option” than to tighten restrictions. “I know we’ll get through this dark time by pulling together,” he added.
A final decision is yet to be made on whether Greater Manchester will enter the highest level of restrictions. The region’s mayor, Andy Burnham, has openly opposed tighter restrictions being imposed in the region, citing the impact on local jobs and businesses. Burnham said northern regions were "being set up as the canaries in the coal mine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy". In Liverpool – the first region to face tier three restrictions – local authorities are considering extending schools’ half-term to two-and-a-half weeks. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said teaching staff were “under huge pressure” and the extension could help assist the city’s “battle with Covid-19”. Across the UK, a further 19,724 infections and 137 deaths were recorded on Wednesday.
PM 'DISAPPOINTED' WITH BREXIT PROGRESS
The prime minister has expressed “disappointment” at the lack of progress made in recent UK-EU trade negotiations, Downing Street has said. A No 10 spokesperson said Boris Johnson had discussed the trade talks in a call with European commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday. According to the spokesperson, the prime minister “expressed his disappointment that more progress had not been made over the past two weeks”. No 10 has confirmed that fishing rights remain the “starkest” point of difference between the two negotiating teams – with both sides calling on the other to compromise. Von der Leyen has insisted the EU still wants a deal, “but not at any price”.
The prime minister has previously claimed the UK would abandon talks if negotiators failed to strike a deal by 15th October. On 7th September, Johnson said that if no deal was struck by this date, “[then] we should both accept that and move on”. However, No 10 appears to have backpedalled from this deadline in recent weeks, and on Thursday, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier formally offered to extend the talks to the end of October. Speaking after a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels to discuss the trade talks, Barnier said: “I can confirm that we’re available, we shall remain available until the last possible day... we want to give these negotiations every chance of being successful."
Marcus Rashford speaks out in support of the extension of free school meals. The Manchester United footballer has launched a campaign calling for free meals to be extended to all children living in a household on universal credit or equivalent benefits, and for the meal provision to be maintained throughout the school holidays. Rashford, who successfully lobbied ministers to continue the meals for disadvantaged children during the coronavirus lockdown, has also called for Healthy Start vouchers for young families to be boosted from £3.10 a week to £4.25.
“In 2020, no child should be going to bed hungry,” Rashford said. Under the existing system, only families with an income of less than £7,400 a year can benefit from free school meals. The footballer’s campaign comes amid growing concern over the impact of Covid-19 on low-income families. On Thursday, the government’s former homelessness adviser warned the country was facing a “period of destitution”. Dame Louise Casey has urged ministers to embark on an “unprecedented spending review… to make sure that we don't have hungry children” – and said the treasury’s incoming job support scheme was “not going to be good enough”.
In other news
KYRGYZSTAN’S PRESIDENT RESIGNS
The president of Kyrgyzstan has stepped down following the country’s contested election result earlier this month. In a statement on Thursday, Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s office said holding on to power wasn’t “worth the integrity of our country and harmony in society”. His resignation follows Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections on 4th October. While election officials said pro-government parties had won, opposition parties raised concerns about vote-buying, leading protesters to seize government buildings. After further unrest, former lawmaker Sadyr Japarov was appointed as the country’s new prime minister and used his platform to demand Jeenbekov’s resignation. On Thursday, the president confirmed he would step down. “For me, peace in Kyrgyzstan… [is] above all else,” he said.
MARSTONS SLASHES PUB JOBS
Marstons has revealed it plans to axe as many as 2,150 furloughed job roles in the wake of the government’s latest Covid-19 restrictions. The pub and brewery group said the 10pm hospitality curfew and the closure of venues under tier three restrictions in Liverpool had triggered the job losses. While Marstons boss Ralph Findlay expressed regret over the cuts, he said they were “an inevitable consequence of the limitations placed upon our business”. The group’s sales fell 12% in September compared with last year. The decision to let go of 2,150 furloughed staff comes just two weeks before the closure of the job retention scheme at the end of this month.
FRENCH POLICE RAID MINISTERS' HOMES
French police have raided the homes of senior officials in an investigation into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The homes of health minister Olivier Véran and director of the national health agency, Jérôme Salomon, were among those raided on Thursday. The searches come as part of a legal inquiry into the government’s response to Covid-19. The inquiry was lodged after doctors and bereaved families accused the French government of being criminally negligent in its response to the virus. The investigation comes amid a worsening epidemic in France. On Wednesday, president Emmanuel Macron announced a new night-time curfew across Paris and several other major cities in response to rising infection rates.
MAJORITY BACK SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE
A new survey by Ipsos Mori has found a majority of Scots would vote in favour of Scottish independence in a fresh referendum. Polling of a representative sample of 1,045 adults across Scotland earlier this month found 58% said they were likely to vote ‘Yes’ in an independence referendum, while 42% would opt for ‘No’. Keith Brown, deputy leader of the SNP, said the “landmark” poll showed Scottish independence had become “the settled will of the majority of people”. Boris Johnson has repeatedly rejected the SNP’s requests for powers to allow a second vote – describing the first referendum as a “once in a generation” ballot.
QUEEN RETURNS TO PUBLIC DUTIES
The Queen has attended her first public engagement outside of a royal residence in seven months. The 94-year-old monarch was joined by her grandson, the Duke of Cambridge, for a visit to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Salisbury on Thursday. The royals also met with those who responded to the novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury in 2018. Social distancing was maintained throughout the visit and all those involved were tested for Covid-19 ahead of the Queen’s arrival. “Specific advice has been sought from the medical household and relevant parties, and all necessary precautions taken,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said. Until Thursday, the Queen had remained at royal residences with a reduced staff – nicknamed HMS Bubble.
London has been named the fifth most walkable city in the world. According to a new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the British capital outranks almost 1,000 other cities for the shortness of its journeys and its residents’ proximity to schools, health facilities and car-free spaces such as parks and squares. The report named Hong Kong as the world’s most walkable city, followed by Moscow, Paris and Bogotá – while “sprawling” US cities performed particularly badly.