ONS Reveals Deadly Toll Of Pandemic
New figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed 2020 was the deadliest year in a century. According to ONS data, more than 608,000 deaths were recorded last year – a record second only to the 611,861 deaths registered at the height of the influenza pandemic in 1918. Of the deaths recorded last year, 81,653 were attributable to Covid-19. At the same time, excess deaths – the number of fatalities above the five-year average – jumped to almost 91,000, the highest level recorded in the UK since WWII. Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said the UK’s fatality rate of 1,201 deaths per million population was the ninth worst in the world – “ahead of even the US”.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of NHS Providers has warned that peak demand on hospitals may not be reached until mid-February. Speaking to the health and social care committee on Tuesday, Chris Hopson said it was clear that the Covid-19 infection rate would not decline as quickly as it did during the first lockdown last spring, resulting in a “more extended period of pressure” on the NHS. Official figures show there were 32,070 virus patients in English hospitals on Monday – 3,055 of whom were in mechanical ventilation beds. According to Hopson, the NHS is now discussing introducing emergency contingency arrangements to maximise hospital capacity in areas facing the greatest pressures.
RETAIL SALES FACE RECORD SLUMP
New figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show UK retail faced its worst annual sales performance on record in 2020. Data from the BRC has revealed total sales fell by 0.3% last year compared with 2019 – the worst performance since records began in 1995. While food sales growth jumped 5.4% as consumers stocked up during the pandemic, sales of all other products fell 5%. Physical non-essential retailers fared particularly badly as a result of multiple lockdowns in 2020, reporting a 24% collapse in sales. BRC chief Helen Dickinson has urged ministers to provide fresh financial support for retailers. “With shops still closed for the foreseeable future, costing stores billions in lost sales, many retailers are struggling to survive,” she warned.
Addressing the House of Commons on Monday, chancellor Rishi Sunak said the tough national restrictions needed to tackle the pandemic were likely to have a “further significant economic impact” on British business. “While the vaccine provides hope, the economy is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey echoed his comments on Tuesday, warning that the UK’s economic recovery was likely to be delayed as a result of the latest health crisis. “There’s no question that it’s going to delay, probably, the trajectory,” he said. Aside from the delay, however, Bailey said he expected the shape of the recovery to largely follow the forecast made by the Bank last November.
Brian Booth, chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, criticises the lack of clarity around lockdown exercise rules. Debate over the restrictions has intensified after Boris Johnson was pictured on a bike ride in Stratford on Sunday, seven miles from Downing Street. Under government guidelines, people should remain local while exercising – although Booth has warned police officers have “no power in law” to enforce such guidance. While Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said Johnson’s cycle trip was not against the law, she has admitted greater clarity over exercise rules would “be a good thing”.
At the same time, Dick has pledged to “move very swiftly to enforcing and fining people” who breach rules during the current health crisis. Her pledge comes amid concern public compliance with lockdown measures is declining. On Tuesday, major supermarkets moved to ban shoppers who failed to wear a face mask in store – with Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Morrisons all promising to step up enforcement of the rule. “Those who are offered a face covering and decline to wear one won’t be allowed to shop at Morrisons unless they are medically exempt,” Morrisons chief David Potts said.
In other news
RASHFORD SLAMS SCHOOL MEAL PARCELS
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has condemned free school meal parcels received by disadvantaged children as “unacceptable”. His criticism came after one mother tweeted an image of a meagre-looking “hamper” that had replaced a £30 meals voucher. Its contents were costed to around £5.22 if purchased from Asda. “[It’s] just not good enough” Rashford replied, later adding: “Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home.” The footballer, who works with food charity FareShare, helped force a government U-turn on free meal provision during school holidays last year. Chartwells, the firm that provides the parcels, has apologised and pledged to refund the costs of any below-standard packages.
FBI PREPARES FOR INAUGURATION VIOLENCE
The US Secret Service will begin implementing special security arrangements for Joe Biden’s inauguration today, almost a week earlier than originally planned. The preparations come after a leaked FBI bulletin revealed officials were aware of plans for “armed protests” and attacks on state and federal buildings across the US during the run-up to Inauguration Day on 20th January. FBI warnings are in place for all state capitals from 16th to 20th January and the national guard said it planned to deploy at least 10,000 troops to Washington DC by Saturday. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House of Representatives are continuing efforts to remove Donald Trump as president over his role in the storming of the Capitol last week. “The president’s threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
MINISTERS TIGHTEN TRAVEL RULES
Travellers arriving in England from abroad will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test result from Friday. Under new rules announced by the government, those travelling to England will need to be tested for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before their departure and must show a negative test result before they are allowed to enter the country. Those who fail to comply will be handed an immediate £500 fine. The new rules, which include UK nationals returning to England, cover passengers travelling by boat, plane and train. Transport minister Robert Courts said it was “imperative” that the government did it all it could to reduce the risk of imported infections in light of “worrying new strains” of the virus.
REPORT REVEALS ABUSE AT IRISH INSTITUTIONS
A judicial commission established to investigate the abuse of unmarried mothers and their babies in religious institutions in Ireland has published its findings. The five-year investigation was triggered by the discovery of a mass grave in the grounds of a former institution in Tuam, County Galway, in 2014. In a 3,000-page report published on Tuesday, the mother and baby homes commission detailed the abuses faced by those housed at the institutions. It estimates 9,000 children died at just 18 of these homes between 1922 and 1998. Infant mortality is believed to have been double the national rate as a result of neglect, disease and deprivation. Irish leader Michéal Martin is expected to give a formal state apology to those affected by the abuse on Wednesday.
POST FACES PANDEMIC DELAYS
Royal Mail has warned almost 30 areas in England and Northern Ireland will see delivery delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement on Tuesday, the postal service published a list of areas – including Chelmsford in Essex, Leeds in West Yorkshire, Margate in Kent and Wandsworth in London – where staff sickness and self-isolation is resulting in reduced service. On Sunday, Ilford MP Wes Streeting, whose constituency is among the affected areas, said he was concerned that invitations to Covid-19 vaccination centres could be disrupted by the delays. Responding, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi assured Streeting that the government would be working with Royal Mail to ensure the invitations were prioritised.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the UK throw off its poor reputation for learning foreign languages, Duolingo has said. According to the language-learning app, lockdowns around the world saw its international usage rise 67% last year compared with 2019. However, in the UK, usage surged by 132% – almost double the global average. “The UK now sees real value in learning a language for fun, not because they have to,” said Duolingo’s Colin Watkins. “We want a positive use of our time, and to do something productive on our phones. Covid gave people the stimulus to do this.”